The 10 Best Recreational Kayaks in 2019 | Reviews & Guide
The best recreational kayak for you is one that’ll take you on fun paddling journeys, no matter where you’d like to go! For the most part, these kayaks are great for lakes, rivers and calm coastal waters. Some will even handle mild rapids and accommodate two people, plus your favorite furry friend.
When purchasing the best recreational kayak, you want to consider the weight capacity, length, width and cockpit size. These details come down to individual preference, depending on how tall you are, how much equipment you have and how you like to paddle.
Let’s dive in and take a look at 10 of the top recreational kayaks on the market today.
Table of Contents
- 1 Top 10 Recreational Kayaks on the Market
- 2 Choose the Best Recreational Kayak for You
- 2.1 1. WILDERNESS SYSTEMS Pungo 120 Kayak
- 2.2 Features
- 2.3 2. Sun Dolphin Aruba SS 10-Foot Sit-in Kayak
- 2.4 Features
- 2.5 3. Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
- 2.6 More on the Ocean Kayak Frenzy
- 2.7 Features
- 2.8 4. Dagger Kayaks Zydeco 9.0 Kayak
- 2.9 Features
- 2.10 5. Dagger Axis 10.5 Kayak
- 2.11 Features
- 2.12 6. Ocean Kayak 12-Feet Malibu Two Tandem Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
- 2.13 Features
- 2.14 7. Lifetime 10 Foot Manta Tandem Kayak
- 2.15 Features
- 2.16 8. Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Kayak
- 2.17 Features
- 2.18 9. Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Vapor 10 Recreational Kayak
- 2.19 Features
- 2.20 10. Wilderness Systems Pamlico 135T Tandem Kayak
- 2.21 Features
- 3 How to Buy a Recreational Kayak
- 4 Our Final Review for the Best Recreational Kayak
Top 10 Recreational Kayaks on the Market
Choose the Best Recreational Kayak for You
1. WILDERNESS SYSTEMS Pungo 120 Kayak
Wilderness Systems builds popular recreational kayaks. The Pungo 120 is a twelve foot, solo kayak. However, it has an extremely large cockpit.
Measuring 22 inches by 57 inches, there’s plenty of room for you and your equipment, even if you’re a particularly tall kayaker. Another great feature is the extra large foot brace system.
Pungo by Wilderness Systems measures 29 inches in width. This width provides good stability as it’s supported by a multi-chined hull.
A multi-chined hull is one that has multiple angles on the bottom of the hull. The angles are strategic, so the kayak doesn’t lose speed, however, it remains very balanced.
The seat in this kayak is a Phase3 AirPro system. It’s made of foam, but covered in mesh. This allows the kayaker to feel comfortable and cool in the seat, with enough padding for back support.
There’s also thigh and knee padding in the cockpit, which helps provide comfort if you’re spending all day on the water. This is also a useful feature for taking sharp turns.
Storage is key on this kayak. Aside from the cockpit being large enough to store gear, there is bungee deck rigging and a console in the cockpit. In the rear of the kayak, behind the main seat, there’s also a very large hatch.
- Thigh padding
- Knee padding
- Console in cockpit
- Large cockpit
- Stern storage hatch
- 12 feet long
- 29-inch beam
- Multi-chined hull
- Phase3 Airpro Seat
Sun Dolphin makes a great, reasonably priced kayak. The Aruba SS is one of their best. At 10 feet in length, the kayak is short enough to gain excellent speed, but long enough to fit kayakers of many sizes.
The first perk of this little boat is the Portable Accessory Carrier. It’s a compartment that pops out to be pulled behind the kayak, leaving the area free for use as a day storage well.
The PAC can also be worn or used in the cockpit as a waterproof storage compartment. Also in the cockpit, you’ll find an electronics console.
The seat is padded and has a high back for support. The cockpit is very large and can accommodate most kayakers of varying sizes. Adjustable foot braces ensure that taller kayakers will be comfortable.
As an extra bonus, there’s extra rigging space for gear that doesn’t fit in the PAC or in the day well.
- Large cockpit
- Adjustable foot braces
- Comfortable seating
- Portable Accessory Carrier
- Lots of storage
- Adjustable seat
Sit-on-top kayaks, like the Ocean Frenzy, allow for extra storage and prevent kayakers from having to perform Eskimo rolls, in case of tipping.
