Choosing between a pedal kayak and a paddle kayak is an important decision. People choose a kayak based on different factors. For some folks, a kayak is a means to paddle leisurely and enjoy the outdoors. Other people like the thrill of kayak fishing.
Is a pedal or paddle kayak best for you? Your choice will come down to your needs and preferences, as each type of kayak has its merits. One isn’t inherently better than the other.
Pedal kayaks are popular among anglers as they offer more power and speed than paddle kayaks. However, recreational paddlers are often drawn to paddle kayaks, as they are easier to control, transport, and provide a relaxing experience.
This blog post will compare pedal kayaks vs. paddle kayaks in terms of performance, fishing capabilities, and other factors you should consider.
What Are Pedal Kayaks and Paddle Kayaks?
If you’re new to kayaking, you might wonder what the difference is between pedal kayaks and paddle kayaks.
Paddle kayaks are the traditional type of kayak, and they’re powered by…you guessed it, paddling! Paddle kayaks are great for those who want to get a workout while enjoying the outdoors and are also very maneuverable.
On the other hand, pedal kayaks are powered by pedals near the kayaker’s feet that turn a propeller underwater to drive the kayak forward. The pedal system is usually located in the center of the kayak. Think of it as similar to riding a recumbent bike.
Pedal kayaks can be a more comfortable option for those who don’t want to use their arms to paddle. It also frees up your hands for fishing, photography, or other activities.
Pedal kayaks also tend to be faster than paddle kayaks and can cover more ground with less effort. However, they can be more challenging to control, especially in tight spaces.
Who Is a Pedal Kayak Best For?
There are many factors to determine which type of kayak is best for you.
If you’re interested in pedal kayaks, chances are you’re looking for a fast and efficient kayak. Pedal kayaks are great for those who want to quickly cover a lot of water or are interested in fishing.
If you have any physical ailments, like shoulder pain, pedal kayaks can also be a good option, as they don’t require using your arms to paddle.
However, pedal kayaks can be more difficult to control if you need to turn quickly. And a paddle-powered kayak is a great choice if you’re mainly looking for a leisurely paddling experience.
Pros of a Pedal Kayak
There are many reasons an angler would choose a pedal kayak:
Speed and Efficiency – When kayak fishing, speed is an essential factor. Unless you are a world-class paddler, a pedal kayak will get you from one place to another much quicker and cover large bodies of water faster. Anglers have limited time on the water and want to cover as much area as possible.
Hands-Free – If you are covering a lot of water, one of the most apparent benefits of a pedal kayak is being hands-free. You can pedal your way to the next fishing hole, and if you are coordinated enough, get your fishing tackle ready to go. Pedaling also helps prevent your arms from tiring out, leaving more energy to reel in fish. For most people, legs are strong than arms, so a pedal kayak is easier on the body.
Stable – Pedal kayaks are wide and heavy, giving you better stability than your average recreational paddle kayak.
Cons of a Pedal KayakChe
Yep, there are some drawbacks to owning a pedal-powered kayak:
Heavy – Fishing kayaks generally are very heavy, some weighing more than 100 pounds. The same is true of a pedal kayak. Be prepared for all the fun of transporting a heavy, awkward pedal kayak. You will need a kayak trailer or pickup with a hitch extender. A kayak cart is a must. Best of luck if you are car-topping a pedal kayak (especially solo).
More expensive – Expect to spend a decent chunk of your hard-earned money on a pedal kayak. You can find pedal kayaks on the lower end for about $2,000; depending on your heart’s desires, you can spend much more. Spending around $5,000 or more for a high-end pedal yak is not unreasonable. Pedal gear adds about $1,000 to an already expensive kayak.
Durability – Pedal drive kayaks have more moving parts, which means more chances for mechanical failure. Something to keep in mind is that you still need to have a paddle handy.
Who Is a Paddle Kayak Best For?
Paddle kayaks are perfect if you’re a purist who wants to enjoy the peaceful art of paddling. They keep all the noise and distraction at bay while allowing you to maneuver around waterways relatively easily.
Non-anglers will also gravitate towards paddle kayaks as they can explore nature without needing specialized gear. In addition, paddle kayaks are easy to maneuver, are lighter, and don’t have extra moving parts.
However, pedal kayaks are an excellent option for those with knee problems, as you don’t need to use your arms to pedal. And this can be a more comfortable option for those with joint pain.
With paddle in hand, you can take your time exploring the water and enjoying the scenery and wildlife.
Pros of a Paddle Kayak
Lightweight – Many run-of-the-mill kayaks you buy from a big box store are pretty darn lightweight. Seriously some of these “cheap” kayaks are under 40 pounds, making them easy to put on a kayak roof rack or toss in the back of a pickup truck. Lightweight also means easier to store.
Less Expensive – You can probably find enough money in your couch cushions to buy an inexpensive kayak. Okay, that would have to be a large couch cushion, but you get the point. I have seen some kayaks on clearance in the off-season for under $200.
Cons of a Paddle Kayak
Control – Paddle kayaks are less convenient and harder to control when fishing since you have to put your pole down to paddle. Whereas with a pedal kayak, you can keep moving and continue fishing.
