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Best Overall: Old Town Kayaks Vapor 10 at Backcountry "As stable and durable as a recreational kayak gets."
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 at Rei "A good choice for those looking for a workout or simply an enjoyable day out on the water."
Best Budget: Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 at Amazon "Made for paddling lakes and rivers, this kayak includes some nice features for the price."
Best Sit-On-Top: Ocean Kayak Frenzy at Amazon "Perfect for excursions on flat water or even calm ocean bays."
Best Inflatable: Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Sport at Amazon "Head and shoulders above the inflatable competition, thanks to its surprisingly good tracking and ability to generate speed."
Best Tandem: Ocean Kayak Malibu Two at Amazon "A two-person kayak that is versatile enough for just about any type of waterborne adventure."
Best for Anglers: Lifetime Sport Fisher Angler 100 at Amazon "Designed for spending days out on the water catching fish and includes nice features to compliment that activity."
Best for Kids: Old Town Kayaks Heron Junior at Backcountry "The perfect kayak for beginner paddlers, providing a forgiving experience while they learn the ropes."
Best for Stand-Up Paddlers: Body Glove Glide iKayak at Body Glove "The perfect inflatable recreation kayak to bridge the gap for the SUP crowd."
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Old Town Kayaks Vapor 10
Built for use on lakes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers, the Vapor 10 from Old Town Kayaks is as stable and durable as a recreational kayak gets. Built from a single layer of polyethylene, the Vapor weighs just 44 pounds, making it easy to load onto a vehicle. The boat’s built-in handles makes it easy to transport to and from the water as well. Inside the cockpit is a surprisingly-plush adjustable seat, which works in conjunction with a set of moveable foot braces that allow paddlers to dial in the exact fit they need to remain comfortable on the water all day long. Add in cup holders and a dry well in the stern and you end up with a full-featured recreational kayak at a price point that goes fairly easy on the wallet.
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Wilderness Systems Pungo 120
Another versatile all-around performer, the Pungo 120 is a great kayak for those who want a boat that can do a lot of different things very well. Weighing 49 pounds, the boat is fast, stable, and tracks exceedingly well, making it a good choice for those looking for a workout or simply an enjoyable day out on the water. Wilderness Systems ships the Pungo with a six-way adjustable seat that allows for quick and easy customization of comfort while in the cockpit. The company has also included a storage compartment in the stern that provides a safe, dry place to stash important gear. Padded knee braces and foot pegs, along with a cleverly-designed dashboard that keeps important items organized and close at hand, round out the package, making this a real winner for beginner and experienced kayakers alike.
Best Budget: Sun Dolphin Aruba 10
The Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 recreational kayak is proof that you don’t have to spend a lot of money in order to get a high-quality, feature-packed boat. Tipping the scales at 40 pounds and measuring ten feet in length, the Aruba 10 is lightweight, easy to carry, and very durable. Made for paddling lakes and rivers, this kayak includes some nice features for the price. For example, it comes a built-in water bottle holder located at the front of the cockpit, as well as a rear storage compartment, an adjustable seat, thigh pads, and an on-board paddle holder. It even comes in seven unique colors (blue, citrus, pink, to name a few), allowing kayakers to choose one that best fits their style and personality.
Best Sit-On-Top: Ocean Kayak Frenzy
For those who prefer a sit-on-top boat over a sit-inside model, the Frenzy from Ocean Kayak is a great recreational option at an affordable price. This kayak features cup-holders, two storage areas built into the deck, a comfortable seat, molded carrying handles, screw-in drain plugs, and much more. The open nature of the Frenzy’s cockpit exposes paddlers to splashing water and the elements when compared to a traditional kayak, but it also provides a level of comfort and freedom that is tough to top. Incredibly stable and easy to paddle, this boat is perfect for excursions on flat water or even calm ocean bays, which is where it truly gets a chance to show what it can do.
Check out our other reviews of the best sit-on-top kayaks available on the market today.
