The 5 Best Recreational Kayaks Reviewed

Kayaking is one of the most fun, accessible water-based activities around.

Unlike paddleboarding that can take a long time to master, kayaking is very much an instant sport. Even a complete novice can enjoy paddling through the water on their very first try!

You can rent a kayak in most waterside destinations, and you could also borrow a friend’s boat. But you’ll get much more fun and enjoyment out of kayaking if you purchase your own kayak. Why? Because, once you’ve got your own kayak, you can go paddling at whatever time suits you. Also, with your own kayak, you are free to travel to different places and paddle on new bodies of water. It’s the perfect way to explore.

Check out our favorite Recreational kayaks:

Airhead Montana

airhead
Type:

Sit On

  • Inflates quickly
  • Easy to transport
  • Ideal for traveling

Perception Sound 9.5

perception sound
Type:

Sit Inside

  • Ideal for fishing
  • Perfect for slow moving waters
  • Comfortable ergonomic seat

Old Town Vapor

old town vapor
Type:

Sit Inside

  • Size: 10ft
  • Adjustable Comfort Flex seat
  • Ample space to store supplies

Another benefit of owning your own kayak is that you’ll be able to practice all the skills required to make you a better paddler. You’ll soon progress from novice to intermediate and on to advanced. A good kayaker is always learning.

Choosing a kayak is no easy task; there are hundreds if not thousands of different models available, and some are much better than others. To the untrained eye, all kayaks look very similar but, in reality, are all designed for very different purposes.

The main types of kayaks are:

  • Touring kayaks
  • Fishing kayaks
  • Sit-in kayaks
  • Sit-on kayaks
  • Sea kayaks
  • Racing kayaks
  • White water kayaks
  • Recreational kayaks

My Humble Opinion – The 5 Best Recreational Kayaks

With all this knowledge, you should have no problem picking the right recreational kayak for your needs. Still not sure where to start? Here are our five favorite recreational kayaks, all tried and tested just for you.

1. Airhead Montana Two-person Inflatable Kayak

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Airhead is often used as a derogatory term to describe someone who lacks intelligence. However, there is nothing stupid about this tremendous inflatable kayak. Big enough to hold two people in comfort, but still able to be paddled solo, this is a very versatile recreational kayak.

Key features:

  • Three air chambers for buoyancy and stability
  • Twin moveable, removable seats
  • Tough PVC construction
  • Tubular full-length I-beam for straighter tracking
  • Front and rear spray covers
  • Neoprene elbow pads for increased comfort
  • Built-in carry handles
  • 500 lbs. weight capacity
  • 12-feet long

Weighing just 36 pounds, this kayak is light enough for easy transport.

But at the same time, it’s big enough to take you and a friend on a real kayaking adventure.

The open, sit-in design provides easy access and a stable ride, and there is plenty of space for any extra gear you might want to carry. Deflated, this kayak doesn’t take up much space and will fit in the trunk of even a compact car.

Pros:

  • Light and portable
  • Performs well on calm water
  • Very spacious and comfortable
  • Easy to inflate and set up

Cons:

  • Pump, paddles and carry bag not supplied

If you want a recreational kayak that you can transport easily and won’t need a lot of space to store, the two-person Airhead Montana is a good choice. You’ll need to buy a pump and paddles too, but even then, you still get a lot of kayak for the price.

We recommend an electric pump to make inflating this kayak much more manageable, although a good hand pump means you can inflate this boat in ten minutes or less.

2. Perception Sound 9.5 sit-in kayak

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A lot of kayakers think that beginners and recreational paddlers should stick to sit-on boats. This isn’t true. Open cockpit sit-in kayaks are especially suitable for recreational paddling, and the Perception Sound 9.5 is an excellent example of this. It’s very stable and yet moves through the water easily. For worry-free fun on the water, this kayak is tough to beat.

Key features:

  • Tri-keel hull for superior tracking and stability
  • Ergonomic seat with adjustable backrest
  • Easy to adjust footrests
  • Front and rear molded carrying handles
  • Large back and small front cargo area with security bungees
  • 9’ 6” long and 28” wide, 39 lbs. weight
  • 300 lbs. carrying capacity

At 38 lbs. this easy to handle boat is light and responsive.

