Not much beats a day on the water in the heat of summer. In a kayak, you get an up-close view of the surrounding aquatic habitat and have the freedom to go where bigger boats can’t. Plus, without a noisy engine in tow, you have a better shot of scoping out wildlife or landing a prized catch.

A vessel this versatile comes in different shapes and with varying features, and investing in your own doesn’t have to mean taking out a second mortgage. We found the best kayaks for every type of adventurer, whether you’re fishing, touring, or spending a relaxed day away from the shore.

Best Kayaks

    The Expert: Chantae Reden has been kayaking for over twenty years. She has explored island coastlines in Fiji and French Polynesia by kayak and has paddled through the waters of Hawaii, California, Western Australia, and Tonga. Her grandparents used to race outrigger canoes, and her grandfather still loves to fine tune her paddling technique. Chantae’s love of the ocean inspired her to create The Salt Sirens, a website dedicated to water sports. Her writing has appeared in outlets like Travel + Leisure, AFAR, Vice, Lonely Planet, and more.

    Types of Kayaks

    Your first choice when buying a kayak is whether you want a sit-in or sit-on-top design. For relaxed recreation on relatively calm water, the type of kayak that’s best for you is a matter of personal preference. But certain features from each design lend themselves to particular types of kayaking.

    pelican mustang 100x exo recreational sit in kayak
    Sit-in kayak: With an upper deck for protection and more storage space, this design is best for touring, whitewater kayaking, or recreational adventures.
    hobie mirage passport 120 sit on top pedal kayak for fishing
    Sit-on-top kayak: This style offers a higher vantage point and won’t fill with water if you tip over, which makes it a good choice for fishing, open ocean kayaking, or recreational adventures.
    Jeffrey Fortuna

    Sit-in kayaks are good for multiday touring boat trips and running rivers. The upper deck provides a good amount of protection from the water, especially when you add a spray skirt, like you would use when whitewater kayaking. This type of kayak also has more storage space, either in one or more covered hatches or within the bow and stern. However, this space below the deck can fill with water if you tip over, which can make righting the watercraft more challenging.

    You won’t have to worry about that with a sit-on-top kayak, which is the best choice if you are paddling in the ocean. The hull is sealed, except for a few small holes called scuppers that act as drains for any water that does find a way inside. Without an upper deck, some people find a sit-on-top kayak easier to get in and out of. Companies might add an elevated seat, which provides a better vantage point and greater range of motion for kayak fishing. Just beware that you will probably get wet while on board, either from paddling, water splashing against your boat, or a combination of the two.

    Companies change the shape of a kayak depending on its intended use. A wider boat provides a more stable but slower ride, which is ideal for recreation and fishing. These types of kayaks typically measure between 28 and 36 inches across at their widest. Faster boats, like touring kayaks, are narrower and longer (usually at least 11 feet) so they can move through the water more efficiently. Covering a lot of water quickly might sound appealing, but remember that the longer the kayak, the more difficult it will be to turn.

    How a Kayak Tracks

    Companies don’t just focus on the basic dimensions of a boat when designing a kayak. They alter the shape of the hull and can add accessories that help a kayak track, or stay on your chosen course despite chopping water or windy conditions. Kayaks with V-shaped bottoms and less curve from bow to stern track straighter than other designs. In rougher conditions, though, you’ll want a boat with a tracking fin, skeg, or rudder to provide more directional support. A tracking fin and a skeg both extend from the bottom of the kayak, but whereas a skeg can be retracted while you are on the water, a tracking fin can only be removed before you leave terra firma. A rudder flips down from the boat’s stern and its angle can be adjusted in the water, which gives you the greatest degree of control and often the most tracking support.

    Other Considerations

    Pay attention to the weight of the boat, especially if you plan to frequently transport your kayak with a rooftop rack. The heavier the kayak is, the harder it might be for you to lift and carry it from one place to another. You should also make sure its capacity is large enough to safely carry you and any gear onboard. (For boats with elevated seats, make sure the chairs are rated to your needs, too.)

