Kayak types

I need some help with kayak types. I mainly just want to know the difference. I have had a cheapo Walmart Aruba 10 since March of this year and it has seen water every single weekend since purchase. It has seen flash flood style water, moderate rapids, and tons of dragging where sometimes I have to put my arms on the bottom and just push myself (I know, probably bad for kayak but beats walking on slippery rocks or carrying a kayak full of gear.)

While I have had it on a few lakes and ponds normally it is on streams, creeks, and rivers. Eventually I definitely want to upgrade, this is the sport I was born for, but I don’t know what I need to upgrade to.

I have asked on Yahoo answers and been told I have no clue about kayaks yet they couldn’t really explain it either. I glanced around online and I can’t find much that is lighter than the 40lb aruba 10, so different material doesn’t seem lighter. It might be slightly more durable but I have put mine through quite a bit and find so far.

I definitely wouldn’t want a touring kayak. I know the tracking on the Aruba 10 isn’t the best because I can watch the bow and stern move quite a bit with each stroke so I know I am losing energy but I still travel in a straight line. Definitely wouldn’t need a skeg as it would hit all the rocks and stuff I go through (unless retractable.)

The aruba 10 has all the deck rigging and storage I could possibly need (though the rear storage being water tight would be nice…)

I know some kayaks are shaped differently but would it really make such a difference in cost? I would be willing to save up and get an $800-$1000 kayak but I would have to feel every bit of that extra cost is being taken advantage of.

Normally we paddle upstream as far as we can (6-8 miles) then turn around and go back to our starting point or go down stream that far and turn around and come back up stream. Shuttles are too expensive for me and we only have two cars and two people so different put in and take out points are complicated. We are in and out of our kayaks quite a bit, the majority of the time to rock climb.

Any advice? If you want to point me to some information to read or old forums or something I wouldn’t mind!

I considered getting a white water kayak since I expect to one day get more into that but I wasn’t sure how those handle on calm water and most of the creeks have long stretches of calm water.

Thanks for any help!


– Last Updated: Sep-08-14 11:59 PM EST –

Sorry, a few more details. Obviously I would love a 20lb kayak and think that was worth the price but I just don't see it happening.

Our trips normally range from 10-14 hours, haven't done any over night trips yet.

Also I live in Arkansas if that gives you an idea of what I have available to travel on.

The matter of a spray skirt with the aruba 10 is quite annoying and also knowing if I do flip me and everything around me is probably going to come flying out.

Still, even with a retractable rudder, spray skirt, ability to roll and stay in it, watertight rear compartment, and maybe better handling I could only see all that being worth maybe $400 more than my current $200 kayak.

types and materials

– Last Updated: Sep-09-14 12:13 AM EST –

Your subject asks about kayak types (touring vs sit on top vs rec vs etc.), but not clear if that is rally your question. There is an article in California Kayaker Magazine on the different types of kayaks and it can be read online for free at http://www.calkayakermag.com/magazine.html. Issue #10 starts on page 6. Your kayak is a recreational kayak.

Seems the primary thing you want is lighter weight? Your kayak is rotomolded plastic. Next lighter of the regularly manufactured boats would be thermoformed. Then foberglass composite. Then kevlar or carbon composite. problem is that almost all rec boats are rotomolded plastic. There are a few that are made of thermoformed, which could be lighter (if they are not manufactured in a heavy layup, as some makers do). Not sure any of these will meet your price range.

You could make a kayak in that range. Wood kayaks and skin on frame kayaks are both very light.

In regards to growing - if that includes paddling in more open water (farther from shore), make sure you take your kayak and flip it and figure out how to get back into it in deep water. This can be difficult to impossible in many rec boats, and best for you to figure out what you need to do in a safe place before your life depends on it. If you can't get back in, the fix is to swim to shore (which means being within swim range of shore).

If your cockpit fills with water
It will sink. You would have to drag it to shore and dump it out. If all you paddle is streams and ponds you are good to go and I have some similar boats I use for the same purpose.

At 10 foot your boat has to be wide to displace enough water to float a passenger. Width adds stability, requires greater effort to produce speed and over any distance will be slower.

A sea kayak or crossover is going to be divided into compartments. If the cockpit floods the boat can be re-entered and bailed without returning to shore. A must on some rivers and larger bodies of water.

They also have perimeter lines which are needed for several rescue techniques.

Longer boats will be narrower allowing more speed or distance. Also edging and secondary stability both becomes factors, which you can google, and are determined by the shape of the hull.

Sounds like your boat is fine for what you are doing, and I hang on to my rec boats for banging down the creek. If you want to expand your horizons you’ll need a better one.

