The 9 Best Kayaks of 2021

Hit the lake, pond, or ocean in one of these watercrafts

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Our Top Picks
A solid pick for outdoor adventures, it boasts adjustable seats so you can switch from solo touring to recreational group rides.
Both budget- and travel-friendly, it's puncture-resistant and comes equipped with a built-in cargo net for storage.
Designed for two paddlers, it has a transparent polymer hull that gives passengers a front-row view of aquatic life.
Roomy enough to seat two adults, plus a dog, it offers plenty of room to stretch your legs and store your gear.
Youngsters can enjoy an option tailored to them, especially those who are new to paddling or still developing their motor skills.
Perfect for leisure rides and fishing days, it's complete with a contoured foam seat, molded footrests, and knee pads.
Tackle new challenges in this pick, which features ample storage options and accessory mounts for your water adventures.
Ideal for beginners thanks to its inflatable design, it promises both performance and portability.
With enough space for two, it supports up to 400 pounds so you can safely bring all your gear and accessories.

Kayaks are small, slim boats that are propelled by double-bladed paddles. (Canoes, on the other hand, are propelled by single-bladed paddles). Kayaks tend to accommodate one passenger at a time, but some are designed to accommodate two or three passengers at once. They can be used in performance (athletic) or recreational settings, as well as in different bodies of water.

There are two primary kinds of kayaks: sit-on-top kayaks and sit-in kayaks. Sit-on-top kayaks are relatively shallow—allowing kayakers to sit on top of them while paddling. Sit-in kayaks tend to be deeper, and kayakers sit inside of them while paddling. Each variation offers unique benefits.

Here are the best kayaks on the market.

Best Overall: Advanced Elements Convertible Tandem Inflatable Kayak

Advanced Elements Convertible Kayak
Pros
  • Can accommodate 1–2 riders

  • Repair kit and travel bag included

  • 550-pound weight capacity

  • More durable than your average inflatable kayak

Cons
  • Ships without a pump

  • Pretty heavy (52 pounds)

Versatile, comfortable, and easy to take on the go, the Advanced Elements Tandem Inflatable Kayak is a solid pick for all kinds of outdoor adventures. The kayak boasts a sturdy aluminum frame, which is designed to give you both speed and control. And since its triple-layer polyester exterior is finished with a protective PVC coating, the kayak promises to be puncture-resistant and durable.

The kayak is inflatable, so it’s easy to toss in your trunk and take anywhere. And since it comes with adjustable seats, you can easily switch from solo touring to recreational rides with friends.

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

Best Budget: Intex Challenger Kayak Inflatable Set

Pros
  • Incredibly budget-friendly

  • Highly comfortable

  • Comes with a pump and an aluminum oar

Cons
  • Can only accommodate 1 rider at a time

  • No dry storage space

  • Only made from 1 layer of puncture-resistant vinyl, so may not be as durable

The Intex Challenger Inflatable Kayak is a budget-friendly and portable option. The kayak is crafted with puncture-resistant vinyl, making it durable enough for moderate outdoor recreation.

The sit-in kayak can comfortably accommodate one rider at a time. And it comes equipped with a built-in cargo net you can use to store a few items on the front of your kayak (so long as you don’t mind them getting wet). Since the kayak is inflatable, it’s easy to take on-the-go. And at 23.9 pounds, it’s genuinely portable. The kayak also ships alongside a pump and an aluminum oar—giving you everything you need to enjoy it.

Design: Sit-in | Weight: 27.2 pounds | Weight Capacity: 220 pounds | Rider Capacity: 1 kayaker | Material: Vinyl | Dimensions: 15 feet x 2.5 feet

Best Splurge: Hammacher Schlemmer Two-Person Transparent Canoe Kayak

Hammacher
Pros
  • Completely transparent, so you can see the wildlife underneath

  • Adjustable seats

  • Seats are removable

  • Ships with two paddles and two flotation devices

Cons
  • Expensive

  • Heavy (48 pounds)

A kayak that doubles as an unforgettable experience, Hammacher Schlemmer’s Two-Person Transparent Canoe Kayak is worth the splurge. The kayak boasts a sturdy aluminum frame and a transparent polymer hull—a combination that makes the kayak both durable and striking.

