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Kayaking is a growing outdoor activity that combines some of the best of what nature has to offer: sun, clear water, and beautiful scenery. It is an easy sport to get hooked on and we almost always see first-time paddlers come back for more. Whether you’re looking for a tranquil, smooth tour through the morning fog and yonder or a thrashing, adrenaline inducing (possibly even life threatening) experience through class 6 whitewater rapids, there’s something for everyone. There are many types of kayaks fitting a wide range of paddling skill sets and different applications. Feel free to peruse our list of the best kayaks in our section below.
The most common type of kayaks is recreational kayaks, which are a shorter and wider variation and provide excellent stability. These make for great fun in cruising around lakes and calmer sections of rivers. On this page, we take a look at a wide array of kayak designs and which are best for beginners and experts.
- 1 Top 15 Best Kayaks for Every Category
- 2 Kayak Guide Part I: Types of Kayaks
- 3 Kayak Guide Part II: Choosing the Right Kayak
- 4 Kayak Guide Part III: General Thoughts on the Best Kayaks for Recreation
- 5 Kayak Guide Part IV: The Perks of Owning Your Own Kayak
- 6 Kayak Guide Part V: What is a Kayak? Parts of a Kayak
- 7 Kayak Guide Part VI: Interesting Facts about Kayaks
Top 15 Best Kayaks for Every Category
Here is our list of the best kayaks currently available. We’ve listed the intended purpose for each — whether it be recreational, whitewater, touring, or for beginners.
Our pick for the Best Beginners Kayak: If you are a newcomer to paddling, or just looking for something for a relaxing journey around the lake or river, the Intex Challenger is a great inexpensive option. It comes with everything you need to get started and is tough enough to handle slow moving rivers. The package also comes with a repair patch when the probable jagged rock strikes again. We like the cargo net that makes the most of this little one seater, allowing the user to store gear or perhaps a beer or two with no worries.
Other Beginner Kayak Recommendations:
- Step up: Rave Sea Rebel
- Two-seater: Intex Explorer K2
Our pick for the Best Youth Kayak: Holding up to 130lbs and featuring multiple footrest positions, this is a great choice for kids of all ages. This comes with a paddle and is great for activities such as exploring a lake or surf riding at the beach. The molded finger handles are a great design, for those unavoidable flips and rougher rides it provides another layer of security for the young ones. It’s a wide kayak that provides a sturdy and stable platform to help keep children safe in the cockpit. The wave is the perfect recreational kayak for kids.
Other Youth Kayak Recommendations:
- Alternative: Sun Dolphin Bali
Our pick for the Best Inflatable Kayak: This is a sturdy, two-seater kayak that is backed by a three year manufacturer warranty. As far as larger two person kayaks go, this is a very portable 26 pound package which fits into an included 26 by 48 inch carrier bag that can be carried like a backpack. It has a weight limit of 500 pounds and is durable enough to handle up to class three white waters. The design includes two skegs for more precise tracking, preventing your paddling efforts from being all for naught. It comes with many add-ons and two oars contributing to the Sea Eagle 330 being one of the best values for the reasonable price point.
Other Inflatable Kayak Recommendations:
- Step up: Advanced Elements 1007-R
- One-seater: Coleman QuikPak K5
Our pick for the Best All-Around Recreational Kayak: The Aruba by Sun Dolphin is a solid watercraft measuring 10 feet in length. It is composed of a plastic (polyethylene) hull that holds up extremely well under most water conditions. This kayak also features foot braces, a high-backed adjustable seat, and a spray deflector collar for conquering rapids in comfort and style. It is designed for stability and not speeds like those in the touring category.
Other Recreational Kayak Recommendations:
- Alternative: Old Town Vapor 10
- Step up: Dagger 12.0 Axis
- Two-person: Lifetime Manta
- Three-person: Coleman Big Basin
Our pick for the Best Sit-on-Top Kayak: The QuickPak is a comfortable, versatile kayak that can be set up and deflated in under 5 minutes. The backrest offers plenty of support and the sit on top design doesn’t leave the user feeling constricted. A common choice among backpacker, camping, and kayaking hybrids because it weights around 12 pounds and has a weight capacity of 400lbs. It is also a good choice for fishers heading out to their secret spot in calmer waters. Dual fins combined with the smaller size make maneuvering easier even for less experienced paddlers.
