Water Gliders: The 8 Best Kayaks

Sure, the first time you slide yourself into a kayak, it’s going to feel strange and you’ll get a vague notion that everyone is laughing at you. Just relax. They almost certainly are. That doesn’t mean that you should quit, but that you should learn to get better, whether you feel like Hiawatha or not. Kayaking is one of the most fun and rewarding things you can do on the water. Whether you’re ocean-bound or prefer rivers and streams, no boat has half the versatility, stealth, or elegance of a kayak.

What sets a kayak apart from canoes or stand up paddleboards is their broad range of designs and features. You can get a fishing kayak that is larger and capable of strapping in all your gear, or a lone survivor river running model that one person can easily cart around. Hunters find that they can sneak up on prey more easily in a kayak than they could on foot, and nature lovers find that they disturb less of the glory around them by using this simple boat. Whatever your purpose, one of the 8 best kayaks will happily set you adrift.

Intex Challenger K1

Intex Challenger K1

Pro: Extremely inexpensive
Con: Inflatable

Blowed Up: “It cannot be,” you are surely screaming at your screen. Yes, for less than a C-Note, you can get a pretty decent inflatable kayak that is more than the unicorn-shaped raft your daughter floats on in the pool. Built with 30 gauge PVC, plastic skegs underneath, stable I-beam floors, and puncture-resistant vinyl above and below, this is the newbie’s boat of note. No, you won’t be able to take it on the rapids, it’s meant for a little fun in the sun and getting your feet wet in the kayaking world. Inflates with a fast-action hand pump, is easy to spot on the water, and has it’s own 84-inch big boy aluminum paddle. For a two-seater, get the K2. [Purchase: $70]

KL Industries Sun Dolphin Journey SS

KL Industries Sun Dolphin Journey SS

Pro: Friendly and accessible
Con: Seat does not adjust

Level Up: Once you’re ready to ditch the inflatable kayak, you’re not going to be ready for the big time. Recreational paddlers who want something that passes muster, but isn’t going to hit their bank statement like the Colorado River in January should take a gander at the Sun Dolphin Journey SS. It’s technically a fishing kayak, what with the rod holders, but a little work can get you adjusted to using it on mild to moderate rivers or lakes. Adjustable foot bracers accommodate everyone, the open cockpit is welcoming, and the smooth tracking and sleek build let you get a little more speed than you’d expect from a casting boat. [Purchase: $299+]

BIC Sport Tobago Deluxe

BIC Sport Tobago Deluxe

Pro: Handle for attaching a painter
Con: Limited storage

Up Top: Though it’s nearly 13-feet long, the Tobago Deluxe weighs in at a mere 70 lbs. for a ride that is as easy to carry as it is to use. Fans of the sit-atop kayak who prefer to go tandem with a partner, and perhaps even bring along a child, will find the buoyancy they need right here. The pointed bow and tri-hull design gives you a decent amount of speed for a sit-on kayak, though the smoother lines limit storage space to a couple of bags and maybe a waterproof backpack strapped to the back. Able to float up to 550 lbs. you’ll never want for stability. [Purchase: $800]

Liquidlogic Remix 79

Liquidlogic Remix 79

Pro: Blends stability and speed
Con: Narrow hull can be hard for newbies to maneuver

Let the Creek Rise: Here’s a creek boat you can take home to mother, assuming mother is a heavy creeker. A nice, big rocker keeps this up and away while the smooth carriage can turn it into a real speed freak in the right hands. Able to drop off some of the tallest waterfalls in the world, this doesn’t skimp on durability. You could turn on a dime, but why use that much space when this can reset and get you back on line better than that? Take it into big water, practice your eddy turns, or push for speed, at 8’11” this can do it all. Bigger chine area for stability like a stand up paddleboard, creek castaways need look no further. [Purchase: $899]

Jackson Rock Star

Jackson Rock Star

Pro: Customizable outfitting
Con: Very short length requires some adjustment

Free as a Fish: Freestyle kayaking tends to be more about the skill of the operator than the power of the boat, but even the best wave hoppers in the world want the right gear. Jackson’s Rock Star has earned its name again and again. They move fast with unrivaled manueverability, they’re forgiving of errors without feeling like you’re dragging around training wheels, and they’re responsive trick fiends that let you push the envelope. Edging and carving are glorious thanks to Jackson’s new stiffer cutting hull. Short of getting your own carbon freestyle kayak, this is without equal. [Purchase: $1,120]

Jackson Zen

Jackson Zen

Pro: Easy boofing
Con: Lightweight

Rapido: Standing on the bridge between creek boats and river runners, the newest iteration of the Zen certainly leans more toward whitewaters or larger runs, but manages to be fun for any skill level or wherever the wild water takes you. Flared sidewalls give it plenty of smooth rolls, a beefy bow rocker helps give you a drier experience, and a boil-battling speed demon of a hull gives you lots of chances to show off. Old hands will stick the line easily while the stable body is a joy to learn on. [Purchase: $1,199]

Hobie Cat Mirage Outback

Hobie Cat Mirage Outback

Pro: High seat position
Con: Too wide for most roof racks

Caster’s Call: Choosing a fishing kayak is all about what kind of sturgeon on stingray you plan on netting. But for a boat that has everything that anglers of most skill levels will love, the Mirage Outback is our go-to. Hobie Cat hasn’t cut out their streamlined appearance, but they have added a stable casting deck, a framed chair, and plenty of handy hidey-holes for stashing your gear. Bungee storage in the back and hatches that can take a little more than just a piano box, you’ll find plenty to like about this re-imagined Outback. Plus, multiple cup-holders for frosty “fishing fuel” brews. [Purchase: $2,299]

TEMPEST 170 PRO

TEMPEST 170 PRO

Pro: Triple bulkheads
Con: Expensive

Salty Dog: If it’s a pirate’s life for you out on the high seas, and you’re hunting around for your dream boat, the 170 Pro is it. We couldn’t have designed a better touring kayak for the die-hard wave rider than this. It borrows heavily from British kayaks and offers impressive chine area for enhanced stability among the breakers. A ratcheting backband, slidelock footrail, and a fatigue-fighting adjustable seat make this comfortable, even on long days with longer paddles. Long, fast, and as much fun as a surfboard, prepare to pick your jaw up. [Purchase: $3,105]

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