If you’re interested in finding the best kayak, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve gone on a search to do just that. No matter what your preference, hard shell, inflatable, 1-person, 2-person, sit in or sit on, even a kayak for kids. It’s all covered in this review.
Kayaking is a wonderful way to enjoy nature and turn an average family vacation into a true adventure. If it’s an adrenalin-filled rush you’re after, there’s nothing that compares to the high-energy excitement of tackling white water rapids. For the more placid outdoor lovers, simply paddling down a river, across a lake or across a placid ocean, is an addictive and memorable experience.
For a reasonably small investment, you can have years of unrivaled pleasure. It all starts with buying the best kayak that’s made to endure and provide you with a good level of comfort. That’s what we intend to do. Guide you toward obtaining a kayak that is going to serve your needs at a good price. Some may be more affordable than others and these will obviously be the best. However, for those who are looking for cheaper options, without wasting your money on a product that doesn’t make the grade, we’ve got a good selection of more affordable kayaks. All of them promise a high level of quality and have been tried and tested by outdoor enthusiasts who want the best.
We’ll start by reviewing a great selection of inflatable kayaks (both one and two-person). There’s a wonderful option for those people looking for a kid’s kayak and all the options for hard shell kayaks – 1 or 2-person with a choice of sit in or sit on models. Yes, we’ve covered every base so that you don’t have to spend hours searching the web for the best kayak that will fulfill your individual needs. That’s all been done for you and we’ve made sure that these really are the best in their respective categories.
I’ve read a lot on the inflatable vs hard shell or ridged kayak debate. Many feel that inflatable kayaks are not as durable or able to carry as much weight as a hard shell kayak. This may once have been true, but modern manufacturing techniques have changed the playing field. By using drop-stitch technology and ultra-durable rubber and PVC outers, the best inflatable kayaks can sometimes be tougher and almost as stable as many hard shell models.
If you’re looking for a cheap kayak, an inflatable kayak is usually going to be your best bet. But one should always remember that old adage: you get what you pay for. Cheap inflatable kayaks won’t have the best stability and won’t generally be as durable. But if you’re a beginner, without a big budget, an inflatable kayak on the lower end of the price scale is a good place to start. Though, as always, it’s never a good idea to go too cheap. You want a reasonable level of quality. So even the cheaper inflatable kayaks in this review won’t leave you disappointed. They may not be the absolute cheapest options available. Look at it more like an affordable inflatable kayak of a good standard, albeit not the very best of the best.
Because inflatable kayaks are lightweight, they tend to be less easy to control and even the best inflatable kayaks won’t be all that manageable in turbulent waters. However, they are not easily damaged by hard objects, like rocks. This is why inflatable rafts are the choice for whitewater rafting. Despite being quite cumbersome in the rapids, their flexibility outweighs this disadvantage.
The fact that they are inflatable has both pros and cons. The good side to this is that they are easily transported. They are lightweight and, when deflated, are very compact. You can usually fit a deflated kayak into the trunk of a small car. The downside is that they need to be inflated when you arrive at your destination. This can be time consuming and arduous if you don’t have a good pump. A small electric compressor that connects to your car battery is good idea if you’re using an inflatable kayak. Though, even then, it’s going to take some time to inflate it.
1 Person Inflatable Kayaks
1. Challenger K1 Kayak, 1-Person Inflatable Sit-In Kayak Set
The Challenger K1 is the entry level inflatable kayak form Intex. There are larger and more sophisticated models in their range which cost a lot more. Even though the K1 is intended as a very cheap inflatable kayak for beginners, I’m surprised at the level of quality and great design of this 1-person inflatable kayak. If you’re looking for a cheap deal, this is likely to be your best option. For well under $100, you get a very capable kayak, aluminum oar and a pump to inflate it. That’s incredible value for money, when you think that a high-end inflatable 1-person kayaks can cost as much as 500 bucks, with some reaching close to $1000 in price.
At this price, I wouldn’t expect the very best kayak and certainly not something that’s capable of handling particularly rough water. Though I’ve read of people taking the K1 through some fairly treacherous rivers. I wouldn’t recommend this for someone who’s not an experienced kayaker and certainly not for rough seas. Be that as it may, this is a very well-made kayak with a reasonable amount of stability. The heavy-duty vinyl material looks quite durable and shouldn’t puncture too easily. You get a puncture kit with your purchase. It also has a removable skeg.
It has a two chamber design with an inflatable I-beam in the floor. This gives it a level of stability that defies its low price. There’s a cargo net at the front for gear storage and it has a comfortable inflatable seat. The seat is removable and it also has grab lines around the edge of the kayak. The Challenger K1 measures 30-inches in width, 108-inches in length, with a height of 15-inches. It weighs a mere 27.2-pounds, making it a breeze to carry. Despite this lightweight design, it can handle a load of 220-pounds. The aluminum oar is 84-inches. While the pump that’s supplied with the K1 is a manual pump, it has a high output. It should only take you about 3 – 5 minutes to inflate it – most people claim about 3-minutes. To inflate and fully assemble the kayak, shouldn’t take longer than 10-minutes.
It’s almost unbelievable that a kayak this cheap can be worth considering. Okay, it’s not a high-end product but neither is it cheap junk. I can’t think that you could get better value for money if you’re looking for a basic 1-person inflatable kayak.
2. Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Sit In Kayak
If you’re looking for the wow factor, look no further. Advanced Elements is a California based company that has set out to bring us the ultimate in inflatable kayaks. This isn’t even their top of the range model. That would be the incredibly expensive Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Expedition Elite Kayak. The Advanced Frame that I’ll be reviewing certainly isn’t cheap, but it’s just about the best. By combining the rigidity of a hard shell kayak with the lightweight and compact portability of an inflatable kayak, Advanced Elements have produced the ultimate inflatable 1-person kayak. Its capabilities rival any that you’ll find and is one of the few truly ocean-going inflatable kayaks, able to handle all conditions.
