Find The Best Kayak For Your Paddle Style

couple kayaking on river


From sit-on-tops to fishing kayaks to inflatables, finding the best kayak for your needs can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many kayaks were designed for specific uses, making it easier to pinpoint the make and model that best suits how you like to spend your time on the water.

Kayaking is one of our favorite active watersports and one of the most creative ways to work out as a couple. It's also highly underrated as a full-body workout that can get your heart rate up without the high impact of other forms of cardio.

Sure, you could stay inside and get a similar workout on one of the best rowing machines for home gyms. But kayaking has a host of benefits—other than cardio exercise—such as soaking up vitamin D and spending quality time with friends.

But in order to enjoy those benefits, you'll need a kayak! Luckily, the ACTIVE Reviews Team have highlighted six of the best kayak options on the market today to help you find the one that matches your personal paddle style.

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The Best Kayaks - Our Top Picks

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What to Look for When Shopping for a Kayak

Finding your ideal kayak requires more than comparing kayak specifications. Consider these factors when selecting the best kayak for you:

Number of Paddlers

The first thing to consider is whether you'll be paddling alone or with a partner. Tandem kayaks are great for couples, and many include an extra seat for a child or a furry companion.

But unless you're certain that you'll be paddling with someone the majority of the time, a one-person kayak will be much more maneuverable. If you're really on the fence, look for a design that offers the ability to move the kayak seats to accommodate one or two paddlers.

Weight Capacity

The next factor is how much weight the kayak is rated to hold safely. You should never exceed 80 percent of the manufacturer's advertised weight limit for a kayak. When calculating how much extra weight you'll load in, also account for the weight of your paddle accessories and rescue equipment.

Kayak Type

The three main kayak types are sit-on-tops, sit-insides, and inflatables. Here's a quick overview of the three and their best uses:

  • Sit-on-tops are great for beginners and larger paddlers. They naturally drain if you capsize, and they're the easiest to get in and out of.
  • Sit-insides are ideal for locations that receive frequent rain or wind. They're compatible with a kayak spray skirt to keep you drier if the weather changes.
  • Inflatables are best if you have limited storage and transport space. Most fit in the trunk of a small vehicle when deflated and don't require a ton of storage space if you live in a small home or apartment.

Kayak Weight

The actual weight of a kayak is an underrated buying factor. You'll handle your kayak on land just as much, if not more, than on the water. So you'll need to feel confident in your ability to move your kayak around. That includes loading it on and off a roof rack and transporting it from your vehicle to the water. Remember that you won't be able to park right next to the water at all launch locations, which is why many kayakers rely on a kayak cart to roll their kayak over land.

Included Paddle Gear

Lastly, look at what other gear, if any, comes with the kayak. That could include items such as kayak paddles, personal flotation devices (PFDs), and repair kits (for inflatable kayaks). These add-ons should factor into your overall kayak budget.

If one model comes with extras and is slightly more expensive than another that doesn't, factor in what you'll need to spend elsewhere. In some cases, a more expensive kayak that comes with more paddle gear may actually get you on the water for less than you'd spend acquiring all that gear separately.

Best Overall Kayak - Old Town Vapor 12 XT

Old Town Vapor 12 XT

SPECS

  • Hull material: 1-layer polyethylene
  • Dimensions: 12'L x 28.5"W
  • Deck height: 16.25"
  • Number of paddlers: 1
  • Paddle included: No
  • Maximum load: 375 lbs.

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The Vapor is a sit-inside kayak designed for a leisurely day on the lake or a slow-moving river. The spacious cockpit offers plenty of room for small and medium-sized paddlers and there's plenty of storage space to keep your extra gear safe and dry. It's an excellent choice for new or recreational paddlers, but it has enough comfort to help you transition into longer paddle days as you gain your sea legs.

PROS

  • Cockpit tray and cup holder for snacks and drinks
  • Adjustable Comfort Flex seat w/ back padding
  • Locking dry storage compartment for extra layers and gear

CONS

  • Price
  • Weight

BUY: Old Town Loon 120 Recreational Kayak

Best Inflatable Kayak - TAHE Beach LP2 Tandem Inflatable Kayak

TAHE Beach LP2 Tandem Inflatable Kayak

SPECS

  • Hull material: Skin - polyurethane-coated nylon; bladder - PVC
  • Dimensions: 11'L x 40"W
  • Packed dimensions: 32" x 19.25" x 11.5"
  • Number of paddlers: 1-2
  • Paddle included: Yes
  • Maximum load: 330 lbs.

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Perhaps the most versatile option on our list, the TAHE is a perfect choice for travelers. Or, it's a great option if you want to make getting your kayak to and from the water much easier. The seating arrangement can be modified to accommodate one or two paddlers and it packs up into a backpack-style storage bag. So you can even hike this one into a lake or river and enjoy paddling where other kayakers can't!

