Kayaking is undoubtedly one of the most versatile ways to explore the great outdoors. You can battle whitewater rapids, explore the open ocean, take your kayak fishing or watch the birds as you wind your way down a slow-moving river. One thing is for sure – nothing beats the rhythmic pull of your paddle slicing through the water as you glide along.
In the past few years, there has been a proliferation of different kayak types, from touring kayaks to ocean kayaks to fishing kayaks. This can seem intimidating for beginner paddlers, but never fear! We have compiled a list of the top 10 kayaks on the market, so you can easily find the best kayak for your next adventure.
1. Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105 Kayak
Editor’s choice #1: For sheer versatility, the Tarpon 105 cannot be beat. Recreational paddlers of all levels will love this stable, maneuverable and unbelievably comfortable kayak. It is chock full of features that enhance convenience, durability and storage options. You will want to spend all day long paddling around in this excellent kayak!
Wilderness Systems is one of the most trusted kayak brands out there, and for a beginner-friendly kayak, you won’t find anything as versatile as the Tarpon 105. With fantastic stability, tracking, maneuverability and decent speed for its length, this kayak is perfect for fishing, kayak camping and paddling around river bends.
Ample Storage & Extra Features
As well as a nifty magnetic bottle strap and paddle attachments, the Tarpon 105 also has accessory rails on each side to which you can attach anything from rod holders to camera mounts. You will love all the storage options, from internal storage to a rear tank well and a removable dry box. Even the seat has been cleverly designed – it is adjustable in multiple ways so that you can change your position to achieve maximum comfort and back support.
Enhanced For Durability
Made from polyethylene, the Tarpon 105 is already a very durable boat. One great innovation makes it even more durable – a replaceable keel protector to mitigate against damage from dragging the kayak across rough ground. All in all, this is a fantastically comfortable and well-designed recreational kayak, with loads of nifty features.
2. Sea Eagle 380x Explorer
Editor’s choice #2: The Sea Eagle 380X is without a doubt the best inflatable kayak we could find. With incredible durability, enhancements for whitewater paddling and an impressive weight capacity, this is definitely a kayak to take off the beaten track. Plus, it can accommodate up to 3 kayakers without sacrificing on performance!
Durable And Strong
If you are looking for an inflatable kayak but don’t want to sacrifice on durability, you can’t do better than the Sea Eagle 380X Explorer. Although an inflatable can never be quite as indestructible as a traditional kayak, the 1100 Decitex reinforced material and high pressure drop-stitch floor mean the 380x comes close. Plus, it can hold a whopping 750 lbs (340kg)!
The 380X is also the best tandem kayak on this list. It can accommodate three kayakers without sacrificing stability, or two kayakers and lots of gear. However, it is still easy enough for one person to maneuver. The balance between stability and maneuverability is one of the great selling points of this kayak, making it wonderfully versatile and a joy to paddle.
Optimized For Adventure
We have mentioned the versatility of the 380X – it can be used as a sea kayak, taken up Class IV rapids, and also works great for fishing. It features front and rear spray skirts for rough conditions, as well as 10 D-rings for storing gear and accessories. Note that it is a little heavy for an inflatable, mostly because it is a 3-person kayak.
3. Ocean Kayak Prowler 13 Angler One-Person Sit-On-Top Fishing Kayak
Lots Of Storage
The Ocean Kayak Prowler 13 Angler is the best fishing kayak for adventurers with loads of gear. As well as two rod holders, this sit-on-top kayak offers bow-to-stern internal storage PLUS a rear tank well, attachments for kayak paddles and cup holders. Bring scuba tanks, tackle boxes, cooler boxes or whatever else you need, provided you don’t go over 375 lbs (170kg). At 13’4” long, this kayak works best for larger paddlers.
Great Stability And Tracking
Ocean Kayak is one of the top kayak brands, and customers love the stability and tracking of the Prowler 13 Angler, which is impressive for its length. It’s not as fast as you would expect from such a long kayak, but this also depends on how much weight you have on board. For fishing and river paddling, it performs in all the right ways.
The Prowler 13 is a high-quality kayak that is built for a lifetime – and in fact, the hull does have a lifetime warranty! Scratches may happen, but they won’t affect the boat’s performance or longevity. On top of everything else, the adjustable seat and multiple foot positions mean you can stay comfortable for hours at a time.