What makes this kayak so remarkable is the aluminum ribs in both the bow and stern. This gives the Advanced Frame tracking that can almost compare to the very best hard shell kayaks, no matter how rough the waters. Beating most by a long shot. The incredible engineering that has gone into this kayak doesn’t end with the unique frame. Durability is about as good as it gets. This is thanks to a triple layer PVC tarpaulin hull and multi-layer construction throughout. This is a double coated rip stop material. The dual chamber design is a common safety feature that is incorporated in any of the best inflatable kayaks. The Advanced Elements Advanced Frame kayak has seven chambers. Yet another example of engineering that has gone the extra mile toward achieving perfection. Or at least, as close to perfection as is humanly possible.
Enter your text here...The ribbed frame and ultra-durable multi-layer material adds a few pounds to the overall weight. This is to be expected. Even then, I wouldn’t consider this to be a heavy kayak, it weighs only 36-pounds. I doubt anyone would have a problem with that. The superb design allows it to handle a weight of 300-pounds with ease. Once inflated, it has a length of 10’ & 5”, with a width of 32”. It folds up into a very compact 30” X 17” X 10”, which packs neatly away into a tough duffle bag that’s supplied with the kit. It also comes with a folding seat and a skeg tracking fin. Though you don’t get an oar or a pump.
Convenience and storage is fully taken care of. Along with a storage compartment, it has bungeed deck lacing and super-tough molded rubber handles. It also has D-ring tie downs and a Neoprene paddle guard.
I can’t describe the Advanced Elements Advanced Frame kayak as anything less than magnificent. Personally, I would give it a 5-star rating as did most customers on Amazon. From years of experience in product research, I know that even the very best products can get negative reviews. While I take customer reviews very seriously, I know that they are not a completely accurate representation of what the product has to offer. One has to use a measure of discretion here. In this case, I can’t find much basis for any review lower than 4-stars, even though I feel it definitely deserves full marks.
3. AIRHEAD Watersports AIRHEAD Sit On Top Travel Kayak
The Airhead Deluxe 1-person travel kayak has many of the hallmarks of a high-end, very durable inflatable kayak. Yet it doesn’t cost quite as much as most kayaks in this class. It’s designed for great portability without sacrificing on rugged quality and is great for lakes and most rivers with a reasonably good ability to tackle white waters. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it can tackle grade-5 rapids, but it can handle a bit rough water, perhaps up to grade-2 or, for the very brave, class-3 white water. This will depend a lot on your experience and ability to handle a kayak in trying situations.
In terms of materials used and the way it’s built, the Airhead Travel Deluxe can compete with the very best inflatable kayaks. The tri-laminate (3-layer) material is made to be incredibly rugged. The outer layer is very durable 840-denier nylon with UV protection. So, while this kayak doesn’t have an aluminum frame, like the more expensive Advanced Elements Kayak (reviewed above), the materials used are of a similar high-standard. It may not be as ridged, but is equally tough. The three chamber design, with Boston valves, and a high-visibility orange color, provide a lot of safety features in its design. Tracking is really great, thanks a low drag design and 4 fins beneath the kayak.
Very practical and convenient, the Airhead Deluxe is 9-feet and 9-inches in length and weighs only 27.7-pounds. It has an inflatable seat with an adjustable backrest, as well as an adjustable foot brace. These features combine to give a comfortable seating position. Grab handles make it easy to get into and out of the water. A stretch net at the bow and D-rings at both the bow and stern, give a good deal of storage options.
I really like the ruggedness of this kayak. You’re immediately struck by the quality of the materials, with high-quality nylon and stainless steel used throughout. Along with the quality of the materials, the general design of this kayak is up there with the best of them, without costing an arm and a leg. I would rank this as being in the mid to high-end of the 1-peron inflatable kayak scale. A great balance between affordability and extremely good quality.
4. Driftsun Rover 120 Sit On Top Inflatable Whitewater Kayak
The Driftsun Rover 120 is a superbly made inflatable 1-person kayak. It’s designed and built for the adventure tourist, rated for class-3 and 4 white water. Incredible quality and durability is evident in every aspect of this vessel. It’s above average price, places it at the higher end of the scale. But, in my opinion, you’re getting a level quality to match this price. Serious river and ocean kayakers will understand the value in this.
Because the Driftsun Rover 120 is in the same class (and price range) as the Advanced Frame kayak from Advanced Elements, I feel compelled to compare them with great scrutiny. These are both high-end kayaks, intended for rough and tumbled adventurers who are prepared to spend a little extra for the best.
So the first thing that sets them apart is the aluminum frame that makes the Advanced Frame such a unique inflatable kayak. Personally, I think that this frame is an innovative and great idea which could make it the better kayak. However the Driftsun 120 has a much more manageable weight of 22-pounds and yet has the same load-bearing capacity of 300-pounds. Without the aluminum structure, it also is much more compact for easier transportation. While this kayak will never be as ridged as the Advanced Frame, the Driftsun 120 tracks incredibly well for a conventional inflatable kayak. This is due to the high-pressure drop stitched floor.
The reinforced double layer PVC material is really tough and withstand just about anything. The kayak adapts easily for whitewater or calm conditions. The removable skeg and 7 self-bailing drain plugs, plus a removable seat, is perfect for taking on rough rapids. For calm waters, the skeg clips into position, as does the seat and you can seal drain ports when they’re not needed.
When inflated, the Driftsun Rover 120 measures 8.5 feet X 36-inches X 9”. When transporting the deflated kayak, it is very compact (28 X 29 X 8 inches) and weighs only 22-pounds. It packs into a handy duffle bag which is supplied with the kit, along with a double action pump, anodized aluminum oar, repair kit, and a front mounted camera bracket. The pump works well and it shouldn’t take more than 6-minutes to inflate the kayak. Complete assembly takes about 10-minutes. Despite its compact size, the Driftsun can handle a weight of 300-pounds with a
reasonable amount of storage place inside. There are no cargo nets, however, with a few plastic D-rings for securing your gear. It has good handles at bow and stern to aid you in getting into or out of the water.
