Short on time? Our top pick for the best kayak brand is the Wilderness Systems.
My picks for the best kayak brands, including what to look for and what to avoid.
A kayak is a high-price item, so you’ll definitely want to do your research to make the best choice possible when shopping for one.
With so much jargon in the kayak industry, it can be hard to understand which kayak brands are legit and which brands are taking you for a ride.
This is why I compiled a top kayak brands list. It includes my picks for the best kayak brands based on my many personal experiences as a kayaker and extensive online research.
Read through my kayak brands list below to find the best kayak brands out there. I’ll also let you know what to look for in low-quality kayak makers so you can avoid them.
Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.
Best Kayak Brand for Kids
Let’s start this kayak brands list off with one of my top recreational kayak brands: Perception Kayaks.
This brand manufactured the first rotomolded kayak back in the 70s and they’re still going strong today.
Perception Kayaks have many well-liked adult kayaks, but they also have two popular recreational kayaks specifically for kids.
Looking for more kids’ kayaks? Read our guide to the best kayaks for kids.
The Perception Hi Five combines kayaking with paddle boarding in a kid-friendly, open-platform design.
This Perception kayak has a swim-up deck on the back with hand holds (obviously, most kids want to be *in* the water, not just patiently sitting on top of it).
It also has a tether system to attach to an adult kayak, plus the Hi-Five is very wide and stable.
Finally, it comes with a paddle, so there’s no need to look for other accessories (except a life vest).
For older kids with paddling experience, Perception Kayaks makes the Prodigy XS.
This sit-in kayak is perfect for recreational paddling on slow rivers and lakes or calm sea kayaking.
This kid-sized kayak is made from a single piece of rotomolded plastic (read: it can’t leak) and has a Coast Guard-compliant hull ID number (you know I love safety).
The Prodigy XS is lightweight at just 26 pounds, and the seat and cockpit are custom-designed for smaller bodies.
Keep in mind the weight limit on the Prodigy XS is 150 lbs, which may exclude older teens from using it.
#2 Wilderness Systems
Best Kayak Brand for Fishing
Wilderness Systems is one of the top kayak brands for fishing kayaks, although their recreational and touring kayaks are also popular.
With three excellent options, kayak anglers will surely find a fishing kayak that suits their needs.
All three fishing kayaks have an open platform, sit-on-top design that’s standard on other fishing kayaks, and multiple spots for fishing gear and a rod holder.
The Wilderness Systems ATAK 120 is the simplest of Wilderness Systems’ fishing kayaks at 12’3’’ long and weighing 86 pounds.
This fishing kayak features a wind-shielding deck and more rocker than the previous iteration.
More rocker means the hull is more curved from bow to stern, which makes the boat more maneuverable.
The ATAK 120 also has a special scupper plug that can fit the transducer of a fish finder in it, eliminating the need to mount the fish finder on the side of the kayak.
The Wilderness Systems Radar is just a little shorter than the ATAK, but the design aims to be the next step up in terms of features.
The radar makes kayak fishing even easier with ports to mount the Helix MD Motor Drive or the Helix PD Pedal Drive. Plus, there are more spots for fishing electronics.
Finally, the best fishing kayak in the Wilderness Systems’ suite is the Recon.
This boat is a fishing kayak on steroids–Wilderness Systems even calls it “the future of fishability.”
In addition to all the features mentioned above, the Recon has extra storage space, space for six rods, noise-dampening traction pads, and an ultra-comfortable AirPro seat.
#3 Old Town
Best Brand for Sit-Inside Kayaks
Old Town is a famous old brand originally associated with canoes.
They long ago branched out from the original Old Town canoe, and today they’re one of the best kayak brands on the market.
An Old Town kayak is a good investment in a quality product.
Like the other top kayak brands out there, Old Town offers a full suite of kayak models. However, I’m highlighting their sit-in kayaks because of their excellent stability and popularity.
Read our detailed article about the differences between a canoe and a kayak.
The Vapor 12XT is one of Old Town’s popular starter recreational kayaks. The Vapor 12XT is a 12’ long boat and is 28.5’’ wide.