The aluminum frame will give you the confidence you need to head out on the water, while the transparent hull will allow you to see everything underneath you—including sea creatures, the ocean floor, and more.

The kayak comes equipped with two adjustable seats, so it can comfortably accommodate two riders at once. And since it ships alongside two aluminum paddles and two flotation devices, you should be ready to hit the water the moment your kayak arrives.

Design: Sit-in | Weight: 48 pounds | Weight Capacity: 425 pounds | Rider Capacity: 1–2 kayakers | Material: Lexan (a transparent polymer) | Dimensions: 11 x 2.75 feet

Good to Know

The word “hull” describes the body of the kayak. Longer hulls offer storage space, while short hulls offer nimble maneuverability. Wider hulls offer stability, while narrower hulls offer speed. Deeper hulls offer more space, while shallower hulls offer some amount of protection against the wind.

Best Tandem: Ocean Kayak Malibu Tandem Kayak

Ocean Kayak Malibu Two Tandem Kayak
Pros
  • Sturdy but lightweight

  • Loaded with storage space

  • Padded seats and ample legroom

  • Long enough (12 feet) and sturdy (425-pound weight capacity)

Cons
  • Very bulky and heavy (58 pounds)

  • Not as adjustable as some other 2-person options

  • Relatively expensive

Ocean Kayak’s Malibu Tandem Kayak is a genuinely sturdy kayak that’s roomy enough to seat two adults—plus a dog or little one. Crafted from polyethylene, the kayak promises to be durable but lightweight (for its size). And thanks to its 12-foot length, the kayak won’t just accommodate two adults—it will comfortably accommodate two adults, giving both kayakers plenty of room to stretch their legs.

Of course, the spaciousness doesn’t stop there. Extra room means plenty of space to store your gear. Take advantage of the gear straps lining the front, center, and rear of the kayak. Or allocate the kayak’s 425-pound weight capacity differently, and bring a small pet or child along for the ride.

Design: Sit-in | Weight: 58 pounds | Weight Capacity: 425 pounds | Rider Capacity: 2 kayakers | Material: Polyethylene | Dimensions: 12 x 2.8 feet

Best for Kids: Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak

Pros
  • Made of sturdy thermoplastic

  • Multiple footrests and 130-pound weight capacity

  • Comes with a paddle

  • Lightweight (18 pounds)

Cons
  • Not inflatable

  • Will require active kid participation

The Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak is a sturdy sit-on-top kayak crafted with kids in mind. Whereas many kid-friendly kayaks are inflatable and made of fabric, this one is made of solid polyethylene, a lightweight thermoplastic.

This makes the kayak sturdier than some of the other options on offer. And though it’s a tad bulkier, it is kid-sized, so it’s still pretty lightweight (18 pounds). The kayak boasts multiple footrest options, so it can comfortably accommodate kids of different heights (or the same kid, as they grow). And its 130-pound weight capacity makes it suitable for a range of children, as well.

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
Pros
  • Sturdy but lightweight

  • Loaded with dry storage space

  • Highly Comfortable

  • Sit-in design should give you plenty of legroom

Cons
  • Fairly heavy (39 pounds) and a little bulky

  • Storage container that ships alongside the kayak may not be waterproof

The Pelican Mustang 100X Kayak is a comfortable sit-in kayak, perfect for leisurely river rides and days spent fishing. The kayak is crafted from polyethylene, a thermoplastic material that promises to be both lightweight and durable—which is a great combination for recreational kayaking.

The kayak comes equipped with a contoured foam seat, which promises to keep you comfortable on even your longest rides. Molded footrests and knee pads will give you a cozy place to rest your legs. If you need to store some gear, you can take full advantage of the kayak’s front storage hatch and rear tank well. You can also use the bottle holder and smartphone holder to store smaller must-haves.

