May 29, 2020

10 Best Kayaks and 2017 Kayak Buyer Guide

The First Class Travel Guide


Kayaks offer a great way to explore a new river trail or just causally relax in a calm lake during a bright, sunny day.  With so many kayak varieties and options out there, what’s the best option for you?  We prepared a detailed buyer’s guide and selected the best kayaks within each category to help you make the best choice.

How to Choose a Kayak?

Kayak’s are available in 3 broad categories: touring, whitewater, and recreational kayaks.

  • Touring Kayaks – Touring kayaks are designed for between one to three passengers and offer more stability and durability for extensive travel.  These kayaks typically have more storage space and bulkheads with sealed hatches.  The sealed hatches trap air, allowing the kayak to float even if it fills with water.  They tend to be made with plastic or a lightweight composite blend.  Lengths range from 12 feet to 17 feet.
  • Whitewater Kayaks – These kayaks are designed to survive whitewater river currents.  These kayaks are built tough and designed for speed.  Paddlers need to be at a strong skill level to navigate river kayaks due to their narrow hull which can easily cause tip-overs.  Usually 4 feet to 10 feet in length.
  • Recreational Kayaks – These kayaks are perfect for a novice paddler focused on fishing and general light paddling in a lake or calm river.  Tend to have larger cockpits and a wider beam for more stability.  Sizes are generally less than 12 feet with only very limited cargo space.

Fishing Kayak

[easyazon_link identifier=”B00NB7MNH2″ locale=”US” tag=”thefirclatrag-20″]Old Town Predator 13 Kayak[/easyazon_link]

The Old Town Predator 13 represents a really strong choice for buyers looking for a top of the line elite fishing kayak.  This option costs more than the Pungo 120 and the Sport Fisher but it offers stronger performance and features.  This fishing kayak weighs just 86 pounds but holds a maximum weight capacity of 425 pounds.  It includes, room for a single rider, durable construction, and the ability to stand up while fishing.

[easyazon_link identifier=”B01CK830JC” locale=”US” tag=”thefirclatrag-20″]Feelfree Moken 12.5 Fishing Kayak[/easyazon_link]

One of the few, dedicated, sit-on-top fishing kayaks that can rival the outfitting of a Wilderness System kayak, the FeelFree Moken 12.5 is one of the best possible choices for kayak anglers of all skill levels.  With a length of 12′ 8″ and, a beam width of 32″ it is an extremely stable kayak that is also reasonably maneuverable and relatively fast.

However, with a weight of 72 pounds, it is rather heavy.  But, it also incorporates a feature unique to FeelFree kayaks in that it features their “wheel in the keel” which enables a paddler to simply lift the bow and then tow the kayak behind them.  This kayak also includes the Kingfisher kayak seat, which is very comfortable, combined with adjustable foot braces.

Unlike most fishing kayaks, this kayak offers a large standing platform just forward of the seat combined with a stand up assist strap.  The large center console opens to reveal a rod storage compartment in the hull.  It includes another large hold in the bow with a large hatch cover for additional dry storage space.

The Moken 12.5 also comes fully outfitted for fishing with two rod holders and Uni Track rails so that you can add more to either side of the cockpit.  Thus, it’s an excellent, dedicated, fishing kayak for paddlers of all skill levels.  However, keep in mind, it should be limited to paddling on fairly calm waters due to its extra wide beam.

[easyazon_link identifier=”B00NCJ4H6O” locale=”US” tag=”thefirclatrag-20″]2015 Wilderness Systems Pungo 120[/easyazon_link]

When it comes to dedicated fishing kayaks, the sit-on-top design is without a doubt the most popular design because it provides a high degree of initial stability and it’s easy to reenter after a capsize.  However, the sit-inside design does provide some significant advantages such as a much lower center of gravity which makes it less inclined to tip over in the first place and the ability to apply pressure the underside of the deck greatly increases a paddler’s control.

