Rick is a former news reporter who decided that the corporate world wasn't for him and took off to travel the world. He's been to every continent (yes, even Antarctica!) and has tried out a multitude of outdoor gear along the way. From tents to hiking boots, he's probably tested it all. Now, he's one of our full-time product testers and experts.
Bryan is one of our leading experts since he's got a vast expertise in practically everything connected to the outdoors. He's been hiking since he was a young boy, was an organizer of kayaking tours which later led to another passion of his - kayak fishing. Now, he's a part-time expert consultant involved in our multiple product tests and topic research.
Last updated: June 06, 2022
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A kayaking trip is one of the best activities to try on a hot summer day. Besides bringing in lots of fun for the entire family, kayaking is also an excellent way to exercise seamlessly. With a recreational kayak, you can go exploring by yourself or together with your family. Whether you don’t have a kayak yet or are looking to upgrade your existent one, there are lots of things to consider in order to choose the best recreational kayak. We have done all the research for you so you can focus on simply choosing one of the best kayaks on the market.
Some of the most important features we considered for our review include the type of kayak, which is essential because it determines the type of use you will get out of your boat, the weight capacity of the kayak, as well as its overall dimensions and length. All of these are important features to consider especially if you don’t have enough room in your car to transport the kayak. Our editor’s choice, the Pelican Maxim 100X, meets all the requirements we would like to see in a recreational kayak.
We spent days researching dozens of kayaks, reading reviews form professionals and recreational users alike. Eight kayas made it to the top, and below you will find their defining characterizes in a comparison table. We also made it easy for you to choose the best recreational kayak by including in-depth reviews for each of the models we picked for the top. In the end you will also find a buying guide that contains all the details necessary to make an informed choice.
Extra features: built-in ergonomic backrest and cushion; molded footrests
Our editor’s choice, the Pelican Maxim 100X has just about any feature you would expect to find in a quality recreational kayak, and this is the reason it scored so high in our top. The 10-feet length and 28-inch width make the Pelican Maxim 100X a very stable kayak. Its stability is enhanced by the pronounced edges on the side.
The Pelican Maxim 100X can handle a variety of conditions, including lakes, coastal oceans and bays, but its limited size makes it a not so suitable option for touring. One of the advantages of this kayak is that is highly portable, fitting just fine in the back of any SUV. You cannot deflate or fold it, but nevertheless, the kayak is very easy to transport and store. It is relatively lightweight at just 39 lbs., so you don’t need the help of a partner to haul it into the water.
Some of the features that make the Pelican Maxim 100X an excellent choice for beginners and experimented kayak aficionados alike include an adjustable deluxe seat with rear pouch, extra room for cargo, and a built-in ergonomic backrest and cushion. Many of the users who tested this kayak liked that it is very easy to maneuver, even for beginners, and that it sports a better construction than other models in a similar price range.
Extra features: built-in keel extension, ergonomic carrying handles, patented RAM-X PREMIUM material
Next, we have the Pelican Sprint 100Xr lightweight recreational kayak. At 41 lbs, there are not many lighter kayak options even on this list. Additionally, it has a ton of benefits that make the kayak easy to use. For starters, there is the construction. It is made of patented RAM-X PREMIUM material. As we mentioned above, this material is lightweight in addition to being durable. Also, it comes with a top layer of resin that adds rigidity.
This is in addition to the handles, which we noticed were handy for moving the kayak. Another component of the kayak’s construction is the built-in keel extension. It helps keep you on track and in control while you’re on the water. It also allows you to cover larger distances without using too much of your strength.
Another benefit you get with this kayak is the V-chine hull. This feature is responsible for the better secondary stability of the kayak. That way, even with windy conditions and waves, you can still manage to keep your paddled boat on track. The hull also allows for better responsiveness to the shifts in your body weight or position, giving you added control over the kayak.
We also noticed the kayak floats very well even when you’re near the 300 lbs weight limit. Some might attribute this to the stern bulkhead, which adds some extra floatability.
Lastly, there are some extra features meant to ensure your comfort and add some safety. These include a bottle cage, bungee cord, adjustable footrests, and even a padded seat cushion.
What makes it stand out?
Extra stability and floatability
Good tracking and maneuverability
Patented, durable exterior
Which disadvantages must you keep in mind?
