Best Touring And Sea Kayaks For 2024

Paddling Buyer’s Guide

Everyone’s adventures look different. Fortunately, there’s probably a kayak suited to take you wherever you want to go. If you can dream it, there’s probably a kayak for it.

Excellent expedition sea kayaks are still around for those looking to take long wilderness trips but the touring market is no longer synonymous with 17-foot expedition sea kayaks. There’s also now a wide range of shorter 13- to 15-foot boats for weekend trips on smaller water. These smaller touring kayaks have emerged for paddlers who want something easier to store and transport, and maybe take out on an overnight trip. In between the two of these styles, there’s a plethora of other options. Touring kayaks exist for ocean play, river travel, Greenland-style and more.

There are some important things to consider when you’re buying your next kayak, no matter if you’re a total newbie or seasoned vet. Don’t get too hung up on specifications like weight and dimensions. Understanding the type of paddling you want to do is the key to finding the perfect kayak to get you to your dream destination, wherever it is.

Getting excited? Keep reading to learn more about touring kayaks, and see what boats are available.

Top picks: Best touring kayaks for 2024

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

Shop touring kayaks

With so many design, length and material options, where do you start when preparing to buy a kayak? Don’t despair, this is a good thing! It means that there’s a kayak out there to meet your needs. To whittle the search down, you will want to do some research before walking into your local paddlesports dealer or messaging that too-good-to-be-true post you see on Facebook Marketplace.

Having an idea of the kind of touring kayak you are looking for is essential to ensuring you get a boat you truly love. Check out the buying advice further along the article for some great tips, and an overview of the kayak-buying process.

Our Paddling Buyer’s Guide is the authoritative guide for the paddling market, with specs, prices and reviews on every touring kayak, as well as the places to buy them. Click the links below to begin exploring.

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Best touring kayaks

There are many different types of touring kayaks out there, with a range of features. Below you’ll find our articles about more specific types and brands of touring kayaks. In each, you’ll get buying advice that is specific to the type of boat, as well as a roundup of our top models.


Man dragging orange and yellow touring kayak toward the surf
Photo: Courtesy Perception Kayaks

Shopping for a used touring kayak?

With patience, attentiveness and a little bit of research, you can score a used touring kayak that will outperform a new kayak for a fraction of the price. Used touring kayaks are sold both privately and through dealers or outfitters.

Fantastic sea kayaks often appear in online classifieds such as Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace that are essentially brand-new—the buyer likely purchased it on a whim and only paddled it a handful of times before leaving it in their garage or basement to collect dust. Understanding how the kayak has been stored is just one of the key points in learning How To Buy A Used Kayak. Others may be well-loved and barely seaworthy—it is all part of the adventure involved with navigating the used kayak market.

Outfitters often have end-of-season sales of their rental fleets, and some may even take offers on any boats they have. Renting the boat for a day or an overnight trip is a great way to test-paddle the touring kayak before buying it. The guides and staff at the shop will be familiar with the boat’s best uses and can help you decide if it will suit your personal needs. If your used kayak needs any new parts, they may also be able to order them.

Touring kayak buying guide

These may be uncharted waters for you; navigating the marketing terms and specifications can be as daunting as an exposed headland or rocky tidal race. What length do I want? What’s the difference between thermoform and fiberglass? Think of the search as being exciting in its own way, and keep your mind on the destination. If this isn’t your first boat, you already know that a touring kayak can open up your world. Suddenly you will be able to explore places you’ve only dreamed of.

Our sea kayak buying guide answers questions that will arise when wondering how to buy a sea kayak.

To begin, let’s go over the steps to buying a touring kayak.

1 Know how you’ll paddle

Understanding the different types of paddle craft and what their uses are is an important first step. Touring kayaks are made for travelling on open water, for long periods of time. If that sounds like what you want to do, a touring sea kayak is for you.

2 Understand what’s out there

Equally important is understanding how to choose a sea kayak that is right for you. Many different sea kayaks exist for a range of paddler sizes, abilities, and styles. An elegant carbon sea kayak at your local shop may keep catching your eye, but if you want to play near rocks and in rough water, you would be better off in a plastic kayak with lots of rocker.

