Top 5 Best Recreational Kayaks For Lakes And Rivers

Top 5 Best Recreational Kayaks For Lakes And Rivers

Last updated on January 13th, 2020

best recreational kayaks

In today’s review, we’ll be sharing all kinds of kayaking information and after that, we’ll be sharing our picks for the top 5 best recreational kayaks on the market! We had a lot of fun with this review so we hope that we can help you make a decision in purchasing your next kayak.

We’ve researched over 20 of the best recreational kayaks and bought five of our favorites. We then spent two weekends and dozens of hours on the water rigorously testing them.

In total, we paddled over 40 miles in the mild currents of the upper Mississippi River and the choppy waters of Lake Superior. After all the time we put in, we understand how smoothly each boat glides across various types of water and how easy it is to maneuver each kayak around the docks.

Have you ever heard the term “knowledge is power”? Well, we love to provide our readers with all kinds of knowledge on the products that we test and review. Throughout this review, we will be answering all kinds of different questions that might be going through your mind when you’re trying to make a decision buying a new kayak.

Keep in mind, the kayaks that we’ll be showing you today are all for recreational use. If you’re in the market for a fishing kayak instead, take a look at our  Top 5 Best Fishing Kayaks  review.

Table of Contents

Topics Covered In This Product Review

  • Types Of Recreational Kayaks
  • Are Kayaks Safe?
  • How Much Do Recreational Kayaks Weigh?
  • What Size Kayak Do Should I Get?
  • Will I Tip In A Kayak?
  • Items To Bring While Kayaking
  • Are Inflatable Kayaks Any Good?
  • Will A Kayak Fit In A Truck Or SUV?
  • How Can I Attach My Kayak To My Car?
  • Top 5 Best Recreational Kayaks
  • Wrap Up

Types Of Recreational Kayaks

When you’re in the market for a kayak, one of the first questions you need to ask yourself is “what type of kayak do I want”? There are basically two different types of kayaks for recreational use.

You can either get a (sit-inside kayak) or a (sit-on-top kayak). The difference between the two is that sit-inside kayaks are exactly what they sound like, you sit inside of them. These are the most common types of kayaks that you see most people have and you will be protected from most outside elements as well since these kayaks are enclosed.

Then there are sit-on-top kayaks that leave your whole body exposed. Sit-on-top kayaks don’t have an enclosure on the top of the kayak, you literally just sit on top of the kayak itself. Both types of kayaks are great types of recreational kayaks because they aren’t that large and often don’t weigh that much either. In addition, you can easily fit these kayaks in the back of a pickup truck.

Below is an image to show you what a sit-inside and sit-on-top kayak looks like…


Are Kayaks Safe?

There are a lot of misconceptions around the paddlesports community. Many of which are made by people who have heard stories and have never even been in a kayak. In reality, kayaks are very safe and it’s not the kayak that makes kayaking safe or not. It’s the user who makes kayaks or kayaking safe or not.

Obviously, if you’re not being responsible and respecting the kayak, you’re going to make dumb decisions that will lead to the assumption of kayaking not being safe.

However, there are some things to consider that have to deal with safety while you’re out on the water. Even though it’s not the kayak that makes your adventure safe or not, you can still take measures of your own to make sure YOU are safe. Below is a list of common safety tips for anyone who is going out on the water in a kayak. Please read these tips, especially if you’re new to kayaking.

Safety Tips

  • Always wear your life jacket.
  • Don’t drink alcohol while kayaking.
  • Always dress properly for the current conditions.
  • Choose an appropriate paddling location for your skill level.
  • Practice re-entering your kayak from the water (just in case).

How Much Do Recreational Kayaks Weigh?

When you’re looking into buying a new kayak, one of the things you want to take into consideration is the weight of the kayak you’re looking at. You’re likely going to be carrying or dragging your kayak to most docks or boat launches and you want to be able to carry or drag it comfortably. In addition, weight matters because obviously, you will need a way to lift the kayak to the top of your car or truck bed.

A lot of the weight that kayaks carry is based on the material that they’re made from. Most recreational kayaks that we see are made from a type of hard plastic called (Polyethylene) which is a cheaper material, but it’s also a lot heavier.

Generally speaking, most recreational kayaks weigh anywhere from 30 – 75 pounds or more. The weight usually depends on how big the kayak is as well. Obviously, a 12ft kayak is going to weigh more than a 10ft kayak, etc. We absolutely love the SunDolphin Aruba kayaks and we can say for certain that these kayaks are roughly 40 pounds.

Overall, most kayaks will have their weight in their product descriptions when buying them online. If not, you can just do a quick Google search and you should be able to find the weight of any kayak with no problems.

What Size Kayak Do Should I Get?

This is more of a personal preference type of question. It’s up to you as to what size you feel most comfortable kayaking in. Longer kayaks are going to be heavier obviously, while shorter kayaks are going to be lighter. You’ll want to keep this in mind as well. However, most kayaks that people use for recreation are generally between 10ft and 12ft.