The hull is designed to track well, turn on a dime, but also be stable. This makes it the ideal recreational kayak. It’s meant for paddling on lakes, ponds, slow-moving rivers, and calm seas, but the open-top design means you could also use it out on rougher water. We like this kayak a lot, and we’re sure you will too!

Pros:

  • Compact design, easy to transport
  • Light but tough construction
  • Good performance
  • Comfortable seats
  • Good weight capacity
  • Available in four colors

Cons:

  • Paddles not included
  • No enclosed storage areas

This kayak is the perfect grab and go model.

With nothing to set up, you just need to get it to the water. The good news is that it’s compact and light enough to fit on a small roof rack. Recreational sit-on kayaks don’t get much better than this.

3. Old Town Vapor 10XT Kayak

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Sit-in kayaks can be a little intimidating to first-time paddlers. Being enclosed by the hull can make you feel claustrophobic, and what happens if you spring a leak or capsize? The good news is that recreational sit-in kayaks usually have large, open cockpits. This means you won’t feel penned in and can still enjoy all the advantages offered by a sit-in kayak, such as better stability and handling. This sit-in recreational kayak is one of the best available.

Key features:

  • Robust, rotomolded polyethylene construction
  • Adjustable, comfort-flex seat
  • Adjustable foot brace
  • Large, enclosed, rear storage area
  • 10’ long, 28.5” wide, 49 lbs. weight
  • Molded cockpit tray for cup, cellphone, GPS, etc.
  • Built-in carry handles
  • Hull skid plate for increased damage resistance
  • 325 lbs. weight capacity

This sturdy boat is built to last.

At 10-feet, it tracks well and glides nicely through the water. It’s also pleasingly stable, and the enclosed storage area means it’s ideal for longer paddling trips on calm water. At 49 lbs. this is quite a heavy kayak, so bear that in mind if you need to lift and carry it on your own.

Pros:

  • Sturdy construction
  • Good performance
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Large weight capacity

Cons:

  • Quite heavy
  • Paddle not supplied

This recreational kayak should provide many years of faithful service.

It’s not the lightest recreational kayak around, but it is one of the most rugged. If you are looking for a long-term investment, this ten-foot Old Town Vapor kayak is an excellent choice.

4. Driftsun Teton 120 Recreational Tandem Kayak

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Kayaking is often more fun with two people. Tandem kayaks also have the potential to travel further, faster, and more efficiently. This 12′ craft has more than enough space for two adults, and you could also fit your dog or a child on board too. If you want a recreational kayak that is fun for all the family, this model is a great choice.

Key features:

  • Sit-on design
  • High-density polyethylene construction
  • Four handles for easy lifting and carrying
  • Twin paddle holders
  • Self-bailing hull
  • Molded cup holders plus twin waterproof storage hatches
  • Open storage areas forward and aft
  • 12’ 2” long, 32” wide, 72 lbs. weight
  • 500 lbs. weight capacity
  • Supplied with two double-bladed paddles

Tandem kayaks are great for couples, families, and anyone who wants company while they paddle.

However, this recreational tandem can also be paddled solo, which makes it a very versatile kayak. With plenty of space to store gear, this watercraft is ideal for long days on the water and could even be used for short camping trips. Its stable design means that both you and your passenger will feel comfortable and safe paddling this kayak.

Pros:

  • Comfortable and easy to paddle
  • Straight tracking and smooth through the water
  • Suitable for solo use as well as 1-2 passengers
  • Lots or easy-to-reach storage area
  • Paddles included
  • Available in three colorways

Cons:

  • Quite heavy

Recreational tandem kayaks don’t get much better than the Driftsun Teton 120.

It is a bit on the heavy side but, unless you are paddling on your own, you’ll have help to lift this boat on and off your roof rack or trailer anyway. It can accommodate you, a partner, and a child or dog, and you’ll also be able to carry all their gear too. This is an excellent option for kayaking families and couples.

5. Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 Kayak

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At 10′ 6″, the Wilderness Aspire is the longest solo sit-in kayak on review. But that extra length means it tracks ultra-straight, which leaves you free to paddle and enjoy being out on the water. The open cockpit makes this kayak easy to get in and out of. The large enclosed storage area means you have all the space you need to carrying everything necessary for a fun day out on the water.

Key features:

  • Ultra-durable rotomolded polyethylene construction
  • Upswept bow for easier paddling
  • Waterproof rear storage area and open front storage area with bungees
  • Adjustable molded/padded foam seat
  • Adjustable footrests
  • Retractable skeg
  • Molded front tray with cup holder and area for cellphone/GPS, etc.
  • 400 lbs. weight capacity
  • Twin carry handles
  • 10’ 6” long, 29” wide, 49 lbs. weight
  • Replaceable skid plate under the hull for increased longevity

At 49 lbs. this kayak is no lightweight, but that means it’s both rugged and stable.

With some handy features, this recreational kayak should last many years. Not just because it is so well constructed, but because it’s a boat you won’t grow out of. It’s a bit more expensive than the other kayaks on test, but if you think of this as a long-term investment, you’ll quickly see that it’s worth every cent.

Pros:

  • Great performance
  • Large cargo capacity
  • Stable but streamlined hull
  • Impressive weight capacity
  • Very rugged construction

Cons:

  • Quite heavy
  • Paddles not included
  • Most expensive kayak on review

If you want a recreational kayak that will last for many years, the Wilderness Aspire could be the ideal choice.

It’s got all the features you are ever likely to need, all wrapped up in a kayak that is easy to paddle, and that has excellent performance. Ideal for lakes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers, when you are ready, this kayak will also provide you with plenty of fun out on rougher waters.

What Are Recreational Kayaks?

If, like most beginners, you aren’t really sure what type of padding you want to do, a recreational kayak is probably your best choice.

As the name implies, recreational kayaks are suitable for general recreation, that is, having fun on the water!

They can be used for a wide range of paddling activities, but that means they are not designed for one specific activity. Think of recreational kayaks as good all-rounders.

When choosing a recreational kayak, there are several characteristics and features you need to be aware of so that you can get the best one for your needs. It would be a mistake to rush out and buy the first boat you see.

We’ve written this guide to make buying the best recreational kayak much easier. In it, we will discuss everything you need to consider before making your purchase.

There are lots of different recreational kayaks available, but some are definitely better than others.

Here are the features you need to look for in a kayak made for recreation.

Sit-in or Sit-on Recreational Kayaks?

This is arguably the most crucial decision you need to make before buying your kayak. Both types have advantages and disadvantages.

Sit-in kayaks envelop your lower body, and, as the name suggests, you sit inside the hull. This means your legs are largely protected from the elements. Sit-in kayaks are streamlined and easy to paddle. Because you are low in the water, they also tend to be quite stable.

However, because you are inside your boat, if you capsize (roll), you’ll need to get out of your kayak, re-right it, and then get back into it while in the water – not an easy thing to do. Alternatively, you can learn how to Eskimo roll, a method of re-righting a kayak while you are still inside. For that, you’ll need a spray deck.

This means that sit-in kayaks can be a little harder to master, and some paddlers even find them intimidating. Sit-in kayaks can also fill with water. However, good recreational kayaks have large cockpit openings, which make getting in and out your boat much more straightforward, even after rolling.

In contrast, sit-on kayaks are basically buoyant, cigar-shaped rafts. They are virtually unsinkable, and you sit on top with your entire body open to the elements. Sit-on kayaks are easy to get on and off of, and if you capsize, you don’t need to worry about tricky maneuvers like Eskimo rolls.

You do tend to be a bit higher on the water in a sit-on kayak, and that may reduce stability a little. Still, ease of use means this is a very minor consideration. Sit-on kayaks tend to be a little heavier than sit-ins, but they are also much more robust.

Are Inflatable Recreational Kayaks Any Good?

