What To Look For
Touring kayaks, generally specified as sea kayaks, are longer and sleeker than recreational boats and have hatches and water-tight compartments that make the boat unsinkable. Touring kayaks have fixed deck lines, toggles for carrying, a skeg or retractable rudder, and a cockpit that seals off with a spray skirt when you are sitting in the cockpit. Touring kayaks vary in length from 16 to 19 feet, depending on the expedition they are for and the size of the paddler, but all run straighter than recreational boats because of their longer form. Recreational boats are less than 16 feet, with wide cockpits that may even be sit-on-top, and most have wider and flat bottoms that make them much more stable on flat water but hard to navigate on rough water.
When choosing the boat that is right for you, it can be easy to pick something that feels extra comfortable, but your needs may change quickly. As international sea kayaking expert Derek C. Hutchinson says of buying the first kayak that feels comfortable, "You'll finish up with a wide stable barge that you will grow out of in a couple of weeks." Also, most recreational boats are for day use only and are not outfitted with skegs or rudders, deck lines or water-tight compartments. They are not meant for carrying several days' worth of gear and will certainly not keep you dry. Don't try to use them for more than they are meant for.
Where To Buy
EMS and REI are two comparable stores when it comes to kayak selection and price. EMS is on the East Coast and REI on the West Coast. Both sell recreational and touring kayaks. The least expensive recreational kayak at EMS was priced at $379, and its least expensive touring kayak was priced at $995, as of March 2010. At REI, the least expensive recreational kayak was $249, and the least expensive touring kayak was $995, as of March 2010. You can also purchase them at a variety of online stores. Sierratradingpost.com and Neckykayaks.com are two places to start. L.L. Bean also sells both types of kayaks.
Recreational kayaks can be purchased for as little as $100, but these will be at the bottom of the quality spectrum and almost definitely inflatable. Around $250 is a more common starting price for a solid recreational kayak. Touring kayaks start at $595, and for this price it will be a light touring kayak for a person of only up to 120 lbs. Touring kayaks can be as expensive as $4,375 for a serious, multi-week expedition kayak.