Design: Sit-in | Weight: 39 pounds | Weight Capacity: 300 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
Pros
  • 300-pound weight capacity

  • Great for more advanced riders

  • Ample storage space

  • Integrated gear rack makes it easy to outfit your kayak with accessories

Cons
  • Relatively expensive

  • Long and heavy (48 to 55 pounds)

Jackson Kayak’s Tupelo Kayak is a higher-performance kayak, perfect for those looking to tackle new challenges. The kayak is spacious enough to comfortably accommodate you—and all your gear—on longer, more adventurous rides. And its padded seat promises to keep you comfortable, even after hours of kayaking.

The sturdy kayak is crafted from durable, but lightweight polyethylene, giving you the blend of reliability and flexibility you’re looking for. And since the kayak comes with ample storage options and accessory mounts, you can easily customize your ride and your cargo, based on the adventure you’re planning to tackle. 

Design: Sit-in | Weight: 48 to 55 pounds | Weight Capacity: 300 pounds | Rider Capacity: 1 kayaker | Material: Polyethylene | Dimensions: 11.8–12.4 x 2.25–2.4 feet

Best for Beginners: Advanced Elements Inflatable Kayak

Pros
  • Lightweight (34 pounds), inflatable design makes this kayak easy to take on-the-go

  • Padded foam seat promises to be comfortable

  • Sturdy aluminum frame makes this kayak particularly easy to use

  • Comes with a repair kit and a heavy-duty travel bag

  • Plenty of dry and wet storage space onboard

Cons
  • Ships without a pump

  • May not be large enough for taller kayakers

The Advanced Elements Inflatable Kayak is a beginner-friendly kayak that promises performance and portability in equal measure. The kayak boasts a sturdy aluminum frame, and its polyester exterior promises to be incredibly durable. The kayak’s seams have been welded together to increase its longevity, and its exterior was finished with a protective PVC coating that promises to cut down on rips and tears. Since the kayak is inflatable, it should be easy to carry on-the-go. (This is great for beginners, who might not want to worry about toting around a bulky kayak). But it’s still durable and reliable enough to help beginners feel confident as they gain experience kayaking. 

Design: Sit-in | Weight: 34 pounds | Weight Capacity: 300 pounds | Rider Capacity: 1 kayaker | Material: PVC-coated polyester | Dimensions: 10.4 x 2.8 feet

Best Recreational: Intex Explorer K2 Inflatable Kayak Set

Pros
  • Lightweight (35 pounds), inflatable, and incredibly portable

  • Can comfortably accommodate 1–2 riders at a time

  • 400-pound weight capacity can easily support two riders—or ample cargo

  • Ships alongside two paddles and a pump, giving you everything you need to get started

Cons
  • No dry storage space

  • May not be as durable as some other options


The Intex Explorer K2 Inflatable Kayak is a two-person kayak that’s genuinely easy to bring with you on-the-go. The kayak is crafted from vinyl, a material that’s durable enough to take on the water but lightweight enough to carry around. And since the kayak is adjustable, you can ride with a friend or fly solo. The kayak offers plenty of storage space, especially if you’re riding by yourself. And since it can support up to 400 pounds, there’s no need to skimp on cargo. Perhaps most importantly, the kayak is inflatable. So you can toss it in your trunk for easy transport.

Design: Sit-in | Weight: 35 pounds | Weight Capacity: 400 pounds | Rider Capacity: 1–2 kayakers | Material: Vinyl | Dimensions: 10.2 feet x 3 feet

Final Verdict

The Advanced Elements Tandem Inflatable Kayak (view at Austin Canoe & Kayak) is a solid all-around pick for the recreational kayaker. The kayak is adjustable, so it can comfortably accommodate 1 to 2 riders at a time. And since it’s inflatable, it’s easy to take on the go. What’s more? The kayak promises to be more durable than some of the other inflatable options out there. So it’s a worthy investment—especially if you plan to do a fair amount of kayaking.

What to Look for in a Kayak

Sit-on-Top vs. Sit-In

Kayaks tend to come in two primary styles, each of which comes with strengths and weaknesses. Sit-on-top kayaks tend to be better suited for casual and recreational use, and they often lend themselves well to fishing. They’re easy to get into and out of, but they’re not particularly protective, and kayakers who use them will likely get wet. Sit-in kayaks tend to be more versatile, with some options fit for performance use and others more suitable for recreational use. They offer more protection and storage space, and they tend to be more efficient to paddle.