4. Lifetime Tamarack Angler Sit-On-Top Kayak
Perfect For Fishing
If fishing is your game, the Lifetime Tamarack Angler is a fantastic option. With three fishing rod holders, paddle cradles and two easily accessible storage containers, this kayak is designed with fishing in mind. As it is a sit-on-top kayak, all your gear and gadgets will be easily accessible. Plus, you will have no trouble spending hours on the water, as the adjustable seat and multiple footrest positions make for a very comfortable kayak.
Great Stability And Tracking
In a fishing kayak, stability is essential, and the Angler does not disappoint. Due to its sharp bow, it is also surprisingly fast for its 10’ length. But what customers like best about the Angler is how well it tracks and how easy it is to handle. For its stability, this kayak is also pretty lightweight at 52lbs (23.5kg).
It is unlikely that you will find a better quality boat at this price point. Made from UV-protected polyethylene, this kayak comes with a 5-year limited warranty. Some of the components, such as the seat clamps, are cheap and break fairly easily, but the boat itself should last a long time. Note that the weight capacity is only 275lbs (125kg), so it is not great for heavier paddlers.
5. Lifetime Tamarack Pro 103 Sit-On-Top Kayak
If you love the look of the Angler but want a longer kayak, the Pro 103 is a great option. The longer length means you will be able to reach slightly higher speeds, though agility will be compromised somewhat. Another reason to go for this one over the Angler is the increased weight capacity of 300lbs (136kg).
Great Fishing Kayak
Just like the Angler, the Pro 103 offers great tracking and is highly stable due to its chine rails. It also has all the same features that optimize it for fishing: rod holders, paddle cradles, ample storage space and an adjustable seat. One difference is that the Pro 103 has adjustable foot pedals rather than molded foot positions. According to some customers, these can cause a headache by coming out, and one customer reported receiving two right foot rests.
Like the Angler, this kayak is made from UV-protected high-density polyethylene and comes with a 5-year limited warranty. We will note again that elements such as the seat clamps, and in this case the foot pedals, can break or come off. But the boat itself is highly durable for such a cheap kayak.
6. Oru Inlet
Folding kayaks are a recent invention, but have already taken the kayaking world by storm. If compactness and portability is your top priority, this is the kayak for you. At 20lbs (9.1kg), you can take it absolutely anywhere. Both assembly and disassembly take under 5 minutes, and it folds into an easily carryable bag shape. It also comes with a backpack-style case for hiking, bicycling and taking on public transport.
Despite being incredibly light and flimsy looking, the Oru Inlet is surprisingly sturdy. This solo kayak can hold up to 275lbs (125kg) maintaining good stability. Of course, the lightness does have its downsides, and it won’t stand up to any serious swell. But for recreational kayaking on calm lakes and rivers, you should have no issues.
Perfect For Beginners
Due to its convenience and ease of setup, this is a good kayak for beginners. It is also stable and easy to maneuver in calm water. Plus, the open cockpit makes it easier to get in and out of. When it comes to durability, Oru claims that their kayaks can survive 20,000 folds. However, one or two customers found that holes appeared in some of the folding seams pretty quickly, though this seems to be a rare occurrence.
7. TERRAVENT K2 116in Portable Foldable 1 Person Sit-In Kayak
Terravent is one of the newer kayak brands on the scene. You would be forgiven for mistaking the Terravent K2 for the Oru Inlet, as their design is very similar. They both have a weight capacity of 275 lbs and the Terravent is just slightly heavier at 20.5lbs (9.3kg). But the Terravent is slightly cheaper – so does it match up in terms of quality?
In fact, it seems that the Terravent K2 is a bit more robust than the Oru Inlet, due to its double-layer polypropylene construction. Though it is probably best kept for flatwater paddling, the K2 can handle collisions with rocks and reefs, and also won’t corrode in seawater.
Nice To Paddle
Terravent claims that their kayaks track and paddle better than inflatable kayaks. While this might be true on calm water, like the Oru, this kayak does not do too well with strong wind. Also note that out of the two kayak brands, Oru has been around for longer, so there has been more time for customers to find faults. On the whole, it’s up to you whether you would prefer an established brand and a slightly lighter kayak, or one made of tougher material that has not yet had any user complaints.
8. TERRAVENT K1 154in Foldable Lightweight Kayak
Compact And Portable
If you are a speed freak but still want a portable kayak, you might want to opt for the Terravent K1. Due to its extra length, it is a little heavier than the K2, coming in at 40lbs (18kg) including all accessories. However, it still folds up very compactly, and comes with a backpack style carry bag.
