A couple kayaking in the ocean

A couple kayaking in the ocean (Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash)

Considering exploring some waterways on your next outdoor adventure? Then why not take a kayak along? Whether you’re a beginner, or more experienced kayaker, the best kayaks provide a fun way to become immersed in nature. Plus, paddling a kayak is a fantastic form of exercise. 

When deciding which kayak to buy, consider the type of water you plan to paddle in. Is it calm or slightly rough? Some kayaks are designed to handle both serene lakes and open water. In fact, lots of people like to go fishing while kayaking. So keep in mind storage space for fishing rods and gear. Don’t forget to factor in overall size and transportability. That’s especially important when kayaking with friends and family in tow. 

Besides, experiencing nature has its benefits. UK Scientists at the University of York say that consistently engaging in more “nature-based activities” can improve mental health among adults – even those already struggling with a pre-existing mental health condition. Their research shows nature-based activities lasting for roughly 20 to 90 minutes engaged in regularly for eight to 12 weeks have the biggest impact on improving mood, decreasing anxiety, and increasing overall positivity.

If you’re ready to get out into nature and aren’t sure which kayak to choose, StudyFinds is here to assist. We’ve compiled a list of the top brands from ten expert websites, to find the best kayaks for your next paddling excursion. As always, we’d like to see your own recommendations in the comments below!

Someone kayaking wearing water shoes
Someone kayaking wearing water shoes (Photo by Kristi Blokhin on Shutterstock)

The List: Best Kayaks, According to Experts


1. Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 Recreational Kayak

Forbes crowns this versatile kayak ‘Best Overall’, noting “it can handle open water just as gamely as a calm lake. The cockpit has ample room and adjustable padded thigh braces for a personalized fit, a watertight hatch, two bungee cord storage areas on the deck, and carrying handles on both the bow and stern.”

Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 Recreational Kayak
Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 Recreational Kayak

“One of the best parts of this kayak is the adjustable skeg—a drop-down fin on the keel—that provides stability and helps the craft track straight in choppy water. It is rated to a 400-pound capacity so it can handle its rider and as well as a hefty amount of gear,” according to Field & Stream.

GearLab adds, it’s “an extremely versatile kayak that will allow you to experience the best of both worlds, exceptional maneuverability, and long-distance tracking.” One drawback? Some reviewers note this kayak is heavy, making it a bit tough to carry on your shoulders.

2. Old Town Heron 9 / 9XT Kayak

Good Housekeeping calls the 9XT the ‘Best Overall Kayak For Beginners’, suggesting its “adjustable seat and the roomy cockpit are comfortable enough for the average person to paddle for a long period of time.”

Old Town Heron 9XT Kayak
Old Town Heron 9XT Kayak

Both versions of this kayak score praise for being lightweight. Travel+Leisure spotlights the Heron 9 model for its carrying handles that “make it easy to maneuver the kayak in and out of the water, and it’s also great for anglers thanks to two flush-mounted fishing rod holders.”

“The Old Town Heron 9XT is one of the best beginner kayaks picks because of the overall value. It is an affordable option that provides a high level of versatility, allowing paddlers to enjoy lakes and slow-moving rivers,” according to Field & Stream.

3. Ocean Kayak Malibu Two / Two XL Tandem Kayak

If you’re planning on kayaking with a buddy, here’s a solid tandem option. Sports Illustrated points out, the Malibu Two is “built with stability in mind, utilizing a wide hull that makes it easy for beginners to get out over the whitewater or get enter and exit. If you want to add your young child or furry friend to the party, the small middle seat is a nice addition.”

Ocean Kayak Malibu Two Tandem Kayak
Ocean Kayak Malibu Two Tandem Kayak

Boat Safe adds, the Malibu Two kayak’s “weight capacity comfortably accommodates two adults, as well as all the gear you need on your kayaking excursion.”

Forbes highlights the XL model’s features, noting it “comes with supportive seating, cargo bays with tie-downs and side paddle keepers. While it would make for great exercise, it’s also a good choice for those looking to land some fish.”

4. Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105 Kayak

Wilderness Systems earns a second entry on our list with this reviewer favorite. “The recreational kayak has a compatible rudder you can use if you will mostly be paddling on rough waters. It can also easily transform into a fishing rig; just mount rod holders and other gear to the accessory rails on the sides and behind the front hatch. When it’s time to cast, make use of the paddle holder on the bow,” according to Popular Mechanics.

Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105 Kayak
Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105 Kayak

GearLab gives the Tarpon 105 ‘Best Sit-On-Top Kayak’ accolades, noting “the exceptional stability and open design make it easy to hop on and off the Tarpon. It’s self-draining, so it doesn’t collect pools of water in the cockpit, which is much more comfortable.”

AQ Outdoors points out, “it can be used in small to medium sized lakes or more sheltered areas on larger bodies of water.  It can also handle slow-moving rivers with ease and is maneuverable enough to feel as though you have some control on the river.”

5. Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Inflatable Kayak   

Rounding out our top five is this easily portable, inflatable kayak. “It moves through the water swiftly for its size when used single and tandem, and has tons of room for gear storage or for bringing your dog along,” according to Mashable.

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Inflatable Kayak  
Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Inflatable Kayak

Travel+Leisure adds, “with ample configurations for one or two paddlers and easy-to-add deck options, the AdvancedFrame Convertible Kayak is rated for open water and rapids up to Class II.”

Field & Stream gives it ‘Best Inflatable’ honors, noting “you don’t need a roof rack to haul it or a garage to store it. The kit can easily fit in a small trunk. With this convenience it’s important to note that it takes about 10 minutes or more to inflate with each use.”

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This post may contain affiliate links.

About Melissa Kraus

Melissa is a freelance writer, based out of New Jersey. She has over two-decades of writing, editing, and producing experience for Radio, TV, and Digital Media.

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