Best Kayak for Rivers and Lakes in 2021: Ultimate Guide

Best Kayak for Rivers and Lakes in 2021: Ultimate Guide

Want the best kayak for rivers and lakes? Picking the right one can be tough – there are hundreds of kayaks with hundreds of reviews. Ain’t nobody has time to go through all of them.

This is why we created this guide – to help you pick the right kayak within minutes.

We did all the legwork – testing the kayaks based on their build quality, performance, comfort, maneuverability, storage features and much more.

So without further ado, here are the top kayaks for rivers and lakes you can buy:

Sun Dolphin Aruba SS 12-ft. Sit Inside Kayak

The Sun Dolphin Aruba SS is a high-quality kayak for rivers. The brand Sun Dolphin is known for making high-quality kayaks that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Also, this kayak is perfect for beginners who want to experience the thrill of water sports and recreation. It also comes at an affordable price tag, which makes it all the more appealing.

The kayak is made from fortiflex high-density polyethylene material. This HDPE material is sturdy and durable. It is capable of resisting impact when the boat collides with external objects like boulders or tree branches. It ensures that there is no dent or physical damage to the kayak. The material is also UV stabilized, which means the kayak won’t fade, crack or peel due to exposure to the sun.

The kayak is lightweight at 40 lbs, so you can carry it on your own without needing anyone’s help or a kayak cart. It can support 250 lbs. of weight, which is decent and sufficient for most average-sized adult paddlers. The length is 12 feet so you may need a roof rack on your car for transportation. It is so lightweight that you can load it onto your car on your own. This is a huge plus as you don’t need to wait for a friend to go kayaking – you can get going on a whim.

The kayak tracks well on water which is important for a kayak that caters to beginners and experienced paddlers alike. If you are not familiar, tracking is the ability of a kayak to move in a straight line and maintain its direction on the water. The kayak is designed for lakes and rivers, so it is a joy to ride on slow-moving and calm waters. However, if you take it into strong winds, it will get blown off course.

It is also very stable which makes it easy to get in and out of. However, it is a sit-inside kayak so there isn’t as much open space in the cockpit as the sit-on-tops you may have seen. Paddling is smooth and responsive. There are thigh pads one each side to ensure your thighs don’t scrape against the side edges.

The Sun Dolphin Aruba scores high when it comes to comfort. Since it is a long kayak, there is plenty of room to extend your legs and make yourself comfortable. Seat is nice and padded, but some users felt it could use more padding. Adding a seat cushion can resolve the issue.

Since this is a sit-in kayak, the seating is such that your legs and feet are covered unlike the sit-on-top kayaks. However, despite being a sit-inside kayak, there is a lot of room in the cockpit that allows you to stay comfortable in the seat and gives enough space to relax. Even if you are a 6-foot plus person, you will find this kayak spacious and comfortable.

It also comes with adjustable foot braces that allow paddlers of all sizes to fit in. The thing with adjustable foot braces is that you have to adjust them manually. Multiple foot braces, which are often seen in sit-on-top kayaks don’t require you to do anything – just put your feet on any one of the footpegs and you’re good to go.

The next thing that we like about the kayak is its storage. It comes with bungee cords both on the front and the rear to secure your gear. On the front, there is a small storage hatch that gives you access to the hull. There is no box though, so anything you store will go inside the hull of the kayak.

On the rear is a large watertight storage box that is also removable. You can keep all sorts of stuff here: phone, wallet, camera, camping gear etc. The good thing is that the waterproof compartment is actually waterproof, unlike other kayaks.

The best part is that the storage box can be removed to use the recess for a cooler or other storage items. The bungee cords that secure both the front and rear storage are thick and sturdy.

Apart from offering a lot of storage, the kayak also offers customizability. It comes with two flush mount holders so that you can plant your fishing rods and cast with a stable platform. It is amazing that the company has given it such versatility at an affordable price. It also comes with a paddle holder to stow the paddle when not in use.

Overall, the Sun Dolphin Aruba kayak is a great entry-level kayak. It is versatile, lightweight, portable, comfortable, easy to maneuver and fun. Sure it cannot take strong winds, but it was never meant for that. Its sit-in style makes it perfect for all kinds of weather conditions. Whether you want to use it for recreation or fishing, it is the perfect companion.

pros

  • Solid build quality
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Padded seat
  • Thigh pads
  • Open, spacious cockpit
  • Sit-in style suits all weather conditions
  • Comfortable
  • Tracks well
  • Adjustable foot braces
  • Flush mount rod holders
  • Plenty of storage
  • Watertight storage
  • Paddle holder
  • High value for money

Cons

  • Padding is thin

Sun Dolphin Journey 10-ft Fishing Kayak Sit on Top

The Sun Dolphin Journey kayak is great for those who want something affordable with a balanced set of features.

It has solid build quality. Made with high-density polyethylene material, it can withstand any knocks or collisions with external objects like rocks or trees. The material is also UV stabilized, which means the kayak material won’t fade, crack or peel due to exposure to the sun. This brings another level of robustness to the kayak.

The kayak has a large open cockpit that allows you to make yourself comfortable. It also means you can get in and out easily, or jump out for a quick swim if the weather allows.

When you take it on the water, the one thing that stands out is how stable it is. It is so stable that you will find it hard to tip it over. Tracking is good and the kayak keeps moving straight in calm and slow moving waters. Some users reported adding a skeg at the bottom to up the tracking a notch, which seems like a nice idea. However, it also indicates the kayak’s tracking needs slight improvement. Anyhow, the kayak is easy to maneuver, so you will have plenty of fun with it on the water. What we liked is how one can take it on strong currents, given they have the necessary paddling skills.