This sit-in kayak is a good choice for bigger folks or those with lots of gear because it has a high weight capacity for a solo kayak (375 lbs) and a roomy cockpit.
The Dirigo 120 is the next evolution of sit-insides and Old Town’s most popular kayak. The Dirigo 120 is a great starter kayak.
It has sufficient cargo space for day trip items in the hatch and bungee deck, a food brace system, a contoured seat, and a cup holder.
Finally, the thigh pad in the roomy cockpit helps you maneuver the boat while preventing you from feeling claustrophobic.
Best Brand for Sit-On-Top Kayaks
Lifetime is my pick for the best brand for sit-on-top kayaks.
Lifetime’s kayaks are rotomolded high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which makes them UV-resistant and durable against scratches.
Their sit-on kayaks are wide and stable, with flat hulls that have tracking channels to improve forward efficiency.
It says a lot to me and inspires confidence when kayak brands offer warranties, and Lifetime offers a five-year limited warranty on all their kayaks.
Lifetime Tamarack 100
The Lifetime Tamarack 100 is Lifetime’s most popular kayak, and for a good reason.
The Tamarack 100 is an excellent all-around, easy-to-paddle, stable, affordable kayak with a padded backrest and multiple foot braces.
At just 50 pounds, the Tamarack 100 isn’t too heavy but still has the essential accessories you’d want, like a storage hatch and paddle keeper.
Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100
The Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 is basically the standard Tamarack, modified for kayak fishing.
The Angler 100 comes with two storage hatches (needed for fishing gear) and three holders for rods.
Lifetime Hydros 85
Finally, the Lifetime Hydros is another very popular and simple sit-on-top kayak model.
This kayak is a somewhat stripped-down sit-on design with limited features, but at just 40 pounds and a reasonable price, it’s a good buy.
The Hydros has a swim-up deck on the back (great for kids) and the paddle comes included.
Best Brand for Whitewater
Many kayak brands are generalists and have several models of each type of kayak.
However, Dagger is one of the best kayak brands out there that specialize in whitewater paddling and specialty touring.
They have the most extensive selection of whitewater kayaks (several of which are award-winning), so I’ll highlight those.
Remember that whitewater kayaking puts a premium on maneuverability and speed over stability, so these boats are built differently than other kayaks.
The Dagger Phantom is an 8’11’’ kayak weighing 49.5 lbs.
This boat is one of Dagger’s newer top-of-the-line whitewater kayaks, but it’s already gained a reputation as a best seller.
The Phantom allows you to stay high on the water but gives you an ideal balance between maneuverability and tracking.
Paddling Magazine named the Rewind MD the “Best Whitewater Boat” back in 2019. The Rewind has lots of “volume” in the nose, which helps you pop back up after a drop.
The Rewind also has a pretty significant rocker, which is very curved from bow to stern. This shape helps you skip over rocks easily and turn the boat on a dime.
Finally, the Rewind comes in four sizes to accommodate all paddlers.
The Rewind XS is a mini version of the adult-sized Rewind for kids.
No one likes to buy gear for kids they’ll outgrow instantly. Thankfully, Dagger kayaks have adjustable foot braces so your kiddo can get years of Whitewater paddling from this boat.
Best Brand for Recreational Kayaks
Most of the best kayak brands offer some type of recreational kayak, but I chose Vibe as the best recreational brand because of their “blank canvas” kayaks.
Vibe kayaks come in various shapes and sizes and have ten gear tracks to add any accessory your heart’s desire.
They can quickly transform into fishing kayaks or support action cameras–your pick!
The Yellowfin 120 is a 12’ kayak with a 33’’ width (very wide and stable). This sit-on one-person design is a single piece of rotomolded high-density polyethylene.
The Yellowfin 130T is a tandem kayak big enough for two adults and a kid (or a dog). You can rearrange the seats so that a solo paddler can handle it too.
This kayak has as many gear tracks as the solo version, four tackle tray holders, and two 8’’ gear storage hatches with dry bags.
Best Pedal Kayak
Hobie is one of the most popular kayak brands for pedal kayaks.