Other Sit-On-Top Kayak Recommendations:
- Step up: Ocean Kayak Scrambler 11
- Two-seater: Ocean Kayak Malibu
Our pick for the Best Whitewater Kayak: The heavy-duty plastic PVC tarpaulin hull is constructed to stand up to the roughest whitewater you dare paddle into. In other words, this is a waterfall proof kayak. The 35 inch width, 9 foot 6 inch length, and 34 pound weight provides the best combination in stability and maneuverability. You’ll be prepared for a whitewater battle with thigh straps, self-draining mechanism, welded seams, covered cargo area, and self-bailing ports.
Other Whitewater Kayak Recommendations:
- Step up: Dagger Axis 12.0
- Inflatable: Advanced Elements AirFusion Elite
Our pick for the Best Touring Kayak: This 13-foot kayak is an excellent choice for day trips. It has the versatility to enable some types of light sea kayaking, but it excels in the day tour category. Riot came up with a nice mix of stability and length when designed this kayak. The custom-fit seating system ensures comfortable ‘yaking and plethora of bonus features justify the price tag. The Edge weighs in at 44 pounds which isn’t bad considering its size. The maximum capacity of this kayak is 300lbs and it comes with a 5 year warranty.
Other Touring Kayak Recommendations:
- Step up: Tahe Marine Wind
- Alternative: Perception Tribute
Our pick for the Best Sea Kayak: This is a uniquely designed foldable marine, backcountry, and sea kayak. If you’re looking for a vessel that can handle the persistent bashing of the ocean the BayST is up to the challenge. This Kayak offers an excellent blend of navigability and stability. The hull is constructed with double-wall polypropylene and a 1.5in rocker to handle breaking waves and robust winds. There is enough storage capacity for weekend-trips and other expedition ventures which can be accessed using an easy-entry day hatch. Twelve feet long and twenty-eight pounds, the BayST is the ideal kayak to embark on ocean adventures.
Other Sea Kayak Recommendations:
- Step up: Boreal Design Epsilon C200
Our pick for the Best Tandem Kayak: Airhead has put together a reasonably priced inflatable tandem kayak with a weight capacity of 500 pounds. Enjoy paddling about with your best mate or significant other! As you’d expect, hard shell tandem kayaks can get pretty pricey and this inflatable is a good alternative. We wouldn’t recommend going all in on a hard shell tandem kayak unless you are experienced kayaker and love the sport. Of course, this inflatable isn’t as durable as pro models, but the heavy gauge PVC is reliable in lakes and moderate white water.
Our pick for the Best Angler Kayak: The Fishing Kayak from Coleman comes with all the bells and whistles you need for an optimal fishing experience. Rod holders for hands-free fishing, paddle holders, and back-up air chambers are just a few of the key features of this kayak.
We’ve got a bunch of great options in our dedicated fishing kayak page.
Here’s a handful of other popular kayak that we thought are worthy of this list.
Old Town Vapor 10 Recreational Kayak is easily one of the best budget kayaks on the market. This kayak has a number of amazing features. First and foremost, this kayak has a roomy cockpit. This is a very important feature because it ensures you are comfortable as you paddle through a lake or river.
Unlike some kayaks on the market, this recreational kayak has a cup holder and a paddle rest. This means you can take a break from paddling from time to time and enjoy a cup of coffee, or whatever tickles your fancy. This kayak is also equipped with a dry well that enables you to carry food and beverages on your adventure.
Thanks to the lightweight and handle on this kayak is also very easy to pull which makes packing/transporting very easy. Last but not least, this kayak is equipped with a skid plate. The importance of this is for the protection of the hull in case there is sand or rocks. The Vapor 10 from Old Town is definitely one of the best recreational kayaks around.
Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak is another example of a high quality recreational kayak. This kayak has incredible features that makes kayaking fun. First and foremost, it has a padded sitting area for the users. This is a very important feature because it enables you to be comfortable on your adventure. This is a feature that might lack in a number of recreational kayaks. Indeed, comfort is a reason why you typically want to go for the best rated kayaks.
The other great feature of this kayak is the fact that it has ample storage area. This enables you to carry some of the things you might need in your adventure such as food and beverages. It also has a cup holder and paddle rest that are molded-in. This enables you to enjoy a drink when you need a break from paddling. While not the lightest, this recreational kayak is still fairly portable. This is made possible by the fact that it weighs 43 lbs. Probably the best kayak for the money that you can buy.
