The 7 Best Recreational Kayaks Reviewed For 2018

There’s no time like summer (or anytime!) for a kayaking trip.

What’s that?

You don’t have a kayak? Well, you’re in luck because we’re going to walk you through everything you need to know in order to pick out your first kayak.

Then we’ll review a few possible choices you have for purchasing a kayak. By the time you’re done, you’ll know what to look for and where to start finding the best recreational kayak for you!

Whether you’re looking for a kayak for you or your family we’ve got it covered.

There are so many kinds of kayaks out there and not every manufacturer makes it clear what activity each kayak is best for. That’s why we’re going to get started with what you need to know right now.

For more of my top gear recommendations, have a look through these popular Outside Pursuits guide links: Kayak Roof Racks, Kayak Paddles, Kayak Carts

Quick Answer: The 7 Best Recreational Kayaks For 2018

  1. Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
  2. Old Town Kayaks Vapor 10 Recreational Kayak
  3. Lifetime 10 Foot Manta Tandem Kayak
  4. Ocean Kayak Scrambler 11 Sit-On-Top
  5. Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Heron
  6. Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 Sit-in Kayak
  7. Sun Dolphin Bali SS 10-Foot Sit-on top Kayak

Let’s jump right in to what’s happening today in the kayak world. We’re going to show you a lineup of top rated recreational kayaks. Here are my 3 favorite kayaks with full reviews and our buyers guide below.

Be safe always wear a kayak PFD.

Best Recreational Kayak

 Ocean Kayak Frenzy KayakOld Town Kayaks VaporLifetime Manta Tandem Kayak
editors choice
Weight Capacity275-325 pounds275-325 pounds500 pounds
Length:9 Feet10 Feet10 Feet
Includes Paddle:NoNoYes - 2 Paddles

Recreational Kayak Reviews

#1 Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak

Ocean Kayak Frenzy at a Glance:

  • Weight Capacity: 275-325 pounds
  • Length: 9 feet
  • Bow and stern carry handles
  • Padded seat back for comfort

For many reasons sit on top kayaks make some the best choices for recreational kayaks. They’re versatile, easy to use, and self-bailing.

I love the open design of this kayak with tons of space, a generous seat, and two large deck lashings. The large forward are of this kayak give you plenty of storage and also makes it a good design to take your dog with you.

It weighs 43 pounds which is pretty good for an affordable recreational kayak. Ocean Kayak uses what they call a “Tri-Form hull”  with the Frenzy that gives the kayak exceptional stability plus good tracking and maneuverability.

One feature I like is the replaceable rear skid plate which can be changed out if the kayak becomes worn from use. Not a bad call! The addition of the molded drink holders is a nice touch. The Ocean Frenzy is my top pick for the best recreational kayak.

#2 Old Town Kayaks Vapor 10 Recreational Kayak

Old Town Canoes Kayaks Vapor 10 Recreational Kayak

Old Town Kayaks Vapor at a Glance:

  • Weight Capacity: 275-325 pounds
  • Length: 10 feet
  • Made from a durable single layer linear of  polyethylene
  • Has a stern well for easy access to a cooler or other items

This is a single person kayak designed for recreational paddling on quiet water. This would be perfect for slow rivers, lakes, ponds, and other recreation friendly water.

It’s a single layer polyethylene boat which means it won’t cost an arm and a leg while being light and strong.

There’s a gear vestibule behind the cockpit but overall, I would have liked to see them put in a little more dedicated storage space.

Adjustable seat and foot pegs are pretty standard these days but we’re glad to see them included – they’re vital to comfort! Old Town is known for making quality kayaks and the Vapor is the best recreational kayak under $500.

#3 Lifetime 10 Foot Manta Tandem Kayak

Lifetime 10 Foot Manta Tandem Kayak

Lifetime Manta Tandem Kayak at a Glance:

  • Can be used for solo and tandem
  • Weight capacity: 500 pounds
  • Includes 2 soft backrests and 2 double sided aluminum paddles
  • Raised seats keeps you dry and out of the water

With the ability to paddle single or double person (tandem) and a sit on top design, this is the ultimate in versatility.