    You should also find a boat with the features you want, and kayaks meant for specialized activities have customized components. Fishing kayaks have more storage space, so you can haul your lures, tackle, rods, reels, and other equipment. The hull might even have a spot for your fishfinder’s transducer. And so you don’t have to juggle paddling and casting, fishing kayaks are typically operated with a pedal drive system, though this addition won’t come cheap or light. Like fishing boats, touring kayaks also have room for your gear and frequently come with bulkheads to keep water out of the bow and stern.

    How We Evaluated

    To determine the best kayaks, we researched the market, spoke with product managers, sought advice from experienced paddlers, and relied on our own experiences using similar kayaks to the ones on this list. We compared models based on their individual designs, features, weight, capacity, dimensions, and value for money. We also read reviews from expert sources, such as Paddling Magazine and Kayaker Guide, and consulted customer reviews on Amazon, Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Cabela’s, and REI. All this helped us narrow the list to the nine great options below.

    Best Sit-On-Top Kayak


    Type: Recreational or fishing | Weight: 55 lb. | Length: 10 ft. 6 in. | Boat Capacity: 325 lb. | Tracking System: Rudder-capable

    Tarpon 105
    Wilderness Systems

    • Lots of storage
    • Can install rudder and other accessories

    • On the heavier side

    The Tarpon is as feature-rich and versatile as it is popular. Reviewers commend the kayak for its comfortable and adjustable seat that features ergonomic padding. What’s more, while some sit-on-top designs have multiple built-in footrests, the Tarpon has an adjustable system for a custom fit. The Tarpon has a front hatch, side compartments, a new removable dry box near the seat, and a large mesh-covered storage well in the rear. Another new feature is the water bottle strap that has a magnetic closure to quickly secure or release your water bottle or thermos. The recreational kayak has a compatible rudder if you will mostly be paddling on rough waters and can easily transform into a fishing rig. Mount rod holders and other gear to the accessory rails on the sides and just behind the front hatch. When it’s time to cast, make use of the paddle holder on the bow. Reasonably priced to boot, the Tarpon is a winner if you’re looking for a dependable sit-on-top kayak.

    Best Recreational Kayak


    Type: Recreational | Weight: 56 lb. | Length: 12 ft. | Boat Capacity: 375 lb. | Tracking System: Front keel

    Town Loon 120
    Old Town

    • Agile
    • Comfortable cockpit

    • On the heavier side

    The Old Town Loon 120 is a versatile kayak for paddlers who want to fish one day and go birding the next. The build of the kayak is robust with a durable rotomolded hull and narrow front keel for fast paddling and predictable tracking. Old Town has placed an emphasis on cockpit comfort with a super stable seat with enough padding and ventilation for full days out in the water. An adjustable foot brace helps with stability and control, especially when reeling in a big one. Gear practicalities are well thought out on this model with a spacious storage compartment in the stern and smaller dry hatch area at the front of the cockpit, complete with cup holders. The front compartment isn’t completely water-resistant, so it’s wise to secure items in a dry bag.

    Best Fishing Kayak


    Type: Fishing | Weight: 76 lb. | Length: 10 ft. 6 in. | Boat Capacity: 450 lb. | Tracking System: Rudder

    Sportsmand PDL 106
    Old Town

    • Pedal-operated
    • High capacity
    • Optimized for fishing

    • Expensive
    • Heavy

    Old Town pulls out all the stops for this premium fishing kayak. The hefty pedal-operated boat can haul up to 450 pounds, and at 36 inches wide, is very stable. The PDL Drive has bike-like pedals that rotate 360 degrees and also operate in reverse. If you overshoot your destination, simply pedal backward to change directions. Between the front hatch, side pockets, under seat storage area, and the tank well at the stern, you have lots of room to stow your stuff. There’s also a horizontal rod storage system, three rod holders, accessory tracks, and a place to attach a paddle if you want the backup. Also available in a 12-foot model, the Sportsman PDL has a spot to mount your transducer, a padded casting platform, and comes with a tackle box.

