Intuitively laid out for access to gear and storage compartments. Elevated seating for spotting disturbances in the water. Seat stows away when not needed. Replaceable skid plates to protect the bottom. High weight capacity of 425 pounds. Can accommodate a 35-liter cooler.
Some people have received units damaged during shipping.
Deep cockpit with adjustable foot braces and a supportive backrest. Thigh pads for added comfort. Can carry up to 325 pounds including user and gear. Design is focused on maneuverability.
Doesn't operate as well in rough waters. Lacks a sealed storage compartment.
Four carrying handles for easy lifting. Two dry storage compartments that can be accessed when paddling. Bungee-secured paddle parks. Adjustable seat and foot rests. Well thought out layout for fishing.
Could use a fin for better tracking.
Low-maintenance design. Small size and light weight makes it more convenient to lift and transport than many others. Feels stable in the water and doesn't require heavy paddling to move. Self-draining scupper holes.
Only supports users up to 250 pounds. Lacks dry storage.
Good for flat water and river paddling. 37-pound weight makes it easy to travel with or check when flying. Three separate air chambers for safety. Reliable military-style air valves. Adjustable seat for user comfort. Has a lot of bungees a D-rings to secure gear.
Narrows quickly towards the ends and can feel tight around the legs.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Water activities are high on the list of favorite things to do in summer. Maybe you’re bored with playing in the swimming pool or splashing around near the lakeshore in inner tubes. Why not give kayaking a try? The sport of kayaking has gained in popularity over the past four decades, thanks to a shift from rigid fiberglass hull construction to today’s durable but affordable polyethylene hulls. Other changes include a revolution in hull design from the traditional “sit-inside” configuration, familiar in pictures of Inuit and Aleut hunters, to light, stable sport watercraft made for a variety of activities like fishing.
There is enough variation in kayak hulls and other features to make a new kayaker’s head spin. Which design works best? Which one will hold together on long trips or through several seasons of use? We are here to help you decide. At BestReviews, we test products to figure out which ones offer the best performance and value for your money. We talk to the people who know about the products and the people who use them and bring that information to you.
Put on your life vest and grab your paddle. We’re setting out to give you the most important information so you can make an informed choice and get the best kayak for your needs.
These kayaks offer the lowest-priced way to enter the sport. The cheapest are made of “milk-bottle” plastic, also known as polyethylene. It’s a denser, heavier material, which can make larger recreational kayaks difficult for one person to carry.
Beginners can paddle around shallow inland waters in either sit-on-top or sit-in versions without much trouble, rarely having to worry about the kayak turning over or “turtling.”
These kayaks are often wide, so they don’t easily flip over.
This type of kayak is much longer than a recreational kayak. Most inexpensive touring kayaks are made of polyethylene, but the plastic is a lot thinner. Others use ABS plastic which weighs less and has some resistance to UV rays. That savings in weight may not be noticeable, though, since this type of kayak is longer.
Touring kayaks are typically used in waters that may be more difficult to navigate and so require more paddling experience. Additional – sometimes extensive – training may be needed before you can handle one safely.
These kayaks often boast a much more specialized design than off-the-rack kayaks. These are purpose-built and their materials are often just as unique. To save weight, for example, a hybrid kayak’s hull may be made of thermoformed plastic, or perhaps a kayaker wants a tandem kayak with multiple seats placed in a canoe/kayak hybrid configuration.
Before price, before color, before size, the first thing to consider when choosing a kayak is what kind of activity you’ll be doing and where you’ll be doing it.
Kayakers looking to tackle Class 2 rapids or head out into the ocean need a distinctly different boat than kayakers who want to paddle around near the shore of a quiet lake for an hour or two. And then there are those who want to go on long camping trips or do some serious fishing. There is a kayak for every activity, but they fall into two general categories: sit-in kayaks and sit-on-top kayaks.
The kayaker sits in a molded seat on top of these kayaks. This type is easier to get into and often more comfortable than sit-in kayaks. Scuppers in the hull allow water to flow out or “self-bail.” They also have watertight hatches for dry storage. Some have an open space aft of the cockpit for easy access to items like coolers.
As the name suggests, the kayaker sits inside the hull of these kayaks. Water is kept out of the hull by a spray skirt, which fits snugly around the kayaker and over the cockpit. Some kayaks have bulkheads fore and aft that can be used for storage, with watertight hatches for access to stored items.
The wide-open cockpit in these kayaks allows for much more storage for gear. These may not be self-bailing. This style may be the most comfortable of all kayak categories.
These sit-in kayaks are smaller, and the outer edges of the hull may be more rounded and the bottom flatter than touring or recreational kayaks. These kayaks are designed to be highly maneuverable in fast-moving rapids.
Touring or Sea Kayaks:
These are much longer than recreational sit-in kayaks. The length provides better control and tracking, as well as additional cargo space. Spray skirts are a must for sit-in sea kayaks in rough water.