While the back rests leave something to be desired and the seating is not going to be comfortable for longer trips, it’s a solid choice for the lake house couple. Lifetime also touts the tunnel hull design as “almost impossible to tip over”.

I would say this two person kayak is at its best for short trips with couples that want the flexibility of a sit on top kayak and don’t mind giving up some comfort.

I like the fact that they included paddles, the Manta is one my top picks for the best tandem recreational kayak.

#4 Ocean Kayak Scrambler 11 Sit-On-Top

Ocean Kayak Scrambler 11 Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak

Ocean Kayak Scrambler at a Glance:

  • Weight capacity: 300-350 pounds
  • Length: 11.6 feet
  • Tracks well on flat water and ocean swells
  • 6″ cam lock hatch for dry storage

This is, of course, a sit on top kayak as the name suggests. That means more leg room and flexibility for paddlers.

It also means that the boat is able to feature an easily accessible gear compartment. Shock cord lashing is all you get for storing gear so make sure it’s already waterproof! There is one in-deck waterproof storage that’s just large enough for a phone or keys.

I like the flexibility and options that sit on top kayaks offer to users. Don’t worry there is an adjustable seatback for the kayak so you won’t have to spend all day sitting upright without back support.

The Ocean Scrambler might be the best recreational sit on top kayak, especially when you consider its price tag.

#5 Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Heron

Old Town Canoes Kayaks Heron 11XT Recreational Kayak

Old Town Kayaks Heron at a Glance:

  • Weight capacity: 250-325 pounds
  • Length: 11 feet
  • Adjustable comfort flex seat with added padding
  • Stern hatch provides storage for gear

When I used to work for the local parks department back in Michigan we used this exact kayak for rentals. They’re dependable, functional, and nearly indestructible.

I love the included water-resistant drywell behind the cockpit. There’s also padding on the edges of the cockpit where your knees would most likely make contact. A critical feature in my mind.

Overall, I’d say this boat has plenty of features for any recreational user and the nicely designed seats are a plus compared to many competitors. My top pick as the best recreational kayak for the money.

#6 Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 Sit-in Kayak

Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 Sit-in Kayak

Sun Dolphin Aruba at a Glance:

  • Weight capacity: 250 pounds
  • Length: 10 feet
  • Stern storage with shock cord deck rigging
  • Convenient carrying handles

This short, 10-foot kayak comes in several colors. It features a gear well behind the cockpit with webbing straps for extra gear.

There’s also a built-in water bottle holder or drink holder right in front of the cockpit which is a pretty nice addition for hot days on the river. If your color conscious, there are 5 brilliant colors to choose from.

Made from UV-stabilized polyethylene and featuring a slightly adjustable seat this kayak makes a smart choice for the recreational user.

It also comes in lower on the price scale and my pick for the best cheap recreational kayak.

#7 Sun Dolphin Bali SS 10-Foot Sit-on top Kayak

Sun Dolphin Bali SS 10-Foot Sit-on top Kayak

Sun Dolphin Bali SS at a Glance:

  • Weight capacity: 250 pounds
  • Length: 10 feet
  • Large stern storage with shock cord deck rigging
  • Comfortable seating area with protective thigh pads

Let me just say that for the price, this kayak is packing a ton of great features! I love the portable accessory carrier system that can be used as backpack, tow-behind, or in boat storage system.

Two dry storage compartments are included along with cock cord and deck rigging for gear. The large open cockpit provides for easy entry and exiting from the kayak.

It’s also a sit on top design which automatically offers some of the best versatility and flexibility of any type of boat. The Bali comes in 6 brilliant colors to choose from, your sure to like one of them!

The Sun Dolphin Aruba would be my pick for the best cheap kayak, but just because its cheap doesn’t mean its not a good kayak!

