Best Touring Kayak – Top-Rated Long-Distance Kayaks For 2021

If your idea of fun involves long-distance paddling, exploring new locations, and a paddling route that can take several days to “complete,” then yes, it’s time to treat yourself to the best touring kayak.

You want something efficient, swift, and agile – a kayak that allows you to cover large distances with ease – without compromising comfort and convenience along the way.

Not sure where to start your search for a new touring kayak?

Well, how about this guide? 

I’ve prepared a detailed buying guide – and rounded up my long-distance favorites in one place!

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In A Rush? The Winner After 40 Hours of Research:

Wilderness Systems Kayak Tsunami 140

Wilderness Systems Kayak Tsunami 140

Our Rating: ★★★★★

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Why is it better?

  • Focused on improving the paddler’s experience
  • Phase 3 AirPro is an industry-leading seating system, offering unmatched comfort
  • SlideLock XL foot brace system and adjustable padded thigh braces for a custom fit
  • Flared sidewalls and slightly wider beam ensure confidence-inspiring stability without compromising efficiency and speed
  • Onboard storage solutions include two removable mesh bags, bow and stern hatches, bungee rigging, and an under-deck water bottle holder
  • Fitted with a skid plate to protect the hull when dragging the kayak
  • Bow and stern bulkheads add buoyancy and ensure water-resistant storage
  • Suitable for a variety of water conditions, from slow-moving waters to calm coastal and open waters
  • You can install a rudder system

What Is The Difference Between A Touring Kayak And A Sea Kayak?

sea kayaks in coastal bay
Photo by Raoul du Plessis on Unsplash

Spotting the differences between recreational and touring kayaks is generally easy enough. But when it comes to the differences between a touring kayak and a sea kayak, the lines can be a bit blurred. 

YouTube video

Some might say it’s nothing but marketing jargon – the kayak manufacturers’ way of tricking you into buying a kayak you might not need. Proponents of this argument would tell you that touring and sea kayaks are the same thing.

Then again, you have those who believe that, while they share certain similarities, touring and sea kayaks aren’t the same thing.

You see, the phrase “sea kayaks” refers to the conditions that a kayak is meant to handle – and kayak touring may or may not be a part of it. So, in that sense, sea kayaks could be described as sea-worthy touring kayaks.

You’ll hear the two terms used interchangeably – and while that’s not always wrong, you should keep in mind that not every touring kayak is a sea kayak by default. There’s a good chance that it is, but it’s best not to jump to conclusions.

Instead, you can view sea kayaks as a subcategory of touring kayaks that perform exceptionally well in open water.

I hope that clears up the confusion a bit.

Choosing The Best Touring Kayak: What Should I Look For In A Touring Kayak?

Bow of red touring kayak

All touring kayaks have a few things in common.

They’re generally longer than traditional recreational kayaks, have a closed cockpit to protect the paddler from the elements, spacious storage, and higher load capacity, and are pretty narrow.

Each of these characteristics is there to achieve the same thing:

Make touring kayaks suitable for long-distance paddling and more-than-a-day trips.

That’s not to say that every touring kayak is the same or that you’ll have an easy time choosing one for yourself, though.

That’s rarely the case with kayaks – especially those you’ll be spending so much time in – but I’ll try to make the process easier with this guide! 

What Size Touring Kayak Do I Need?

Most touring kayaks tend to be between 12 to 16 feet long on average – although some can go up to 20 feet. Tandems are even longer than that; don’t be surprised to find that some can go up to 26 feet in length.

All the while, touring kayaks retain a narrow and sleek silhouette, with a beam that’s about 18 to 28 inches wide.

Speed, efficiency, and superior tracking are must-haves for long-distance paddling, and it’s no surprise that touring kayaks have such long-but-narrow hulls.

Longer kayaks move through the water more efficiently; it’s as simple as that.

But that’s not the only benefit of going with a longer ‘yak. Onboard storage also goes up with an added foot or two in length.

There is a downside to this, though:

Carrying a touring kayak will often be a two-person job – a challenge, to say the least. So, while you’re at it, consider getting a kayak trailer, especially if you drive a smaller car.

