As a rule, kayaks are normally designed for a specific type of environment. Whitewater kayaks are excellent at navigating tight turns and tricky fast-moving runs, but take one out on a calm lake and their poor tracking will have you spinning in miserable circles. A good touring kayak will track as straight as an arrow, but attempting to boof it over a drop is a recipe for disaster.
This difficulty in using the same boat to paddle on different types of water explains why the popularity of crossover kayaks has surged in recent years. Traditionally, kayakers who wanted to take on various types of water needed to spend out on multiple different types of ‘yaks, which was expensive and made storage difficult. A crossover kayak allows you to track straight in flat water while retaining the maneuverability and resilience of a whitewater boat.
So if you are looking for one boat that will allow you to run exhilarating whitewater and be comfortable enough for a day out on the lake then look no further. We’ve put together a buying guide to let you know what key factors to look for, a jargon buster to help with all the salty language, and reviews of the best crossover boats on the market.
Best Crossover Kayaks
Dagger Katana 10.4 - Our Pick
Best Crossover Kayak: Jargon Buster
Best Crossover Kayak: Buying Guide
Crossover kayaks are unique in that they are designed to take on a range of water types, so their design differs significantly from standard kayak hulls. To help you pick the crossover kayaks that is right for you, we’ve put together this buying guide, to help you understand what to look for when picking out your ‘yak.
A kayak's rocker is the measurement of how much its hull curves from bow to stern. The more rocker a boat has, the more of the hull is lifted out of the water and the more maneuverable it is. The waterline is the opposite of this; it is the measurement of how much of the kayaks hull is in contact with the water. The waterline measurement is normally an indication of how fast the kayak will cut through the water.
When buying a crossover kayak, it is important to consider what type of water you find yourself most often paddling on. If you favor flat water but want to be able to run whitewater on occasion, then go for a boat with more waterline for better tracking and speed. If you are keen on running whitewater and spend the occasional weekend on the lake, then opt for a boat with more rocker to give your kayak more maneuverability.
Being comfortable in a crossover kayak is vital. You need to have the grip and stability of an appropriate seat for running whitewater courses and the comfortable and storage space to allow you to spend the day out on flat water. The key to comfort in a kayak is adjustability. When you are looking to buy a crossover kayak, check for fully adjustable seats, thigh braces, and footplates. You should be able to adjust the fit and grip of your cockpit to suit whatever type of water you want to be out on.
One of the main drawbacks of the crossover kayak design is problems with tracking straight. Crossover hulls tend to be flatter and shorter than touring or sea kayaks. While a shorter hull gives them greater maneuverability in whitewater, it does degrade their ability to cut through flat water. To help mitigate this, most crossover boats come fitted with a peddle steering rudder or a fixed position skeg. The skeg or rudder can be deployed when out on flatwater, to improve tracking and speed, and can be retracted when running whitewater.
Best Crossover Kayak Reviews
The Dagger Katana is the ultimate mix, or recreational and whitewater, kayak. Its multi-chined design provides excellent initial stability, while the flaring side walls keep it stable when edging. The rotomolded plastic hull is durable enough that it will survive accidental contact with rocky obstacles and its rounded bow and stern allows it to shed water, making it more forgiving on whitewater runs.
The fit of the seating and cockpit is fully adjustable and gives the paddler the stability and security needed to tackle fast-moving water. The precision adjustable thigh braces, multi-adjustable contour hip pads, and adjustable ratchet backband will keep you securely in your seat, no matter what bumps the river throws at you.
On flat water, the Katana isn't as fast as a purpose-built touring boat, but it comes equipped with a TruTrak adjustable skeg system to aid in tracking and add to its top speed. There is ample storage to be had for longer journeys; the Katana has a watertight stern storage hatch and internal storage bulkhead. If you find you've got more gear than you can fit into the interior storage, then dry-bagged items can be attached to the hull with the included bungee deck rigging.
In the water the Katana handles a wide variety of environments with ease. It's very much a jack of all trades. The balanced rocker profile and medium waterline allows the Katana to stay maneuverable in the fast water while still tracking well in calmer conditions. At 56 pounds, it's not the lightest kayak on the market, but its built-in carry handles and shorter length makes it one-person portable for most paddlers.
The excellent design and performance of the Elias are what makes it our top pick for best sea kayak. It is maneuverable, fast, stable, comfortable and has plenty of storage space to allow for a full weekend of paddling.
The Dagger Axis is ideal for those looking for a capable touring kayak but occasionally want to venture out on mild, fast moving water. Longer and with a greater waterline than the Dagger Katana, the Axis is best suited to being used as a touring boat that can handle whitewater if the need arises.
The Axis has a hard chined hull and narrow bow, allowing it to cut through the water and maintain a reasonably high speed over flat water. Its stern hatch and removable stern bulkhead allows for considerable storage, with bungee cording on the hull for paddles or waterproof items. The ConTour CFS-R seating system is fully adjustable to make sure you’re comfortable, and the cockpit is roomy enough that paddlers can bring their knees up and stretch their legs on longer journeys. Knee and thigh pads combine with side locking foot braces to provide support, but any really challenging conditions will require a thigh brace, which is an extra option if needed.
