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The Best Kayaks for a New Spin on Cross-Training

Paddle away on your rest days with these expert-recommended kayaks.

best kayaks
Staff, Courtesy of Intex

When it’s time to take a break from the road or trail, swap your running shoes for a paddle and head to the water. Kayaking offers a fresh change of scenery and is an effective cross-training strategy for building endurance, maintaining cardio capacity, and strengthening the upper body and core—all while easing stress off the legs. In this guide, we cover the best kayaks on the market and tips on how to choose the right craft for you.

Best Kayaks

Best Recreational Kayak
Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 Wilderness Systems Read More
Best Kayak for Beginners
Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105 Wilderness Systems Read More
Best Tandem Kayak
Pelican Argo 136XP Pelican Read More
Best Value Inflatable Kayak
Intex Explorer K2 Kayak Intex Read More
Best Kayak for Fishing
Old Town Loon 106 Angler Old Town Read More
      The Expert: I have over two decades of paddling experience. I’ve kayaked in the waters of Fiji, French Polynesia, Australia, Indonesia, and California. I grew up hearing my grandparents scold me whenever I paddled a kayak, SUP, or canoe incorrectly—they were once competitive long-distance outrigger canoe racers. My love for the water led me to create The Salt Sirens, a website dedicated to ocean sports. My writing has appeared in many outlets, including Scuba Diving, AFAR, Travel + Leisure, Lonely Planet, and more.

      What to Consider When Buying a Kayak

      There’s no one-size-fits-all kayak. They vary greatly when it comes to shape, length, and purpose. Recreational kayaks tend to be wider and shorter for a more stable feel and are best suited for everyday paddlers in calm waters. Touring kayaks can handle great distances, even in choppy conditions, due to their length and narrow shape. There are also specialty kayaks built for fishing, whitewater rapids, surfing, and even paddling with a pooch. If your training will be a solo endeavor, a single-seat kayak will be enough to set you on your way. If you’re paddling with kids or a partner, it might be worth getting a tandem kayak.

      Kayak seats come in sit-on-top or sit-in designs. Sit-on-top kayaks are common among recreational models and are best in conditions where you don’t mind getting wet. Sit-in kayaks protect you from wind and sea spray, but take a tad bit of training and finesse to maneuver, especially when getting in and out of the boat.

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      Less exciting though no less important, consider how you will transport your kayak to and from the water and where you will store it at home. It doesn’t matter if you have the finest high-performance kayak on the market—if you don’t have a place to put it or a way to get it into the water, it’ll be little more than awkward home decor. Inflatable kayaks and foldable kayaks are convenient options for paddlers who are short on storage space or don’t want to invest in a car rack just yet.

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      How We Evaluated These Kayaks

      The recommendations below are based on my personal experience as well as input from industry experts. I consulted expert sources, like and Paddling Magazine, and surveyed popular kayaking forums for customer feedback. To narrow down the options, I considered the quality, durability, ease of use, customer support from the manufacturer, and value for money. These eight represent the best kayaks available now.

      Best Recreational Kayak
      Wilderness Systems Pungo 120
      Wilderness Systems

      • Stable
      • Agile

      • Larger paddlers might be cramped

      Key Specs

      • Type: Recreational
      • Length: 12 ft. 2 in.
      • Capacity: 325 lb.

      The Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 is a recreational sit-in kayak that paddles fast, smooth, and straight. It stays stable in slightly choppy conditions. The seat is adjustable, comfortable, and has a mesh panel to help paddlers stay cool in hot or humid conditions. Details like a dry hatch at the stern, a removable dry box, cup holders, and a place to add an external battery for charging devices make this kayak feel much more modern and practical than the summer camp kayaks you might’ve rented in the past.

      Best Kayak for Beginners
      Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105
      Wilderness Systems

      • Very stable
      • Comfortable

      • Slower to paddle

      Key Specs

      • Type: Recreational
      • Length: 10 ft. 6 in.
      • Capacity: 325 lb.

      Sit-on-top kayaks are typically better choices for new paddlers as they tend to be more stable and don’t take on much water. The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105 offers beginner-friendly features and a solid performance. This kayak paddles straight and efficiently. There are multiple storage compartments, bungee straps, and accessory areas throughout the kayak. Plus, the adjustable seat is on the comfier end of the spectrum.

      Best Tandem Kayak
      Pelican Argo 136XP

      • Tracks straight
      • Practical storage options

      • Slow to turn

      Key Specs

      • Type: Tandem sit-in
      • Length: 13 ft. 6 in.
      • Capacity: 500 lb.

