Ultimate Guide to Kayaks

Kayaks are appealing for a number of reasons. Paddling a kayak is a great way of seeing the great outdoors and having an adventure. You can paddle as soft or strong as you want.

If you really want to build up some fitness and core strength, you could do worse than paddle a kayak. And if you want to paddle around at a more leisurely pace, that’s ok too, you can stick to calm rivers or lakes.

Kayaking also just a great way to get out of the house and get some fresh air. You can get as involved as you want to. Maybe you want to just paddle offshore, splash around and have some fun with the family? Or perhaps you want to go a little hardcore and hit the whitewater...?

Ultimate Guide To Kayaks Pinterest

Kayaks are now very popular with anglers. There’s a huge range of kayaks available today that can be upgraded to a fishing kayak or are dedicated fishing kayaks. 

You can even attach a small trolling motor to some kayaks if you don’t feel like using those paddles.

With kayaking, it’s all up to you!

Ok, So What is a Kayak?

Also commonly referred to as ‘yaks, kayaks are small water craft that are generally built for one, two and sometimes three persons. Usually the third person will be a small child – but not always.

They are designed to be manoeuvred using a double bladed paddle (a blade at either end), and come in two basic cockpit designs:

SOT (Sit-On-Top)

The paddler(s) sit on top of the kayak. They are not enclosed and as such, access in and out of the kayak is made easier.

Sit-On Top Kayak

Sit-On Top Kayak

SIK (Sit-Inside-Kayak)

The paddler(s) are enclosed within the kayak. Spray skirts can be used to keep the water away from the lower body.

Sit-In Kayak

Sit-In Kayak

There are many different types of kayaks for different activities and user levels. You can buy kayaks that cater more towards fishing, white water, rivers, the sea/ocean, for touring or just for general recreation.

A lot of the budget kayaks are recreational kayaks (sometimes known as leisure kayaks) and are suitable for just having fun. But you can also use recreational kayaks for some of the aforementioned activities at a basic level. For example, it’s possible to use a leisure kayak for fishing. You may need to buy attachments to properly upgrade. But if you are a keen angler, you would probably be better opting for a dedicated fishing kayak (which can of course just be used for recreation too!).

We’re going to talk more about the different kayak types in a moment.

First, there are a number of recognized kayak manufacturers on the market today. Some of the more popular brands include:

Top Kayak Brands To Consider

  • Ocean Kayaks
  • Lifetime
  • Old Town
  • Sun Dolphin
  • Perception
  • Intex
  • Hobie
  • Feel Free
  • Vibe Kayaks

There are others to choose from of course. These are just the brands we have been taking a good look at recently on our site.

When Is The Best Time To Buy A Kayak?

When you’re looking to purchase a kayak, one of the things you will probably be asking yourself is when is the best time of year to buy? Well, that can all depend on what you’ll be using the yak for and also what sort of area you live in.

Seasonal Paddling

Man on kayak on ice cold water

If you’re planning to use your kayak at a specific time of the year then buying it in advance of that season can be beneficial to you. This way you can make the most of it in the coming season and get to use it right away.

However, in some places you might find that there are deals at the end of the season, as companies or individuals are wanting to get rid of their stock before the new stock arrives or before different seasonal stock arrives.

On the other hand, if you live somewhere with a warm climate, for example in Florida, you’ll probably find that paddling season is all year round. This could mean that you may not see the same sort of deals as you would in other parts of the country (that has sharp off-seasons).

But if you do live somewhere that has warm weather all year round, this could mean that you could paddle at all times of the year. So no matter what time of the year you buy it, you could be out there enjoying it straight away.

Spring And Fall

Spring and fall seasons can be good times to buy a kayak because of many people and retailers getting rid of old stock and making way for new stock. In the fall, there may be less demand for vessels as people may not want to buy a craft that they might not be able to use until the following spring.

