Best Top Rated Kayak of 2018 & Buying Guide
Kayaking has a long and storied history. Originally used by Inuit hunters in Antarctica, kayaks were made of sealskins and whalebone or driftwood, until European explorers and settlers adopted the design with fabric versions.
In1936, kayak (or “flatwater) racing became an Olympic sport, and grew in popularity. When plastic versions were first manufactured in the 1980s, kayaks entered the mainstream. Since then, it’s become one of the most popular and versatile outdoor activities in the world.
Choosing the right kayak takes more than a quick online search; buyers have to consider what they’ll use their kayak for the most, what they can afford, and whether a model provides all the specs they’ll require. All of this information is available at the simple click of a mouse, direct from the manufacturers.
There’s another element to shopping research, however, that you can’t get from a seller: reviews. Fellow customers will provide honest reviews of the product, and many thoughtfully come back to update their reviews after several years, to attest to a model’s long-term quality. In this buyer’s guide, we’ll assess a few of the top-rated kayaks on today’s online marketplace.
Intex Challenger K1
Sea Eagle SE370K_P
Sun Dolphin Journey 10’
Sevylor Big Basin 3-Person Kayak
Ocean Kayak 12’
What kind of kayak should I get?
Depending on what you’ll use your kayak for, there are different types that can suit your needs better than others.
- Recreational kayaks are used for calmer waters, although many can handle river rapids, too. They can be used for light paddling, transportation, and fishing, and come in a range of materials and styles.
- Sit-On Style: These kayaks have a low profile, with the user positioned on top of the hull, rather than inside it (though most feature a sunken cockpit with molded seats, footrests, and storage). Sit-on styles are easier to mount from the water, and are great for warm climates. They can be hard shell or inflatable.
- Sit-In Style: Users sit inside the kayak with their legs and waist in the hull, under the deck. If using a skirt, their bodies are protected from the water—making these models ideal for cold-water climates. Sit-in styles have better maneuverability (on average) because the user has more leverage while paddling, and can brace his or her weight against the inside of the hull. These can be hard shell or inflatable, although hard shell is the most common type for sit-in kayaks.
- Fishing Kayaks: These are typically sit-on styles, and have mounts for fishing rods, gear storage, and other accessory spots, like a place to put a fish GPS, and a hole or clip for a transducer. Some have trolling motors or anchor systems, and can be inflatable or hard shell, as well as sit-in or sit-on (though most are sit-on hard shells).
- Tandem Kayaks: With longer hulls, these models accommodate two or even three riders, and can be inflatable or hard shell, sit-in or sit-on.
- Inflatable: Inflated with a hand, foot, or electric air pump, these kayaks are usually made of vinyl and tarpaulin. Most are designed to resist punctures, with separate chambers so if one section is breached, the kayak will still float. Inflatable models are best for those with limited storage space or cars without mounting racks, or for campers, hikers, and those who travel frequently.
- Hard Shell: Usually made of polyethylene plastic, these are easier to maneuver than inflatables, more durable, and typically more expensive.
- Touring kayaks are meant for long distances or races. They’re usually made of plastic (hard shell), have a great deal of storage (since you’ll be on the water a long time) and have sealed bulkheads to help the craft stay afloat in the event of a breach. They’re longer than most recreational kayaks, have tracking systems like rudders/skegs—which not all recreational models do—and are designed with paddling efficiency in mind.
Top 5 Rated Kayak
1. Intex Challenger K1 Inflatable Kayak Review
Intex specializes in inflatables: above-ground pools, hot tubs, inflatable couches and chairs, and air beds, which bodes well for this inflatable kayak in terms of durability (after all, any company whose products can withstand kids’ cannonballs can stand up to some water, right?).
It does make us wonder about the performance aspect, though: serious kayakers would probably prefer a dedicated brand, rather than a do-it-all company. The Intex Challaenger, which is also available in a tandem model, is best for light paddling and leisure use, such as exploring a lake or easygoing river.