The kayak has a weight limit of 250 lbs., which is decent but a bit less for bigger and heavier people who want to bring some gear along too. If you are big, it is better to buy the 12-foot version of the Sun Dolphin Journey and use the 395 lbs. weight capacity.

The kayak comes with scupper holes to drain any water that accumulates inside the kayak. On the downside, they are quite small, so it takes a while for it to drain completely and small holes can also get clogged. Also, there are some scupper holes under the seat which sounds good but can be problematic. This is because they can let water come onto the kayak and get you wet. However, you can just block them with plugs to resolve this issue.

The kayak is comfortable for riders for all sizes. The seat is adjustable, so you can always find a comfortable position to sit in. However, it is a bit hard for longer rides, so you may want to install an aftermarket seat or add a seat cushion.

There are protective thigh pads on both sides to make sure your thighs don’t rub against the rough edges of the kayak. Since the cockpit is large and spacious, it is easy to get comfortable, cruise and enjoy the ride. It comes with adjustable foot braces so that paddlers of all sizes can feel comfortable.

The kayak is also lightweight at 44 lbs. So you can haul it around on your own. Retractable carrying handles on the sides allow you to load or unload it from your car and carry it to the shore.

The Sun Dolphin Journey has plenty of room for storage too. There is shock cord deck rigging on the front to keep a large box or tackle. On the rear, there is a storage compartment that can be removed to make use of the recess. There is an easy access compartment in the front which you can use to keep smaller belongings like cell phones, car keys or a wallet. There is a cup holder to keep your beverages and stay refreshed as you paddle for long hours.

There is a paddle holder too to keep the paddle when not in use. The kayak comes with lifetime limited warranty, like all other Sun Dolphin kayaks. So you can have peace of mind while parting with your money while buying this kayak. Our research also indicates that the company provides responsive and satisfactory customer service. So you can expect to get any issues resolved promptly.

Overall, the kayak is perfect for those looking for a high-quality and versatile kayak. It is the perfect budget kayak which comes with a lot of practical features. It is not only good for recreation but also for fishing since it is remarkably stable and comes with rod holders.

Pros

  • Solid build quality
  • UV protection
  • Large and open cockpit
  • Superior stability
  • Lightweight
  • Cup holder
  • Easy to transport
  • Comfortable seating
  • Adjustable foot braces
  • Easy access storage
  • Front tank well storage
  • Rear portable storage compartment
  • Multiple rod holders
  • Carrying handles
  • Paddle holder
  • Lifetime warranty

Cons

  • Tracking needs slight improvement, a skeg resolves the issue
  • Scupper holes under the seat need to be plugged or they can get you wet
  • Seat is a bit hard
Buy on Amazon:

ADVANCED ELEMENTS Advanced Frame Sport Kayak

Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Sport Kayak is one of the best kayak for rivers in the market. It is an inflatable kayak, so it is different from most of the other kayaks in this list. This kayak is an all-rounder and gives you the best of both worlds. It has the structural strength of a hard-shell. And being an inflatable, you can just deflate it and carry it without needing much room in your car.

This kayak is not for seasoned paddlers who want to plan multi-day trips on the water. However, it can still do well in Class I and II rapids, as per the company’s guidelines. We still don’t suggest that you take it too far from the shore though. Also, make sure you don’t take it in areas where it can get damaged by rock or debris.

It weighs just 26 lbs. when inflated, so you can carry it on your own and stow it in the back of your car with ease. This is not possible with all hard shell kayaks as some of them weigh as much as 80 lbs or more. It can accommodate net weight up to 250 lbs. which is decent for the price. Many hard shell kayaks that cost more have the same weight capacity.

Advanced Elements are known for making strong inflatable kayaks. Like the regular one, this Sports version also has aluminum ribs embedded in the bow and the stern to bring unmatched structural strength. This makes it similar to a hardshell kayak in terms of performance and gives a smooth paddling experience.

On top of the aluminum ribs, the kayak is covered with three layers of material that make getting punctured a remote possibility. There are four air chambers, so you can rest assured it will stay afloat in the unlikely case of a puncture. The kayak also has welded seams that further make it strong and durable. The hull itself is made of PVC tarpaulin which contains layers of polyester and vinyl for structural strength.

It comes with molded rubber handles so that you can easily carry it when it is inflated. You may be thinking that the kayak may take too much time to inflate and set up – but don’t worry. The whole process is easy and quick. The advanced inflation valves ensure that air doesn’t leak out when inflating. However, it is recommended that you get a dual action inflation pump for the kayak. Dual action pump fills air fast as it pumps air both with upward and downward action.

It comes with a patch kit so you can repair it yourself if there is physical damage. It is easy to patch the kayak but you need to leave the kayak for 12 hours to cure.

We like that the kayak comes with a fin under the hull for improved tracking. A skeg or a fin helps the kayak move in a straight line while paddling. This makes it easy to maneuver. Note that this feature isn’t available even on many hard shell kayaks, so this is great. The aluminum ribs also contribute to the good tracking of the kayak. Overall, the kayak’s tracking is impressive and better than many of the hard shell kayaks we have tested.

The kayak is a lightweight version of the company’s more popular Advanced Frame regular kayak. It is different because it has a large and open cockpit that allows you to get in and out of it easily. This also makes it highly comfortable. The kayak is very stable so you won’t have to worry about it tipping over. It has a seat with good back support and adjustability. You can always adjust the seat to sit in the most comfortable position.

To make paddling smooth, there are neoprene paddle guards on both sides of the boat. They ensure that your hands don’t rub against the rough side edges while paddling. We recommend that you look for a different kayak if you are taller than 6’2”. This is because people that are too tall will struggle to extend their legs and feel cramped up.