Tracking

The word “tracking” describes a kayak’s ability to stay on course. Features like tracking fins, skegs, and rudders can lend a kayak “stable tracking,” which really just means it will move forward efficiently, without veering off course. Tracking tends to come at the expense of maneuverability, though some tracking mechanisms (like skegs) are adjustable, so kayakers can get the best of both worlds.

Maneuverability

Kayakers navigating rough waters and narrow passages will need to be able to move nimbly. These kayakers should look for a kayak that promises “maneuverability.” Sit-in kayaks, which offer multiple points of contact between the kayaker’s body and the boat, tend to offer more control than sit-on-top options. Shorter kayaks also tend to be easier to maneuver than longer ones.

Durability

Even in calmer conditions, kayaks may come up against shallower banks and other relatively rough terrains. In these moments, it pays to have a kayak that’s durable.  

Weight

A kayak’s weight can affect its portability. Kayakers who plan to transport their kayaks from place to place should consider weight while kayak shopping. And kayakers who plan to kayak somewhat rarely may be better served by a hyper-portable option, like a lightweight, inflatable kayak.

Weight Capacity

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.

FAQs


How to kayak

Kayaking may seem intimidating, but it’s actually pretty easy to do. Start by choosing a generally calm body of water. (Avoid places where there are harsh currents or tons of motor boats. And don’t go out if it’s flooded recently). Then, look for a place where you can get inside your kayak. A bit of land that slopes into the water is an excellent pick—as long as it isn’t lined with rocks or other objects that might damage your kayak.

Once you’re inside your kayak, start paddling with the current. You’ll want to dip your paddle all the way into the water on one side of the boat. Then, pull it back—and repeat the same on the other side of the boat. If you need to slow down or stop, you can repeat this motion in reverse, placing your paddle slightly behind you and pressing it forward.

To turn the kayak, paddle only on one side of your boat. Or you can dip your kayak into the water at the front of your boat, and then pull it back, carving a curve through the water. This is called a sweep stroke and can help you turn faster when performed correctly. 

What to wear kayaking

When kayaking, you can expect to get wet—especially if you’re using a sit-on-top kayak. So wear something that you wouldn’t mind getting damp and dirty. (Odds are, you’ll also work up a sweat while kayaking. So keep that in mind, too).

If it’s hot out, consider wearing a swimsuit, a T-shirt, shorts, and waterproof shoes. (Look for shoes that will stay fastened to your feet, even under pressure. You might end up walking through the water, so looser-fitting shoes, like flip-flops, may fall off.) If it’s cooler out, wear what you might wear on a cold hike. Just remember that you might get wet from head-to-toe, so make sure you’d be comfortable getting your shoes completely wet. 

What size kayak do I need?

When choosing a kayak, you’ll want to pick something that’s sturdy enough to support you (weight capacity), long enough to give you some legroom (cockpit length), and wide enough to comfortably accommodate you (cockpit width). How much room you need will depend a lot on your needs and preferences, so double-check a kayak’s weight capacity, length, and width before buying—and be sure to differentiate between the total kayak width and the kayak’s cockpit width (that’s where you’ll actually be sitting).

But the size considerations don’t stop there. Are you planning to bring cargo with you? If so, you’ll want to make sure your kayak is roomy enough to store your belongings—and sturdy enough to support their weight. You’ll also want to consider what kind of kayaking you’ll be doing.

Advanced kayakers may prefer longer, narrower kayaks, which tend to travel faster and hold up well over long distances. But recreational kayakers will likely be fine with something shorter and a little wider.

Is kayaking good exercise?

Kayaking can be a great way to work up a sweat and to build strength. Depending on how quickly you’re paddling, you can easily log a little cardio. And if you want to intensify your workout, you can simply increase your paddling speed. And since the water offers natural resistance, you’ll build strength in your arms, back, chest, and core every time you take a stroke.

Why Trust Verywell Fit? 

As a seasoned health and fitness writer, Lindsey Lanquist understands how vital quality product recommendations can be. She is careful to recommend products that are reliable, comfortable, and genuinely well-reviewed by those who’ve tried them. 

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