Are you looking to buy a touring kayak but not sure which one to go for? Wondering what features make a touring kayak different from other types? Well, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about buying a touring kayak. We’ll also cover what we think are the best touring kayaks on the market today in our reviews at the end.
So whether you want to set off on the 99-mile long Wilderness Waterway in the Florida Everglades, spend a week camping in Boundry Waters Wilderness of Minnesota, or paddle with orcas for the day on Pudjet Sound. Whatever adventure you have in mind, a touring kayak can get you there and back again. Let’s get started.
Quick Answer: The Best Kayaks for Touring
How to Choose a Touring Kayak: A Buyer’s Guide
When you’re picking a kayak to buy, it helps to know what sort of paddling you’re going to be using it for. This will affect the features and characteristic of the kayak that will suit you best. To help you decide whether you need a touring kayak below is our buyer’s guide that’ll guide you through the specifications of touring kayaks so you can pick the best one for your needs.
What Exactly is a Touring Kayak?
Kayak makers divide their offerings up depending on how they expect customers to use their boats–but the truth is, there are few hard-and-fast rules. Shorter kayaks are generally dubbed “recreational” boats since they are general-purpose day paddling craft. Anything longer that can hold some gear is considered a “touring” kayak.
A touring kayak is designed to take extended trips over open water. It needs to be stable enough to take on at least moderately rough conditions in unprotected waters. It should hold enough gear to support an extended trip, at least an overnight camping trip, if not longer. And it should track well enough and be comfortable enough that a paddler can travel all day without getting fatigued.
All displacement hulled boats are limited in their speed based on their waterline length and beam. The beam is the width of the boat at its widest point. The longer a boat gets, the faster it can cut through the water. This is why building the Titanic was such a big deal in 1912–it was the longest ocean liner built because that made it the fastest.
We’ll stop the comparisons to the Titanic right there. But suffice it to say, the longer the kayak, the faster the kayak. And speed is nice if you are looking to cover 30, 40, or 100 miles on a kayaking adventure. Touring kayaks are also more likely to have to fight against adverse currents and wind, making a faster, more efficient kayak desirable.
The classic touring kayak is a sit-in model, but there are several sit-on-top options available too. Most touring kayaks are 15 feet long or more and relatively narrow. But manufacturers don’t use any set standards, so some companies may describe much shorter boats as “touring” kayaks when they are more for recreational use.
Where Can You Take a Touring Kayak?
Touring kayaks are often referred to as sea kayaks–which more or less answers the question. But of course, you can use them on lakes, bays, oceans, gulfs, bights, big rivers, and everything in between.
Touring kayaks are more versatile than you may think. They have the load capacity to carry a lot of gear, and they paddle nicely. So the better question to ask might be, where can’t you take a touring kayak?
If touring boats have one weakness, it’s that they aren’t very maneuverable. Due to their length, it takes some effort and space to get them to turn a corner. If you’re paddling in close quarters and need to move around objects, you need a shorter kayak. This is why river and whitewater kayaks are limited to about 10 feet long. Touring kayaks, built for the open water, have no such limitations and can be more than 20 feet long.
The lack of turning ability might seem negative, but it’s a massive benefit to this sort of kayak. It means that the wind will not blow the kayak off course. It also means that the boat will not change its heading with each stroke of the paddle. These are all excellent qualities when you’re just trying to get from Point A to Point B, and there’s nothing in between but miles of water.
Many sea kayaks have a built-in rudder to help them track the desired course and help turn. Some have built-in skegs instead, which help them track well in cross-wind situations. Both accessories are usually designed to be retractable for shallow water.
Like other types of kayaks, touring craft are built out of plastic, composites, or wood. There are also inflatable options made out of PVC vinyl. The length of a touring kayak results in some special considerations, especially regarding the vessel’s weight.
Plastic kayaks are usually the cheapest options, and like smaller recreational boats, they can be made out of rotomolded high-density polyethylene, or hard thermoform ABS. Rotomolded polyethylene boats are usually limited to about 17 feet long because the plastic gets too heavy and is too easily deformed during prolonged storage.
Thermoform ABS boats are much more rigid than their polyethylene cousins, so they can be longer. The ABS material also tends to produce a lighter kayak, a bonus when looking at boats this long.
Composite kayaks make up a majority of the touring kayak fleet. These can be made out of either fiberglass, carbon fiber, or Kevlar. Some boats might blend the three materials, using different types of material for different structural areas. Composite kayaks are much lighter than plastic ones, but they are also costly.
Sea kayaks were initially used by the indigenous Aleut and Inuit hunters from subarctic regions. They’ve been around thousands of years, and traditionally they were made of wood or skin-on-frame designs. These sorts of boats are still out there, but they’re rare and expensive.
Inflatable kayaks come in a wide variety of lengths. Most inflatable kayaks are more like narrow canoes. They have high sides and an open cockpit, but unlike canoes, they have narrow enough beams that you can paddle them with a two-bladed kayak paddle.