3 Try it before you buy it

You’ll never know how a kayak feels until you get in it and give it a go. Visit demo-days at local paddling events, or borrow boats from friends and paddling clubs to get a feel for different kayaks.

Common sea kayak buying mistakes

On the flip side of buying advice, consider some things not to do. Paddle-pro Helen Wilson shares some of her lessons learned from years of boat buying:

1 Remaining on shore

The kayak that’s right for your friend or your instructor may not be right for you. The only way you’ll know for sure is to get in it and go for a paddle. Only buy from dealers that offer this opportunity (or a great return policy).

If you get in a sea kayak and it doesn’t feel right, don’t purchase it. Find a kayak that fits well and performs the way you want it to, and if you happen to be the only person in your kayaking club that paddles that model, so be it.

Person paddling orange inflatable kayak on stream leading to open water
Photo: Courtesy Advanced Elements

2 Focusing on weight

Modern material innovations mean that kayaks are getting lighter and lighter. While it is important to be able to get your kayak onto the water, once the kayak is floating, a weight difference of five to 10 pounds is no longer much of a factor.

Don’t get too hung up on weight or allow the scale to determine the boat you purchase.

3 The lure of unnecessary accessories

The essential parts of a sea kayak are hatches and bulkheads that don’t leak, a comfortable backrest, carry toggles, and a continuous deckline running around the perimeter of the kayak. Anything more than that is a bonus, and adding gimmicky gadgets will raise the cost and add potential for things to break.

4 Fighting the pain

People come in many sizes and shapes, and luckily, so do kayaks. It isn’t uncommon to see a model of a kayak in several different lengths and widths. Phrases such as low volume and high volume have become everyday lingo among paddlers.

If you’ve identified a model you’re interested in, try out all of the different sizes. In store, put your feet on the foot pegs and your thighs under the thigh hooks. You should feel comfortable, yet engaged. Rock back and forth using your hips and determine which size kayak you feel the most comfortable in.

If none of the sizes feel right, try a different model. A kayak that fits you well will give you more stability and control than a boat that is too tight or too loose.

5 Falling for the all-arounder

Different kayaks are designed for different types of water. There are kayaks specifically designed for rock gardens, surf, flatwater and touring, just to name a few popular disciplines. Where do you paddle most often?

Opt for a model that suits the type of paddling you most often do, instead of buying an expedition kayak only suited to bucket-list trips. Beware of sales pitches claiming one boat can do it all. No design excels in all types of water and there are always trade-offs in performance.

  • What is a sea kayak?

    A sea kayak is an oceangoing kayak designed for extended trips along continuous stretches of water. Sea kayak features that set it apart from other kayaks include a long, narrow design, hatches, bulkheads, and a sit-in cockpit. These features all help the boat to travel efficiently on extended trips.

  • Difference between a sea kayak and touring kayak

    All sea kayaks are touring kayaks, but not all touring kayaks are sea kayaks. Touring kayaks are defined by their bulkheads and hatches, which allow for gear storage on multi-day trips. Sea kayaks are among the longest and narrowest touring kayaks. The touring kayak category has expanded beyond sea kayaks in recent years, to include shorter kayaks suited to multi-day trips on inland lakes or rivers. These boats will have hatches and other gear storage but may not be suitable for long distances along exposed coastlines.

  • Sea kayak vs canoe

    Both canoes and kayaks have been used for thousands of years by different people, originally designed by indigenous people to travel their waters. The kayak originated among the Inuit across the Arctic, but particularly in Greenland. These sleek boats were skin-on-frame boats designed for seal hunting in rough, cold waters. Modern sea kayaks are usually made from plastic, fiberglass or composite materials.

    Canoes have been used worldwide, as “dugout” canoes from hollowed logs or “skin” canoe styles. Most modern canoe designs descend from the “skin” canoe style constructed with a hull covering a frame, traditionally from bark, but later using canvas, aluminium, fiberglass or Kevlar.

    The most immediately apparent difference between a canoe and a sea kayak will be the closed deck of the sea kayak and the open deck of the canoe. Canoes are paddled sitting or kneeling. Another defining feature of the canoe is the “yoke”. This is a beam in the middle of the boat for carrying the canoe across land on your shoulders. Canoes can be solo or tandem, and some tandem canoes can be paddled solo. The same is not true for tandem kayaks, which require two people in the boat to work efficiently.

