When looking to purchase a new kayak there are many things to consider before buying one. You need to first determine your skill level - beginner, intermediate, expert. Kayaks are manufactured for a variety of activities - whitewater kayaking, sea kayaking, fishing, flat water travel on lakes or inlets. The best way to decide which kayak is for you is to get on each one in the water and compare their stability, speed, comfort, storage, and other features. Often a rental shop will allow you to rent one for the day and put that rental fee towards the purchase price. Longer kayaks are normally faster than short ones and wide kayaks give you more stability on average than do thinner models. You also need to decide if you prefer the sit on top models or those that place you inside the actual kayak. Many of these options/features will be decided for you once you determine which type of kayaking you will be doing.
If you are a beginner, experts say don't always go with the widest, most stable kayak since your skills will improve rapidly and you will probably want a more intermediate kayak within a short time. If you plan on taking longer kayak trips (more than a few hours), having a comfortable seat is a big deal. You will also want a seat with significant back support. In many reviews that we read owners said their kayaks didn't provide ample back support and they were reluctant to go on long kayak outings. Beyond all the features to consider when you are actually kayaking in the water, think about the kayak once it's out on dry land. Will it be easy to carry or load onto your car? What kind of kayak rack or storage should you have? And don't forget about paddles. The top manufacturers for kayaks are Perception, Old Town, Dagger, Hobie, Wilderness Systems, Cobra, Pelican, Ocean, and Malibu. There are single kayaks, tandem kayaks, angler kayaks, inflatable kayaks, and folding kayaks. We visited top kayak sites like Paddling.net and Kayakonline.com to see which models are the most popular and read user reviews online at Outdoorreview.com, Epinions.com, and Yakfishing.com to see which brands pass the test. Kayaks can cost upwards of $1500 so don't rush into buying something before you have thoroughly investigated all your choices. We STRONGLY suggest that you get down to your local kayak shop and test drive a few to get the feel for what they offer. See which kayaks stood out the most when reviewed by experts and consumers (see below).
Best Fishing Kayak:
Sea kayaks have been very popular for years and just recently the fishing kayak market suddenly gained steam as more and more fisherman are converting from boats to kayaks for their fishing needs. Fishing kayaks are more maneuverable in tight spots than any boat could ever be and they don't make any artificial noise like vibrations from a motor (could scare off fish). The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 160i ($1400) is the top rated fishing kayak on the market with the Ocean Kayak Prowler 15 ($850) a close second. The Tarpon 160i is the best open water boat on the market with excellent speed and rough water capability. It tracks straight without a rudder and the sit on top (SOT) design is better than most. Many reviewers had tried both the Prowler 15 and the Tarpon 160i but say the Prowler's cockpit is inferior and the Wilderness Systems kayak glide through the water much easier. The internal and external storage on the Tarpon 160i are first rate and fishing is a breeze from these stable kayaks.
Whitewater rafting is what most of us do occasionally, but very few of us ever get to use a whitewater kayak and really feel those rapids bump us around the water. The 2 names that jumped out in more reviews for whitewater kayaks were Pyranha and Dagger. The Dagger RPM is one of the best selling whitewater kayak models of all-time and experts and beginners seem to like this one. Although it's design is still considered superior by many, other manufacturers have followed their success and created similar "river runners" that perform just as well. If you are looking for a solid, durable whitewater kayak definitely look at the Dagger RPM for it's good hull speed, easy rolls, stability, and easy maneuverability in Class II and Class III rapids. Some Dagger enthusiasts say the Dagger Mamba ($1000) is the way to go. The Mamba crosses eddy lines with ease, ferries well, rolls easily, and has lots of outfitting adjustments. Many reviewers mention that the seats, thigh pads and footrests are all very comfortable. The Pyranha 420 ($1000) is the playboat you've been looking for. The 420 is offered in 2 lengths - 6' 1" or 6' 3" and weighs 26 or 30 lbs. It's an aggressive whitewater kayak with sharp edges for carving and a "heavy rocker" for getting air. The design works well in wave surfing and hole riding. Top whitewater kayakers say the Pyranha 420 is "stable enough for river-running but excellent for playboating". Overall the Pyranha is an excellent choice for kayakers who like to be aggressive and attack waves. Other popular whitewater kayaks include the Dragorossi Stinger, Wavesport Project, Jackson Super Hero, Riot Astro 54, and the Prijon Cross. For up to date reviews on the latest and newest whitewater kayaks go to Canoekayak.com. You can browse the top rated whitewater kayaks here.
Best Sea Kayaks:
The Eddyline Equinox is rated very high by experts in the field. It comes in at 14' in length and 25" wide. It weighs roughly 45 lbs. and is made of carbonlite 2000 and costs about $1850. The Equinox was designed to give you comfort and stability you would expect from a recreational kayak but the performance you would find in a sea kayak. Great for leaned turns and tracking, the Equinox performs like a champion. Some owners mention that the backrest can cause back problems, but several reviewers mention a replacement cushion that costs less than $30 solves the issue. You can find more information online at Eddyline.com. There is a complete list of top rated sea and ocean kayaks online here.
The Perception Rhythm 14 is the best recreational and "fitness" kayak we've seen or read about. The Perception kayak measures 14' in length, 24" wide and weighs 42 pounds. It's made of airalite and is priced at about $1600. This beautiful kayak is not meant for beginners as it truly is a niche boat. The Rhythm is for average to larger paddlers and the high performance, narrow-hulled kayak gets great praise for being fast and straight. Owners say they like the front of the seat being slightly slanted upward so that your thighs are raised and in more of a racing position. If you like a good workout (there's even a heart rate monitor mount) then go with the Perception Rhythm. The Cadence 14 is a smaller version designed for women and smaller paddlers. BEST - See all the most popular recreational kayaks online here.
Top Inflatable Kayaks:
There are 3 main types of inflatable kayaks - white water, recreational, and touring. A touring inflatable kayak is made for both fresh and sea water, is longer and more slender than the other types, and they often come with rudders. Feathercraft makes some of the best sit on top folding kayaks that are inflatable. You can see their selection online at Feathercraft.com. Moving on to white water inflatable kayaks - they tend to be wide and short with a design perfect for handling rapids. Features include scupper holes to help drain the cockpit and tie down loops that keep luggage onboard. AIRE makes the Super Lynx inflatable whitewater kayak and it sells for $1400. The Super Lynx is ideal for 1 or 2 paddlers and comes equipped with 2 sets of drain holes and 18 sets of cargo loops. The general purpose or recreational kayaks can do both river running or ocean waters. They tend to cost much less than the touring or whitewater inflatables and they are meant to have fun, not win any competitions. The Sea Eagle 330 Kayak ($270) is a great choice for the casual weekend kayaker who may want to venture down class 3 whitewater some day. The Sea Eagle kayak comes standard with I-beam floor for rigidity, 2 skegs for directional stability, lashed down inflatable spray skirts, removable inflatable front and rear seat, and it inflates in about 6 minutes. RECOMMENDED - You can browse the top selling inflatable kayaks here.