10 Best Recreational Kayaks – Top Buying Guide (2017 Edition)
Recreational kayaks are kayaks which are not designed for one specific activity. This means that instead of performing perfectly as, say, a fishing kayak or a whitewater kayak, it will perform at an average level in many different activity categories.
When purchasing the best recreational kayak, you want to consider the weight capacity, length of the kayak, width of the kayak (or beam), and the cockpit size.
Table of Contents
- 1 10 Best Recreational Kayaks in 2017
- 1.0.1 1. WILDERNESS SYSTEMS Pungo 120 Kayak
- 1.0.2 Features
- 1.0.3 2. Sun Dolphin Aruba SS 10-Foot Sit-in Kayak
- 1.0.4 Features
- 1.0.5 3. Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
- 1.0.6 Features
- 1.0.7 4. Dagger Kayaks Zydeco 9.0 Kayak
- 1.0.8 Features
- 1.0.9 5. Dagger Axis 10.5 Kayak
- 1.0.10 Features
- 1.0.11 6. Ocean Kayak 12-Feet Malibu Two Tandem Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
- 1.0.12 Features
- 1.0.13 7. Lifetime 10 Foot Manta Tandem Kayak
- 1.0.14 Features
- 1.0.15 8. Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Kayak
- 1.0.16 Features
- 1.0.17 9. Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Vapor 10 Recreational Kayak
- 1.0.18 Features
- 1.0.19 10. Wilderness Systems Pamlico 135T Tandem Kayak
- 1.0.20 Features
- 1.1 How to Buy a Recreational Kayak
- 1.2 Our Final Review for the Best Recreational Kayak
WILDERNESS SYSTEMS Pungo 120 Kayak
22 inches by 57 inches
Sun Dolphin Aruba SS 10-Foot Sit-in Kayak
30 inches by 13 inches
Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
Sit On Top Kayak
Dagger Kayaks Zydeco 9.0 Kayak
38.5 inches by 21.5 inches
Dagger Axis 10.5 Kayak
10 ½ feet
38 inches by 21 inches
Ocean Kayak 12-Feet Malibu Two Tandem Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
Sit on Top
Lifetime 10 Foot Manta Tandem Kayak
Sit on Top
Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Kayak
10 ½ feet
29 inches by 18 inches
Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Vapor 10 Recreational Kayak
48 inches by 20 inches
Wilderness Systems Pamlico 135T Tandem Kayak
13 ½ feet
24 inches by 90 inches
Recreational kayaks are an ideal all purpose kayak. They allow kayakers to enjoy fishing, river kayaking, lake kayaking, touring, and many other kayaking activities from one yak.
This presents ease for kayakers, because you are not constantly having to switch kayaks. This is also an ideal purchase for those just beginning to enjoy kayaking. When purchasing your recreational kayak, you want to consider the weight capacity, length, width, cockpit size, and whether or not it is a tandem kayak.
Wilderness Systems builds an excellent recreational kayak. The Pungo 120 is a twelve foot, solo kayak. This means it is designed for one person.
The kayak, however, has an extremely large cockpit. Measuring 22 inches by 57 inches, it is easy to store gear in the cockpit. It is also easy for taller kayakers to fit comfortably. Another feature for kayakers is the extra large foot brace system.
Pungo by Wilderness Systems measures 29 inches in width. This width provides good stability. This stability is 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. The seat is made of foam, but is covered in mesh. This allows the kayaker to feel comfortable and cool in the seat, while still having enough padding to have back support.
There is also thigh and knee padding in this cockpit, which helps provide comfort if you are spending all day in the kayak. This can also be a useful feature if you are 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 is a very large hatch for storing gear.
- 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 phenomenal, 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 PAC. Most Sun Dolphin kayaks come equipped with a Portable Accessory Carrier. Upon looking at the kayak, it appears to be just a small compartment in the back of the kayak. However, the compartment pops out and can be pulled behind the kayak, leaving the area it was in to be used 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 will find an electronics console.
The seat is padded and has a high back on it. This allows for excellent seating in this kayak. The cockpit is very large and can accommodate most kayakers. Adjustable foot braces ensure that taller kayakers will still be comfortable.
There is 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
The Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak is unique because it is a sit on top kayak. Sit on top kayaks allow the kayaker to sit on top of the rotomolded kayak, instead of sitting inside of it. Typically, this allows for extra storage and prevents kayakers from having to perform an eskimo roll in case of tipping the kayak.
This kayak is shorter than the others on the list, measuring 9 feet. Though it is short in length, you must remember that the kayaker sits on the top of the kayak, allowing for more legroom than normal.
The seat in the Frenzy has a Comfort Plus Seat Back, which has 4 way adjustability. This means that you can maneuver the seat to fit your body perfectly.
There is a day well in the stern, and there are 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 the kayak. 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 exquisite kayak maker. This recreational kayak is the Zydeco 9 foot kayak. 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. It helps kayakers of varying heights to have the proper support for their feet.
The seat in this kayak is a CFS-R. It allows extreme comfort, as it is made of foam which is them covered and shaped with mesh. The seat also has, like the Frenzy, many adjustment options.
Another benefit of this recreational kayak which has not been a feature on any other kayak on the list, is a paddle park. This allows you to rest your paddles while you are kayaking--making this kayak more friendly for fishermen or photographers.
