The 10 Best Recreational Kayaks Reviewed 2020 & Essential Buyers Guide
Get fit, explore nature, travel, spend time with friends and family on the water.
What’s not to love?
But for the longest time, it seemed that recreational kayaking was only accessible if you went on private tours.
It was something you did on vacation.
Something you booked in advance.
But with some amazing kayaks becoming available at affordable prices, more and more people are realizing that you can own one and take it to the water’s edge any time you damn well, please!
So, with that in mind, I’ve put together a guide to the 10 best recreational kayaks in 2020. And even if you’re a total noob, the review includes a buyer’s guide and FAQ section to help you take up this awesome pastime.
- TOP 10 Best Recreational Kayaks 2020
- Intex Challenger K1 1-Person Inflatable Kayak
- Sundolphin Aruba 10-Foot Sit-in Kayak
- Sevylor Big Basin 3-Person Kayak
- Lifetime Two Person Tandem Fishing Kayak
- Pelican Maxim 100X Sit-in Recreational Kayak
- Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
- Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Kayak
- Sundoplhin Bali SS 10-Foot Sit-on-top Kayak
- Old Town Loon 126 Recreational Kayak
- Perception Cove 14.5 Kayak
- Recreational Kayak Buyer’s Guide
- FAQ Section
TOP 10 Best Recreational Kayaks 2020
Intex Challenger K1 1-Person Inflatable Kayak
Review: First up – and quite rightly in my opinion – is this inflatable recreational kayak. Its price is considerably lower than everything else on this list, making it an ideal purchase for anyone just dipping their toes into the waters of the activity. It’s made from a rugged vinyl material, weighing just 27.2 lbs with a 220 lbs maximum capacity.
Storage rigging is to the bow of the vessel, and it comes with an 84-inch aluminum oar, patching kit for repairs and a hand pump. The Boston-style valves ensure it inflates and deflates in double quick time, making it a great option for people on the go.
Grab lines to the rear and a removable skeg for improved tracking are also included. The kayak even comes with its own storage bag.
- Excellent price.
- Bright, colorful design.
- Not as durable as PVC kayaks.
- Susceptible to puncturing if used incorrectly or in certain environments.
Sundolphin Aruba 10-Foot Sit-in Kayak
Review: Moving on up we have this Sun Dolphin Aruba kayak, featuring a large open cockpit with a padded, adjustable seat, water bottle holder and backrest. It’s made from a tough and durable UV-stabilized fortiflex high-density polyethylene with a rear gear storage hatch and rigging, offering 10 feet of playtime.
It has internal foot braces and a spray collar to minimize soaking yourself while on the water. The weight capacity is 250 lbs. A convenient paddle holder completes the product, which – for the price – could well be the best recreational kayak under $500.
- Great price for what you get.
- Smart, simple design.
- Choice of colors available.
- Limited storage for longer trips.
Sevylor Big Basin 3-Person Kayak
Review: They say that three’s a crowd, but you’re going to need to get on with your buddies if you’re stuck together in this tub. The Sevylor Big Basin is exactly that – a three-person kayak that just so happens to also be an inflatable product.
It’s constructed of a tough PVC and tarpaulin – which provides extra protection from punctures – but it’s duel inflatable chambers ensure that you’ll get back to shore if you are unlucky enough to clip a sharp rock.
Adjustable seating and spray covers are standard.
- Solid, durable construction.
- Boston valve.
- NMMA certified to hold up to 490lbs.
- Limited storage space.
- You need three friends!
Lifetime Two Person Tandem Fishing Kayak
Review: Although it specifies a two-person kayak, you can actually fit up to three – or it’s perfectly usable with one. It’s made from blow molded high-density polyethylene that will take a 500lbs capacity.
It offers multiple footrest options to accommodate different sized users, and comes with padded backrests, two paddles, three fishing pole holders and a six-inch storage hatch to the rear. It’s ultra-stable in the water meaning you can reel in that monster catch with peace of mind.
- Solid, practical design.
- Fishing pole holders.
- Multiple footrests.
- Smart, olive green color scheme.
- Limited storage options.
