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- The best kayak is, generally speaking, the best kayak you can afford. While several of the kayaks on our list happen to be designed with anglers in mind, they’re also designed for comfort.
- We’ve tested over a dozen kayaks, and having sent both anglers and non-anglers out in all of them, the fishing-specific kayaks were always preferred because they’re just more comfortable.
- The Vibe Sea Ghost 110 is our top pick for open water and fishing, while the Old Town Castine Kayak is our top pick for touring flat water.
Kayaking is a great sport because it’s fun regardless of your skill level and because it can be as relaxing or challenging as you want. You and a buddy can hop into or atop a tandem kayak and enjoy a lazy paddle around the lake or you can slide into the cockpit of a touring kayak and set off to conquer miles of open water. Or you can head for raging whitewater if that’s your thing.
While kayaking can get expensive if you demand the finest gear made, there are also boats available at such modest costs that anyone can try their hand at the paddle.
When you’re choosing your kayak, try to consider what you’ll be using it for most. Long trips down — or up — rivers, involving overnight camping? Lazy Sunday afternoon paddles around ponds? If the former, a kitted-out fishing-styled kayak is almost certainly your best bet. If the latter, then an inexpensive, stripped-down plastic or inflatable boat without all the storage and fancy seating will do just as well.
In addition to our research and testing, we also consulted Luke Pope-Corbett of Charleston Kayak Company and Dallas Baker of Coastal Expeditions, both based in Charleston, South Carolina, for their expertise and recommendations.
Here are our top picks for the best kayaks
- Best ocean sit-on-top kayak: Vibe Sea Ghost 110
- Best touring sea kayak: Old Town Castine
- Best folding kayaks: Oru Beach
- Best tandem sit-on-top kayak: Brooklyn Kayak Company Tandem Sit On Top
- Best peddle-powered kayak: Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 12
- Best cheap inflatable kayak: Intex Challenger inflatable
- Best budget ocean sit-on-top kayak: Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100
Updated 10/29/2019 by Owen Burke: Updated prices, formatting, and copy. We are currently testing several new kayaks for our next update.
The best ocean sit-on-top kayak
With the Sea Ghost line, Vibe offers most if not all of the bells and whistles of top-tier kayaks at around half the cost.
Vibe is a relatively new company with a definitively novel concept: make great kayaks affordable again. While technical design has come leaps and bounds within the kayak world, so have prices.
Whether you’re paddling for sheer pleasure or you’re a dedicated angler or hunter, Vibe’s Sea Ghost 110 is among the most comfortable, user-friendly kayaks I’ve paddled, which is mesmerizing for around $800. I also found that I had a much harder time capsizing this kayak than I did with almost any other, save for maybe the Hobie Mirage Pro Angler, which is a little beamier throughout.
The Vibe Sea Ghost matches just about all the best designs from the best kayaks around but at somewhere around half the price. While it’s a bonafide fishing kayak, it maintains sleek lines, a luxurious and adjustable mesh seat, and accommodates most paddlers, along with most of their interests.
The one thing that might possibly put off non-anglers is the long, narrow center console that takes up a large portion of the otherwise tidy deck. On the other hand, it’s a great spot to toss in an ice pack or two to keep snacks and beverages cold, which is usually how I end up using it.
Weighing in at 62 pounds, Vibe’s Sea Ghost 110 is fairly light for such an outfitted kayak (just over half the weight of Hobie’s Mirage Pro Angler 12), but it’s still among the most stable. If you’re looking for a longer and faster but slightly heavier boat, which would serve well for longer, and especially more open-water paddles, the company’s almost identical Sea Ghost 130 is a whole two feet longer and weighs only 13 pounds more. It does cost $70 more, but that’s not much considering.
Equipped with most of the bells and whistles of modern fishing kayaks, the Sea Ghost will cost you less than a third of what our top pick for a pedal-powered boat would, and is just as functional. What’s more, it even comes with a paddle, however heavy and clunky it may be.
We’ve also enjoyed Vibe’s Skipjack 90, which is a much more compact but still angler-friendly boat that’s highly maneuverable and excellent for smaller bodies of water. Price wise, it’s an absolute steal and its clean deck layout makes it an excellent choice for fly casters.
The only thing the Sea Ghost is missing is the option for a pedal drive insert, which would also likely enable the addition of an electric motor, but Vibe is still a young company, and I suspect they’ll jump on board with pedal propulsion in the near future. — Owen Burke
Pros: Affordable, accessory-ready, exceptionally sturdy, (limited) lifetime warranty
Cons: No option for pedal drive, rudder could be larger for more responsive steering
The best touring sea kayak
The Old Town Castine touring kayak is sleek and steady, cutting through all sorts of open water conditions with ease and at speed.
Almost every time I climb into the cockpit of my Old Town Castine kayak, the first thing I think is something along the lines of: “Man, this thing is comfy.” The padded ACS2 seat has a low profile but supportive backrest, while adjustable foot and thigh braces mean my boat is the perfect fit for my body.