You risk bending the sides if you crank the tie-downs too hard
Extra features: front, rear, and side carry handles; rear tankwell
One of the best starter kayaks out there, the Emotion Spitfire 8 is a single-person kayak that packs a huge punch despite its small size. This lightweight kayak has padded seats for extra cushioning and support and sports a large storage facility. A responsive and stable kayak, the Emotion Spitfire 8 works well on flat water, but also behaves well in the surf.
An excellent choice for users who are looking for an entry-level sit-on-top kayak, the Emotion Spitfire 8 is quite stable, so you don’t have to worry much about tipping over. The compact 8 feet long and 32 inches wide dimensions make this a versatile choice for slower rivers, lakes, and medium-sized surf waves. Its maximum capacity of 240 pounds makes it an ideal option for those who have a lot of gear or larger paddlers.
The hull design of the Emotion Spitfire 8 makes it very easy to maneuver, so it’s a perfect choice for beginners who are not yet confident they have good control of the boat. Bungee cords are available at the front and rear storage areas of the kayak, which is essential for those who intend to do other types of activities with the kayak, including scuba diving or fishing.
Some of the users who tested the kayak mentioned that the Emotion Spitfire 8 is not a very fast kayak, so you shouldn’t expect to cover a lot of distance with it. However, it’s still one of the best choices out there for recreational kayaks for beginners due to its ease of use and design.
Extra features: adjustable seat back height and angle; dry storage compartment; padded ergonomic seat; impact and abrasion-resistant
The Perception Expression Sit-Inside Kayak for Light Touring is a great touring boat that features adjustable seat back height and angle and a padded ergonomic seat that will give you comfortable no matter how many hours you decide to spend on water.
This is a kayak with a low weight capacity of 255 lbs., but it comes loaded with features that make it an incredible touring option. A rudder system is included and there is plenty of room on deck for storage. Because the Perception Expression kayak is only 11.5 ft. long, it is ideal for lakes, slow rivers, and mild coastal waters. This is a boat that offers all the fun and easy maneuverability of a recreational kayak, combined with features you need for comfortable touring, so it’s a versatile option for those who want a kayak that virtually does it all.
The roomy sit-in cockpit is enhanced by a thickly padded seat, and it is also easy to get in and out of. Adjustable features abound in this boat, as you can adjust the contoured backrest to suit your preferences, and it also comes with padded thigh supports and adjustable footrests. This means that you get both comfort and stability during your adventure.
The Perception Expression Sit-Inside Kayak for Light Touring is safe and stable, featuring a bulkhead flotation that improves stability and buoyancy.
Extra features: P.A.C. (Portable Accessory Carrier) for extra storage space; flush mount fishing rod holders
This 12-foot kayak is remarkably comfortable and is one of the best choices out there for tall people, because it offers plenty of legroom. It is also rather lightweight for its 12-ft length, as it only weighs 47 lbs., so you can transport it easily.
Besides being a lightweight kayak, the SUNDOLPHIN Aruba 12-Foot Sit-in Kayak SS also comes with extra perks, including two water sealed storage rooms and bungee cords on both the front and behind the boat. Thigh guards are available in the cockpit, which are highly useful for those who are prone to hit the sides of the boat. Two rod holders are placed behind the seat so that you can use them for fishing.
Users who tested and reviewed the SUNDOLPHIN Aruba 12-Foot Sit-in Kayak SS particularly liked that this sit-in kayak is very comfortable while also being spacious enough even for taller users. The rudder and the long keel help the kayak perform well over long distances.
We also liked that the SUNDOLPHIN Aruba 12-Foot Sit-in Kayak SS has retractable carrying handles for extra easy transport, as well as shock cord deck rigging. Reviewers found that the covered console located right in front of the cockpit can come in very handy for storing personal belongings such as your phone.
Extra features: 2 flush mount rod holders; features a dry storage compartment; adjustable and padded seat
An ideal kayak for rivers and lakes, the SUNDOLPHIN Excursion 10-Foot Sit-in Fishing Kayak has received lots of positive reviews from users for its lightweight design that means it’s very easy to carry. Weighing just 39 lbs., this 10-foot kayak has a weight capacity of 250 lbs. and is suitable for fishing trips besides recreational kayaking.