For storage, there isn’t as much space as a hard shell kayak but there is enough for a day-long trip. There is bungee rigging on the front where you can keep some small items easily accessible from your seat. There is also some space behind the seat to store some gear in a dry bag.

One of the best things about this kayak is that it will not only let you cruise on slow moving streams, lakes and rivers, but also let you experience the thrill of paddling on rapids. This makes it fit for adventure unlike many other kayaks. It is also reliable unlike other inflatable kayaks, which sets this kayak apart.

Overall, the Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Sport is a great budget kayak with features comparable to its expensive counterparts. It is lightweight, portable, easy to set up and can do well both on calm waters as well as up to Class II rapids. It is also stable and tracks better than many hard shell kayaks.

Pros

  • Great build quality
  • Aluminum ribs, 3 layers of material
  • Carrying handles
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Good for lakes, rivers and rapids
  • Fin for improved tracking
  • Easy to set up
  • Repair patch included
  • Adjustable seat
  • Decent storage
  • Impressive tracking
  • Perfect for beginners

Cons

  • Riders taller than 6’2” may feel cramped
Buy on Amazon:

Intex Explorer K2 Kayak Review

Intex Explorer K2 kayak has everything you need in an inflatable kayak.

The kayak is made from high-quality material. The K2 explorer features 30-gauge vinyl construction with 1200 denier nylon shell which isn’t the strongest material but decent for an inflatable. What also makes the kayak rigid and strong is the I-beam on the floor. Such solid construction makes it capable of withstanding impact from underwater objects such as rocks and tree branches. There is a thick outer layer that brings more rigidity and strength to the kayak’s structure.

The kayak has three air chambers, so even if one of them gets punctured or damaged due to some reason, the other two will keep it afloat. There are grab lines on either side that keep you supported as you paddle. It also comes with a grab handle to let you carry the kayak and help with transportation.

The kayak is curved on the bow and the stern to help it glide through water easily. In addition to the curves at the ends of the kayak, there are also spray skirts on the bow and the stern that prevent splashes of water from entering the kayak and making it wet.

The Intex Explorer K2 can accommodate two adults and has a weight capacity of 350 lbs. This weight capacity may not be a lot, but usually good enough for two average-sized adult paddlers or one adult and a child. With the kayak, you can buy two 86-inch oars, so you don’t have to buy your own. Inside the package, you also get a pump, two inflatable seats, a repair patch, a skeg and a carry bag.

The inflatable seats are adjustable – you can change the seating height to get a better and more comfortable position. The seats can be removed when you are done kayaking and want to take the kayak down. They are attached to the floor of the kayak using velcro straps.

The seat has a high back which supports your lower back all the way to your upper back. It is also firm, which gives better support to your back. The straps are secured with high-quality buckles that hold the seat in a steady position.

The paddles that come with the kayak are a bit short. There is one glitch in the design of the kayak that should be fixed. While paddling, your hands rub along the side seams, which is uncomfortable especially for long hours on the water. However, you can easily resolve this issue – just buy longer oars or you can also use gloves to eliminate the damage caused to your hands.

We like that the Explorer K2 comes with removable skegs. This is great because removable skegs improve tracking and maneuverability. It is easy to handle the kayak on calm waters and slow moving rivers. When confronted by waves or winds, it takes some effort to keep it steady, but overall its handling is good. Also, note that the kayak has a large front profile which further makes it harder to keep the kayak steady when the wind is fast. The kayak has good stability, so you can get in and out easily. Stability is not just important for maneuvering, but it also allows you to feel safe inside the kayak.

The kayak comes with sporty graphics which gives it high visibility as an added safety measure when you are on the water. What is really impressive though is the kayak’s stability. You can stand on it and it won’t feel tippy. You can get in and out easily. Stability also helps with maneuvering since you don’t have to be too cautious while trying different paddle strokes.

Another thing worth a mention is the boston valves fitted on the air chambers. The floor chamber has a regular valve, but the remaining two side chambers have boston valves. Boston valves are great because they allow airflow in only one direction. This means air won’t leak out when you are inflating the air chambers and it won’t enter inside when you are deflating them. The company also supplies a hand pump which is decent and inflates the kayak in as little as ten minutes.

Pros

  • Solid build quality
  • Lots of space
  • Lightweight
  • Two-person capacity
  • Good stability
  • Comfortable seats with high back
  • Multiple air chambers
  • Comes with paddles
  • Boston valves for quick inflation
  • Easy to put together or take down
  • Carrying handles
  • Grab lines
  • Value for money

Cons

  • Paddles are a bit short, make your hands rub on the sides
Buy on Amazon:

Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 | Sit Inside Recreational Kayak

Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 is a high-quality kayak if you are looking for a yak for rivers or lakes. The Aspire 105 is a versatile kayak that comes with features that make it capable of navigating different types of conditions with absolute ease. The kayak adapts to almost anything you throw at it and that too while keeping you comfortable.

The kayak has superior build quality. It is built with high-density rotomolded polyethylene material. Rotomolded means the whole kayak is produced as a single piece so there is no leakage. And HDPE material is very sturdy and can resist impact from objects on water such as rocks and tree branches. Remember that polyethylene can get soft when the boat is exposed to the sun for too long. This makes its material flexible. So always keep the boat covered. If you are careful not to strap it too tight while transporting it on your roof rack and spread the weight evenly during storage, it will last many years. It can support 400 lbs. of weight, which is impressive for a one-person kayak.

The kayak comes with the Phase 3 Airpro Seat. The seat is nothing like we see in most kayaks. It is super comfortable and fully adjustable. It is made with mesh fabric on the outside and honeycomb-vented, ergonomic 3D foam on the inside. This unique construction makes it breathable and keeps you cool while paddling for long hours. Its soft foam contours to the shape of your body and makes you feel like being hugged. The backrest is adjustable and consists of a cutaway for dedicated support to your spine. Everything you need to control is placed within easy reach for you to stay comfortable while paddling.