But prices could be lower during this time because retailers also don’t want to have the stock sitting around in a warehouse for several months. However, with kayaks, you may not get the types of discounts that you may get with other end of season clearance sales.

By purchasing after the end of the summer season, you might still be able to get some use out of the yak right away, even if you live in a colder climate. Plus, if you’re thinking about buying a sit-inside, then you could kit it out with a spray skirt and potentially use it throughout winter, providing your lake or river doesn’t freeze over. The guy above...demonstrating this point well!

And if you purchase during the spring, you could benefit from it all summer long.

No matter when you buy your kayak, you should be able to enjoy your new vessel for years to come. So think about when would suit you best and when you might be able to get the most use out of it.

Guide To Different Types Of Kayaks

Fishing Kayaks

Kayak Fishing - Two men paddling kayaks with fishing gear in the ocean.

Fishing kayaks have arguably seen the greatest rise in popularity over the last number of years.

What makes a good fishing kayak?

Well, some of the obvious trademarks are rod holders and storage hatches designed and placed in perfect positions while you fish. You want to keep your live bait fresh and within arm’s reach, so ideally right in front of the main seat. And if you’re good at catching fish, a big storage area for keeping fish cool is useful!

Having lots of options for attachments will also be useful. Sliding rails are really good for this. You can attach extra equipment, like fishfinders, GPS, phones etc alongside your rods.

You might also want to consider a comfortable seat that adjusts into many positions. You’re probably going to be sitting down for long periods of time, so a comfortable seat will be at the forefront of your mind. Most seats are foldaway and fasten to the deck with straps that tighten to your satisfaction. Some seats even come with adjustable lumbar support. This is definitely something to consider should you have or be worried about any potential back ache.

Remember that some kayaks don’t come with a seat or have seats that can be replaced. So you do have the option to buy a kayak from a large selection pool (no pun intended!) and then fit a seat of your liking.

If you like standing up when you fish, a lot of fishing kayaks have a standing platform - this is a weird one! Some even come with casting bars, which can be used for leaning against, or keeping steady should the wind or waves pick up when you’re standing. You’ll most often need to attach a bar. Make sure your kayak supports it. Make sure you pick a wide kayak if you’re a stand up kinda guy. So, we’re talking 32-36 inches here.

Fishing kayaks are also generally quite short. Shorter kayaks are typically good for manoeuvring around, which is probably something you want when you’re hunting in close quarters. There are longer fishing kayaks (14ft and up) which are generally better for the open waters and are faster through the water than their shorter siblings.

> Kayak fishing guide and tips

Top Kayaks For Fishing

Malibu Kayaks Stealth 12 Fish and Dive Package Sit-on Top Kayak

Malibu Kayaks Stealth 12 Fish and Dive Package Sit on Top Kayak
  • Length: 12ft 4 inches
  • Width: 33 inches
  • Depth: 12 inches
  • Weight: 60 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 450 pounds

The Stealth 12 (just over 12 ft long) is a solid entry into the world of fishing kayaks. It’s packed with storage options, essential for a successful day’s fishin’. The main storage areas are at the front (covered) rear (open, with cords) and center (also covered, and can be used for live bait).

Malibu have also included 4 rod holders. There’s also a standing platform and foot braces that can be adjusted.

The Stealth 12 does not come shipped with any seating, so you’ll need to source one yourself. 

There is an additional small seating area should you want to bring a small child along for the ride.

Ocean Kayak Prowler 13 Angler Sit-On-Top Fishing Kayak

Ocean Kayak Prowler 13 Angler Sit-On-Top Fishing Kayak
  • Length: 13ft 4 inches
  • Width: 28 inches
  • Weight: 56 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 325 pounds

This is one of the longer kayaks on the list. At 13 ft, it’s good for the open waters and has plenty of features to keep the keen angler content.

There are two rod holders at the rear and an option for more up at the front. Storage is good too. You have 2 covered hatches at the front and directly in front of the paddler. There’s a 3rd open, and spacious storage area at the rear behind the seat. Also comes with a storage bucket.

