Crossover Kayaks: Buyers Guide and How to Choose

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When you’re choosing a new kayak, the type of yak you need will often come down to the type of paddling you plan to do.

But what if you like to paddle in a variety of conditions and run whitewater? You’re looking for a boat that can handle it all?

Crossover Kayaks: Top Choices

A crossover kayak could be the answer. So to help you figure out if these hybrid vessels could be the right choice for you, we’ve put together a guide to tell you all you need to know about buying a crossover kayak before you jump in and make a purchase.

What Are Crossover Kayaks?

They’re Versatile 

Versatility is really the name of the game when it comes to crossover kayaks. They are a hybrid design, built to give you the best features of both a whitewater kayak and a touring kayak all in the one vessel.

Video: Whitewater vs Crossover Kayaks

The appeal of a crossover boat is that you can surf the waves and run rapids to get your adrenaline pumping but also have sufficient comfort and enough space to store gear for an overnight trip or a long day on the water, similar to a recreational kayak.

Whitewater boats will not often have storage compartments for large items and will have a reduced storage capacity in general. But with a crossover yak you will often find there is a sealed hatch and space to keep all your essentials, as well as anything else you might need.

Design

Crossover yaks are designed to handle a range of waters, from flatwater lake to whitewater runs. This means the hull is built to be maneuverable in choppy conditions with good secondary stability. The hull may also tend to be more rounded shape than standard kayak hulls, with more rocker compared to recreational or flatwater vessels. Flat recreational hulls could be pose a problem riding over waves or rough water, as they're often designed with only primary or initial stability.

The length of a crossover vessel may differ from both whitewater kayaks and traditional touring vessels, in that it may be longer than a whitewater yak and shorter than a touring yak.

But this can mean it combines the maneuverability of a whitewater boat with the enhanced speed of a touring boat. However, because of the comparatively shorter length, you might find that it may not be as fast as sea kayaks or touring kayaks.

On the other hand, being longer than many playboats, the length can also mean that it may not turn quite as quickly as a shorter playboat. But generally, with a crossover, you have something in the middle; one kayak that can perform well in both whitewater and flatwater conditions.

You may also find that on some plastic crossover kayaks they are equipped with a drop down skeg, which can come in handy for flat water paddling and help to improve tracking. Whitewater vessels will generally not have a skeg, compared to touring vessels that often will.

Do I Need One?

If you plan to paddle on a calm lake on some days but want the freedom to mix it up and paddle down some Class I or Class II whitewater, faster flowing stretches of a river or even play in the surf, then a crossover kayak could be the right choice - and you'll only need one boat.

You may also find that on some plastic crossover kayaks they are equipped with a drop down skeg, which can come in handy for flat water paddling and help to improve tracking. Whitewater vessels will generally not have a skeg, compared to touring vessels that often will.

These types of boats can be just as fun for beginners as they can be for more experienced paddlers. If you’re just learning, they can provide you with a good vessel that can handle a lot of different water types and give you the performance features that you might look for as your skills improve. This means you don't need to buy multiple kayaks for different activities.

If you’re a more experienced paddler you can get the benefits of having a more comfortable and spacious vessel that can perform on the waves and moderate whitewater, but still have the features you might need if you’re looking to explore further afield.

Many of them will have adjustable seats that allow for maximum comfort, often with multiple points of adjustability. Adjustable seats can help you sit more comfortably for increased control so you can efficiently navigate turbulent whitewater and large boulders. Cockpit size can vary between models, with more or less space inside. 

Some kayaks come in different lengths so you can choose the most suitable cockpit size for your body type and build, which can cater to most paddlers.

Another benefit of crossover kayaks is that they can tend to be smaller in length than some recreational kayaks and indeed touring yaks, which can mean they might be easier to store and transport. 

They can also be lighter in weight than many sea or touring kayaks, which could also be an advantage when it comes to transportation. This means you should be able to carry it on your own or lift it onto your roof rack more easily if you need to.

Features Of Crossover Kayaks To Look Out For

Drop Down Skeg

When you’re paddling on whitewater, you probably won’t need a skeg as it could get damaged on rocks or other objects. But when you’re paddling on a lake or flat water, a skeg can be useful.

Because of the shape of the hull on crossover boats, a skeg can give you the added tracking and more stability that you might need for paddling on calm water - essentially allowing you to track straight. But because the boat is designed for whitewater, you’ll usually find the skeg on a crossover craft is retractable.

This means you can deploy it easily when you need to, such as on a lake, and lift it up and out of the way when you’re paddling in a creek or playboating.

Hull Shape

The shape of the hull can often give you an idea of whether it will be more suitable for flatwater paddling or whitewater paddling. With crossover hulls there’s usually a combination of features that are designed to make the hull suitable for both flatwater and whitewater.

The amount of rocker a craft has can determine what it might be better at. For example, the higher the kayak's rocker, the more it should be suited to whitewater. The less rocker, the more it might be suited to flatwater.

This is where you may also see references to waterline measurement. This is the amount of the kayak that's in the water, so a vessel with lower rocker with have a larger waterline and vice versa. The more waterline a kayak has, the better suited it should be for flat water.

Most crossover kayaks will have a certain amount of rocker, and possibly a more rounded bow, but if you plan to do a little more flatwater paddling than whitewater, a boat with less rocker could be easier to paddle on lakes

The versatile hull design is what makes these hybrid kayaks ideal if you're looking for a multi-purpose kayak.

Chine can also be something to look out for, with soft chine hulls being rounder for increased stability but reduced maneuvering. Hard chines can offer greater maneuverability and can be better for edging turns on water created friction but less stable.

