When purchasing a kayak, there are so many variables to consider: purpose, size, materials, shape, and more. Mostly, kayak buyers need to do their research and make sure they are purchasing a reliable brand. The best kayak brands will not steer you wrong. They have the best construction, safety features, and accessories at affordable prices. In this article, I’ll introduce you to the best kayak brands and help you avoid buying a kayak that you would ultimately be unhappy with.
Why Buy a Kayak Instead of Renting?
I think this quote says it best:
“The two best reasons to buy a kayak rather than just renting are sunsets and sunrises.” – Thomas P. Jones
Maybe you have been renting a kayak and need to take that leap to buy your own. Or perhaps you have been thinking about buying one for a long time and just haven’t done it.
Whatever your situation, taking the time to research and choose the right kayak will ensure more comfortable excursions and more enjoyment overall.
The following is a general buying guide for the novice kayak paddler.
Browse through the main types of kayaks, top brands, and best sellers listed below to make a well-informed choice and buy a craft that will fit your needs from one of the best kayak brands available.
Main Types of Kayaks
Although there are lots of different types of kayaks, the ones listed below are the main choices shoppers have when choosing a kayak:
- Recreational Kayaks
- Touring Kayaks
- Fishing Kayaks
- White Water Kayaks
Before we discuss the best manufacturers of each type of Kayak, let’s define each of these popular craft styles.
Avid kayakers can confirm that one of the best reasons to own a kayak is to be able to get away from it all and enjoy a peaceful day out on the water.
Recreational kayaks are perfect for leisurely treks on lakes and slow-moving rivers, as their name suggests.
Recreational kayaks are a great all-around craft and work well for beginners who are learning to paddle. This is because the bottom of the hull tends to be more flat, making the kayak less “tippy.” This additional stability allows new kayakers to get a feel for being in the kayak and paddling without worrying so much about tipping over.
For those for whom safety is a top concern, there are additional methods for stabilizing your kayak as well.
Recreational kayaks are also a newcomer favorite because they are typically less expensive than other types of leisure kayaks. Kayak prices are directly affected by the construction material of most recreational kayaks: polyethylene.
This material is less expensive and possibly more durable than most other kayak materials; however, there is a downside. Polyethylene kayaks are heavier than some others, making transportation an issue to consider.
Lastly, recreational kayaks are an overall favorite on slower water because they are comfortable. They are usually 10′ – 12′ in length with a wider cockpit area than most other types. This makes it easy to get in and out of this type of kayak.
Recreational kayaks are perfect for relaxing rides on lakes and rivers, even if they tend to offer a lower level of performance than some other kinds of kayak.
Touring kayaks — sometimes referred to as day touring kayaks — are similar to the recreational style because they are perfect for leisurely rides.
To many people who have used both kinds, however, the touring version is considered an upgrade from the recreational kayak.
This upgraded feeling mostly comes from the features that appeal to more experienced kayakers. Where beginners might feel more secure with the flatter bottom on the recreational kayak, people with a little more experience will appreciate the slightly angled bottom on the touring type.
This shape allows the vessel to track straighter through the water. Each paddle stroke will propel your craft farther due to its streamlined hull shape.
Touring kayaks are longer and thinner than the recreational type kayaks, and sea kayaks typically fall into this category.
The hull design is made to track well in fast currents and increase lift in rough water, so you don’t get swamped. The added length also allows you to store more gear.
The downside for some kayakers is the “tippy” feeling that this hull design creates. If you plan to be in more aggressive water than just slow-moving rivers and lakes, then the design of the touring kayak is better overall.
Some people familiar with both styles say it comes down to a matter of preference. However, the stability of the recreational kayak is probably the best choice for beginners.
Fishing kayaks are just as the name implies: kayaks designed for fishing.
These kayaks are generally a sit-on-top style for better maneuvering. Since your body is on top of the kayak, you retain the possibility of standing at times. But of course if you plan to stand in a kayak, stability is a must.