While there are not a lot of dedicated sit-inside fishing kayaks on the market today, the Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 Angler was specifically designed and outfitted for that very purpose.  It features an extra large cockpit for easy entry and Wilderness Systems’ Phase 3 Air Pro kayak seat.  Other features include SlideLock XL adjustable foot braces and a removable kayak console that fits over the front of the cockpit coaming.

With a length of length of 12′, a beam width of 29″ and a slightly Swede Form hull with multiple chines, it provides an excellent compromise between speed, initial stability, and maneuverability.  The kayak includes a bulkhead behind the seat that encloses a large hold in the stern with a smaller one forward of the cockpit.  Both have Obix hatch covers to keep your gear dry.

[easyazon_link identifier=”B004EEM87G” locale=”US” tag=”thefirclatrag-20″]Lifetime Sport Fisher Single or Tandem Kayak[/easyazon_link]

We selected the Sport Fisher as our best fishing kayak due to its versatility and value.  This kayak offers great value with multiple options including space for up to 3 paddlers with a 500 pound total weight capacity.  The durable design enables you to stand up and fish on the side without tipping over.  Other features 2 double sided paddles, paddle clips, 2 padded backrests, 3 fishing pole holders, and a 6′ storage hatch.

Sit On Top Kayak

[easyazon_link identifier=”B017NPBPUS” locale=”US” tag=”thefirclatrag-20″]Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 Kayak[/easyazon_link]

Quite possibly the ultimate sit-on-top recreational kayak, the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 is an excellent choice for children and adult beginning paddlers due to its short 10′ length which makes it highly maneuverable and its high degree of initial stability due to its 30.5″ beam and multichined hull.

However, both the short length and the wide beam combine to make it a relatively slow kayak.  On the other hand, the Phase 3 Air Pro kayak seat is one of the most comfortable kayak seats and the Keepers adjustable foot braces add to that comfort by enabling the cockpit to easily accommodate both large and small paddlers.

For such a short kayak, the Tarpon 100 offers ample dry storage space.  The tank well in the stern provides plenty of room for gear that you don’t mind getting wet such as a cooler.  The Tarpon sports a bow that exhibits a good degree of rise to enable it to more easily ride over waves.  There is also an integral skeg in the stern to aid in directional stability.

These features make the Tarpon 100 an excellent kayak for short range recreational paddling on calm water and sedate rivers.


[easyazon_link identifier=”B01G8NO7BU” locale=”US” tag=”thefirclatrag-20″]Old Town Loon 106 Kayak[/easyazon_link]

Old Town is well known for producing some the best recreational kayaks on the market and their Loon series is an excellent example of their fine design and craftsmanship.  In fact, the Loon 106 represents the perfect choice for paddlers who are looking for a highly maneuverable kayak for short range excursions.  The sit-inside design provides a significantly lower center of gravity than a sit-on-top design which provides strong stability.

The Active Comfort System 2.0 seat is one of the most comfortable kayak seats on the market and the adjustable Support Track foot braces enable it to accommodate a wide range of paddlers.  The large stern hold with the large hatch cover make it easy to carry extra gear.

Other features include the removable workdeck which offers a dry storage compartment for cell phones and cameras.  The compartment includes a USB charging port so that you can take your cell phone or MP3 player along without having to worry about the battery dying on you at a critical moment.  The integral cockpit coaming enables paddlers to attach a spray skirt for a dry ride and/or protection from the Sun.

The Old Town Loon 106 represents an ideal choice for beginner and intermediate paddlers looking for a recreational sit-inside kayak for paddling on calm lakes and sedate rivers.  This is a comfortable, stable, and highly maneuverable kayak.


[easyazon_link identifier=”B00O4Y9JSM” locale=”US” tag=”thefirclatrag-20″]Wilderness Systems Tarpon 160 Kayak[/easyazon_link]

The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 160 is especially well suited for those paddlers who prefer the feel of an open cockpit and the ease of reentry after a capsize.  With a length of 16 feet and a beam of 28 inches, it is a very fast kayak for a sit-on-top and its speed actually rivals some sit-inside models.

Be aware that the longer length does make it somewhat more difficult to maneuver than a shorter model.  The somewhat narrow beam also provides less initial stability than that some of the wider models on the market.

