The 8 Best Tandem Kayaks of 2021

Go further with two paddlers in one kayak

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TRIPSAVVY-best-tandem-kayaks

Chloe Jeong / TripSavvy

The Rundown

Best Overall: Ocean Kayak Malibu 2XL at oceankayak.johnsonoutdoors.com

"Ready for almost any water condition and is suitable for beginners and intermediates alike."

Best Value: Intex Challenger K2 Tandem Kayak at Amazon

"For those looking to get into the sport at a budget-friendly price, this simple tandem fits the bill."

Best Inflatable: Advanced Elements Island Voyage 2 at llbean.com

"Features a rear drain plug for easy deflating and is made of durable 600D polyester."

Best Sit-on-Top: Ocean Kayak Malibu Two Tandem Kayak at backcountry.com

"This sit-on-top kayak features a polyethylene frame that can hold two adults and one child."

Best for Lakes: Brooklyn Kayak Company PK14 at brooklynkayakcompany.com

"Gives kayakers the option to use their hands or feet to maneuver the boat on the lake."

Best for Fishing: Feelfree Lure II at feelfreeus.com

"A motor can attach behind the rear seat, converting this kayak into a serious fishing boat."

Best for Whitewater: Aire Lynx II Inflatable Kayak at backcountry.com

"The kayak's rockered bow and continuous curve shape make it ready to charge every rapid and eddy"

Best for Touring: Aquaglide Navarro 145 DS Convertible Tandem Inflatable Kayak at rei.com

"Durable enough that river rocks won't damage it, despite it being inflatable."

If you’re looking to spend some time out on the water with a friend, family member, or significant other, a tandem kayak is a great option. Unlike most kayaks, tandems are built for two people, making the experience a much more communal one. They’re also a great choice if space is at a premium since you can buy one kayak for two people. Another reason to go with a tandem kayak is when a stronger paddler wants to go out with a weaker paddler, such as a beginner heading out with an expert or a child heading out with a parent.

But two-person kayaks come with a few compromises when compared to the smaller, more maneuverable single-person boats. While sharing your kayak with another person can be a lot of fun, tandem models tend to be considerably longer and harder to control than standard kayaks. Kyle McKenzie, owner of Adventure Paddle Tours in Frisco, CO and Naples, FL, says, “with beginner kayakers not knowing their responsibilities, they tend to blame one another for the zig-zagging. It can be difficult for couples and siblings.”

However, tandem kayaks can be faster and more stable when the paddlers know what they’re doing, making it easier for two paddlers to go further than they would on their own. Plus, they turn what is often a solitary sport into something you can share with others.

Read on to learn more about the best tandem kayaks available.

Best Overall: Ocean Kayak Malibu 2XL

Ocean Kayak Malibu 2XL

Courtesy of Austin Kayak

What We Like
  • Good for beginners

  • Fast

  • Comfortable for tall people

  • Versatile

What We Don't Like
  • Seats are a little awkward

Ocean Kayak's Malibu 2XL kayak is our top pick because it's ready for almost any water condition and is suitable for beginners and intermediates alike. This 13-foot 4-inch kayak is a bit longer than some others on our list and has good traction and stability on flat water, light tides, or river currents.

It’s a value kayak that stays in the three-digit price range but still offers the quality expected from this respected kayak brand and a 5-year warranty to back the name. You also get the versatility of being able to convert it for paddling solo so you’re not limited to times when you only have two paddlers. Simply remove one of the Comfort Plus seats and position the other one in the center of the boat. Since these seats are adjustable, this kayak can be used by anyone in the family, regardless of size. It weighs 68 pounds and can hold up to 475 pounds.

Capacity: 475 lbs. | Dimensions: 160 in. x 34 in. | Inflatable: No

Best Value: Intex Challenger K2 Tandem Kayak

What We Like
  • Adjustable backrest

  • Comfortable

  • Affordable

What We Don't Like
  • Intended for lakes only

This two-person inflatable is far from a performance kayak, but for those looking to get into the sport at a budget-friendly price, this simple tandem fits the bill. As an inflatable, it’s much easier to transport and store than a hard-hull kayak and pumps up quickly, making it more realistic for newbies.

Where the limitations of this affordable option come through are the stiffness and performance. Because it’s a lower-pressure inflatable and everything down to the seats is inflatable, the kayak lacks stiffness that translates into some stability, durability, and comfort issues. While the durability and performance of this entry-level tandem aren’t going up to the level of pricier options, it’s a great way to get into the sport on the cheap and find out if it’s for you.

Capacity: 400 lbs. | Dimensions: 120 in. x 36 in. | Inflatable: Yes

Best Inflatable: Advanced Elements Island Voyage 2

Advanced Elements Island Voyage 2

Courtesy of L.L. Bean

What We Like
  • Multiple seat options

  • Good stability

  • Removable deep tracking fin

What We Don't Like
  • A little snug

  • Fabric can be hard to clean

Many tandem kayaks are so long that they are difficult, if not impossible, to transport without a large truck or roof rack. Inflatables such as this one open up kayaking to those with smaller cars or those who want to take their kayak on a plane without using up all their storage space.