When all things are considered, this is a great inflatable kayak for calm, as well as white water use. While I definitely prefer the rigidity of the Advanced Frame inflatable kayak, the compact and lightweight portability of the Driftsun Rover 120 is a real winner. If you’re not sure which is the best for you, it appears to be a matter of portability vs a more rigid frame. Even then, the Driftsun isn’t far behind the Advanced Frame in this regard.
2 Person Inflatable Kayaks
1. Intex Explorer Sit On Top K2 Kayak
Like the 1-person Challenger K1, the Intex Explorer K2 is a very affordable kayak for calm water conditions. The main difference being that this is a 2-peson kayak and is obviously a bit bigger. Though it’s not much more than a foot longer and only a little wider.
The 30-gauge material is the same as the 1-person Challenger and quite tough. I wouldn’t compare it to the ultra-durable high-end kayaks, this is a much cheaper option. Like all the Intex kayaks in the low price range, this is more of a beginner model and is not really intended for rough waters. It is, however, a good quality item for this price.
With a length of 10-feet and 3-inches and a width of 3-feet, it seats two people comfortably. The seats are removable and quite comfortable. Though with both of the inflatable seats fitted, there isn’t too much room for additional gear. It can handle a weight of 400-pounds, so if you have two large adults onboard, you don’t have the capacity to carry much more weight. For a 2-person kayak, it’s not at all heavy – 31.13-pounds.
The kit includes two aluminum oars (86”) and a manual pump. You’re getting quite a bit for a very low price. There’s a Boston valve on either side, one for each of the two chambers. It has a grab line and handles. The removable skeg and I-beam floor design, allows for some degree of turbulent water. Though, if you’re not accomplished in rough conditions, I would recommend sticking to calm rivers and lakes.
Like the Intex inflatable kayak at the start of this review, I’d say this is an ideal inflatable option for the beginner looking for a budget 2-person kayak. I can’t see you finding better value for your money, without wasting your hard-earned cash on an inferior product. It’s definitely the best that you’ll get in lower end of the price range.
2. Sea Eagle SE370 Inflatable Sit On Top Sport Kayak
I see the Sea Eagle SE370 Sport Kayak Pro Package as an incredible bargain. It’s not exactly the cheapest 2-person kayak, but it’s far from being expensive. For its very reasonable price, the SE370 is a remarkably sturdy, safe, and durable kayak. It’s rated for class 3 rapids, which is great for a kayak in this price range.
Although the SE370 is marketed as a 3-person Kayak, it’s really more suited for two people. The interior space of 10’ 8” X 1’ 1”, would leave you quite cramped with three people and not very easy to manage. Though it can carry a great weight of 650-pounds, so you can certainly take 3-people if you want to. The exterior measurements (when inflated) are 12’6’ X 2’10” (L X W). It weighs a pretty hefty 32-pounds. While this is no lightweight and may not be the easiest kayak to carry, the extra weight does suggest thicker, heavier materials that indicate a good level of durability.
The K80 PVC PolyKrylar material is quite tough and the 3-chamber design with 5 Deluxe 1-way valves provide good safety. With an I-beam incorporated into the floor and 2 skegs, the Sea Eagle SE370 is quite rigid and tracks well. Grab lines are fitted to the bow and stern. It’s really simple to assemble and is supplied with a pump and pressure gauge. The kit also includes two oars and a carrying bag.
In terms of durability and great design, one would expect the Sea Eagle SE370 to be more expensive than it is. This is why I consider this 2-person kayak to be great value for money. To find a 2-person kayak that can handle class 3 rapids at this price, is quite an accomplishment.
3. Solstice by Swimline Durango Sit On Top Kayak
Most of us will be more familiar with Swimline as a manufacturer of pool products. It’s a name we’ve all grown up with. It makes sense that the brand would venture into inflatable kayaks as this utilizes very much the same principles and manufacturing processes as inflatable swimming pool gear. By all accounts, the Solstice Durango 2-person kayak is a very well-made item, using extremely durable materials. At the time of writing this article, I saw the Durango advertised on Amazon at 50% of the normal retail price. If you find it at this price, don’t hesitate as it probably won’t last long – they should sell like hot cakes.
While there are a few imperfections in the design, the materials are of the highest quality. The combined effect is a good mid-range kayak. In terms of durability, it can certainly handle whitewater conditions. I’d say class 3 or possibly 4 (if you know what you’re doing). I said the design isn’t perfect, then again is any kayak perfect? For the most part, one wouldn’t be able to call this an inferior product. It has a removable skeg, like any of the best kayaks. Stainless steel D-rings, 1-way Boston valves, and a super-tough 1000 denier bottom are all signs that this is a high-quality, durable kayak. The upper part of the kayak is made from 840 denier UV protected PVC, which also tough.
The only real complaint that people seem have are concerning the zippers on the seats. Installing and removing the seats is made really easy – you just zip or unzip them. Though, as convenient as this is, the zippers can work loose – I’d think this would be more likely in rough water. Once the zippers undo themselves, the seats will have a tendency to collapse. This isn’t exactly what one would want. On the other hand, the V-shaped bottom displays some good design traits.
For the rest, it appears to be as good as any of the best inflatable 2-person kayaks. When inflated, the Durango measures 11’ (length) by 37” (width). This a reasonable size for a 2-person kayak, but things could become a little tight if you intend taking much gear with you. There are cargo nets at the bow and stern, which provide some great practical storage areas. Unfortunately, technical specs for this model aren’t really available. I can’t tell you how much it weighs, though I’d guess this would be in the region of around 30 – 32 pounds. I also can’t give you the weight-bearing capacity of the Durango.
