Best Day Touring Kayaks For 2024

Paddling Buyer’s Guide

Almost all kayak brands offer a day touring model in their lineups, but what exactly is a so-called day touring kayak? The term describes a variety of different kayaks, all centred around traveling on day outings. Day touring kayaks have enough storage space for all the gear needed to comfortably go on a day trip on calm waters, without the length of a full-size hull.

Depending on the model, the kayaks may be suitable for doing light overnight trips or developing advanced paddling skills like edging and rolling. This guide will help you understand if this is the kind of kayak you need, outline the options out there and offer some tips for finding used ones.

Top picks: Best day touring kayaks for 2024

The following day touring kayaks have received the highest star ratings by reviewers in our Paddling Buyer’s Guide. See and review all day touring kayaks here.

Shop day touring kayaks

With a myriad of options and information, the task of finding the best day touring kayak may seem daunting. The Paddling Buyer’s Guide places all this information in one location. In there, you will find information that is helpful to your kayak research, including specs, prices, reviews and where to buy day touring kayaks.

Below, you’ll find links that jump straight to the guide with filters by type or brand. If you’re unsure of what type of kayak is best for you, keep reading for some buying advice.

Shopping for a used day touring kayak?

Man paddling day touring kayak
Photo: Courtesy Perception Kayaks

Used day touring kayaks will mostly be found in online classifieds like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or Kijiji. An outfitter or resort that rents day touring kayaks may sell them, but the best chance is to keep searching the classifieds. If there are particular makes, models or sizes you know you would prefer, then setting an email alert is a handy way to be notified as soon as they become available.

Day touring kayaks will almost certainly be made of plastic, likely by a rotomolding process. Rotomolded kayaks are pretty durable, but they can warp if transported improperly—something that happens with new kayak owners. If ratchet straps are used to crank the kayak down, it may permanently dent the hull. Be sure to inspect this before purchasing.

Look at the quality of the seating and any fabric surfaces, including webbing or cushioning. If they are fraying or beginning to fall apart, be sure that they aren’t integral to the boat’s comfort or about to deteriorate further.

For more tips on what to look for when selecting a used kayak, read our article How To Buy A Used Kayak.

Day touring kayak buying guide

If you have decided that a day touring kayak is the right boat for you, then it is time to begin researching kayaks to purchase. Keep in mind your personal paddling goals, as well as where you will be doing most of your kayaking. Will the kayak stay at a waterfront cottage? Do you need to be able to lift the kayak on and off your car? How will you store the kayak?

If you need to transport the kayak regularly, make sure you can lift it on and off your vehicle easily. If it is a hassle to do so, you’re less likely to use the kayak. If the kayak is staying at a waterfront property, loading and unloading is less of a concern, and a heavier kayak will not be a hindrance. Consider an excellent piece of buying advice: “The best kayak is the one you will use”.

Also consider the type of kayaking you plan to do. Sheltered waters, like a cottage lake, are best matched with shorter, maneuverable kayaks. Here you will not necessarily need a sprayskirt, and you can opt for a wide cockpit or even a sit-on-top kayak. These kayaks will have wide, flat bottoms and will feel extremely stable on flat water, due to their high degree of initial stability.

Dress For Immersion, Not Air Temperature
  • Your body loses heat much faster when immersed in cold water than it does when dry.
  • Avoid cotton clothing like t-shirts and jeans; they retain water and accelerate cooling when wet. Synthetic fabrics, or wool, are generally a better choice. If the water is very cold (60° fahrenheit or less), you should wear a wetsuit or drysuit.

If you plan on venturing out into coastal waters, you’ll want a kayak with bulkheads and adequate secondary stability, something that starts to resemble a small sea kayak. These kayaks are used with a spray skirt to prevent water from entering the cockpit. The cockpit is going to be smaller on these high-performance day touring kayaks, with thigh braces to engage your lower body. They may feel slightly less stable to beginner paddlers, but they have a higher degree of secondary stability, a term used to describe the kayak’s ability to stay upright when in rough waters or on edge.

You also want a kayak that you are sure you can comfortably enter, exit, and paddle. Don’t be shy to sit in the kayak on the sales floor or even better, take it for a test paddle. A day touring kayak is a significant purchase so take the time to ensure it is the right one.

  • What is a day touring kayak?

    The category includes a wide range of kayaks, but the underlying theme is that they are suitable for a day on the water. Boats in this category borrow design elements from recreational kayaks and sea kayaks, creating a middle ground between the two.

    Day touring kayaks are shorter, usually less than 15 feet, but generally they will handle like a sea kayak rather than a recreational kayak; more responsive when edging and cutting more smoothly through the water. There may be hatches or other forms of storage for a small amount of gear in the bulkheads of the kayak.

  • Day touring kayaks vs recreational kayaks

    A day touring kayak will not offer as much initial stability as a recreational kayak. They will both be similar lengths, but a day touring kayak will likely be narrower. Many recreational kayaks are marketed as day touring kayaks, and they may be suitable for light day tours depending on the route and expected distance. Recreational kayaks are fine for a Sunday float or to cast a line on the creek. Day touring kayaks aim to pack more performance into a still smaller-sized kayak.

    Day touring kayaks will look much sleeker than a typical recreational kayak, with a V-shaped hull that resembles a sea kayak. They will have a snug fit and be highly responsive, paddling efficiently. These boats are great options for sea kayakers who want a boat they can easily load on a car without sacrificing too much of the performance of a longer sea kayak.

  • Day touring kayak price

    Expect a range of prices for day touring kayaks, more expensive than a recreational kayak but less than a touring or sea kayak. Day touring kayaks will cost between $500 and $2,000 USD, depending on the model, material and outfitting.

    More expensive day touring kayaks may have additional features or accessories and will likely borrow more high-performance aspects from a sea kayak rather than a recreational kayak. This means secure bulkheads, a more tapered hull or snug seating with thigh braces for better boat control.

Education: Get Some!
  • Take a paddling safety course from the American Canoe Association (ACA), your local paddling shop or outfitter, or other reputable source.
  • Take a boating safety course from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons® or your own state’s boating agency.
  • Take on-the-water skills training.
  • Where to buy a day touring kayak

    At outdoor stores such as REI or MEC, day touring kayak options are plentiful, and the knowledgeable staff will provide expert advice on available boats. Outfitters and paddlesport specialty retailers may stock higher-end day touring kayaks, which perform more like smaller sea kayaks rather than long recreational boats.

    You will also have the added value of speaking with experts who are able to match you with the right boat for your needs. Big box stores like Costco also carry some day touring kayaks along with their recreational lines—but don’t expect to get the same level of expert advice and service there.

Man paddling lime green day touring kayak
Photo: Courtesy Old Town Canoe & Kayak

Day touring kayak reviews

We’ve got some of the best day touring kayak reviews to help start the search. Understanding what is out there is helpful to match your specific needs. As you comb through the reviews, keep in mind the intended uses for each kayak and how that may translate into your personal use.


This content was made possible with the support of Ontario Creates.

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