The best kayaks offer casual outdoors beginners and experienced adventurers a chance to explore nature and get a good workout while doing it. After paddling through all the options online, including reading through customer ratings and review, we purchased the top 25 kayaks and got to paddling to find the best one.
During our time on the water, we specifically paid attention to the kayaks’ overall performance, including their stability, speed, tracking ability and maneuverability. We also factored size, weight and maximum capacity into our final scoring. With all these factors in mind, the BKC TK219 Tandem Kayak was the easy winner. This top-of-the-line tandem kayak can carry up to three adults while remaining easy to maneuver and keep stable. Keep reading to learn more about this tandem kayak and the other hardshell kayaks we tested.
- 1 Top 5 Best Kayaks Compared
- 2 Kayaks Buying Guide
- 3 Top Questions About Kayaks Answered
Top 5 Best Kayaks Compared
#1 BKC TK219 Tandem Kayak – Top Pick/Best TandemWHY WE LIKE IT: The BKC TK219 tandem kayak can sit up to 3 adults and offers tons of convenient features and accessories. If you’re looking for a tandem kayak that doesn’t sacrifice on performance to include more fun for more people, this is the one for you.
With a weight capacity of up to 440 pounds, the BKC TK219 can fit up to 3 adults with room to spare, if so desired. When you purchase this tandem kayak, you get two adjustable kayak seats, but you’ll need to purchase a third if you want to add another person. Of course, if you seat three people in the kayak, you’ll have minimal room for storage.
When it comes to performance, the BKC TK219 is a solid option when it comes to speed and overall stability. It does get a little unstable if you’re standing up and lacks a rudder or keel for better tracking capabilities, fairly minor things if you’re using the kayak in flat waters. The biggest draw to the BKC tandem kayak is the wealth of onboard accessories included. The kayak features built-in fishing rod holders, paddle keepers, waterproof storage and more for ultimate versatility.
#2 Sun Dolphin Excursion – Honorable Mention/Best ValueWHY WE LIKE IT: The Sun Dolphin Excursion is a great beginner kayak that offers tons of features new paddlers might look for and enjoy. With a large cockpit and adjustable foot braces, this kayak allows you to feel comfortable the entire time on the water.
When you’re just starting out with a kayaking hobby, the most important things to look for are stability and comfort. The Sun Dolphin Excursion offers both of these features en masse. This is one of the most stable kayaks we’ve used, mostly due to its wide 30-inch beam. The adjustable foot braces also help you get your legs to a point where they are comfortable enough to provide more stability.
This being said, the Sun Dolphin Excursion doesn’t perform well on rough waters, but if you’re a beginner, you’re likely avoiding rough water anyway. If you do run into windy or choppy conditions, just be aware that you’ll likely need to paddle a little harder to keep the kayak going the right direction. Overall, the design of this Sun Dolphin kayak is durable and lightweight, just like its close relative the Sun Dolphin Aruba, making it easy to carry and load by yourself.
#3 Perception Sound 9.5 – Best For BeginnersWHY WE LIKE IT: The Perception Sound 9.5 is colorful and unique sit-in kayak that’s lightweight, super comfortable and extra stable on the water. If you’re looking for something simple and easy to use, this is the kayak for you.
One of the best things about the Perception Sound 9.5 kayak is its unique tri-keel hull design, which creates one of the most stable experiences on a kayak that we’ve tested. It also improves overall tracking and keeps you on course without too much extra effort. The kayak does struggle a little bit with tracking on rougher waters, but it wasn’t noticeable enough to detract from the overall experience. Regardless, until you get comfortable with the kayak, we recommend sticking to calm waters.
Other design features that we really loved about the Perception Sound 9.5 include the comfortable seat, multiple color choices and fishing rod holders. Unfortuantely, you don’t get any paddle keepers or dry storage compartments, but you can prepare yourself for those drawbacks well before actually launching.
#4 Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 – Best FishingWHY WE LIKE IT: There’s no question about it; fishing kayaks can get incredibly expensive. The Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 is a super affordable option for both novice and experienced anglers because of its increased stability and multitude of features that are made specifically for fishing.