    If you are trying to decide whether a canoe or kayak is right for you, consider the boats themselves and your personal paddling style. Paddling a canoe with a single bladed canoe paddle requires a bit more technique proficiency and has a steeper learning curve than kayaks, but taking a canoe course with a certified instructor can set you on the right path. Some canoes are able to be paddled with a double blade, like packboats. The main advantage of canoes is that they are easier to portage (carry) from one lake to another, and gear can be stored in larger bags, rather than stuffed into the hatches of a kayak.

    Paddling a kayak is fairly intuitive, and new paddlers often quickly understand the mechanics of basic paddling strokes. They’re much better for a “jump in and go” type of boat. Solo paddlers will move faster in a touring kayak than a canoe, and kayaks with spray skirts are better equipped to handle open water paddling.

  • Sea kayak vs kayak

    There are many different styles of kayaks available: recreational, sit-on-top, whitewater and more. Sea kayaks stand out from other kayaks based on a few characteristics and their intended use. Sea kayaks have watertight bulkheads accessed through hatches. These keep the gear inside dry and prevent the boat from sinking in the event of a capsize. Sea kayaks are designed for extended travel on large water bodies. They are comfortable to sit in for long periods and paddle straight exceptionally well. Part of this is due to the sea kayak’s length, and often there is a rudder or skeg on the boat. These are devices which keep the kayak on the correct course.

  • Recreational vs touring kayak

    The term “recreational” kayak implies that other kayaks must be serious kayaks for professionals. This is not exactly the case. Recreational kayaks are stable and intuitive to use. Most reasonably coordinated people can fit comfortably in them and learn to control them quickly. Recreational kayaks are typically entry-level and are priced as such. Their primary use is on sheltered lakes and slow-moving waterways.

    Touring kayaks will also paddle more efficiently, requiring less energy to travel farther distances. A touring kayak will also have the storage capacity for extended trips. The storage spaces on touring kayaks are accessed through hatches, and the compartments themselves in the bow and stern are known as bulkheads. In addition to being excellent storage spaces, the bulkheads serve as a safety feature, preventing a capsized kayak from sinking.

    More experienced paddlers will enjoy using a touring kayak more than a recreational kayak. Touring kayaks’ hull shapes will be more rounded than that of a flat-bottomed recreational kayak. This will translate to less initial stability, a term used to describe how stable the boat is in flat water. Recreational kayak hulls are designed to have a high level of initial stability, as they are only intended for calm waters. Touring kayaks don’t have the same degree of initial stability, instead focusing on having more secondary stability. This refers to the hull’s ability to right itself when it’s on edge, an important consideration for anyone paddling in waves.

Man paddling orange and yellow touring kayak off coast
Photo: Courtesy Perception Kayaks
  • Sea kayak vs river kayak

    The most obvious difference between a sea kayak and a river kayak will be the length. Sea kayaks are typically longer than 15 feet and designed for paddling on a straight course over a long distance. Kayaks designed for river travel will be shorter and more maneuverable to navigate the turns in a river.

  • Sea kayak vs surf ski

    A surf ski is a long, fast, sit-on-top kayak designed for paddling across open stretches of water. It has self-bailing ‘scupper holes’ to clear the water from the seat area. A sea kayak is ‘sit-in’ and uses a spray skirt to keep the cockpit dry.

  • Sea kayak vs whitewater kayak

    Whitewater river kayaks will be even shorter than other river kayaks, with a curved “rocker” shape to be extremely maneuverable in fast-moving water. They are often less than 12 feet long and are not designed for long stretches of open water paddling. Whitewater kayaks are easier to roll than a sea kayak and do not have bulkheads.

  • Fishing kayak vs. touring kayak

    Fishing kayaks are designed to be as stable as possible to handle the paddler moving about or shifting their weight frequently. Touring kayaks may feel less stable in calm waters, but they can often handle larger waves and paddling in bigger conditions. Fishing kayak storage features focus on day trips, with easily accessible deck storage, whereas touring kayaks will focus more on watertight hatches that offer enough room for camping gear.

  • Can you use a sea kayak on a lake?