Besides the length, another thing to look at when sizing a kayak is the cockpit.

The dimensions – mainly length and width – and the amount of legroom available should fit your body size, allowing you to get in and out with ease, without feeling restricted. You’ll be spending a lot of time inside that kayak of yours, and you want a cockpit that fits you – because a good fit means a more comfortable ride and improved control.

Let’s Talk Comfort

Touring kayaks are designed with long-distance travel in mind. So, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be spending a great deal of your time in one. 

Think about weekend trips, for example; is comfort something you’re willing to compromise on in that case? And don’t even get me started on week-long excursions.

What starts as slight, barely noticeable discomfort could turn into flat-out pain by the end of the trip.

So, yes, comfort should be high on your list of priorities when choosing a touring kayak; it’s one of those things that could make or break the entire trip.

And the keyword here should be adjustability:

Everything from the kayak seat to the thigh braces and footrests should be adjustable, allowing you to get a customized fit. That, along with the right cockpit size, will ensure that you stay out on the water longer – and enjoy every minute of it, too. 

Weight Capacity & Storage Options: More Is More

Three Yellow Touring kayak laying on peddle shoreline si

Think about how much gear and supplies you’d typically bring on an average camping trip. Now, add essential kayaking equipment into the equation.

That’s a lot of stuff to squeeze into a single kayak, huh?

The problem is that even the best touring kayaks can only carry a certain amount of load at a time – including your body weight plus any kayaking gear you bring with you.

Before you get a chance to ask, yes, exceeding that limit is a bad idea – in more ways than one.

That’s why you always want to check the kayak’s load capacity – and, more importantly, leave some “wiggle room” so that you don’t exceed that limit by accident.

Another thing you can’t afford to overlook is onboard storage capacity.

A touring kayak without enough storage space won’t be of much use on longer trips – meaning it won’t be much of a touring kayak at all.

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On that note, the best touring kayaks should feature at least two hatches for dry storage – one in the front and one in the back – and bungee deck rigging. Additional D-ring tie-downs, paddle parks, and easy-to-reach water bottle holders are always a plus.

Skeg Or Rudder?

If you’re serious about kayak touring, having a skeg or a rudder system will be a plus in terms of improving your kayak’s tracking performance and maintaining a straight course. And, in the case of a rudder, it can help with steering, too.

A skeg is, simply put, a fin that sticks out from the bottom of your kayak and cuts through the water, which helps you maintain a straight line. It’s fixed – as in, it can’t move side to side – so it doesn’t do much for steering, but some models are retractable.

A rudder is more sophisticated. It can be hand or foot-controlled and can change its direction on the water, meaning it provides additional maneuverability – on top of keeping your kayak on a straight course.

Granted, you can choose to go without either of them and rely solely on your paddling skills for maintaining direction and navigating the waters.

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However, if there’s a chance or that you’ll end up in open waters or powerful currents, I suggest that you look into skegs and rudders – just in case.

Best Touring Kayaks Of 2021 – Top 8 Touring ‘Yaks Reviewed & Rated

1. Perception Kayak Carolina 14

Perception Carolina 14
  • Best Budget-Friendly Touring Kayak
  • Price: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★
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Touring kayaks generally don’t come cheap, but there are some exceptions, like the Perception  Carolina 14.

Besides being easy on the wallet, this 14-foot, 53-pound hard-shell is full of convenient features, like the easy-entry cockpit, thigh pads, and quick-adjust footrests, and a paddle park. It’s fitted with bow and stern bulkhead foam, which contributes to its buoyancy – and, in turn, your safety.

Carolina 14’s capacity doesn’t disappoint, either. With the ability to carry up to 300 pounds and a range of onboard storage options, including bow and stern hatches and bungee rigging, you’ll have enough space for all your gear and supplies.

One potential downside is the adjustable Zone DLX seat. It’s somewhat comfortable, but it wouldn’t be my go-to choice for multi-day trips.