The Solstice Swimline Durango Kayak may not have the superior and refined design of the really high-end kayaks. But it makes up for this in the quality of the materials used. At its full retail price, I would think it may make better sense to pay a little extra for one of the more accomplished brands. Perhaps this is why it’s being sold at such a massive discount. As I said at the beginning of the review, this discounted price is truly amazing. At that price, it can be considered the bargain of all bargains.
4. Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Convertible Sit In Inflatable Kayak
It sort of goes without saying that any kayak from Advanced Elements is going to be one of the best in its class. These guys are more than accomplished kayak manufacturers, they’re a little obsessed and this means you’re getting a product that outperforms most others on just about every level.
Like the Advanced Frame 1-person kayak reviewed a little higher up the page, this 2-person version also has the aluminum ribbed frame. This may be the best way to prevent those rigidity issues that make inflatable kayaks a bit tricky and not the best when it comes to tracking. It certainly seems that way, most owners say that the Advanced Frame tracks like a hard shell kayak and is perfect in rough water.
As one would expect when paying for one of the best kayaks that money can buy, build quality and materials are of the highest standard. This means ultra-durable, triple layer, double coated material used throughout and I really like the well-designed, comfortable seats. The 5-chamber design is another great safety feature.
They’ve incorporated a great deal of versatility in the design of this kayak. With very little effort, you can assemble it a closed deck kayak with two seating positions, or a central solo position. You can also opt to use it as an open deck kayak. The extra few feet in length is great news for tall people. At 15-feet, there’s quite a bit of leg room with a fairly standard 32” width. There’s also a cargo net at the front for practical gear storage.
As much as I really like the aluminum ribbed design, it has the disadvantage of adding a few pounds to the total weight. The thicker, more durable materials used take this weight up a little further. This means that the Advanced Frame convertible kayak weighs a, not so brilliant 52-pounds. Conversely, you’re able to load quite a bit into (or onto) this kayak, it has a very impressive maximum 550-pound weight capacity.
For the ultimate in durability, superior tracking, and absolute versatility, the Advanced Elements, Advanced Frame convertible kayak is nothing short of incredible. Naturally, it’s at an above average price. But its capabilities, strength and great design go way beyond average. This is, arguably, the best 2-person inflatable kayak that you can get.
Top Kayak for Kids
Getting your kids involved in kayaking from an early age has so many benefits. Not only is this healthy, fun exercise, but it develops their skills on every level. With the correct supervision, your kids will develop hand eye coordination and motor skills like few sports can teach them. Kayaking improves their decision-making skills and develops their self-confidence.
From as young as 5-years-old, a kid can begin to enjoy the amazing experience of this great sport. This will mean careful supervision on your part and teaching them about safety in the water. Obviously, you need a kayak that’s designed for kids. This has to be something that is light enough for them to control and cannot be too big. So you want a lightweight, reasonably small kayak for your kids.
From this point onward, they can enjoy a life-enhancing experience that few others can compare to.
1. Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak with Paddle
Specifically designed as a kayak for kids, the Lifetime Youth Wave is the best way to safely introduce your children to world of kayaking. This is a hard shell, sit-on kayak which means they can start, from an early age, to engage more turbulent waters – like ocean kayaking. Naturally, you’ll need to use your discretion as to what conditions are safe enough for your kids as they develop their kayaking skills.
The lightweight (18 LBs) design makes this an ideal beginner kayak for kids as young as 5-years. The ridged, hard shell body can hold up to 130-pounds. So they can use it for many years until they graduate to a full-size kayak designed for adults. Available in either 6-foot or 6.5-foot variants, in a range of exciting fun colors, the Youth Wave Kayak is perfect for kids of all ages.
With a swim-up deck and molded finger handles, it’s super easy for your kids to get the hang of ocean wave kayaking as safely as possible. Multiple footrest positions, mean that the kayak will still be usable as they grow. It’s an investment that will bring joy to your kids for many years. The use of high-density polyethylene means that it can withstand harsh saltwater conditions for just as long. It includes an oar that’s a manageable size for kids. This, along with the great center of gravity, makes it easy for your kids to learn the ins and outs of kayaking.
So many customers have commented on the great quality of this kayak, which makes it a worthwhile investment. Its general design and highly durable construction make the Lifetime Youth Wave one of the best kayaks for kids. There may be other options, and you could end up saving about 20 bucks on a cheaper alternative. Though I doubt you’ll be getting this kind of quality by choosing a cheaper kayak for your kid. In the end, it’s not all that expensive and definitely worth it.
Hard Shell Kayaks
Despite technological and design advances that have improved inflatable kayaks, many believe that a hard shell kayak is still the best. In some cases this may be true and, in general, a hard shell kayak will track better and be more capable in turbulent waters. Some may feel that a hard shell kayak is more durable, but the jury is still out on that one. Sure, you don’t run the risk of puncturing a hard shell kayak. But if you hit hard objects, like rocks, a hard shell kayak is likely to crack. Whereas an inflatable kayak can’t. Though, with the use of ultra-durable materials, like polyethylene, the best hard shell kayaks can take a good deal of punishment. They are still the number one choice for ocean-going kayakers.
So there are some really good reasons why some may feel that a hard shell kayak is be their best option. The disadvantages are basically that hard shell kayaks are heavier and not as portable. You can’t fit a hard shell kayak into the trunk of your car. You need to put it onto the roof of your car and that means specialized gear, designed for this purpose. Though, if you’re looking for a cheap kayak that is more stable in rough waters and tracks better at speed, a hard shell kayak is going to be your best choice. Even the most expensive inflatable kayaks won’t necessarily be as stable as their hard shell equivalents. As a stand on kayak (particularly for fishing), a hard shell kayak is probably going to be easier, providing you with better balance.
