The 11 Best Kayaks of 2023

Advanced Elements’ Convertible Tandem Inflatable Kayak is durable and portable

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Kayaking isn’t just a paddlesport—it’s also a fun way to get some exercise and explore the great outdoors. And if you own a kayak, you can save money on rental fees and hit the water any time you want (as long as the weather cooperates).

Reviewed & Approved

Advanced Elements’ Convertible Tandem Inflatable Kayak earned our top spot because it’s spacious, durable, and easy to transport. If you’re shopping on a budget, we also recommend Intex’s Challenger Kayak Inflatable Set because it’s comfortable and lightweight.

“To figure out what kayak is best for you, start by asking yourself [a few questions],” Rudy Raimondi, merchandise planner at West Marine, says. “Where are you going to paddle? How do you want to get there? What are you going to bring with you? When are you going?”

To find the best kayaks, we researched dozens of top-rated options, assessing them for durability, portability, capacity, and style. We also interviewed four kayaking experts—Raimondi; Will Collins, outdoorsman and guide at Buffalo Roamer Outdoors; Kylia Goodner, head of KGAdventures; and DJ Mazzoni, CSCS, medical reviewer and fitness expert—for advice on what to look for when buying a kayak.

Based on our research, here are the best kayaks on the market.

Best Overall

Advanced Elements Convertible Tandem Inflatable Kayak

4.5
Advanced Elements Convertible Kayak

Courtesy of Austin Kayak

Pros
  • Adjustable seats

  • Portable

  • Sturdy

Cons
  • Heavy

  • Doesn’t come with a pump

Advanced Elements’ Convertible Tandem Inflatable Kayak is our top overall pick because it blends the convenience of an inflatable kayak with the durability of a hard-shell kayak. Like other inflatable kayaks, this one folds down to a fraction of its size—just 35 inches wide, 21 inches long, and 12 inches tall. This makes the kayak refreshingly easy to bring with you on the go. 

Instead of strapping it to the top of your car, you can simply toss it in your trunk—a welcome convenience, especially if you don’t kayak enough to invest in crossbars and cam straps. This kayak is also more durable than other inflatable picks. Designed with an aluminum frame, we like that it boasts the sturdy feel of a hard-shell kayak, making it easy to maneuver. 

Unfortunately, this durability comes at a cost: At 52 pounds, this kayak is one of the heaviest on our list. But since it can comfortably hold two riders and support up to 550 pounds, it’s well worth the extra heft.

 Price at time of publication: $1,200

Key Specs:
Design:
Sit-inside | Weight: 52 pounds | Weight Capacity: 550 pounds | Rider Capacity: 1–2 kayakers | Material: PVC-coated polyester, aluminum | Dimensions: 15 x 2.6 feet

Best Budget

Intex Challenger Kayak Inflatable Set

Intex Challenger Kayak Inflatable Set

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • Portable

  • Lightweight

  • Includes paddle, pump, and more

Cons
  • Limited storage space

  • Not suitable for rough waters

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly kayak, we recommend Intex’s Challenger K1 Inflatable Kayak. It’s also lightweight, beginner-friendly, and easy to transport, making it a great pick for any casual kayaker.

At just 27.2 pounds, this is one of the lightest kayaks on our list. And since it folds up inside a compact carry bag, it’s easy to store and transport. Once you reach your destination, all you have to do is unfold and inflate your kayak using the included high-output hand pump. 

This kayak isn’t as durable as some of the hard-shell options on our list, but it’s still sturdy enough to get you through the season. Made of heavy-duty vinyl, the kayak is ideal for exploring lakes and mild rivers. And while it has minimal storage space, it can hold up to 220 pounds.

We love that this option comes with plenty of accessories, including an oar, a repair patch (just in case), and a removable skeg to make steering easier. These make any kayaking experience more seamless.

 Price at time of publication: $108

Key Specs:
Design:
Sit-inside | Weight: 27.2 pounds | Weight Capacity: 220 pounds | Rider Capacity: 1 kayaker | Material: Vinyl | Dimensions: 9 feet x 2.5 feet

Best Splurge

Hammacher Schlemmer Two-Person Transparent Canoe Kayak

Hammacher
Pros
  • See-through hull

  • Removable, adjustable seats

  • Includes paddles and flotation devices

Cons
  • Heavy

Hammacher Schlemmer’s Two-Person Transparent Canoe Kayak is unlike any other kayak on our list. Made of transparent resin, the kayak is completely see-through—giving you a clear view of the water beneath you as you paddle.

