Kayaks have been being made by humans for a long time. The first known culture to build kayaks was the indigenous peoples of North America, who use them to traverse waterways for hunting and in search of food and resources. The frames were originally built out of wood or carved out whale bone and then covered in stitched seal skin.


Indigenous Alaskans and their traditional kayak (photographed by Edward S. Curtis, 1930)

Kayaks have come a long way since the original seal and whalebone materials. We now have a vast array of kayak designs for any occasion, made from materials ranging from fiber glass, rubber, plastic, polyethylene, and wood. There are so many options that many times deciding what type of kayak to purchase can be overwhelming. Below we have listed the different types of kayaks to better help you make a decision before jumping into the wild waters of South America.

Canadian Canoes

If you are ever in Peterborough, Ontario, be sure to check out the Canadian Canoe Museum. The museum explores Canadian history through the canoe. Check out their website at  https://www.canoemuseum.ca/. A Canadian Canoe is sometimes referred to as an “open touring canoe” and is probably what you think of when you hear the term “canoe”–it is just a regular ole canoe.

Canadian Canoe (out of the water!)

Whitewater Kayaks

This is where is starts to get a bit tricky, because there are a lot of features of whitewater kayaks that should be considered when selecting the right craft.  Some of the things to consider include: the type of whitewater, the duration of the trip, the skill of the user and performance characteristics (aerial tricks, acceleration, etc.). We recommend doing a little research online and then visiting a reputable dealer to help guide you in your decision. Here’s a great place to start your online research that will give you the basics https://www.dagger.com/us/experience/kayaking-101/content/how-choose-whitewater-kayak.

A whitewater kayak in action!

Recreational Kayaks

Recreational kayaks are typically shorter and wider (with a large cockpit) and recommended for use in sheltered waters.

There are three primary considerations when choosing a recreational kayak. These include style (sit-on-top vs. sit-in), how much stuff needs to be carried, and how easy it is to lug around. Sit-on-top models are typically very stable (which is REALLY good news if you are a beginner!). The downside is that the ride is typically wetter than a sit-in model. This can be really important, and even a safety concern, in cold water.

As far as stuff goes, you’ll probably want to minimize what you bring along because more stuff=more weight, which can really slow you down. Most folks like to bring some bottles of water and some snacks, but if you are planning to bring a cooler along, make sure it fits. Likewise, if you will be bringing Fido along in a sit-in model, make sure that he can fit comfortably with you in the cockpit and that you can still maneuver. And please be sure to put a life jacket on him, as it makes it much easier to retrieve him if he goes overboard.

Manageability (essentially your ability to lug your kayak from Point A to Point B) is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. Everyone loves the idea of kayaking–all that fresh air and nature stuff, but if a kayak is too big or too heavy for you to manage on your own, then it probably isn’t the best choice for you. Here are some things to consider:

  • Where will you be using your kayak?

If your answer is “On the lake in my backyard,” you can probably stop reading and jump to the next section 🙂

  • How will you get your kayak there?

If your kayak needs to be transported somewhere, then you really need to be realistic about how to get it there. Does it really need to go on the top of your vehicle (and how are you going to lift it up there?) or would it be better off on a trailer?  Will you be transporting more than one kayak? These are good questions to ask yourself.

It’s also helpful to think about what you want to DO in your kayak. I know that sounds weird, but if you are someone who plans to spend most of the time in your kayak fishing, then think through how you would fish in a particular kayak. Actually go through the motions and think about where all of your stuff would go. If you can’t picture how it would work in a particular kayak, then it might not. Although you could potentially fish from anything, you might be better off going with a kayak designed for fishing (yep, they have them!). Keep reading to learn more about fishing kayaks.

Here’s an article that compares recreational kayaks http://www.kayakreview.org/recreational-kayaks

Sea Kayaks

Sea kayaks, also called touring kayaks, are seaworthy crafts  designed for paddling in open water (lakes, bays, and ocean). They aren’t nearly as maneuverable as whitewater kayaks, but work great for paddling in a straight line. They are also typically more comfortable for those longer trips, with extra space to stow your gear.

A sea kayak is designed for straight-line paddling in open water.

Folding Kayaks

Folding kayaks are a direct descendant of the original Inuit kayaks that were made of animal skins stretched over a rigid frame made from wood and bones. Folding kayaks can be disassembled and packed for transport. If that gives you the willies and causes you to doubt the seaworthiness of folding kayaks, rest assured that their capability was proven in 1956, when Dr. Hannes Lindermann crossed the Atlantic Ocean in one.

Today’s folding kayaks typically have an inflatable component that enhances stability and rigidity of the vessel. If you like origami, this might be the kayak for you.


A modular kayak, is similar to a folding kayak, in that it can be disassembled and packed for transport.  In this case, however, the kayak isn’t folded, but is disassembled into two or three large chunks or modules. Check out http://www.modularkayakreviews.com/ for some reviews.

A modular kayak shown disassembled.

Fishing Kayaks

Fishing kayaks have extra stability to help maintain an even keel while landing that fish.  But they are also sleek enough to accommodate passage into the shallows without scaring the fish. Features of a fishing kayak may include a bait bucket or tackle compartment, rod holders and an anchor cleat.

To see the ins and outs of choosing a fishing kayak, check out https://paddling.com/learn/kayak-fishing-basics-how-to-choose-a-kayak/

A good haul on a fishing kayak!

Yep, there is a lot to think about (and so many choices!) when considering a kayak. It is best to do your homework up front before taking the plunge…

Happy Paddling!