2018 Kayak Reviews – Best Kayak Brands Buying Value Guide

Whether you want to chill with the family and friends on flat waters or pump your adrenaline down a Class III rapid in Richmond, Virginia, knowing how to choose the best kayak for the money is key. But so is which kayak brands to avoid.

Bad kayak brands are getting harder to distinguish from the bad ones to the good kayak brands. That has become quite clear. Especially with so many knock of brands in Amazon’s marketplace you can hardly ver tell if it quality or just a white label logo on a generic product.

Digging a little deeper and researching the brands online will help. As the more established brands have a more full spectrum site with dealer relationship links and a history of content. The knockoffs would typically be 5-10 pages (if that) of thin content.

Top 10 Brands

  1. Sea Eagle  – Best inflatable kayak brand period. You can read our complete review of all their kayaks here.
  2. Pyranha – Best hard-shell whitewater kayak brand.
  3. JacksonKnown for their fishing rigged kayaks.
  4. DaggerKnown for their whitewater kayak.
  5. NRSQuality inflatable kayaks.
  6. AIRETop selling inflatable brand of rafts and kayaks, year after year.
  7. Crystal  Our favorite clear plastic kayak.
  8. AscentGood value fishing kayak.
  9. PerceptionThe pioneers of plastic kayaks.
  10. HobieKnown for their foot operated paddle kayaks.

Each one of the kayaks below is rated highly in our annual kayak review and each one is worth of you time and money for your next ‘yak.

Top Rated Kayaks

Sun Dolphin Aruba4.4RecreationalPlastic Shell
Ocean Kayak 12 Malibu4.5Sit-on-TopPlastic Shell
badge-best-seller-miniSea Eagle 370 Pro Package4.2TandemInflatable PVC
Lifetime Manta4.4TandemPlastic Shell
KL Industries Sun Dolphin Journey SS4.5FishingPlastic Shell
badge-best-seller-miniAdvanced Elements Convertible4.6TandemInflatable PVC
Rave Sea Rebel4.4Sit-on-TopInflatable PVC
Coleman QuikPak K54.4RecreationalInflatable PVC
Advanced Elements FireFly4.3RecreationalInflatable PVC
Lifetime Sport Fisher4.4FishingPlastic Shell
badge-best-seller-miniOld Town 10 Vapor4.6FishingPlastic Shell
Hobie Mirage i9S5.0FishingInflatable PVC
Perception Sport Pescador4.8Sit-on-TopPlastic Shell
Old Town Twin Heron4.9TandemPlastic Shell

With so many options available in 2018, buying your paddling gear after reading at least a few kayak reviews just makes sense. By now you know that selecting the right one depends largely on what type of kayaking you want to do. Even if all you want to do is finishing, different waters and fishery activity will need its own type of boat for proper safety and pleasure.

My garage is stock full of different yaks and canoes exactly for this reason.

I wouldn’t take my Perception Sport Sundance Kayak down Hazard Creek, just like I wouldn’t try kayaking alone in my Old Town Dirigo Tandem Kayak (plus the wife would get suspicious… who takes a tandem alone after all).

colorful kayaks of different types

One of my favorite pics… I love the vibrant colors of kayaks!

If you are a beginner and you are looking to buy your first boat, then choosing the best kayaks is even more important to you than any other since first impressions to any sport is key to wanting to continue with it.

You definitely need to check out the different types of kayaking first, to really know what is the most appealing one to you. But from my experience, most beginners should start with recreational kayaks as they are the best to get your feet wet, so to speak.

Inflatable, Fiberglass or a Folding Kayak?

3 main structural classifications of kayaks:

  • Rigid (hardshell) – Plastic, fiberglass, wood, kevlar, and carbon fiber are materials used for the rigid ones. Plastic is the least expensive but I’ve found they can be pretty heavy when it comes time to store and transport. They’re sturdy and can take quite a beating, but unfortunately they’re not as easy to repair.
  • Folding – These collapsible boats made of fabric stretched over a wood or aluminum frame are a great option for ease with storage and transporting. You might pay more in the beginning, but they can last a long time, and the resale value is great.
  • Inflatable – Usually the least expensive option and very easy to store and transport, there are some pretty respectable inflatable crafts out there that are very sturdy and seaworthy. Even though if your are interested in deep sea adventures you would need a top quality sea kayak.