Get a whitewater boat…
But it’s not the boat for the type of paddling you are doing now. Whitewater boats are designed for playing in rapids. They are generally dogs on flatwater, and would be even worse paddling upstream. On river trips like you describe, most of my whitewater friends take longer touring boats.

At this point, a lot of people would recommend one of the many crossover boats, and for a lot of people that works. I’d suggest keeping the boat that you have now because you clearly enjoy it, and it works on the rocky streams you often paddle. Then, look online for a longer touring boat for flatwater trips and maybe even a whitewater boat if you get involved in that area (take some lessons).

There is no one boat that does it all, so I think it is time to buy more boats. Fortunately used boats are cheap. I don’t know if there is a club around you, but you might also want to check that out. Why limit yourself to up-and-back trips when there are so many other options.

Best way to figure it out
Your post has some contradictions in it… the typical ones for someone who has not spent time learning skills. Until you have tried to make a boat do more than go down a river in some fashion or other, it is going to be difficult for you to interpret much of what you see about different boats.

IMO, this one can’t be fully resolved by online discussion. I suggest that you get somewhere for a start on trying to roll and doing on-water self-rescues. The features of a boat that most matter for your purposes become strikingly clear when you are actually in the water trying to do this stuff.

pushing your luck
Clearly, from your description of use, you’ve been pushing the limits of what this boat you have was intended for. Taking it in fast moving water is very risky and you’ve been lucky. This video linked below was posted for amusement sake, but it illustrates well what happens when a recreational style open hull kayak swamps with water. In this case the poor schmuck is in a shallow still water area and in no danger (other than to his self respect) but if you got pinned under a rock ledge in a fast moving river or dumped out in water over your head in such a boat, you’d be in deep doodoo.


I think it’s great that you’ve fallen in love with kayaking, particularly since you’ve got about the most low end boat you could find (it’s barely a step up from a pool toy.) I think if you tried a real kayak you’d be really thrilled. See if you can find a dealer that offers demos on the water and try out some various models. The feel of control that you get from a well fitting boat that is designed to perform in the kind of waters that tempt you is fantastic.

A day touring kayak in the 12 to 15’ range can be not much more than 40 lbs (because they are narrower than your little tub) and many can be taken in class 1 or 2 rapids. They track a lot better and are much faster to paddle. We can’t suggest specific models not knowing how tall you are and what you weigh. A real kayak needs to fit the paddler.

As others have said, most people who get into kayaking have multiple boats for different waters – no one kayak does all things well since the handling parameters are quite different for flat open water and rough narrow streams. Buying used is a great way to broaden your options.

other upgrades

– Last Updated: Sep-09-14 9:47 AM EST –

If you are using an entry level kayak I am guessing you also have an entry level paddle. Upgrading your paddle can really help your enjoyment. An adjustable length lighter paddle may be a good investment that you will be able to use with many different boat styles. A 210cm to 220cm adjustable paddle can be used with many different boats, and saving ounces on a paddle you are swinging thousands of times is a good investment.
In regard to boats, finding a recreational boat with bulkheads under 40lb may be tough. Adding features adds weight. For the activities you are listing in your post, a crossover style boat may be a decent alternative. You mentioned that you often paddle upstream, then return back. I have spent a lot of time in Arkansas doing exactly that, and my favorite kayak for that activity is a Wilderness Systems zephyr. They can be found used for around your price requirements. Another great all around boat with rough water capability is a Dagger Alchemy, both of these boats are more touring rather than WW oriented, but great general use boats.
If you look at some peoples profile you will see that a lot of experienced people have different boats for different waters, just like golf clubs, each has its own best use.

You did ask if the differences between a $250 Walmart rec boat and a $1000 touring kayak would be worthwhile. Here’s one way to look at it: in automotive performance equivalence, the kayak you have is a golf cart and any touring kayak would be a a sporty sedan. An expedition style sea kayak would be an SUV, a sit on top would be a minivan, a white water creek boat would be a Jeep, a white water play boat would be a gymkhana race car (small and quick turning) and a surf ski would be a formula one race car (fast straight line speed and acceleration).

You really do get what you pay for in kayaks – very competitive market with pretty demanding customers once you get above the discount store boats. If you are willing to put up $1000 you could get just about any type of kayak that your usage would demand, if you learn to judge the used ones that come available. Even new, that puts you in the range of plenty of real kayaks.

Alright, thank you everyone for the amazing replies. I really would love to find a place and try out some higher end kayaks, the only place I found prior to buying mine had one even worse than my $200 Walmart one and it was on a lake.

I completely understand how having multiple kayaks really is the only way to achieve the best results. While I could probably cruise a lake all day long my friend mainly wants to get out and rock climb so unless the lake has big rock faces a touring kayak isn’t quite in my first choice.