While other kayaks are made of opaque fiberglass or plastic, this one is made of Lexan, a resin that’s both transparent and sturdy. Paired with the kayak’s aluminum frame, the kayak’s design makes for a sturdy ride. This kayak weighs a hefty 48 pounds and can hold 425 pounds at a time. It’s also stable and easy to steer, thanks to a drop-down adjustable skeg. 

At 11 feet long and 2.75 feet wide, there’s room enough for two. The adjustable, removable seats make it easy to get comfortable, whether you’re kayaking alone or with a partner. We like that the kayak ships with two paddles and two flotation devices, giving you everything you need to confidently get on the water.

Price at time of publication: $2,600

Key Specs:
Design:
Sit-inside | Weight: 48 pounds | Weight Capacity: 425 pounds | Rider Capacity: 1–2 kayakers | Material: Lexan (transparent resin) | Dimensions: 11 x 2.75 feet

Best Tandem

Ocean Kayak Malibu Tandem Kayak

Ocean Kayak Malibu Two Tandem Kayak

Courtesy of Backcountry

Pros
  • Removable, adjustable seats

  • Available in two colors

Cons
  • Bulky

Durable, comfortable, and efficient, Ocean Kayak’s Malibu Tandem Kayak is our top choice for a functional and spacious tandem kayak. At 12 feet long and 2.8 feet wide, the kayak is one of the largest on our list and a little bulky. 

Inside the kayak, you’ll find two adjustable seats, two storage-friendly gear straps, and two roomy foot wells. These foot wells are designed to give you plenty of legroom, and they make it possible to bring a third passenger (like a pet or small child) along for the ride. 

Like many other recreational kayaks, this one is sturdy. It weighs a significant 58 pounds and can hold 425 pounds at a time. Its shallow hull is designed with a screw-in drain plug, which you can loosen to let out water. And we like that the base features a skid plate, which cuts down on damage from rocks and sand.

While it readily holds two and a half passengers, this kayak also comfortably holds one. So if you decide to kayak solo, you can count on the same steady ride, with more weight on the boat. 

Price at time of publication: $664

Key Specs:
Design:
Sit-inside | Weight: 58 pounds | Weight Capacity: 425 pounds | Rider Capacity: 2.5 kayakers | Material: Polyethylene | Dimensions: 12 x 2.8 feet

Best for Kids

Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak

Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak (Blue)

Amazon

Pros
  • Budget-friendly

  • Includes paddle

  • Available in seven colors

Cons
  • Low weight capacity

  • Best for kids ages 5 to 11

Lifetime’s Youth Wave Kayak is our budget-friendly pick for the best kids’ kayak. It’s sturdy, comfortable, and lightweight, so it’s easy for first-time kayakers to use (and for parents to transport).

When your little one is kayaking solo, you want them in a boat that’s both durable and beginner-friendly. Made of sturdy polyethylene, this kayak can support 130 pounds at a time. And since it’s designed with kids ages 5 to 11 in mind, it’s packed with features that make kayaking a breeze. 

The kayak’s flat bottom hull is great for stability, while the fins lining its base make it easy to steer. Built-in scupper holes automatically drain the kayak any time it takes on water. And molded footrests, handles, and paddle cradles make it simple to find and settle into a comfy position. 

We love that the back of the kayak is designed with a built-in swim-up deck. This deck makes the kayak easy to climb onto even after you’ve gotten in the water, so your little one can seamlessly switch between swimming and paddling. However, it has a lower weight capacity than other boats on our list.

Price at time of publication: $149

Key Specs:
Design:
Sit-on-top | Weight: 18 pounds | Weight Capacity: 130 pounds | Rider Capacity: 1 kayaker | Material: Polyethylene | Dimensions: 6 x 2 feet

Best Sit-In

Pelican Mustang 100X Kayak

Pelican Mustang 100X Kayak

Courtesy of Field and Stream Shop

Pros
  • Stable

  • Lots of storage space

  • Available in 4 colors

Cons
  • Included storage case isn’t waterproof

If you’re planning to kayak in cold weather or over long distances, we recommend a sit-inside kayak like this one from Pelican. The boat is durable, comfortable, and loaded with storage space, all at a lower price than other kayaks on our list.

Made of impact-resistant polyethylene, this boat is rigid and durable. And its twin-arched hull makes it stable but easy to maneuver. While flat-bottom hulls win on stability and V-shaped hulls win on maneuverability, this one splits the difference—creating a kayak that’s steady enough for beginners but agile enough for experts.