Recreational Kayaks Comparison Table

Recreational Kayak LengthTypeKayak WeightKayak Capacity
Ocean Kayak Frenzy9 FeetSit on Top / Single43 Pounds275-325 pounds
Old Town Kayaks Vapor10 FeetSit In / Single44 Pounds275-325 pounds
Lifetime Manta Tandem Kayak10 FeetSit on Top / Tandem60 Pounds500 Pounds
Ocean Kayak Scrambler10 FeetSit on Top / Single47 Pounds 300-350 Pounds
Old Town Heron11 FeetSit In / Single41 Pounds 275-325 Pounds
Sun Dolphin Arubak10 FeetSit In / Single40 Pounds 250 Pounds
Sun Dolphin Bali SS10 FeetSit on Top / Single40 Pounds 250 Pounds

How to Choose the Best Recreational Kayak

Best Recreational Kayaks

Let’s start by reviewing a few of the types of kayaks available to you. Then we’ll talk about specific features and what you should look for or avoid. When we’re done you’ll have a great idea of where to start looking for the perfect kayak!

First lets answer the question: What is a recreational kayak?

I would define a recreational kayak as a kayak that is used by the occasional/casual paddler that will use it on flat water conditions such as a lake or slow moving river. It will be used primarily for recreation like exploring, exercise and site seeing but not necessarily fishing and definitely not white water rafting.

What Makes a Good Recreational Kayak?

A good recreational kayak will be easy to get into, track well but will not be as good as a longer touring kayak. They are stable and difficult to tip over and maybe most importantly be easy to paddle!

Recreational Kayaks

Recreational kayaks are the plastic ABS kayaks you’ll find at most local liveries. These types of kayaks are designed to be affordable and perform moderately well on most flatwater. While I’ve made these types of kayaks work for camping and fishing trips, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Seek out these kayaks if you’re looking for affordable boats that you can take an occasional weekend family or friends trip with. They’re not usually meant to tackle whitewater, hold gear for long trips, or be outfitted for fishing.

Whitewater Kayaks

Ranging from super short to moderately long these kayaks can span the breadth of shapes and sizes. Many of these boats are made for specific and advanced types of paddling.

They’re usually more expensive and a bit harder to find than a recreational kayak. Go to the nearest whitewater rafting center and inquire if you’re not sure where to begin looking for a whitewater kayak.

Touring Kayaks & Sea Kayaks

These boats tend to be long and narrow with features unique to long paddling on open water. Often, they’ll feature a rudder or skeg to aid in navigation and tracking.

They’ll always have added bulkhead space for storing gear and some will even have watertight compartments. These boats can tend to be the most expensive and niche types of kayaks available.

Put plenty of thought into your choice before choosing a touring kayak for long trips!


recreational kayak

Sit on top kayaks are newer and quite popular for several reasons. They’re self-bailing which means they can’t be filled with water. That makes them easy to use and maintain.

They also allow more leg room and flexibility in paddling. However, they lack much of the performance of many other types of kayaks. These are best for recreational trips or days around the lake cottage.


2 person sit in recreational kayakLike a sit in kayak, they have seats, a foot pedal that is adjustable to rest your feet on to get comfortable and provide support to paddle. The biggest difference between a sit in kayak and a sit inside kayak is the fact that the sit in kayak is enclosed.

This gives you protection from the elements that you do not get from a sit in kayak. This is called the “cockpit”. If you will be out in bad weather, you can attach a “spray skirt” that will keep water out and block some of the wind.

They quite different styles of kayaks and the easiest way to decide to to figure out how you will use the kayak and that will tell you what’s the best kayak for you.

Which is Better for You: Sit-in-Kayak or Sit-on-Kayak?

By answering these questions, you will have a better idea of which type is better for you.

