Things To Know And Consider When
Choosing A Touring Kayak
The purpose of this article is to
explain the basic terms and facts related to kayak touring in order to
enable the reader to make informed decisions when choosing a touring
Kayak touring is a recreational paddling activity involving
one or more kayakers going on medium to long range trips on freshwater
and/or at sea. Kayak touring usually does not include traveling in
whitewater, fishing and hunting, but it is sometimes combined with
camping, bird watching and photography.
A touring kayak is a kayak designed for one or two kayakers (tandem)
going on kayak touring trips. In the range of kayak speeds
touring kayaks offer average to high speed.
1. A Brief History Of Kayak Touring
Origins Of kayak Touring
Native peoples of the Arctic Circle used kayaks for touring expeditions
for hundreds and possibly thousands of years before kayak touring
became a recreational activity sometime around the beginning of the
twentieth century. Their custom sit-in kayaks were hand crafted, and
already had the basic design of modern days touring kayaks except for
the fact they featured no kayak seat, rudder or hatches that were
introduced only in recent decades. Some of the native kayaks were
narrow and designed to be easily rolled in case of capsize, and others
were wide enough to offer sufficient stability for a native kayaker. It
is important to note that native kayakers were considerably lighter as
well as shorter than the average, modern North American paddler. On top
of this, native kayakers practiced kayaking for long hours since early
childhood and were in most cases more athletic and in better physical
shape than the average North American touring kayaker. Such differences
in stature, weight and skills have a critical effect on essential
issues from safety to comfort, recovery, speed, tracking and
Beginning Of The Kayak Touring Era
Canoeing became popular among settlers in North America, who adopted
various native canoe designs for touring the continent's waterways as
well as for transportation of people and goods. Kayaks remained unused
because canoes had the advantage of having a greater load capacity and
were easier to paddle with a crew of two or more passengers. Sometime
after the middle of the nineteenth century trains, motorized boats and
later trucks and cars made canoes obsolete for utility touring, but at
the same time people began to have more free time and disposable
income, and began paddling canoes instead or rowing boats as a popular
recreational, outdoor activity. Kayaks were accepted as
mainstream recreational paddle crafts starting in the sixties, as the
new American society became increasingly centered on the individual.
For this matter, the kayak had the advantage of being easier to handle
and propel by a single passenger than a canoe is. It is then that the
traditional sit-in kayak design was hybridized with the paddle board
and the first commercial sit-on-top (SOT) kayak came to this world (1).
Gradually, with the evolution of the consumer society it became
fashionable to own a touring kayak, similarly to owning other
individual recreational equipment such as a pair of name brand skis, a
set of golf clubs or the latest model of fancy bicycle.
This trend reached its peak during the second half of the 1990s, as the
soaring stock market coupled with the boom in Information Technology
markets made it easy for urban professionals to buy increasingly
expensive recreational sporting gear. It is during that period that
expensive touring kayaks hand made from new, fiber reinforced plastics
(FRP) became fashionable, and many small and medium size touring kayak
manufacturing businesses thrived. This trend was equally fueled by the
natural tendency that people have to compare the gear they're using,
and to assume that the more expensive the kayak the better it is.
It is in this brief half decade that many kayak touring clubs were
founded and many paddle shops got into the business of selling touring
Things have taken a downward course around the
2001 depression, and a new era in kayak touring has begun. Some called
the beginning of this new trend the 'Touring Kayak Meltdown', and it
reflected a number
of developments - The first being a considerable drop in sales of
touring kayaks and at the same time a rise in sales of low-cost
recreational kayaks. The second is a decline in participation in kayak
touring activities such as club tours, and a rise in recreational
kayaking activities including rentals, non organized short trips and
kayak fishing. The difference between the trend setting kayaks in the
nineties and the trendy kayaks today is not only in price and materials
(rotationally molded polyethylene being the most popular material
today), but also in the basic design concepts. The typical touring
kayak used to be a very long, very stiff (I.E. brittle) and very narrow
sit-in kayak. These attributes served the purpose of enabling higher
speed and practicing the Eskimo Roll. In comparison, today's typical
touring kayak is shorter, wider and roto-molded I.E. not as rigid as an
FRP ('composite') kayak, and it's as likely to be a sit-on-top as it is
to be a sit-in kayak. As for the sit-in concept, a greater part
of these modern kayaks are very wide and not used with a spray skirt
since they are not intended to be rolled.