The Axis' longer hull, sharper profile, and larger waterline reduce its maneuverability in whitewater runs. The cockpit set up, while comfortable, does not provide the necessary stability to allow the paddler to attempt anything more than mild whitewater.
The Axis places itself far toward the touring end of the crossover kayak spectrum. Its solid tracking, fitting storage, comfortable seating, and good top speed make it ideal for paddlers looking to take a longer expedition that might involve some fast water. However, if you're interested in a boat that can handle more challenging whitewater, then the Axis is not it. Its longer hull and low rocker greatly reduce its maneuverability. Paddlers looking for a boat that can handle both conditions with ease would be better investing in the Dagger Katana
The Wilderness Systems Aspire is unusual in that it is specifically designed for larger paddlers. At 51.5 inches, the cockpit is extremely long and the seating system is designed to be fully adjustable to accommodate larger frames. While this larger cockpit undoubtedly makes the Aspire more comfortable, it does create problems when trying to stop water from entering the boat.
Despite its larger width, the Aspire is surprisingly maneuverable. Its multi-chined hull has excellent initial and secondary stability, allowing it to be edged into tight corners without a problem. Its flattened hull and high rocker also helps to keep it maneuverable in whitewater. The cockpit setup is somewhat lacking in the stability needed for whitewater running, although there are knee and thigh pads to allow the paddler to brace their legs when turning.
On flat water the Aspire's deployable skeg helps with tracking, but the boat's short length and hull shape do significantly cut down on its ability to track straight and keep a reasonable speed. A large waterproof stern hatch provides ample storage, which is complemented by bungee storage on the hull.
The Aspire represents a viable alternative to paddlers with a larger frame who struggle with the narrow and restrictive cockpits of traditional whitewater kayaks. That being said, all the extra room could create unnecessary movability for shorter kayakers. While its large cockpit may represent an issue when trying to keep water out of the boat, its short rounded hull makes it very maneuverable. On flat water, the Aspire's performance is closer to a recreational kayak than a touring boat, and it struggles both with tracking and speed.
The Dagger Zydeco bridges the gap between whitewater and recreational kayaks.The shape of its hull and the extra stability from its multiple chines allows the Zydeco to deal with moderate whitewater, while still keeping its maneuverability high. Its displacement hull and narrow profile give it reasonable downriver performance, but its width and short length keep it from being particularly fast.
On flat water, the narrow hull allows the Zydeco to cut through the water with ease, keeping its tracking straight. The sharp hull also allows it to deal with moderately choppy water, making it a viable choice for sheltered inlets and sea coves. Because of its diminutive size, storage is limited to one small hatch and bungee cords attached to the hull. This doesn't allow enough storage for longer trips and the Zydeco's low top speed on flat water puts its performance closer to that of a recreational kayak than a touring boat.The short hull and light weight means the Zydeco is one person portable. At just 9 feet in length and weighing only 36 pounds, it can easily be loaded onto a car rack, or even into a car, and moved from car to surf without a trolley. The cockpit features a ConTour CFS-R seating system, ConTour knee and thigh pads, and SlideLock XL foot braces. These are all adjustable for comfort and provide the stability needed for a paddler to throw the Zydeco through tight turns.
The Zydeco is an excellent choice for paddlers looking for a portable recreational kayak that can handle moderate whitewater. Light and maneuverable, the Zydeco gives you the opportunity to take on most water conditions when the need strikes you. However, if you’re looking to take a weekend trip, the lack of storage makes this kayak an inadequate choice.
Where most crossover kayaks bridge the line between whitewater and touring kayaks, the Eddyline Skylark combines the stability of a recreational boat with the sleek lines and narrow hull of a sea kayak.
The Skylark's narrow profile and hard chines allow it to cut easily through choppy water. It tracks extremely well and has a great top speed. However, the flatter design of the hull makes the Skylark a little more difficult to turn, and it lacks a rudder system to compensate for this. Fore and aft hatches provide significant storage, and there is paddle storage on the outer hull. This storage capacity, combined with the comfortable and adjustable Infinity seat and backrest, make the Skylark ideal for longer trips. At 12 feet long and 41 pounds, the Skylark isn’t person portable, so you’ll have to factor transportation and how to get it to the water’s edge into you paddling plans.
Stability is one of the key features of the Skylark; it has excellent primary and secondary stability and represents an excellent choice for beginners looking to transition from a recreational kayak to fully fledged sea kayak.
The Brittany is the ideal kayak for those who consistently face choppy water. Its narrow hull and sheer length make it quick and maneuverable in the water, but those same factors make it difficult to store and transport on dry land.
Our Pick: Dagger Katana 10.4
The ideal crossover kayak allows the paddler to be at home in a variety of water conditions without the need to own and store multiple kayaks. While they might be outclassed by purpose-built touring or whitewater boats, a crossover kayak opens up a far greater array of options for its owner.
The Dagger Katana is our pick because it excels at this. Its hull design keeps it maneuverable, durable, and allows it to shed water during whitewater runs. When out on flat water, its deployable skeg and narrow profile enable it to track straight and it has all the storage capacity needed for a longer trip. The cockpit setup is comfortable over the long term and supportive enough for the paddler to use their body when running fast water.
If you are looking for one kayak that can handle anything the water throws at you, then the Dagger Katana is precisely what you are looking for.