The 10 Best Kayaks of 2023 – Your Complete Guide
Challenger K1 Series
Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 (Best Kayak for Fishing)
Wilderness Systems Tempest 165 (Best Sit-In Kayak)
Before you go off and buy the next kayak you come across, the two questions you first need to ask are: What do I envision myself doing in the kayak? And how much am I willing to spend on it? Here’s why.
If you’re looking for something to use a couple of times during the summer, then it shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg to get it. This also doesn’t mean you should compromise on quality either. You still need to get the best kayak for the activities you intend to engage in.
On the flip side, if you’re the sort of person who just can’t get enough of the sport, then you should be prepared to spend a decent amount of cash to get a high-quality vessel that can withstand frequent use.
With that in mind, we’ve rounded up the 10 best kayaks for beginners and advanced users alike.
1. Challenger K1 Series
Intex is no stranger to the inflatable components space, which is perhaps why their Challenger K1 Series kayak is a hit among thousands of outdoor lovers. It is built from laminate vinyl that’s been welded together to allow the kayak to hold its shape. The rugged i-beam floor allows the boat to remain rigid and sturdy, making it ideal for heavier kayakers.
The K1 integrates a large inflatable seat that’s designed to offer maximum comfort for a truly superior kayaking experience. You can even adjust the angle of the backrest to get the desired amount of support for long days spent out on the water.
It is designed with a front cargo area which comes in handy for storing shoes, boating accessories, and anything else you want to be kept within reach for easy access.
All in all, the Challenger K1 may not be a high-performance kayak, but it’s certainly one of the most comfortable ones we’ve come across. It steers straight, is extremely buoyant, stable, and easy to control.
- Safe and study
- Fast and easy to inflate and deflate
- Ample storage space in the front and back
- Comes complete with accessories
- Maybe cumbersome to clean
2. Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 (Best Kayak for Fishing)
As far as fishing kayaks go, it doesn’t get any better than the Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100. It is made of molded UV-protected high-density polyethylene, mounted on a sturdy flat bottom with deep tracking channels ingrained into the hull.
Its hull design, wide beam, and chine rail all ensure that it remains stable when gliding on the water, even in rough conditions. This minimizes the risk of toppling over while on your fishing expedition.
It comes with three built-in fishing-rod holders, one of which is adjustable and capable of swiveling 360 degrees. The other two are flush-mounted behind the seat.
The best thing about them is how rigid and sturdy they are. So you don’t experience any wobbling while fishing.
If you’re looking for a basic fishing kayak that has everything you need to spend an entire day out on the lake, the Tamarack Angler is the best one in its class.
- Built with sturdy and durable material
- Provides a comfortable paddling experience
- Comes with ample storage space
- Has three built-in fishing rod holders
- Hull and beam design provides unmatched stability
- Only comes in one color
3. Intex Excursion 4 (Best Touring Kayak)
Whether you’re looking for an affordable kayak for some father-son bonding time while fishing out on the lake, or just want to spend a relaxing afternoon with friends floating on the water, the Intex Excursion 4 inflatable might just be what the doctor ordered.
It is versatile, lightweight, and compact, making it ideal for weekend getaways, fishing excursions, or camping trips with friends. It is made from puncture-resistant, heavy-duty PVC vinyl that’s three-layers thick. The inner layer is made of meshed polyester while the two outer layers are made from PVC.
It is not only durable, but its inflatable backrests and I-beam floor also make it extremely comfortable to use. This kayak can comfortably accommodate four people for animal and bird spotting adventures, picnics, fishing, and downriver cruises.
- Portable and lightweight
- Easy to store
- Fast and easy to inflate and deflate
- Spacious and versatile
- May not be as durable as some of the pricier boats on the market
4. Dagger Mamba 8.6 (Best Whitewater Kayak)
If you plan to paddle on whitewater, then you’re going to love what the Dagger Mamba 8.6 has to offer. It is specially designed with a high-volume planing hull that makes it ideal for paddling on whitewater that’s over Class 3.
It is sturdy and can accommodate heavier paddlers who weigh in at up to 200 pounds. It has a soft stern edge that’s rounded out to allow a kayaker to make last-minute adjustments in rapid water.
Overall, the Mamba exhibits excellent performance, which is especially noticeable when you drive through wave trains.
- Outstanding performance in all classes of whitewater
- Comes with built-in safety features
- Suitable for immediate to advanced paddlers
- Ample storage in the back
- Too much rocker in the bow
5. Sea Eagle SE330
If you’re in the market for a budget-friendly boat to ease you into the kayaking world, then you need to check out the Sea Eagle SE330. It is inflatable, has a weight capacity of up to 500 pounds, and accommodates two users.
It is made from heavy-duty puncture-resistant vinyl, which makes it one of the most durable kayaks around. So, it can withstand a good amount of wear and tear from the roughest conditions.
It comes as a complete package with two seats, two paddles, a repair kit, and a foot pump, so you don’t have to be concerned with making any additional purchases. It’s no wonder that it’s one of the best budget kayaks that are hot on the market right now.