Touring Kayak Length
A longer touring kayak gives three primary advantages:
- superior tracking
- weight carrying capacity
To find the right length of kayak for you, you must strike a balance between these three factors.
In the purest sense, a touring kayak should be able to hold enough gear for whatever expedition you want to take. But few of us actually go on many long expedition paddles, so it’s more likely that your choice in a kayak will be limited by what you can transport and store at home.
As far as capacity goes, most kayaks will easily carry 300 pounds or more once they are 15 feet or longer. For the average paddler, this is more than enough. But if longer trips are in your future, you’ll want to carefully consider all the things you want to take and how much it will all weigh.
Touring kayaks are designed to be packed to the gills with your stuff. They usually feature large water-tight hatches in the fore and aft decks. Additionally, they have deck bungees and day hatches to keep things that you want to grab while out on the water.
But you must take care not to overload the boat. It is pretty easy for a larger paddler to overload a sea kayak with tons of interior volume. An overloaded kayak will be less stable, dangerously so in rough conditions.
Hull Shape and Design
There are two factors to be aware of when it comes to the shape of a touring kayak’s hull.
Rocker is the curve of the boat’s profile, from the bow to the stern. A boat with a rocker will curve like a smile, while a flat boat will be a straight line. Rocker effectively reduces the waterline under normal conditions, making the boat a little more maneuverable. But should a wave come along, the boat has reserve buoyancy in the bow and stern, making it more stable.
The second thing to consider is the design of the chines. The chines are where the sides of the kayak meet the bottom. On some boats, this is a clearly defined sharp edge called a hard chine. The opposite design is a soft chine, where the bottom is a gently curved shape with no edges.
As you look, you will find other things that separate touring kayak designs. Some have graceful overhangs on the bow and stern, while others have vertical, plumb bows. Many of these design elements mean a lot to naval architects. For paddlers out on the water, the differences in handling are pretty tricky to pin down.
The cockpit designs of touring kayaks vary considerably depending on the types of conditions the boat is designed for. Recreational boats and those designed for warmer climates will have larger cockpits that are easier to get in and out of. Boats made for cold climates tend to have very small cockpits. Smaller cockpits are harder to get in and out of, but they keep more water out and can keep the paddler warmer. All cockpits on sit-in-style sea kayaks can be covered with a spray skirt.
The accessories needed by a touring kayaker aren’t different from other types of kayak. You need a comfortable PFD, a bilge pump, a paddle float, and maybe some floatation bags. Many touring kayaks also use a spray skirt to close off the cockpit and keep water out, especially in rough or very cold conditions.
Many shorter sea kayaks are sold without the rudder, which can be added as an accessory. Rudders are typically standard on models that are 17 feet long or more. Skegs, on the other hand, are usually built into the kayak.
Best Rated Touring Kayak Reviews
Now that you hopefully have a better idea of what to look for in a good touring kayak let’s take a look at our touring kayak reviews below.
#1. Sea Eagle 385ft FastTrack™ Inflatable Touring Kayak
The number one touring kayak is the Sea Eagle 385ft FastTrack. The versatility of this design sets it apart from all of the other competitors. It can easily be paddled by one, two, or even three people. The inflatable design gives it an enormous capacity of up to 635 pounds, even though the boat is only 12.5 feet long.
Unlike many inflatable sea kayaks, The FastTrack design features an inflatable keel and a removable skeg to improve tracking. Also unique is the high-pressure drop-stitched floor, which provides a solid deck that you can even stand on.
Sea Eagle makes very high-quality inflatables of 1000 Denier PVC vinyl. They can take tons of abuse and are very difficult to puncture. If they do become damaged, repairs are easy with the included patch kit.
The 385ft is perfect as a solo touring kayak or as a tandem recreational kayak. If you need to hold even more gear, consider the even longer Sea Eagle FastTrack 465ft. It can hold up 795 pounds and measures 15 feet 3 inches in length.
#2. Wilderness Systems Kayak Tsunami 140 Touring Kayak
- The Swiss army knife of touring kayaks
- Exceptionally fast, yet stable in all conditions
- Features the most comfortable kayak seat out there to keep you on the water longer
If you’re looking for a value-packed classic kayak for light touring, the Wilderness Systems Tsunami 140 has you covered. It’s got an outstanding balance of features that make it superbly capable and versatile for nearly any paddling adventure. It’s a rotomolded polyethylene kayak that weighs in at 53 pounds–not feather-light, but not a burden either. At 14 feet long and 25.5 inches wide, it’s stable with a nice blend of speed, comfort, and capacity. It can carry 325 pounds of load.
It’s got forward and rear hatches, along with deck pockets and deck bungees. It doesn’t come with a rudder, but the mold is designed to take one as an optional accessory. That’s a worthwhile upgrade if you’re looking to paddle long distances, but if you’re mostly making day trips, you will not likely miss it on a boat this size.
Wilderness Systems makes several models of Tsunami, from the smallest 125 to the 175. If you need a smaller or larger boat to float your adventures, you can find exactly the right size for you.