The Sun Dolphin Aruba Sit-in Kayak is one of the most popular recreational kayaks of all time. This is because it strikes a good balance between cost and quality. First and foremost, this kayak has a seat that is not only padded but adjustable. This is a very important feature because it allows you to be comfortable throughout the adventure.
The other great thing about this kayak is the fact that it has amazing back support. This is another feature that contributes to comfort, and makes kayaking less tiring for you. The foot braces on this kayak are adjustable. This makes the kayak suitable for kayakers of all sizes, since they get to adjust the foot braces to a position they find most comfortable for them. Not to mention, this kayak comes in a number of colours; you therefore have a chance to choose one of the best recreational kayak in your favorite color. Definitely the best cheap kayak on our list.
Perception Impulse 10.0 kayak is a kayak that most people would love. Widely renowned as the best all around kayak on the market. The best thing about this kayak is the fact that it does not have a complicated design. This makes it perfect for beginners. This is, however, not to say that this kayak cannot be used by experienced paddlers.
The hull of the kayak has a great shape that provides you with great stability. As well as this, this kayak is very light and therefore very portable. Last but not least, the color combination is simply gorgeous. If you are new to kayaking, this is the best beginner kayak around.
Dagger Kayaks Zydeco 11.0 Kayak is a recreational kayak that has a very unique and high quality design, making it possibly the best kayak for rivers. Apart from having amazing features that totally improve your kayaking experience, this kayak will definitely make you stand out from the rest.
The foot pedal system has a slide lock design that makes it easier and comfortable for you. The kayak is light and therefore portable, and is very easy to balance and float since it is stable. The best river kayak on our list, but it could also be the best kayak for lakes you can buy.
Kayak Guide Part I: Types of Kayaks
When shopping for your first (or fifth) ‘yak it is helpful to have an overview of the most common groupings of kayaks. There is some overlap in some of these categories, but these are the popular distinctions vendors and shops will use to label their types of watercraft.
1. Beginner Kayaks
These are your most basic models and are typically inflatable, but not always. They are used for recreational purposes; mostly easy paddling through lakes and flat water sections of rivers. These kayaks are less expensive than thicker, hard sided kayaks but are still durable enough to last awhile. These are a great way to get into this addicting water sport without breaking the bank.
2. Inflatable Kayaks
Inflatable kayaks are also commonly classified as beginner kayaks and/or recreational kayaks. However, this is not always the case as some fall within performance-oriented type kayaks. Most first-time, inexperienced paddlers buy an inflatable for their first ‘yak. The greatest benefits of inflatable kayaks are their price and portability. They cost less than rigid kayaks and can be deflated and put in a bag for easy transportation as well as storage.
3. Recreational Kayaks
Barring longer tours, ventures into the ocean, and kayak camping, recreational kayaks are a broad umbrella classification. There are many subsets of recreational kayaks as you can see from this list. These are the most popular kayaks and there are many styles to choose from. The primary attribute is stability and these are generally shorter and wider.
4. Sit-on-Top Kayaks
Another subset of the recreational type kayak, the name says it all. Instead of sitting inside a cockpit, you sit right on top. Many times these will feature numerous holes in the hull of the vessel, allowing them to be self-draining. This results in what is usually a wetter ride than other types of kayaks, as water oftentimes splashes through the holes. Some folks, particularly with larger builds, find these less confining and more comfortable. It is also more difficult to get trapped inside if the kayak flips thanks to their open deck.
5. Tandem Kayaks
These are also called “doubles” and are a great way to share the experience with someone else or as a couple. They are also a wonderful option for taking out a pet or child for a casual, relaxing trip. Many times experienced paddlers find this one of the best ways to get newcomers who may be a little leery towards going out. Conversely, if occupied by two experienced paddlers who are able to work in unison, high speeds, and quick travel is within their grasp.
6. Fishing Kayaks
Within the last few years, kayaks have grown in popularity among some in both the saltwater and freshwater fishing communities. They are a great alternative to what can be an exceedingly expensive initial purchase cost and ongoing maintenance upkeep of customary fishing vessels. Twin hull or catamaran style boats allow fishers to paddle and fish while standing, which can be a relief from sitting for hours on end waiting for a bite. Many angler kayaks allow the user to pilot them by feet powered flippers or propellers making them hands-free. The most popular choice of material for fishing kayaks is polyethylene because of its practical balance of low cost and durability. You can read our fishing kayaks review here.
