Best Recreational Kayaks – 2021 Buying Guide For Casual Paddlers
Kayaking can be a fun way to experience nature and explore new areas. And if you’re just starting out, a recreational kayak might be the way to go. Combining stability with maneuverability, these boats can be great for all ages and abilities.
We have put together a guide to some of the best recreational kayaks out there, along with some tips on the features to look out for.
Sneak Peek: Favorite Recreational Kayaks
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Top 11 Best Recreational Kayaks Reviewed
1: Perception Pescador 10.0 Sit-On-Top Kayak (best overall)
The Perception Pescador 10.0 is a 10 foot 6 inch sit-on-top boat that can be great for both fishing and leisure paddling. It features a wide, stable hull and a 325 pound capacity.
A fantastic feature of this boat is the storage space. Despite its compact size, there is a spacious rear cargo deck with bungee rigging so that you can secure your gear to the boat. You’ll also find a bow hatch with a hinged lid, so you can store gear inside the hull to keep it dry.
This yak has the added benefit of a padded adjustable seat for improved comfort for both paddling and fishing. There are adjustable foot braces for different leg legs and molded-in cup holder and rod holders.
Additionally, there are built-in gear tracks so that you can mount your own accessories to customize the boat to your needs. There is also a paddle holder to keep your paddle safe while you’re fishing or swimming.
2: Perception Tribe 9.5 Sit-On-Top Kayak (best for women)
The Perception Tribe 9.5 is a sit-on-top yak that can be great for women because of its slightly shorter length. This 9 foot 5 inch kayak can be easy for women and smaller framed paddlers to maneuver. It’s also lightweight, which can make it easier to carry.
The Tribe 9.5 has a capacity of 300 pounds so you can bring along gear that you might need during your trip. There is a roomy rear cargo deck that can be ideal for a cooler, and there are bungees to let you secure your load. There is also bungee rigging at the bow for holding additional gear.
This stable, durable boat features a padded seat with adjustable seat back, as well as molded-in footrests so you can position yourself comfortably for paddling. There is also a small center storage hatch with an insert to let you keep small items within close reach.
3: Ocean Kayak Prowler 13 Angler (best recreational fishing kayak)
This Ocean Kayak Prowler 13 Angler can be a great choice if you’re looking to load up for a fishing trip.
This 13 foot 4 inch kayak is 28 inches wide, so it may not feel as stable as a shorter, wider one but it can still offer you a high level of stability. It is designed to perform a little better in rougher water because of the increased secondary stability in the hull.
The longer length may also give you improved speed and you have the option of adding a rudder (sold separately) to improve performance in open water or currents.
The boat benefits from having built-in rod holders, a large rear tank well, a bow hatch and a center hatch, so there should be plenty of space to secure your gear.
Video: Prowler 13 Overview
You’ll also find a padded seat with seat back, molded foot rests and a transducer compatible scupper hole.
4: Sea Eagle 380X Explorer Inflatable Kayak (best for big guys)
This Sea Eagle 380X Explorer is a 12 foot 6 inch inflatable kayak that can be ideal for larger paddlers. It has a high weight capacity of 750 pounds, so it can be great if you’re looking to load it up for a day on the water or even an overnight trip.
The inflatable boat can be deflated and packed down to just 31 by 20 by 9 inches, so it can easily fit in your car or a closet at home. It is durable, with a drop-stitch floor that can help improve paddling efficiency and tracking. It can also be sturdy enough for your dog’s paws.
It benefits from 16 drain valves that can be opened and closed. It can handle up to Class IV whitewater and has a removable skeg that can help keep you tracking straight on flatwater.
5: Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak (best for children)
This Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak is a 6 foot kayak that is designed for kids aged from 5 years. This stable boat can be a great starter yak to let kids get comfortable on the water and develop their paddling skills.
It is a lightweight yak, weighing just 18 pounds, so it can be easy for kids to drag to the water.
This compact boat features scupper holes for drainage, molded finger handles on either side and a toggle handle at the bow. There is a molded seat with molded foot rests for different sized paddlers.
To make it easier for kids to climb back on, there is a sloped swim-up deck at the back.
6: Pelican Sentinel 100X
The Pelican Sentinel 100X can be a great kayak if you’re a beginner because it features a non-slip floor that can make it easier for stepping in and out. This padded floor can also be more comfortable for your dog to stand on.
This compact yak is stable and easy to maneuver, making it ideal for smaller bodies of water. It benefits from a cushioned seat with an adjustable padded backrest. The backrest is also designed to be extra high and extra wide, which can provide more comfort and support.
There is bungee rigging at the bow and stern for securing gear and there’s the additional feature of a removable ExoShell compartment, which can be great for carrying your gear to and from your boat if you’re stopping for lunch.
7: Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Tandem Inflatable Kayak
This Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Tandem is designed for two paddlers but can also be paddled solo. It’s an inflatable yak that can be a good option if you’re looking for something that is easy to take to the water in your car.