Storage Options

If you plan to load up your craft with everything you’ll need for an overnight adventure then it’s a good idea to look for a yak with plenty of storage space.

While a crossover kayak may not have the extensive storage that a touring yak may have, it should have a dry hatch that will let you keep larger items safe while you’re on the water.

Some vessels may also have bungee cords that can allow to you keep other gear secure, such as a small dry bag. Hull material may affect the level of storage your kayak has, for example, inflatable kayaks may offer less storage features in exchange for their light weight.

Best Crossover Kayaks Reviewed

1: Dagger Katana Crossover Whitewater Kayak

  • Length: 10 foot 4 inches
  • Width: 27.25 inches
  • Weight: 56 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 285 pounds

The Dagger Kayaks Katana is a 10 foot 4 inch crossover kayak that is designed to offer performance on all waters. Like many other Dagger kayaks, its rotomolded polyethylene hull is engineered to provide both primary stability and secondary stability, making it ideal for a range of conditions and should feel equally stable on flatwater as on whitewater.

This Dagger kayak’s hull is a little wider, which could make it a good option for paddlers who are new to whitewater and want the additional security and excellent initial stability that you get from wider kayaks. Or it could be ideal if you’re simply looking for a more spacious and stable vessel that can handle a wide range of conditions, including more challenging waters.

The Katana 10.4 kayak features a spacious cockpit for better access and so you don't feel confined (ideal for larger paddlers), and benefits from having a comfortable seat with padded seat back. It boasts Dagger Kayaks' ergonomic seating system with leg lifter, adjustable hip pads and thigh braces. 

There is plenty of storage space for longer trips, with a stern hatch, as well as both bow and stern bungees on the deck for any more gear.

It has a rounded hull with beveled sides and added volume, designed to make it easy to maneuver on the rapids, creating more water friction for edging. And there is added rocker to help provide more speed over the waves. For flatwater paddling there’s a drop down skeg that can help with tracking straight and stability, making it one of the best crossover kayaks out there.

Pros

  • Initial and secondary stability
  • Adjustable thigh braces
  • Large cockpit size
  • Contour Ergo Outfitting with fully adjustable seat

Cons

  • A little heavy

2: Pyranha Fusion II Kayak

  • Length: 10 foot 4 inches
  • Width: 26 inches
  • Weight: 50 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 243 pounds

The Pyranha Fusion II is a lightweight crossover yak that can be equally at home in flat water and whitewater. It features flared sidewalls, a rounded hull with a balanced rocker profile and medium waterline to give you the added speed and maneuverability you might need on the waves.

The drop down skeg helps for paddling on calm water and need to paddle straight. The skeg is controlled by a skeg slider positioned on the deck in front of the cockpit for ease of access. There are side locking foot braces and thigh pads to help you maintain your position and control your boat. 

As well as a roomy cockpit and adjustable braces, it also benefits from a deck mounting point at the rear which can be ideal for mounting rod holders or gear tracks. This can give you even more versatility out of your craft and enable you to get more use out of it - ideal for when you’re not running rapids or exploring.

For an overnight trip or a day of exploring, there’s ample storage for one person, with a rear hatch to keep your gear safe. There’s also bungee rigging on the front deck to let you secure extra items to this portable crossover kayak.

Pros

  • Deck controlled deployable skeg
  • Deck mounting points for accessories
  • Decent cockpit size
  • Exceptionally maneuverable

Cons

  • Not the best crossover kayak for larger paddlers

3: Jackson Karma RG Kayak

  • Length: 11 foot 10 inches
  • Width: 25 inches
  • Weight: 56 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 325 pounds

The Jackson Karma RG is a pretty long kayak that is built with a whitewater hull so it can handle a range of whitewater both in rivers and the ocean. To give you optimal performance on flat water and improved crossover capabilities it has the added benefit of a drop skeg, so you can stay in control and on track in a straight line even on the lake.

To keep your gear safe and dry there’s a rear storage hatch and if you need extra space there is bungee rigging on the deck both at the bow and the stern. It also has a high weight capacity so you should be able to take all the gear you need for longer journeys without worrying about your craft being overweight. There's even a paddle park to keep your paddle safe if you need to access other gear.

To keep you comfortable whether you’re running whitewater or exploring, the comfortable, spacious cockpit features hip pads and an adjustable back band for customized lower back support. There’s also an adjustable Uni Shock Bulkhead System. This large bulkhead helps to protect your ankles but also allows you to stretch your legs out.

This has a longer hull than many crossover kayaks but this could be of added benefit on the lake when you need to pick up speed. And its length makes it one of the best crossover kayaks for tall paddlers (and could even work for a plus sized paddler). It’s also fairly narrow which could also help with paddling at top speed and tracking on flatwater.

Pros

  • Increased speed on flat waters
  • Comfortable seating
  • Good all around storage
  • Generous cockpit size

Cons

  • Not ideal for smaller paddlers

Ok, Wrapping Up

A crossover kayak can be a fun, versatile craft that can give you the freedom to explore a variety of different types of water without being limited to just one.

These types of kayaks can be ideal for both beginners looking to have a little fun and more experienced paddlers looking for performance and versatility.

While the best crossover kayaks, (with the Katana being our favorite) are designed to handle whitewater, they’re also designed to let you take to the water for longer expeditions, with plenty of room to bring along additional gear.

Let us know what your thoughts are on crossover kayaks. Maybe you've found the best crossover kayak yourself? And if you know anyone who might be a little undecided on what type of kayak to choose, help them out and share this guide with them. 

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