Your next big choice is between inflatable and rigid kayaks. Inflatable kayaks are much easier to transport and store and are often cheaper than rigid kayaks. However, they can lack the performance of rigid kayaks, and are not as hardwearing. That said, a good inflatable can be every bit as much fun to use as a rigid boat, but you’ll have to get used to pumping up your kayak each time you want to use it.

Rigid kayaks track better and are faster than most inflatables. They perform better and feel like “real” boats to paddle. On the downside, you’ll need a roof rack or a trailer to transport a rigid kayak, and you’ll need some space at home to store it too.

Solo vs Tandem Recreational Kayaks

Kayaking can be an individual activity, or you can do it in a group if your friends have boats too. However, some people prefer to take a partner along for the ride. If you want to take your friends, partner, or kids, or even your dog out on your boat, you’ll need a tandem kayak.

Tandem kayaks are longer and heavier than solo boats, and some will even accommodate a third, non-paddling passenger. You can go further and faster in a tandem with less effort, and most can also be used by a solo paddler.

If you know you want to always paddle on your own, go for a solo kayak. But, if there is a chance that you’ll want to share your kayak with a partner, get a tandem.

Picking The Right Length and Width

The size of your kayak is important. Longer, narrower kayaks are more streamlined, which makes them faster and more efficient to paddle. However, that increased performance comes at a price: stability. The less stable your kayak is, the more likely you are to capsize.

Shorter, wider kayaks aren’t as fast, but they tend to turn more quickly and are more stable. This can give you a lot of extra confidence.

Does this mean that, if you are a beginner, you should automatically choose a short, wide kayak? Not necessarily. Remember that, with a little practice, you’ll soon start to feel more balanced and stable in your kayak, and it won’t be long before you stop worrying about things like a few wobbles and rolls. You can grow into a narrower boat, whereas you may outgrow a wider one.

While a wider, shorter boat makes sense for beginners, you may find that you want something with better performance after just a few paddling outings. Buy a kayak you know will last you for years, and not one you’ll get bored of within a few months.

Do You Want To Carry Equipment On Your Recreational Kayak?

If so, you need to consider the cargo capacity of your boat. Some recreational kayaks have dedicated cargo storage areas so that your possessions are kept secure. This could be open areas covered with bungee nets or waterproof hatches within the hull. Others have no storage facilities at all.

If you want to carry stuff on your kayak, such as snacks, water bottles, a GPS, spare clothes, or anything else to make your trip more comfortable, make sure your kayak has enough storage space.

Check The Kayak’s Weight Capacity

Kayaks are rated according to the amount of weight they can carry. This can range from 200-300 pounds to 700 pounds or more. Tandems tend to have the highest weight capacity. Make sure your kayak can carry the expected load. That includes you, your passenger(s), and any gear you want to transport too. Never overload your kayak; it might sink.

Set Your Budget, Then Read My Reviews 🙂

Last but not least, you should have a budget in mind before you start looking for a recreational kayak. Kayaks are available at a range of prices, and you should be able to find a good boat for whatever your budget may be.

Remember, too, that, while you do get what you pay for, more expensive kayaks are not always better.You may end up paying for features that you never use. Choose your budget early and then stick to it!

We’ve tested and reviewed five of our favorite recreational kayaks above to help you decide which one is right for you.

The Wrap-up: Choosing A Good Recreational Kayak

Whatever you want from a recreational kayak, there is a boat to suit your needs and budget.

While inflatable recreational kayaks are cheaper and easier to transport and store than rigid boats, they tend to lack performance.

That said, the latest generation of inflatable kayaks comes pretty close to matching their rigid counterparts for speed, tracking, stability, and turning.

Sit-on recreational kayaks are fun and easy to use, and suitable for a range of conditions, but getting wet is an unavoidable part of the fun. Sit-in kayaks usually perform better, but some users do not like feeling enclosed inside the hull. Open cockpits are a good solution to this problem. You may also want to invest in a spray deck to protect your legs from water. And if you’re going to paddle with a friend, a good tandem kayak is a must.

Still not sure what type of recreational kayak to buy? Try hiring, borrowing, and testing a few different models to see which option is best for you.

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