We particularly liked this kayak because it has a lot of dry storage space, featuring a storage compartment, as well as a water bottle holder and a paddle holder. Adjustable foot braces and shock cord deck rigging complete the features that make this a highly customizable and safe kayak.
The SUNDOLPHIN Excursion 10-Foot Sit-in Fishing Kayak has a large open cockpit and an adjustable padded seat for extra comfort. It is made from rugged UV-stabilized high-density polyethylene, and it is highly resistant to cracks. Most users who tested this kayak liked that it paddles and tracks easily while offering enhanced stability, something that it is often difficult to find in a kayak in this price range.
You can use this kayak in most types of water, but you may encounter some difficulties when fighting against a strong current. Users liked that the kayak has a lot of leg room, which makes it a particularly good choice for tall users.
Extra features: 4 air chambers; made from tough PVC Tarpaulin with 1000D polyester
The ADVANCED ELEMENTS AdvancedFrame Sport Kayak is an excellent choice for users who are looking for the best inflatable recreational kayak. Made by Advanced Elements, a company that is renowned for its top-quality gear that it’s even used by arctic explorers, this kayak works well on calmer bodies of water such as calm rivers and lakes, and is a very lightweight boat at just 26 lbs. While this kayak is strictly limited to a capacity of maximum 250 lbs., it is still a prime candidate for all types of paddlers, as it has a wide cockpit that gives them plenty of room to move.
We liked the ADVANCED ELEMENTS AdvancedFrame Sport Kayak because it is great for just about any level of kayaking. Whether you are a beginner, or you have been kayaking for some time, you will find this kayak has great maneuverability and good tracking for the price. It is also an excellent companion for hiking because of its reduced weight. The four air chambers make it easy to inflate, and the durable construction that features tough PVC Tarpaulin with 1000D polyester make the kayak ideal for those looking for a boat that’s bound to last.
Reviewers who tested the ADVANCED ELEMENTS AdvancedFrame Sport Kayak noticed that the kayak doesn’t perform very well on heavier waters, being ideal for a day paddle in calm water conditions. And because of its dimensions and reduced weight limit, this kayak may not be the first choice for taller or heavier paddlers.
Extra features: 2-person capacity; removable skeg; 2 air chambers
There are many inflatable kayaks available on the market, but we selected the Intex Explorer K2 Kayak as our budget choice because it combines a budget friendly price tag with a sturdy construction and a very high weight capacity of 400 lbs. This kayak can easily fit two adults and it is also a great choice for those who want to introduce their kid to kayaking.
According to many of the users who tested and reviewed the Intex Explorer K2 Kayak, this vessel handles better than expected from an inflatable kayak. The material it is made from is also surprisingly durable, and it can take quite a few scuffs before you encounter a problem.
The Intex Explorer K2 Kayak is an excellent choice for entry level paddlers and works perfectly on calm lakes and rivers. It comes complete with a removable skeg for tracking and paddles, though users have often mentioned that the latter are not of the best quality. The kayak is very quick to inflate and set up, being ready in about 10 minutes, and it is highly visible on the water thanks to its highlight yellow color.
Many reviewers appreciated that the kayak is very budget-friendly while not skimping on quality. It is comfortable enough for day trips, but you should be careful not to leave it exposed in full sun because the black material inside is prone to overheating.
Recreational kayaks have become highly popular among sports lovers because they offer enhanced comfort, easy paddling and good stability, which makes them ideal for beginners and experienced users alike. Below you will find all the information you need to purchase the best recreational kayak for yourself or your family.
What can you do with a recreational kayak?
A high-quality recreational kayak will offer a stable raft for paddlers of all abilities, allowing you to explore calmer waters such as slower-flowing rivers, lakes, canals, estuaries, and sheltered coastlines. Recreational kayaks are ideal for beginners and children, because they are more stable than touring models, allowing you to learn all about paddling in a safe environment.
Features to consider when choosing a recreational kayak
A good recreational kayak sports a couple of features that are bound to enhance your paddling experience. The construction and material, comfort, performance, maneuverability and storage options are just some of the essential factors to take into account when shopping for a recreational kayak.
Type of kayak: sit-on-top vs. sit-inside
The two main types of recreational kayaks are sit-on-top and sit-inside kayaks. While both are excellent choices, the sit-on-top type seems to be more popular because it is easier to maneuver, while also being durable and suitable for children. Sit-on-top kayaks are generally made from a single piece of molded plastic and they are very easy to get on and off. They also feature self-draining holes that come in handy in the event you flip over.