What to Look for When Buying the Best Kayak in 2018?

And a few other considerations…

  • Price – Kayaks can range between $250 and $4500. It’s possible to get a perfectly respectable one without spending a fortune, but it can be well worth a bit more money in the beginning to get one that’s made to last and won’t come up needing repairs after the first or second trip out.
  • Options – Deck fittings, flotation bags, sprayskirt, hatches, holders for your water bottle, paddles etc. are things that may or may not be included in your kayak. There are a lot of package deals that include accessories you might otherwise have to buy separately.
  • Weight and portability – A rigid yak probably isn’t as ideal for you as a folding or inflatable one if you’re looking for something lightweight and easily transportable.
  • Stability – Final stability (not having the boat tip over when you’re out there) is better for experienced kayakers versus initial stability (ability to get the one into the water easily) which is helpful when you’re new to kayaking.
  • Cargo and passenger capacity – Are you planning to go out by yourself or with friends, family, or maybe even a pet along for the ride? How long you plan to spend out on the water will determine your cargo needs, in addition to the type of boating you’re doing.
  • What kind of boating will you be doing? – I like kayaking on the rapids and recreational kayaking with the family. Others are more interested in fishing or maybe racing. This is an extremely important factor in deciding which one to get.
  • Controllability – Several factors will determine how well the kayak will turn and track. Shorter kayaks are easier to maneuver, and longer ones are better for tracking. Few kayaks do both of those things well. Shorter ones would be better for whitewater rafting, and longer ones are better for speed and tracking.
  • Experience – Experienced kayakers will have different needs as we’ve already mentioned. For example, experienced kayakers often prefer a tighter cockpit, while beginners usually like to be able to move around a little more.

Taking all these things into account before purchasing yours is very important and will help you avoid disappointment and most importantly any accident. Safe kayaking is fun kayaking.

Best Kayak (And For Cheap) From Top Brands

Intex Explorer K2 KayakIntex Explorer K2 Kayak

  • Low profile for lakes and mild rivers
  • Sporty graphics for high visibility
  • Adjustable, inflatable seat with backrest
  • Removable skeg for directional stability
  • U.S. Coast Guard I.D.

A very good quality craft with plenty of air chambers for safety as well as plenty of room to move around without tipping. This boat can be easily and quickly inflated, deflated, and launched, and is sturdy and very stable. With comfortable seats and everything you need to get started, there’s plenty of cargo room, and the shape of this craft makes it easy to maneuver head-on into the waves.

Sea Eagle SE370 Inflatable Kayak with Pro PackageSea Eagle SE370 Inflatable Kayak with Pro Package

  • Lightweight and portable inflatable sport kayak
  • NMMA Certified; inflates in 8 minutes
  • Self-bailing drain valve
  • 3 deluxe one-way valves
  • Lashed-down inflatable spray skirts

A model above my top pick the SE330 (see our inflatable review page). It is rated for Class 3 Whitewater, this boat is easy to set up and has great stability and solid construction. It’s very difficult to tip this craft over. It’s seaworthy, well-built, a very fun boat, and well worth the money. It tracks beautifully, is easy to maneuver, and everything fits back into the storage bag neatly when you’re done. It really is an exceptional craft, made of highly resilient material.

Sun Dolphin Excursion sit-in Fishing KayakSun Dolphin Excursion sit-in Fishing Kayak

  • WaterQuest Kayak outfitted for fishing with two flush mount rod holders and one swivel rod holder
  • Tough polyethylene hull designed for optimum tracking and turning
  • Large open cockpit with adjustable interior foot braces; deluxe adjustable seat with high back support
  • Storage hatch with shock cord deck rigging
  • 9.66 feet long; 30 inch beam; 40 pounds weight; maximum capacity of 250 pounds
  • Hull design is optimum combination of tracking and turning

There’s plenty of room in this boat for people who have long legs or larger builds, and it has a very comfortable seat. A great value and a terrific entry level fishing kayak with a wider body, making it very difficult to flip over. There others more advanced fishing kayaks you can read reviews on here.

Old Town Dirigo Tandem Plus Recreational Double KayakOld Town Dirigo Tandem Plus Recreational Double Kayak

  • Dual cockpit design with Old Town Cushioned seats and removable child/pet jump seat in the oversized rear cockpit
  • Rear bulkhead and innovative Old Town Click Seal hatch provide easy-access secure storage
  • In-cockpit thigh pads and foot braces offer comfort and control
  • Keep everything close at hand with a glove box hatch for small items, cup holder, and accessories tray
  • Dual paddle keepers, deck bungee and retractable carry handles make this tandem kayak a favorite.