It calls itself “Home of the Original Pedal Kayak” and offers both hard-sided and inflatable kayaks with pedals.
A pedal kayak uses flippers on the bottom and a rudder to power and steer the kayak.
One of the coolest things about these quality kayaks is that the fins will lay flat against the bottom of the kayak when you encounter rocks or shallow water and then re-deploy when you’re past the object.
Mirage Passport 10.5 R
The Mirage Passport 10.5 R is a rotomolded kayak with standard bungee storage on the bow and stern.
Plus, you can customize the Passport with whatever extra storage or accessories you want.
If you’re looking for fishing kayaks, the Passport has you covered because it has two rod holders and a paddle keeper.
Mirage Compass Duo
The Mirage Compass Duo is an excellent choice if you want to bring a friend or family member on your kayaking adventure.
This tandem kayak has ergonomic seating, a stable sit-on-top kayak design, and the ability to go both forward and backward.
Best Kayak Brand for Lakes
Jackson Kayaks is the best brand of kayaks for lakes because of its extensive collection of lake-focused boats.
They make sit-in and sit-on-top kayaks that are perfect for lake paddling in both solo or tandem configurations.
The Jackson Riviera is one of the most popular kayaks out there because of its durability and ease of use.
This excellent starter kayak has a simple sit-on-top design with a gear hatch and a rear tank storage area with bungees on top.
At a weight of 58 lbs, this kayak may be a bit heavier for smaller frames. However, with a weight capacity of 300 lbs, it can handle most paddlers once you get it on the water.
The Riviera does best on small lakes and flat rivers.
Karma Traverse 10
The Karma Traverse 10 is one of Jackson Kayak’s more versatile boats. It’s classified as a “crossover kayak,” meaning it can handle white and flat water.
One thing I love about the Traverse 10 is the retractable skeg. A skeg is a fin at the back of the boat, which helps the boat move in a straight line.
They’re insanely helpful, especially when they’re removable because sometimes flatwater can be so shallow that you’re scraping the skeg.
Finally, Take Two is one of Jackson Kayak’s most popular tandem kayaks since it also supports kayak fishing.
The Take Two is the largest kayak in their line, but you can paddle it solo with their adjustable seating system.
The open, sit-on-top kayak deck has comfy deck chairs attached and tons of storage space at both ends of the kayak.
#9 Wave Sport
Best Ocean Kayak Brand
Wave Sport is best known for its recreational-style ocean kayaks.
Many sea kayaks are sit-inside with a covered deck and a spray skirt. They’re usually longer than recreational kayaks and have more cargo space for longer paddles.
These kayaks are best for long-distance efficiency rather than turning ability because you won’t have a river current to help you.
Wave Sport kayaks are a blend of recreational kayaks in that they’re sit-on kayaks, but they have the length and space of a traditional ocean kayak.
The Scooter is Wave Sports’ most popular model. This ocean kayak works well on multiple waterways.
An adjustable foam seat supports the sit-on-top design, with open storage in the back.
The nose of the Scooter (and the Scooter Gemini) is upturned slightly to prevent waves from swamping the kayak while you’re in the surf.
The Scooter Gemini is a 12’8’’ ocean kayak with enough room for two adults and one kid (or a dog).
This kayak has a huge weight capacity of 441 pounds and only weighs 62 pounds.
The hull has grooves for improved tracking, plus there are several accessory attachment points and molded footrests.
While this kayak has no dry storage, it has a small holding well with bungee straps in the back.
Best Brand for Touring Kayaks
Delta is one of the best sea kayak brands for touring kayaks based on its wide selection of specialty touring kayaks.
People sometimes use the term “touring kayak” interchangeably with sea kayaks or ocean kayaks.
And although touring kayaks are a type of sea or ocean kayak, they have their own set of sub-features that set them apart from these more general terms.
Most notably, the long, narrow shape of touring kayaks helps them move in a straight line with minimal effort.
Touring kayaks typically have closed decks, with sit-inside seating and the option to add a spray skirt. They usually have more cargo space than other kayaks for extended ocean journeys.
Delta offers regular touring kayaks, ultralight touring kayaks, and performance touring kayaks.