Is there a difference between a rec kayak and a crossover kayak? I had not heard crossover mentioned before.

I don’t think building a kayak with mix well with me, when it comes to construction/auto/home repairs I seem to find the hardest most unnatural way every time!

I have yet to flip my kayak or let any water in but my friend has on many occasions. Even the slightest tip does allow it to take on water fast. It has Styrofoam to try and help it float but I am not too trusting. He did completely flip it in the flash flood waters but we were right by the shore and he was able to swim it over while it still floated upside down (probably pretty lucky.)

I would love to practice rolling but with my current kayak I would just fall out so I haven’t tried. I do need to try to get back in it from deep water.

I weigh 110 lbs and I am about 6ft tall.

Would it be smarter to get a shorter touring kayak that could still be used on rapids or find some sort of crossover and get a longer/different touring kayak specifically for lakes/open water?

So I guess I could cover most bases with 3 kayaks; something slightly better than I have now for creeks/streams, white water, and touring. Probably purchase them in that order.

Thanks again everyone for your help, I tried to answer the counter questions the best I could. Loving this forum already and just signed up. I was watching a video someone posted on here about ocean wave classification and they were around huge rocks, would kill to be there! Favorite rock climbing is with water under me so I can jump or if I fall have a chance to survive, haha!

This is the paddle I am currently using:


Made with aluminum and fiberglass.

Is there a typo in here - you weigh about 110 pounds and are 6 ft tall? That alone can make fit pretty challenging.

lousy paddle
You might want to invest in a better paddle to start with. At minimum a fiberglass shaft. Decent paddles start between $100 and $130 and will make as great, if not greater than, impact on your paddling comfort as a boat upgrade will.

I’m probably 5’11, been the same weight since I was like 18 and I am 27 now. I am definitely very skinny but whatever is on me is muscle.

I will keep that in mind. I did hold back when buying my paddle, although I had rented a kayak prior to buying I didn’t quite expect to start going EVERY weekend like I am. Add in rock climbing and I am a freelance photographer so I have a really nice DSLR…did I mention I was born for this?

I will keep an eye on some used ones as summer ends.

Taking pictures on the water?
Time to think about a waterproof camera as well. I’d hate to hear that your nice camera took a swim. Good news is that once you have this stuff it pretty much lasts forever.

OK, affects boat fit
Depending on your performance needs there can be some sloppiness here. But manufacturers tend to make certain assumptions about the leg length and height that is associated with a given paddler weight. You are a pretty low volume weight and a medium to taller paddler height.

Something like a crossover, which does neither WW not touring extremely well but both OK, may put you into boats that are easier to get a fit in. Weight affects whether the kayak gets its intended waterline, and in performance WW kayaks that can be a pretty fine match.

Got it
I have a water tight soft case my camera goes in and a water tight box my lens goes in. Had one accident where the camera rolled down a rock face and landed in the water but after a day it recovered to 100% I have to use it for weddings and such so I try to take care of it the best I can! Olympus makes some pretty tough cameras though, that is why I love them. Thank you for the advice though.

I had never heard of this before. You mentioned finding a fit for a kayak but how could my weight affect that? Like what would I even look for? Do they make kayaks for lighter weights to ensure the intended water line is reached?

I can understand height/leg length. My current kayak has adjustable feet pegs and I have them adjusted to the second to last notch.

I sat in a WW kayak once not long ago at a garage sale, very odd feeling for me. I could barely fit and was curious if I could get out, haha! Definitely wouldn’t be falling out of that thing.

You kind of lost me when talking about the ww kayak. What would be a fine match? Are you saying a light weight would be good for a WW kayak or bad?

Yes, waterline is involved

– Last Updated: Sep-10-14 8:09 PM EST –

Kayaks are still boats, albeit little ones, so a given hull has a preferred waterline. Too much above it and the paddler is bobbing around with less desirable control surface and in the case of touring boats too much windage. Sink the boat too much below the waterline and stability is negatively affected.

Whitewater boats, the purer ones like river runners and playboats, are much more tightly tuned to paddler size and weight than touring boats are because of how quickly they have to respond to paddler moves. Running WW aggressively is lightening fast, can be even in class 2. A boat that is wrongly sized for the paddler in some part could take too long to respond or could spend much of its time getting a stern or bow caught under the water and pushed around.

That said, if you want to also do flat stuff without having your arms fall off, you don't want a true WW boat. It'd be too slow and too squirrely out in the open.

A combination of extremely low weight against your height will also cause some difficulties in fitting a touring boat, but things move slower in open water so these issues are less of a problem.