Home > Kayak Types > Recreational Kayaks vs Touring Kayaks – What’s The Difference?

Recreational Kayaks vs Touring Kayaks – What’s The Difference?

Mark Armstrong
Updated on:
- If you buy via a link on this page, we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you. Learn more
- Read our review guidelines

When you’re looking for a new kayak, it can be difficult to know which type to choose. You might want to know what all the categories mean and what each type of kayak is best for.

You might have seen both recreational and touring kayaks on your quest for a new vessel but you want to know which one would suit you best. To give you a helping hand, we’ve put this quick guide together so that you can see the difference between recreational and touring yaks.

Recreational Kayaks vs Touring Kayaks - PinterestPin

What Features Define A Recreational Yak?


Recreational yaks will tend to have good initial stability or primary stability. They will often have a wider and shorter hull than touring yaks, which can help to provide a more stable platform for paddling on flatwater.

Their high level of primary stability can make them feel more stable on calm water but this can often mean they may not have as high a level of secondary stability, which can make them less suitable for whitewater.

Best recreational kayaks

Easy To Use

These types of yaks can be ideal for beginners because of their stability and ease of use. Many recreational yaks will be sit-on-tops, which can be easy to get in and out of and can feel less restrictive because there is no closed cockpit.

However, you can also get sit-inside recreational yaks. These can also be easy to use and easy to get in and out of because the cockpits will often tend to be larger so you might feel less confined compared to the cockpits on narrower touring yaks.

Video: How To Get Into And Out Of A Kayak Smoothly

The short hulls on these types of yaks can also make them easy to maneuver, which can be useful for kids and beginners.


Because recreational vessels are built for recreation, they can be pretty tough and are commonly made from polyethylene. This means they can usually withstand little bumps and knocks, and being dragged along the sand. If you’ve ever rented a kayak at the beach or lake, it is likely that it was a recreational one.

> Difference between inflatable & hardshell yaks

What Are The Features Of A Touring Kayak?


One of the most noticeable features on a touring yak will often be the amount of storage. There will usually be more dedicated storage areas and sealed hatches on a touring yak compared to a simple recreational vessel.

The added storage capacity is to allow you to load up your vessel for a longer trip, such as a multi-day “tour”. You should find space for overnight camping gear and food supplies.

> Read more on touring kayaks

Secondary Stability

Touring vessels usually have a good level of secondary stability in the hull, which means they can better handle rougher waters without tipping.

However, this can often make them feel a little unstable when you first get into one, particularly if you’re a beginner.

> Best kayaks to use if you’re a beginner


Touring yaks often have long and narrow hulls, which can make them faster on the water.

This can be ideal when you’re paddling across large bodies of water or heading on a long distance trip, as it should make paddling easier and help to minimize fatigue since there is less resistance between the boat and the water.


Because of their longer, narrower hull design, you might also find that touring kayaks track more efficiently.

This means it may take less effort to keep the vessel on a straight path than it might with a recreational boat. However, the long hull may be less efficient at turning and maneuvering in small bodies of water.

Day Touring

As well as touring yaks, you can also get slightly shorter day touring yaks, which can be either sit-inside or sit-on-top. These can be ideal for shorter trips where you still need to be able to take plenty of gear with you.

They may also be slightly wider than traditional touring vessels, which can make them suitable for beginners as well as more experienced paddlers.

What About Sea Kayaks, Aren’t They The Same As Touring?

Same Same, But Different

While a sea kayak and a touring kayak may seem similar, they are not exactly the same. A sea kayak is a type of touring yak but it will often have a slightly different hull design than a regular touring vessel to allow it to handle ocean swell and waves.

The hull will often have more rocker compared to a touring yak, which can help with maneuverability in moving ocean water. A traditional touring yak may have less rocker, making it more suitable for flatwater paddling than a sea kayak.

Diagram showing more rocker vs less rocker on a kayakPin

Sea kayaks can often be narrower than regular touring vessels, with a sharp V-shaped hull that can be better suited to cutting through the water.

Beginners may not feel as comfortable in a sea kayak compared to a shorter, more stable touring yak and the conditions in the ocean may also be unsuitable if you’re a less experienced paddler.

> What about sea fishing kayaks?

Video: 3 Golden Rules of Kayak Touring


Rudders and skegs can be common accessories on sea kayaks. This is because the choppy or windy conditions found on the coast may sometimes require a little extra help from a rudder or skeg in order to keep you heading in the direction you want to travel.

However, touring yaks will also often come equipped with a rudder or the option of having one installed.

Recreational vs Touring Comparison


Recreational yaks will tend to feel more stable on flatwater than touring yaks because of their generally shorter and wider hulls.

But a touring craft may be better at handling moving water, such as currents.

Water Conditions

Both recreational and touring yaks can be ideal for flatwater conditions, such as bays, lakes and slow moving rivers.

Additionally, a touring yak should also excel in open water and moderate rivers. A recreational craft, on the other hand, may be better at handling smaller bodies of water and narrow rivers where maneuvering around rocks may be required.

Sea kayaks can be ideal for ocean paddling and exploring the coastline but a recreational yak should be suitable for handling a family day at the beach if the water is calm.

> Or you could try kayak surfing if you’re feeling brave

Experience Level

Recreational vessels can be ideal for all levels of experience, including complete beginners. A recreational boat can be an ideal vessel for learning paddling skills before moving on to narrower touring vessels.

Touring yaks will generally be more suitable if you’ve already had some paddling experience, particularly if it’s a sit-inside. This is because these types of yaks will often require additional skills, such as rolls and wet exits.

Gear Storage

Touring yaks are designed for longer trips so you will likely find more storage for camping gear on a touring yak than you would on a recreational yak.

Recreational boats may still have smaller storage areas to allow you to bring along a picnic or a change of clothing but they are not generally designed for long distance paddling trips.

The Speed

Touring yaks will generally be faster than recreational ones because of their longer, narrower hulls, which can allow for more efficiency on the water. Recreational yaks often tend to sacrifice speed in exchange for added stability.

The added speed on a touring yak can mean you will use less effort paddling over long distances compared to a recreational boat because the touring hull is designed to be more hydrodynamic.

Transportation And Storage

Recreational yaks can be easier to transport and store, as they tend to be shorter in length than touring vessels and so should take up less space.

Touring vessels may require additional accessories, such as roof racks or trailers, in order to get them to and from the water.

Some recreational yaks may be able to fit in the back of a pickup.

Touring vs Recreational Kayak Showdown

WATER TYPE:Lakes, Slow RiverLakes, Bays, Sea
LENGTH OF TRIP:Short Day TripFull-Day Trip Or Longer
Video: How To Tie Down Your Kayak to Your Truck Bed

Parting Thoughts…

Hopefully you now know a little more about some of the differences between recreational and touring kayaks (and, of course, sea kayaks), so you should know the type of boat that will suit you best.

Think about your skill level and the type of paddling you want to do before you decide on a yak.

Maybe you have a recreational yak and are looking to progress to longer adventures in a touring yak? Tell us about your paddling plans. And remember to share this with your fellow paddlers in case they’re looking for a new boat.

Leave a Comment