So we’ll be reviewing all your hard shell kayak options: 1-person and 2-person, as well as sit-in or sit-on models.
2 Person Sit-On-Top Hard Shell Kayaks
1. Ocean Kayak 12-Feet Malibu Two Tandem Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
Despite a lower than average length, this kayak has a good weight-bearing capacity. The Malibu Tandem is a big favorite for families who enjoy ocean kayaking. You’re able to fit two adults and a kid quite comfortably (and safely) onto the Malibu. It’s a tough, very rigid kayak, built for waves and fast-moving rivers. Of course, it’s perfect for calm waters too.
The first thing one notices when looking at the Malibu Tandem Sit-On-Top kayak, is the very manageable length of 12-feet. There’s also an inch or two more width, if compared to many others – 34”. The seats are wonderfully comfortable with seat wells that offer three seating positions. As a 2-person kayak, you can position the seats with one at the bow and one at the stern. The seat width changes slightly, depending on its position. At the bow, the seat measures 18.5” in width and 20.5” at the stern. With the seat in the center position for solo (1-person) kayaking, the seat has a width of 16.25”. Despite these differences, the seating positions are very comfortable with good leg room for tall folks. The Malibu 2-person kayak is rated to carry a weight of 375-425 LBS. I think that the variation in weight capabilities probably has to do with how you distribute the weight.
There are cargo straps to fasten down your gear. These look like the typical nylon type straps and appear to be quite durable. It has carry handles molded into the body of the kayak and a skid plate. Even though one expects a large 2-person hard shell kayak to be quite heavy, I find the 57-pound weight tag for this one to be quite reasonable. They’ve also designed the hull and deck to allow several kayaks to be safely stacked.
What a great 2-person kayak. This certainly appears to be a very tough and durable ocean kayak. Going by the customer reviews, it’s a much-loved kayak. This is especially true for young families who want a kayak that can accommodate a kid together with both parents.
2. Vibe Yellowfin 130T 13 -Foot Tandem Sit On Top Kayak
You may, at first, be taken aback by the rather high price tag attached to the Vibe Yellowfin. Though, once you look a little deeper, it makes sense that this is going to one of the more expensive hard shell kayaks. Not only is this one of the best 2-person kayaks, it’s also one of the best fishing kayaks. Plenty of very practical storage and a number of fishing rod mounting points are among the many features that set this kayak apart from the crowd.
Just one look at the Yellowfin will impress the most skeptical of critics. I mean, take in those seats with their high backs and incredible support. That’s the type of comfort that’s rare on any kayak. Adjustable footrests add to the comfort that’s provided for people of every length. Then there’s the great storage, with a lot of thought that’s been put into practical use. Two sealed hatches with bag inserts, give you excellent, almost totally waterproof storage areas. In addition to this, there are strong cargo nets at the bow and stern. You can safely and easily store all your gear on this large 13-foot kayak. You can certainly load it with just about anything you could possibly need, it has a staggering 500-pounds of weight capacity.
Three easy to adjust seating positions offer you the option of front and back seating for 2-people, or a central position for 1-person. Two oars are provided with the kit. Ultimate stability makes it easy to stand on. This one of several reasons why I rate this as one of the best hard shell fishing kayaks. Another reason is the four built-in mounting points for rod holders with caps. These can accommodate most common rod holder brands – Scotty; Railblaza or RAM, to name a few.
For the ultimate kayak, not just for fishing, but any family vacation or consummate adventurer, the Vibe Yellowfin 130T is purely sensational. I’d go for it in a heartbeat. This, despite the fairly high price tag. Though, in the context of high-end quality kayaks, this price is more than reasonable. There are plenty of more expensive 2-person, hard shell kayaks out there. Not too many of them impress me as much as this one. It’s spacious, wonderfully comfortable and ultra-durable. Vibe offer a lifetime warranty on the hull and deck, which instills a great deal of confidence in their commitment to producing a high-quality product.
3. Sun Dolphin Bali 13.5-Foot Tandem Kayak
The Sun Dolphin Bali is the largest of the 2-person kayaks in this review. A third person is easily accommodated. It has a bunch of amazing features and storage solutions that compare to the best hard shell kayaks. It’s above average (in my opinion), yet at a very average price for this class and size of kayak. Basically, we’re talking about excellent value for money here.
The padded seats with a reasonably high back are quite comfortable – more so than most. Though, having just looked at the Vibe Yellowfin, these seats do seem a bit lacking. It’s a tough call to try beat the Yellowfin in terms of comfort. So this isn’t a completely fair comparison. It has adjustable feet straps and, in general, is one of the more comfortable sit-on kayaks around.
The self-bailing system has been met with mixed feelings. Some love it, other say it leaks. It doesn’t actually leak though. While it allows water to escape, some water can be let in. This also depends on the conditions. At the end of the day, it may not stay completely dry (no one can expect this from a kayak), the water level will never become overwhelming and you don’t have manually bail the water out. For what it is, this is a good and functional system.
The 13.5’ length offers heaps of space, with a very comfortable width of 34”. With a load capacity of 500-pounds, it will easily take three people. It has the three standard seating positions (front, center and back). Because of the good length and excellent seating positions, you can use three seats simultaneously. Though, for three tall adults, this won’t be all that practical. There’s a molded seat in the center which is great for kids. Even with two adults, there’s no shortage of storage space, it has 3 sealed storage hatches and a cargo net at the back. The Sun Dolphin Bali weighs 70-pounds – not exactly a lightweight.
For a great family kayak, at a very reasonable price, I can highly recommend the Sun Dolphin. It has the hallmarks of a quality, durable item and is designed for great practicality, along with a good level of comfort. Like any of the best hard shell kayaks, you can take on some rough water with confidence.
