Updated: January 2021
Whether you’re looking for a casual workout, to join a local kayaking group, or just want to be on the water enjoying some beautiful scenery, kayaking is a fun outdoor activity for all ages. Whether you want a whitewater kayak or an ocean kayak, your next outdoor adventure is just around the corner. Hitting the water with your new kayak is an experience unlike any other. You can cruise along local waterways by yourself, with a group, or even in a two-seater. If you’re looking for advice on your first kayak purchase, you’ve come to the right place!
You simply want the best kayak to suit your needs, but the choices can be overwhelming. Do you get an inflatable kayak, or would it pop too easily in your rocky waters? Do you get a two-paddler to ride with your significant other, or is it better to get two solo kayaks? What about the length, do you need a nine-footer, ten-footer, twelve-footer, or more? I’ve been kayaking for a few years now and I’ll try to answer all your questions and then some!
Inflatables vs Fishing vs Sport – Which type of kayak is right for me?
This is a common question I get from new kayakers looking to buy their first kayak. Their buddy has a super fast sporting kayak and doesn’t recommend anything else, while their co-worker has a leisurely inflatable kayak and highly recommends it. Which do you go for? It depends on your athletic build and comfort on the water.
If you’re looking for a bargain kayak that won’t leave you bankrupt and has high portability, inflatable is the way to go. These tend to be very beginner friendly and can be inflated in-location after you get to your local water ramp. Most inflatables come with an air pump which allows you to fold your kayak up when you’re done and makes it extremely easy to transport in almost any vehicle. These also come with patches and are often made of strong vinyl to prevent punctures. Beware, a puncture could happen any time, so always paddle where you’re comfortable and try to avoid any rockbeds.
Fishing kayaks are made of more solid material and tend to have a LOT more storage. The good fishing kayaks often have room for coolers to hold your drinks, multiple bags, and pouches to hold electronics (if you’re brave!), and holders for your fishing rods on the outside. These are often less narrow than traditional kayaks and less likely to tip over since you’ll hopefully be reeling in a big one!
Sporting kayaks are like the BMW of the kayak world. These are for the more serious kayakers who like the sleek look and added dependability who are not worried about forking out a bit more dough to get these additional features. The sporty versions often come in more flashy color schemes such as hot pink, lime green, or sky blue and offer a different look on the water. These models are made for moving quickly on the water with versatility in mind. While the added maneuvers are enough to help you outpace your paddling partner, it comes with an added risk of tipping. Although tipping over is a reality for any kayak, the sporting kayaks are usually less forgiving and makes beginners and experts alike pay for their mis-balances. Like any kayak, once you get comfortable and have been on the water for a few hours, it becomes second nature. The risk of tipping is slim and you really start enjoying the outdoors while skating on the water like a skipping stone thrown by Randy Johnson.
Kayak Safety Tips
Staying safe on the water is paramount. Proper safety gear is required, NEVER go on the water without a life jacket. As mentioned before, if you’re going the inflatable route it’s important to get quality, puncture-resistant vinyl. Unless you’re an experienced kayaker, stay in small bodies of water including ponds, lakes, and some mild current rivers. Don’t go straight to the white water rapids class V. Stick to class I or II until you’re comfortable enough to move on to class III. Even seasoned professionals should be very cautious when approaching a class IV, V, or VI rapid. I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re just starting out. You don’t start driving on the Laguna Seca, do you? So don’t start kayaking on high class rapids. You can find the whitewater classification system here: https://wetplanetwhitewater.com/rafting/class-system/. Also, you can find the best local kayaking locations here: https://www.kayakingnear.me/
I’ve ranked my top 11 kayaks below, in order of preference. Please drop me a line and let me know which is your favorite!
Top Rated Inflatable Kayaks of 2021
If you’re on a budget or just looking for some summer fun, an inflatable is the way to go. These are definitely the lower-priced options, but the ones listed below are of great quality for the price you pay.