The Prowler 13 comes packed with a padded Comfort Plus seat but sadly paddles are not included, so you’ll need to purchase separately. There are paddle keepers on board.

There are varied foot wells to rest the feet and legs, has 2 cup holders and you can fit your own transducer for fish finding.

You can stand on this kayak, but as the beam (width) isn’t particularly big, it’s not really recommended.

Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks are good for those who want to get from home onto the water without having to worry about transport too much.

Air filled kayaks compress down into spaces small enough to fit into a backpack. There’s no need for a trailer or a roof rack with an inflatable. You can carry it round with you to your destination.

Of course, you need to inflate the kayak before you launch. This takes a bit of effort. Not much, but it needs to be considered. You can be looking at up to 10 minutes to get up and running, depending on the ‘yak (with a little practise, it can be under 5 for some kayaks). If you have multiple chambers to fill (and we recommend you do as they’re safer), then you need to pump up each chamber. And you need to deflate them all when you’ve finished.

Another advantage of these versatile craft is cost. Yes, inflatables generally cost less than plastic or fiberglass (hard shell) ‘yaks. This makes blow-up kayaks more attractive to first time kayak buyers or recreational users who only venture out now and again. They know that if they lose enthusiasm for kayaking, they haven’t blown too much cash if they never use it again.

A lot of inflatables are also very sturdy on the water. Another benefit for beginners and recreational users.

Top Inflatable Kayaks

Advanced Elements AE1012 AdvancedFrame Inflatable Kayak

Advanced Elements AE1012-R AdvancedFrame Inflatable Kayak
  • Length: 10 Ft 5 inches
  • Width: 32 inches
  • Weight: 36 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 300 pounds

Ok, first up we have a solo sit-in inflatable. The AE1012 has 7 air chambers in total to help make sure you don’t sink, if you are unlucky enough to suffer air loss.

It has aluminium ribs that help keep its shape. There’s no need to assemble the ribs – they are built into the kayak. This shape encourages better tracking and more efficient paddling. Being an inflatable, it is lighter than hard shell kayaks, but it’s still able to carry a total weight of 300lbs.

There are zipper storage areas on board, one of which also has Bungee ropes to hold down more cargo.

The AE1012 comes in 2 colors. The red AE1012-R and the green AE1012-G. Bear in mind that this kayak does not ship with pump or paddles, so you need to consider ordering these if you don’t own these already.

We had more to say on this kayak - read here​

Sea Eagle SE370K_P Inflatable Kayak

Sea Eagle SE370K_P Inflatable Kayak with Pro Package
  • Length: 12 ft 6 inches
  • Width: 34 inches
  • Weight: 32 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 650 pounds

Here we have a popular tandem inflatable (check out the Coleman Colorado for another option further below).

This 3 chamber inflatable ‘yak is a durable option for 2 paddlers. It can be inflated inside 8 minutes and comes with inflatable seats, a foot pump and a carry bag with puncture repair kit.

It has 2 skegs to help keep things under control in the water and has 2 carrying handles for when it’s out of the water.

Our full review of this Sea Eagle inflatable​

Sit-On-Top Kayaks

SOT (Sit-On-Top) kayaks are very popular today, and with good reason.

They appeal to newcomers and those who have been paddling for years. The biggest advantage is how easy they are to board and get back out of. The cockpit is wide open. You don’t sit enclosed within a shell like with SIKs (Sit-In Kayaks). Kayak users love this, especially the newcomers. No-one wants to scramble into an enclosed cockpit worrying that they’re going to topple over into the water!

SOTs also tend to have more storage space compared to their SIK enclosed counterparts. This is because you, the paddler, aren’t sitting inside the kayak taking up all the potential storage space. As you are enclosed, it’s also more difficult to access anything other than what you can reach from your seated position.