Categories Of Kayak Touring
- Many miles and several days or more. This type of kayak touring is
the most demanding from both kayak and kayaker. The kayak needs
to be solidly built and gig enough to store the gear and provisions
required for a long trip. Because of its size a weight it should be
stable enough to minimize the need for rolling.
· Sea Kayaking
- Kayaking on very large bodies of water (E.G. Great Lakes, Ocean) in a
group of at least two kayakers. Typically, sea kayaking trips are not
longer than one day. The sea kayak is required to be fast enough
for its user to keep in pace with the other kayakers in the group. As
for the actual seaworthiness of such boats, the reader is welcome to
read the article 'Are Sea Kayaks Seaworthy?' (Article)
- Long journey, mainly on rivers and lakes. The tripping kayak is
required to be strong enough to withstand the hardships of going down
rapids, multiple beaching on rocky shores etc. It also has to offer
sufficient load capacity for gear and provisions.
- General term for recreational paddling through longer distances,
usually in groups and sometime for more than one day. Touring is often
combined with other recreational activities such as camping,
photography, bird watching etc. Touring kayaks include a broad
range of designs that are generally faster than whitewater, surfing and
recreational kayaks and slower than racing kayaks.
· Day Touring
- Leisure kayaking for trips shorter than one day.
Touring - Leisure paddling limited to short trips in both time
and distance terms.
The Touring Kayak Design
The touring kayak has to fulfill a number of sometime contradictory
requirements of which the two essential ones are safety and comfort.
Next come speed and maneuverability, which are important as well but
not critical. Load capacity and storage come last and their importance
is reduced if the kayak model is designed for shorter trips and calmer
waters, as most touring kayaks are nowadays.
This is obviously the most critical requirement, and it is a complex,
The first thing that comes to mind when discussing kayak safety is the
ability of the kayak to protect its passenger from dangers including
drowning, injury, exhaustion, hypothermia etc.
A kayak with too little freeboard might eventually fail to prevent
water from getting inside the cockpit. In extreme cases the extra
weight might impede and even sink the boat, and in cold water and
weather it could cause the passenger severe discomfort, exhaustion and
even death as a result of hypothermia.
A kayak that's too narrow to offer sufficient lateral stability to its
passenger is prone to being overturned by external forces such as
waves, boat wakes etc., or as a result of an accidental error made by
the passenger in a moment of inattention.
The paddling community is divided between the traditional, small and
diminishing minority of those who see the Eskimo Roll as the ultimate
recovery method and an already overwhelming and growing majority of
those who prefer to paddle wider, more stable boats than increase the
risk of capsizing by paddling narrow ones.
A kayak that does not offer sufficient legroom and good ergonomics will
cause its passenger to suffer from discomfort, fatigue and sometime
exhaustion. Such kayaks often cause cramps in the legs and thighs, leg
numbness and back pain that could lead to serious boating accidents. In
the long run uncomfortable kayaks might cause lasting back injuries.
A kayak designed for high speed and therefore made from very
lightweight and rigid materials such as carbon fiber is also more
brittle than a kayak molded from polyethylene, and might develop cracks
when hitting rocks or ice. Needless to say, that a cracked hull
in cold water can be fatal. Unfortunately for passengers of such
kayaks, the colder the temperature the more fragile the hull becomes.
These examples show how the requirement for additional speed might
reduce both the kayak's mobility and safety.
In this context it is appropriate to stress that designs and techniques
that were perfectly acceptable and useful for native kayakers are no
longer practical for most modern non-professional kayakers - including
those who think otherwise.
These subjects are already discussed in depth in another article called
'Biomechanical and Ergonomic Solutions To Modern Kayaking' (Article).