1 Person Sit-On-Top Hard Shell Kayaks
1. Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
As a very rugged and stable 1-person sit-on kayak, the Ocean Kayak Frenzy, is a real winner by anyone’s standards. The price is certainly quite reasonable for this level of quality. It’s designed to be equally stable in high ocean swells as it is for fast cruising across calm waters. The hull design is quite unique and seems to do the trick in balancing speed, tracking, and stability. Thumbs up to the engineers for that.
Although very lightweight, the seat is incredibly well-designed and is certainly way more comfortable than it looks. It’s padded with a good deal of spring in the way it’s supported. The 9-feet of length and 31” width is quite adequate and it has multiple molded footrest positions. So you can find a comfortable seating position without adjusting footrests or straps. It allows for a maximum leg length of 50-inches.
The maximum weight capacity of 375-pounds is way more than I’d expect from a 1-person kayak and it has a lot of storage space. This includes a handy sealed storage hatch, just between your legs and spacious storage wells at the bow and stern with bungees. It even has a molded cup holder for a touch of extra convenience. At 44-pounds, with two molded carrying handles, it isn’t a tough kayak to carry.
The Ocean Kayak Frenzy has everything one could want from a 1-person sit-on kayak and then a little more. It really looks like a well-made, super strong kayak. All the customer reviews that I’ve read agree with this opinion. In fact, the only complaint that has been raised is that the scupper plugs are not included in your purchase, you need buy these separately. So remember this when you order it. Considering that this kayak isn’t exactly expensive for the type of quality that you’re getting, I can’t see this as a real disappointment.
2. Lifetime Lotus Sit-On-Top Kayak with Paddle
Having looked at the Lifetime kayak for kids, let’s take a look what they offer for mom and dad. The Lifetime Lotus Sit-On-Top kayak offers good old-fashioned value for money. You’re not getting much in the form of extra features and luxuries. Instead, this is a wonderfully affordable 1-person kayak that’s far from being cheap junk. You’re paying for a durable, quality-built kayak and not the bells and whistles. If you’re on a quite a tight budget, this one makes perfect sense.
One is immediately struck by the no-nonsense practicality and durability. The tough, high-density polyethylene molded hard shell body is as good as it gets, comparing easily to much more expensive kayaks when it comes the general quality. Storage is good, but not the best. There’s a very usable, reasonably large storage well at the rear with bungees. That’s about it, apart from a very neat little well in the center (between your legs). This is like an over-sized cup holder, which is great. You can easily fit a large water bottle and perhaps a few other small items into this practical little well.
The most obvious cost-cutting measure is in the seat. But, this too, has been done in a sensible manner. Instead fitting a cheap, flimsy padded seat, they’ve provided a molded seat base with an adjustable (more comfortable) backrest. This means that the seat is as rugged as the rest of the kayak, but definitely not the most comfortable. For long stretches on the water, I’d suggest a good quality cushion. This should give you a very comfortable trip.
Weighing 38-pounds, with a length of 8-feet and a width of 29.5-inches, the Lifetime Lotus makes for a lightweight kayak with a manageable and comfortable length. It has a weight capacity of 250-pounds and multiple molded footrest positions make simple for people of any length to find the perfect seating position. An 86.6”, aircraft grade molded aluminum oar is supplied, which is great at this price.
So, as you can see, the Lifetime Lotus 1-person kayak is all about value for money. No corners have been cut in the quality of the materials that have been used, or the workmanship. You’re paying for high-quality basics, which includes a really good oar. Nothing more, nothing less. Where ever I’ve looked, this kayak has received rave reviews and I can see why. It’s a great quality item with a 5-year warranty.
3. Ocean Kayak Scrambler 11 Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
The Ocean Scrambler 11 kayak is a perfect mid-priced option. It’s the ideal 1-person sit-on kayak for those who are looking high quality, a good level of comfort and plenty of practical storage without breaking the bank to do so. This blend of a reasonable price and a bunch of high-end features, makes the Scrambler a very popular model in its class.
The 11-foot length is up there with the larger 1-person kayaks and this allows for plenty of legroom and storage. When you have a slightly larger kayak that’s made from high-quality materials, you’re going to expect a few extra pounds in the weight department. Though, at 47-pounds, it’s perfectly manageable and the molded carrying handles are great, making it quite easy to carry. It also has multiple, molded footrest positions and a comfortable, well-padded seat. The seat is removable.
Storage solutions are both practical and sizable. There’s a 6” cam-lock dry-storage hatch in the center, directly in front of the seat and a cup holder in front of this. The bow and stern have generous, bungeed storage wells and the total weight capacity of this kayak is a mighty 300 to 350 pounds.
This is great all-rounder and the above average size makes it a big hit for dog owners who like to take their best friend along on kayaking trips. If there were such a thing as the best kayak for dogs, this one would probably top the list. It has the woof factor! So, is there anything worth complaining about? Not really. Except, perhaps, that you have to buy your oar separately, which adds a little to the very reasonable price that you’re paying for this high-quality kayak. It’s still a great deal.
4. Perception Kayak Tribe
With some of the most innovative technology used in kayak design, the Perception kayak range certainly has the double wow factor. Depending on the spec level you choose, the price will range from quite affordable to pretty expensive. Though even at the lower end of the price spectrum you’re getting a lot more than you’d find on your average 1-person sit-on kayak.
Opting for the cheaper Tribe models (either 9.5 or 11.5 feet) will give you the basics with a great level of quality. The rather expensive Pescador Pilot offers all sorts of features that make it one of the ultimate kayaks (especially for fishing) this includes the exceptional removable Pilot-Drive pedal system and one-handed 360-degree rudder system.
However, in light of keeping within a normal budget, I’m going to stick to the very affordable Perception Tribe. It’s a really great kayak with above average features and a level of quality that compares to the very best kayaks.