- Comes with two paddles and foot pump
- The seats offer great back support
- Lightweight and highly portable
- May not be ideal to use in windy conditions
6. Sun Dolphin Aruba 10-foot (Best Durable Kayak)
Next up is the highly popular Sun Dolphin Aruba 10-foot sit-in kayak. Unlike the inflatable variety we’ve explored so far, the Aruba vessel has a hard shell exterior that’s made from very durable UV-stabilized fortiflex high-density polyethylene.
It is built to withstand all the bumps and knocks that come with kayaking in whitewater. But, don’t let its hard exterior fool you. It is very lightweight weighing in at a measly 40 pounds
One of its most endearing qualities is the dry compartment it comes with. It is ideal for storing valuables that you want to keep dry. The fact that it is also affordably priced is a definite plus as well.
- Made from highly durable material
- Comes with an adjustable seat with a padded back
- Is lightweight and easy to carry
- Ideal for taller individuals
- Attractive design
- The dry compartment is quite small
7. Perception Pescador Pilot 12 (Best Sit-On-Top Kayak)
If you’re looking for a fantastic kayak that functions well as both a recreational vessel and fishing boat, then you’ll love what the Perception Pescador Pilot 12 sit-on-top kayak brings to the table. It has plenty of open and dry storage space, which makes it perfect if you’re hankering for a touring adventure.
The hull design provides unmatched stability, which comes in handy when casting and reeling in your fish. Although it is not the fastest kayak around, it does offer pretty decent tracking – certainly better than most of the sit-on-top kayaks you’ll come across.
It is made of lightweight UV-protected and leak-proof material that guarantees high-level performance and durability. Its ergonomic mesh captain’s seat is designed to offer maximum comfort, which is especially important for long days spent out on the water. All in all, the Perception Pescador is a well-rounded kayak for a weekend on the lake.
- Highly versatile
- Comes with lots of fishing-specific features
- Has plenty of dry hatch storage in the front
- Ideal for heavier individuals
- Price is slightly on the higher side
8. Wilderness Systems Tempest 165 (Best Sit-In Kayak)
If you’re on the hunt for a solid all-round sit-in kayak, then the Wilderness Systems Tempest 165 was designed with you in mind. It is the perfect accessory for water-based activities, whether it is three days spent island hopping in the San Juan Islands or an afternoon on the lake with family and friends.
It has a built-in retractable skeg, which allows you to seamlessly maneuver stiff river currents and rocks, while maintaining a surprisingly high level of stability, despite its 55 lbs. weight.
It also has a padded seat system that is highly-adjustable to provide maximum comfort for long treks on the waterways. The Tempest 165 is a well-balanced sit-in kayak designed for superior performance in a wide range of conditions.
- It is highly durable
- Highly-adjustable seat system for maximum comfort
- Made of durable material
- Provides high performance in both touring and recreational conditions
- The retractable skeg takes up room that might have otherwise been used as storage
9. Ocean Kayak Malibu Two-Tandem (Best for Beginners)
If you’ve decided to take up kayaking, you’re now faced with the daunting task of choosing the best one from all the different options available. The Ocean Kayak Malibu Two-Tandem Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak is an excellent choice for beginner kayakers.
It is designed for family fun or for beginner kayakers to tag an experienced friend along for the ride, as they get the hang of paddling. This two-person inflatable model has an open sit-on-top design, which makes it convenient for users to get on and off the kayak with ease.
It even has a skid plate and pair of molded-in handles to provide extra support and stability. Its maximum 435 lbs. weight capacity comfortably accommodates two adults, as well as all the gear you need on your kayaking excursion.
The vessel is backed by a lifetime warranty on the hull, which is a testament to its durability. Overall, the Malibu provides a stable ride which is a great thing for beginners.
- Offers superior comfort
- Has a high weight capacity
- Provides unmatched stability
- Has plenty of storage space
- It is not built for speed – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for beginners
10. Wilderness Systems Kayak Tsunami (Best for Advanced Kayakers)
For experienced kayakers who crave speed as they cruise along the open waters, the Wilderness Systems Kayak Tsunami is built for high-performance. Its long and narrow design makes it exceptionally fast yet highly stable in all water conditions.
It has ample storage with two mesh gear pockets located on the deck to keep your smaller items secure. It also has two water-resistant storage bulkheads and hatches in the rear and bow to ensure that your essentials remain dry throughout your boating adventure.
It is extremely stable for smooth tracking and high efficiency. So, you get more speed with minimal effort. At only 56 lbs. this lightweight vessel transforms into a speed beast once it hits the water.
- Capable of reaching high speeds
- Has multiple built-in storage compartments
- Comes with padded thigh braces for a comfortable ride
- Tough and rugged construction can withstand heavy use
- It is slightly pricey
How to Choose the Best Kayak – Buying Guide
The prospect of becoming a kayak owner is exciting – no doubt. But, with all the different options in the market, choosing the right one can be overwhelming, to say the least.
One of the main things you’ll need to think about is how you’ll be using the boat. Do you intend to do some light paddling out on a lake with calm waters, or will you be venturing out to the open sea to ride the rough ocean waves?
Perhaps you prefer a more relaxed experience gliding gently on the water as you take in Mother Nature and all she has to offer. Either way, you need to get the right vessel for the job.
