If you’ve ever spent the afternoon lazily kayaking the local river, you may be inspired to explore the greater world of kayaking. From recreational to whitewater and touring kayaks there’s something unique to the sport for everyone. Today I’m going to help you understand the world of touring kayaks. What are they? Who should use them? How do I buy one?
These, among others, are the questions I seek to answer for you. Touring kayaks bring with them a whole host of new and fun challenges in the world of paddle sports. I know that you will fall in love with them once you understand how to choose and use your new touring kayak.
Here is a comprehensive guide, written after paddling in the Maltese open sea for a couple of years. I have been using several touring kayaks while living in the Mediterrean island of Malta, so keep reading and you will see which ones are best in my opinion.
What is a Touring Kayak, And Who Should Use It?
Touring kayaks vary from others because of their focus on longer paddling distances and the ability to haul gear. Touring boats are meant to paddle long distances in mostly straight lines with greater efficiency than a recreational boat.
Defining features include, generally, a long and slender profile for speed and efficiency. These boats are often barely wider than the paddler. Gear storage is achieved with deck rigging and bow / stern storage wells. Depending on your needs, you may want to be paddling for days or weeks at a time and must have the capacity to carry the gear and food for that.
Touring kayaks are for longer trips and extended distances. If you’ve never been kayaking before, a touring boat might not be the right setup for you. Paddling narrow rivers or whitewater is also a no-no for touring boats. Their length and narrow profile makes them ill-suited for these agile situations.
Use a touring kayak if:
- You’re paddling long distances on open water
- You want a boat that will paddle tirelessly all day long
- You plan to paddle coastal areas
- You’re interested in kayak camping for multiple days on a longer trip
4 Features To Look For In A Touring Kayak
The front-to-back curve of your boat (common on whitewater kayaks) is called rocker. This term is familiar to those skiers among you. The more rocker, the easier the boat is to turn.
For a touring boat, we want zero rocker. Most touring boats should be flat as a board on the bottom. Why? The more boat in contact with the water, the better the boat will track. We don’t want a touring boat to be “squirrelly” in the water.
Skegs can come in many varieties from metal to plastic. Some are removable or retractable.
Skegs serve to help the boat track in a straight line. They are not rudders, because a skeg cannot be turned – it always stays straight. Their purpose is to improve the straight-line tracking of a boat over longer paddle distances.
Rudders seem quite like skegs but differ in one major way. Rudders are meant to be actively steered to affect the direction of a boat. Rudders can be used to achieve the same goals as a skeg but don’t have to be used as such.
Rudders and skegs may both be present simultaneously on some boats.
4. Spray Skirt
This is a common touring and sea kayak accessory which helps to keep water out of the boat when paddling in rough conditions. Many boats come with this when you purchase a touring kayak.
These are critical for paddling when waters get rough. Water splashing into the cockpit will quickly destroy the performance of your boat and can become dangerous in some situations.
Touring Kayak Sizes and Shapes
Width and Beam
This is usually called Beam by those in the know – it just means width. Wider doesn’t always mean more stable but for the beginning kayaker a wider boat is more stable when entering or exiting. Touring kayaks are generally the slimmest.
Width is generally set by the manufacturer when they engineer the boat. Except for extremely customized or handmade boats, you’ll find that width is largely out of your control and based on the overall characteristics of kayak you choose.
This one is simple: the shorter the boat the more agile it will be, such as whitewater or creeking boats. Short kayaks perform better in tighter conditions and longer kayaks are much easier to paddle straight across long distances.
Touring kayaks usually start at about 12’ long and longer. Anything shorter would be unlikely to perform well as a long-distance paddling boat.
When purchasing your touring kayak, it’s important to consider the total capacity. Boats will have a load limit for all passengers and gear. When buying your kayak, consider the weight of yourself and all gear you may take with you.
It’s surprisingly easy to take along 70+ pounds of gear on a long trip. To be safe you might want a boat that’s at least 100 pounds of capacity over your personal weight.
Hull shape refers to the cross-section profile of the kayak. If you cut your kayak in half and looked at it right down the middle, this is the shape you would find.
Flat hulls are used primarily for sit-on-top kayaks and are the most stable of all hull designs when entering and exiting the boat.
Round hulls are not truly round. While a flat hull is nearly flat and a V hull is quite sharply shaped, a rounded hull lands squarely in the ambiguous middle ground between.