If you are an adventurer, you will find that the extra weight of the Terravent K1 is a small price to pay for its sturdiness and speed. Like the K2, it is made from puncture- and abrasion-resistant polypropylene, and it will survive a few scrapes on reefs and rocks.
Great For Adventuring
The enclosed hull and upturned nose of the Terravent K1 shows that it is designed for rougher waters than the K2. However, it is still best to keep this one out of very rough swell. With lots of deck lines for attaching gear and an ultra comfortable EVA material seat, you can easily spend all day in this kayak. And of course, the extra length makes for much higher speeds than the K2. It also means it is harder to maneuver, so this is not the best kayak for beginners.
9. Sea Eagle 370 Inflatable Kayak
Great Capacity But Compact
If you are looking for an inflatable tandem kayak but want something more affordable, the Sea Eagle 370 is a good option. Although it can fit 2-3 people and carry a whopping 650lbs (295kg), it is impressively lightweight at 33lbs (15kg). It does not have much dedicated storage space, but it does have several D-rings so you can strap your gear down.
The 370 is one of Sea Eagle’s budget models, but it is surprisingly versatile and can be used in up to Class III rapids. While its tracking could be better, it is stable and easy to maneuver. The construction is also good for the price – the K80 PVC is sun and saltwater-resistant and the seams are strong. However, note that you should use a hand pump for this kayak as an electric pump may cause it to inflate to a too high PSI.
This kayak comes with three removable, adjustable seats. This means you can add two or three depending on how many kayakers you have, and place them wherever is most comfortable. However, note that although this kayak is advertised as 3-person, it is most comfortable with two. It feels cramped with three, and is quite hard to maneuver solo.
10. Pelican Maxim 100X Sit-in Recreational Kayak
The Pelican Maxim 100X is a great beginner kayak. It won’t break the bank, and at 36lbs (16.3kg) it is super lightweight. Despite being a sit-inside kayak, it is easy to get in and out of, and has lots of legroom. It has enough storage space, although its storage areas are on the shallow side.
Good Performance In Calm Water
At such a low price, the Maxim 100X offers a good balance of tracking and agility, and is stable enough and pretty fast in calm waters. More experienced paddlers will be annoyed at the limitations of this kayak, as it does not handle wind or waves well. But for beginners who plan to stick to calmer waters anyway, this is a perfectly decent kayak.
Value For Money
Clearly, a budget kayak is not going to give you the top level performance and bells and whistles of a top-of-the-range kayak. But if you are looking for something affordable, you will not be disappointed. Pelican uses Twin Sheet Thermoforming technology to create a rigid and durable hull that is still lightweight and cheap. This kayak is also UV-resistant, and made from largely recycled plastic. The Maxim 100X is definitely the best kayak at its price point.
What Is A Kayak
Kayaks may seem modern and high-tech, but the basic design is the same as that used by the Inuit thousands of years ago. In those days, they were used mainly for fishing and transportation. Today, kayaks are used for a whole range of activities, from fishing to racing to touring to family fun. But what actually classifies something as a kayak?
- Hull: Traditional kayaks have enclosed hulls, but these days sit-on-top kayaks are gaining popularity. However, this is still different to the large, walled hull of a canoe.
- Seating position: in a kayak, whether it is a sit-inside or a sit-on top, your legs are stretched out in front of you. This contrasts to a canoe, in which you sit on a bench or kneel. Because of this, your center of gravity is lower in a canoe, allowing for more precise maneuvering.
- Paddle: when kayaking, you use a double-bladed paddle, alternating sides to propel yourself forward.
- Number of paddlers: most kayaks are designed for solo paddling. Tandem kayaks are gaining popularity, but there are still few kayaks that accommodate more than two paddlers.
Types Of Kayak
These days, there are so many different types of kayak to choose from. Here’s how to pick the right one for you.
Sit-on-top kayaks do not have a covered hull, and instead have a top that is molded to accommodate your legs. Because of this, they are much easier to get in and out of. Sit-on-top kayaks are the best choice if you plan to bring along a pup, and they also tend to be more stable than sit-in kayaks.
Sit-on-top kayaks work best in hot weather, as your legs are likely to get wet.