It’s not particularly lightweight for an inflatable but it can be deflated into a duffel bag measuring just 35 by 21 by 12 inches. This durable vessel is designed to be puncture resistant and is built to offer stability on flatwater.
It comes with two seats that are both adjustable and removable. There is also a good amount of storage space, with bungee rigging at the bow and D rings for attaching extra gear. The bow spray cover has a water resistant zipper so that you can access storage within the hull.
8: Ocean Kayak Malibu 9.5 Sit-On-Top
The Ocean Kayak Malibu 9.5 is a sit-on-top kayak that can be great for exploring lakes, bays and slow moving rivers. This compact yak is 9 foot 6 inches in length and 33 inches wide, making it a stable choice for beginners.
Its short length means it can be easy to maneuver both on the water and on land. It may also be easier to store and could fit in the back of a pickup for easier transportation.
It features a comfortable padded seat with an adjustable AirComfort backrest. The molded footrests can help you stabilize yourself and maintain your paddling position.
For its small size, it has a high capacity of 325 pounds and there’s even room if you want to bring along any gear, with a cargo deck at the stern and bungee rigging at the bow. There is a small hatch in front of the seat which is designed to keep smaller items safe and dry, while keeping them within arm’s reach.
9: Perception JoyRide 12 Sit-Inside Kayak
This Perception JoyRide 12 can be a great boat for paddling on lakes, slow moving rivers and coastal bays. This stable sit-inside yak has a large cockpit that’s 51 inches long and 23 inches wide, making it easy to get in and out of, especially if you’re new to sit-insides. The spacious cockpit may also make it feel more comfortable because of its size.
The JoyRide 12 features an adjustable seat with padding on both the seat bottom and the seatback. There are also adjustable footrests so that you can find the most comfortable leg position.
A great feature of this boat is the dashboard at the front of the cockpit. It has storage space for your water bottle and other essentials and it even has a Selfie-Slot so you can position your gadget to take pictures while you paddle.
You’ll also find a hinged storage hatch at the back where you can keep larger items inside the hull.
10: Ocean Kayak Malibu Two Tandem Sit-On-Top (best tandem)
The Ocean Kayak Malibu Two can be a great recreational kayak if you’re looking to paddle with a friend. It is compact for a tandem, being just 12 foot long, but this can also make it easier to maneuver and more suitable on smaller bodies of water.
It comes with two seats with seat backs but you can also remove and reposition the seats so that it can be paddled by just one person if necessary. This might mean you get more use out of it because of its versatility.
There are molded footrests at the front, center and rear seats for comfort no matter where in the boat you sit. While there’s not a lot of space for gear, there are gear straps at both the bow and the stern where you can secure a dry bag or two to the deck.
11: Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 (best budget)
The Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 is a 9 foot 7 inch sit-inside boat that can be an affordable option for paddling on lakes, rivers and bays. It has a large, spacious cockpit so it can feel less confining but still provide you with some protection from the cold weather or water.
This compact yak is designed to be easy to maneuver and can be great for beginners, both adults and children.
Inside the cockpit there is an adjustable padded seat, padded thigh braces and adjustable foot braces, so you can tailor the yak to suit your comfort level.
There is a water bottle holder in front of the cockpit, for easy access, and there’s a storage compartment at the stern for holding larger items. Bungee rigging on the deck can be ideal for securing a jacket or small dry bag.
Who Would Paddle Recreational Kayaks?
A recreational kayak can be perfect for a beginner. These yaks are designed to be stable and easy to paddle, whether you’re an adult or a child. They are also built to be durable and easy to get in and out of.
If you’re looking for a boat that can be good for days at the lake or beach, or a short paddling trip on a slow moving river, a recreational kayak can be ideal.
This type of kayak may not be the best choice if you’re looking for something that will be quick over the water or if you’re looking to head into whitewater. Recreational boats are generally not regarded as speedy. This is because the focus of their design is more for stability on flatwater.
If you’re looking to spend a few days on the water, for example, a touring kayak may be more suitable, as this should let you paddle more efficiently and should offer you more in the way of storage for your gear.
As well as being great for beginners, a recreational yak can also be ideal for fishing. The stability of a recreational boat can be well suited to fishing on lakes or ponds. Some vessels may even include rod holders. However, not all recreational vessels will have the capacity for a long fishing trip.
What Features Make A Recreational Kayak?
Sit-On-Top Or Sit-Inside
Recreational kayaks can be found as both sit-inside and sit-on-top models. The difference between the two is that a sit-inside has a cockpit so that you can sit inside the hull. A sit-on-top, on the other hand, does not.
A sit-inside can be more suitable if you plan to paddle in colder water or colder weather, as it can give you some protection against the elements. With some sit-insides you may even be able to attach a spray skirt to water out of your cockpit.
However, many recreational sit-inside yaks tend to have a larger cockpit, which can often be unsuitable for most spray skirts.
A sit-on-top can be ideal for warmer climates and can be easier to get in and out of, since there is no cockpit. This means it might feel more comfortable if you’re a beginner, as it can feel less restrictive than a sit-inside. A sit-on-top can also be easier if you want to jump off for a swim during your paddling session.