#3. Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Touring Inflatable Kayak
Advanced Elements makes unique inflatable kayaks that feature a one-of-a-kind aluminum rib frame design. This combination approach merges the benefits of an inflatable boat with those of a traditional skin-on-frame design. The AdvancedFrame kayaks have strong, well-formed keels and chines. The decking material is a three-layer woven nylon material that is very UV resistant and hard-wearing.
Like all inflatable kayaks, the Advanced Elements breaks down and packs into a large backpack. Set up is super quick and easy, so you can throw the boat in your trunk and head off to paddle anywhere. If you need a little more space, the kayak is also available in a tandem version.
#4. Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 Touring Kayak
- Mid-sized paddlers will relish the performance of this award-winning kayak
- Winner of sea kayaker magazine Reader's choice Award For "best day and weekend touring kayak"
- Named "best beginners kayak: sea" - Outside Online, June 2012
At 17 feet long and 22 inches wide, sleek and sexy are just a few words that come to mind when you first see the Tempest 170. This boat even looks fast. There is no doubt, however, that this is a big kayak. It weighs 57 pounds and can hold 325 pounds. It includes a skeg for improved tracking when needed, but it can be retracted when maneuverability is needed.
The Tempest is narrow and long, making it a classic sea kayak built for traveling distances. Wind, waves, and currents are no problem. Plus, the Wilderness Systems’ exclusive Phase3 AirPro XL seat makes the kayak comfortable all day long.
#5. AIRE Tributary Sawtooth Inflatable Touring Kayak
A traditional inflatable kayak, the AIRE Tributary Sawtooth is a tandem is made of high-quality 1000 Denier PVC. The air bladders are housed inside an external protective PVC layer for extra durability. It’s a little over 15 feet long and can hold up to 500 pounds.
The AIRE has three air chambers and a self-bailing design. Best of all, it weighs only 41 pounds for easy transport.
#6. Perception Expression Hardshell Touring Kayak
- Embark on an adventure with the Perception Expression 11.5, your perfect first "sit inside kayak", proudly made in the USA. This...
- Experience unmatched comfort in this sit-in kayak with an adjustable, cushioned ergonomic seat that adjusts in all directions. The...
- This sit inside kayak caters to all paddlers with quick-adjust footrests for personalized comfort. Plus, spacious dry storage...
The Expression 11.5 is a beautiful light touring kayak for smaller paddlers. It has a carrying capacity of 255 pounds, a rear storage hatch, and forward deck bungees. The rotomolded design is also available in 14.5 and 15-foot models if you need to carry more gear or tackle more challenging conditions.
#7. Eddyline Sky 10 Solo Touring Kayak
Eddyline makes beautiful kayaks out of thermomolded ABS. The process creates a sharp-looking boat that looks and feels like a much more expensive composite vessel. At 10 feet by 26 inches, the Sky 10 is a small recreational boat. For paddlers of smaller stature, though, it would make a very nice light touring vessel. It can hold 250 pounds, and for a short kayak, it has an excellent reputation for handling well and tracking straight.
If you’re interested in a true long-distance touring model, check out Eddyline’s Sitka or Fathom models.
#8. Delta Kayaks Delta 17 Long Touring Kayak
The Delta 17 is a high-performance touring kayak made for longer trips. The 17-footer can take on the most challenging conditions with grace, and the 400-pound weight capacity means you can bring all of your gear along for the ride. It’s made of thermoformed ABS for a polished and slick look, and the whole thing only weighs 50 pounds.
The Delta 17 is the largest boat Delta Kayaks makes. It’s a performance boat built for speed, with a narrow 22-inch beam. It’s perfect for bigger paddlers looking to get on the water with a lot of gear. There’s just not much that the Delta 17 can’t do.
#9. Riot Edge 14.5 LV Touring Kayak
- Well-rounded day touring kayak
- Slender bow and slim deck line
- Features a pilot rudder system
The Riot Edge is a hybrid recreational and touring model. With a 14.5-foot length and a max displacement of 324 pounds, the Edge 14.5 is marketed to paddlers that weigh around 190 pounds. This is a beefy polyethylene-made boat, and it weighs 58 pounds.
The Riot has a really nice range of features for a smaller touring kayak. It comes standard with a rudder, an option that most manufacturers make you pay extra for. It’s got a slim and slender profile that shouldn’t be affected by wind or chop. It’s a great value for someone smaller looking to get into a light touring kayak.
Conclusion: Which one Should you Buy?
That’s all for our post on the top touring kayaks. Hopefully, you’ve learned a thing or two about these fun and versatile craft. Whichever touring kayak you end up buying, remember to make sure to pick one that has sufficient carrying capacity for you and your gear.
If you’re still on the fence about which one to go for, we’d recommend going for the Sea Eagle 385ft FastTrack™. It’s easily one of the best kayaks for touring due to its incredible handling, load-carrying capability, and ease of transport. Couple that with the great reviews it gets, high quality durable materials and affordable price it’s a no brainer. For more information and to get the best price, click below.