Whether paddling for just a few minutes at a time or cruising for the better part of an afternoon, any fatigue or stiffness I feel is always a result of physical effort, not the design of the Castine. Oh, and you can select from one of three size options, so you’ll find a Castine that’s the perfect fit for your body and range of use.
The sleek, slender polyethylene hull of this 14-foot-long, 24.75-inch-wide, 53-pound boat slides over still water and slices through chop with remarkable ease. And set into that hull is a pair of secure, watertight storage hatches perfect for my phone and keys, some snacks, a camera, a hat and sunglasses, and all that good stuff.
There are also two sets of bungee tie-down straps I can use to lash additional gear, like a rain jacket, right to the hull itself. Out of the water, I can carry my Castine with relative ease single-handedly, but when you have a partner to help you portage the thing, carry handles at the bow and stern make moving it a breeze. — Steven John
Pros: Comfortable and adjustable cockpit, excellent stability and tracking, good storage capacity
Cons: Rather expensive
The best folding kayak
Whether you choose the Oru Beach or the Oru Bay, you’ll be able to sling it over your shoulder for a portage or take it on most forms of public transportation, including planes.
Oru has been around for a couple of years now, and apart from maybe being the most portable boats in the world, they are a pleasure to paddle. I used them while sailing around Fiji, where we were easily able to store two of these boats along with a whole host of other toys aboard a 43-foot sailboat.
I was not only shocked at how lightweight they are — 26 and 28 pounds for the Beach and Bay models, respectively — but also how rugged they were. Scraped on rocks and probably the occasional coral head, they stood up as well as if not better than many plastic and fiberglass boats would have.
While they’re not cheap and quite utilitarian in design, they’re stable, seaworthy boats that you can fold them up in a matter of three minutes and be on your way.
Urbanites, VanLifers, and pretty much anyone with limited storage space or a busy travel agenda will find these boats incredibly manageable to own, and while the price tag might seem steep, either boat is well worth it if you can swing the price tag. — Owen Burke
Pros: Lightweight, unbelievably easy to pack
Cons: Expensive, spartan in design (not much in the way of storage)
The best tandem sit-on-top
The Brooklyn Kayak Company Tandem Sit On Top Kayak is so stable you can paddle or cast from it while standing up.
If you and a fishing buddy are looking for the ultimate sit on top fishing kayak, look no further. If you and your SO want a kayak you can enjoy in the lake or on the bay during weekend afternoons, ditto. Or if you want a kayak you and your kid can enjoy together and you need to make sure you’re getting a vessel that’s super stable and reliable, then once again you’re in the right place.
The Brooklyn Kayak Company’s BKC UH-TK122 Tandem Sit On Top Kayak isn’t going to set any speed records, what with its broad 2.9-foot-wide hull and its commanding 90-pound weight, but what it lacks in fleetness, it more than makes up for in safety and stability.
This kayak is basically not going to tip over unless you force it to, and that’s true even if you stand up in the thing. Which you’re in fact encouraged to do, as this kayak was by and large designed with the fisherman in mind, and it’s hard to get a great cast unless you’re on your feet.
The UH-TK122 also features four built-in fishing rod holders that keep lines in the water with hands free, or keep poles out of the way while you paddle. Whether you’re paddling, reeling, or trolling, both paddlers will appreciate the quick-drying, supportive, and adjustable seats that keep you up off the deck in a comfortable upright position.
As for storage, there are two compartments set into the hull and a larger cargo area at the back with elastic bands for securing your cooler, rain gear, or other supplies.
A reviewer from YakAngler called the BKC UH-TK29 “virtually impossible to tip” and noted its “comfortable as well as ergonomic” seats. He also noted its rather substantial weight, but said this was somewhat offset by its impressive weight capacity, which is indeed rated at 500 pounds. — Steven John
Pros: Superb stability, comfortable and adjustable seating, great choice for fishing
Cons: Heavy even when empty
The best pedal-powered kayak
Hobie’s Mirage Pro Angler 12 may be the most versatile kayak on the market.
Hobie’s Mirage Pro series not only offers the most accommodating, accessory-ready layout of any kayak we’ve found, but it was also the first — and in our opinion remains the best — in pedal systems for kayaks, borrowing from penguin anatomy to mimic their underwater wing flexes.
Hobie’s Mirage Pro series is outfitted for just about everything, but it can be stripped down to accommodate even the simplest paddlers. It also has room for an electric motor mount where the propulsion pedal is located, or on the transom (back), which makes more sense to us because you can keep the pedals should you run out of battery charge. Fear not, paddling purists: you can always ditch all that stuff and use an old-fashioned paddle if you’d like.
The Mirage Pro Angler also includes a neatly folding rudder, plenty of fishing rod holders, storage, an ultra-comfortable seat, and a two-year limited warranty.
If you get your exercise elsewhere or want a speedier trip to your fishing grounds, it pairs easily with Torqeedo’s Ultralight 403 electric motor, which mounts on the transom as an outboard, or the EVOLVE electric motor, though that seems to be phasing out, so we’ll recommend you go with the Ultralight 403.