Recreational kayaks are often built with stability as a key feature. This can make them ideal for beginners, as they can feel less tippy on flatwater, such as slow moving rivers and calm lakes.
Stability can be categorized as primary and secondary stability. Most recreational yaks will have a higher level of primary stability than secondary stability because they are usually designed for flatwater conditions.
Primary stability is generally the boat’s initial stability when you first get in. Secondary stability is what keeps your boat from tipping in rougher water, so it can roll more easily to pass over waves and whitewater. These tend to be more rounded in shape.
Boats with increased primary stability will often have a flat bottom hull or pontoon style hull. Many recreational vessels will tend to have flat bottoms.
Easy To Paddle
A recreational yak should be relatively easy to paddle, making them ideal as an entry level boat. With these types of boats being shorter and wider than touring kayaks, for example, they can be much easier to maneuver, especially if you’re a beginner.
Their maneuverability can make them great for small bodies of water, such as smaller rivers or ponds. They will also tend to be durable, so that they can survive the inevitable bump off of rocks or sandbars.
Comfort will tend to vary between brands and models. Budget vessels may not always include a padded seat, for example, and the seat may simply be molded into the hull.
Recreational yaks will usually be designed to offer comfort for shorter paddling trips, so they may not have the same type of adjustability that you might find with higher end touring kayaks, for example an adjustable seat.
If you’re planning to spend a lot of time in your kayak, you might want to opt for a vessel that has a supportive seat. Or buy a good seat separately.
Size can be an important feature, as this can determine its capacity, maneuverability and stability. Many recreational boats can be found around the 10 to 12 foot range, although you can find both shorter and longer ones. A child’s boat, for example, can be as short as 6 feet.
Video: Choosing The Right Recreational Kayak
Length will probably be important if you’re a larger paddler or if you’re looking for added space for cargo or your dog.
The shorter and wider the vessel, generally the more stable and easier to maneuver it will be.
You may also want to consider how you will transport your yak or where you will store it. Shorter kayaks may be able to be car-topped or carried in the back of a pickup. Inflatable vessels can be ideal if you’re short on space at home and want to be able to fit the boat into the trunk of your car.
Video: How To Tie Down Your Kayak To Your Truck Bed
The weight capacity of the yak can usually give you a good idea of how suitable it will be for you. Think about how much you weigh and how much gear you intend to take, as the capacity of the vessel is the total of you plus your gear.
Overloading your boat may impact the performance of the vessel and could be unsafe.
Inflatable Or Hard Shell
Choosing between an inflatable and a hard shell yak will probably be down to personal preference and convenience. You may find that an inflatable boat has a higher weight capacity than a hard shell vessel of a similar size. This can make inflatables ideal for camping trips, larger paddlers or even if you want to bring your dog along.
An inflatable yak can be easier to store at home, as it doesn’t take up as much space as a hard shell equivalent. It can also be more convenient when it comes to transportation, with most of them able to fit in the trunk of a car. Inflatables are also lighter, so they can be easier to carry.
However, an inflatable boat may take longer to pack away, since you will usually have to wait until it’s completely dry before you deflate it for storage.
Hard shell boats might offer increased speed and paddling efficiency compared to inflatables. They are also ready to go when you are, so you don’t need to spend time inflating it or deflating it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Use A Recreational Kayak In The Ocean?
If the water is calm and you’re paddling close to the beach they can be good for family fun. They might not be suitable for ocean touring or rougher waves.
Are Recreational Kayaks Safe?
Recreational kayaks tend to be stable and difficult to flip. But even if flipped, they are usually designed to be easy to get in and out of.
Are Recreational Kayaks Different From Touring Or Sea Kayaks?
Recreational kayaks tend to be wider and shorter than touring or sea kayaks. They will also usually be built more for stability on flatwater and may be less able to handle waves or rough water. Touring and sea kayaks are generally long, narrow and built for speed and rougher water.
Are Recreational Kayaks Fast?
They are usually not as fast as longer touring kayaks because they tend to be shorter and wider to allow for increased stability and ease of maneuverability. Speed can often be sacrificed for stability.
Can You Fish From Them?
Yes, you can fish from them. Some recreational kayaks will have rod holders built into the deck.
We think the best recreational kayak is the Perception Pescador 10 because it has a great combination of features that can be useful both for casual paddling trips and fishing trips. It is stable, easy to maneuver and has a high level of storage for its size.
If that’s not quite right for you, a good runner up is the Perception Tribe 9.5 because it can be more suitable for women and smaller framed paddlers. It has an adjustable seat for added comfort and is spacious enough to bring along gear for a day on the water.
Remember, initial stability can be a good feature to look for in a recreational kayak, as this can be better suited to flatwater paddling on slow moving rivers and lakes. Think about the size of boat you’ll need and whether you’ll be paddling with a partner.
Not all of these options will be suitable for all paddlers so remember to think about the features that will suit you best when choosing your kayak.