The Delta 12S is a 12’ boat in the ultralight category. This baby weighs just 38 pounds and is explicitly for smaller-framed paddlers (hello, ladies!).
The seat has ample padding and is adjustable. Plus, there are two dry storage hatches on the bow, perfect for an ocean kayak.
The Delta 14 is more of a traditional ocean kayak because it’s longer than the 12S (at 14’, hence the name). The Delta 14 is suitable for multi-day trips and still only weighs 45 pounds.
Finally, the Delta 17 is a lean, mean, long, and narrow touring machine (they should pay me for that phrase).
This ultra-long (17’) and narrow boat (22.5’’) is best for cranking out the miles on open water.
#11 Stellar Kayaks
Best Fiberglass Kayak Brand
Stellar Kayaks is one of the few fiberglass kayak brands on my list.
This isn’t because fiberglass is a bad material for kayaks, it’s just a higher quality material than polyethylene plastic and, therefore, more expensive to manufacture.
Fiberglass is superior to polyethylene because it’s lighter and stronger.
Plus, it can mold into more precise shapes than polyethylene. The smoother finish of fiberglass also allows it to move through the water better.
Stellar has its roots in racing kayaks; you’ll see that history reflected in its kayak models.
They offer recreational kayaks but specialize in touring, racing, and surfing skis.
Another feature I like about Stellar is that they’re very specific about the intended user size.
Stellar is one of the few kayak brands that provide height guides for each kayak, which I don’t usually see from any other kayak maker.
Stellar Compass 11
The Stellar Compass 11 is a beginner-friendly sit-inside kayak with an extra-large cockpit for easy entry and exit.
It has a large dry hatch in the stern and a padded, adjustable seat. The Stellar Compass is for anyone 5’-6’5’ and under 330 lbs.
Stellar 14’ Sit-On-Top
The Stellar 14’ Sit-On-Top is another beginner-oriented boat.
Unlike most sit-on models, you sit in an open well in the boat rather than perched on top.
It also has a dry hatch in the stern and a skeg for tracking.
One thing to note about any Stellar model is that it won’t be the cheapest kayak on the market. Far from it, these babies are for invested paddlers.
Best Affordable Kayak Brand
Ascend is a relatively simple kayak maker that turns out good-quality, affordable kayaks.
Ascend only makes two kayak styles: sit-inside and sit-on-top. Both varieties use only a single piece of rotomolded plastic.
Ascend kayaks come with all the standard trappings.
These include paddle keepers on both sides of the boat, removable and adjustable seating, adjustable foot braces, a drink holder, and an open stern well with bungee lacing over the top.
Looking for more options? Read our guide to the best budget kayaks.
The D10 Sit-In is a 9’11’’, 50 lb kayak with a tracking ridge down the hull’s center.
One nice feature I like about this kayak is that it has a cooler platform big enough for a 36-qt cooler.
The 9R Sit-On is a reliable, simple sit-on-top model with an adjustable seat and ample cupholders (albeit no foot braces).
Finally, the 10T Sit-On is a fishing kayak.
In terms of fishing kayaks, this is a stripped-down version of more expensive boats but could be an excellent option for a younger kayak angler.
#13 Pelican/Advanced Elements
Best Brand for Inflatable Kayaks
Pelican has absorbed several other popular kayak brands, including Advanced Elements, which is one of the best brands for inflatable kayaks.
Inflatable kayaks are becoming more popular as people become familiar with the technology that allows you to have a rigid, quality kayak even though it’s inflatable.
Advanced Elements makes inflatable kayaks and actively researches new technology to improve their boats.
And in addition to kayaks, they also make stand-up paddleboards and pack rafts.
Both models have an internal aluminum frame to give them rigidity and improve paddling.
Looking for more options? Read our guide to the best inflatable kayaks.
The AdvancedFrame Sport is an inflatable kayak weighing just 26 lbs that folds to the size of a duffle bag. The weight capacity is 250 lbs, and the fabric is rip-stop polyester.
The Sport performs well on lakes and calm rivers.