This is a great kayak. With more-precise control while still having a non-confining cockpit, this 68.8 pound boat is a bit pricier than some others on this list, but offers many great features to make it worth the money for a serious kayaker. The maximum load range of this boat is 425 – 475 pounds. For more tandem kayak reviews we suggest you visit our best tandem kayak page.

Hobie Odyssey DLX KayakHobie Odyssey DLX Kayak

  • Two-piece paddles with on-hull storage
  • Cargo area with bungee tie-downs
  • Two 8-inch twist and seal hatches with gear bucket
  • Two molded-in rod holders
  • Mid-boat carrying handles

This kayak carries the highest price of those on this list, but it’s definitely well worth the money. It’s much larger than you might realize, and has plenty of room for even large or long legged passengers with lots of room for cargo and comfort to spare. This kayak is easy to paddle even for solo kayakers, and is extremely sturdy even when standing. Not only that, but it will rip through the small waves and water chop with no problem at all.

If you’re willing to spend a little more, this is a great example of the phrase, “you get what you pay for.”

Short Video on the Different Kayak Types from an Expert Boater:

Check out this short but super informative video on the different size & weight of the more common types of kayaks out there.

Kayak Specs: What Do They Mean?

We’ve taken a look at some various types of kayaks that you might choose. Before you decide which is the best kayak brands for the money and make your purchase, one last thing to go over is the specifications and what they mean. The kayak’s specs will affect performance, speed, comfort, stability, and safety. Are you a beginner or an experienced kayaker? What type of boating do you intend to do? Are you looking for a fast boat to race in, or a recreational vehicle to take the family out on the lake?

  • Hull – A hull’s size and shape is what determines its performance. The hull refers to the part of the boat that actually sits in the water. It’s important to remember this when looking at the size, because it’s not the length of the whole boat being referred to, but rather the length of the waterline. There are 4 hull shapes: rounded, flat, V-shaped, and pontoon. Rounded hulls are faster, flat hulls combine stability with maneuverability, V-shaped hulls are better for tracking in straight lines, and pontoons offer the best stability of any of them, combining both initial and secondary stability. Boats with hulls up to 12 feet will turn more easily than those with longer hulls, while longer boats with hulls of 13 feet and above will glide and track better as well as being better suited for long distances since they’re faster and easier to paddle.
  • Width or Beam – This specification affects the kayak’s speed and stability. Narrower kayaks displace less water, so move forward faster and are easier to paddle, but they’re less stable and have less storage capacity. Narrow boats are better for more experienced kayakers because of their secondary stability. Beginners should probably opt for a wider boat for the initial stability.
  • Cockpit – The cockpit size is the space where you will sit in your kayak. Basically, the cockpit size should be determined by the size of the person getting in it. Larger cockpits are better for larger or taller people or those who will be carrying larger items with them in the boat. Smaller cockpits are better suited for ease in maneuvering well, especially in rougher conditions. Ideally, you should check out your comfort in the cockpit before buying one to be sure you fit comfortably but snugly. You won’t want too much room to move around, because it will make it harder to control the boat.
  • Depth – The measurement from the hull to the top of the deck is what’s referred to as the depth of the kayak. The depth of a typical touring kayak is 13-16 inches, while 11-16 inches is the normal depth of a sit-on-top kayak (I have a page dedicated to the best sit on top kayaks here, if that’s what you are looking for). You should primarily keep comfort in mind when determining the depth of your kayak. Tall or large paddlers will want more depth for leg room. More depth also may offer more storage space, as well as helping to deflect water.

Personally, I can think of nothing better about the approaching summertime (actually I paddle in the winter too as its just as fun, just wetter!) than the thought of heading out to the river or lake for some wet and wild summer fun. Whether you’re an experienced kayaker or a novice looking to check kayaking off your bucket list, kayak reviews provide several tips to help you determine the right one for you. Now that you have some information to go on, hopefully you’ll have almost as much fun picking your boat out as you will when you get it out on the water!

kayaking with my son in big bear lake.

Enjoying a perfect day at Westgate lake.