7. Touring Kayaks
The factor separating touring kayaks from recreational kayaks is their length. Touring kayaks, like the sea kayaks we discuss below, are longer and made to traverse greater distances. These kayaks are generally over 10 feet long. Longer kayaks track a straighter line than shorter kayaks. This is important when navigating from point A to point B because you do not want to be wasting precious energy frequently correcting your course. The other distinguishing characteristic is that they have more storage space for gear. This makes multi-day trips with a few nights of camping in the realm of possibility.
8. Sea Kayaks
A subset of the touring kayak, sea kayaks are usually even less wide than their touring ‘yak colleagues. The means you sacrifice slightly less stability for a little more ability to keep an edge. These kayaks are usually about 15 feet or longer. Their very long length makes it easy to navigate in a straight line, but much harder to turn. Because of their size and consequent material and labor requirements, sea kayaks naturally remain one of the most expensive types of kayaks. The key features of sea kayaks are covered decks, spray decks, and comfortable design for longer journeys. While most sea kayaks can also be used for touring, most touring kayaks should not be used at sea. This is particularly true when tackling rougher ocean conditions such as larger swells on the open coast. This type of kayaking is not for beginners. Before purchasing one of these and venturing into the ocean, it is critically important to take a few classes on sea safety.
9. Whitewater Kayaks
Whitewater kayaks are for the pros and the wild things. These have become very specialized and get up there in price. These are finely tuned to offer the right balance of weight, stability, and maneuverability. Crafted for mastering higher classification, extreme, and “exploratory” rapids, this category of watercraft is for experienced paddlers only.
Kayak Guide Part II: Choosing the Right Kayak
Here are a few of the basic specifications of kayaks. They are worth a quick gander to help you narrow down what type of kayak is best for you (also followed by a short instructive video).
- Length. All other factors being equal, a longer kayak will be faster but harder to turn.
- Width. All other factors being equal, a wider kayak will offer more stability.
- Boat weight. Weight of the kayak, most effected by size and type of material.
- Transport. This can be a limiting factor because of your vehicle. Inflatables, modular, and folding kayaks rate highest in this area.
- Size of the cockpit. The sitting area, which is non-existent in SOT (sit-on-top) kayaks.
- Cargo. How much storage capacity the watercraft features.
- Weight Limit. Marked under most product specification lists.
- Durability. Life expectancy and what type of conditions the kayak was built for.
- Material. Plastic (polyethylene), thermoformed ABS, soft shells (cloth), and composite.
- Price. Hinges on many factors, but beginner kayaks are usually on the low end of the spectrum and touring/sea kayaks as well as whitewater on the higher end.
- Appearance. Color design comes down to personal preference.
Kayak Guide Part III: General Thoughts on the Best Kayaks for Recreation
During Spring and Summer, most folks tend to start thinking about what recreational activities they can engage in and get outdoors. While relaxing in the house watching movies is a good way to pass time, sometimes you just can’t beat exploring nature and all that it has to offer. Kayaking is a great way to go exploring without things getting too expensive. Plus, you get fit at the same time. Ever seen the bodies of Olympic kayakers? So what are the best kayaks available you ask? Well, that depends on what its purposes is. Kayaks are readily available for sale at most outdoor stores. However, a lot of people have never thought about finding one online. The nice part about the online experience is being able to compare all the models without a sales person yacking away.
Recreational kayaks are mostly made for people who love to explore nature, fishing, and also people who just like a peaceful time on the lake. However anyone and everyone can enjoy kayaking, it only takes a bit of practice and you are cruising around in no time. Although recreational kayaks are readily available, people face challenges in choosing the best one for them. This is mainly because there are very many types and brands of recreational kayaks on the market. This makes it difficult for one to decide on the right kayak.
You are probably wondering why quality is so important when it comes to buying recreational kayaks. Well, quality is important because it oftentimes determines the kind of kayaking experience you will have. For instance, if you go for a kayak that does not have large enough beams, and attempt sea kayaking, you will be in for a wild ride. It will have issues with stability.
It is therefore very important to always choose a high quality recreational kayak designed for your intended adventure. To do this, you will need to do adequate research on the different types and brands of recreational kayaks there are on the market. It might also help to read some user reviews in order to know what to expect from each product. Doing this gives you a better chance of leaving with a high quality product. Here is our run-down of the best kayak brands.
Kayak Guide Part IV: The Perks of Owning Your Own Kayak
Muscle Building Workout
The number one benefit you get from using a recreational kayak is strength. While you are kayaking, you get to work out your entire body. Most people believe that kayaking only offers upper body workout. This is not the case. Kayaking is a great whole body workout. You may feel it in your arms first, but your core is getting a good workout too. Your lower body and core is also exercised since there are movements you make with your feet in order to keep the kayak in the right balance and motion. It is therefore a great way to add to your workout routine.