What the Experts Say: “If you paddle recreationally in small ponds, rivers, or small lakes but want to go early or late in the season, a sit-in kayak works well, [because it] is more protected. If you want to bring camping or other gear with you, a sit-in makes more sense, [because] a sit-in has more storage [space and] gear is easy to access on deck.”

The Mustang 100X can hold up to 300 pounds and boasts a deck storage hatch in the front, plus a tank well in the back. We like that it’s lined with other useful features, like a dual-position bottle holder, a smartphone holder in the cockpit, and two flush-mount rod holders (if you feel like going fishing). But the included storage case that fits in the back is not waterproof.

Price at time of publication: $400

Key Specs:
Design:
Sit-inside | Weight: 39 pounds | Weight Capacity: 300 pounds | Rider Capacity: 1 kayaker | Material: Polyethylene | Dimensions: 10 x 2.5 feet

Best Sit-on-Top

Lifetime Teton 100 Angler Kayak

Lifetime Teton 100 Angler Kayak

Field & Stream

Pros
  • Unique hull design

  • Lots of storage space

  • Available in four colors

Cons
  • Heavy

Sit-on-top kayaks are known for being sturdy and beginner-friendly, and we recommend Lifetime’s Teton 100 Angler Kayak as the best on the market. At 10 feet long and 2.5 feet wide, it’s sturdy, spacious, and equipped to handle all kinds of fresh air adventures. 

The kayak is flanked by front and rear storage tank wells, giving you enough storage space for long days on the water. And its built-in flush mount holders are ideal for fishing. Since the cockpit is lined with self-draining scupper holes, rainy days are no problem. 

What the Experts Say: “If you are recreationally paddling [on] open water, large lakes, coasts, or oceans, sit-on-top is the way to go. Sit-on-top kayaks are very safe and will never fill with water. Sit-on-top kayaks are [also] great because they can accommodate most skill levels.”

Most sit-on-top kayaks are designed with flat-bottom hulls, which make them stable and great for beginners. But we like that this one has a flat-bottom hull that’s been modified with a V-shaped bow and a tracking skeg. These unusual features make the kayak faster and easier to steer than other sit-on-tops we considered. However, it is heavy, weighing in at 53.5 pounds.

Price at time of publication: $480

Key Specs:
Design:
Sit-on-top | Weight: 53.5 pounds | Weight Capacity: 275 pounds | Rider Capacity: 1 kayaker | Material: Polyethylene | Dimensions: 10 x 2.5 feet

Best Performance

Jackson Kayak Tupelo 12.5 Kayak

Jackson Kayak Tupelo 12.5

Courtesy of Caney Fork Outdoors

Pros
  • Removable, adjustable seat

  • Lots of storage space

  • Available in two colors

Cons
  • Heavy

Jackson Kayak’s Tupelo 12.5 Kayak is one of the priciest kayaks we recommend, but it’s worth the investment. It’s stable, comfortable, and boasts plenty of storage space, making it our top choice for recreational kayakers who routinely hit the water.

At 12.4 feet long and 2.4 feet wide, this is the largest solo kayak on our list. Thanks to the Tupelo’s significant size, it wins on both storage and stability. Inside, you’ll find a storage hatch on the stern, gear tracks in the cockpit, and rigging on the deck. And you can count on the kayak’s long hull to hold the boat steady, even when it’s loaded with heavy cargo.

We like that the ergonomic seat is both adjustable and removable, so you can replace it with a seat of your own if you want to. And thanks to the kayak’s built-in paddle holder, you can take a breather whenever you need to. Just note that, at 55 pounds, it might be tough to carry over long distances.

Price at time of publication: $1,099

Key Specs:
Design:
Sit-inside | Weight: 55 pounds | Weight Capacity: 300 pounds | Rider Capacity: 1 kayaker | Material: Polyethylene | Dimensions: 12.4 x 2.4 feet

Best for Beginners

Advanced Elements Inflatable Kayak

Advanced Elements Inflatable Kayak

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • Lightweight

  • Includes carry bag, folding seat, and more

Cons
  • Doesn’t come with a pump

There are lots of beginner-friendly kayaks out there. But Advanced Elements’ Lagoon 1 Inflatable Kayak is our top pick for a few reasons: It’s portable, sturdy, and easy to maneuver. Plus, it comes in at a budget-friendly price point.