    You certainly can use a sea kayak on a lake. There is an enthusiastic community of sea kayakers on the Great Lakes and plenty of options for extended wilderness trips along their coasts – but they are often referred to as inland seas for a reason. A sea kayak will handle just fine on smaller lakes, but it may be more boat than is necessary. To explore the nooks and crannies of small lakes, consider a smaller touring kayak of 14 feet or less.

  • Can you use a sea kayak on a river?

    You can use a sea kayak on a river, although it will not be as maneuverable as other, shorter kayaks. Meandering, slow-moving rivers with a little current will be just fine in the sea kayak. Be careful of scraping the bottom of a fiberglass kayak in shallow water.

  • Touring kayak length

    Touring kayaks traditionally measure between 15 and 18 feet. Touring kayaks shorter than 15 feet that have been designed for shorter trips and smaller paddlers are an exciting development in the kayak market.

  • Sea kayak width

    The average width of a sea kayak is 18-25”. Some may be wider or narrower depending on the make and model.

  • How heavy is a sea kayak?

    A sea kayak’s weight is largely dependent on its length and material. Kayaks made of lighter materials do so with tradeoffs at durability and price. The most common sea kayak materials are plastic and fiberglass. Rotomolded plastic sea kayaks are some of the heaviest, with an average weight between 60-80 pounds. Fiberglass sea kayaks weigh between 55 and 70 pounds, usually less than their plastic counterparts. Again, it all depends on the boat design and outfitting on the sea kayak. Kayaks made of thermoformed materials’ weight range is usually between plastic and fiberglass. Carbon kayaks weigh even less but are much more susceptible to damage.

  • Sea kayak weight limit

    The important factor to consider with a sea kayak’s weight limit is that the number provided by the manufacturer is the weight limit of the paddler and any equipment that they are carrying. Gear, food and water for a multi-day trip can add significant weight. The average sea kayak weight limit is typically around 350 pounds. Always try sitting in a sea kayak before you buy it to ensure you feel comfortable in it—and bring the gear you’d typically use along to make sure it all fits.

  • Sea kayak size guide

    Unfortunately, kayaks aren’t like sizing skis, where your height or weight aligns with a recommended size. If you’re asking yourself, “what size sea kayak do I need?” consider the following factors:

    There are two main measurements of size with sea kayaks: volume and length. Volume refers to the amount of space inside the kayak. Length is the overall length of the kayak. Both affect the way that the kayak feels on the water, and it is important to have a boat that fits properly.


    The same sea kayak model can come in different volumes – described as high, medium, or low volume. These relate to the overall capacity of the boat. As a general rule, taller and bigger paddlers will be more comfortable in high-volume kayaks. They often have higher decks, giving more legroom. Some sea kayak models are specifically tailored toward smaller or larger paddlers. It’s pretty common for high-volume versions of kayaks to also be longer, as adding length will also increase the overall volume of the boat. Manufacturer’s specifications often have rough size guides.


    Sea kayak length directly relates to how maneuverable it will be. Of course, hull design and rocker play important parts in this as well. For now, let’s just consider length.

    Longer kayaks will travel in straight lines much better than shorter kayaks because they have a longer waterline. Sea kayaks considered to be long would be 18-19 feet. These kayaks may feel sluggish when turning, but when travelling in a straight line, they cruise along quickly. They will be less responsive to paddle strokes, and most paddlers will find they need to use the rudder to help control longer kayaks. Kayaks at these lengths are preferred by larger paddlers as they will be able to sit comfortably in them due to their higher volume.

    Sea kayaks considered to be short can be anything less than 17.5 feet, to around 15 feet. Less than that, kayaks move more into “Day Touring”. Shorter kayaks are more responsive, so they turn quicker in the water. Smaller paddlers will be able to control these kayaks more easily, and will fit snugly in them. A snug fit helps engage the lower body when paddling, adding power and control.

    Storage space also comes into play when sizing sea kayaks. If you are planning to take long trips, you’ll want to look toward high-capacity boats to fit all your gear. If playing in waves or taking weekend trips is all you want, storage space isn’t as important.

    Cockpit shape

    Cockpit shape is also important when sizing a sea kayak. The shape affects how easy it is to get in and out of the boat, and can be a key difference in a kayak feeling too big, or too tight for you. Sea kayak cockpits come in three shapes: ocean, keyhole and oval-shaped.