In essence, when choosing a touring kayak it is useful to remember the
You are going to spend many hours at a time in this kayak, and what may
seem comfortable to you in the first fifteen minutes of paddling might
turn to be a nuisance and sometime a source of pain after an hour or
two, and it may even cause back injuries over longer periods of
3.3 The Kayak
This is a modern-days accessory that native kayaks did not feature.
Kayak manufacturers introduced it as a support for the kayaker's back
in order to prevent it from 'falling' backwards as a result of sitting
in a position that's not appropriate for people who are no longer used
to sitting on the floor, that is nearly all of us Westerners.
But the seat has not solved the ergonomic problem at its root- it just
changed the symptoms: Now the supporting structure itself I.E. the
seat's backrest created a pressure point in the kayaker's lower back,
and while generous cushioning may dissipate to a certain level and
postpone the discomfort it certainly does not eliminate it.
In fact, the kayak seat created a second problem, which is the lack of
sufficient support for the kayaker's feet: Instead of the back
'falling' backward the feet are 'sliding' forward, which is why they
require a rigid, vertical accessory to stop them, and that's what the
foot rests or foot braces effectively do at the cost of increasing the
pressure on your lower back.
And while the kayak seat has become standard in all commercial kayak
models because without it hardly anyone would be able to paddle them,
it has also become the Achilles Heel of the touring kayak since it
merely transforms one ergonomic problem to another, and touring
kayakers paddle for long hours…
3.4 The Cockpit
What's a cockpit? -Basically, it's the space in the boat from
where the person who controls the vessel sits or stands.
Sit-in kayaks have a small cockpit in the boat's center, where the seat
is fixed in its place. This design offers little protection from waves
and spray, and enables a single sitting position with restricted
legroom. If you want better protection you can cover the opening with a
tight spray skirt, and by doing so you'll be locking yourself inside
the cockpit for better or for worse… with intermediary degrees of
discomfort such as being seated for long hours in a puddle of water
since eventually water doesn't fail from getting inside. You may
also experience overheating in the summer and cold in winter, and acute
discomfort resulting from the fact you are forced to remain seated in
the one and only sitting position that's offered to you - and it's not
even a comfortable one.
When it comes to sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks, you're not even offered a
proper cockpit space to speak of but rather an area on the open deck of
a craft that's basically little more than a re-designed paddle board
that's paddled like a traditional kayak. The (virtual) cockpit of
a SOT offers you no protection at all. In fact, SOT kayaks' cockpits
have holes in them that go from their deck to the bottom of the
kayak. These 'scupper' holes are there to drain the water that
accumulates in seat area, but as soon as the water gets a little rough
they also let water go up in the other direction, wetting you and your
As far as comfort goes a SOT's cockpit may be somehow less restrictive
than the cockpit of a sit-in kayak, but the essential problems remain
the same, plus you're more likely to go overboard unless you attach
yourself to the deck with 'thigh straps', which isn't safe even if you
can roll a sit-in kayak.
The SOT's cockpit (or lack thereof) is the reason why you would hardly
see SOT touring kayaks anywhere in colder regions.
In sum, as a touring kayaker you should consider whether the cockpit of
a kayak model offers you a functional space or if it is just a 'place'
inside the boat or on its deck.
Imagine yourself paddling your new touring kayak on a big lake or some
other large body of water, and the weather is getting windy and
unexpectedly cooler so you'd like to wear your sweatshirt, which you
stored just two feet away from you… but you're unable to grab it
because it's in the hatch…
Then your cell phone rings and you'd like to answer the call but
although your cellphone is just a couple of feet away it's unreachable
because it's in the hatch… Then you run out of paper handkerchiefs for
your running nose, and although the extra package is onboard your kayak
there's no way for you to reach it until you beach somewhere - because
it's in the hatch…
So, the rule for hatches is that they are designed for storing objects
that you wouldn't need onboard.