PROS

  • Easy to transport
  • Comes with pump, repair kit, and 2 paddles
  • Comes with 3 removable fins that provide stability and tracking control

CONS

  • Longer setup and breakdown each time you want to paddle
  • Slight more susceptible to damage than most rigid kayaks

BUY: TAHE Beach LP2 Tandem Inflatable Kayak

Best Fishing Kayak - Old Town Loon 126 Angler Kayak 2022

Old Town Loon 126 Angler Kayak 2022

SPECS

  • Hull material: 3-layer Polyethylene
  • Dimensions: 12'6"L x 31"W
  • Deck height: 17.25"
  • Number of paddlers: 1
  • Paddle included: No
  • Maximum load: 450 lbs.

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This sleek fishing kayak is made for open-water fishing. It tracks well when traversing open lakes, but handles exceptionally when getting into tighter fishing holes. It also provides the extra stability you need to reel in large fish. The hull design makes it fast when you need to change locations, but it also responds well when you need to make quick maneuvers. It's also equipped with multiple rod holders so you can set up several rod-reel combinations before getting on the water and its anchor system allows you to stay in one place when the bite is on.

PROS

  • Bow-and-stern deck bungees make it easy to secure dry bags and fishing gear
  • A revamped work deck features a USB port and storage for small items
  • Adjustable seat system provides maximum comfort

CONS

  • Weight
  • Price

BUY: Old Town Loon 126 Angler Kayak

Best Tandem Kayak - Malibu Two Tandem Kayak 2022

Malibu Two Tandem Kayak 2022

SPECS

  • Hull material: 1-layer polyethylene
  • Dimensions: 12'L x 34"W
  • Deck height: 8.5"
  • Number of paddlers: 2
  • Paddle included: No
  • Maximum load: 375-425 lbs.

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The Malibu Two is the best tandem kayak out there for beginners, which is why many kayak rental companies utilize this model. It's a wide and stable kayak that's easy for beginners and larger paddlers to enter and exit. It also has the benefit of an optional third seat in the center. So it's a nice choice for couples with small children or a furry partner you like to bring on the water.

PROS

  • Low deck height makes it easy to re-enter in deep water
  • Adjustable seats allow you to easily change positions throughout the day
  • Skid plate reduces wear on the hull when dragging it on the beach

CONS

  • Minimal enclosed storage space
  • Storage straps aren't as forgiving as bungees

BUY: Ocean Kayak Malibu Two Tandem Kayak

Best Budget Kayak - Azul Kayaks Sun 9 Sit-on-Top Kayak

Azul Kayaks Sun 9 Sit-on-Top Kayak

SPECS

  • Hull material: Polyethylene plastic
  • Dimensions: 8'9"L x 26"W
  • Kayak weight: 44 lbs.
  • Number of paddlers: 1
  • Paddle included: Yes
  • Maximum load: 275 lbs.

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This compact sit-on-top kayak is best for small paddlers and even kids. It's also a great choice if you're looking to add multiple kayaks to your family's arsenal because it's available at an incredibly low price. Despite its smaller size, it's equipped with plenty of enclosed and secure storage. Plus, there's a swivel-mounted fishing rod holder in the center of the cockpit if you plan to use this kayak for recreational fishing.

PROS

  • Affordability
  • Built-in rear wheel for easier transport
  • Stackable design allows you to easily store multiple kayaks together

CONS

  • Narrow width won't accommodate larger paddlers
  • Short length won't achieve top-end speeds

BUY: Azul Kayaks Sun 9 Sit-on-Top Kayak

Best Recreational Kayak - Old Town Heron 9 Kayak 2022

Old Town Heron 9 Kayak 2022

SPECS

  • Hull material: Polyethylene
  • Dimensions: 9'6"L x 28.5"W
  • Deck height: 13"
  • Number of paddlers: 1
  • Paddle included: No
  • Maximum load: 300 lbs.

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Versatility meets affordability with the Heron 9. It's a compact and lightweight sit-inside kayak that's excellent for those looking for a drier paddling experience. It's compatible with a kayak spray skirt to keep your lower half warm and dry and it boasts two flush-mounted rod holders behind the cockpit.

PROS

  • Adjustable foot brace system helps you maintain a comfortable body position
  • Foam bulkheads for added flotation in the event of a capsize
  • Comfortable seating system with extra padding

CONS

  • No rudder or skeg for added tracking control
  • Lack of enclosed storage space

BUY: Old Town Heron 9 Kayak

FAQs About Kayaks

To clarify any lingering concerns, here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about kayaks:

What kind of kayak should a beginner buy?

The best type of kayak for beginners is a sit-on-top kayak. They're easier to climb into when you're learning how to enter and exit a kayak from shore or a dock. And they're also much easier to re-enter if you capsize when you're learning basic kayaking strokes.

Which is better, a 10- or 12-foot kayak?

These are two of the most common kayak lengths. The best choice for you will depend on your size and paddle preferences. Shorter kayaks are easier for beginners and smaller paddlers to handle. However, larger paddlers may need the additional stability and seating space that a longer kayak provides. Longer kayaks also tend to be more efficient and capable of higher speeds as you gain experience.

Are sit-in or sit-on kayaks better?

It depends on your environment and the type of paddling you do. Sit-on kayaks are more beginner friendly as they are easier to get on and off the kayak to swim. Sit-in kayaks provide a drier ride and are compatible with spray skirts, which makes them better for locations that experience rain and other inclement weather.

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