However, it is well suited for day paddling since it is not only a fast kayak, but it also offers a high degree of directional stability.  The Phase 3 Air Pro seat and adjustable Keepers foot braces make the cockpit a very comfortable place to spend the day.

The Orbix midship and bow hatches, along with the open tank well in the stern, provide plenty of room for camping gear.  This kayak is also designed to accept an optional Wilderness System rudder.

The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 160 represents an excellent choice for more experienced paddlers who are looking for a fast and stable kayak for long range day paddling as well as overnight and weekend camping trips.


[easyazon_link identifier=”B01MQGAH00″ locale=”US” tag=”thefirclatrag-20″]Wilderness System Tempest 170 Kayak[/easyazon_link]

With a length of 17′ and a beam of 22”, this is definitely not a beginners kayak but, for those paddlers with the skill and experience to handle its narrow beam, it is a fast and highly maneuverable touring kayak.  Featuring a soft chined hull with a bow and stern design reminiscent of those seen on British style touring kayaks, it combines Wilderness Systems Phase 3 Air Pro kayak seat with SlideLock adjustable foot braces and a keyhole cockpit to provide paddlers with superior control on both calm water and rough seas.

Due to its somewhat high degree of rocker, the kayak incorporates Wilderness Systems’ TruTack retractable skeg to increase directional stability.  With bulkheads both forward and aft of the cockpit and three holds with Oribx hatch covers, it provides plenty of dry storage space for overnight or weekend camping trips.

Although the Tempest 170 is best suited for intermediate to advanced paddlers, it represents one of the best polymer sit-on-top touring kayaks on the market today.

Option for Women

[easyazon_link identifier=”B00OJ702RQ” locale=”US” tag=”thefirclatrag-20″]Necky Eliza Kayak with Rudder Sunrise[/easyazon_link]

The Necky Eliza represents one of the best options for female paddlers looking for a quality touring kayak.  With a length of 15′ and a beam of 22″, it is not quite as fast as some of the longer touring kayaks but, the shorter length and a cockpit specifically designed for small to medium sized paddlers does make it easier for paddlers with smaller statures to control and maneuver.

What really makes these kayaks special, is the unique design.  The kayak incorporates elements to intended to make paddling more comfortable for women with an ergonomic design based around differences in hip and leg physiology.

This kayak offers a nice balance between glide, maneuverability, and reduced drag.  As a result, paddling requires less effort, less resistance, and less energy.


[easyazon_link identifier=”B017ZDOZ3W” locale=”US” tag=”thefirclatrag-20″]Advanced Elements Advancedframe Expedition Kayak[/easyazon_link]

Advanced Elements offers an inflatable kayak with a hybrid design.  The design represents a mix between a folding kayak and an inflatable in that it incorporates a rigid aluminum frame in the bow and the stern to improve hull efficiency.

With a length of only 13 feet and a beam of 32 inches, it’s a highly maneuverable kayak with a very high degree of initial stability.  The inflatable design does make storing and transporting the kayak much easier than a rigid polymer or composite kayak.

This kayak provides a higher degree of performance than other inflatable kayaks on the market.  The inflatable and adjustable seat provides a high degree comfort.  Unlike most inflatable kayaks, the Expedition includes an inflatable cockpit coaming so that you can attach a sprayskirt for a dry ride and/or protection from the Sun.  It also features an integral skeg to improve directional stability.

While it’s not suited for long expeditions, this kayak represents one of the inflatable kayaks on the market.  This kayak makes a great choice for beginner and intermediate paddlers looking for a short range recreational kayak with superior performance.

Useful Accessories

  • [easyazon_link identifier=”B003CULQRG” locale=”US” tag=”thefirclatrag-20″]SeaSense X-TREME II Kayak Paddle[/easyazon_link]


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About First Class Travel Guide 128 Articles
Travel enthusiast that spent years flying in the back of planes and staying at cheaper hotels in order to save a little money. After learning how to leverage airline and hotel loyalty programs, I've developed an interest in luxury travel and write about my experiences with it.

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