Now that same unexpected change in the weather is generating some
waves. -You paddle to shore and beach your kayak (while stepping in
water) and open the hatch just to find that the sweatshirt you stored
there for such cases got wet from water that got in, as well as the
extra package of paper handkerchiefs and your cellphone…
Such stories are so common that some kayak outfitters would tell you
that whatever you bring onboard your kayak is likely to get wet -
3.6 The Rudder
Even your kayak dealer or outfitter is likely to tell you at some point
that you should try to avoid using one…
Native kayaks had no rudders but modern kayak manufacturers noticed
that most of their customers were facing difficulties in tracking and
maneuvering their kayaks.
The problem with conventional (I.E. mono-hull) kayaks is that the
longer they are the harder it is to maneuver them, which could be a
severe problem in rough waters and weather since you may be going in a
straight line but not necessarily in the direction of your choice
because the wind, waves and currents would outmaneuver you… -But
the shorter the kayak the less well it tracks, which is too bad since
in a short rudderless kayak you'll find yourself zigzagging your way to
your destination instead of going straight there.
So why are rudders so controversial? -Simply because they
obviously add an element of complexity and technical difficulty to the
kayaking experience. However, there is another tradeoff to
consider - one that's less apparent, which is the fact that a rudder
slows your kayak down by 10% in average. In other words you have to
spend 10% more time to get where you want to go, and you're likely to
work harder getting there because using a rudder requires that you
overcome a new set of hydrodynamic and biomechanical problems…(2)
Traditionally, touring kayaks are solo boats, and if you want to go
kayak touring you need a tandem model, which is not practical for a
This is a less than optimal solution, and in fact it's even inferior to
solutions offered by canoes.
SOT kayaks are somehow more flexible on this issue, and in some cases
the 'guest seat' on the deck can accommodate an additional passenger
for short rides, but in such cases the kayak becomes laterally unstable
and is not it's not balanced fore and aft and therefore becomes even
more difficult to paddle.
But additional passengers don't necessarily have to be paddlers like
you - They can also be small children or dogs, and it goes without
saying that both their safety and comfort must be assured.
This is possibly the most discussed subject related to kayak touring
yet it seems to be unclear to many kayakers.
The first issue that needs clarification is what makes a kayak go
The answer is obviously the power and skill of the kayaker, plus the
design of the kayak itself that enables the kayaker to use these
resources efficiently. Since kayakers differ greatly in physical
attributes such as height, weight and strength as well as in their
specific paddling skills and touring style a kayak that's fast for one
paddler may be slow for another, and vice versa in some cases or even
as a general rule.
For example, a very narrow and long sea kayak may enable a kayaker to
go faster on flat water than a shorter and wider kayak would, but it
could be difficult to control in moving water such as rapids and surf,
and therefore force the kayaker to go slower or even give up paddling
it in such waters.
The classic example used by both kayak designers and outfitters is a
very long and therefore potentially fast kayak that requires more power
from its paddler because its increased length inevitably increases its
surface area and thus also the frictional drag it generates when moving
in the water…
Since the kayak is a passive object without a motor or sail of its own
its speed depends its hydrodynamic qualities but possibly even more on
its ergonomic and biomechanical design, or simply on what its physical
impact on the paddler is.
Therefore, when choosing a touring kayak it would be beneficial for you
to consider speed not necessarily as the first and foremost parameter
but as yet another feature that comes at a certain price that you may
or may not want to pay. You should take into consideration what type of
kayak touring you're likely to practice, and who are going to be your
paddling partners. Obviously, if you intend to paddle together with
kayakers who paddle fast you'd better paddle a fast kayak - but only if
you're a good kayaker yourself. Otherwise, if like most touring
kayakers you're planning just to spend time kayaking alone or in the
company or others who share the same mindset without rushing anywhere
you should put speed in a much lower priority.
The Kayak Touring Experience
After reading about the safety requirements it's easier to understand
why comfort should be a critical requirement from your touring kayak.
Comfort is a multidimensional issue as well, which pertains to
ergonomics (mainly minimizing fatigue), biomechanics (mainly efficiency
of paddling and injury reduction) and easing the operation of the boat
(just 'Keep It Simple S…')
In previous sections of this article we discussed some comfort issues
in a safety
context, but comfort is also important in itself since it's the number
one factor that's likely to determine the overall quality of your kayak
touring experience, and thus will determine if you'll be satisfied with
your kayak choice and possibly even whether you'll stick with kayak
touring as a preferred outdoor activity.