With a sit-in kayak you essentially ‘wear’ the kayak, with your legs inside an enclosed hull. This makes them better sea or whitewater kayaks. Sit-in kayaks are also usually lighter than sit-on-top kayaks, and they have less wind resistance and thus higher speeds. On the flipside, they allow for much less accessibility to gear.
Tandem kayaks are designed for two (or even three) paddlers. If you know you are going to be paddling with a loved one, a tandem kayak is a great choice. It makes for less effort paddling, you only have to buy one kayak, and the teamwork is a fun bonding experience.
Folding kayaks are a new innovation in the kayak market. However, they are growing fast in popularity, due to their compactness, portability, and ease of setup. If portability is a high priority for you, a foldable kayak may be the way to go.
Inflatable kayaks have been around a bit longer, and there are many to choose from. They range from budget fun boats to high-tech models whose performance and durability rival that of hard shell kayaks. Inflatable kayaks are great for casual kayakers, but they are also ideal for adventurers who want to take their ‘yaks on hikes or cycle trips.
Recreational kayaks refer to kayaks that are not optimized for any specific activity, but instead aim for versatility. For this reason, they make good beginner kayaks. Recreational kayaks won’t win any races or survive whitewater rapids, but they tend to be pretty stable and maneuverable.
Touring kayaks are optimized for touring, i.e. paddling long distances fast. Touring kayaks also need to have a generous weight capacity to carry camping gear. However, because they prioritize speed, they tend to be long and thin and not very stable.
Because of their difficulty balancing and maneuvering, we don’t recommend a touring kayak for beginners.
Fishing kayaks have attachments for rods and fishing gear, as well as storage hatches in convenient positions for your catch. A good fishing kayak should also be stable and comfortable, as you will likely be sitting in it for long periods of time.
What To Consider When Choosing A Kayak
Once you have decided on the kayak type, there are still a few more factors to consider.
If you are going to be carrying your kayak alone or taking it off the beaten track, weight is a crucial factor. If you want serious portability, consider an inflatable or folding kayak.
Capacity / Size
Before deciding on a kayak, you have to make sure it will hold your weight and that of all your gear. It’s best to be conservative, because loading your kayak to its maximum capacity will make it less stable and harder to maneuver. Another crucial factor to consider is shape – long, thin kayaks are built for speed, while shorter, wider kayaks are more optimized for stability and maneuverability.
Durability is an important consideration for everyone. However, if you are mostly kayaking in calm lakes, you don’t need the same durability as someone going whitewater rafting.
To enhance longevity, make sure not to drag your kayak along rocky surfaces.
Kayaks come in a wide range of prices. If you want a decent kayak, it’s best not to go for the very bottom range. That said, if you are a casual kayaker, you won’t need the most expensive kayak either. Again, it all depends again on what type of kayaking you plan on doing.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best kayak to buy is the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105 kayak. On top of being chock-full of convenient features, this kayak is incredibly versatile. It is easy to maneuver around sharp bends, is highly stable and tracks well. It is also super comfortable and has enhancements for back support and durability. As recreational kayaks go, you can’t do better than this.
You should buy a kayak whose size matches your weight, and what you plan on doing with it. Make sure that you get a kayak that has the capacity to hold you and all your gear. However, if you are a smaller paddler, a very long/heavy kayak will be hard to maneuver. If you prioritize stability and agility, you’ll want a shorter, wider kayak, while if you prioritize speed, you’ll want something long and thin.
A good kayak is one that is durable, comfortable and performs well for what you will use it for. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all perfect kayak. Good kayaks come in a wide range of types, designs and materials. Check out our buyer’s guide above to learn how to choose the best kayak for you.
A decent kayak costs anywhere between $500 and $1400. Recreational kayaks and most inflatable kayaks tend to be on the cheaper side, while more specialized models such as sea kayaks and whitewater kayaks will cost more. The more specialized enhancements and features are included, the more expensive the kayak will be.
The safest kayak for beginners is the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105. We have to choose this one again because of its impressive stability and tracking, and how easy it is to maneuver. However, if you want something more affordable for your first kayak, the Pelican Maxim 100X is also a good choice.
In conclusion, the best kayak currently on the market is the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105. It is the most versatile kayak on this list, it is comfortable and well made, and its attention to detail is unparalleled. But whatever your kayaking requirements, you can find a great kayak on this list! If you are specifically looking for an inflatable, check out our list of the top 10 inflatable kayaks here.