The AdvancedFrame AE1007 is a tandem inflatable kayak weighing just 52 lbs, which, for tandem kayaks, is feather light.
This kayak has a whopping weight capacity of 550 lbs and uses a triple layer of rip-stop fabric.
Kayak Brands to Avoid
There are lots and lots of cheap-o kayak brands out there–these are some surefire ways to find some of the worst kayak brands based on a few key things.
Poorly Worded Product Descriptions
Ok, this seems obvious, but I have spent so much time looking at kayaks that I see this fairly often.
Kayak brands to avoid are ones whose product descriptions have bad grammar, misspellings, or non-standard English.
Sometimes a product has a decent overall rating, but when you look beyond the star rating, you’ll see issues expressed in the reviews quite quickly.
I’ll often click directly on the two and three-star reviews to see what those folks say and whether there are some consistent negatives.
Sometimes kayak brands change hands and what used to be a great product is, more recently, a piece of garbage.
Amazingly Low Price
Sometimes top kayak brands have killer deals, but if a kayak has a too-good-to-be-true price, it might be for a reason.
Kayak brands to avoid are often selling at rock-bottom prices. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.
What to Look for in a Good Kayak Brand
The best kayak brands will put safety first, and they’ll usually have safety rating information front and center in their product description.
There are over two dozen materials used for building kayaks, some of which are better than others.
Most kayaks tend to be one of two materials: polyethylene (plastic) and fiberglass. Both materials are very durable.
Polyethylene or high-density polyethylene (HDPE) is the most common.
It’s durable, UV-resistant, and scratch-resistant, but it’ is’s heavier than fiberglass, which is higher-end, lighter, and stronger.
The best kayak brands stand behind their quality kayaks and will be happy to issue refunds if you’re unhappy with your purchase.
FAQs About Kayaks
What is the best kayak to buy? What is a good all-around kayak?
There is no “best kayak” for everyone. It’s just not that simple, unfortunately.
The best kayak for you will fit your water sports goals, come from a reputable brand, and be safe.
What is the most stable kayak out there?
The most stable kayaks on the market are the widest ones (>29’’). Wide kayaks help prevent the side-to-side tippy motion that causes kayaks to flip.
You’ll find the widest kayaks if you look for recreational or fishing kayaks.
What is the most popular type of kayak?
Recreational sit-on kayaks are the most popular type of kayak because they’re the easiest for beginners. Sit-on-tops tend to feel more stable than sit-inside kayaks.
You can find both solo and tandem kayaks in sit-on-top varieties.
How much should I spend on a kayak?
You should spend as much as you can comfortably afford on a kayak.
The sky’s the limit regarding kayak costs, but plenty of people are happy with their plastic Walmart rotomolded kayak.
What is the best time of year to buy a kayak?
Kayak manufacturers often have deals around Memorial Day (late May) and Christmas.
Memorial Day starts in summer when people are looking to start a new hobby. Likewise, Christmas and Black Friday is gift-giving season, so everything is on sale.
It’s also worth poking around for sales in August when the summer season is over and kayak companies are trying to off-load their unsold summer supply.
Where are the best places to purchase a kayak?
The best place to purchase a kayak is directly from kayak manufacturers.
Buying directly from the manufacturer means the best customer service experience. Plus, you support the business without involving a middleman.
However, REI has an excellent return policy if you’re like me and don’t live near a local retailer. Walmart and Costco often have deals on good kayak brands too.
Conclusion: Our Pick for the Best Kayak Brand
At the end of the day, you can’t go wrong with any of the kayak brands listed above. Anything on this kayak brands list is a good pick.
If I had to choose one kayak brand above any other, I would select Wilderness Systems.
I featured Wilderness Systems because of their fishing kayaks, but they have an entire range of kayaks for every paddler.
They offer a limited lifetime warranty on their boats and will replace your kayak if it has a factory defect.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meredith is a biologist and writer based in California’s Sierra Nevada. She has lived in six states as a biologist, so her intel on hiking and camping is chef’s kiss next level. One of her earliest camping memories was being too scared to find a bathroom at night on a family camping trip. Thankfully, she’s come a long way since then and she can help you get there too!
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