It comes with knee and thigh padding along the inner side of the cockpit to protect your knees or thighs from rubbing against the rough edges. This padding also helps you tighten your grip against the sides and find a more stable paddling position. The kayak comes with an adjustable foot brace system placed right next to your thighs. This system allows you to adjust the foot braces while seated. In other kayaks, you have to extend yourself further far into the cockpit to adjust foot placement. So this is a great feature. There is a molded-in dashboard in the front which keeps smaller items like drinks, snacks and phones within easy reach. It secures your items using bungee cords.

The cockpit is spacious so you can enter and exit the kayak easily. The downside is that it does not come with a drain plug to remove any water that enters the kayak. So adding a spray skirt around the cockpit is recommended to keep yourself dry. This will especially be helpful when it is windy or you’re paddling through waves. When you sit in the kayak, it becomes clear how meticulously the company has designed it. The rubber grip on the bow and stern handle allows you to carry the kayak comfortably.

The Aspire 105 performs brilliantly on the water. It glides through water smoothly due to its design. Its hull is flat from the bottom, compact and is wide enough to give a stable and smooth ride. In fact, its glide is better than a lot of the kayaks we have tested in the past including the Sun Dolphin Aruba. It shows that the kayak can glide fast through water without any effort or resistance. The kayak comes with an adjustable skeg that can be controlled from the cockpit for better handling of the kayak during winds and waves. Add to it the dual inverted keel lines and the kayak becomes easy to track and moves through water effortlessly.

The Aspire 105 has harder chines than usual, which improves its tracking. They allow the kayak to glide smoothly through water. The bow is v-shaped that further allows the kayak to slice through water. The upswept bow helps it move over waves instead of catching them onto it. The kayak is easy to maneuver – typical of short and wide kayaks. You can turn it around easily and try different strokes without any hassle. The kayak’s maneuverability is better than many kayaks including the Perception Tribe 11.5, Ocean Kayak Malibu and Sun Dolphin Aruba. So you can see that it is incredibly easy to maneuver.

The kayak weighs 48 lbs. so it is not exactly lightweight, but you can still haul it around on your own depending on your physique. If you have an average build, it will be slightly difficult but doable. It is compact enough to be stored in the back of your truck. There are carrying straps with rubber coating that allow you to carry it without any hassle. It also has replaceable skid plates so that you can drag it on the ground without causing any physical damage. Without a skid plate, you will need to buy a kayak cart, so this feature also saves your money.

The kayak comes with a rear oval storage hatch to keep your gear safe and dry. The storage hatch is sturdy and watertight. Even when the cockpit is filled with water, not even a drop of water leaks into the sealed foam. This is really impressive as a lot of the kayaks come with storage hatches that aren’t actually watertight. The hatch lid has levers to lock it in, but the levers are made of flimsy plastic. However, there is a one year warranty on materials or manufacturing defects, so you will be covered in case it breaks off. For materials in the hull and the deck, there is a similar warranty for five years.

Overall, the Wilderness Aspire 105 is a well-engineered kayak with a lot of attention to detail put into the little things. It works well on lakes and rivers since it is made for flat and slow moving waters. Its seat has foam and mesh fabric that contour to the shape of your body. It is more comfortable than any other seat we have tested for this guide. The kayak’s spring loaded, retractable skeg makes the kayak from just good to absolutely amazing, empowering it with speed and maneuverability.

Pros

  • Superior build quality
  • Excellent stability
  • Best maneuverability
  • Retractable skeg with cockpit control
  • Highly comfortable seat
  • Adjustable seat
  • Foot rests are easy to adjust
  • Highly functional
  • Dry storage hatch
  • 400 lbs. weight capacity

Cons

  • No drain plug
  • A bit heavy to carry by yourself
Buy on Amazon:

Sea Eagle 370 Pro 3 Person Inflatable Portable Sport Kayak

The Sea Eagle 370 is one of the best kayaks for rivers you can buy. If you want the compact size and portability of inflatables, then it is the perfect option for you.

The Eagle is made to last. It is built with 38 mil polykrylar or K80 PVC material and has high-frequency welded seams for rigidity in its structure. It has an inflated I-beam in its floor which makes it sturdy and helps keep it stable on the water.

The kayak accommodates up to a whopping 650 lbs. of weight. With this weight capacity, it can support up to three paddlers. This is really good if you like to go kayaking with your friends or family, since there aren’t many kayaks for three persons.

Since it is an inflatable, you may be thinking whether it really performs on the water or not. Well, the good news is the kayak can handle almost anything you throw at it. It is easy to maneuver. It is not just suited for slow moving rivers but also challenging conditions such as class III whitewater. This means the kayak can easily tackle waves as big as four feet and navigate its way through narrow openings between rocks.

What improves the kayak’s tracking is the two removable skegs that come with it. Skegs are fin shaped attachments that you can attach to the bottom of the kayak. They help the kayak move in a straight line, making it easy to handle. You don’t want to handle a kayak that moves in a zig-zag manner.

The kayak has lots of space, so you can make yourself comfortable. You also get paddles with the kayak, so you don’t need to buy your own. The paddles can be collapsed for compact storage. The paddles come in four pieces, so you can easily store them. They are lightweight but strong and durable. The good thing is that they float so if you accidentally drop them in water, you don’t have to worry about losing them.

The inflatable seats are comfortable with a firm backrest that supports your back from bottom to top. The seats also have pockets on the back that allow you to store small items. The pockets can be opened with a quick-snap button. Despite being an inflatable, the kayak is comfortable for long hours of use.