This kayak is shorter than the others on the list, measuring 9 feet. Though it’s short in length, you must remember that the kayaker sits on the top of the kayak, allowing for more legroom than normal.
More on the Ocean Kayak Frenzy
The seat in the Frenzy has a Comfort Plus Seat Back, which has 4-way adjustability. This means that you can manoeuvre the seat to fit your body perfectly.
There is a day well in the stern, and bungees covering this area. This storage is not waterproof, but does ensure its safety in case of tipping. Additionally, there is storage on the bow deck, and this is also covered with bungees.
When finishing your kayaking journey, you don’t have to worry about bringing your kayak up on shore and wrecking the bottom. It has a rear skid plate which protects it. This skid plate is also replaceable, allowing you regular coverage.
- Deck bungee storage
- Bungee covered day well
- Comfort Plus Seat Back
- 9 feet
- Sit on Top
- Cup Holder
- Good for tall kayakers
Dagger is another popular kayak maker. Though the Zydeco is short, it has a cockpit of 38.5 inches by 21.5 inches, which allows many kayakers enough room to be comfortable.
The slide-lock foot brace system also affords extra comfort for tall kayakers, with proper support for the feet.
The seat in this kayak is a CFS-R. It allows extreme comfort, as it’s made of foam that’s covered and shaped with mesh. The seat also has many adjustment options.
Another benefit of this recreational kayak is a paddle park. This allows you to rest your paddles while kayaking, making it a great choice for fishermen or photographers.
Storage is for minimal equipment only on this boat. It has deck rigging on the bow and stern to tuck away smaller items.
- Foot Lock System
- Bungee Deck Storage
- Paddle Rests
- Smaller cockpit
- CFS-R seat
5. Dagger Axis 10.5 Kayak
Another kayak by Dagger, the Axis is a 10 ½ foot kayak. It has many of the same specs as the Zydeco, but some extra features. For example, the cockpit is precisely the same size as the Zydeco, even though the boat is a little longer.
This kayak is capable of standard lake activity, but can also handle river kayaking. This makes it one of the best recreational kayaks made by Dagger.
Inside the cockpit, the kayak has knee and thigh pads, slidelock foot braces, the classic ConTour CFS-R Seat, and even optional thigh braces. These features allow the kayaker to be incredibly comfortable while taking sharp turns or kayaking in difficult waters.
For storage, the kayak has a stern hatch, which is not waterproof. It has bungee deck rigging over the bow hatch. Just behind the seat is mesh-covered rigging. This is a decent amount of storage for such a small kayak.
Another feature which none of the other kayaks listed here have, is a skeg. A skeg is a retractable piece under the kayak. It is operated from inside the kayak and it allows the kayaker to create more resistance or less resistance against strong currents.
Like the Frenzy, this kayak also has a paddle rest. This allows kayakers extra freedom with their hands while kayaking.
- Retractable skeg
- Paddle Rest
- Stern Hatch
- Bungee Deck Rigging
- Mesh Deck Rigging
- Bow Hatch
- CFS-R Seat
- OPtional thigh braces
- Thigh pads
- Slidelock foot brace system
- Lake friendly
- River friendly
When you love kayaking with family, friends or your dog, consider the Ocean Kayak Malibu. The Malibu is actually designed for two people, but has enough extra seating for a child or pet. This is ideal for small families who hope to introduce children or pets to kayaking.
The seats in this kayak are Comfort Plus. Three seating positions are available, in the rear, in the front or in the middle of the kayak. The middle seating position can be chosen for solo kayaking as well.
The varying seat positions and the sit-on-top feature of this kayak mean that kayakers of any size can fit comfortably.
If you choose to solo kayak in this boat, there will be an amazing amount of storage available. As this kayak comes with gear straps, all of your equipment remains safe.
Like the Frenzy, this kayak has a skid plate on the bottom, for safety and durability.
- Tandem, can fit two adults and a child or dog
- Skid Plate
- Gear Straps
- 12 feet
- Varying seat positions
- Comfort Plus seats
The Lifetime Manta is a tandem, sit-on-top kayak that’s safe and stable, making it great for family days out on the water.
The kayak has a weight capacity of 500 pounds, so you can bring a significant amount of gear with you and your kayaking partners.
Like the Malibu, three people can actually fit in this kayak, including a small child or pet.
There are several footrest positions and three seats molded within, two of which offer backrests for the paddlers.