A drawback of SOT kayaks, is the weight. Sit-on kayaks are generally a lot lighter than SOTs. This impacts speed and how much effort you need to put in with the paddles.

Note that sit-on top kayaks are great for the summer because you can keep cool on the deck. The flip side of this is in the winter months, where you'll be more exposed to the ele​ments compared to a sit-in kayak.

Top SOT Kayaks

Perception R15 Pescadors 100 Kayak

Perception R15 Pescadors 100 Kayak Seaspray
  • Length: 10 ft
  • Width: 29 inches
  • Weight: 52 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 325 pounds
Perception R15 Pescadors 120 Kayak Sunset

Perception Pescadors 12 ft version

The R15 Pescadors 10 ft kayak from Perception is a solid SOT kayak that isn’t going to break the bank account.

It’s a good tracking all round kayak with solid enough stability for a 10 ft ‘yak. If you are very tall, the stability will lessen of course, and you will probably want to opt for the 12 ft alternative (see right).

It comes with storage hatches on the bow and directly behind the seat. A larger open storage well is at the rear (with cord). There are multiple foot wells to place your feet.

Perception have also included a comfortable seat and paddle holders. Note that you need to purchase a paddle separately.

Lifetime Tamarack Sit-On-Top Kayak 120"

Lifetime Tamarack Sit-On-Top Kayak 120
  • Length: 12 ft
  • Width: 31 inches
  • Depth: 14 inches
  • Weight: 50 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 275 pounds

The Tamarack is a polyethylene (tough plastic) SOT that doubles-up as a fishing kayak.

It comes with a seat (back rest and separate pad for sitting on the deck), and if this isn’t to your liking (for comfort or position), you can of course source your own and replace the stock seat. Lifetime have also included a paddle, and foot wells for leg/feet rests.

There are open storage options at the front and rear (with cord). There are also enclosed hatch storage areas. One in front of the seat, the other directly behind.

Comes with 2 fixed rod holders behind the seat, and a rotational holder in front.

There are handles at bow and stern end to make transport easier.

Our Tamarack review here

Tandem Kayaks

There’s nothing quite like sharing the adventure, is there?

Tandem kayaks are for those who like to share….not just the experience, but the effort of paddling! As long as you are partnered up with someone who is willing to share the workload, a 2 person kayak is great for getting around with less effort, and maybe even more fun.

Kayaks for 2 Persons are a little heavier than solo craft, so they are harder to carry around. Of course, if there are two of you, this task is not a problem.

Some tandem kayaks actually work pretty well when paddled solo. Now, we would always recommend a solo kayak if you are mostly going out alone. But if you expect a lot of trips out on the water with a partner, a tandem is a great option.

Storage space can increase too. But, it probably isn’t going to provide as much space as two separate solo kayaks for two paddlers.

Overall though, tandem kayaks (you can often fit a third smaller person on here – a child or a dog?) are a great way of kayaking socially.

Tandem Kayaks - Top Picks

Ocean Kayak 12-Feet Malibu Two Tandem Kayak

Ocean Kayak 12-Feet Malibu Two Tandem Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
  • Length: 12 ft
  • Width: 34 inches
  • Weight: 57 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 425 pounds

The Malibu is a tandem 12-footer from Ocean Kayaks.

As such, it can hold up to 425 lbs in weight, to include you, your paddling partner and any cargo that you may want to bring with you. There’s also room for a third small passenger, so you can bring a kid with you. You can also paddle solo if desired.

The Malibu Two ships with two Comfort Plus foldaway seats.

Out of the box, there isn’t much of a storage area to speak of. This tandem kayak is designed more for short recreational trips rather than fishing or long excursions. However, there are three molded area on the deck that can be cut out and used as storage hatches if storage is important to you.

Paddles are not included.

Colors include ‘Sunrise’, yellow and ‘Envy’ green.

