What to look for in a good recreational kayak?
Recreational kayaks are generally defined as boats that are good for newcomers to kayaking. Recreational ‘yaks offer beginners high initial stability, low weight and affordable pricing. They are easy to get in and out of, and are most useful in quiet, protected waters such as ponds, lakes, gentle rivers or calm bays – in other words the types of water that most people have access to. Recreational boats are suitable for casual paddling and short tours, and their high stability makes them useful for photography, fishing or carrying a kid or a pet along on a paddle. These boats are easy to lift and car-top, and are not prone to damage while being transported, stored and used.
Sun Dolphin Aruba sit-in Kayak
Our favorite for 2016
Ocean Kayak Scrambler 11 Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
A great value option
Eddyline Skylark Kayak
Very stable and forgiving for beginner paddlers
Recreational kayaks are usually wider and shorter than touring boats or sea kayaks, and recreational boats have flatter bottoms. These features not only make for stability when getting in and out of the kayak, but also give maneuverability. This hull design means recreational kayaks give up speed and tracking capabilities in comparison to touring boats. However, ease of use, durability, and versatility make recreational kayaks more effective at meeting the needs of first-time kayakers, occasional users, or those just wanting a fun water toy for the family. There is a multitude of good recreational kayaks on the market today in both sit-in and sit-on-top styles. This review will give you a head start on the research needed to choose one that can both meet your initial needs and perform well as your skills advance.
Wilderness Systems Pungo 140 Recreational Kayak – Wilderness Systems makes North America’s top-selling kayak, and for its features and overall quality, this 14-foot sit-in expedition ‘yak earns best boat in this review. The length and roomy cockpit make this a good boat for bigger paddlers. Fore and aft sealed hatches with Orbix locking covers keep gear dry, and the cockpit storage console has convenient molded-in accessory trays. The 28-inch waist lets it go fast and track straight on flat water, but the Pungo still has great initial and secondary stability. The Phase 3 AirPro seat provides adjustable back and thigh support for comfort and power when paddling.
Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 – The Aspire offers the excellent tracking and stability of the Pungo in a more compact, easy-to-manage package. Dual inverted keel lines let it track better than most 10-foot boats, and a drop skeg increases the stability and keeps the Aspire going straight even in windy weather. This kayak is stable enough for beginners and activities like fishing and photography, but still very maneuverable for its length. With the ability to turn 180 degrees with just a couple of paddle strokes and a cockpit that can take a spray skirt, this boat is suitable for trying some mild moving water adventures.
Eddyline Skylark Kayak – The Eddyline Skylark comes in at the high end of the recreational price range, but light weight, quality thermoformed construction and advanced performance features provide good value for the money. This boat fits into the newer class of cross-over designs that combine user friendliness with capabilities found in full-fledged sea kayaks. It is very stable and forgiving for beginning paddlers, but will still keep the fun and excitement flowing as skills advance. High buoyancy, two storage bays and a foam-padded cockpit and seat make longer trips comfortable. A metal loop on the front can take a lock cable for security.
Ocean Kayak Scrambler 11 – New paddlers looking for the ease and versatility of a sit-on-top boat will like the Ocean Kayak Scrambler 11. With a design proven over 20 years, Scramblers are light-weight, extremely stable and very novice-friendly. At the same time, they track well on flat water and handle swells and surf with ease. The Ocean Kayak Scrambler earns marks for the best-priced boat in this review simply because of its multipurpose capabilities. Fine for kids to play on, good for fishing, fun for leisure paddling, and ready to take on the waves for some kayak surfing, this boat does it all well.
Intex Challenger K2 Kayak – Recreational means fun and easy to use, and the inflatable Intex Challenger delivers both. Ideal for new paddlers looking for ease of storage and transport, RVers, and campers, this boat is highly portable yet durable and fun to paddle. It is made from super-tough vinyl and is puncture and UV resistant. Two inflatable seats and a 350-pound capacity make it easy to paddle with kids or friends. The Challenger also comes with two paddles and a high-capacity pump for quick inflation. Everything fits neatly into a single bag for easy transport in a car trunk or motor home storage bay.
Buyers guide – how to find the best recreational kayaks
Many manufacturers now offer recreational kayaks with features and performance traits formerly found only on specialist touring kayaks. Called transitional touring kayaks, these boats meet the needs of new paddlers in terms of stability and general user-friendliness. At the same time, they come with hull designs and feature packages that will continue to satisfy as the owner’s skills advance and more adventurous trips and activities are attempted. The Eddyline Skylark, the best lightweight kayak in this review, is a transitional boat. A kayak with a transitional hull design and feature package may cost a bit more initially, but will provide the best return on your investment over time.
When considering a kayak purchase, the first decision is between a sit-on-top (SOT) and sit-in boat. SOT boats are very easy to get in and out of and do not take on water if rolled over. SOT boats are the best kayaks for beginners because the paddler’s legs are free and there is no way to be trapped in the boat. However, SOT boats are wet and far more comfortable for use in warm climates and waters. With sit-in boats, the paddler’s legs and lower body are completely inside the hull and protected from the elements. A sit-in boat can take a spray skirt that will cover the cockpit and keep paddler and gear completely dry in rough conditions. The best sit in kayak for a beginner should have a roomy cockpit to make it easy to enter and exit the boat.