With the kayak, you get an inflation pump, a repair kit and an inflation chart to help you inflate the kayak’s air chambers to the right pressure level. The inflation foot pump works well but you need to be careful and keep the inflation hole caps on while inflating. If you are not careful about this, the seat can get loose and disturb your balance. The kayak also comes with a pressure gauge so you can inflate the kayak to the right pressure.

It takes about fifteen minutes to inflate the kayak given that it is a foot pump and not an electric pump. The kayak comes with five one-way valves that ensure that air doesn’t escape while inflating the kayak.

The kayak comes with a drain plug at the stern to quickly remove any water that tends to accumulate inside. This helps you stay dry and enjoy the ride in peace. The kayak comes with two 7 foot 10 inch paddles. The paddles have asymmetrical blades and an aluminum shaft.

The kayak, being inflatable, is easy to transport and store. You can keep all the items in a carry bag. This saves the hassle of buying a roof rack or a kayak cart.

As far as the performance of the Sea Eagle is concerned, it does really well. After deflating all the air chambers, the kayak can be folded and stored in a small space in your car.

The kayak’s performance is really good – it doesn’t shy away from challenging conditions. Even though it is great for rivers and lakes, you can also take the kayak on the ocean and it will not lose control in the face of ground swells, moderate waves or currents in the water. It is really stable, which also makes it easy to get in and out of. But it also remains undeterred by mild waves or winds.

Note that you would have to dry the kayak with a towel after use. This is to maintain the quality of material. If it is not kept dry, mildew may start appearing over it. It is recommended that you bring some towels and a large sponge to dry it quickly with your buddies once you are out of the water. We like that there is a drain valve which makes taking it down way easier. Not all inflatables come with a draining valve, so this is good.

Many users reported how the kayak stays intact after many years of use. The air chambers still hold the air pressure well after years, which is a good indicator of the build quality. The kayak also comes with a storage bag to store all the items together. However, if you want to take it as air travel luggage, the whole package may feel a bit heavy. Storing it in a car is easy though.

Overall, the Sea Eagle 370 Pro is great for those who want an affordable option to not just cruise on calm waters, but experience the thrill of tackling rough waters. That’s right – take it on a slow-moving river or the ocean waves – it can handle almost anything. It is comfortable, portable, has large capacity onboard, easy to enter or exit and doesn’t feel tippy at all. And finally, the material is sturdy enough to absorb dog paws without any damage.

Pros

  • Well built
  • Versatile
  • Multiple chambers ensure water safety
  • Thick seat cushions
  • Easy to control
  • Stable
  • Dual skegs for tracking
  • Self-draining valve
  • Spray skirts
  • Pressure gauge
  • Repair patch
  • Compact storage
  • Effective foot pump
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • The entire kit is a bit too heavy
Buy on Amazon:

Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 Fishing Kayak

If you want one of the most reliable and practical kayaks that offers a high value for money, the Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 is worth checking out. Lifetime is a leading manufacturer of kayaks and the Tamarack is one of its best.

The kayak is made with HDPE material. HDPE is high-density polyethylene material that absorbs external impact from external objects like rocks or tree branches. HDPE is sturdy and durable – it is a hard plastic that can last many years. The material is also UV resistant, so it won’t fade, peel or crack due to exposure to the sun. However, it is still advised that you don’t leave the boat out in the sun for too long. This is because even HDPE can get soft and flexible when it gets too hot. This can cause an indentation on the kayak body when pressure is applied.

But it is not just its build quality that impressed us, the kayak is great when it comes to performance too. It tracks well on water and is easy to maneuver, you won’t have to struggle while trying different paddle strokes either. It can go through narrow passages and navigate its way around waves easily. It also has a molded-in skeg at the bottom that helps with tracking. You won’t find the kayak swaying easily when hit by waves or winds.

It is very stable on water, more so that many of the kayaks we tested for this review. Its hull is flat from the bottom and stability chine rails. This keeps it more stable than most kayaks. It is so stable that you can paddle it while standing too. And since the kayak is made for fishing also, you can cast and reel while standing, expanding your area of view and accuracy.

It comes with a sharp bow design that helps it glide through water smoothly and effortlessly. A kayak’s glide is an important feature to notice since it determines speed and performance. You don’t want to buy a kayak with a blunt bow.

Next, the kayak is superb when it comes to comfort. The seat is padded enough to be comfortable for long hours of use. It comes with an adjustable backrest so you can always find a comfortable position. The seat is not fully adjustable but can be moved back and forth.

You can use the straps to lock the seat at a particular angle. The backrest also stays firm enough to support your back. In addition to the comfortable seat, there are multiple footrests in the front, molded in the kayak deck. This allows paddlers of all sizes to fit in.

The kayak has many features for customizability unlike other kayaks in this segment. You can customize the kayak for fishing. It comes with three rod holders – two flush mount holders and one swivel rod holder. The kayak is superb for fishing. Many users report that it is as good as the expensive fishing kayaks. Some users who use the kayak for long trips added a stadium seat to make things more comfortable.

The kayak is easy to carry. T-handles on the bow and the stern allow you to carry it easily. There are two storage tank wells in the front and the rear, both secured by bungee cords. You can keep your gear and supplies, except small items since they can fall out. On the rear large tank well, you can keep a cooler or a fishing crate. There is a dry storage hatch in the rear to keep items like phone, wallet or car keys.

It also comes with scupper holes to drain the water out of the kayak. Without scupper holes, water can get accumulated inside, get you wet and ruin your ride. It has a paddle keeper, a space to store your paddle when not in use. In addition to this, there are two beverage holders on the kayak deck that keep you refreshed when paddling for long hours.