The Advanced Elements Voyage 2 is made of durable 600D polyester and measures 11 feet 2 inches in length so paddlers won't be cramped. There are multiple seat positions that allow you to use it as a tandem or a solo kayak, and the boat's pontoon-style side tubes make for a stable kayak that's great for beginners. This kayak also features a rear drain plug for easy deflating. However, shoppers should note that you need to buy the inflation air pump separately.

Capacity: 400 lbs. | Dimensions: 132 in. x 37 in. | Inflatable: Yes

Best Sit-on-Top: Ocean Kayak Malibu Two Tandem Kayak

Ocean Kayak Malibu Two Tandem Kayak

Courtesy of West Marine

What We Like
  • Comfy footbeds

  • Storage space

What We Don't Like
  • Not as fast

This sit-on-top kayak from OC Paddle features a rigid polyethylene frame that delivers efficient power transfer from your paddle strokes so you can paddle longer distances easily. It measures 12 feet in length and can hold two adults and one child comfortably. The two Comfort Plus seats are located in the bow and stern, and the middle seat has footbeds for added comfort. The molded frame features two gear straps for storing accessories, two handles, and a drain plug. Its maximum capacity is 375 pounds.

Capacity: 375-425 lbs. | Dimensions: 144 x 34 in. | Inflatable: No

Best for Lakes: Brooklyn Kayak Company PK14

BKC PK14 Angler 14-foot Sit On Top Tandem Fishing Kayak

 Courtesy of Brooklyn Kayak Co.

What We Like
  • Versatile

  • Easy to steer

  • Hand controlled runner

  • Fishing rod holders

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Could use more storage

  • Heavy

You can paddle long distances on the lake with Brooklyn Kayak Company's PK14 kayak. This sit on top kayak comes with two collapsible aluminum paddles and two pedal drives, giving kayakers the option to use either their hands or feet to maneuver the boat. It also features a hand-controlled rudder next to the rear seat that provides optimal steering and control. Unlike many cheaper kayaks, the PK14 has seats that have a rigid frame with padding so you can stay on the water longer without discomfort.

Details aren’t forgotten here, either, with a cup holder, three fishing rod holders, a storage hatch, a recessed cargo area, and four carrying handles. There’s even an attachment point for an optional trolling motor to turn this into a boat/kayak hybrid. This kayak measures 14 x 34 inches and can carry up to 670 pounds. It also comes with a 5-year limited warranty.

Capacity: 670 | Dimensions: 168 in. x 34 | Inflatable: No

Best for Fishing: Feelfree Lure II

Feelfree Lure II Tandem Kayak

 Courtesy of Austin Kayak

What We Like
  • Stable

  • Camouflaged

  • Comfortable

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Heavy

The Feelfree Lure II is built for fishing. Designed to hold all your gear, this kayak has rear storage space for holding a cooler, front and rear rod holders, and a sonar pod to mount a fish finder. It also comes in five different camouflage colorways for maximum concealment as you glide into fish-heavy waters.

This versatile kayak also offers multiple configuration options to give you more flexibility. The two Gravity seats are well-made and supportive to ensure you don't mind long days casting in the saddle. The seats are also removable, so you can convert this boat into a one-person kayak with more space to hold your gear and additional standing room. There's even an option to attach a motor or pedal behind the rear seat, converting this kayak into a serious fishing boat.

Capacity: 500 lbs. | Dimensions: 198 in. | Inflatable: No

Best for Whitewater: Aire Lynx II Inflatable Kayak

Aire Lynx II

 Courtesy of Aire

What We Like
  • Good maneuverability

  • Stable

  • Easy to transport

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Aire is one of the most respected names in river running crafts and this agile tandem whitewater steed lives up to their reputation. The Lynx II is designed to be used in whitewater conditions, but it can also convert to a larger solo kayak with plenty of room for storing your stuff on an overnight river trip.

The kayak is loaded with 17 cargo loops for securely lashing your stuff down for when the water gets turbulent. It also has two grab handles on both sides underneath the boat that can be used to easily tip the boat back over if you capsize. The kayak's rockered bow and continuous curve shape make it ready to charge every rapid and eddy. This boat comes with a full repair kit and a 10-year warranty.

Capacity: 475 lbs. | Dimensions: 150 x 39 in. | Inflatable: Yes

Best for Touring: Aquaglide Navarro 145 DS Convertible Tandem Inflatable Kayak

Best touring kayak
What We Like
  • Versatile

  • Ton of storage space

  • Packable

What We Don't Like
  • Pump not included

  • Expensive

The Aquaglide Navarro is ready for whatever the elements throw at it. Made from 600-denier hexcell ripstop polyester and has a hard bottom drop-stitched floor, so it's durable enough that river rocks won't damage it, despite it being inflatable. If you need to access the zippered cargo holds on the bow or stern or get out gear from drysacks held in the bungee decklace rigging, there are holders on either side of the vessel to secure your paddles. And if you want to take you kayak on a trip, it can easily be deflated and stored in a duffle-style carry bag that can be tossed in a car or checked as luggage on a flight.