Still, while it’s a nice option to have, the electric motor is going to be overkill for most. You could just as soon buy a small used fishing skiff for the price of this setup if a motorboat is ultimately what you’re after. More to that point, we think Hobie’s MirageDrive pedal system is fast enough as is. A simple pull tab shifts between forward and reverse, and steering controls on both port (left) and starboard (right) enables easy maneuvering.
The Mirage Pro Angler comes with Hobie’s signature mesh Vantage Seating, which makes it the most comfortable kayak we’ve ever plopped ourselves into, and while the whole aluminum-framed seat is adjustable, the bottom folds up to make way for stand-up fishing, which we love for sight and fly fishing, or just stretching out.
The hull of the Hobie Mirage Pro comes with a built-in transducer mount and through-hull cable plugs (transducer not included), so sorting out an aftermarket fish finder or GPS is a cinch.
Hobie goes wild with storage, including horizontal rod storage for up to four rods and vertical for two. There’s also a pair of aluminum rails — Hobie’s signature “H-Rail” system — to which you can mount any number of things, including Hobie’s “H-Bar” which works as a grab rail for standup fishing and getting in and out of the boat, and accepts a variety of accessory mounts. With all these technical specifications, these are heavy boats, and the smallest (12-foot) model weighs 105 pounds.
Perception’s Pescador Pilot 12 comes in at an affordable price, and while we love the layout, the pedal drive is held in place by a pin and bracket that pop out with moderate force, which gets annoying. Perception has reportedly addressed this design flaw, and we’re hoping that they have straightened it out, but we haven’t gotten around to testing the updated version yet.
Whether you’re looking to fish or not is largely beside the point with this kayak. If you want the best pedal-powered kayak on the market, we’re convinced that the Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 12 the one to get, but we remain hopeful for — and look forward to testing — a more affordable option that we can recommend with confidence. — Owen Burke
Pros: Sturdy pedal system, rudder and keel, highly customizable
Cons: Expensive, only comes with a short two-year warranty
The best cheap inflatable kayak
The Intex Challenger Inflatable Kayak puts kayak ownership in reach for anyone, even people on a tight budget and/or with limited storage space in their homes.
Editor’s note: This is hardly a seaworthy vessel. Rather, it’s something you’ll paddle around a horse pond, or some very protected backwaters where the shore is always within reach. Choose your waterways carefully, and no matter where you end up, paddle safely.
I’m not sure which angle is the more impressive here: the fact that the Intex Challenger Inflatable Kayak can be deflated and packed down small enough to fit into a duffle bag, or the fact that it costs less than seventy bucks. Or maybe it’s the fact that this 27-pound inflatable kayak can support up to 220 pounds of weight. Y’know, maybe it’s a combination of all those things, really.
The long story short here is that if you thought kayaks were too expensive for your budget or took up too much space for your apartment or smaller home, you were, well, wrong. The Intex Challenger Inflatable Kayak is affordable, it packs down small, and it’s lots of fun out on the water.
What with a padded seat and a decently roomy cockpit, it’s actually comfortable for hours of use, too. A large mesh cargo area on the bow can be used to stash extra gear for those longer outings.
This kayak comes with a manual hand pump and an adjustable paddle, and Intex throws in a repair patch in case you ever spring a leak. Just don’t plan to win any races or navigate any rapids; this is a just for fun kayak, not a performance boat.
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Pros: Great low price point, packs down small, large cargo net
Cons: Slow and rather ungainly
The best budget ocean sit-on-top kayak
Lifetime’s Tamarack Angler 100 is completely kitted out with everything you need to hit the water except for a life vest, so there’s no more budget-friendly way to get a seaworthy kayak.
While you can easily spend more on a kayak, you won’t do much better until you start spending about twice as much as what Lifetime’s Tamarack Angler 100 costs at Wal-Mart. It may cost less than $500, but it’s still a good kayak for the price.
The Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 tends to undergo the occasional price swing, but at the moment, I think it’s still worth every cent. It comes with an albeit dinky paddle, a reasonably comfortable seat, enough storage for a day trip, and three rod holders, including one rotating top-mount, which should satisfy most anglers’ basic needs.
The Lifetime Tamarack is nowhere near the most durable, stable, or speedy kayak hull on the market, but it’s lightweight enough for most paddlers to wrangle it onto a car roof alone and compact enough to fit into a standard-sized pickup bed.
Just be sure — as goes with all kayaks, but especially this one — to keep it out of the sun when it’s not in use. While it probably won’t melt during a day trip, a good dose of sun, especially if you’re leaving it strapped to your car, might soften and deform the plastic hull.
Even still, it comes with a five-year warranty, which is especially impressive when the most expensive kayak on our list only comes with a two-year warranty. — Owen Burke
Pros: Extremely affordable, fairly comfortable, a generous five-year warranty
Cons: Cheap construction material deforms easily in sun and under tension (when strapped to a roof rack)
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