Since this kayak is inflatable, it folds down to a fraction of its size, taking up just 4 cubic feet of space. And at 23 pounds, we love that it’s easy to carry. Its setup process is simple, too—just open the valves and inflate the kayak. (That said, the kayak doesn’t ship with a pump, so you’ll need to bring your own.)

Made of ripstop polyester and PVC, the kayak feels rigid and durable after it’s been inflated. And the durable panels lining its bow and stern make it easier to maneuver.

Price at time of publication: $380

Key Specs:
Design:
Sit-inside | Weight: 23 pounds | Weight Capacity: 250 pounds | Rider Capacity: 1 kayaker | Material: Ripstop polyester, PVC | Dimensions: 8.3 x 2.8 feet

Best Recreational

Intex Explorer K2 Inflatable Kayak Set

Intex Explorer K2 Inflatable Kayak Set

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • Budget-friendly

  • Adjustable, removable seats

  • Includes paddles, seats, and more

Cons
  • Limited storage space

Comfortable, sturdy, and portable, Intex’s Explorer K2 Inflatable Kayak is our recommendation for the best recreational kayak. We love that the kayak holds two people and ships with everything you need to use it—all at a budget-friendly price point.

This inflatable kayak weighs just 35 pounds. And since it folds up inside a compact carrying bag, it’s easy to transport: Simply toss the kayak in your trunk, and unfold it when you reach your destination. When fully inflated, the kayak is a spacious 10 feet long and 3 feet wide, large enough to comfortably hold two kayakers.

We love that it comes with two inflatable seats, two paddles, and a fast-acting hand pump—giving you everything you need to get out on the water. The seats are adjustable and removable, so you can easily kayak solo or invite a friend to join you. And since the oars break down into smaller pieces, they’re just as easy to store as the kayak itself.

Price at time of publication: $126

Key Specs:
Design:
Sit-inside | Weight: 35 pounds | Weight Capacity: 400 pounds | Rider Capacity: 1–2 kayakers | Material: Vinyl | Dimensions: 10 feet x 3 feet

Best Folding

Oru Kayak Inlet Portable Folding Kayak

Oru Kayak Inlet Portable Folding Kayak

Oru Kayak

Pros
  • Lightweight

  • Available in five styles

Cons
  • Expensive

Oru Kayak’s Inlet Folding Kayak is our top pick for a folding kayak because, unlike others on our list, it isn’t inflatable. Instead, it’s a polyethylene kayak that folds and unfolds in a matter of minutes—combining the agile feel of a hard-shell kayak with the convenience of an inflatable one.

When unfolded, the kayak can hold up to 275 pounds. But because polypropylene has some give, you can fold the kayak down to a fraction of its size, taking it from 9.6 feet long and 2.5 feet wide to 3.6 feet long and 1.8 feet wide. 

Because this boat uses less material than a traditional foldable kayak, it dries off faster and demands less storage space. That said, it’s also more expensive than many of our other top picks. Comfort-friendly features—like a padded seat, adjustable backrest, and flexible footrest—make the kayak an even more convenient find. And we love that it comes in five variations, each tailored to a different body of water.

Price at time of publication: $925

Key Specs:
Design:
Sit-inside | Weight: 20 pounds | Weight Capacity: 275 pounds | Rider Capacity: 1 kayaker | Material: Polyethylene | Dimensions: 9.6 x 2.5 feet

How We Selected the Best Kayaks

To find the best kayaks, we asked four experts—Rudy Raimondi, merchandise planner at West Marine; Will Collins, outdoorsman and guide at Buffalo Roamer Outdoors, Kylia Goodner, head of KGAdventures; and DJ Mazzoni, CSCS, medical reviewer and fitness expert—for advice on what to consider when buying a kayak.

With their guidance in mind, we considered dozens of kayaks from the top, trusted brands. We examined durability, rider and storage capacity, portability, and ease of use. We also took price, style, weight, and materials into account.

What to Look for in a Kayak

Style

Kayaks come in two styles: sit-on-top and sit-inside. Each style has strengths and weaknesses. “Sit-on-top kayaks are generally stable in calm water, which makes them great if you're new to kayaking,” Goodner says. “However, sit-on-top kayaks are not great for water with waves, [and] should only be used in warm weather, as you will likely get wet in one.” 

Sit-inside kayaks are easier to maneuver in choppy waters. And since they’re more protective, you’re less likely to get wet when kayaking in one.