The Lifetime Tamarack is solid and can support 275 lbs. of weight. This is usually enough for most adults. But if you are big and heavy or want to bring a lot of gear along with you, there are kayaks like the Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 that support up to 400 lbs of weight for a one-person kayak. The kayak weighs 52 lbs, so it is not really heavy and can be carried by a single person in most cases.

The kayak comes with a five year limited warranty so you can have peace of mind when parting with your hard-earned money. Moreover, the company has excellent customer service as reported by customers. You can expect to get your queries resolved fairly quickly.

On the downside, there is no storage box provided for dry storage. Anything you “store” will drop down into the hull of the kayak and will be hard to access. You will have to buy a container yourself to store items in a proper way.

Overall, the Lifetime Tamarack Angler is a great kayak for someone who wants something reliable yet fun. It can act both as a recreational or a fishing kayak. It is great for rivers, lakes or slow moving waters. It is the right amount of fast and stable, which is a rare combination. Add to it a stadium seat and this kayak becomes your perfect companion on the water.

Pros

  • Superior build quality
  • Value for money
  • Fishing rod holders
  • Very stable
  • Easy to handle and maneuver
  • Easy to enter or exit
  • Comfortable
  • Two tank wells
  • Dry storage
  • Multiple footwells
  • Fast
  • Good for rivers and lakes

Cons

  • No container in dry storage box
  • Seat could be slightly better for long trips
Buy on Amazon:

Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 SS Kayak

Sun Dolphin is a leading manufacturer of kayaks and canoes and the Aruba 10 is one of their better products.

The kayak is well-built. It is made out of UV stabilized Fortiflex high-density polyethylene material. Yes, all this jargon is hard to understand, but this means the kayak is of top notch quality. High-density polyethylene material is strong and durable.
It can withstand impact from external objects and stay in pristine shape through years of use.

On top of that, the material is UV stabilized which means it won’t fade, peel or crack. However, you are not supposed to leave the kayak out in the sun for a long time since the material will get hot and flexible. In other words, it will be prone to getting dents when excess pressure is applied on its surface.

We like that the boat comes with an open and spacious cockpit design. Not only does it allow you to get in and out of the yak easily, it also helps you make yourself comfortable when paddling. Since this is a sit-in kayak, you stay protected from bad weather conditions and splashes of water don’t get inside easily as they do in sit on top kayaks.

Adjustable foot braces on the front help paddlers of different sizes find a comfortable position. This is pretty much a standard feature in all kayaks. The padded seat is comfortable enough for long hours of paddling. It is adjustable, so you can change positions in case your body starts hurting after long hours of paddling.

There is a large storage compartment in the rear where you can keep camping or fishing gear. The compartment has a plastic cover on top but it doesn’t stay tight. However, there are bungee cords on top to secure it further. This storage compartment can be removed in case you want to use the recessed space for a cooler or fishing crate. The storage compartment, however, is hard to access since it is located behind the seat and that too of a sit-in kayak in which you cannot just stand up and turn back.

There is a beverage holder in the front that allows you to keep your favorite beverage and stay refreshed during long rides. One gripe we have with the kayak is the seat. Its padding is not thick enough for most people. You will have to buy a seat cushion to make it comfortable enough.

The good thing is that the kayak comes with thigh pads on either side to ensure your thighs don’t scrape against the side edges. Thigh pads also let you keep a stable form while paddling and brings effectiveness to each maneuver and paddle strokes.

It comes with a paddle so you don’t have to buy your own. The paddle is of solid quality – in fact, it is a bit heavy. But it does the job. For the long-term, it is better to get a lighter paddle.

The kayak supports 250 lbs. of weight. This is not super high but decent for a single paddler. It is enough to accommodate one adult paddler and some luggage. It is important to note that many users used the kayak above its recommended weight limit without any issues. However, we do not recommend that you do the same.

There is a paddle holder that allows you to store the paddle when the boat is parked. There are carry handles on the bow and the stern that allow you to transport it with ease. However, there are no handles on the sides, which is a bummer since you need them to load or unload the boat from your car.

It is also not that difficult to carry this kayak on your shoulders since it weighs just 40 lbs. This of course depends on your physique. Also, note that if you want the paddle along with the kayak, you have to buy the SS model. If you don’t buy the SS model of the Aruba, you won’t get the paddle with it.

Overall, the 10-foot Sun Dolphin Aruba kayak is perfect for lakes and rivers. But it is especially attractive to paddlers who want something that is meant not just for relaxing mellow waters but also for tackling rough waters. Users reported taking into class II and even class III rapids and it held up well against the rocks and was easy to handle.

Pros

  • Well-built
  • Durable HDPE material
  • UV protection
  • Spacious and comfortable
  • Plenty of storage
  • Adjustable padded seat
  • Carry handles
  • Beverage holder
  • Paddle holder
  • Protective thigh pads
  • Value for money
  • Can handle Class III rapids

Cons

  • Storage compartment doesn’t stay watertight
  • Rear storage box is hard to access
Buy on Amazon:

Pelican Maxim 100x Sit-in Recreational Kayak 10-foot

Pelican Maxim 100x is for those who want a superior kayak that is simple yet amazing. The Maxim 100x is lightweight, stable and easy to maneuver. It is perfect for lakes, rivers and slow-moving waters. But you can also take it on light rapids if you want to feel the thrill and have some fun.

The kayak’s hull has a shallow V-chine design that gives it a lot of stability. This stability allows it to navigate not only slow and calm waters but light rapids with ease. Since it is lightweight, you can carry it around on your own. There are t-handles on the bow and the stern, so you can transport it without any hassle. However, we would have liked it if the company had fitted side handles on it for convenience, although you can still carry it on your shoulder so overall transportation is easy.

