The Best Kayaks for Aquatic Adventures in 2021
Find the best kayak for your ideal day on the water, whether you’re charting an adventure with your buddies, a partner, or even your water-loving dog.
For those wanting to escape it all on the water, consider dipping your toe into boat ownership with a kayak. If you’re looking for a vessel that’s immediately ready for adventure, find a model with a dashboard to accommodate the latest technology, including on-the-water charging and a dry box. For paddlers in need of flexibility, two fit comfortably in the best tandem kayaks—with enough room for a good-natured dog to boot. Whether you’re upgrading from a stand up paddleboard (SUP) or just want to enjoy more time on the water, we’ve compiled some of the best kayaks—from single paddler models to the best kids’ kayaks.
- Best Overall: Pelican Sentinel 100x
- Best Value: Sea Eagle 370
- Best Sit-in Kayak: Wilderness Systems Pungo 120
- Best Tandem Kayak: Ocean Kayak Malibu Two
- Best Kids’ Kayak: Lifetime Youth Kayak
How We Picked These Products
In compiling this guide to the best kayaks, we researched the options on the market, considered reviews, and came up with a list of factors to weigh and arrived at some top picks. First, consider your space. The best inflatable kayak may not require a roof rack or a corner of the garage. Second, what type of water do you plan to set off for a paddle in? Some kayaks are designed for still water, while others are perfect for rivers and oceans. Then we researched options that would work for single users or in tandem. Finally, we considered cost and value.
The Best Kayaks: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Pelican Sentinel 100x
Why It Made the Cut: At 44 pounds, it’s one of the lightest sit-on-kayaks on the market.
- Dimensions: 114 x 30 x 11 inches
- Weight: 41.8 pounds
- Maximum capacity: 275 pounds
- Comfortable seat
- Easy to store
- Needs a roof rack or trailer
The Pelican Sentinel is perfect for beginning kayakers of all sizes. This lightweight vessel packs a lot of pluses for a lot less, both pounds and dollars. This 42-pound kayak includes a dual position bottle holder (hydration is important on the water!). A bungee-cord storage area is on the rear deck—just remember to pack your dry bag. For your comfort while paddling, you get multiple foot rests along with a ERGOform adjustable back rest and padded seat. And when you get home, this kayak is easy to store.
Best Value: Sea Eagle 370
Why It Made the Cut: The 650-pound weight capacity puts the Sea Eagle at the top of the group trip hit list.
- Dimensions: 12 feet by 6 inches
- Weight: 32 pounds hull weight
- Maximum capacity: 650 pounds
- Generous weight capacity
- Holds two people and one dog
- Takes time to inflate and may puncture
The Sea Eagle is an inflatable tandem kayak that can accommodate up to three people, although the third should be a child, very petite person, or dog. With a 650-pound weight capacity, you can pack all your gear. It blows up in about eight minutes, includes a paddle, and the unit weighs 32 pounds on its own. Need some alone time? Don’t worry. One person can maneuver this inflatable kayak, as well as inflate and haul it in and out of the water. And with an affordable price tag, this is also your best bet for a budget kayak.
Best Sit-in Kayak: Wilderness Systems Pungo 120
Why It Made the Cut: The dashboard includes two cup holders, a dry box, and a lithium battery for on-the-water charging.
- Dimensions: 12 feet 2 inches long by 29 inches wide
- Weight: 49 pounds
- Maximum capacity: 325 pounds
- In-kayak battery and dry box
- Range of color options
The Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 is packed with features you want for your next overwater expedition. First, it features a kayaking dashboard with a convenient DryTec dry box for your electronic gear and keys, two cup holders, a specially designed area for a Wilderness Systems lithium battery (sold separately), and a mount for attaching everything from cameras to rods. And with best-in-class speed, you get where you want to go fast. Paddle comfortably with adjustable back support and a seat cushion with mesh ventilation. The rear hatch with a sealed bulkhead along with on-deck bungees provide lots of wet and dry storage, too.
The Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 weighs in at a svelte 49 pounds. For those looking for color options, the Pungo 120 comes in a range Additionally, you can purchase separate accessories to customize your sit-in kayak, although extra features will push the total purchase price higher.
Best Tandem Kayak: Ocean Kayak Malibu Two
Why It Made the Cut: This tandem kayak can be paddled as a group or solo for added flexibility.
- Dimensions: 12 feet long by 36 inches wide
- Weight: 63 pounds
- Maximum capacity: 425 pounds
- Allows for group trips
- Seating as be adjusted for solo trips
- Little storage
The Ocean Kayak Malibu Two features two comfort seats with four-way adjustability over molded-in seat wells and overlapping foot rests. This kayak is a sit-on-top model with bow and stern carry handles, as well as side handles. This tandem kayak also comes with gear storage straps, but not in-hull storage. The total weight comes in at 63 pounds, with a total weight capacity of 425 pounds.
Best Kids’ Kayak: Lifetime Youth Kayak
Why It Made the Cut: This kayak is durable and stable with multiple foot rests for growing kids ages 5 and up.
