Kayaking is a great way to enjoy rivers and lakes, but finding the top kayak for your needs involves more than a quick search on Amazon. Here are our top choices for kayaks, as well as additional information to help you make a purchasing decision.
Best Overall: Intex Challenger Kayak Series
Intex’s Challenger is an inflatable kayak with a weight capacity of 220 lbs and a comfortable, ergonomic design. While it doesn’t have the same durability as a fiberglass fishing kayak, it stands out as one of the most lightweight kayak options currently on the market.
As we’ll discuss in a little bit, weight is a crucial element of kayaks, so its inflatable nature alone makes this a fantastic choice for most buyers.
This kayak includes an adjustable seat, a cargo net, a pair of paddlers, and a high-output pump for rapid inflation. It’s an excellent recreational kayak, particularly for flatwater excursions, but it’s not quite as good as touring kayaks if you want to go through whitewater areas.
- Extremely affordable
- Compact and easy to store when not in use
- One person can move it around
- Grab lines on both ends
- Not as durable as a solid sit-in kayak
- Not suitable for any angler
Best Tandem Kayak: BKC TK122U
BKC isn’t a particularly well-known brand, but their TK122U is an outstanding 2-3 person tandem kayak. It features a lightweight aluminum frame, which helps keep it around 74 lbs, and that’s as light as you can realistically get for a kayak this good.
Features here include two watertight hatches, one bungee cargo hold, four accessory rails, and two articulating rod holders in case you want to go fishing.
The TK122U has significantly more dry storage space than many of its competitors, and it does that without sacrificing maneuverability. The center of gravity is good, too, since this kayak is made for having two or three people in it.
- Extremely durable aluminum shell
- An outstanding choice for multiple kayakers
- Allows for installing comfortable footrests in its large cockpit
- Maneuverable through both flatwater and whitewater
- Significantly more expensive than the other options on this list
- Too heavy to move on your own without other tools
Most Visible: Perception Flash 9.5
Visibility is a crucial aspect of safety when you’re out on the water, and few kayaks are more visible than the Blaze color on Perception’s Flash 9.5 series. With a bright red-to-yellow gradient, it’s instantly visible in practically any environment.
This kayak makes paddling easier thanks to the zone comfort seating and adjustable foot braces, while the sit-on base supports up to 325 lbs. That’s more than many of its competitors and extremely useful if you want to bring any heavy gear with you.
The rear storage hatch is large enough to support dry bags or some small coolers, while the durable exterior resists abrasion. In a rare choice, the carry handles are molded into the kayak’s body rather than being separate, which further improves their durability.
Perception’s Flash 9.5 also has small cup holders, which are relatively rare on any kayak. While it’s not as light as our top choice, the high-density polyethylene structure makes this a great overall option.
- Plenty of legroom
- Easy to hang by bungee cords thanks to the molded handles
- It has a paddle holder
- Includes scupper holes and a drain plug
- Not quite as good in coastal waters as lakes or rivers
- Limited color options
Best Lightweight Kayak: Pelican Sentinel 100X
This kayak may look more like a surfboard than a traditional kayak, but it’s a great choice if you’re looking for a lightweight, low-profile vessel for recreational use.
The kayak itself uses a triple-layer polyethylene structure, with additional foam blocks to provide rigidity and overall safety. It comes in a 42 lbs total, which is quite low for any non-inflatable kayak.
Unusually, this sit-inside kayak also comes with a removable storage compartment. Most storage compartments are fixed in place, but the ability to pack it separately and then add it to the kayak offers some nice utility.
This model supports up to 275 lbs, which is enough for you and some equipment. Pelican offers a limited lifetime warranty, too, as long as you register it within 30 days of purchase. That’s a nice level of extra protection if you expect to go kayaking regularly.
- Noticeably lighter than many competitors
- Stable enough for fishing and other sports
- Removable storage container
- Flexible enough to support a spray skirt
- It doesn’t offer as much protection in rougher water
- No rudder or skeg
There are plenty of great kayaks on the market, with features ranging from extra-comfortable thigh pads to multiple storage areas. However, deciding between the types of kayaks requires more information. Here’s what you should keep in mind before buying.
The Biggest Factor: Weight
Believe it or not, weight is usually the most important factor when you’re buying a kayak. Whether you’re looking at an Old Town kayak, the Ocean Kayak Venus, a Yak, or even something like the Sun Dolphin Aruba 10, weight takes priority.