When you’re out fishing, you’re probably not so worried about speed or cutting through the water. Instead, you’re looking for stability over everything else. This is why the Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 has made it onto our list. Its 31-inch beam makes it one of the most stable kayaks on our list, but it also lends itself to more room for gear. The open, sit-on top design gives you more versatility while fishing and moving around when you’ve hooked your catch.
On top of all the useful design features this Lifetime sit-on top kayak offers, you also get an impressive 5-year warranty when you buy this boat. While most kayaks come with some kind of warranty, this is the longest one for any of the products on our list. If you experience any defects with your kayak, you can simply make a claim on your warranty and Lifetime will help you get the kayak repaired or replaced.
#5 Pelican Maxim 100X – Best BudgetWHY WE LIKE IT: With the loweset price on our list, the Pelican Maxim 100X is the right choice for anyone on a budget looking for a reliable recreational kayak. This kayak was made for comfort and stability with its extra wide hull and roomy cockpit.
Packing a kayak in and out of the place where you’re spending the day can be difficult when the boat is heavier than you can handle by yourself. The Pelican Maxim 100X forgoes this problem by being the lightest kayak on our list, weighing in at only 36 pounds. But don’t let this lightweight kayak trick you into thinking it doesn’t perform well due to its light design! Its shallow V chine hull design increases stability so you’re not rocking back forth with every paddle stroke.
The Maxim 100X is also designed for comfort due to its extra roomy cockpit, built-in footrests and padded seat. You also get a single storage compartment which isn’t waterproof and storage platform with a mesh cover behind the seat where you can store more of your gear. Unfortunately, the kayak doesn’t include any accessories, so you’ll need to purchase kayak paddles separately. All in all, this budget kayak is perfect for anyone who doesn’t want to drop their life savings to get into this outdoor sport.
Kayaks Buying Guide
If you’re new to kayaking, the task of purchasing your first kayak can be a daunting one. There are thousands of different varieties, each with its own pros and cons. If you don’t have any experience and you don’t know someone who can help you, finding the right kayak for your needs can be difficult, to say the least.
The following points detail features and applications you should consider when it comes to buying the best kayak for you. If you’re not quite sure what you want, these points of consideration may also help steer you in the right direction. Don’t forget to read past this buying guide to learn the answers to some other, frequently asked questions about kayaks.
- Type of Kayak – The first point you should consider when purchasing a new kayak for 2019 is the type of kayak you want to purchase. If you read through the list of top kayaks higher up on the page, you know that there are a variety of different categories to consider.
If you’re new to the world of kayaking, you should probably consider purchasing a kayak for beginners, a sit-on-top model or an inflatable kayak. But if you have some more experience, you might want to consider whitewater kayaks or ocean kayaks for more adventurous outings. Regardless of your skill or experience, it’s likely you’ll be able to find a kayak to fill your needs. You just need to determine what type of kayak you need first.
- Carrying Capacity – Even though they’re commonly advertised as such, kayaks aren’t only for single riders. There are one-person kayaks and two-person kayaks. If you want to get out on the water with a friend or loved one, you’ll definitely want to consider purchasing a tandem kayak, which holds up to two people at a time. These kayaks also typically allow you to remove the additional seat and ride solo, if desired. Some kayaks are designed to only hold one rider, but often include extra room for a pet, if you have adventurous pets. Many people like to bring their dogs on kayaking trips, so there are plenty of kayaks for dogs, if that’s what you want.
- Design – Another aspect you should consider before making a purchase is the kayak’s design. Kayaks come in all shapes and sizes. Knowing just what to look for in design comes better with experience, but there are a few things you can think about to start. First, consider how heavy the kayak is. Heavier kayaks are typically more stable than lighter kayaks, and they work well for beginners. However, they’re harder to transport and carry, and they’re much slower in the water. Lighter kayaks are much more maneuverable, but require more skill to handle. Another design aspect you should consider includes the design of the seats and the foot braces. If you want more control over how you sit in your kayak, consider purchasing a model that allows you to adjust the seat and foot braces.