We recommend the Challenger K1 to nature lovers who don’t need adrenaline-inducing rapids to enjoy their kayak. This model is perfect for lakes and calm rivers, and provides a stability and tracking advantage over inflatable sit-on styles. That said, it won’t steer as precisely as a hard shell model—but, then again, few inflatable models can.
2. Sevylor Big Basin 3-Person Kayak Review
The Sevylor Big Basin fits up to three people in its sit-on design, which features a generous well with spray curtains and low profile that almost makes it feel like a sit-in. The one downside: it’s still a tight squeeze for three adults, but looks like it will function well if one rider is smaller, such as a child. The seats are fully adjustable, as well, and come with comfortable backrests for long days on the water.
With a warranty of only 1-year, this model doesn’t provide the greatest peace of mind (especially for an inflatable model that will, at some point, likely require replacement parts/repairs). That said, the price is more than fair, and combines with the novelty of a 3-seat option to make the Big Basin worth consideration. The adjustable seats are a nice feature, so users can remove 1 or 2 seats if desired, or compensate for legroom in taller riders. We recommend this to buyers who plan on doing some family paddling, or hitting the water with friends for leisurely kayaking.
3. Ocean Kayak 12’ Malibu Tandem Sit-On-Top Kayak Review
The Malibu Tandem kayak is technically a three-person craft, but with a unique circumstance: it can fit two adults in the padded seats at the hull and stern, and a child or youth rider in the molded seat well in the middle of the boat. The Malibu is comfortable and stylish, as well, with good tracking stability consumers have come to expect from Ocean.
Ocean Kayak, which was founded in the 1970s by a surfer, pioneered the sit-on design from their very earliest products. The Malibu Tandem is efficient, attractive, and smart: use of the hull’s center for an optional third seat for smaller riders is innovative and fun, yet easy to implement in almost any design—which makes us wonder why more manufacturers aren’t following Ocean’s lead.
4. Sea Eagle SE370K_P Inflatable KayakReview
The Sea Eagle 370 is = made from a rugged PVC that can resist UV rays, saltwater damage, and punctures. It’s even strong enough to take your dog along on your trip, a feature you’d be hard-pressed to find in another inflatable model. With plenty of storage for gear (and side hooks to store even more), this model is built to haul a lot of people (or pets), and a lot of stuff.
We recommend the Sea Eagle 370 to campers more than anyone else, though its compact traveling size makes daytrips to the lake just as easy. There’s ample room and attachments for all your gear, and the durable PVC can tackle anything from brushes with rocks to your dog’s nails (though most kayakers would still prefer a hard shell for their pups, just in case). This model is also one of the more comfortable options on the market, with cushy inflatable seats and ample legroom.
5. Sun Dolphin Journey 10’ Sit-On-Top Fishing Kayak Review
Angler kayaks tend to be pretty heavy, which makes the Sun Dolphin Journey 10’ especially unique; at only 44 lbs., it features retractable handles and can easily be carried from the car to water. It includes a comfortable seat and foot braces, three fishing rod holders, and dry storage behind the seat, along with exposed deck storage at the bow and stern.
The main issue with the Journey 10 SS, according to buyers, is its tendency to turn while at a standstill, such as casting off. While some report the tracking is just fine, it might be worth adding an aftermarket rudder to help control your position. That issue aside, the Journey is one of the lightest fishing kayaks out there, and is built with a rugged and low profile that’s perfect for lakes and mild rivers. Even the smallest features are well thought-out—like the molded cup holder in the cockpit, positioned between the rider’s legs, and thigh pads for comfort while bracing during tight turns (or while reeling in the biggest catch of the day).
Not all kayaks are created equally. Besides their intended use, models can vary greatly in weight, material, durability, size, and price. When it comes to honest and unbiased opinions, buyers are wise to consult reviews and pay attention to ratings—not just manufacturer’s spec lists—before making their decision.