The reason is this: heavier kayaks are much harder to handle. It’s not just their size, either. Most people transport kayaks on top of their vehicles, which means you need to be able to lift the kayak up and down at both your home and your destination.
You can somewhat reduce the weight by getting a kayak with a shorter length, but even more than that, your choice of materials will affect the weight. Here are the common options.
The maximum weight of kayaks for women varies, but in general, it shouldn’t weigh any more than 50 lbs (for one person) or 80 lbs (for two people).
Lightest: Inflatable Kayaks
Inflatable kayaks are mostly air, so they’re significantly lighter than anything else. These are the easiest kayaks to transport and move by far because they can fit in a small, carry-on bag.
Inflatable kayaks are also useful if you don’t have any other ways to store your kayak in your vehicle or at home. Kayaks are large, with solid options requiring a significant amount of storage space, and not everyone has the room to store them.
However, the downside of these kayaks is the same as any other inflatable choice: They can get punctured. Most inflatable kayaks are extremely durable, with several protective layers, but that won’t help much if you hit something at speed.
That’s why inflatable kayaks do best in calm waters where you don’t have a lot of debris. They’re not a good choice for a rougher, rockier terrain.
Inflatable kayaks are also a poor choice for fishing because you could accidentally puncture the kayak with your hooks. That’s rare, but it’s still a problem for anglers.
As Paddling Magazine explains here, polyethylene kayaks are a popular option that has been around since the 1970s. Most polyethylene kayaks are solid pieces, which means they have no weak joints or seams where water could get in.
That said, polyethylene kayaks are extraordinarily durable overall, capable of going over gritty beaches or banging against rocks without noticeably deforming.
These are a great mid-range option if you’re confident in your strength or have someone else to help you move them up and down.
One thing to remember is that sunlight can degrade polyethylene, which means you should store it out of direct sunlight and occasionally spray it with UV-blocking materials.
Heavyweights: Metal Kayaks
Metal kayaks usually use relatively lightweight materials like aluminum, but they’re still heavier than other options. These may be too heavy for one person to get up and down easily, and even two people may struggle, so be careful with them. Metal kayaks also tend to be more expensive than other options.
However, while they aren’t as easy to handle as lighter kayaks, metal options are also significantly more durable than plastic. These are the best choice if you want to go through rougher waters or wilderness systems where you can’t be sure what you’ll find.
Manufacturers make kayaks from a wide variety of materials, including wood, fiberglass, aramid, carbon fiber, and more. All of these materials have distinct characteristics, so it’s worth researching them further if you want something outside the common materials we discussed above.
Other Things to Look For
Everyone’s needs are different, so there are a few other things to look at when you’re deciding between kayaks.
The length has a huge impact on your kayak’s performance. A few inches aren’t enough to make a huge difference, but the changes start to become quite apparent by the time you get to two feet. The thing to keep in mind here is that all lengths have advantages and disadvantages.
Longer kayaks cruise more efficiently, which means they’re good for longer trips. They also have significantly more storage space, which is good if you want to stay anywhere overnight.
Shorter kayaks don’t have as much storage space, but they also turn significantly faster. This makes them a better choice for navigating rivers or other rough terrains that long kayaks might struggle with.
Depth also affects performance, although not the same way length does. Deeper hulls are better for users with long legs, while shallower hulls work best for compact users.
Most kayaks have at least one storage compartment, usually in the rear of the kayak area. These compartments usually have a watertight lid on them, but you shouldn’t rely entirely on the lid to protect anything valuable.
Some kayaks have two storage areas instead, one in the front and one in the rear. These are particularly useful if you want to bring many different things along on your trip or store catches like fish.
A kayak’s weight capacity is how much flotation power it provides besides the ability to float on its own. Most kayaks support somewhere between 225 and 400 lbs, although you can increase this amount by adding flotation accessories or other devices. That’s why this isn’t as important when looking at the best kayak for women.
Tandem kayaks usually have much higher weight capacities than single-person kayaks, which makes them a better choice if you’re carrying a lot of gear.
Weight capacity isn’t too relevant for buyers as long as you stay under the limit, but make sure to think about the things you want to bring along. It’s especially important if you want to bring any pets along, as mid-size (or larger) dogs, in particular, could push you over the limit.