First up we have the Intex Explorer K2. This is a two-seater, 2 man kayak, although it can comfortably be used by one person and use the spare seat for extra storage space. This is great for beginners with the removable skeg allowing for ultimate directional stability. It’s bright yellow so you won’t be overlooked by any other boats. It comes with two high-quality paddles and a high-output pump. It’s made of extremely durable vinyl and has two separate air chambers. This way if you hit something sharp, the entire craft isn’t going to deflate. This could save you if you’re ever in a pinch. The max weight of 400 is impressive for any inflatable raft and at just over 10 feet it’s the perfect size for carrying.
- Max Weight: 400lbs
- Material: Puncture-resistant Vinyl
- Paddler Capacity/Paddles: 2
- Size: 10ft 3in x 3ft
The Intex Challenger K1 Kayak is the little sister of the K2. Using the same highly-durable vinyl, this kayak is very similar. It includes the efficient air pump and repair patch. The major difference in the K1 is the lower price point and a single seat. This solo-paddler is a ton of fun to ride. The green and black patterns look great on any water and the 220lb capacity is perfect for a 9ft raft. I personally like the looks of the cargo net although it doesn’t have much room for storage. This is the best inflatable solo kayak on the market today.
- Max Weight: 220lbs
- Material: Puncture-Resistant Vinyl
- Paddler Capacity/Paddles: 1
- Size: 9ft x 2.5ft
Highly Reviewed Kayaks for Fishing
This is THE kayak to get if you plan on fishing. It has ample storage space for when you catch that big bass and tons of high-quality features. The Sundolphin is known for being a top brand in the small boat realm and at this price, it’s tough to beat. It really comes down to if you need two seats or one. When fishing, I highly recommend solo paddling. Not only is it more freedom (you won’t get smacked in the head with a fishing pole if you’re in the front) it’s safer when you hook the big one. It’s easier to keep a center of balance with just one body in the craft compared to two.
Are you looking for a tandem fishing kayak? The Excursion Pro will suit your needs. Constructed of laminate PVC with a solid core, it would take a very sharp and fast moving object to puncture this bad boy. Of course with all tandem kayaks, this one runs the higher risk of tipping just because it’s more difficult to get two bodies in balance compared to one. But I will say, this model seems to be extremely stable once you’re in. I’m 6′ 1″ and I fit comfortably with my wife, two fishing poles, and a small bait bucket. Being the longest kayak on this list, it leaves plenty of room for storage and legs coming in around 12.5 feet. The footrests are very nice and I think it adds to the overall stability. With three air chambers, even if one were to pop and you’re in a pinch, the other two would keep you afloat long enough to get to shore. This kayak is certified by the National Marine Manufacturers Association which is a relatively new standard and a great sign Intex takes safety seriously while providing affordable crafts.
- Max Weight: 400lbs
- Material: Laminate PVC
- Paddler Capacity/Paddles: 2
- Inflated Size: 12ft 7in
- Air Chambers: 3
I prefer products that don’t break the bank. When we get to the sporting kayaks for professionals, things tend to get a bit pricey. The below Advanced Elements sporting kayak is fairly priced for the quality. It’s inflatable so you don’t need a roof rack. It comes with very 1000D polyester reinforcement protective outer layer and is again made from heavy duty PVC. It’s lightweight and comes with four separate air chambers. This solo kayak supports up to a maximum weight of 250 pounds.
- Max Weight: 250lbs
- Material: PVC Tarpaulin
- Paddler Capacity/Paddles: 1
- Inflated Size: 10ft 5in
- Air Chambers: 4
Bonus: Here’s my favorite kayak carrier I use every time I’m out on the water. It works with every single or tandem rider kayak I’ve listed in this post (and many more):
That’s it for this in-depth review of the best kayaks. Follow this guide and get the proper gear for your skill level and you’ll be skimming the water in style.
As always, stay safe, cherish time with loved ones, and enjoy the outdoors!