- Dimensions: 72 by 24 by 9 inches
- Weight: 18 pounds
- Maximum capacity: 130 pounds
- Adjustable as child grows
- Hard to tip
- Easy to transport
- Not ideal for bigger children
The Lifetime Youth Kayak is sort of like the Tiny Tikes Cozy Coupe for the water. Buy one and all your children and their friends can learn to paddle with it. The kids are going to love the swim-up step, especially when they jump off their kayak and need to get back in. Parents (or grandparents) appreciate the multiple foot rests, the durability of its rigid construction, and the model’s stability. Kids might try to tip it, but it will require another person to flip it over. The Lifetime Youth Kayak weighs 18 pounds and accommodates 130 pounds, so bigger kids need to graduate to an adult kayak.
Note: This kids kayak is for fun at the lake. It doesn’t feature a seat back or padded seat, so it’s not comfortable enough for a paddling trip and not recommended for rough waters.
Things to Consider When Buying the Best Kayaks
Type of Kayak
Paddlers can be divided into two groups. The sit-on-top kayaks (SOT) are made for summertime fun, with or without the kids. This is your go-to when the weather is good, and the fish might be biting. Sit-on-top kayaks are stable (if you don’t stand up) and sturdy. You will get wet, so wear a swimsuit and water shoes. And pack sunscreen, because your legs will be exposed.
The next group is the sit-in kayaks (SIK). These paddlers are pushing the itinerary and conditions while still looking for comfort and convenience. This type of kayak offers more storage and better paddle efficiency for longer trips. One model even features a must-have kayak dashboard. Sit-in kayaks are better for cooler conditions (think: spring and fall) since your legs are inside the kayak. The best sit-in kayak is lighter, longer, and usually more expensive than a sit-on-top kayak.
Now, where’s your water? The best kayaks for lakes are different from the best kayaks for oceans. There’s also the best kayak for rivers that run between these bodies of water, as well.
When paddling on lakes, the best kayak offers flexibility. In the morning, water is usually calmer so a sit-o- top kayak might be your go-to. As the sun rises so do the waves. White caps require more maneuverability, like an added rudder. If you’re an angler, you’ll be looking for fishing rod holders.
Ocean kayaks will always encounter wind, waves, currents, and tides. The best kayak for ocean paddling needs to offer more control and stability, usually a sit-in kayak. Consider a longer sit-in kayak with a rudder. The added length will increase your paddling efficiency. This is important if you are trying to cover some distance in a specific time period.
The best kayaks for rivers need to be short, stable, and sturdy for the occasional rock or low water area. Remember this is not the same kayak used for technical rapid running (think: classified rapids and helmets).
If you don’t live on a lake or own a roof rack, consider an inflatable kayak. No matter if you’re not near water and don’t have much room, your best-bet kayak is likely an inflatable kayak. The best inflatable kayaks are lighter, more durable, and offer more flexibility than ever. With separate air chambers and quick fill pumps, you get on the water quicker. Inflatable kayaks are typically under 40 pounds, and they come with a storage bag so you can stash it in the trunk. Some can accommodate two people plus your water-loving dog, if you want to share the paddling.
Solo v. Tandem
Before committing to a tandem, think about the type of water adventures you prefer. Do you actually like to share sporting space with another person? Kayaking can be like a maritime therapy session, except you’re sharing personal space, paddling responsibility, directional control, importance (and weight) of gear, and the list goes on. Who knows, you might be happier with separate boats to prevent separate rooms (or lives!) later. ).
If you are all-in and have the perfect paddling partner, kayaking can be heaven on the water. For families, it’s a no-brainer. There’s even a top-ranked tandem kayak that checks several boxes as an inflatable, tandem, budget-friendly kayak that can be paddled solo.
Q: What is the most stable type of kayak?
A wider kayak is a more stable kayak in most conditions. Fishing kayaks are made for stability, as well. Anglers put down the paddle and pick up their rods, and speed isn’t as much of a consideration. Many feature a pontoon hull with a flat bottom and an indentation instead of a keel.
Q: Can one person handle a two-person kayak?
Tricky question since it depends on the type of kayak, water conditions, and the paddler’s capabilities. The best option is a tandem inflatable kayak since the kayak is lighter and wider for more stability. If you are new to paddling or not a strong paddler, one person paddling a bigger two-person kayak is not advised. In calm water, though, one person can usually handle a two-person kayak with a few tips. First of all, load up your water-loving dog, if you have one. The pup can sit up front and balance out the weight. Otherwise, buy a longer paddle and work with the current and not against it. Finally, don’t head out when the weather looks iffy.
Q: Which is better, the sit-in or sit-on-kayak?
The best kayak for you depends on the type of kayaking you plan on enjoying. A sit-in kayak is used for ocean kayaking and river kayaking, in addition to kayak trips in cooler weather. A sit-on-top kayak, sometimes called a recreational kayak, is used for fishing and recreational kayaking. Think: summer on-the-lake, not going kayaking too far out.
The best kayak on the market is the kayak that fits your lifestyle, both on and off the water. Considerations regarding storage and kayak weight are equally as important as the type of kayak you are considering. With interest in outdoors adventures at an all-time high, kayak demand remains robust for both new kayaks and used ones.