The 9.5-foot Tribe is the cheapest of the lot and provides you with a lot of comfort, a decent size, and excellent well thought out storage for your gear. It’s also one of the best looking kayaks out there. The two-piece removable seat is superbly comfortable with an ergonomic design and plenty of padding. I like the adjustable backrest, it helps you find that perfect posture during long days out on the water. Right in front of you, you have a perfectly sealed storage hatch (with inner bag for extra waterproofing) and a cup holder. It has a really huge storage well behind you and a smaller one at the front, both have bungees to secure your gear. The molded footrest positions are perfectly placed.
Durability and easy maintenance are key to the design. The rotomolded polymer material has a high level of UV protection and it has a removable skid plate. The Tribe is designed for great buoyancy, but it’s mostly intended for calm ocean waters, lakes and gentle rivers. Weighing only 46-pounds with excellent Heavy-duty molded handles, portability is no hassle and it can hold up to 300-pounds in weight.
This is a great beginner kayak from one of the most renowned manufacturers in the US. There’s no compromise when it comes to superior quality and great design. It has the comfort to keep up with best of them, along with great storage.
5. Sun Dolphin Bali SS 8-Foot Sit-on Top Kayak
I guess anyone considering the Sun Dolphin SS has budget quite high on their list of priorities. It’s not all that big and probably not the best for tall folks. Like the value for money Lifetime Lotus, the focus is on giving you the basics at a good price and not too many extras. If you’re looking for a cheap kayak rather spend your money on a durable item that doesn’t have the extras to push the price up.
In that sense, the Sun Dolphin is great. You’re not paying for a luxury seat – that’s for sure. It has a molded base with separate backrest that provides a bit of padding. If I’m looking at a cheap kayak, I prefer this approach. They’ve concentrated the cost on durable materials instead of a high-end seat. Behind the seat is a sealed storage hatch, which is nice to have on a more affordable kayak. It also a not so big bungeed storage well behind the hatch and a molded cup holder just in front of the seat.
Other than that, you’re not getting any more features. It has three molded footrest positions and handles at the front and rear. There are no molded side handles which isn’t too great. Tracking is okay, but more equal to its price than being the best.
If we’re going to be realistic about a kayak in this price range, it’s obviously not going to compete with the very best. While it’s a good design and is certainly more durable than its price would suggest, it’s a little short at 8-feet. Then again, the smaller size and lack of extra stuff that otherwise make it heavier, places the Sun Dolphin Bali at a very low weight of 30-pounds. If you’re of slight build this may be the perfect size and weight for a kayak, it holds a weight of 197-pounds. Although not specifically designed for kids, one could consider this as one of the best kayaks for kids.
6. Malibu Kayaks Mini-X Recreational Model Sit on Top Kayak
Malibu kayaks are known for producing high-quality, quite affordable kayaks. With that said, this is a beginner kayak and, whilst not the smallest, it’s not a big kayak. It’s also very basic. In the realm of affordable, lightweight beginner kayaks, the Malibu Mini-X may be the best quality. Though that opinion is always open to debate.
The seat is, as to be expected, a molded well with no back rest. It’s definitely for the young and fit when looking at comfort. There’s a sealed hatch with a pretty large opening for a good deal of storage in the center along with a cup holder and two square mini storage wells to either side of this. There are two open storage wells at the bow and stern. No bungees are supplied but there are eyes for attaching tie downs.
It has four handles, two in the center and one at the bow and the stern. Carrying this 40-pound kayak isn’t a real hassle. The 9’3” is quite reasonable for its class and it has a pretty impressive weight capacity for a kayak of this size – 325-pounds.
As far as design and build quality goes, I’d say that the Malibu Mini-X is one of the more accomplished beginner kayaks. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s the best in this class. I’m sure there are those who will differ in opinion, but no one can deny that it’s a pretty fine kayak.
7. Ocean Kayak Venus 10 Women's Sit-On-Top Kayak
I would never think of a kayak as being gender specific and, in this day and age, some may find the term “women’s kayak” to be a little offensive. Though I can see the distinction here, it’s a lightweight, compact kayak that would be easier for a woman (or anyone of slight build) to manage. Perhaps it’s just the range of pastel colors or bright pink that may appeal more to women. Be that as it may, this is a truly great kayak. It’s designed for comfort and superior handling. They actually did a bit more than this, basing the design on feedback that they received from female kayakers. All of this makes it more expensive than the cheaper beginner kayaks of this size. But that’s something I’d expect. The Venus is a high-class kayak.
So, based on their market research, the guys at Ocean Kayak determined that there are two major factors that constitute the best kayak for women. The first, most obvious one is that of weight. Here they’ve done a fabulous job of shedding those extra pounds, the Venus 10 weighs only 34-pounds and has really great padded handles which make it even easier to carry. The other important design feature is the lower center of gravity. Women kayakers have mentioned that it’s not always easy for them to maintain good balance due to their smaller stature. To make things easier, they’ve lowered the seat, allowing the kayaker to sit deeper and obtain more balance and control. This isn’t the best for large or tall people, but for smaller folks it’s great. While the seat may be low set, it’s one of the most comfortable, with great support and generous layers of padding.
One would think that a kayak this light would be very small, but it’s actually quite a decent length – 9-feet and 10-inches. The molded footrests are the best I’ve seen, they follow the inside of the kayak up to the top, providing a lot of comfortable support. The weight-bearing capacity isn’t that high, only 160 – 175 pounds. Then again, it’s not intended for big guys.
There’s good storage, which includes a 6” sealed hatch, a bungeed well at the stern and bungees across the bow, but no well. The front of the kayak is a flat surface. So what do the ladies have to say about the Ocean Venus? With very few exceptions, the opinions expressed have used the words, awesome, wonderful, and “I absolutely love it”. What stands out among the customer reviews is that this is a very easy kayak to maneuver, even in ocean conditions.
