The Best Kayaks for Every Type of Water Adventure

The versatile Dagger Axis 10.5 is our top pick for paddling.

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best kayaks
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon; REI; Yak Shak; Colorado Kayak; Next Adventure

Kayaking is a great way to get out on the water and explore at your own pace. The slim paddle boats can also be a mode of transport to pursue your favorite outdoor pastimes such as fishing or camping. And whether you're planning to paddle serene lakes or rough coastal waters, there are distinct kayak types designed to perform in the conditions you'll experience.

Plenty of kayaks offer the storage and features necessary to pack for a multi-day excursion or cast a line with hands-free navigation, but our favorite kayak is the Dagger Axis 10.5. It's packed with useful features like an adjustable skeg system and comfortable seating. But because there are so many options to choose from, we've broken down the best kayaks by use, activity, and experience level to help narrow your search.

Here are our picks for the best kayaks.

T+L's Top Picks

Title Best Overall: Dagger Axis 10.5

Best Kayaks
Courtesy of Paddleva

Also available at PaddleVA

Why We Love it: This crossover model blends the performance of a touring kayak and accessibility of a recreational 'yak for adventure on calm or choppy waters.

What to Consider: It's not the lightest kayak to lug around if traveling solo.

The Axis 10.5 lives up to Dagger's "Play Out of Bounds" slogan. This multi-water kayak is designed for versatile use on lakes, rivers, and intercoastal waterways. The Axis' V-shaped hull and defined chines — where the sidewall meets the hull — provide excellent stability for beginners and experienced paddlers braving rougher waters. For further performance assistance, the Axis is spray-skirt compatible and a height-adjustable drop skeg can be deployed for tracking in strong currents. Long days of paddling are made possible by a padded ConTour CFS-R seating system. The cockpit is also fitted with leg lifters and thigh pads to ensure comfort during longer paddles. A watertight hatch in the stern and two sets of bungee cords offer considerable storage for a kayak this size. Constructed from rotomolded polyethylene, the Axis can withstand wear and tear for years of use

Dimensions: 10.5 feet x 28.5 x 16 inches | Weight: 50 pounds | Weight capacity: 300 pounds

Best Budget: Pelican Sentinel 100X

Best Kayaks
Courtesy of Campmor

Also available at Overton's

Why We Love it: This sit-on-top kayak model offers stability, excellent weight capacity, and durability at an affordable price point.

What to Consider: The open design is more appropriate for use in warmer weather.

The Pelican Sentinel 100X is an accessible kayak, both in terms of utility and cost. The twin-arched hull offers reliable stability, and at 43 pounds, it's lightweight enough for many solo paddlers to transport. The sit-on-top design includes a spacious deck with a padded ergoform seat and footrests to obtain a comfortable and secure paddling position. The Sentinel has basic storage for a daytrip covered thanks to a bottle holder and a rear tank well fitted with bungee cords. The body of the kayak is constructed from Pelican's patented RAM-X™ material, adding further value to this economical model.

Dimensions: 10 feet x 30 x 13.25 inches | Weight: 43 pounds | Weight capacity: 300 pounds

Best Inflatable: Aquaglide Chinook 90 Inflatable Kayak

Best Kayaks
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at REI

Why We Love It: This featherweight kayak has tons of convenient features, like a padded seat and puncture-resistant material, for a range of activities and uses.

What to Consider: The compact size of this kayak may not be the most comfortable for taller paddlers.

Portability and storage are two major reasons for choosing an inflatable kayak, and the Aquaglide Chinook 90 Inflatable delivers on both counts. The kayak weighs less than 20 pounds and can easily roll up to stow away in a duffle bag included with the purchase. It's also easy to assemble — simply inflate the three chambers, attach the seat with two hook-and-loop strips and Velcro pad, and start paddling. The seat offers padded comfort and a breathable backrest that can be easily modified to your preferred level of support. Made from ripstop polyester, this inflatable model is durable and resistant to puncturing. Bungees on the front offer basic storage options while Velcro paddle holders come in handy when fishing or tinkering with gear. A removable floor and cockpit drain allow for quick and easy cleaning when you're done for the day.

Dimensions: 9 feet x 35 x 12.5 inches | Weight: 19.7 pounds | Weight capacity: 250 pounds

Related: The Best Stand-up Paddleboards for Outdoor Adventures

Best Ocean: Eddyline Sitka LT Kayak

Best Kayaks
Courtesy of REI

Why We Love it: It's easy to handle and effortlessly cuts through water with its sharp design.