- Storage Space – Finally, consider how much kayak storage space you’ll want or need when you go out on the waters. Many kayaks feature lashings in the form of attached bungee cords that you can use to secure your gear safely on the top of the kayak. Many also include storage compartments that can be sealed to keep your gear dry. If you’re looking to use your kayak for longer trips on the water, consider purchasing one with lots of storage options so you can take lunch and other supplies with you.
Top Questions About Kayaks Answered
Kayaks vs. Canoes?
Kayaks and canoes are very similar in many ways, but there are a few differences you should consider, especially if you’ve been wondering about which one you should purchase. Both boats are typically lightweight and can handle paddling in shallow waters. They both use paddles for movement, but kayaks typically use double-bladed paddles while canoes use single-bladed paddles.
When you look at kayaks and canoes, their visible differences are apparent. Canoes are taller and sit higher in the water. Riders are typically seated, with their feet flat on the bottom of the canoe. Kayaks are almost the opposite. They are low on the water and riders sit with their legs extended and typically braced. Kayaks also feature closed decks which enclose the rider’s legs for greater stability and bracing. This also helps the kayaker maneuver better using their lower body in tandem with their paddle.
When it comes to utility, canoes tend to excel more. They can carry more gear and more people at the same time. Kayaks are used more for quick movement and traversing more adventurous waters, like whitewater rapids. While they can’t usually hold more than canoes, kayaks are more versatile and flexible when it comes to mobility. They can turn and respond faster to the rider’s actions.
Overall, kayaks are designed to be faster and more agile than canoes. While canoes can get up to the speed as some kayaks, especially when the riders are working well together, they usually can’t keep up with an experienced kayaker.
How to Transport a Kayak?
It’s important you figure out a way to transport your kayak before you purchase one. Fortunately, you can transport your kayak on almost any kind of vehicle, but some are better outfitted for it over others. However, there are a few things you need to purchase to transport your kayak properly.
Crossbars – you can install crossbars to the existing roof racks on your car to provide proper support to your kayak during transportation. Crossbars prevent the kayak from scraping the roof of your car.
Padding/Rack System – Next you’ll either need to add padding to your crossbars or purchase a rack made specifically for transporting kayaks. This helps protect your kayak from being damaged during transport.
Cam Straps – Use cam straps to secure your kayak to the roof of your car. You’ll usually need two cam straps to keep your kayak secured. You may need more if you have more than one kayak or your kayak is longer than most.
Bow and Stern Lines – Opinions are varied on if you should use bow and stern lines along with cam straps. However, using them may help further secure your kayak and prevent it from blowing up and down from the wind flow generated while driving.
When it comes time to load up your kayak, you’ll want to be sure you do it carefully. If you’re alone and not able to lift your kayak on top of your car, you may need to purchase a lift system, which can be pricey, or add some rolling wheels to your kayak rack. If you don’t want to purchase anything additional, you can simply use a towel or blanket, rest your kayak on that, and then lift it onto the roof of your car.
Loading a kayak with two people is the easiest way to do it. Simply use the grab handles on either end of the kayak and lift it onto your car. Use your legs to lift it instead of your back and then gently set it down onto your rack.
Transporting and carrying your kayak from your car to the water and back uses similar principles. Purchasing a kayak cart is helpful if you have an extra-heavy kayak that is too difficult to carry by hand. It’s easiest if you have two people to help shoulder the burden, and most kayaks include convenient carrying handles on both bow and stern.
If needed, you can also carry your kayak alone. To do so, simply use the kayak’s cockpit and rest its rim on your shoulder. It’s helpful if you wear your life jacket to help pad your shoulder and use your free hand to help stabilize the kayak as you walk. Whether you’re carrying your kayak alone or with a buddy, remember to protect your back and lift with your knees. It’s not a race to get to the water, either. If you need to take it slow, don’t worry. It’s better to get to the water after everyone else than to not get to the water at all.