Generally, fishing kayaks are at least 13’ and longer. This longer hull provides ample space for gear and comfort. Fishing kayaks must also be equipped with conveniences such as utility racks to mount rod holders, fish finders, cup holders (beer me), and cameras.
The hull design of a fishing kayak is a little different than other kayaks.
There is generally a sharp bow and molded keel for better tracking, and a tunnel style hull for stability. Fishing kayaks also usually have a kick-up rudder for protection.
White Water Kayaks
Heading out onto white water in a kayak is not for everyone. Adventurists who partake in this activity know that having the right kayak is paramount for comfort and safety.
White water kayaks are categorized into four styles: play boats, river runners, creekers, and long boats. Each has its own form and function.
- Play Boats: This style of white water kayak is designed to skim “playfully” over the water’s surface for a light, airy glide conducive to performing aerial tricks.
- River Runners: This type of kayak is designed to go fast down mountain rivers. River runners are considered a good choice for novice white water kayakers because their longer size creates better manageability.
- Creekers: These kayaks are made for running steep creeks with big water drops, intimidating white water caps, and menacing rock formations. They are the largest of the white water kayak styles and not recommended for beginners.
- Long Boats: A long boat is very similar to a river runner in function and style but is longer. The extra length provides extra speed when heading down the river. A river runner is a versatile option because it can maneuver most types of white water.
What are the Best Kayak Brands to Buy?
Making a kayak purchase can be an overwhelming experience unless you narrow down your options. After determining what kind of kayak you need, you must consider what brand to choose.
Top Recreational Kayak Brands and Models
Beginner and everyday kayakers have a ton of options when it comes to finding a well-built and affordable kayak.
The following is a lists some top recreational brands and a few models to consider.
Perception prides itself on introducing the beginner to kayaking, so it only makes sense that they are a leading manufacturer of recreational kayaks built for novice kayakers.
This company has been in business for over 40 years and has an established reputation in the industry. Their kayaks are functional, stylish, and affordable. The bottom line is you really can’t go wrong with a Perception kayak.
- Perception Hi Life 11.0: This kayak is one of the most versatile on the market. It sports a sit-on-top design that can double as a paddleboard. This unique feature makes the Hi Life 11.0 great for sharing your water time with kids or pets. The Hi Life 11.0 is an excellent kayak for cruising, swimming, fishing, or just relaxing. It was the 2018 bronze medal winner at the International Design Excellence Awards. It is perfect for all ages and skill levels, and it’s available on Amazon.
- Perception Joyride 10.0: The Joyride 10.0 is an all-purpose sit-inside recreational kayak. Its stability and comfort make it a practical choice for anyone. The Joyride 10.0 also has a convenient entertainment center dashboard ready to display Perception’s patent-pending Selfie Slot. This feature is an all-new way to set up your smart phone to capture great moments on the water. The Solo Mount accessory needed to attach the Selfie Slot is sold separately. This kayak is perfect for all ages and skill levels, and typically costs just over $600, though you will probably have to find it locally.
Pelican International was founded in 1968 in Quebec, Canada and is another one of the best kayak brands.
They are a subdivision of a larger company and are known for using Ram-X and Poly-XR construction for some of the most durable plastic kayaks on the market.
A cool fact about this company is its sense of responsibility to the environment. Pelican recycles approximately 99% of the plastic that is cut off of their molded kayaks, so if you care about the environment like I do this is a great selling point.
- Maxim 100X: This kayak is 10′ long and lightweight, making it exceptionally manageable for one person to handle in transport. Its comfortable sit-in style and ERGOFORM cushioning in the seat makes it one of Pelican’s best for longer trips. The Maxim 100X is a quality recreational kayak with exceptional construction that is available online on Amazon.
Other Recreational Kayak Brands I Like
- Field & Stream
- Lifetime Kayaks
- Emotion Kayaks
- Vibe Kayaks
- Sun Dolphin
Top Touring Kayak Brands
I learned to kayak in a touring, tandem sea kayak while kayaking along the coast of Maine and camping on a series of islands as a teenager. So I’m partial to this type of performance kayak.
