What’s the Difference Between Touring and Recreational Kayaks?

Kayaks come in several types to serve various purposes, which makes shopping for a new kayak pretty confusing for many people. Touring and recreational kayaks are among the kayaks you’ve probably encountered but didn’t know which one to choose.

In this article, we’re discussing the difference between touring and recreational kayaks to help you make the right decision for your needs. Let’s dive in!

Touring vs. Recreational Kayaks: The Differences

To make it easier for you to keep track of our comparison between touring and recreational kayaks, we decided to list the features where both kayaks differ and explain each one individually.


Just by looking at both kayaks, you should be able to tell that they’re each designed differently. 

Built out of polyethylene, recreational kayaks are usually about 10 to 12 feet long and around 27 to 30 inches wide at the cockpit.

On the other hand, touring kayaks are constructed longer and narrower (22-25 inches) to appeal to more advanced kayakers looking for extra speed and momentum.

Additionally, touring kayaks are more pointed and curved when compared to the flatter profile of recreational kayaks.


A kayak’s ability to resist capsizing or tipping over during normal weather and water conditions is referred to as stability. This feature is mainly affected by the design of the kayak, particularly its width.

Since recreational kayaks have a few inches wider hulls, they’re generally more stable than touring kayaks on flat water. If you’re a beginner, a touring kayak will probably feel too wobbly.


Touring kayaks are a couple of feet longer than recreational kayaks. This gives touring kayaks the advantage when it comes to storage space.

The additional length translates into more room for you to keep gear or any other items you may need during extended or overnight adventures.

This room typically comes in the form of hatches or sealed bulkheads to prevent water from reaching your equipment.

Water Conditions 

When it comes to flatwater conditions (for example, lakes and bays), you’ll find that both touring and recreational to be equally suitable.

However, a touring kayak performs way better in open water and moderate rivers due to its more slim and pointed construction. In contrast, a recreational kayak does a great job tackling narrow rivers and smaller water bodies where maneuverability is key.


If you’re a kayaker who’s concerned about speed on the water, your best bet would be a touring kayak.

Granted, how fast a kayak can go mainly depends on kayaker-related factors such as paddling ability, technique, and experience, but the kayak design can affect your speed.

The narrow profile of touring kayaks is the reason behind its extra boost of speed. In comparison, the additional width of recreational kayaks makes it more difficult to effectively slice through the water, especially if you’re paddling against harsher currents and heavier winds.

More width also means more drag, suppressing your paddling efforts and taking away from your end speed.


If you often think about how easy turning your kayak will be, then you’re referring to the kayak’s maneuverability. Here, the length of the kayak is the determining factor.

Recreational kayaks are a couple of feet shorter than touring kayaks, making them easier to maneuver. Extra length significantly affects the handling of kayaks, which explains why touring kayaks are more tricky to turn.

Recreational kayaks are great for the average user: they don’t care if you happen to be wearing blue jeans and hiking boots while on the water.

Some touring kayaks are equipped with rudders (a foot-controlled blade mounted on the stern and pivots from side to side) to boost their maneuverability.


The ability of a kayak to move in a straight line is called tracking. Good tracking is when a kayak continues to smoothly travel ahead over the water even after you stop paddling.

Between both kayak types, touring kayaks deliver better tracking performance thanks to their additional length. 

So if you’re planning to go on an extended kayaking trip, you’ll want to choose a touring kayak because the better tracking capabilities allow it to travel a farther distance without demanding as much paddling effort.

Skill Level

The level of skill or experience required to handle each kayak is also different.

Recreational kayaks are generally recommended for kayakers of all experience levels, even total newbies. This type of boat is a perfect learning tool to practice paddling before working with touring kayaks.

But if you’re already familiar with kayaking and have had some paddling experience, a touring kayak can be an awesome option for you to step up your game.


Finally, we arrived at the price aspect. Between touring kayaks and recreational kayaks, the first one is generally more expensive. 

One major reason for the extra cash is the materials used in construction. Touring kayaks are made using carbon fiber (or other similarly tough but lightweight materials), which is more costly than the polyethylene used in building recreational kayaks.

Another reason for the higher price tag is the additional features included in a touring guide, such as skegs and rudders.

Touring vs. Recreational Kayaks: Which One to Choose

If you’re still having a hard time choosing between touring kayaks and recreational kayaks, consider the following points:

A touring kayak is ideal if:

  • You’re a more skilled kayaker.
  • You’re looking for more speed and distance.
  • You don’t mind compromising on stability for speed.
  • You want a kayak that tracks well in fast currents.
  • You need extra storage space for your gear.
  • You’re okay investing a hefty amount of cash in a kayak.

A recreational kayak is an excellent option if:

  • You’re a beginner who’s still not comfortable handling rocky rides.
  • You’re worried about capsizing.
  • You’re just trying out the sport or and/or not ready for a significant financial investment.
  • You prefer to paddle in calmer water such as streams, lakes, and slow-moving rivers.
  • You’re looking for something easy to maneuver.

Wrap Up

There you have it, a detailed comparison to highlight the difference between touring and recreational kayaks. Now, you can be more confident that you’ll be choosing the right kayak for your needs.