V-shaped hulls are often found on touring boats and offer the best stability when under motion – they also tend to improve tracking. The long V shape acts as a kind of skeg that’s the entire length of the boat.
What Are Touring Kayaks They Made Of?
This inexpensive material may be the most common boat material. PE is cheap to make and extremely durable. It’s heavy and can be prone to shattering on heavy impact, however.
Store these boats in the shade or indoors to help extend their life as sun exposure will eventually weaken the plastic.
More durable, easier to repair, and more sunlight resistant than PE, ABS is a great choice. Overall, it’s not quite as good as composite, but generally much better than PE.
Kevlar, fiberglass, and carbon fiber are the materials of first use here. You may have to pay with the life of a first born to get them (they’re expensive). What you get in return, however, is an exceptionally lightweight, durable, and rigid boat. These boats can be half or less of the weight of other plastic boats and will massively improve the efficiency of your paddling experience.
Touring Kayak Reviews: My Favorites!
1. Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140 Sit On Top Kayak – 14ft
Tarpon pitches this boat as having all the performance of a touring boat with the convenience of a sit on top kayak. I will admit, it’s a bit unusual to see a touring kayak with a sit on top arrangement. However, there may be more than a few benefits that come with this setup.
Those familiar with sit on top kayaks know that they’re comfortable, have more leg room, and are self-bailing. That means when water gets in, it automatically drains right back out. That’s thanks to the cast floatation of the boat body itself – it won’t sink when it takes on water.
Because of the sit on top design it’s easy to store as much or little as you want in the huge gear wells. There’s an enormous open gear well behind the cockpit and a dry well in the bow of the boat. There’s also a 6” dry well between the paddler’s legs.
I like the generous and adjustable seat as well as the option for a rudder package on this 14 foot boat. Don’t forget – the maximum capacity is 375 pounds including yourself!
2. Riot Kayaks Edge 14.5 LV Flatwater Day Touring Kayak
Unlike the Tarpon 140, the Riot 14.5 packs a little less storage. That means you’ll be forced to pack a little less. As a result, they’ve classified this boat as a “day touring” boat. What’s a day touring boat? It’s a kayak you might use to paddle long distances with efficiency but don’t plan to stay out for multiple days.
With a much more traditional cockpit, you’ll be stuck inside this boat. On the plus side, you get an included rudder system and a custom seat. I love the deck rigging and the two included sealed bulk heads both bow and stern. However, it’s not enough storage for overnights. You’ll have plenty of room for your gear during the day though. Feel free to pack a picnic lunch!
At an overall weight of 60 pounds, it’s not featherlight but it’s not heavy either. With a max weight of 325 pounds you’ll want to be careful just how heavily you pack it, but that shouldn’t be a problem in most situations.
This is a great boat for those who want the abilities of a touring kayak but prefer not to spend the night out. You could do a long lake paddle all day and end up back home for dinner without a problem!
3. Necky Elias Kayak with Rudder
Let me just say that the Nekcy Elias gets my top regards for having the best seat I’ve ever seen in a kayak. We’re talking fully molded foam adjustable seat that fits like a pair of pants. Even the thigh braces and padding are fully adjustable!
Another thing to love about this boat? It’s available in carbon fiber or fiberglass layup. Expect these price tags to give you sticker shock but you’ll be blown away by the featherlight performance. Even the standard PE version weighs only 56 pounds.
Bow and stern sealed bulkheads provide a moderate amount of storage. Tons of deck lashing leaves room for storing goodies up top if you really need the space for those super long trips.
This boat is made for some serious performance and paddling. I love how fitted and conforming the cockpit is. This means the boat’s ready for any paddler input and control using the thighs and lower body. Edging and advanced turning is easy with a boat that responds like it’s an extension of your body.
This is by far the most efficient and effective touring boat on our list. In carbon fiber layup, this boat will paddle up there with even the best custom made touring kayaks.
Conclusion: Time To Explore The Sea On Your Kayak!
When it really comes down to it, touring boats are simply made for longer days of paddling and carrying gear. There’s no one right or wrong answer for the best touring boat. Be sure to compare the boat you’re considering purchasing against how you want to use it.
Those who want to paddle longer distances with less effort may want a touring boat with less storage. If you’re interested in paddling a week-long camping trip without resupplying, you’ll want a boat with tons of storage.
Ultimately, you’ll find something on our list that should help you reach your goals. I always recommend that you check out any boat in person before ordering whenever possible. Consider the manufacturer’s warranty and return policy when sizing up a boat for your next purchase.