Another consideration is what type of water you will be kayaking in. Most people use recreational kayaks for kayaking in calm water (at least where we are from). This means that a 10ft to 12ft kayak will be more than enough for what you need it for.

If you’re kayaking in larger lakes or the ocean, you might need a larger kayak. Kayaks for the ocean are generally 18ft to 20ft but we have no experience in oceanic kayaks considering we’re from the Midwest. If you’re just going to be kayaking the freshwater lakes and rivers, a 10ft to 12ft kayak will be exactly what you need.

Will I Tip In A Kayak?

Generally speaking, no, you will not tip over in a kayak. They look like they’d be easy to tip over, but they’re really not. Kayaks are very stable once you’re sitting inside of them. However, it can happen if you’re not being responsible in your boat. If you do end up tipping over, you will need to swim the kayak back to shore so you can drain it out. Although, this is not a common problem at all though.

Some people like the ability to easily get in and out of their kayaks and that’s why sit-on-top kayaks have become so popular lately. With sit-on-top kayaks, you can easily get in and out of the water with ease because you can pull yourself back up onto these kayaks.

With a sit-inside kayak, you can’t do this. Same with tipping over, if you tip a sit-on-top kayak, usually you can just flip it over and pull yourself back on without having to swim to shore and drain it.

Items To Bring While Kayaking

When you’re out on the water you want to make sure you’re making use of all the storage spaces on-board. These are spaces where you can put all kinds of gear in case of an emergency. You never know what could happen out there so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

You’re going to want to bring safety gear, skin protection, food & water, and you might need an anchor as well. An anchor is actually optional but definitely helps if you want to just “chill” in a certain are without drifting away.

Never underestimate the weather while you’re out on the water. This is why you will need to bring various items with you that will benefit you while you’re kayaking. This is especially important for anyone who plans on being on the water for 2 hours or longer. Below is a list of general items that would be necessary and useful to bring along on every kayaking trip you go on.

What To Bring:

  • Safety Gear – Safety should be your biggest concern while you’re on the water. You’ll want to bring a personal flotation device if for whatever reason you end up capsizing. Also bring a whistle, flares, gloves, headlamp, first aid kit, paddle leash, and an emergency kayak repair kit (better to be safe than sorry).
  • Skin Protection – Nobody likes bees, ticks, or mosquitoes. Bring bug spray at the very least and apply it often enough. Also, bring sunscreen if you’re expecting the sun to be out all day. A hat and sunglasses would be essential as well.
  • Food & Water – I can’t stress this enough, you need to bring plenty of water with you. As far as food goes, bring some healthy snack-type foods. Packages of peanuts or granola bars work great as a source of protein that’ll keep you energized.
  • Bring An Anchor – You’re going to want a 1.5 – 4lb anchor. They even have folding anchors that don’t take up much space which is perfect for kayaking. We recommend this 3.5lb folding anchor. An anchor is optional, but nice to have if you want to hang out in a cool area without drifting away.

Are Inflatable Kayaks Any Good?

Inflatable kayaks definitely have their place in the market, that’s for sure. However, we would not recommend them for regular use. Yeah, they’re cheaper, but they typically won’t last nearly as long as a regular kayak.

When you buy an inflatable kayak, you’re taking the chance of puncturing a hole at any given time. This could cause safety concerns if you’re paddling in water with fast currents or shallow water with logs and other debris that may be sticking out of the water.

It’s best just to get yourself a regular plastic or fiberglass kayak. At least with these, you know for a fact it will last you a long time. The other thing about inflatable kayaks is they’re more flimsy and that can cause safety concerns as well.

Will A Kayak Fit In A Truck Or SUV?

If you’re driving a larger SUV or a truck with a long bed, your 10ft or 12ft kayak will slide in the back with no problem at all. However, it will stick out of the back a little bit, so you may need to put a red flag on the end (per traffic laws). Trucks with beds that are 5.5ft or 6ft might have more of an issue though. You might need to close the tailgate and angle the end of your kayak over the tailgate and strap it down.

As far as the SUV goes, you’re likely only going to be able to fit a 10ft to 12ft kayak in the back if your seats fold down all the way to the front. Otherwise, you’re going to need a universal kayak rack for the load bars on the top.

How Can I Attach My Kayak To My Car?

With paddling sports growing in popularity, it’s no doubt that many people driving cars instead of trucks are going to need a way to transport their kayaks (or even paddleboards).

What’s great about cars is that if you have a roof that already has load bars, you’re in luck because most people use a universal kayak carrier that works on all car roofs that have load bars. These kayak carriers are easy to install and you can be on your way to kayaking in an hour less.

Many people use these universal kayak carriers on their cars and they work great. They come with instructions as well, so you won’t have to sit there for hours trying to figure out how to install it either.

Top 5 Best Recreational Kayaks

We tested each and every one of these kayaks and had a lot of fun with them. Our favorite was this first one, the Wilderness Aspire 105 was very stable in the water and when you’re inside, you just feel safe at all times. This kayak glided across the water with ease as well.