Technical Specs

  • 14 feet long
  • 24.5-inch beam
  • Cockpit (L x W): 39.5 x 21.5 inches
  • 53 pounds
  • 300-pound capacity

Pros

  • Spacious, easy-entry cockpit and adjustable outfitting
  • Integrated bulkhead foam for extra buoyancy
  • Ample storage space, including two large storage hatches and bungee rigging
  • Excellent value for money

Cons

  • It won’t be the easiest to carry by yourself
  • The cockpit sits low in the back and may let in some water
  • The Zone DLX seat could be better

Perception’s Carolina 14 is a versatile touring kayak for paddlers of all skill levels – stable, agile, and quite fast. Best of all, it doesn’t cost a fortune.

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2. Wilderness Systems Tempest 170

Wilderness Systems Tempest 170
  • Best Sea Touring Kayak
  • Price: ★★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★
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Wilderness Systems’ Tempest 170 features the award-winning design that the Tempest series is known for – including industry-leading comfort, excellent tracking, and maneuverability.

Its signature performance – a result of a sleek, 17-foot hull – along with the TruTrak adjustable skeg, and integrated foam bulkheads, make it one of the best sea-worthy touring kayaks.

The comfortable Phase 3 AirPro seating system, padded thigh braces, and SlideLock XL foot brace system only sweeten the deal. And let’s not forget the 325-pound capacity, with bungee rigging and three domed storage hatches.

Before you fall in love with the Tempest 170, know that it’s not the most affordable touring kayak out there. And speaking of potential downsides, the 57-pound weight might be an issue, too.

Technical Specs

  • 17 feet long
  • 22-inch beam
  • Cockpit (L x W): 34 x 18 inches
  • 57 pounds
  • 325-pound capacity

Pros

  • Phase 3 AirPro seating system ensures all-day comfort
  • Equipped with the TruTrak adjustable skeg system
  • Adjustable sliding foot braces to help you dial in that perfect seating position 
  • Features three dry storage hatches and bungee rigging
  • Integrated foam bulkheads for buoyancy

Cons

  • The price tag might be a deal-breaker for some
  • Hard to transport due to the length and not-so-light weight
  • Not a good choice for beginner paddlers

If you’re a seasoned paddler looking to take sea touring to the next level and treat yourself to a ‘yak from the award-winning Tempest series, Wilderness Systems’ Tempest 170 should be your top choice. 

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3. Wilderness Systems Kayak Tsunami 140

Wilderness Systems Kayak Tsunami 140
  • Overall Best Touring Kayak
  • Price: ★★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★
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Wilderness Systems’ Tsunami 140 is a bit shorter and broader than the Tempest 170. It’s a 14-foot long ‘yak with a 25.5-inch beam. Along with the flared sidewalls, it contributes to the kayak’s stability, all without affecting its speed and efficiency.

The one thing it has in common with its bigger cousin, the Tempest 170, is the 325-pound load limit. As for storage, you’re getting quite a lot of it – including two removable mesh bags and a pair of hatches. Oh, and it has an under-deck water bottle holder, too.

It also features a roomy cockpit, complete with the oh-so-comfortable Phase 3 AirPro seat, as well as the SlideLock XL foot brace system and adjustable padded thigh braces.

If there’s one thing the Tsunami 140 excels at, it’s comfort.

Technical Specs

  • 14 feet long
  • 25.5-inch beam
  • Cockpit (L x W): 35.75 x 20 inches
  • 53 pounds
  • 325-pound capacity

Pros

  • Phase 3 AirPro seat for unmatched comfort
  • Adjustable thigh braces and SlideLock XL adjustable foot braces for a custom fit
  • Flared sidewalls ensure stability
  • Storage options include two storage hatches and removable mesh bags

Cons

  • It might be a bit pricey for paddlers on a budget
  • Not the easiest to lift and transport by yourself
  • It doesn’t come with the rudder installed

From the Phase 3 AirPro seat to the SlideLock foot braces and padded thigh braces, Tsunami 140 is all about all-day comfort and improving the paddler’s experience. Who could say “No” to that?

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4. Point 65 Whisky 16

Point 65 Whisky 16
  • Best Kayak For Coastal Touring
  • Price: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★
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You’d think that a 16-foot kayak wouldn’t offer much in terms of maneuverability – but Point 65’s Whisky 16 might just prove you wrong:

It turns on a dime, holds an edge well, catches waves with incredible ease, and overall, handles like a dream. In short, it’s perfect for coastal touring and having fun.

