Paddle Kayaks Vs. Pedal Kayaks: A Comprehensive Review

Kayaking is arguably one of the fastest-growing recreational outdoor activities. In fact, recent statistics show that the sport is rapidly gaining popularity – with the number of participants in the United States increasing from 6 million in 2006 to 16 million in 2017.

As more and more people explore the exciting world of kayaking, so is the dilemma of finding the best kayak for your adventures. There are lots of choices to be made but one key one is what propulsion system to use. The choice comes down to either a paddle kayak, a motor kayak or pedal kayak. The latter uses pedals or flippers to propel your craft, while a paddle kayak uses old-school paddles. If you’re one of the millions of users caught in this dilemma, read on for a comprehensive review of paddle kayaks vs. pedal kayaks.

Why Choose Paddle Kayaks?

You, the beloved kayak, an adventurous spirit, and your trusted paddles – this is the traditional way of kayaking. While inventions in the industry have introduced alternative ways to propel your kayak, old-school paddling still has its fair share of advantages. Wondering whether paddling is the best fit for your needs? Consider the pros and cons of paddle kayaks below.


  • Budget-Friendly: The cost of a kayak is easily a deal maker or breaker for most users. And when it comes to affordability, paddle kayaks easily win the paddle vs. pedal kayaks debate. Unlike pedal kayaks that retail for as high as €8000, traditional paddle kayaks typically range between €350 and €1000 depending on factors such as the material included. With this in mind, most beginners and novice kayakers opt for paddles kayaks – rather than spend a large sum of money before knowing the granular preferences you’ll have.
  • Stealth for kayak fishing: Fish are easily spooked when something in their environment is amiss. Paddle kayaks allow users to sneak up with minimal disruption. This is because you have full control of how hard and deep you maneuver in the water. In the case of a pedal kayak, you might not always know whether you’re disturbing underwater debris, sand, or branches.
  • Shallow Waters: When fishing in shallow waters, a paddle kayak is significantly more efficient due to the less clearance needed and little disturbance. Things like weeds or rocks can easily hit your pedal drive which can get you caught up or at worst brake your pedal drive system.
  • Beauty in Simplicity: Paddle kayaks require minimal maintenance, and getting into the water is fairly simple. Plus, there’s something thrilling about sticking to the roots of kayaking.
  • Strong Muscles: Paddling your kayak the traditional way is a great upper body workout and builds strong arm and core muscles.


  • Endurance: Typically, your legs have more endurance than your arms. This means that you’d go further with a pedal kayak than with a paddle kayak.
  • Multi-Tasking: The main pitfall of a traditional paddle kayak is the lack of full control when multi-tasking. For example, while kayak fishing you need to juggle between your fishing gear and the paddle while angling – giving you limited control of both tasks.

Why Choose Pedal Kayaks?

Pedal kayak offer a different set of advantages and disadvantages when kayaking. This segment of kayaks has become increasingly popular especially with kayak fishermen. Read on for a comprehensive analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of leg powered kayaks.


  • Hands-Free Control: Pedal kayaking has a multi-tasking appeal. With a foot-powered kayak, your hands are free to fine-tune electronics, tie different baits, and even take a picture.
  • Speed: Whether it’s flippers or a propeller, pedalling is fast and efficient. This comes in handy in angling tournaments, where you want to arrive at your spot as fast as possible. It’s also useful for sea kayaking since you need to cover a large area throughout the day.
  • Endurance and Power: Planning to spend prolonged periods in the water or travel long distances? Unless you have built-up endurance and experience with proper paddling technique, a pedal drive may be the best choice. It’s easier to learn, provides more power, and you can go further (with less effort) than with a paddle kayak.
  • Powerful workout: If you are looking to get a great leg workout then pedal kayaks are a great choice. This option is popular with cyclists and other sporting athletes who look for an alternative workout option.


  • Initial and Maintenance Cost: At twice the price of an average paddle kayak, pedal kayaks will force you to dig deeper into your wallet. This is one of the main factors that dissuade intermediate and novice kayakers from using pedal kayaks.
  • Space: If a roomy ride and storage room are important to your kayaking experience, a pedal kayak might not be the craft for you. The pedal-drive units and size of the kayaks place demand on the available space.
  • Underwater Clearance: Although it’s possible to pull up the pedal drive or flip the flippers against the underside, pedal kayaks require additional underwater clearance in comparison to paddle kayaks meaning you have a harder time in shallow water.

Key Takeaway

So, who wins – pedal kayaks or paddle kayaks? This largely depends on your personal preference and desired experience. For speed and hands-free movement, go for pedal kayaks. But if you’re strapped for cash and you want to get a great upper body workout, traditional kayaks are the obvious choice.

Regardless of where your allegiance lies, kayaking is a healthier and more affordable alternative to motor-powered boats. It also keeps you in touch with nature which is always beautiful!