Another type of kayaks are inflatable ones, which work well for those looking for an option that is very easy to store and that provides users with enhanced stability.
When choosing the type of kayak, you should also consider whether you need a raft for one or two people. Tandem recreational kayaks are great for two adults or two adults and a child.
Weight capacity is an important thing to take into account, because this determines whether or not you can use the kayak, based on your own weight and height. Some models such as the SUNDOLPHIN Excursion 10-Foot Sit-in Fishing Kayak can only take weights of up to 250 lbs., whereas others, such as the Intex Explorer K2 Kayak work for up to 400-pound weights. The latter is a good option for those who need a tandem kayak that can support the weight of two people.
If you have long legs or tend to touch the margins of the cockpit regularly, you may want to look into a kayak with a large cockpit that can accommodate your needs. An example would be the SUNDOLPHIN Aruba SS 12-Foot Sit-in Kayak, which is the best choice out there for tall people, as it has a cockpit that provides plenty of leg room.
Inflatable vs. hardshell kayaks
Inflatable kayaks have become popular because they offer plenty of stability, while also being very easy to store and transport. Hard shell kayaks, on the other hand, are generally better at tackling heavier waters and they are generally more durable than inflatable ones. However, when you go for a hard-shell kayak, you need to take into account its weight as well as whether you have enough room in or on your vehicle to transport it.
Dimensions and weight
The weight and dimensions of the kayak will determine how easy it is to carry and transport. Most models have a length of 10 to 12 feet, with longer ones being suitable for those looking to achieve higher speeds. When it comes to weight, you should expect a recreational kayak to weight anywhere between 25 to 45 lbs. on average.
Material(s), stability, and overall construction
The material a kayak is made of often determines its stability and the quality of the overall construction.
In order to avoid tipping it a lot, look for a kayak that is stable. Wider models are generally the most stable of them all, and the widest kayaks on the market are inflatable ones.
The hull design of a hard-shell kayak is essential to take into account, as its shape determines its stability, with pontoon hulls being more stable than rounded ones.
Does it come with paddles?
Most of the kayaks available on the market come with a set of paddles included, but in some cases, they might not be of the best quality. If that is the case, you may need to look into purchasing separate paddles that can improve your performance.
Some of the extra features you may want to consider in a recreational kayak are handgrips for easy transport, inbuilt storage, fishing rod holders for your fishing expeditions, paddle holders and padded backrests for enhanced comfort.
The main difference between recreational and touring kayaks is the fact that the latter have more features designed to make long trips more comfortable. While recreational kayaks are often built of polyethylene and are on the cheaper side, touring kayaks generally have a hull design that makes them suitable for use in fast currents and rough water. Touring kayaks are also a couple feet longer than recreational ones and are often less stable, which doesn’t make them particularly suitable for beginners.
Tandem kayaks tend to work at their best when used as intended, that is with two persons inside. They are not as comfortable and easy to manoeuvre as models specifically intended for one-person use. If you want to use a two-person kayak by yourself, you should make sure you move your weight forward so you can achieve an efficient paddle.
Sit-on-top kayaks are generally considered the best option for beginners because they are not only easier to paddle and maneuver, but also easy to get in and out of. Hull kayaks are more prone to tipping if you don’t yet master the right moves to control them, so they don’t work particularly well for beginners. Inflatable kayaks are another suitable choice for beginners because they are rather stable overall and easy to control.
A high-quality recreational kayak is essential for those who are interested in taking up this sport as well as for those who want to perfect their technique. Our editor’s choice, the Pelican Maxim 100X fits the bill perfectly for both these types of users, as it combines enhanced maneuverability with a top-quality build and design. If you’re looking for the best recreational tandem kayak to be able to enjoy going on the water with a friend or family member, the Pelican River Gorge 130X is an excellent choice. Finally, those who want a quality recreational kayak designed with beginners in mind may want to have a look at the Emotion Spitfire 8, which we found the best for those who want a sturdy kayak to help them pick up all the moves and enjoy kayaking from the first day. No matter what type of recreational kayak you decide to go for in the end, it’s essential to make sure it fits well in or on your vehicle.