The other benefit you get from recreational kayaks is overall health. This is brought about by the activity involved while you are kayaking. Kayaking enables you to have great cardio activity, which is very important for general well-being. Some of the benefits you get from a cardio exercise include: better heart health, improved endurance during different physical activities, control of blood sugar, improved cholesterol levels, and great lung health. These are all very important benefits, because they prevent you from suffering from very serious lifestyle diseases. It is therefore a great idea to add kayaking as part of your workout routines.
Go where you please. Buying a kayak means you have freedom to explore any bodies of water near where you live. Kayaking has also been proven to simply make people happy. The explanation for this is the fact that kayaking is a form of aerobic exercise. Such exercises tend to stimulate the production of chemicals in the brain which changes a person’s mood. It is therefore a great exercise if you are looking for an activity that will enable you to relax, also put you in a good mood. The other reason why most people find joy in kayaking is the fact that it shifts the focus from peoples hectic lives, and you are therefore able to enjoy the activity in the moment without any distractions.
Kayak with Others
Last but not least, this is an activity that can be done with friends and family members. Therefore if you are looking for an activity that will bring you and your family together to share in the fun and make memories, kayaking is a perfect option. If you and your family are just starting out, make sure to get the best kayak for beginners that you can find.
Kayak Guide Part V: What is a Kayak? Parts of a Kayak
A kayak is a boat that is narrow and small in nature. It is normally propelled with the help of two paddles which are bladed. The paddler is required to sit in the cock-pit of the kayak and paddle to move it in the direction they want. In some cases, paddlers wear spray decks in order to ensure that no water enters the cock-pit. In most cases, kayaks are used in lakes and rivers that do not have any waves. However, depending on experience of the paddler, the kayak can be used in other different water bodies. When it comes to design, kayaks come in many different designs. The most common design is the single person kayak. There is however kayaks that are made to fit more than one person. These are the best recreational kayaks because they make it possible for you to bring friends who get to share in the fun of kayaking. Read the kayak anatomy page at Old Town Canoe for more information.
Kayaks date back to thousands of years ago. The kayak was first made by a group of people living in the arctic area at the time. These people are commonly referred to as Eskimos. They were found in parts of Russia, Canada and Alaska. Driftwood was used to construct the frames of the kayaks and they used to wrap the kayaks using seal skin. The kayaks had a number of seal bladders that were air filled. This made the kayaks very hard to sink. The Eskimos would use their kayaks in the hot months for the purpose of fishing. This is where the name kayak came from. The name is used to mean ‘hunter’s boat’.
During the early times kayaks were normally designed as per the tastes and preferences of the users, and what they intended to use them for. In the 1900’s Europeans made a discovery that kayaks are very versatile. For this reason, they replaced the seal skins with different materials and started using them for other purposes other than hunting. In 1936, Berlin included kayaking as one of the games in the Olympics. The fiberglass kayak came later in the 1950’s followed by the plastic kayaks which came to existence in the 1980’s. As time goes by, manufacturers try to make their kayaks very versatile, sturdier and very lightweight.
Kayak Guide Part VI: Interesting Facts about Kayaks
Although kayaks have been in existence for very many years, there are many facts people do not know about them.
Kayak Fact #1: Did you know that kayaks were used in battle during the World War II? This is true. Back then, the British forces saw the kayaks as a perfect fit for battle. This is because with kayaks, they could move quickly and quietly. This is something that gave them a great advantage over their opponents, and they were able to win many battles as a result.
Kayak Fact #2: There was a man who was able to use a kayak to travel a distance of 50,000 kilometers. His name was Oscar Speck. He started from Germany and using his kayak, he paddled his way to Cyprus.
Kayak Fact #3: Pope John Paul II also loved kayaking very much. This was a fun activity he enjoyed back when he was not yet a pope, in the year 1949.
Kayak Fact #4: Another interesting fact about kayaks is that a woman was able to place a record as the first woman to paddle a kayak for 392 kilometers in a period of 24 hours.This is something you will find in the Guinness world records.
Kayak Fact #5: The weirdest fact about kayaks is when a man by the name Lez Paylor made a kayak from poo. The invention was however not a complete success since the kayak started to leak barely 5 miles in transit.