What to Consider: The compact cockpit is better suited for smaller and mid-size paddlers.

Whether tracing the coast or crossing the open sea, the Eddyline Sitka LT is up to the job. The lightweight design has excellent maneuverability, while the length helps reach higher speeds.

The kayak's V-shaped hull and retractable skeg system with incremental adjustments help stay on course amid rough conditions or a strong cross breeze. The Sitka LT is a seaworthy vessel with front and rear bulkheads providing built-in floatation and a perimeter bungee line giving a reliable handhold in case of capsize. Three dry hatches — two in the bow and one in the stern — grant plenty of storage for multi-day journeys. And with Eddyline's Infinity seat system, it's easy to find the right position and backrest height for support and comfort.

Dimensions: 14.5 feet x 23.5 inches | Weight: 47 pounds | Weight capacity: 350 pounds

Best Whitewater: Dagger Rewind

Best Kayaks
Courtesy of Coloradokayak

Also available at Hayward Outfitters

Why We Love it: This kayak is designed for nimbleness and quick resurfacing from drops, rolls, and other tricks.

What to Consider: It's not the lightest whitewater kayak if you plan to portage often.

Dagger is well-established among whitewater adventurers and its kayaks are known for being durable and agile. The Rewind is no exception. Measuring less than nine feet in length, this Rewind is highly maneuverable for downriver paddling. The Rewind's high-volume bow and curved rocker allow it to smoothly ride over waves and navigate through Class I-V rapids. Meanwhile, the low-volume stern adds a bit of playfulness for experienced paddlers to perform cartwheels and more advanced tricks. Beginners and pros alike will appreciate the padded seat with contour ergo outfitting, adjustable thigh braces, and bulkhead foot brace with foam padding.

Dimensions: 8.75 feet x 25.5 x 12.5 inches | Weight: 43 pounds | Weight capacity: 220 pounds

Best Tandem: Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL

Best Kayaks
Courtesy of Backcountry

Why We Love it: This versatile tandem model offers plenty of room and stability for two paddlers and can be adjusted for solo paddling.

What to Consider: There's limited storage space when carrying two paddlers.

Paddling as a pair can double the fun, but paddle stroke coordination and balance are key for a happy and capsize-free ride. The Malibu Two XL is about as sturdy as they come at nearly three-feet wide, and it performs well in almost any water condition. The body of the kayak is made from polyethylene, giving it long-lasting durability while keeping it relatively lightweight. Though it's advertised as a tandem model, it's roomy enough to also bring along a small child or pet, weight capacity permitting. And if you find yourself paddling solo for the day, the seats are moveable — and overlapping foot wells ensure you can get a hold wherever you're sitting.

Dimensions: 13.25 feet x 34 x 12.5 inches | Weight: 70 pounds | Weight capacity: 500 pounds

Related: The Best Inflatable Pool Floats to Travel With This Summer

Best Fold-up: Oru Kayak Inlet

Best Kayaks
Courtesy of Orukayak

Also available at L.L.Bean

Why We Love it: The collapsible design takes just a few minutes to assemble and can be easily stored in the trunk of your car.

What to Consider: The open cockpit is vulnerable to taking on water in choppy conditions.

Storing and transporting kayaks can be an obstacle for aspiring paddlers. Meet Oru Kayak, a Kickstarter success story that's expanded to sell six different fold-up kayak models since its launch in 2012. The Inlet is the second smallest and most recreation-ready model of the bunch. Like all Oru designs, the Inlet has an origami-style folding pattern that consolidates the 10-foot kayak into a suitcase-sized box. Oru estimates assembly at 3 to 5 minutes once you have the process down. The Inlet is manufacturer-rated for 20,000 fold cycles, and the double-layered corrugated plastic material is quite durable and resistant to dents. The open cockpit is easy to enter and exit, while an adjustable backrest and foot bars allow for customized comfort.

Dimensions: 10 feet x 30 inches (40 x 19 x 10 when packed) | Weight: 20 pounds | Weight capacity: 275 pounds

Best for Fishing: FeelFree Lure 11.5 V2

Best Kayaks
Courtesy of Theyakshak

Also available at Eco Fishing Shop

Why We Love it: This versatile kayak has a roomy cargo area and two watertight storage compartments.

What to Consider: This kayak's heft can make it challenging to transport, especially if paddling solo.