Pelican Maxim 100X Sit-in Recreational Kayak
Review: You’ll certainly be seen on the water in this ten-foot recreational kayak from Pelican – it’s bright yellow livery will look great (and safe) in all sites and situations.
It’s packed with features, including front and rear handles for ease of transport, deck storage and webbing bow and stern, cockpit bottle holder and table, molded footrests and adjustable, padded backrest.
This sit-in kayak has a maximum weight capacity of 275lbs and is designed for the average paddler. All-in-all, I would say this is the best recreational kayak for the money.
- Excellent stability/performance ratio.
- Versatile uses.
- A choice of colors would have been nice.
Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
Review: The Frenzy model from Ocean Kayak has a good shot at being the best recreational sit on the top kayak on the market, consistently doing well in reviews. It has a tri-formed hull for excellent stability while the long keel keeps you moving in the right direction.
With a stern and bow removable bungee cords, there’s plenty of space to store your stuff in large compartments. It has a 325lbs weight capacity, front and rear handles, and an 18-inch seat well with adjustable padding.
At just nine feet long and weighing 43lbs, it makes for an easily transportable product to get you out on the water faster.
- Funky color scheme choices.
- Versatile uses.
- Not built with the larger user in mind.
Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Kayak
Review: Advanced Elements produce some of the best inflatable kayaks money can buy. They include built-in aluminum ribs for definition at the bow and stern, and to improve the tracking of the craft.
You inflate two, puncture-proof chambers to give the kayak the look and feel of a hard-shell model. This obviously improves its portability, as it can fold down into its own carry bag.
The maximum weight capacity is 300lbs while the actual weight of the kayak is just 36lbs. A repair kit is also included with the product.
- Great portability.
- Stylish design.
- Choice of colors.
- Again, not built for larger/taller members of the human race.
Sundoplhin Bali SS 10-Foot Sit-on-top Kayak
Review: Moving into the upper echelons of the kayaking world and we have this Sun Dolphin 10-foot sit-in model. It’s targeted at river and lake use – and is probably one of the best lake kayaks out there.
It has a large seating area and is constructed from durable, UV-stabilized polyethylene. It has graduated footwells to accommodate people of varying heights, while they build and design ensure it tracks well with a smooth paddle.
There is a portable accessory carrier and webbing at the bow to store all your gear and the maximum load limit comes in at 395 lbs.
- Excellent design
- Solid build.
- Great choice of colors.
- On the heavier side.
Old Town Loon 126 Recreational Kayak
Review: When it comes to recreational kayaks, Old Town are up there with the very best of the best. This effort is no exception and is one of the finest watercraft of this type in the world. Spending much more than this and you’re getting into professional territory.
With a triple-layer polyethylene hull, super-sharp keel and super-comfortable cockpit, the Loon makes for one hell of pleasurable user experience.
The track foot support system ensures you’ll never stray off course and it even includes a removable work deck with USB port for your valuables/electronics.
There are more features to this kayak than I have space to write about.
- Beautiful design
- Near-pro quality.
- Packed with practical features
- Choice of cool colors.
- Paddle sold separately – a minor niggle.
Perception Cove 14.5 Kayak
Review: Bringing up the rear of our kayak excursion, is this tandem offering from Perception Kayaks. Although it’s a two-seater – it’s versatile enough for one if your partner happens to be away.
It comes in a distinctive sunburst livery, with a spacious interior that makes entering and exiting a cinch.
There’s a storage pod at the stern of the vessel and bungee webbing at the bow. Protective skid plates on the hull allow you to drag the kayak without damage.
It comes in at just over 14 feet in length and supports up to 550lbs out on the water. Two is most definitely company in what is likely the best recreational tandem kayak out there.
- Loads of features.
- Awesome color scheme.
- Exceptional build quality.
- On the more expensive side for casual kayakers.
Recreational Kayak Buyer’s Guide
Below you’ll find an extensive buyer’s guide and FAQ section for assistance in purchasing a recreational kayak – essential if you’re new to the pastime – or you want to brush up on the terminology.
It’ll help you keep an eye out on what to look for.
Deciding the Style
Generally speaking, recreational kayaks come in two different styles. It’s up to you to decide which you prefer, depending on what you’re largely going to be using the craft for.