These space-saving kayaks aren’t as rugged as hard-shell versions, but one can be invaluable if you’re hiking to a remote put-in spot far from the parking area. These also store away nicely in small apartments or storage rooms.
Another way to save on space, whether storing or transporting, is with an inflatable kayak. The lower-priced models of inflatable kayak are comparable in price and performance to low-end recreational kayaks. Some higher-end models are comparable to touring kayaks.
Depending on your level of experience, almost any of the above types of kayaks can be used for fishing, and some come with extra attachments for accessories, like rod holders. Some kayakers, especially those with open-cockpit recreational kayaks, will modify their boats to do some casual fishing rather than purchase a separate fishing kayak.
These sit-in or sit-on-top kayaks have two or even three seats and are much longer and heavier than one-person kayaks. You’ll need some extra paddling practice to be able to move and steer this kayak properly.
A kayak’s construction, size, and purpose all play a role in its price, which can range from under $300 to over $4,500.
Lower-priced inflatable kayaks are comparable in price to low-end recreational kayaks, starting around $300. Some higher-end models cost between $1,000 and $2,000.
The specialized nature of these kayaks makes them pricier than recreational kayaks. Most cost between $500 and $900.
These start as low as $300, with some children’s models priced about $100. Buying a lower-end recreational kayak might be best for those who are interested in kayaking but not ready to invest in a more expensive model. Tandem kayaks cost about $600 and up. Folding kayaks average well over $1,000.
These kayaks have the widest range in price. At the lower end, polyethylene kayaks cost about $600 to $900. ABS plastic touring kayaks cost about $1,500 to $3,000.
When purchasing a kayak, you want to buy a good paddle and life jacket, too. These are probably the two most important accessories you need. If the salesperson suggests them, he or she is not being pushy! A roof rack for transporting your kayak is something else to consider.
Life jackets specifically designed for kayaking are more flexible, with thinner material at the shoulders to make it easier to move your arms.
Paddles for kayaking are light – they can weigh as little as 24 ounces – which means you will do less work moving your kayak through the water. Of course, lighter paddles are more expensive than heavier ones.
A roof rack is a popular choice for recreational and whitewater kayaks. Larger sea kayaks may need to be loaded onto a trailer.
Protect your kayak from UV light when not in use. Even a kayak with a UV-resistant hull needs to be protected from sunlight when you’re not using it. Protective sprays are available that reduce hull damage from UV rays, but check with the manufacturer to make sure the spray is okay to use on your model. Some kayaks are pretreated with UV protectant.
Protect your kayak from moisture when not in use. Place it hull side up on a raised surface – a trailer rack or several stacks of bricks set at equal height and equal distance along the hull – with a weather-resistant buffer between the rack or bricks and the hull contact points to prevent scratches. Rig a tarp over the hull, but don’t let the tarp touch the hull. This can trap moisture between the hull and the tarp and damage the hull.
Store your kayak in a way that keeps it from warping. Whether it is suspended from straps or sitting on a rack, make sure the weight is evenly distributed. Shorter recreational kayaks with the right attachment points may be suspended vertically on the wall.
Q. How fit do I need to be to start kayaking?
A. Pretty much anyone can try kayaking! There are only two caveats: you should know how to swim (wearing a life vest only provides an added layer of safety), and you should check with your doctor first if you have any existing health issues. That said, recreational kayaking in a light, sit-on-top kayak in calm water is relaxing and fun.
Q. What’s the best way to transport my kayak from home to water and back?
A. That depends on the size of the kayak and the vehicle you’re using. If you’re transporting a smaller recreational, whitewater or touring kayak, it can be transported on top of most cars that have a roof rack or even just crossbars. Racks made for kayaks are available, or you can jerry-rig padding, cam straps, or bow and stern tie-downs. Pickup truck owners can strap a kayak onto the bed of the truck. Be sure to pad the hull adequately and secure the kayak so it doesn’t slide around and scratch the hull.
Q. I’m the only person among my family and friends who is interested in kayaking. Does it make sense to buy a kayak?
A. Sure. If it’s something you really want to try, go for it. However, it’s not a good idea to kayak alone, especially when first starting out. Look for a kayaking group online or at sporting goods and boating stores. Find one that matches your skill level and kayaking interest. You’ll probably be able to “try before you buy” both the kayak and the group to find one that fits you best.
If you’re a solo kayaker who will have to carry your boat by yourself, it’s possible to do so. Smaller kayaks can be lifted at the cockpit and carried by resting the inside of the cockpit edge on one shoulder. Also, wheeled carts are available to move the kayak from your vehicle to the water and back. These two-wheeled dollies go under the center of the kayak and use a strap to secure the hull. All you have to do is balance the kayak on the cart and walk it to where you want to put in.