Best Kayak For The Money of 2018 & Buying Guide

Kayaking is a lot like any other sport: before you can begin, you need some equipment—and going for the best-of-the-best varieties will not come cheap.  Thankfully, there are a number of options out there that can perform beautifully and seat you (and maybe a few more) comfortably, at a price you can afford.

In this buyer’s guide, we’ll answer consumers’ questions about buying a kayak, and explore five options that outperform most of the models in their respective price ranges.

Buyer’s Guide:

What kind of kayak should I buy?

This is a bit like asking what kind of car you should buy: while buyer’s guides and reviews can give you all kinds of information about specs and durability, only you know whether or not a product will work for you, your budget, and your unique needs.

First, consider size.  Will you be paddling alone, or will your dog or child join you?  A smaller one-person kayak might be enough, especially a sit-on-top design with an open deck.  If you plan to paddle out with your partner, though, a tandem model meant for two adults is going to be best.


Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Kayak AE1012

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Kayak AE1012

Ocean Kayak 12-Feet

Ocean Kayak 12-Feet

There are inflatable models of different sizes and functions, which are cheaper, lighter, and easier to store—but run the risk of punctures, as well, and might not suit your needs if you’re heading down rough rivers, or taking your kayak offshore in the ocean.  Hard shells can handle rough conditions, but aren’t exactly effortless in terms of transport and storage.

You’ll also want to consider the style: sit-on, or sit-in?  Sit-on designs can have seating wells (so you aren’t literally right on top of the kayak, but sunken in the hull a little), and are easier to get in and out of from the water, but they also guarantee you’re going to get water on you at some point.  This isn’t a problem in warm climates, but cold-water paddlers would probably prefer a sit-in style to keep them dry.

Finally, there’s the issue of function.  Fishing or angling kayaks are designed specifically for fishing, with rod mounts and extra storage for coolers, tackle boxes, and rods.  

They can be inflatable or hard shell, tandem or single, and sit-on or sit-in style.  Some have trolling motors or even pedal systems, for hands-free movement.

Sevylor Fiji 2-Person Kayak

Sevylor Fiji 2-Person Kayak

Some kayaks are made for light paddling on calm, open waters; they don’t have to track especially well, because you’re out on a leisurely trip.  Others have sharp hulls and narrow bodies meant for tight turns, like on a stream; some can handle the roughest rapids you can imagine, or crest the waves of the ocean as well as any standard boat.

Related Post:  Best Affordable Kayak under $300 (Year 2018)

While it seems superficial, you should consider the appearance of your boat, as well.  Camouflaged boats can be helpful while fishing, but many prefer brightly colored vessels so other boaters can see them and avoid impact.  In terms of practicality, boats with white or other light colors in the design are going to show dirt and scuffs much more quickly than dark colors.

In the end, these elements—coupled with your personal budget—will determine what kind of kayak you purchase.

Is a more expensive kayak better than a cheap one?

Rave Sea Rebel Inflatable Kayak

Rave Sea Rebel Inflatable Kayak

Not necessarily.  Like any product, it depends on why the price is higher.  Sometimes, a brand charges more simply because they can: they’ve developed a big name for themselves, and are popular in the mainstream culture (or at least well-known), and have always charged a premium.

Most of the time, however, a brand charges more because the kayak itself is constructed with better materials, or includes more features than inexpensive models.  Many companies invest a lot of time and money in their research and development, which yields kayaks that can be more versatile, better performers, have more storage, weigh less, sustain impact better, etc.

Of course, that’s not to say that inexpensive brands are bad.  You can find cheap kayaks that outperform and outlast expensive ones, even if their materials should be, in theory, inferior.  It depends on the company’s attention to detail and manufacturing process, as well as the user themselves: light paddling on a lake a few times a year will make a kayak last much longer than navigating river rapids every weekend.

Lifetime Lotus Sit-on-Top Kayak

Lifetime Lotus Sit-on-Top Kayak

The type of kayak matters, as well.  Inflatable kayaks won’t last as long as hard shells, but cost much less—and if you only use a kayak a few times a year, like on vacation, that might be a better use of your money than investing in a pricy model.

Best Kayak For The Money

1.  Sevylor Fiji 2-Person Kayak Review

When it comes to getting a good kayak for as little as possible, your budget can’t love anything more than an inflatable kayak.  This tandem version from Coleman Sevylor is inexpensive yet durable, weighs only 22 lbs., and promises a roomy kayak that’s easy to transport and store.  

Of course, no inflatable model will be as durable as a hard shell one—but it is the easiest way to get a high-quality kayak for a low price.

Pros

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    Inflatable tandem kayak; made from durable PVC with multiple air chambers to keep craft afloat if one chamber sustains puncture.
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    Guaranteed against air leaks (via manufacturing error); dual lock air valves for easy and quick inflation and deflation.
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    90-day limited warranty. Includes paddle and carrying bag.
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    Front seat can be removed for single-person use.
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    Very affordable.
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    Kayak weight: 22 lbs.
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    Kayak length: 10’.
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    Maximum weight capacity: 400 lbs.

Cons

  • Inflatable construction might not be sturdy enough for some uses; best for lake use.

2.  Rave Sea Rebel Inflatable Kayak Review

As another inflatable (and affordable) model, the Sea Revel from Rave is a single-person vessel, but has a sit-on-top design instead of sit-in (which means it’s easier to get in and out from the water).  