In this section I’ll share some of my favorite touring kayak brands, which I can recommend based on personal experience.
This company has made a name for itself with all types of kayaks. Its touring models are just as popular as its recreational craft. The Carolina touring kayak may be the most ubiquitous kayak because it’s a rock solid all-around kayak that will last for years.
- Carolina Touring Kayak: This sit-in kayak comes in two lengths: 12’ and 14’. It has tons of dry storage space in the hull as well as bungees at the stern and bow. Comfort is at the forefront with ample leg room. The Carolina Touring Kayak also has knee and thigh pads incorporated into the seat design. This kayak is perfect for long trips. Both kayaks tend to cost between $900 and $1,000 and you can buy them on Amazon (12′ Carolina Amazon link / 14′ Carolina Amazon link).
Sun Dolphin kayaks are made by Hemisphere Design Works based in Muskegon, Michigan.
The company made its initial debut in 1982 by designing two-person paddle boats. Since their humble beginnings, Sun Dolphin grew into one of the country’s leading kayak manufacturers.
Sun Dolphin has since come upon hard times, laying off workers and closing plants. Nonetheless, Sun Dolphin has some highly recommended kayaks. The following is just one example of a solid, affordable Sun Dolphin touring kayak.
- Aruba SS: This kayak lends itself to a variety of waters: lakes, rivers, and even the ocean. It has a long and narrow body that provides a stable ride on long trips. Comfort is also a plus for the Aruba SS. The adjustable foam seat is designed to reduce pressure on your sciatic nerve and there is ample leg room in the spacious hull. The 10 or 12′ length makes rough waters no problem. There is plenty of dry storage space and bungees on top for storing gear. This well-built kayak is a great value and it’s available to order on Amazon, or you can usually find it locally.
Other Popular Touring Kayak Brands
Best Fishing Kayak Brands
There is so much to consider when choosing a fishing kayak. For one thing, the array of accessories you need (or want) is mind-blowing.
What one person might need is not necessarily true for others, and as a result the best fishing kayak for you may not be best for your neighbor.
It is also worth mentioning that many recreational and touring kayak models can double as fishing kayaks. While some kayaks are manufactured specifically for fishing, the reality is that all you really need to fish from a kayak is a fishing pole.
Some recreational and touring kayaks come equipped with accessories that make it easy to fish comfortably. With others, you can add or order them online.
For these reasons, it is difficult to recommend the best kayak brands for fishing. However, the following is a list of companies that make some of the fishing kayaks I like most:
- Old Town
- Hobie Fishing Kayaks
- 3-Waters Fishing Kayaks
- Bonifide Kayaks
- Eddyline Fishing Kayaks
- Wilderness Systems
- Native Fishing Water Craft
- Lightning Fishing Kayaks
- Jackson Fishing Kayaks
Best White Water Kayak Manufacturers
Unlike other kayaking adventures, white water kayaking is not leisure time on the water just paddling or fishing.
White water kayaking is considered an extreme sport, which makes it much more exclusive.
Again, recommending a kayak style for white water entails so many factors. The list below identifies some of the best kayak brands for white water.
- Bliss-Stick Kayaks
- Dagger Kayaks
- Jackson Kayaks
- Liquid Logic Kayaks
- Prilon Kayaks
- Pyranha Kayaks
- Riot Kayaks
- Wave Sport Kayaks
How to Choose the Right Kayak for You
The popularity of kayaking has exploded over the past few years, and established kayak companies have worked diligently to meet the demand in both quantity and quality.
If you’re just starting, a recreational kayak is the way to go. It will provide the stability you need to get acquainted with the process. If you are more experienced or adventurous and want to take longer trips, the touring style might be a better fit.
More specific kayaking activities like fishing or running some rapids require different characteristics in a kayak. There are several brands and models available for these experiences.
A little extra research might be in order to ensure you get the best kayak for your size, purpose, and budget.
When you do purchase a kayak, don’t forget essential items like the correct size paddle and a well-fitting life jacket.
Then all you have left to do is get out on the water and enjoy those sunsets and sunrises!