Slower – Anglers will not quickly get to the other side of the river, lake, pond, etc., like you can with a pedal kayak, especially on a large body of water.
Which Type of Kayak Is Best for You?
It’s not always cut and dry if a pedal or paddle-powered kayak is best. Pedal kayaks provide hands-free control and are great for long journeys. Using your legs to drive the yak forward, you can move faster and won’t tire out as quickly as with a paddle kayak.
Natalie Rolwes, a river guide at Big Muddy Adventures in St. Louis, agrees, “While they’re a bit pricier than a traditional paddle kayak, pedal kayaks are great options for recreational paddlers as well as anglers. With a pedal drive, you move faster through the water and can cover more miles. Plus, if you’re like me and enjoy documenting your trip, it’s great to have your hands free. You don’t have to worry about losing a paddle while trying to get the shot.”
On the other hand, paddle kayaks are lighter and more maneuverable, making them ideal for short trips in shallow water.
A paddle kayak is a great way to go if you are kayaking for fun, exercise, or solitude. Of course, other factors like transportation and storage play a role, and we will chat more about that in a bit. However, paddling can be physically taxing, making it difficult to cover long distances quickly.
But paddles give the user greater control when turning and stopping quickly, which can be helpful in rough waters. And a paddle kayak is the way to go if you are trying to enter the water from the beach in surf conditions.
At the end of the day, pedal kayaks are great for fishing, long trips, and navigating currents. Paddle kayaks are excellent for shallow water exploration or a leisurely afternoon on the lake.
Both pedal and paddle kayaks make great fishing kayaks, but pedal kayaks are more convenient. With a pedal drive system, you don’t have to put your pole down when paddling – multispecies anglers can cover more ground while searching for the big bite.
Both types of kayaks come equipped with plenty of rigging and storage spaces, so you can customize them however you want.
Pedal kayaks give the angler hands-free operation, so you can concentrate on your casting and reeling rather than paddling. And pedal kayaks will get you to the fishing spot faster so you can start fishing sooner.
Both can be equipped with a fishfinder and all the other gear you can think of.
Paddle kayaks can get into shallow water easier or areas with seagrass and other “obstacles” that might give a pedal kayak a hard time. However, some new technology makes it easier to go over shallow obstructions.
Where Do You Plan On Fishing or Kayaking?
Where you plan to kayak is critical in figuring out if a paddle or pedal kayak is best. A paddle kayak is ideal for kayaking into shallow waters with rocks, sandbanks, and grass. Paddlers can easily maneuver around obstacles and stay aware of how close their kayak is to the bottom. And with a paddle kayak, you have more clearance under the kayak to handle shallow water better.
If you plan on paddling in windier open-water areas or taking longer trips away from shore, a pedal kayak may be your best bet due to its speed and ability to cover larger distances faster. With pedals, you will also easily return to shore if the weather unexpectedly turns too rough.
Transporting a kayak is no simple feat. Getting your beloved boat to the water can be challenging, whether traveling across town or heading out into the wilderness.
Kayaks are inherently awkward. Size, shape, and weight all play a factor. There are many ways to transport a kayak, including the back of a pickup, on a roof rack, using a kayak trailer, etc.
Pedal kayaks add a whole different dimension to the transportation challenge. They are heavier and require additional space for their pedal drive system, making them more difficult to transport than paddle kayaks.
A kayak trailer is excellent if you have the money, a vehicle to tow it, and space to park it when you are not using it.
Paddle kayaks are much easier to hoist onto a rooftop or fit into the bed of a pickup, making them much easier to transport. And we have yet to talk about inflatable kayaks or inflatable fishing kayaks, which are much easier to transport.
Where will you store your pedal kayak or paddle kayak? If you haven’t thought about storing a kayak, you should. A pedal drive system and rudder add bulk and weight to a pedal kayak, and it may be too large for some wall mounts or other kayak storage racks.
Storing pedal kayaks can be tricky unless you have ample storage space. But with a bit of creativity, you can make it work. If you have limited space in your garage, yard, or storage unit, pedal kayaks can be much harder to store than paddle kayaks.
Paddle kayaks are easier to store for those with limited space due to their smaller size. You can use a ceiling-mount kayak rack, a wall mount, or a free-standing unit.
There isn’t a whole lot of maintenance involved with a paddle kayak. Of course, you need to clean off any grime, mud, etc., after using it. Some folks also use a protectant like 303 to help combat UV rays. But for the most part, keep the kayak clean, inspect the hatch seals, etc., and you are good to go.
Since a pedal kayak has mechanical parts, more maintenance is involved with pedal kayaks. You need to keep an eye on the pedal drive system, crank arms, and prop and check for loose bolts or debris that have gotten stuck in the pedal system.
And factor in that pedal kayaks are often exposed to harsher conditions like saltwater, so they should be rinsed and dried after each use to help prevent corrosion.
When it comes to pedal kayaks vs. paddle kayaks, there are pros and cons for both. Ultimately, the best choice depends on what type of paddling or fishing you plan on doing.
Pedal kayaks offer the convenience of hands-free propulsion but make them more difficult to store than paddle kayaks. Paddle kayaks are easier to transport and store but often require more physical effort to get around. Consider your specific needs and make the best choice for you.
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.