Buyer’s Guide to Recreational Kayaks

If your summer plans look more like paddling out onto serene waters at sunset during a casual weekend outing at the family lake house, versus chasing your adrenaline junkie friends whitewater kayaking down waterfalls, you most likely will be interested in a solid, affordable, easy to maneuver recreational kayak.

Although recreational kayaks seem like an overwhelmingly broad category, don’t fret. We’ll be touching on a few simple characteristics that separate recreational kayaks from more advanced, performance-related kayaks.

Cockpit Size

Recreational kayaks usually have easily accessible cockpits. A cockpit is the open area where you sit in the middle of the kayak. In a recreational kayak, cockpits are wider and much easier to get in and out of. 

This is helpful if you’re a beginner simply because you won’t have to develop some kind of special technique to slide yourself in and out of your kayak; whereas cockpits in performance-focused kayaks can look like tiny rabbit holes in comparison. Recreational kayak cockpits are also usually adaptable to all different sizes.

Maneuverability 

Recreational kayaks are usually built with wider bodies, flatter bottoms, and shorter lengths. This design makes it easy to control and forgiving enough to handle your learning curves without the stress of becoming unstable. Usually, a beginner paddler’s biggest fear is tipping, so the less of a chance you have of being submerged head first due to rookie strokes or rough waters, the safer you will feel. Its stockiness also makes it easier to turn in the direction you want and track your kayak. Tracking simply means maintaining your ability to stay in a straight line. 

Weight

Not only do recreational kayaks have wider bodies, flatter bottoms, and shorter lengths, they’re also made out of heavier, thicker material (usually polyethylene plastic) to stay strong and resilient. Although this is great when it comes to creating more stability, it can also make the kayak much heavier to transport. 

Usage

Though some models below have better stability than others in rougher waters, recreational kayaks are primarily designed for fun, casual use, in flat, calm bodies of water. For example, lakes, bays, and slow-moving rivers. 

Questions to Ask Yourself

Now that you have a basic understanding of what defines a recreational kayak, you really only have a few questions to ask yourself to decide which specific type of recreational kayak will best suit your needs.

How much gear will you need?

Do you want a lot of storage for fishing gear? Will you be going on an all day excursion and need space for extra water/food? Are you going out with the kids and want to cart along an extra first aid kit? 

Regardless of what exactly it is you want to bring, you need to make sure the specific model of kayak you buy will have the storage you need. Some models have a handful of spacious dry storage hatches, while some only have a couple of straps at the front and the back of the kayak (good only for maybe a water bottle and a small lunch kit). This is something to keep in mind. 

Are you planning on riding solo or with a partner?

This is where you will need to look into a tandem kayak versus a single seater. What is a tandem? In the same way they have tandem bicycles, they have tandem kayaks. This basically means that the kayak is designed to seat more than one person. 

The most seats I’ve seen available on a tandem kayak are three: two adult seats and one seat suitable for a small child or pet. So if you are planning any family excursions, a tandem kayak may be more suitable for your needs. And buying one kayak instead of three may rest easier in your budget. 

Weight: how heavy of a kayak will you be able to transport?

As mentioned above in the list of recreational kayak characteristics, recreational kayaks are made with a thicker material, so they can be heavy. Some models more than others, but this is something to consider when it comes to how and how often you will be transporting your kayak.

Are you a solo rider that plans on hiking to your kayaking destination? Or will your ride rest easy at the dock of your family lake house? The weight of your kayak will sometimes make or break how enjoyable and doable your trips will be. So keep this in mind when deciding on your perfect recreational kayak. 

Now that you know what to keep in mind when it comes to your individual needs for your specific recreational kayak, below are our top picks for beginners like yourself. 

For the Budget Fishermen – Perception Pescador 12 (12 ft., 28 in., 50 lbs., carries up to 350 lbs.)

This kayak is a solid choice for beginners who plan on spending a lot of time fishing out on the water. Its most standout features are its abundant amount of storage space, customizable, comfortable seating, and versatility that allows beginners to experience kayaking in different environments, without the need for experienced riders to maintain its stability.

For your gear and fishing rods, there are rear, center, and front dry storage hatches, two flush mount rod holders directly accessible from behind your seat, as well as one directly in front of you. There is also an adjustable bungee system that keeps your tackle box or beer cooler stored snugly behind you; as well as carrying handles on either side and in front that serve as paddle mounts.

It’s a “sit on top” kayak, which means the cockpit is more easily accessible. It has an adjustable padded seat with adjustable foot pedals that have been praised by previous users over six feet tall for being the best choice for taller individuals.

The last note for the Perception Pescador 12 is its affordability. At its most expensive, it has been priced at $550, and at its cheapest, $350. A very solid, beginner-friendly kayak specifically designed with fishing hobbyists in mind.

Pros

–       Large amount of storage space.

–       Easy to maneuver and track (how well the boat can stay in a straight line

without veering).

–       Comfortable.

–       Good for taller individuals.

Cons

–       Heavy (50 lbs.), though this helps create the stability we love in this boat, it also makes transportation a bit inconvenient.

–       Sit on top kayaks may be uncomfortable during cold weather as it’s easier for water to splash into the cockpit. There is, however, a good drainage system.

Best Casual Start Up  Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 (10 ft., 30 in., 40 lbs., carries up to 250 lbs.)

For those who want the cheapest option without sacrificing too much in quality, may I present the Sun Dolphin Aruba 10. Though not nearly as durable and stable as the Perception Pescador 12, it is decent enough for light use on calm waters. 

This kayak is easy to get in and out of due to its larger cockpit (characteristic of recreational kayaks). However, the plastic, unsupportable seat can be uncomfortable for smaller users, as it’s easy to slide around in (though it does have an adjustable back-band). One may want to purchase an adhesive seat cushion. There are also adjustable foot braces.