Storage is decent at best on this boat. There are no storage wells or waterproof compartments. It only has deck rigging on the bow and stern. This is still enough for smaller items to be tucked away, but it is not enough room to store large 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 also can handle river kayaking. This makes it, easily, 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
The Malibu is another sit on top kayak by Ocean. However, this recreational kayak is one of the best tandem recreational kayak. This typically means that it can easily fit two people.
However, the Malibu is actually designed for two people and 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 seats. Three seating positions are available--a seat can sit 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. Especially because this kayak is 12 feet, any kayakers should be able to fit comfortably.
If you choose to solo kayak in this boat, there will be an amazing amount of storage for you. As this kayak comes with gear straps, all of your equipment will be safe.
Like the Frenzy, this kayak has a skid plate on the bottom. This ensures that your kayak will be safe from the bottom of the body of water you are exploring.
- Tandem, can fit two adults and a child or dog
- Skid Plate
- Gear Straps
- 12 feet
- Varying seat positions
- Comfort Plus seats
Lifetime kayaks are not designed for all kayakers, as they have some features which are not ideal for everyone. However, the Lifetime Manta is a tandem, sit on top kayak which simply cannot be rivaled with in some categories.
For instance, the kayak has a weight capacity of 500 pounds. This means that you can bring a significant amount of gear with you and your kayaking partner.
However, this kayak does not have full seats included, It has two backrests which are adjustable, but the seat base is a rotomolded seat in the boat.
Like the Malibu, three people can actually fit in this kayak, however only two paddles are included for use. That being said, many other recreational kayaks do not include paddles in their purchase, so this is one less purchase which has to be made.
There are no storage hatches on this kayak, but there is a cargo area in the front of the kayak. The Manta, unlike the Malibu, does not come with gear straps for securing your equipment.
Finally, if there should be any fault with the design or manufacturing of this kayak, there is a five year warranty on the boat. THis ensures that your purchase will not be wasted due to company error.
- Five year limited warranty
- Front cargo area
- 1-3 people can use this kayak
- INcludes 2 paddles
- Backrest, but rotomolded seat base
- 500 pound capacity
The Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Kayak is another extremely unique recreational kayak. The kayak is actually an inflatable kayak. 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 on this kayak is aluminum ribs, which improves the tracking and ensures that the kayak doesn’t become too flexible overtime.
Set up can also be nerve-wracking for inflatable kayaks, However, this kayak is completely put together side from the seat. THis means all you need to do is inflate it, attach the seat, and slide it into the water.
The seat is a very comfortable, padded seat. Unlike many of the other seats on this list are covered in mesh, however this kayak seat is not so. It can cause stickiness and extra heat.
Finally, the cockpit has a decent size to it, of 29 inches by 18 inches. This allows a smaller kayaker to fit comfortably and to add their gear. There are also bungee straps over the bow of the kayak, allowing for a little extra storage
- Bungee cord rigging on bow
- Decent sized cockpit
- Padded Seat
- 3 layers of material
- Aluminum 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 are almost guaranteed to be able to bring whatever gear you wish to bring.
Inside the cockpit you will find adjustable foot braces and an adjustable seat. There are also knee braces and thigh braces. This means if you are just fishing or fighting heavy waves, you will have the appropriate supports and comfort.
Storage is everywhere on this kayak. There is a day well just behind the seat, which allow you to reach your equipment quickly and easily. However, there is no rigging over this day well, which means you could easily lose your equipment if you tip.
The beam of this boat is 28.5 inches, which means that you will be incredibly steady in this kayak. Tough waves will not tip you. However, if you were hoping to use this kayak for speed, this is not a good option for you.
- 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 people 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 will 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 have two Phase3 Airpro seats. These seats are foam covered with mesh. The seats also allow for you to paddle tandem or paddle solo, as the front seat is on a sliding system.
There is also thigh and knee padding in the kayak, allowing for support on rough days. The Kayak features two foot brace systems, one for each kayaker. This ensures that whatever height both paddlers are, they will have the proper supports to ensure they are comfortable.
- 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
Most who buy a recreational kayak purchase one with the intent for using it for many different activities. This being said, you must consider which activities you hope to use the kayak for. 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 ensure you have a beam over 28 inches. A beam of this width ensures that the kayak can stay stable in the water.
If the beam is more narrow than this, it will have a greater chance of tipping. As recreational kayaks are designed to be used for many different activities, they must be able to stay stable in all of them.
Stability is important, but so is speed. THe longer a kayak is, the faster it typically can go 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 is very important to have some versatility in weight. Over 250 pounds is almost crucial, more if you know you will be participating in activities with lots of gear.
Cockpit size can make or break a boat. Many who purchase kayaks plan on allowing their entire family to use them. If this is the case, you want your cockpit to be large enough for anyone to fit into. Additionally, if the kayak does not have many options for storage, the cockpit can serve as an excellent storage compartment.
Cockpit size is important to consider, unless you purchase a sit on top kayak. Sit on top kayaks are comfortable for almost any size kayaker and allow for lots of gear to be stored within an arm’s reach.
Recreational kayaks are some of the best kayaks for those just getting into kayaking or those looking for a boat to meet a variety of needs. It is important to know that your kayak can hold up to your expectations.
Consider how much weight you will be bringing--if you hope to fish, you will need a greater weight capacity than if you plan on doing photography. Consider the width and length, do you want stability or speed?
Finally, consider cockpit size. Who will be using your kayak and what else will be in your kayak? If you plan on bringing your dog with you, you may want a larger kayak cockpit.
You can also check out our review for the best whitewater kayaks. And always, be safe out there when kayaking!