Best Kayak Brands of 2018
Kayak sales from brick-and-mortar camping and recreation equipment stores are still going strong, but many buyers are also turning to the internet marketplace for their next (or first) kayak. Online shoppers are met with a wide array of options and sellers, but can sometimes feel overwhelmed by choices: which brand is best?
There are many excellent kayak brands in the game. These companies design their kayaks well, price them fairly, and understand the needs of the sport, from navigating rapids to a quiet afternoon of fishing. In this buyer’s guide, we’ll look closely at models from five such brands, and at the brands themselves: Ocean Kayak, Lifetime, Sun Dolphin, Vibe, and Perception.
What are the hallmarks of a good kayak brand?
Like any company in any industry, the best ones stand out. They aren’t necessarily the ones selling the most, but rather, the ones with the highest and most consistent customer reviews, a quick and knowledgeable support team, and quality designs with materials that last.
The best brands will also offer comprehensive descriptions and spec lists on each product, and readily answer any question a buyer has. It doesn’t matter if a company is large or small: customer service should be a priority, with timely responses and as much help as they can possibly provide.
The best resource for judging a brand, of course, is other shoppers. Ask kayaking friends what they prefer and why, how well their kayak has held up through the years, and if they’d recommend the same brand to you. If you’re the only kayaker you know, online message boards and customer reviews are a valuable source of information, as well.
1. Ocean Kayak: Star Product – Venus 10 Women’s Sit-on-Top Kayak Review
Ocean Kayak was founded in the 1970s, when the founder—an avid scuba diver—modified a surfboard with two wells: one for a seat, and one for his scuba gear. Onlookers at the beach were impressed by his design, and wanted one for themselves.
The first Ocean Kayaks were made of fiberglass, a common material of choice in that era. Soon, plastic models were released, and Ocean Kayak began selling their boats all over the world.
The Venus is crafted for (and by) women kayakers, with a sunken seat to suit women’s lower center of gravity and give users more control while paddling. It’s also lighter than other models, and has a low deck profile for easier ins and outs—even while you’re in the water.
While the Venus will work for smaller women best, some average-sized kayakers will find it comfortable, as well. The lower weight capacity is a drawback, but don’t worry: Ocean Kayak also makes the Venus 11, a slightly larger model available in the same colors and overall design, but with a weight capacity of 225 lbs. Another thing to love about this kayak—and this company—is that 1% of all sales are donated to help fight breast cancer.
2. Lifetime: Star Product – Lotus Sit-On-Top Kayak with Paddle Review
Lifetime Products makes much more than kayaks: they also sell folding tables and chairs for event use, picnic tables, sheds, deck storage, landscaping boxes, patio furniture, composters, basketball hoops, commercial playground equipment, paddleboards, canoes—and, oddest of all, bed frames! The brand got its start in the mid 1980s, when a dad set out to create a better basketball hoop for his kids.
Since then, they’ve expanded from a warehouse of 15 employees, to over 1,500 worldwide. The Lotus is one of many kayaks the brand offers, and boasts sturdy craftsmanship, a simple design, and an affordable price.
Some kayakers would prefer a padded seat over the plastic molding the Lotus has, while others will find it plenty comfortable for their needs. The lack of a tapered stern will affect steering precision just a little, but could be worth the shorter (and lighter) design, which can easily fit on most cars. Best of all, Lifetime Products backs the Lotus with a 5-year limited warranty, something not all kayak manufacturers offer their customers.
3. Sun Dolphin: Star Product – Aruba 8 SS Sit-In Kayak Review
A division of KL Industries, Sun Dolphin emerged in 1982 with just a single pedal boat. Today, the company offers everything watersport enthusiasts could ask for, from kayaks to canoes, to jon boats and dinghies.
They also sell utility and field sheds, and craft every one of their products in America, from start to finish. The Aruba 8 SS (also available in larger sizes) is a standard sit-in kayak with some better-than-standard features, like UV-treated HD polyethylene, dry and exposed storage, and a lifetime warranty unmatched by most manufacturers.
The Aruba is best for beginners, and kayakers who plan to paddle on calmer lakes and rivers. The lack of foot braces inside the hull will make it difficult to brace your weight for leverage when steering around tighter turns or rapids, but does allow for more comfort and a wider range of leg positioning, which is great for more leisurely use. Sun Dolphin’s lifetime warranty is the biggest selling point, in our opinion: it’s rare for companies to offer warranties longer than 1 to 5 years.
4. Vibe: Star Product – Sea Ghost 130 Angler Kayak Review
Vibe is a newer company with only 4 years under its belt, but already surpasses many kayak manufacturers with impressive durability and sleek, efficient designs. It was founded by Joshua Thomas and John Ewald in 2013, friends with a passion for watersports.
The company is smaller and doesn’t offer an enormous variety, but that seems to be their greatest strength: instead of focusing on pumping out designs, they’ve fine-tuned the ones they do have to handle expertly, look great, and stay within a price range consumers can afford.
The Sea Ghost is one of their most popular models, and is ideal for kayakers looking to paddle out, cast a line, and relax.
The Sea Ghost 130 Angler is one of the most impressive fishing kayaks on the market right now. It has everything you’d expect and hope for, but with a fair price attached that will work with most budgets. We’re most impressed with the quality of materials Vibe uses, and their impeccable attention to detail. Even more notable, Vibe offers a lifetime limited warranty for the hull and deck of all their watercrafts, and 1-year warranties on parts and accessories.
5. Perception: Star Product – R15 Pescador 12.0 Kayak Review
One of the first companies to produce the plastic kayak, Perception has been an industry frontrunner for over 40 years. Their customer service is quick to respond and knowledgeable on all products, which is refreshing: they don’t just read from a list of specs, but explain in simple terms what a particular model is best for, who should use it, and the advantages of its features.
When it comes to the Pescador 12.0, Perception clearly understands—and meets—the needs of kayak fishers. It includes an angler’s package complete with three rod mounts, multiple storage wells, and an ultra-comfortable seat that’s sure to keep you casting from sunup to sundown.
Perception Kayaks does have one downside: its warranty. Sure, 3 years is good, but not as impressive as the 5-year offers from other companies, or the lifetime warranties from brands like Vibe and Sun Dolphin. Other than that, it’s a solid brand, and the Pescador 12.0 outshines many other fishing kayaks with respect to performance and included accessories. Everything about its design is made for fishers, from its integrated rod holders to the hull’s design. Its price is pretty standard for a kayak of its type, but given the included angler’s package, it’s one of the best deals consumers can find from a reputable, quality brand.
Great kayak brands abound, but are also hidden in a sea of fly-by-night companies and importers with low-grade materials and weak designs. Consumers should research both kayak models and manufacturers before purchase, to get an idea of the brand’s attention to detail, material durability, and warranty periods (if any). The brands featured in this buyer’s guide—Ocean Kayak, Lifetime, Sun Dolphin, Vibe, and Perception—are all fantastic companies, though each has its specific strengths when it comes to different kayak types and uses.