  1. Will you be paddling in warm weather and water conditions? If you will be using the kayak in cold water/weather conditions, a site in kayak may be best for you.
  2. Are you a beginner and worried about the kayak tipping over? A sit in kayak is more stable due to the fact you are sitting lower in the kayak and will have a lower center of gravity providing more stability.
  3. Will you be kayaking in calm/sheltered water or in the ocean? A sit in kayak will keep you more protected from the elements and the ability attach a spray skirt giving you more protection from the elements that a sit in kayak.

Kayak Features

  • Spray Skirt – this addition is common among whitewater and touring boats. It prevents waves and water from entering the cockpit and submerging the boat.
  • Rocker – One of several design considerations in a kayak’s shape. Rocker describes the amount of arc or “banana” shape that the boat has. The more rocker, the easier to turn.
  • Skeg – This often detachable or retractable fin helps to stabilize some kayaks in windy conditions or when paddling straight over long distances.
  • Rudder – Not to be confused with a skeg, the rudder is actually use in controlling the direction of the boat as an aid to paddling.

Kayak Materials

Polyethylene – The most common and least expensive material to produce boats from. It’s cheap but heavy. Poly tends to break down with exposure to UV so store boats in the shade!

ABS – More resistant to sunlight damage than Poly boats. ABS is more expensive but more durable and easier to repair.

Composite – These can be Kevlar, fiberglass, or carbon fiber and they’ll cost you a fortune! These kayaks are lightweight and top-performers across all classes but they’re hard to find and very expensive.

Sit-in-Kayak vs Sit-on-Kayak

Kayak Comparision


Pros and Cons of Sit-on-Top Kayaks


  • A sit on top kayak is more beginner friendly, they are easier to get into and out of. If you are at all claustrophobic, then the enclosed feeling of a sit in kayak may make you uncomfortable.
  • A sit in kayak will be self-bailing because they have what are called “scupper holes”. These are holes that allow water splashed into the kayak to drain out.


  • This type of kayak is best for warm weather/water conditions.
  • You are much more likely to get wet from waves splashing and water dripping off the paddles.

Pros and Cons of Sit-In Kayaks


  • A sit in kayak will shelter the lower part of your body from the wind making it a warmer paddling experience.
  • You will have a lower profile, making it slightly easier to paddle because there is less wind resistance. It also gives you a lower center of gravity making it more stable than a sit on top kayak.


  • A sit in kayak is more difficult to get in and out, so if you are less flexible, this may not be the best type of kayak for you.
  • They are not self-bailing, if water splashes in the kayak you will need to flip it over to drain it.

Video: How to get into and launch a sit-inside kayak.


Video: How to launch a sit-on-top kayak.

Best Brands of Kayaks

Best Kayak BrandsThere are quite a few manufactures of kayaks these days but there are a few that stand out because of superior quality and customer service. Many of these manufactures have been around for decades so you can count on them being there in the future!

Ocean Kayak – Ocean has been around for decades and one of the oldest makers of kayaks. They have a wide variety of offerings that range from beginner kayaks to advanced touring kayaks.

Old Town Canoes & Kayaks – Is now owned by Ocean Kayaks they have kept the name however. Being a part of Ocean I think we can be assured the quality will still be there. They have a wide range of kayaks and canoes on offer.

Sun Dolphin – Manufactures Sun Dolphin kayaks and canoes for the recreational paddlers. They offer a wide variety of kayaks and other watercraft like SUPs and dinghies.

Lifetime – Manufactures a wide variety of outdoor recreational equipment. They make everything from basketball equipment to recreational kayaks and SUPs.

I hope this guide was helpful for finding the best recreational kayak to fit your needs. If you want to comment or recommend a kayak I didn’t include, please use my contact form to get in touch.

Have fun and be safe out there!

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Casey Fiedler

I am an avid outdoorsman with experience in naturalist education, outside adventure education, ski instruction, and writing. In addition to my outdoor hobbies, I’m a huge fan of punk rock. I have launched several start-ups. (or business ventures) When exploring the backcountry, I usually carry less than 10 pounds of gear. Years of experience have taught me to pack light. I enjoy sharing my experiences of backcountry education teaching and guiding through writing.

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