Storage wise, there is a small dry storage hatch directly behind the seat for a small soft cooler and another very small bungee system at the bow; suitable only for a water bottle. So it is not good for those who want to bring a large amount of gear or venture out on an all day trip on the water. 

There are also paddle holders on either side of the boat, but not much room for anything else. Again, this recreational kayak model is made specifically for light/fun use only. 

As far as its performance, it maneuvers well enough, though users are not so keen on its tracking ability. There is also a small water drainage system that gets the job done well enough, though it isn’t perfect at keeping everything out.

Its best features are that it’s easy to carry and transport and of course, it’s cheap (about $190). Overall, this boat is perfect for the most casual of users who want an inexpensive option to enjoy occasional weekends on the lake.

Pros

–       Cheap.

–       Easy to maneuver for beginners.

–       Decently stable.

–       Good for fun/not serious users.

Cons

–       Minimal storage.

–       Seating may be unsupportive and uncomfortable for smaller users.

–       Suffers in rough waters. Good only for calm, flat waters.

The Family Size – Ocean Kayak Malibu Two (12 ft., 34 in., 57 lbs., carries up to 425 lbs.)

Now we introduce another type of recreational kayak, the tandem. Tandem kayaks have the same features as your typical beginner recreational kayak, but they’re designed with two, sometimes more, people in mind. If you’re a family or a couple who enjoy group outdoor activities, it may rest easier in your budget to purchase the “two-in-one” tandem kayak (priced at around $700). 

One of the bestselling and highest rated tandems is the Ocean Kayak Malibu Two. Besides its extra seating feature, its biggest difference from the Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 is its versatility. It is just as stable in the ocean as it is in your calmer lakes and rivers. If you have small children with a fear of tipping, you have more options in different bodies of water. Although, you won’t be winning any races with this model.

Seating wise, it has three seats altogether, two adult “comfort plus” cushioned seats placed in the stern and the center, and one small seat at the bow for a small child or pet. It’s perfect for a family. However, if you decide to take it out solo, it is still easily maneuverable from the center seat.

As far as its storage space, this model does lack options as it only comes with a few straps to attach some light gear, so if you plan to fish or take long trips out on the water this may come as an inconvenience. 

It’s also noted for its good tracking ability, which is somewhat due to its weight (60 lbs.). Which may not be too much of a problem for a family to transport but could be inconvenient for solo riders. 

So, if you have a group that accompanies you on all your outdoor adventures this is a solid choice due to its seating space, stability, and versatility.

Pros

–       Extra seating space.

–       Stable in a variety of waters.

–       Very durable material.

–       Has an ample amount of legroom.

Cons

–       Reviews say it sits lower in the water when at full capacity.

–       Lacks ample storage space.

–       Easy to get wet; not good for use in colder temperatures.

–       Heavy to transport.

For the “On the Go, Adventurist” – Oru Kayak Beach LT (12 ft., 28 in., 23 lbs., carries up to 300 lbs.)

The greatest quality of this kayak is its convenient portability. It’s foldable, which means it folds out origami-style from a backpack that can easily fit into the trunk of a smart car or in a small closet. It’s light, only 23 lbs., so if you have a kayaking destination you have to hike to get to, you can bring it with you easily enough. 

It’s advertised to be assembled in a mere three minutes, though reviewers suggest ten to twenty minutes. Still not a lot of time if you compare it with having to carry a 50 pounder over your head to your kayaking destination. 

It has been noted to be incredibly durable and easily maneuverable for beginners, but still fast and sporty enough for more experienced users. If you are new but see yourself maybe wanting to take part in races one day, it may be a good investment because it will still suit you as you grow in experience. However, do keep in mind that it’s still a recreational kayak, so it performs best in calm and slow-moving waters.

The biggest complaints are those regarding the seat stiffness, however, this can be fixed by purchasing a seat cushion or just wearing a life jacket. It’s also much higher in price than other recreational kayaks (priced at around $1,175). 

If you are just wanting to take it out occasionally, it may not be the right kayak for you. But if you are planning trips to remote areas fairly often and don’t have ample storage space… it is definitely worth the money.

Pros

–       Convenient transportability.

–       Light weight.

–       Easily accessible, wide cockpit.

–       Good for beginners and intermediate users.

–       Made from translucent plastic and glows at night if you shine a flashlight on

the interior (or Oru sells a four-pack of lights for $100).

Cons

–       Expensive.

–       Doesn’t have storage features—unless you can fit a small bag in the cockpit

or into the interior of the kayak where your legs go. May not be a problem for

shorter users but may be a problem for taller individuals.

–       The foldable paddle has been reviewed to not be very durable.

–       Uncomfortable seating.

In Conclusion…

So, to summarize all of this new information, I will give you a “SparkNotes” checklist for what to keep in mind when purchasing the best recreational kayak for you.  

Recreational Kayak Definition

●      Created specifically for beginners for fun/casual usage only. 

●      Designed primarily for usage in smooth/flat waters (like lakes, bays, and slow-moving rivers). 

●      Access to wider cockpits is easy. 

●      Has a wider body and flatter bottom to make it easy to maneuver and keep stable. 

●      Can be heavier due to thicker material. 

What to Keep in Mind

●      Storage: make sure your kayak has enough storage space for your needs. 

●      Tandem model versus single seater: make sure your kayak choice will have enough seats for your needs. If you have a family or pets that want to tag along, keep the tandem model in mind. If it’s just you, obviously you will be better suited with a single seater. 

●      Weight: think about how and where you will be transporting your kayak. Again, the weight of your kayak will sometimes make or break how enjoyable and doable your trips will be.

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