It comes with a comfortable Ergofoam seat that keeps you comfortable for long hours on the water. It comes with an adjustable backrest that supports your entire spine. Although it is a sit-in kayak, the cockpit is large and open, so it is easy to get in and out of. However, you still have to be careful since it can be tippy.

The build quality of the Maxim 100x is impressive. It is made with Ram X material, a patented construction method by Pelican. Ram X is strong and durable. It can withstand any type of collision with hazardous objects on water like rocks and tree branches.

This ensures the kayak does not take any dent and remains intact. Ram X material also gets back into original shape after an impact to preserve the design of the boat. The building material is also UV resistant, so it won’t fade, crack or peel due to exposure to the sun.

The kayak comes with adequate space for storage. There is a storage tank well in the rear which secures your gear using a mesh net on top. This cover ensures that any items you store don’t fall out. On the front, there is a dry storage hatch with bungee cord rigging on top. You can keep things like phone, wallet or a camera in this hatch safe from water.

An important thing to check with any dry storage hatch is whether it is actually watertight – because it is not, in many kayaks. Users complained that the storage is shallow, so you cannot keep a lot of stuff in it. This is disappointing given its steep price.

A complaint that multiple users made is that the kayak is tippy. Therefore it is impossible to stand up to reach out and access the front storage hatch. Hence, it becomes almost useless when you are on water. The only time when you can access the storage areas is when you are in shallow water.

It is not overly tippy or anything. You can still enjoy the ride. However, to offset its tippy nature, you can apply moderate pressure when paddling to maintain its stability on the water.

The kayak has a weight capacity of 275 lbs. This is decent for a single adult paddler and some gear on board. If you are on the bigger and heavier side and want more capacity, there are kayaks that can accommodate as much as 400 or even 500 lbs. of weight. In the cockpit, there is a beverage holder to keep you refreshed when you are out on the water for long hours.

The kayak is easy to maintain. One can clean it using a sponge and mild soap, and all the dirt comes off easily. It comes with a drain plug so you can easily remove any water that the kayak takes on as you paddle through waves.

The kayak tracks well, so you can enjoy the ride and take in the beautiful weather. There is no drop-down keel on the hull, but its tracking is still good. You can take it on slow waters or mild waves, it won’t get swayed or drift over. It is fast too, so you can use it for touring during day trips, exploring the river and capturing the beauty of nature as you go.

It comes with multiple footrests so you can choose which one to use. This helps accommodate riders of all sizes. The sides of the kayak are covered with molded strips so that your knees don’t rub against the edges while paddling. This also allows you to paddle from a more stable form.

One thing worth noting is that there is a lot of space in the bulkheads. The kayak comes with foam filled in the bulkheads but it doesn’t fill the entire space inside the hull. Due to this, the bulkheads can take a lot of water when the boat goes through waves. It sure won’t capsize because of the high buoyancy, but you don’t want to paddle with the bulkheads filled with water. So it is recommended to fill the bulkheads with a number of pool noodles until they are “sealed” enough to not take any water.

Overall, the Pelican Maxim 100x is a high-quality kayak that comes with a variety of features. If you want a kayak that is easy to use and fun, this is for you. Sure, it is a bit tippy but once you know how fun it is and how it can tackle not only slow waters but also rapids, you will fall in love with it. If superior stability is high on your priority, the Maxim 100x is not for you.

Pros

  • Superb build quality
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to use
  • Decent storage space
  • Multiple foot rests
  • Drain plug
  • Good tracking
  • Good for both calm waters and rapids
  • Fast
  • Good for adventures

Cons

  • Can be tippy
  • Bulkheads can take on water if not blocked
Buy on Amazon:

Perception Pescador Pilot 12 Sit-on-top Fishing Kayak

If you want to buy a high-quality kayak with advanced features, the Perception Pescador Pilot is the best kayak to buy. It is perfect for lakes and rivers, in fact, one of the best. But it also handles choppy waters and ocean swells better than a lot of the kayaks out there. What makes it stand out is its pedal drive feature. So you don’t have to tire yourself out when you are out on the water, just peddle and enjoy the ride. But this kayak is not just about recreation, it also has many features that make it good for fishing.

The kayak has a superior build quality. It is made with HDPE material, which stands for high-density polyethylene. HDPE is sturdy and can withstand impact from external objects. It is leak proof since the entire kayak is made as a single piece without any seams where water can leak.

With pedal drive, you can not only cruise with ease, you can also move in reverse motion. This is a rare feature that is sure to turn some heads when you are out on the water. You don’t have to worry about turning or maneuvering it either. It comes with a rudder that makes things easy. Since the turning radius is small, you can turn it on a dime to make quick maneuvers.

The best thing about the Pescador 12 is it offers Pedal Drive at a price much less than other similar kayaks. Sure it is still expensive, but it offers more value than many of the more expensive pedal drive kayaks. The immediate alternative to the Pescador 12 is the Hobie ocean kayak. But it will cost a whole lot more for just a couple extra features.

You can also paddle like normal when you want, switching off the pedal drive. Since the kayak is long and wide, we recommend that you buy a long paddle – about 96 inches long.

Since this is a heavy-duty kayak, it also has some downsides. It weighs a lot – 95 lbs. to be precise. So you will need a kayak trolley to haul it around. You will also need a roof rack to transport it on your car. On the positive side, it can support a massive 475 lbs of weight. So you can plan long trips without worrying about where to keep your gear. This possibility is further emphasized by the pedal drive function. You can never go farther into the ocean on a regular kayak.