The stern has tankwell storage secured with bungees, and mid-ship boasts an adjustable, padded seat and foam-filled handles—which you’ll also find at the bow and stern—for easy carrying after inflation.

Pros

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    Durable 420D nylon with 500D tarpaulin bottom; perfect for calm waters such as lakes and streams, but could also handle mild rivers.
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    1-year limited warranty.
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    4 foam-filled carrying handles at mid-ship, bow, and stern.
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    Bottom features fins for straight tracking.
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    Padded sling seat for adjustable comfort.
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    Kayak weight: 22 lbs.
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    Kayak length: 8’7”.
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    Maximum weight capacity: 200 lbs.
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    Includes paddle, carrying bag, and hand-operated air pump.

Cons

  • Lower weight limit than most kayaks; not suitable for all users.  Remember to include gear weight in measurement.

While not everyone will be able to use the Sea Rebel (even an average-sized person, with a good amount of gear, could exceed the weight capacity very easily), we recommend it to paddlers traveling light, smaller kayakers, and even teenage/youth riders who are old enough to paddle on their own craft.

3.  Lifetime Lotus Sit-on-Top Kayak Review

The Lotus has a simple, no-frills look, and a price that backs it up.  This hard shell sit-on kayak is durable and low-maintenance, with just enough features for comfort.  

If your budget is low—but you’d rather not have an inflatable kayak that could puncture—the Lotus is worth checking out.

Pros

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    Hard shell sit-on style kayak made from high-density polyethylene (plastic) with UV protection to prevent fading and cracking.
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    Molded footrest system (4 positions). Seat bottom is also molded; padded backrest.
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    Kayak weight: 38 lbs.
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    Kayak length: 8’.
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    Maximum weight capacity: 250 lbs.
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    Scupper holes bail out cockpit area if it takes on water.
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    5-year limited warranty.
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    Tankwell storage in stern; bungee-secured.
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    Paddle included, made of polymer and aircraft-grade aluminum; lightweight but strong.

Cons

  • Seat is molded plastic but, unlike other models, does not have a bottom cushion; could be uncomfortable for some.

Kayakers who need all the extra features they can get (or at least, a padded seat), skip the Lotus.  Anyone in need of a basic but solid vessel, however, will enjoy this one.  It’s molded seat and foot braces, while not adjustable, are all part of the boat itself—which means fewer pieces to install and maintain, for a boat that stands the test of time better than most.  Sometimes, as the Lotus clearly proves, simplest is best.

4.  Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Kayak AE1012 Review

Pros

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    Touring kayak designed for longer distances ; hybrid design between folding-frame and inflatable models. Aluminum ribs in bow and stern for stability; tapered hull and skeg tracking fin helps it perform like a hard shell, with the low weight of an inflatable kayak.
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    Easy and quick set-up and breakdown; easy to transport and store.
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    Additional components can be added (purchased separately) for increased structure.
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    Hull features triple-layer materials for increased resistance to punctures.
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    Kayak weight: 36 lbs.
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    Kayak length: 10’5”.
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    Maximum weight capacity: 300 lbs.
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    Affordable mid-range option.

Cons

  • Sit-in style is harder to get back into if you fall out/tip craft, compared to sit-on styles.

The problem with inflatables: they don’t perform as well as hard shells.  The problem with hard shells: they take up a lot of space, and can’t be stored just any old place.  While the AE1012 isn’t the best of both categories, it does combine the pros of each to deliver a one-of-a-kind boat, and for a price that still fits in most budgets.

5.  Ocean Kayak 12-Feet Malibu Two Tandem Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak Review

The Malibu Tandem is actually a three-person craft, meant for up to two adults and a child; a molded plastic seat in the hull at mid-ship provides a space for your smallest co-paddler, or an extra place for gear, as needed.  

Comfortable and quick-drying seat cushions round out the adult seats at the bow and stern, and storage wells with the included gear straps will ensure you have everything you need for your journey, stowed safely on board.

Pros

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    Sit-on style kayak; tandem (two seats), but also features a third molded seat well for a child in mid-ship area.
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    Adult seats feature comfortable padding and adjustable backrests. Molded foot braces.
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    Low profile for better stability and easier ins and outs, even from the water.
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    Gear straps included.
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    Kayak weight: 57 lbs.
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    Kayak length: 12’.
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    Maximum weight capacity: 425 lbs.
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    Available in yellow, Sunrise (red and yellow), and Envy (green and white).

Cons

  • Paddle sold separately.

For the price, Ocean Kayak is offering quite the deal to its customers when it comes to the Malibu: tandems, especially hard shells, can run for a considerable amount more than this, but they’ve kept the design strong and simple to cut costs—without cutting quality.  The standout feature is the molded youth seat in the center, which includes a gear strap so you can use the area as a storage tank well when you’d rather have a kayak built for two.

To Conclude:

Part of kayaking’s popularity is the low barrier for entry: it doesn’t take much to get started.  All you need is a boat, some paddles and gear, and an adventurous spirit.  The kind of kayak you get makes all the difference in your experience, however.  While you don’t have to spend a fortune for a good watercraft, you should look for the highest quality vessel within your personal budget: sturdy and well-made, produced by a reputable company (large or small), and designed for the exact kayaking you have in mind.