These kayaks have an open, large space in which the user sits, often with multiple foot-rests to accommodate varying heights.
They are sturdier than the sit-in – cockpit style kayaks as they are usually much wider. This makes them ideal for the beginner, casual user or fisherperson. It also makes them more suitable for choppier waters.
(Although still inadvisable in a hurricane.)
The downsides are you’re more exposed to the elements – so slap on that sun cream. You’re also likely going to get much wetter. They’re also not particularly useful for traveling any significant distance.
Additionally, lack of storage space is another trade-off.
These kayaks are better for touring, traveling at pace and covering distance. They’ll also keep you warmer and dryer, with extra storage space in the hull.
However, they’re usually better suited to more-experienced paddlers as they aren’t as stable as a sit-on-top and are much more likely to roll given certain circumstances or use by first-timers.
Ask yourself what you’re likely to use the craft for regularly and go with that option. If I would suggest – you’re new to the pastime or not exploring any distance (such as splashing about on a lake) – consider going with a sit-in. They’re also great for kids.
If you want to hug the coastline for several weeks with your tent packed – go with a sit-in.
Both sit-in and sit-on-top kayaks come in single and two or more pilot variations.
Ask yourself if you want to risk an argument with a loved one before making your choice.
To Inflate or Not to Inflate – Portability Problems
Recreational kayaks come in a variety of materials which you need to consider pre-purchase – more information will follow.
But another thing to consider is if you would like an inflatable kayak or a hard shell.
This will most likely (but not necessarily) come down to storage and transportation considerations.
Hard shells are nearly always heavier and will require space to store and either a trailer or roof-rack to transport.
Inflatable kayaks can be folded down into a case and slung in the back of a vehicle for great portability and instant fun access.
The advantages and disadvantages are obvious and I won’t insult your intelligence by laboring the point.
Also, I’m running out of space for this article.
For hard-shell recreational kayaks, some form of treated polyethylene is generally the material of choice as its very durable and cheap to produce.
A recreational kayak will rarely be made out of top-of-the-line kevlar, fiberglass or some other space-grade material. Not that you would need a kayak in space.
Inflatable versions are usually made from anti-puncture/tear PVC and/or tarpaulin.
How large/heavy a human being are you? Your choice of craft needs to seriously take these things into consideration.
If you’re on the larger or heavier side, you’ll need to ensure the kayak supports your weight in the water and you can enter and exit it easily.
We don’t want any Titanic incidents here, please.
Likewise, the length of the craft needs to be mulled over.
Longer kayaks are usually reserved as touring models – for going greater distances with pace and precision.
Again, have a think about what you’re going to be using it for.
Touring kayaks – the sit-in kind – are much more suitable for going long distances because they have more storage options.
They usually come with additional bungee webbing areas and water-tight hatches to store all your gear.
Consider how much stuff you’re going to need for the duration of your excursion before making your choice.
It’s as simple as this – the more you pay – the better the kayak will perform.
And by perform I mean its general stability, the ability to keep a sharp track (see below) and glide as effortlessly as possible across the water.
Added to this, pricier models will come with extra bells and whistles, too.
It’s entirely up to you whether you blow the budget or not – but as I always say – buy the best you can afford and suit it to whatever use it’s most regularly going to be subjected to.
Spending close to a thousand bucks on something you’ll only use in the village pond is somewhat superfluous.
What Exactly is a Recreational Kayak?
A recreational kayak is a broad term used to describe a type of watercraft that has a variety of uses with a heavy emphasis on fun.
They can be used casually by most amateur or beginner paddlers to get out into nature and enjoy time on rivers, lakes or calm seas.
It’s probably best not to try and cross the Atlantic in them.
What Does Tracking Mean?
Simply put, tracking refers to how straight the kayak is going to plough through the water when in use.
A kayak with an improved tracking system will improve your ability to keep the craft in the direction of travel without veering to the left or right.
A built-in skeg or rudder is also a huge advantage for correcting the direction of travel. A skeg is a fin on the underside of the kayak. I’ll assume you know what a rudder is.