    Ocean cockpits are found on Greenland and British-style kayaks. They are circular, and about just as small as possible. Getting in and out of these isn’t easy, requiring proper technique and good balance. The tight cockpit gives the paddler lots of control when rolling, and gives less surface area for the spray skirt to potentially collapse.

    Oval-shaped cockpits have a much longer opening than ocean cockpits, and are the most common style found on sea kayaks. These vary in size, often relative to the specific kayak. Paddlers can easily swing their legs in and out for comfortable entry and re-entry. Thigh braces along the side of the cockpit still allow for some control.

    Keyhole cockpits are the intermediary between ocean and oval cockpits. Like the name suggests, the shape of these cockpits narrows towards the bow. This leaves the paddler’s knees underneath the rigid deck of the kayak. The keyhole design keeps paddlers snug in their kayaks, but not totally contained like the ocean cockpits.

    It may seem like we’re repeating ourselves, but we can’t stress this enough: the best way to know if a boat is right for you is to take it for a test paddle.

  • Why are sea kayaks so long?

    Sea kayaks seem so much longer than recreational kayaks because the longer length allows them to travel efficiently across long distances.

  • Average sea kayak speed

    Expect the average sea kayak’s speed to be between 2.5 and 3.7 miles (4 and 6 kilometres) per hour. Different sea conditions, the paddler’s technique and kayak design all affect the sea kayak’s speed.

  • Sea kayak design

    The sea kayak hull design determines how it will perform. Important factors to consider are the length, waterline, and rocker. As a general rule, longer sea kayaks will be faster, while shorter kayaks may turn more easily and be lighter to carry. The waterline is the hull area that is in contact with the water. Some sea kayaks have extended upturned bows, which cut through waves nicely and extend the waterline in rougher seas, keeping the course straight.

    The overall sea kayak hull design is typically in a ‘V’ shape, when seen in cross-section. A shallower ‘V’ is common in beginner boats. This shallow ‘V’ provides a higher level of initial stability, a term used to describe the feeling of the boat in flat water. Think of a raft. With its wide, flat bottom it has a ton of initial stability. But if the raft is on its side it has no seaworthiness or steadiness at all. The shallow ‘V’ of a touring kayak gives a bit of a sidewall, so that if the boat is tilted on its edge, there is at least some surface to support it and keep it stable. This is the secondary stability at work.

    Boats tailored to more advanced paddling in rougher seas will have a deeper ‘V’. This adds more secondary stability, by reducing the flat bottom and extending the sloping edges. This may feel unstable at first, but the sea kayak will feel more stable in rougher water, as engaging the edges of the hull takes advantage of the increased secondary stability.

    Rocker is the term describing how flat (or not) the hull is from bow to stern. A sea kayak with plenty of rocker will be banana-shaped on flat ground, like the rails of a rocking chair. This kayak will be highly responsive turning left to right, but may be difficult to keep straight. Conversely, a kayak with a little rocker will be flatter and excel at travelling straight but will not be as responsive. All design advantages come with compromises.

  • Parts of a sea kayak

    Sea kayaks are sit-in kayaks, and they have a coaming lining the cockpit to secure the paddler’s spray skirt. A rudder or skeg is a part of a sea kayak that helps in tracking or steering and is often not found on other types of kayaks. Whether to have a skeg or rudder or neither is a decision to consider when buying a sea kayak.

    A rudder attaches to the stern of the kayak and pivots left and right to aid in steering or offset the effects of wind and current. Rudders are controlled by the paddler’s feet via pedals and cables. A skeg is a retractable keel section that rests in the mid-stern section of the hull. The paddler deploys the skeg to offset wind and current but cannot use it for steering. Some sea kayaks have a “skudder”, a skeg-rudder combination that can turn side to side.

    Sea kayak hatches come in two styles. Aleutian-style kayaks typically have a wider opening, covered with neoprene or rubber and a hard plastic overtop. British-style sea kayaks have oval or round hatches with an exposed rubber cap. These hatches are very watertight but can be difficult to use in the cold.

    Deck lines should be a feature on every sea kayak. They are cord lining the perimeter of the kayak. Deck lines make rescues and re-entry into the sea kayak much easier by providing holds to grasp.

  • Are sea kayaks good for beginners?