Here are a couple of tips you can use to help you get the best kayak for the specific experience you’re looking to get.
Kayak Type – Sit-On-Top vs Sit-In Kayaks
Kayaks fall into two general categories – sit-on-top kayaks and sit-in kayaks. Figuring out which of the two will work best for you is the first step toward narrowing down your options.
Sit-on-top kayaks are more user-friendly and well-suited for a relaxed day on the water. They are easy to get on to and off of since you “sit on top” of them – hence their name. They are a great option for beginner kayakers and provide a great level of stability.
Keep in mind though that you will get splashed, which shouldn’t be much of an issue if you live in warm regions.
Sit-in kayaks, on the other hand, are the traditional ones designed with an enclosed cockpit. These tend to be more efficient to paddle compared to sit-on-tops given their lower center of gravity.
Contrary to what you might think, they are quite roomy and usually come with built-in foot braces. They also provide shelter and protection against the wind and water. If you like, you can get a spray skirt – which is a waterproof cover you wear around your waist to stop any water from getting into the cockpit while you paddle.
Kayaks are built from several different materials, each of which varies in terms of its durability, weight, and cost. The common ones include hard plastic, wood, framed fabric, fiberglass, inflatable material, carbon fiber, and Kevlar.
Your best bet would be to go with something made out of hard plastic or fiberglass. They are both durable, although hard plastic is heavier but more affordable, compared to fiberglass, which is lightweight but costs substantially more.
Carbon fiber and Kevlar are the most durable of the bunch but come with a hefty price tag attached. They are well suited for advanced kayakers.
On the flip side, if you’re a beginner looking to buy your first kayak, the inflatable variety would be a great option to consider. They are lightweight, relatively durable, and easy to transport. They are perfect for easing you into the kayaking world.
Once your day out on the water is over, all you would have to do is deflate it, fold it up, throw in the trunk of your car, and you’re good to go.
Kayak Hull Type
Once you figure out whether you want a sit-on-top or sit-in kayak, the next step involves choosing a kayak based on the hull design. This refers to the shape of the bottom of the boat. Why is this important, you might ask?
Well, it has everything to do with stability – more specifically, the kayak’s primary and secondary stability. Primary stability refers to how stable it is when you first step into the vessel and sit down. If it is not likely to flip over when you get in, then it is considered to have great primary stability.
Secondary stability, on the other hand, refers to how stable the vessel is once you begin paddling. If you’re not likely to roll over once you start moving through the water, then it has excellent secondary stability.
Now, here’s what the different hull types mean in terms of the level of stability they offer, which is an important element to consider when picking the best kayak.
- Flat hull – These offer great primary stability making them an ideal choice for beginners and recreational kayakers in calm flat waters. The flatter the hull is – the more primary stability it offers.
- Rounded hull – Hulls with rounded edges offer less resistance than their flat hull counterparts making them more maneuverable. They offer a higher level of secondary stability.
- V-shaped – While these may offer a high degree of secondary stability, they have the least amount of primary stability compared to all other types. Their V-shape, however, allows the hulls to cut through the water and move in a straight line, making them ideal for touring, recreational paddling, and long-distance trips on the water.
- Pontoon – These are a combination of both flat and rounded hulls. As a result, they offer the perfect balance of primary and secondary stability. Keep in mind though that pontoon hulls tend to be much slower than other kayak types.
- Chine – “Chine” refers to the way the bottom of a boat meets its sides. It could do this in a rounded or angular way, for “soft” or “hard” chines respectively. The softer the kayak’s chine is – the more secondary stability it offers.
The longer and narrower the kayak – the straighter and faster it will cut through the water. This is something that advanced kayakers look for in a vessel. But, if you’re relatively new to it, you want a shorter and wider kayak since it offers more stability and maneuverability, which is perfect for getting accustomed to the sport. Either way make sure you understand the different lengths of kayaks.
Recreational kayaks tend to be shorter and are generally designed for calm waters like those in creeks, rivers, and small lakes. Touring kayaks, on the other hand, tend to be longer and are built to handle rougher waves in bigger rivers, lakes, or oceans.
Kayak Height and Weight Capacity
Last, but certainly not least, you need to consider the maximum height and weight that a particular kayak is built to handle. These are usually listed when buying your vessel.
Your height is particularly important when buying a sit-in kayak if you want to have a pleasurable experience on the water. If you’re 6 ft. tall, for instance, you’ll find that a 12-foot long kayak will be more comfortable compared to the one that’s 10 feet long.
Take Your Time to Do It Right
Buying a boat is a big decision. So, don’t rush the process to ensure that you pick the best kayak for your boating needs. You want to feel confident and satisfied with the vessel you buy.
Identify the elements that matter the most to you, what you intend to use the kayak for, where you’re going to use it, how often, and how much you can afford to spend on it.
Once all those factors are clear in your mind, you’ll be able to pick the right one. We highly recommend the ones detailed in this guide. Based on our expert opinion, they are the best ones in their respective categories.
Looking for the best kayak paddle? Check out our guide to learn how to choose the best one.
Greg Slade on August 31, 2021
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