So, in the reviews above, look out for the mention of improved tracking – those kayaks will significantly improve your user experience.
How do I Transport a Kayak?
It’s pretty straightforward if you happen to have an inflatable version – simply bag it up and throw it in the trunk.
However, hard-shell kayaks prove more of a head scratcher – but they needn’t be. It’s actually really easy to load them up if you have the right gear.
Instead of me waffling on about it – check out the informative video below.
Fishing Kayak vs Recreational Kayak – What is the Difference?
As explained above, a recreational kayak is a kayak that is used for a variety of purposes as a fun and enjoyable pastime.
You might use it to explore nature, get fit, splash about on the sea – or go fishing. This list is not exhaustive.
So, a fishing kayak is still a recreational kayak – but it has a few key differences from other recreational kayaks.
Most notably – fishing kayaks are nearly always sit-in kayaks – wider and more stable than other models – as you’re less likely to roll the craft when you’re reeling in that prize catch.
They’ll also include fishing pole holders and rests, so you can cast in and relax as you wait for that first nibble.
You can easily use a fishing kayak as a general purpose recreational kayak – but not all recreational kayaks can be used as a fishing kayak.
Nice and simple, right?
Basically, if you’re going to be fishing – look for a fishing kayak. If you’re not (but might at some point) then still consider a fishing kayak. If you’re not going to be doing any fishing in your craft at all and that isn’t the primary purpose of purchase – then go with something else.
How Fast Does a Recreational Kayak Go?
Now, this depends on a variety of factors.
The type of craft you’re using. Longer, thinner, sit-in kayaks are generally far faster than wider, more stable, sit-on versions.
The conditions on the day will play a part. Wind and water will have an effect on the maximum speed you can achieve.
The quality of the craft, in general, will either increase or reduce speed – depending on how smooth the tracking is.
Finally, the condition of the pilot themselves is an important consideration. Fitness and strength will impact speed in a big way.
But, if you’re looking for an actual figure – most beginners/average paddles will reach about 3-4mph in a recreational kayak.
But the key word is “recreational.” For this kind of pastime, for me, speed isn’t important at all.
What Size Recreational Kayak do I Need?
Once again, this will be determined by what you’re using it for – and how large or small you are.
You need to take your height and weight into consideration when purchasing a kayak – so you can ensure it will actually float and you can actually fit in it!
Those of us who are on the larger side are likely to opt for a sit-on kayak that offers more stability and is easier to enter and exit.
Are you going to be tandem kayaking? You’ll need a model that seats two if you are.
Recreational kayaks are built with the beginning in mind and are usually between 9-14 feet long. Again, think about what you’re using it for and make your choice accordingly.
So long as you can fit inside it comfortably and you suit the kayak to your chosen pastime – then the choice is really up to you.
What do I Wear for Kayaking?
A very good question! There are a number of variables to consider.
- How long are you going to be kayaking for? Packing a change of clothes is essential for longer trips.
- What are the weather conditions for the time you’ll be out on the water?
- What type of kayak are you using? Sit-on kayaks have more exposure to the elements, for example.
- Water type and temperature.
In hot conditions, make sure you dress light, wear a hat and use that sunscreen!
For colder days on the water – dress in layers – but don’t use cotton as it gets soaked easily and retains water. Drysuits should also be considered – although if you’re just starting out recreational kayaking – you won’t quite be there yet.
Even if you’re not going on a long trip, having access to a change of dry clothes at the end of your day is always a good idea.
For footwear, you need something that will stay on your feet. Flip-flops are not recommended as you’ll be cursing to high heaven when they slip off every few seconds. Strapped sandals or kayak-friendly water shoes are a good choice.
In colder weather, you might need to look at waterproof, calf-length footwear and socks.
…And don’t forget about kayak PFD!
While I could go on for the length of a bible about kayaks and kayaking – there will be plenty more articles on the subject forthcoming.
Suffice to say it’s a fantastic hobby that more people should become involved in. Clean, green and healthy travel and adventure – it’s a multiple win.
In the meantime, I’ve hopefully pointed you in the right direction for finding the best recreational kayak for you.
And feel free to comment on your experiences below.