On the other hand, a paddle drive allows you to relax and enjoy the ride while going farther and also tackling rougher waters. To put things into perspective, one customer was able to do a 16-mile round trip in just half a day while cruising at an average speed of 4 miles per hour.

You can stow the pedal drive system into the hull. It goes up into the hull above the rubber gasket. Since it is not accessible, you can park the boat knowing that no stranger would be able to use the pedal drive.

The kayak has excellent stability. It gives you a stable platform to fish from. You can stand, sit and even rock it a bit – it won’t feel tippy at all. The Pescador Pilot 12 is easy to maneuver. On the left, there is rudder control – a lever that moves either left or right to help you turn the kayak.

The kayak tracks really well and is easy to get in and out of because of the spacious cockpit. The rudder keeps the kayak from drifting away with changing currents. Also, make sure to keep the luggage evenly distributed, otherwise the balance of the boat will be disturbed and may affect stability.

The chair is comfortable for long hours of fun. It is made with mesh material with sufficient ventilation to keep you cool and dry when you are on the water for a long time. It is so comfortable that it gives you the feeling of sitting in a lawn chair.

The seat is adjustable – you can move it forward or backward to get into a more comfortable position. This front or backward movement allows you to adjust the space between the footrests and the seat. In fact, you can do it on the go while pedalling. The backrest can be tilted forward or backward too, so the seat is fully adjustable. It is great that the seat is removable, this allows you to store the kayak more efficiently.

One important thing to note is that you need to be careful while installing the rudder. The instructions are really helpful and proper installation will help you make the most out of it. Give special attention to ensure that the cables are tight. This is necessary to ensure the rudder responds promptly to each maneuver.

The Pescador Pilot 12 comes with gear tracks that allow you to mount rod holders and a fish finder. Moreover, it comes with integrated accessory rails on either side that allow you to add accessories like fish finders and rod holders. It is all within easy reach fro the comfortable lawn chair.

There are four molded-in rod holders in total, so you can make the most out of your fishing adventures. The boat has loads of storage space too – an important factor for anglers. There is a large tank well in the rear where you can keep a cooler, fish crate or other gear. It secures your gear with bungee cord rigging. There is also a tank well in the front with a mesh cover on top, where you can keep smaller items which can fall out from the rear tank well with bungee rigging.

There is additional storage under the seat to keep additional gear. There is a beverage holder that makes sure that your drinks don’t spill and keeps you refreshed on longer trips. Although this is a high-end kayak, there is no dry storage hatch, which is a little disappointing but can be fixed by getting some dry bags and storing your valuables using the bag under your seat.

Another important thing worth noting is that the seat stays in a slightly reclined position by default. You cannot get a perfect upright position, although the slight recline seems to work for most customers.

One thing you should understand about pedal drive kayaks is they have complex components like a rudder and a propulsion system that are integral to their functioning but are also prone to technical faults in the long term. Traditional kayaks, on the other hand, are lightweight and don’t need any major maintenance in the long-term.

Overall, the Perception Pescador Pilot 12 is just for those who want a kayak that has quality, comfort, maneuverability and storage space. The Pilot 12 is everything you need in a river kayak and it is even capable of handling rough ocean waters.

Pros

  • Superior build quality
  • Pedal drive for effortless rides
  • Rudder for full control
  • Adjustable seat
  • Breathable seat material
  • Stable
  • Moves in reverse too
  • Gear tracks and two accessory rails
  • Good tracking
  • Supports 475 lbs.
  • Easy to enter and exit
  • Beverage holder
  • Lots of storage in front, rear and underneath the seat
  • Good for rivers, lakes as well as oceans

Cons

  • No dry storage hatch

Quick Buying Guide: How to Choose a Kayak for Rivers

Build Quality

Check if the kayak is robust. Most quality kayaks are made from a material like high-density polyethylene which can withstand impact from rocks or tree branches. See if the material provides UV protection.

Stability

A stable kayak allows you to enter and exit with ease and doesn’t feel tippy when stationary or when moving through water.

Inflatable vs Hardshell

Inflatable kayaks are generally inexpensive and portable. But they aren’t as stable, as good at tracking, as durable or have as much storage space as hard shell kayaks.

Sit-in vs Sit on top kayak

Sit inside kayaks have a closed cockpit design that protects you from bad weather. Sit on top kayaks have an open and spacious cockpit design. Sit on top design allows you to get in and out easily, offers more storage space and allows you to use the kayak for fishing, not just recreation.

Maneuverability

A maneuverable kayak responds to each paddle stroke, can turn on a dime and can be paddled through narrow spaces such as between two rocks without any hassle.

Tracking

Tracking is the ability of a kayak to move in a straight line. You don’t want a kayak that keeps drifting off course even by mild waves or winds. Therefore, tracking is a crucial feature which you must check before buying a kayak.

Storage

Kayaks usually come with storage tank wells in the front and the rear to store things like a cooler, a fishing crate and other gear and rigged by bungee cords to secure the luggage on board. Also, some kayaks have dry storage hatches to store valuables like phone, wallet or car keys.

Customizability

Some kayaks are only meant for recreation. Others come with things like fishing rod holders and mounting points to add accessories like fish finders and transducers. If you want to use the kayak for fishing, check if it has rod holders and gear tracks to add more accessories.

Final Thoughts

There are hundreds of kayaks in the market that are meant to be used on lakes and rivers. But not all of them perform well or last long.

This guide will help you find the right one. But make sure to read the pros and cons of each kayak carefully.

Our top pick is the Sun Dolphin Aruba 12 SS kayak. It is neither too expensive, nor too cheap. It can double as a fishing kayak with its multiple rod holders. It doesn’t do well when challenged by strong winds or waves, but it is perfect for lakes, rivers and slow-moving waters.