Best Inflatable: Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Sport
Advanced Elements makes some of the best inflatable kayaks in the business, including several very good recreational models. The company’s AdvancedFrame Sport is head and shoulders above the inflatable competition, thanks to its surprisingly good tracking and ability to generate speed. This boat is a lot of fun to paddle and feels right at home on lakes, ponds, and gentle rivers.
Made from very durable materials, the AdvancedFrame can bounce off rocks and logs without fear, resisting scuffs, abrasions, tears, and punctures with ease. Best of all, when you’re done paddling for the season you can deflate the boat, store it in its included duffle bag, and easily transport it back home without the need for a kayak rack on your vehicle. It even stores under your bed or in a closet.
Take a look at other product reviews and shop for the best inflatable kayaks available online.
Best Tandem: Ocean Kayak Malibu Two
As much fun as it is to go kayaking on your own, it is even more enjoyable when you can bring a friend along, too. Ocean Kayak Malibu Two is a recreational tandem that was specifically built for a relaxing day out on the water. Its 12-foot length and 34-inch width make this a very stable boat, even for beginners. In fact, the Malibu Two is so easy to paddle that even though it is a tandem, it can still be piloted by a single kayaker as well. Throw in comfortable seats, side handles for easy carrying, and the option to add as many as three storage hatches and you have a two-person kayak that is versatile enough for just about any type of waterborne adventure.
Need some more help finding what you're looking for? Read through our best tandem kayaks article.
Best for Anglers: Lifetime Sport Fisher Angler 100
Anglers looking for a good recreational kayak that can pull double-duty for both paddling and fishing will find a lot to love in the Lifetime Sport Fisher Angler 100. This boat was designed for spending days out on the water catching fish and includes nice features to compliment that activity such as ditty trays and bungee cords to help keep equipment organized and secure. A rear storage hatch, built-in paddle holder, fishing pole holders, and self-bailing scupper holes round out this already impressive package. And thanks to its excellent stability and tracking, this boat also has the added ability to be paddled solo or tandem, making it one of the most versatile options on this entire list. It even comes with its own paddle.
Still can't decide on what you want? Our round-up of the best fishing kayaks can help you find what you're looking for.
Best for Kids: Old Town Kayaks Heron Junior
Just because a kayak is designed specifically with kids in mind doesn’t mean it has to sacrifice features or performance. Old Town’s Heron Junior includes the excellent build quality and design that we’ve come to expect from the company, and it just so happens to be slightly scaled down to meet the needs of younger paddlers. The Heron Junior weighs just 26 pounds, yet still maintains a high level of maneuverability and stability.
The boat comes equipped with a comfortable, molded seat, convenient carrying handles, and a built-in towing system that comes in handy when the little ones start to run out of steam. This is the perfect kayak for beginner paddlers, providing a forgiving experience while they learn the ropes, yet offering plenty of room to grow as their skills develop, too. It is even priced right to make it accessible for families who want to paddle together on a regular basis.
Best for Stand-Up Paddlers: Body Glove Glide iKayak
Stand-up paddleboarding is another water sport that continues to grow in popularity and Body Glove has built the perfect inflatable recreation kayak to bridge the gap for the SUP crowd. The Glide looks and acts a lot like a SUP board, giving paddlers the option to either stand or sit as they see fit. But unlike a typical paddleboard, this kayak comes with a seat, built-in foot braces, and a paddle that easily converts for use while sitting or standing.
Incredibly light and fast, this is another highly-versatile kayak that is easy to transport to and from the water, and even easier to store when you get home. To round out the package, the Glide even ships with an ankle leash, hand pump, and a dry bag for storing your cell phone.
Our writers spent 5 hours researching the most popular recreational kayaks on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 18 different kayaks overall, screened options from 8 different brands and manufacturers, read over 10 user reviews (both positive and negative), and tested 4 of the kayaks themselves. All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.