    Best Value


    Type: Recreational or fishing | Weight: 39 lb. | Length: 10 ft. | Boat Capacity: 300 lb. | Tracking System: None

    Mustang 100X EXO

    • Affordable
    • Lightweight
    • Versatile

    • No tracking system

    A good kayak for beginners, the Mustang packs in a lot of features without costing a small fortune. Make use of the two rod holders and cargo space (there’s a front hatch and an included 17-liter storage box that fits behind the seat) for an early morning fishing session or paddle leisurely around your nearby waterway. The kayak doesn’t have an additional tracking system, so plan to stick to lakes and slow moving rivers. Its lightweight design makes the Mustang easy to transport and capable of supporting a decent size load. The padded backrest and knee pads adjust to your needs, and you have ready access to your phone and water bottle thanks to the dedicated holders on-board for each. Plus, Pelican stands behind its product by offering a limited lifetime warranty.

    Best Touring Kayak


    Type: Touring | Weight: 44 lb. | Length: 11 ft. 6 in. | Boat Capacity: 250 lb. | Tracking System: Skeg

    Expression 11.5

    • Good weight-to-length ratio
    • Affordable for a touring kayak
    • Rudder-capable

    • Low capacity
    • Smaller than many touring kayaks

    The Expression provides all the basic features that you need for touring at an approachable cost. The narrow design favors speed over stability. If you’re used to the feel of a recreational boat, that might feel a bit unsteady initially, but you’ll appreciate the fast gliding when you’ve got a long day on the water ahead of you. It doesn’t hurt that the kayak is fairly lightweight for its length, either. As for storage, a rear hatch, protected further by a bulkhead at the stern, offers a dry place for your haul, and bungee cords on the deck secure other items. Pack wisely, though, as the kayak only supports 250 pounds. Although the Expression is shorter than most in its category, it is easier to turn and small enough to fit in cliffside alcoves and spots where other boats can’t go. Plus, you can add a rudder to the boat and keep the skeg stowed when you will be traveling in choppier conditions. If you are just getting into multiday boat trips, this is a fine entry-level choice.

    Best Value Fishing Kayak


    Type: Fishing | Weight: 52 lb. | Length: 10 ft. | Boat Capacity: 275 lb. | Tracking System: Tracking fin

    Tamarack Angler 100

    • Paddle included
    • Very affordable for a fishing kayak

    • Low capacity for fishing
    • Not pedal-operated

    Tricked-out fishing kayaks typically cost a grand or two (if not more), but by skipping the pedal drive system and keeping the feature set to only the essentials, Lifetime defies the norm with the Tamarack. The kayak has a decent amount of storage between the two covered hatches and the bungee cords at the bow and stern. There are also three rod holders, including one that adjusts, and a place to store your paddle while you cast. The padded seat keeps you comfortable as you wait for the fish to bite, too. Of course, there are some trade-offs for your savings. The Tamarack is shorter than most fishing kayaks with much less capacity. That means you will cover less water in the same amount of time and will need to pack more efficiently. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better deal on a fishing boat than this.

    Best Pedal Kayak


    Type: Fishing or ocean | Weight: 83 lb. | Length: 12 ft. | Boat Capacity: 400 lb. | Tracking System: Rudder

    Mirage Passport 12.0

    • Very stable
    • Outfitted for fishing
    • Paddle included

    • Expensive
    • Heavy

    Take to the ocean or prepare to reel in a few catches on the pedal-powered Mirage Passport. The 12-foot model relies on Hobie’s MirageDrive Classic propulsion system. The pedal drive easily clicks in and out of place, has adjustable cranks that you can set to your height, and operates with a stair-stepping motion. We found it easy to use even in shallow water. The Passport’s wide design ensures a stable ride, and the rudder makes it capable in varying conditions. For anglers, the kayak has two rod holders, a transducer cavity, tackle storage, a padded standing platform to cast from, and several accessory rails for mounting gear. There’s also an 8-inch hatch within arm’s reach and storage space at the bow and stern. These features don’t come light or cheap, but the Passport is a good choice for ocean kayakers, anglers, or anyone looking to move through the water hands-free.

    Best Folding Kayak


    Type: Recreational | Weight: 20 lb. | Length: 9 ft. 6 in. | Boat Capacity: 275 lb. | Tracking System: None


    • Lightweight

    • Not best for rough conditions or ocean kayaking

    Under 10 feet and weighing just 20 pounds, the Inlet is one of Oru’s smallest kayaks. That makes it easy to carry and compact enough to fit in the trunk of a sedan or your closet at home. Once you get to your destination, it unfolds in less than five minutes thanks to an easy-to-use buckle-closure system. And like almost every other sit-in kayak, you can still adjust the boat’s backrest and footrest. The Inlet is made with 5-millimeter double-layered polypropylene, so it offers more protection than an inflatable kayak might if the bottom brushes against some unseen rocks or sunken tree limbs. Because it doesn’t have a tracking system, though, you’ll want to stick to paddling calm waters.