Looking at the Malibu 2 in more detail​

Lifetime Manta Tandem Sit on Top Kayak (90118)

Lifetime Manta Tandem Sit on Top Kayak with Paddles and Back Rests
  • Length: 10 ft
  • Width: 36 inches
  • Weight: 60 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 500 pounds

Another tandem that can cater for 2 adults and a child. The Manta comes with two backrests that sit with the main molded seat wells. You can purchase extra pads for the deck or add your own complete seat if preferred.

This ‘yak does ship with 2 adjustable paddles which can be stored in slots (paddle cradles) on the kayak itself. Storage options are somewhat limited, but there is a Bungee cord towards the bow to hold down essentials.

There are also fishing rod holders if you fancy catching dinner yourself!

Comes in yellow and green.

There are so many more tandem kayaks to choose from. We’ve mentioned them on this page (Coleman Colorado, for example).

Read more on the Lifetime Manta​ here

Recreational Kayaks

A recreational kayak is perfect for those who are into…..recreation of course!

Recreational kayaks are general all-rounders. They are perfect for flatter waters, calm seas or slow rivers. These kayaks have been made for those who want to paddle near or out from shore a little, and maybe go for a swim. Or maybe just lounge around in the sun for a while. Perhaps even just to go and do a little adventuring and exploring.

These kayaks aren’t going to break any speed records, nor are they going to turn on a dime. But they are good for general kayaking. If you’re into fishing, they can be turned into a fishing kayak too (check with the kayak has the fittings for the upgrade). So yeah, pretty versatile overall…

Just know that recreational kayaks won’t do any one thing really well. They are usually relatively cheap, which makes them especially popular.

Inflatable kayaks are a popular choice for those taking the recreational option. Because they fold away into a small pack, they are easy to carry around.

Now that we are on the subject of transport…just remember that unless you live right beside the water, you’re going to have to get the kayak to the water each time you want a paddle. Lifting the kayak up on top of the car (have you got a rack?) isn’t going to be easy. If you have a helping hand each time of course, this isn’t much of an issue. Or if you have a trailer, that’s really going to help out too. Or you could think about a lighter kayak.

This is when an inflatable comes in handy. They are lighter and so much easier to get from A to B…

Top Kayaks For Recreation

Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On Top Recreational Kayak

Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak Yellow
  • Length: 9 ft
  • Width: 31 inches
  • Weight: 44 pounds (shipping weight)
  • Weight Capacity: 325 pounds

A kayak for the solo paddler. The Frenzy from Ocean Kayaks is a plastic shell SOT option with storage bays at the front and rear of the craft.

There are molded foot wells to cater for differing leg lengths, carrying handles and a drinks holder for the longer journeys.

Comes with an adjustable padded seat and a skid plate to protect the Tri-Form hull.

Colors in ‘Envy’, ‘Sunrise’ and yellow.

We had more to say about the Frenzy here​

Lifetime 10 Foot Sport Fisher Tandem Kayak

Lifetime Sport Fisher Single or Tandem Kayak
  • Length: 10 ft
  • Width: 36 inches
  • Depth: 19 inches
  • Weight: 65 pounds (shipping weight)
  • Weight Capacity: 500 pounds

And here we have the tandem offering. The Lifetime Sport Fisher kayak is actually suitable for up to three persons. That’s 2 adults and a kid.

If you’re looking for a recreational water craft, the chances are you will want to be out with friends or family. This ’yak from Lifetime provides that experience on a budget.

This one has a tunnel hull design and can be used for fishing standing up (you can stand up, but it’s not really been designed for this). There’s also 4 rod holders, a hatch at the rear and a large open storage area on the bow.

As we said before, a recreational kayak is an all-rounder kayak, and as such doesn’t do any one thing really well. And in this case, the Sport Fisher isn’t a really good fishing kayak…..but you can fish from it. It’s just that if you are more serious about angling, you may want to upgrade to a better quality craft.

If you’re just an occasional recreational fisher, then this effort from Lifetime might be all you need.