A storage area is located at the bow end, for food, drinks or fishing equipment. You’ll also find shock straps to fasten your gear safely and a bottle holder.
- Front cargo area
- 1-3 people can use this kayak
- Includes 2 paddles
- 500-pound capacity
The Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Kayak is a unique recreational kayak, as an inflatable. Many kayakers are nervous about purchasing inflatable kayaks, however this one comes with 3 layers of material which prevent puncturing.
As per its name, the kayak has a frame inside of it. The frame is made of aluminium ribs, which improve tracking and ensure the kayak doesn’t become too flexible over time.
The seat is a very comfortable and padded. Finally, the cockpit is a decent size, of 29 inches by 18 inches. This allows a smaller kayaker to fit comfortably with gear. There are also bungee straps over the bow, allowing for a little extra storage
- Bungee cord rigging on bow
- Decent sized cockpit
- Padded Seat
- 3 layers of material
- Aluminium ribbing to improve tracking
- Easy to get ready
The Old Town Canoes and Kayaks Vapor 10 is another recreational kayak which has a massive cockpit entrance. Measuring 48 by 20 inches and with a weight capacity of 325 pounds, you’re almost guaranteed to bring whatever gear you wish.
Inside the cockpit, you’ll find adjustable foot braces and an adjustable seat. There are also knee braces and thigh braces. This means if you’re fishing or fighting heavy waves, you’ll have the appropriate support and comfort.
Storage is everywhere on this kayak. There is a day well just behind the seat, which allows you to reach your equipment quickly and easily.
The beam of this boat is 28.5 inches, which makes it very stable and safe. Tough waves might not even tip you. However, this does mean that the Vapor isn’t the best choice for speed.
- Wide beam
- Short kayak
- 325-pound weight capacity
- Adjustable seat
- Knee Braces
- Thigh Braces
- Adjustable foot brace system
- Day well
The Wilderness Systems Pamlico 135T Tandem Kayak is another recreational kayak built for two. However, this kayak comes in as the longest recreational kayak on the list. At 13 ½ feet, with a cockpit size of 24 inches by 90 inches, you’ll have enough room for you, your partner, and all of the gear you could wish to bring.
The weight capacity on this yak is a whopping 500 pounds. Between the capacity, the cockpit size, the bungee deck rigging on the bow and stern and the small waterproof hatch in the back, you have multiple options for storage.
The seats in the kayak are two Phase3 Airpro seats, made with foam and covered in mesh. The seats allow you to paddle tandem or solo, as the front seat is on a sliding system.
There’s also thigh and knee padding in the kayak, allowing for support on rough days, as well as two foot brace systems.
- Thigh padding
- Knee padding
- Two Foot brace systems
- Two Phase3 Airpro Seats
- Bow Seat slides into various seating positions
- 500 pound capacity
- Large cockpit
- 13 ½ feet in length
- Bungee deck rigging on bow and stern
- Waterproof stern hatch
Before choosing the best recreational kayak for you, there are a few things to consider. The beam, length, weight capacity, and cockpit size can all make or break your kayaking experience.
When purchasing a recreational kayak, consider the beam of the boat. For most recreational kayaks, you want to a beam that’s over 28 inches. A beam of this width ensures the kayak can stay stable in the water.
If the beam is more narrow than this, it’ll have a greater chance of tipping. As recreational kayaks are designed for many different activities, stability is important.
Stability is important, but so is speed. The longer a kayak is, the faster it is, typically, in the water. This varies a little for river kayaks, but ultimately length and speed are correlated.
Consider what purpose you have for your kayak. If you want to race or be able to reach high speed, choose a longer kayak.
Weight capacity is crucial for recreational kayaks. You may use your kayak one day for just you and your paddle. The next it may be you and your fishing gear.
This means it’s very important to have some versatility in weight. Over 250 pounds is almost crucial, more if you know you’ll be doing activities that require lots of gear.
The cockpit size of your kayak is entirely based on personal preference. Things to take into consideration are how tall you are, how much space you like to have and whether or not you want to carry anything in the cockpit with you.
Once you’ve had a look at some of the top kayaks on the market, don’t forget to ensure you buy one that suits your recreational needs. Most of the ones on this list are versatile enough to cover a range of activities on the water.
If you’re looking specifically for whitewater kayaks, check out our reviews, here.