    Best Inflatable Kayak


    Type: Fishing | Weight: 44 lb. | Length: 12 ft. 5 in. | Boat Capacity: 635 lb. | Tracking System: Tracking fin and keel

    385fta FastTrack Angler Series
    Sea Eagle

    • Outfitted for fishing
    • Stable
    • Can add a second seat or install an engine

    • Not pedal-powered
    • High price point for inflatable kayak

    The Sea Eagle 385fta FastTrack was built with anglers in mind. This inflatable kayak tracks straighter and paddles faster than comparable inflatable kayaks and is equipped with two rod holders mounted next to the seat plus additional rod holders in the bow and stern. And there are two bungee storage sections for stowing tackle. An inflatable swivel seat makes catching fish while seated is a breeze. Non-slip foot pads help you stay put if you do need to move around. An inflatable keel at the bow plus a fin at the back helps this kayak track straight, even in choppy conditions. The kayak packs within the baggage size and weight limits of most major airlines, making it the perfect fishing kayak for destinations where there are plenty of waterways to explore but limited gear rental options. Because of its high carrying capacity, the 385fta FastTrack can carry a second paddler (second seat installation required) and an engine weighing up to 34 pounds.

    Expert Chantae Reden Explains How to Keep Your Kayak in Prime Paddling Shape, Plus More Tips on Finding the Right Boat

    Our expert Chantae Reden paddles around Fiji’s Lau Islands in a tandem kayak.

    PM: What’s the best way to maintain a kayak both on and off the water?

    C.R.: Although most kayaks are generally durable, there are a few precautions you can take to help them last for years to come. When launching your kayak into the water, try to do so in an area away from sharp rocks and debris—this will prevent your kayak getting scuffed, scratched, or even punctured. Once it’s out of the water, you’ll want to thoroughly rinse it off with freshwater to clear away salt, sand, or dirt. Saltwater left on the kayak attracts moisture from the air and can cause metal parts of the kayak, like any clips or screws, to rust. Store it away from direct sunlight, too much UV ray exposure can weaken the plastic and warp the shape of the kayak.

    PM: What advice do you have for beginning kayakers?

    C.R.: If you’re new to the sport, start by learning to kayak in calm water, like a bay or lake where you won’t have waves, currents, or chop to contend with. Spend your first few sessions with a kayaking guide to learn paddling and safety techniques. Always wear a life jacket. Before you venture out on your own, master the skill of flipping your kayak upright while in the water and getting back into your boat if you fall overboard. It’s always safer to kayak with a friend.

    PM: What’s one criteria you pay close attention to when reviewing and paddling kayaks?

    C.R.: Although kayaks vary in length, capacity, and purpose, comfort is the highest priority when it comes to choosing the right kayak. It doesn’t matter how well-built a kayak is, if it’s uncomfortable to paddle in, it’ll do little more than collect dust. I first check to see that the kayak is suited to my size and skill level. Am I able to paddle predictably and without discomfort? Oftentimes, the seat is the main culprit for discomfort. If I feel any pinching, chafing, or back pain, I adjust the seat to see if that helps. Fortunately, most kayaks, including budget to mid-range models, have seats that can be swapped out for a more comfortable fit.

    PM: There are so many portable kayaks on the market these days. Any advice on who benefits the most from a folding or inflatable kayak? What tradeoffs are there?

    C.R.: The best kayak is generally the one you’re actually going to use. What good is a high-performance touring kayak if you can’t get it from your garage to the water? Foldable and inflatable kayaks have yet to match traditional hard kayaks performance-wise, but they’re much more portable. Foldable and inflatable kayaks usually pack down into the size of a suitcase, making them easy to store and transport. Portable kayaks are great options for families, paddlers who use public transport or have smaller vehicles, and those of us who live somewhere with limited storage space.