Launching, Beaching Etc.
Both launching and beaching go to the kayak's performance in terms of
mobility, which is at the core of kayak touring: A good touring kayak
should offer you the ability to launch from more places and get back to
land whenever you want.
Many people find it difficult to enter a sit-in kayak, and they don't
appreciate the elaborate maneuvers required to perform what should be a
simple thing. Obviously, the same thing goes for beaching your kayak
and exiting it…
This is not just a matter of basic convenience but also one that has
safety implications, especially if your kayak is made from one of those
extra-light materials (E.G. carbon fiber reinforced plastic) that are
very rigid as well as brittle. You may find that your pride and joy
developed a crack in its hull because you beached it a bit too roughly,
and such a discovery may occur while you're paddling it…
So a touring kayak should be easy to get into and out of, and it should
better be 'built tough'.
Sit-on-top (SOT) and open-cockpit kayaks are much easier to enter and
exit than sit-in kayaks, and this is one of the reasons that make them
more popular than sit-in models. However, what makes such kayaks easier
to enter and exit is what eventually will offer you less protection
from the elements…
Summary - What's Important To Remember
The kind of kayak
touring you practice may be different from someone else's, but all
touring kayakers are basically seeking an experience that may have to
do to some extent with nature, freedom, escape, adventure, group
participation, family, friends, healthy exercise and most of all - fun.
This precious, personal experience could be damaged by people who
kayak touring with racing, or others that have a tendency to compete in
kayaking skills and knowledge, or by those who show off their latest
acquisitions in expensive kayaking gear, electronic gadgets etc.
Your kayak touring experience can also be ruined by an inadequate
kayak: Regardless of price, your kayak is no good if it doesn't
contribute to your own, personal touring experience, so if anyone tells
you what experience you should be after or what boat is
proper for you just remember that these are personal things that you
need to discover by
yourself and for yourself - even if it takes a long time and possibly
The type of kayak touring you like and the touring kayak you like are
best for you, period. You shouldn't let individuals who may be
'purists', 'gear freaks' and 'tribal chieftains' affect your personal
inconceivable that your choice of a touring kayak would be affected by
considerations that may have been relevant to native hunters of the
polar circle in the distant past. Things have changed since then,
both your needs and capabilities are very different form theirs, as
well as the number and types of kayak concepts and designs you can
choose from nowadays.
New Approach And New Solutions For Kayak Touring
We hope this article has informed you in some way about the
You are welcome to learn about the solutions offered by the W Kayak in
this website's Touring
section, and watch W Kayak demo movies.
Interestingly, small, personal sit-on-top board-like paddle boats
were quite common around the world for millennia, of which some were
paddled with dual blade paddles similar to kayak paddles E.G. in Italy,
Pre-Colombian South America etc.
information on rudders is available in the article 'Are Sea Kayaks
Questions? Comments? Please call
us toll free at 1 (877) 916-2250 or email us to WaveWalk
The Canadian Museum of
Kayak Newfoundland and Labrador
Articles by Wayne Horodowich,
University of Sea Kayaking: http://www.useakayak.org/
The Seaworthy Kayak, article by John Winters: http://www.swiftcanoe.com/kayak/article_results.asp?ID=1
Kayak Design Articles by Nick
Schade of Guillemot Kayaks: http://www.guillemot-kayaks.com/Design/index.html
'Choosing a Sea Kayak' by Vaclav Stejskal of
One Ocean Kayak: http://www.oneoceankayaks.com/kayakpick.htm
Speed Fundamentals, the
Twinhull Advantages and the Principles of the W
Biomechanical and Ergonomic
Solutions to Modern Kayaking:
A Wet Ride -
Problem Overview and New Solutions
POPULATIONS HEIGHT and WEIGHT:
Body Weight, Height and Body Mass Index, United States 1960–2002
Encyclopedia MSN Encarta: Inuit http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761561130/Inuit.html