Read more on what we had to say on the Sports Fisher kayak here​

I’m A Beginner, What’s The Best Kayak For Me?

Beginners on kayak - woman and child

If you’re a beginner, you’re probably just looking to get a feel for kayaking in general. Maybe you just want to see if it’s a hobby you can take up regularly? Well, if you can, try to rent a kayak first. Check out your local area to see if you can rent kayaks for the day.

A good rental should have plenty of stable kayaks for hire. Make sure you talk through with them exactly why you want to kayak and if trying multiple kayaks (we highly recommend this!) try to talk about each one you try.

They should hopefully be able to offer you good advice to help you make a decision. And hey, you may find that you don’t like kayaking so much after a couple of hours out on the water (shame on you…just joking!).

Here's our useful beginners guide

Safety must be taken seriously. This goes for beginners right through to the experienced paddler. Wear a PFD. Even in shallow waters, you just never know when you might end up in trouble and the water may not be as shallow as you thought. Make sure you can swim competently too.

You should also consider getting some lessons. Improving your technique will really help you paddle along much more efficiently and help you to navigate much better. They might have a kayak that feels just right for you. All you gotta do is order one or something very similar.

It’s usually recreational kayaks that beginners seem to opt for, as they are for many purposes and are at the budget end of the price spectrum. And as we talked about before, in the recreational kayaks section above, inflatable kayaks can be a good option for some.

Just note that if you are a beginner, these kayaks should not be taken too far away from shore. If you get into trouble, you don’t want to be stuck out at sea or deep out in the lake, hoping that someone spots you!

Newcomers to kayaking are very often children. You can get kayaks for kids that are a little smaller. Lessons and rental in your local area will probably be the best bet here.

Always Remember - Safety First!​

Kayaks That Beginners Might Like

Remember that we recommend you rent kayaks before making a decision. But if you must buy first, here are two budget options.

Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 Sit-in Kayak

Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 Sit-in Kayak
  • Length: 10 ft
  • Width: 30 inches
  • Depth: 13 inches
  • Weight: 40 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 250 pounds

If you want to get your feet wet buying a kayak (that was a joke!) then the Sun Dolphin Aruba kayak is one to consider. It’s 10 foot in length and can carry up to 250lbs I weight.

This one is actually a sit-in kayak, but it does have a large open cockpit, so you won’t feel too enclosed. Inside the cockpit are adjustable foot braces to set to your leg length.

There are storage bays at the bow and stern end, with cord to hold down kit. Also has a water bottle holder and handles to lift around.

Its relative light weight and simple functionality make it appealing to the beginner.

Sevylor Coleman Colorado 2-Person Fishing Kayak

Sevylor Coleman Colorado 2-Person Fishing Kayak
  • Length: 10 ft
  • Width: 39 inches
  • Depth: 9 inches
  • Weight: 41 pounds (shipped weight)
  • Weight Capacity: 470 pounds

Here’s a tandem kayak that won’t break the bank for all aspiring paddlers out there.

This is an inflatable option with several air chambers to help stop a disaster should the worst happen (you get a puncture) when you’re out from shore. You’ll still have other air chambers to keep you above the water line, helping you to get back to shore safely.

The Colorado comes with a carry pack to help you lift it around from home to the waterfront and back again. Coleman have also included a pressure gauge to make sure you inflate correctly.

Note that the Colorado does not include paddles or a pump. You would need to purchase those separately.

We had more to say on the Colorado here​

And here's one for the kids…

Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak

Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak
  • Length: 6 ft
  • Width: 24 inches
  • Depth: 8 inches
  • Weight: 18 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 130 pounds

If you have kids (aged 5 or more) who want to get into kayaking, you could do worse than the Lifetime Youth Wave ‘yak.

It’s only 6 foot in length and weighs a measly 18 pounds.

Comes with a paddle and molded in handles on the sides. There’s also a step to help your kids enter from the water.