Our next best kayak that we loved the most was our #5 kayak which is the SunDolphin Aruba kayak. These kayaks are very common and for a good reason too. The SunDolphin Aruba kayak is extremely lightweight and is nice and stable in most types of water. The SunDolphin Aruba is also a very comfortable kayak to sit-in for hours at a time.

1. Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 Kayak

best recreational kayak

Wilderness Systems equipped the 2019 Aspire 105 Kayak to hold another 100-pounds of weight, making this efficient and stable recreational kayak well-suited for medium to large framed paddlers. The shallow, slightly arched hull allows for effortless maneuvering around the slow-moving riverway, while beginner-friendly chines blend into the sidewall so you won’t get stuck wobbling in the middle of the lake.

A spring-loaded skeg provides enhanced tracking through long treks of flatwater and the habitual bayside breeze. And although this larger version is only 4-pounds heavier, the replaceable skid plate might come in handy when portaging around monstrous rapids or simply dragging the boat from your car to the put-in. The 105’s cockpit boasts all of the comforts you could want for a long day on the water.

The Phase 3 AirPro seating system, complete with leg, back, and height adjustments are truly like sitting in the lap of luxury. Sliding foot braces and padding around your knees and thighs provide a place brace against for enhanced control. A molded-in console features a spot for your smaller go-to items and a cup holder for staying hydrated. Fore and aft on-deck bungee rigging puts essentials at your fingertips and a covered stern hatch supplies more room for your dry bag or bulky gear.

Product Details:

  • Hull Material: polyethylene
  • Length: 10ft 6in
  • Width: 29in
  • Deck Height: 15.5in
  • Maximum Load: 400lb
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2. Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 Kayak

best recreational kayaks

Phase 3 AirPro sit-on-top seat provides back stability, ventilation, and drainage without limiting stroke. Keepers XL foot brace system allows for quick and easy adjustment for leg length. Self-bailing scupper holes mean you don’t have to worry about taking on water.

Gear storage pockets and a molded-in cup holder let you keep the important things close by and easy to get to. Midship and bow Orbix hatches have been redesigned to be better sealing and lower profile, keeping your smaller gear safe and dry. SlideTrax accessory system lets you add accessories such as rod holders or sideboards.

Stern tank well with bungee will accommodate a large dry bag full of gear, a cooler, or the fish that didn’t get away. Padded handles ease carrying of the boat.

Product Details:

  • Hull Material: polyethylene
  • Length: 10ft
  • Width: 30.5in
  • Deck Height: 15.25in
  • Maximum Load: 325lb
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3. Oru Foldable Lightweight Kayak

best kayaks for recreation use

Quickly and easily get out on the wide-open water! Your innovative Beach LT boat by Oru Kayak is made for casual kayaking on calm waters, such as lakes, rivers, and bays, so it’s perfect for beginners and experts alike! Construct your kayak in under 5 minutes! Oru pioneered the Beach LT’s origami-inspired, foldable structure, so you won’t spend forever setting up or waste time lugging around a boat!

Although your kayak is small enough to carry when folded, it is most certainly mighty. Oru Kayaks undergo extensive strength and durability testing, rated at 20,000 folds and exceed U.S. Coast Guard recreational vessel requirements. Each kayak comes with a full 12-month warranty & 30-day money-back guarantee!

Product Details:

  • Hull Material: double-layered custom polypropylene
  • Length: 12ft
  • Width: 28in
  • Deck Height: 15.25in
  • Maximum Load: 300lb
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4. Ocean Malibu Kayak

recreational kayaks

Master the waves with ease with the Ocean Kayak Malibu 11.5’s compact, stackable, easy-to-paddle, straight-tracking solo kayak. An AirGo molded-in seat with seat pad and adjustable backrest provides all-day comfort out on the water.

Packed with features, the Malibu 11.5 includes molded-in footwells with calf rests for added leg support, molded-in paddle rests, bow and stern toggle handle grips and molded side handles, and three molded-in cup holders.

Keep your gear secure with the Malibu 11.5’s QuickStash dry hatch and the YakLock locking bar at the stern with brightly colored tank-well-retention bungees. This kayak has a substantial 325-pound maximum load capacity and features a limited lifetime warranty. Paddle sold separately.

Product Details:

  • Hull Material: polyethylene
  • Length: 11.5ft
  • Width: 31in
  • Deck Height: 15in
  • Maximum Load: 360lb
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5. Sun Dolphin Aruba Kayak

best recreational kayaks

The Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 Sit-In Kayak is great for river and lake trips. This great recreational kayak features a paddle holder, adjustable foot braces, adjustable padded seat, and protective thigh pads to keep you comfortable while you’re out on the water. The storage compartment gives you plenty of room to store all your gear, while durable Fortiflex material keeps your kayak lasting for years to come.

Product Details:

  • Hull Material: polyethylene
  • Length: 9.5ft
  • Width: 29in
  • Deck Height: 16in
  • Maximum Load: 250lb
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Wrap Up

When you’re in the market for a good recreational kayak, we’ve got you covered. As we stated in the beginning, we had a lot of fun with this review as I’m sure you will have plenty of fun with your new kayak as well.