There's also an optional zip-in closed deck cover for those looking for a bit of extra protection from waves.

Capacity: 500 lbs. | Dimensions: 172 x 39 in. | Inflatable: Yes

Final Verdict

The Ocean Kayak Malibu 2XL (view at Backcountry) is a rock-solid all-around kayak at a middle-of-the-road price that’s hard to beat for the quality. If you’re new to the sport and aren’t ready to commit to a more expensive kayak, test the waters with the inflatable Intex Challenger K2 (view at Amazon) and consider an upgrade down the line. If you’re getting a kayak specifically for fishing consider the Hobie Mirage Compass Duo (view at Austin Kayak) or the Feelfree Lure II (view at Feelfree).

What to Look For in a Tandem Kayak

Stability

The most frustrating thing for a beginner is a kayak they can’t stay upright. McKenzie says he buys lots of barely used fancy lightweight kayaks from people that realize their abilities aren’t up to the task. For beginners, a flat-bottomed kayak provides more stability when at rest and is a better choice for newbies. More advanced users will prize performance over flatwater stability, just be sure which level of kayaker you are before you buy. As McKenzie advises, “If you’re a beginner golfer, you wouldn’t use Tiger Woods’ golf clubs.”

Length

Longer kayaks often plane better than shorter ones, but this is an important dimension to consider in terms of storage and transport. Tandems can be longer than is convenient. Even if a 15-foot kayak performs great, it won’t be much use to you if it’s too large to carry on your vehicle or to store in your garage. Check the specific dimensions listed by the manufacturer and then try to estimate if it will work with the size limitations you have for transporting and storing it.

Support

If you’re planning to spend extended time on your kayak, carefully evaluate the seating. Many kayak seats are flimsy and supported only by straps. Hard frame chairs offer better support when paired with a proper cushion.

Capacity

Kayak capacity is usually measured in weight, for a tandem kayak especially, it can be a good shorthand for how equipped a particular kayak is for true tandem use. If you and/or your kayaking partner are larger, it’s important to confirm that a particular kayak is up to the task of keeping you both afloat. 

Some smaller tandems are rated for up to 350 pounds. That means two 175-pound adults are pushing the limit of this kayak and it may be suitable for smaller folks or an adult and a child. On the other end of the spectrum, some larger kayaks can support up to 675 pounds meaning two large adults plus lots of gear could reasonably be carried. Make sure to check the weight limit before purchasing.

FAQs

What is appropriate clothes for kayaking?

Those kayaking in fair summer weather and relatively warm waters may want to wear swim attire and enjoy getting wet occasionally. But no matter what is worn, a personal floatation device is a safety must. For those paddling in cold waters (even on hot days), it's a good idea to dress for that water temperature and may want to consider a wetsuit.

Even when paddling in warm waters on warm days, it’s a good idea to use the kayak’s storage (or a dry bag) to bring along layer options since changes in weather and time of day can change conditions quickly.

Is it possible to paddle a tandem kayak solo?

Yes. Many tandem kayaks are set up to convert for single-paddler use. Kyle McKenzie, owner of Adventure Paddle Tours in Frisco, CO and Naples, FL, says many of his guides use tandem kayaks as singles for the stability and storage space. “Convertible tandem kayaks allow the kayaker to adjust the stern seat. You can push it usually a foot and a half up which will evenly distribute weight,” says McKenzie.

Is it possible to steer a tandem kayak with both people paddling?

Paddling a tandem kayak is challenging because of the propensity to collide paddles. McKenzie says defining responsibilities can help avoid conflicts. “Kayakers in the front must let go and let the kayaker in the back do the steering. The back kayaker is supposed to follow the kayaker's pace in the front. It is definitely a team-building experience,” he says. 

What are the drawbacks of a tandem kayak?

The size can make it more challenging to transport to and from the water, and make it more difficult to store when not in use. Additionally, a two-person kayak often has less overall space to carry gear than two individual boats would have, which can be an important consideration for those embarking on a longer paddling excursion. There are fewer options when shopping for tandem kayaks versus single kayaks as well, says McKenzie.

What’s the difference between sit-on-top and sit-inside kayaks?

Sit-inside kayaks feature a sunken cockpit that usually permits a spray skirt that can be attached to exclude water which cinches around the rider's waist. These are most useful in whitewater and ocean kayaking, but can be used on any kind of water with or without the spray skirt. Sit-on-top kayaks are better for warmer water and are well suited for fishing. 

Why Trust Tripsavvy

Justin Park is a Breckenridge, Colorado-based writer and videographer who has rafted whitewater, kayaked rivers, paddle-boarded high alpine lakes, and has learned to respect both wind and cold water living in the Rockies. He and his camera gear have survived Class III rapids.

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