    A sea kayak can be good for a beginner who is comfortable around water and has some physical fitness. There are sea kayaks available for all skill levels. Some sea kayaks may feel far too ‘tippy’ for a beginner paddler, but others will be quite stable. This speaks to the importance of trying a boat and doing research before you buy it. Taking an introductory sea kayaking course from a qualified instructor will lay the groundwork for getting the most out of a sea kayak. The course will also teach essential safety skills, such as performing a wet exit and re-entry.

    Beginners may want to look for a sturdy kayak with a wide, shallow V hull such as the Boreal Designs Epsilon. Boats tailored to advanced paddlers sport a narrower V-shaped hull like the one found on the Valley Nordkapp RM.

  • Why do sea kayaks have holes?

    Sea kayaks have holes in the deck to allow access to the bulkheads in the bow and stern. These are where gear is stored on longer trips. Some kayaks, typically sit-on-tops, will also have holes in the hull, called “scuppers”. These are self-draining and clear water from pooling in the cockpit or deck.

  • What are sea kayaks made of?

    Sea kayaks are constructed from various materials, including plastic, fiberglass, carbon, wood, and vinyl or other materials for a folding/inflatable kayak. Plastic and fiberglass are the most common materials for modern sea kayaks. Each material has benefits and drawbacks, relating to price, performance and durability.

    Plastic kayaks are less expensive than fiberglass. There are two processes primarily used in plastic kayak construction, rotomolding and thermoforming. Rotomolded kayaks are the most common and least expensive. They are durable but weigh more. Over time, the plastic may be susceptible to warping if stored improperly, and if the boat is punctured, repairs can be difficult.

    Thermoformed kayaks resemble fiberglass in their sleek appearance but have the durability of rotomolded kayaks. They weigh less than rotomolded boats as well, making them a popular choice for paddlers who want a lightweight but budget-friendly kayak.

    Fiberglass sea kayaks are more expensive than plastic kayaks, but they are generally lighter and perform better in the water. They are stiffer than plastic kayaks and will feel responsive and sleek as they cut through the water. A ‘glass’ kayak is not going to be as durable as a plastic one, but repairs to punctures or abrasions are relatively easy and can even be done in the field.

    Touring kayaks made of carbon or other composite materials like Aramid/Kevlar are even lighter than fiberglass boats, and cost much more. Unless they are reinforced with additional layers of gelcoat or a keel-strip, they are not durable. This is fine if you are paddling in calm conditions, but if you plan on dragging the kayak up a pebble beach it won’t last long.

    Wooden kayaks are not as common, but their owners love their classic look and warm aesthetic. They can be designed with high-performance shapes, and the characteristics of wood give them a unique feel in the water. Many of these are made with do-it-yourself kits, and half the fun is the project of building the boat.

    Folding kayaks, or inflatable vinyl designs prioritize portability. These kayaks store into duffels and are assembled at the put-in. They’re ideal for people tight on space, like those living in condos or people taking kayaks on planes. Historically, these kayaks would have the advantage of portability at the expense of performance. With many companies using different technologies to make their kayaks, the quality and performance of folding kayaks is rapidly improving.

Woman paddling sea kayak with reeds in background
Photo: Courtesy Eddyline Kayaks
  • Sea kayak cost

    Ask five people, “How much is a sea kayak?” and you will get five different answers. Depending on the material, model and condition, a sea kayak will cost anywhere from $1,000 – $4,500. With the increase in price, there will often be an increase in quality, but that does not mean the most expensive kayak is the best for you. Consider your desired use and overall sea kayaking equipment needs. A good paddle and comfortable PFD will make a difference when using a sea kayak, so consider splurging in those areas instead of blowing your whole budget on a boat.

  • Where to buy a sea kayak

    Sea kayaks are available at most local paddlesports retailers and national outdoor chains such as MEC or REI. Outfitters often have used sea kayaks for sale at the end of the season. Scouring online classifieds such as Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace can yield great deals on used sea kayaks for those with time and patience. Browse information on all sea kayaks, including where to find them, in our Paddling Buyer’s Guide.

Touring kayak reviews

Researching touring kayaks doesn’t need to be daunting. Find the best touring kayak reviews here. Read reviews from our experts across the sea kayak spectrum to help find one that will match your needs.