Given its size, the 55-pound weight is acceptable – but that doesn’t mean I don’t wish it were a few pounds lighter. The 342-pound capacity, along with two large oval hatches, a small day hatch, and the round Whisky hatch, makes this an outstanding ‘yak in terms of onboard storage – I would be bold enough to say it has all the storage space you’ll need.

However I found the placement of the skeg box uncomfortable, though. It presses against your thigh, at the side of your knee, which could become an issue on longer excursions.

Technical Specs

  • 16 feet long
  • 22-inch beam
  • Cockpit (L x W): 32 x 16 inches
  • 55 pounds
  • 342-pound capacity

Pros

  • Exceptional handling and maneuverability in coastal waters
  • Features a spring-loaded retractable skeg
  • Four storage hatches and on-deck bungee rigging
  • Close-fitting keyhole cockpit and Point 65 air technology for comfort

Cons

  • The skeg box tends to press against the knee, causing discomfort
  • It makes a slapping sound whenever you encounter swells
  • Not a lightweight kayak

Ultra-precise handling, on-a-dime turning, and incredible ease of edging and catching waves – take the Whisky 16 out for a spin in coastal waters, and I’m sure you’ll have a blast! 

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5. Perception Expression 11.5

Perception Expression 11.5
  • Best Beginner Touring Kayak
  • Price: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★
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When looking at suitable candidates in the beginner touring category, it was a real toss up between this kayak and the Riot Kayaks Edge. The Edge is a great touring boat – but a few things make Perception’s Expression 11.5 stand out as a great beginner ‘yak for anyone looking for a sleek cross between a touring and recreational kayak.

One, it’s easy on the wallet. Two, it’s pretty short and lightweight – for a touring kayak, anyway. And three, it has a stable and maneuverable design, with a roomy cockpit, a 25.75-inch beam, and the TruTrak adjustable skeg.

The six-point adjustable seat with ergonomic padding adds to the comfort – and that’s always a plus.

Storage-wise, you’re getting a large rear hatch and front and rear on-deck bungee rigging, with a 250-pound capacity. I found it tricky to snap the hatch cover in place while on the move – but that’s a minor complaint.

Technical Specs

  • 11.5 feet long
  • 25.75-inch beam
  • Cockpit (L x W): 36 x 20.25 inches
  • 44 pounds
  • 250-pound capacity

Pros

  • Beginner-friendly and easy on the wallet
  • Sleek but stable
  • Roomy cockpit with a six-point adjustable seat for comfort
  • The TruTrak adjustable skeg helps with staying on course
  • Relatively lightweight

Cons

  • The hatch cover is a bit hard to snap in place while on the go
  • The 250-pound capacity seems a bit low for a touring kayak

Perception’s Expression 11.5 is a small, relatively lightweight day touring kayak at an attractive price. If you’re a beginner shopping on a budget, give this one a shot! 

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6. BKC SK287 14′ 9″ Solo Sit-in Travel Kayak

BKC SK287 14' 9
  • Best Touring Kayak For Anglers
  • Price: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★
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BKC’s SK287 is a touring kayak designed with anglers in mind.

The SK287 comes equipped with two flush-mount rod holders, two water-tight storage hatches, and bungee deck rigging, backed with a 330-pound capacity – enough for your fishing gear and other supplies.

Better yet, it has a foot-operated rudder, allowing for hands-free steering.

This 14.75-foot kayak is narrow for an angling kayak, measuring 21.5 inches across. It performs well in various water conditions – but some might still find it a bit tippy due to the narrow beam.

A narrow hull design also means a narrow cockpit opening; if you’re on the bigger side, that’s a potential downside to keep in mind – especially if, like me, you’re a little on the chucky side

Technical Specs

  • 14.75 feet long
  • 21.5-inch beam
  • Cockpit (L x W): 24 x 18 inches
  • 44 pounds
  • 330-pound capacity

Pros

  • On-deck rigging and two hatches for water-tight gear storage
  • Equipped with two flush-mount fishing rod holders
  • Features a foot-pedal-operated rudder system
  • Includes a collapsible paddle

Cons

  • An extremely narrow beam might cause it to feel tippy and unstable
  • A smaller cockpit opening that can be uncomfortable for larger paddlers

If you’d like to combine kayak fishing with long-distance travel, there’s no better way to go about it than in an angler touring kayak – the BKC SK287. 