Shape

The shape of a kayak can affect its stability and how easy it is to use. Wider, flat-bottom kayaks like Lifetime’s Youth Wave Kayak tend to be more stable. Narrower, V-shaped kayaks like Lifetime’s Teton 100 Angler Kayak are often quicker and more agile. “Wider kayaks are more stable and are often the choice for new kayakers,” Goodner says. “However, wider kayaks are also harder to paddle and are not as fast as narrower kayaks. And [they] do not offer the secondary stability needed to stay upright in rough waters or waves.” Also, look for features like tracking fins, skegs, and rudders. These details make it easier to keep your kayak on course.

Size

Your kayak should be large and sturdy enough to accommodate you and your cargo. But it should also be easy to store and transport. “One [question] that is often overlooked by beginners is: How will you transport your kayak?” Collins says. “Is it light enough to lift by yourself or with a friend? Can you strap it to a roof rack or put it in the back of a truck? In my experience with beginners, the easier it is to load, the more likely you are to go!”

Weight Capacity

When picking out a kayak, think about the weight capacity you’ll need to bring all of your passengers and cargo with you comfortably. Start by checking the weight capacity and rider capacity, as listed by the manufacturer. 

Then, consider specifics like seat design, built-in storage, and legroom. “A great kayak will have great storage options and convenience features,” Raimondi says. “Outfitting and seating systems are also a big thing to consider. Good kayaks will have more adjustable seating systems, better vents and drainage, and will remain comfortable for longer periods of time on the water.”

Durability

Whether you’re kayaking on a calm lake or a choppy river, durability matters. After all, you don’t want your boat to get damaged the first time you take it out—and you certainly don’t want your inflatable kayak to pop while you’re inside it. “Quality parts are essential,” Raimondi says. “If you’re buying an inflatable kayak, look for a puncture-resistant option that ships with a repair kit. If you’re buying a hard-shell kayak, look for a sturdy material that isn’t terribly heavy.”

A kayak’s weight capacity affects how much stuff it can hold. Kayakers looking for multi-day adventures may need an option with more storage space and higher weight capacity, whereas those looking for something more casual may not need to pay as much attention to this feature.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you kayak?

    Kayaking may seem intimidating, but it’s easy to do—especially with an expert by your side. “Take official lessons from a local kayaking instructor,” Goodner says. “Learning how to stabilize and paddle in a face-to-face environment while on the water really can't be beat.”

    Or, consider asking a friend to tag along with you. “Simply go out with an experienced friend to get the hang of it,” Raimondi says. Set yourself up for success by choosing a calm body of water, and avoid places with harsh currents, motor boats, or recent flooding.

  • What should you wear kayaking?

    “Dressing for kayaking depends on the weather and the temperature of the water you'll be paddling,” Collins says. “[But] the key is to wear things that can dry quickly if they get wet.” If it’s cold out, layer quick-drying clothing. Stay away from cotton, which retains moisture, so it’s not great for warmth. If it’s warm out, wear lightweight clothing that dries quickly and offers sun protection.

    Also, consider investing in a high-quality pair of waterproof shoes. During your kayaking adventure, you might have to walk through the water. So find a pair of comfy shoes you can soak (and avoid loose-fitting pairs that might slip off in the current).

  • What size kayak do I need?

    “I like to say, ‘Pick the right size vehicle (kayak) for the right size engine (paddler),’” Raimondi says. So pick a kayak that’s sturdy enough to support your weight and long enough to give you some legroom.

    Make sure the kayak is large enough to store your desired cargo but small enough to store and transport. And make sure it’s suitable for your kayaking skill level. Longer, narrower kayaks tend to be faster and more agile, making them great for kayakers with experience. Shorter, wider ones tend to be more stable, making them ideal for beginners.

  • Is kayaking good exercise?

    “Kayaking is both a cardio and strength-building workout, so it’s a great choice for those looking to improve their overall fitness,” Mazzoni says. The water offers natural resistance, challenging muscles in your arms, back, chest, and core as you paddle. “It's easier to exercise regularly if you enjoy the workout, and kayaking is certainly more mentally stimulating than a regular weightlifting session,” he adds.

Why Trust Verywell Fit?

Lindsey Lanquist is a contributing writer for Verywell Fit with seven years of experience covering the health and fitness space. As a casual kayaker, Lindsey prefers kayaks that are comfortable, portable, and generally easy to maneuver. But she appreciates that speed, agility, and storage space are key considerations for people who kayak more regularly.