The FeelFree Lure 11.5 V2 is designed with fishing gear and customization in mind. Anglers can take advantage of a removable sonar and electronics pod to track their catch and a handy UNI-Track accessory to mount equipment and gear wherever is most convenient. To toll around completely hands free, it's also possible to add a pedal propulsion and steering system to the Lure 11.5 V2. Extra gear and supplies can be easily stored in a roomy cargo area and two watertight storage compartments. The kayak's cushioned gravity seat can be adjusted to variable heights or removed entirely. It even offers great stability for anglers to stand while fishing.

Dimensions: 11.5 feet x 34 inches | Weight: 85 pounds | Weight capacity: 425 pounds

Best for Beginners: Old Town Dirigo 120

Best Kayaks
Courtesy of Backcountry

Why We Love it: This recreational kayak is stable, easy to maneuver, and built with a spacious cockpit — all ideal features for newbie paddlers.

What to Consider: It has a slower cruise speed than sleeker, narrower models.

If you're new to kayaking, the Old Town Dirigo 120 is a great introduction to the sport. At 12 feet long, it's easier to maneuver than most touring kayaks, but big enough to accommodate a sizable cockpit. Here you'll find a contoured padded seat, mounted foot braces, and thigh pads to provide ample comfort and support for a multi-hour paddle. Paddlers can stash gear in a rear hatch or secure with bungees on the bow and stern, while the glove box hatch is an accessible spot for essential belongings.

Dimensions: 12 feet x 27.75 x 14 inches | Weight: 52 pounds | Weight capacity: 350 pounds

Related: The Best Waterproof Speakers

Best for Kids: Lifetime Youth Wave

Best Kayaks
Courtesy of Amazon

Why We Love it: The stable, lightweight kayak is ideal for little ones to hone their paddling skills.

What to Consider: This no-frills youth kayak has minimal features.

The Lifetime Youth Wave gives younger kayakers the freedom to learn how to paddle and maneuver on their own. The little 'yak has a wide hull with twin fins that provide solid stability and tracking performance. For added security, the Youth Wave is fitted with a sloped rear swim-up platform to help paddlers climb back on if they go overboard. A range of footrest positions are built into the kayak, so your child can grow with the boat. The Youth Wave is designed for ages 5 to 11, but with a weight capacity up to 130 pounds, many children can continue enjoying it for some years more.

Dimensions: 6 feet x 24 x 9 inches | Weight: 18 pounds | Weight capacity: 130 pounds

Tips for Buying a Kayak

Think about what types of water bodies you'll paddle

Figuring out where you'll paddle most frequently can help narrow your search. Kayaks are designed with specific water classes in mind, like ocean, whitewater, or recreational. Some models offer greater versatility, like the Ocean Kayak Malibu and FeelFree Lure, if you plan to explore far and wide.

Factor in storage and transport

Where do you plan on storing the kayak? And how will you get it from point A to B? If you are limited on space, a fold-up or inflatable model could be a solution. It's also important to assess your vehicle's capacity for transporting the kayak, as well as your ability to hoist it up if necessary.

Consider your own skill level and desired performance

For seasoned paddlers, kayak shopping may be as straightforward as upgrading to the latest and greatest model. But if you're new to kayaking, "it's generally best to look for a boat that's stable and comfortable," says Julien Heron, Co-Founder of Outdoors Generations. Julien recommends "getting a kayak with a wide, flat hull and a spacious cockpit [as a beginner]."

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I choose a kayak paddle?

Heron identifies three key factors to consider when choosing a kayak paddle: "your height, the width of your boat, and your preferred paddling style." For further clarification, "the wider your boat, the longer your paddle needs to be — especially if you're tall," says Julien.

When it comes to paddling style, it's important to go beyond length and focus on the paddle blade's design. Heron recommends a wide blade if you're someone with a high-angle stroke and aiming for powerful strokes.

What should I wear kayaking?

Aside from a personal floatation device, dressing for kayaking follows a similar rule of thumb to hiking and other outdoor activities. Generally speaking, dressing in layers and avoiding abrasive fabrics are advisable tips. It's good practice to pack gloves, sunglasses, and a hat for protection and comfort, too. "You [also] need to account for the water temperature," says Julien, noting to be mindful of hypothermic conditions if you capsize.

Why Trust Travel + Leisure

For this article, Kevin Brouillard researched a number of kayaks to find the sturdiest and most agile options available, and also interviewed an outdoor gear expert to find out what exactly avid (or beginner) kayakers should look for. The result is a comprehensive list of the best kayaks worth looking into before your next adventure on the water.

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