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7. AQUAGLIDE Navarro 145

AQUAGLIDE Navarro 145
  • Best Tandem Touring Kayak
  • Price: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★
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An inflatable touring kayak, and a convertible one, for that matter – that’s AQUAGLIDE Navarro 145 in a sentence. It can transform from a sit-in to an open-deck kayak and switch from a single to tandem in a few simple steps.

Given that it converts to a two-seater, the 500-pound weight limit shouldn’t come as a surprise. In addition to standard bungee cords and D-rings, it also features an extra storage space in the form of a zippered dry compartment. What’s more impressive is that it still weighs only 36 pounds.

The hull itself is extra-wide, measuring 39 inches across, which adds stability in rougher waters.

I was disappointed to learn that it doesn’t come with the zip-on deck cover or the valve adaptors – it’s something you have to purchase separately.

Technical Specs

  • 14.3 feet long
  • 39-inch beam
  • 36 pounds
  • 500-pound capacity

Pros

  • Extra-wide beam improves stability
  • Converts from an open-deck to a sit-in kayak
  • A high load capacity with multiple storage options
  • It’s spray skirt-compatible

Cons

  • It doesn’t include Boston and Halkey-Roberts adaptors needed for inflation
  • You need to purchase the zip-on deck cover separately
  • Somewhat pricey for an inflatable kayak

If you’re interested in tandem touring but would still like to go out solo once in a while, I highly recommend a convertible kayak, like the AQUAGLIDE Navarro 145.

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8. ADVANCED ELEMENTS AirFusion EVO Inflatable Kayak

ADVANCED ELEMENTS AirFusion EVO Inflatable Kayak
  • Best Day Touring Kayak
  • Price: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★
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I’ll finish things off with another inflatable – the Advanced Elements AirFusion EVO. It’s a 13-foot touring kayak that’s ideal for day trips, and given that it weighs only 32 pounds, it’s the lightest in my round-up, too.

Advanced Elements’ inflatables are known for the innovative design that combines several drop-stitch air-filled chambers with an aluminum frame, and the AirFusion EVO is no different. You’ll find that it rivals skin-on-frame kayaks performance-wise.

Storage options include D-ring tie-downs, bungee deck rigging, and a roll-top rear hatch, which all sound impressive. Unfortunately, though, the kayak’s capacity is limited to 235 pounds, so it only works for day trips that don’t require a ton of additional camping gear.

Technical Specs

  • 13 feet long
  • 24-inch beam
  • 32 pounds
  • 235-pound capacity

Pros

  • Hybrid construction with an aluminum frame improves tracking
  • Features tie-downs, deck rigging, and a roll-top hatch
  • Compatible with a spray skirt
  • Lightweight and travel-friendly

Cons

  • The weight capacity is somewhat limited
  • It doesn’t accommodate larger paddlers
  • It’s relatively expensive compared to the average inflatable
  • There’s a learning curve assembly-wise

If you’re looking for a day touring kayak that’s lightweight and portable but still tracks well, the Advanced Elements’ AirFusion EVO might be the inflatable touring ‘yak for you. 

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Best Touring Kayak – Final Verdict & Recommendations

Comfortable, efficient on longer distances, responsive, with excellent tracking performance – a joy to paddle, in short – and fitted with lots of storage space. That would be the simplest way to summarize what a kayaker should look for in the best touring kayak.

I’d say each of the yaks featured today in our touring kayak reviews fits that description to a degree, some better than the others. However, there’s one that ticks all the boxes and should not be overlooked by long-distance kayakers – the Wilderness Systems Kayak Tsunami 140.

Phase 3 AirPro seating system, adjustable outfitting, 325-pound load capacity, multiple storage solutions, and a hull designed for stability and efficiency; Tsunami 140 will be a reliable touring partner for years to come!