So this is more than just a lightweight kayak with some pretty paintwork. They’ve gone the extra mile to determine what a woman wants from a kayak and, by all accounts, they’ve succeeded. Basically anyone (man, woman, or child) who’s found it difficult to handle a large heavy kayak, will welcome this one with open arms.
8. eMotion Temptation Sit-On-Top Kayak
What seems to stand out most about the eMotion Temptation is the excellent design, making it a wonderfully capable craft for the adventurer and placid paddler alike. It tracks like few others can (especially in this price range) and handles waves as well as it does a calm lake.
Although the seat base is molded and not padded, I’m intrigued by its design. Someone has studied human ergonomics before molding this seat. The base of the kayak appears to follow the human form from the seat backrest all the way to the wonderfully molded, multiple footrests. So, despite no padded seat base, this is actually one of the best in terms of comfort – you have full body support. The adjustable backrest is truly magnificent, superbly contoured with plenty of support and padding.
I’m not exactly sure what clever tricks the engineers have used when designing the hull of this kayak, but so many people have commented on its stability and the superior tracking. In the mid-price range, this could easily be the best kayak for waves and white water. It weighs a rather formidable 49-pounds and has handles at the sides, bow and stern for reasonably easy carrying and rooftop loading.
With a pretty good length of 10’ & 3” and a weight capacity of 275 LBS, the eMotion isn’t the most capable of lugging too much gear, but this is above average. It has a large sealed hatch at the bow, a cup holder, and a decent sized hull well with a cargo net.
The eMotion Temptation has really won me over for its impressive capabilities at a price that one would expect to pay for a beginner to mid-level kayak. The seating design is a stroke of genius and the entire kayak is of a high quality standard with 5-year warranty on the hull.
1 Person Sit-In Hard Shell Kayaks
1. Dagger Kayaks Zydeco 11.0 Kayak
Once again, I have to kick off by pointing out that this kayak offers exceptional value for money. Although it falls in the category of a recreational or family kayak, it’s incredibly capable in turbulent waters. One wouldn’t expect a 1 person sit in kayak at this price to negotiate large waves and some pretty extreme white water. Yet it does and, for this alone, it has to appear on our best kayak list.
If comfort is important to you and you enjoy spending long hours in your kayak, you’ll be blown away by the amazing seat, excellent roominess and the ease with which you can enter and exit this sit-in kayak. Top marks for that. The 11’ 2” length is used to perfection and it can take a load of 325 LBS. Deck height is 15”, with a width of 27.75”.
It’s super tough, made from linear polyethylene with an expertly designed hull. There are bungee cords across the bow and stern to secure your gear. The weight spec is about 48 pounds and it has easy-grip handles at the front and rear.
Although the manufacturers rate this as a calm water kayak for slow rivers and lakes, many an adventurer claim that they’ve taken the Zydeco across some rough water, including large ocean swells. Being a sit-in kayak, you’ll obviously do some bailing as water will collect in rough water. Once all is said and done, this kayak is certainly worth what you’re paying, probably more.
2. Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Dirigo 106 Recreational Kayak
I read a review where the guy said he much prefers the 9’ Dagger Zydeco, to the Old Town Dirigo. I’m not sure I totally agree with this, except that the Dirigo is a fair deal more expensive and is quite similar in some regards. What I like about the Old Town Dirigo are the extra features that provide greater comfort and more user friendly practicalities. If you see value in this, then it’s certainly worth paying a little extra for the Old Town.
The Old Town offers a bit more length (10.5 Ft) and, as a tall guy I really appreciate this. It’s slightly narrower at 27.8”, with a pretty standard deck height of 14”. You’ve a little extra weight to lug, the Old Town Dirigo weighs 42 LBS. It has bow and stern handles to lift it by and really isn’t a tough kayak to get into the water, or onto the roof of your car.
When it comes to handy little extras and a touch more comfort, the Dirigo really appeals to me. It has a very easy click hatch at the stern and a glove box for your sensitive stuff. Bungies on the deck provide great open storage for the rest of your gear. The glide track foot brace system is as comfortable as it gets and thick thigh padding is a very welcome extra bit of comfort. The padded seat is as good as the best and you have the all-important cup holder.
This, like the Zydeco, is rated as a beginner kayak for calm rivers and lakes. But that’s not to say you can’t take on some pretty turbulent water if you know what you’re doing and are up for an exciting challenge. The hull is great, allowing for a good deal of stability and pretty fast open water cruising.
For that extra bit of luxury and comfort, this is the ideal sit-in kayak for those who like a smooth trip for long periods of time. It’s a well-made kayak, among the best you’ll find. Certainly a gem when it comes to practical storage and great little extras.
3. Sun Dolphin Aruba 10-Foot Sit-in Kayak
We simply had to include the Sun Dolphin Aruba 10-foot as the best budget sit-in kayak. This one is all about the price and not so much about the comfort. A rugged, well-made, beginner sit-in kayak that’s delightfully cheap.
Like the other cheap kayaks in this review, the emphasis is on good quality rather than extra features. So the seat is the typical molded into the floor type with a pretty comfortable backrest with enough padding. Without much extra in the comfort department, I’m glad to see that they’ve include adjustable foot braces. There’s a reasonable degree of storage with a stern hatch which has bungees across the top, so you can stack a few extra items.
At exactly 10-feet, the length is quite reasonable, with a little extra width at 30” and a slightly lower deck than the others – 13”. Materials used can compare with any of the best hard shell kayaks. By using Fortiflex High-density polyethylene, they’ve provided a rigid and durable kayak that can take a fair deal of punishment. The Aruba weighs 40-pounds and has the usual rope-style handles at the front and rear.
It’s great to find a well-made sit-in kayak that’s affordable enough for the beginner. As always, you can’t expect the luxury and high-end features of an expensive kayak. This is an entry-level, beginner kayak and it’s not pretending to be anything else. It’s quite simply a good value, sensible buy for people on a budget.