      If you’ll be paddling with a partner, consider a kayak capable of taking two. The Pelican Argo 136XP is a sit-in kayak built for comfortable day trips. Each seat has its own accessory area and cup holder. Two main storage compartments are ideal for bringing along extra gear. The keel on this kayak is on the larger side, making it easy to maintain speed and track straight once you get going.

      Best Value Inflatable Kayak
      Intex Explorer K2 Kayak

      • Low price point
      • Easy to enter from water

      • Paddles slow

      Key Specs

      • Type: Inflatable
      • Length: 10 ft. 3 in.
      • Capacity: 400 lb.

      It’s not the fastest kayak on the water, but it’s still fun to paddle. The Intex Explorer K2 is a great choice for paddlers who have limited storage space and budget. It also makes a good backup kayak for road trips. The kayak folds into a carrying bag and inflates within a few minutes if you have an electric pump (the included hand pump can be cumbersome). A removable skeg helps the boat track straight, and it comfortably seats an additional paddler or pup.

      Best Kayak for Fishing
      Old Town Loon 106 Angler
      Old Town

      • Ultra comfortable
      • Stable

      • Struggles in wind and chop

      Key Specs

      • Type: Fishing
      • Length: 10 ft. 6 in.
      • Capacity: 325 lb.

      Old Town’s Loon 106 Angler is a stable sit-in kayak that paddles smoothly in calm conditions. Comfort and practicality take priority in this craft, with a supportive seat and extra padding around the cockpit. Features also include two rod holders, an anchor point, a storage compartment, and bungee straps to secure tackle. Although fishing is an ideal offline activity, this kayak comes with a work deck complete with a USB port and battery compartment—perfect for charging a phone or action camera. With email access via your phone so close by, who’s to say you can’t catch a fish on company time?

      Best Pedal Kayak
      Hobie Mirage Passport 12.0

      • Arms-free kayak experience
      • Easy to use

      • At 73 pounds, heavy to transport

      Key Specs

      • Type: Pedal
      • Length: 12 ft. 0 in.
      • Capacity: 400 lb.

      In lieu of a recovery run, give your legs a workout with a pedal-powered sit-on-top kayak. The MirageDrive propulsion system in this kayak uses a set of pedals to glide through the water. The Mirage Passport 12.0 tends to be most popular with anglers, but it’s a worthwhile pick even if you aren’t casting a line. The kayak comes with a paddle to help you navigate when you need it, spacious storage areas, two rod holders, and anchor mounts.

      Best Convertible Kayak
      Bote Deus Aero 11-Foot Inflatable Kayak

      • Two-year warranty
      • Multiuse watercraft

      • Backrest can feel unstable

      Key Specs

      • Type: Inflatable
      • Length: 12 ft. 6 in.
      • Capacity: 300 lb.

      For paddlers who love being on the water in any form, the Deus Aero can inflate and be used as a standup paddleboard or sit-on-top kayak. Bote recommends using an electric air pump to inflate the multiple parts of this kayak. It’s great for a casual cruise in calm conditions, and the two-in-one design saves you storage space (it packs into a rolling travel bag the size of a suitcase) and money. The flat back deck makes it easy to climb back onto if you tip into the water.

      Best Foldable Kayak
      Oru Beach LT

      • Portable
      • Easy to assemble

      • Carry case sold separately
      • Open cockpit makes it a challenge to deal with when it takes on water

      Key Specs

      • Type: Foldable sit-in
      • Length: 12 ft.
      • Capacity: 300 lb.

      Foldable kayaks are quickly rising in the ranks of portable kayak popularity. The Oru Beach LT sit-in kayak is made from flexible sheets of plastic that cinch together to form the body of the kayak. It assembles within five minutes, though this takes a few attempts to fine-tune. The kayak carries up to 300 pounds and has plenty of storage space for day trips out on calm water.

      How to Get Started in Kayaking, According to Expert Chantae Reden
      Photo by Chantae Reden

      RW: What advice do you have for beginning kayakers?

      C.R.: Kayaking is a largely accessible sport that can be as relaxing or intense as you choose. When you first start out, kayak on calm, flat water that’s deep enough to fall into without hitting rocks or reef. Always wear a life jacket, even if you’re a strong swimmer. Stick within swimming distance to the shoreline and practice falling into the water, retrieving your paddle, and climbing back into your kayak until you’ve mastered this skill. Joining a kayaking club or signing up for a kayaking tour can be a great way to learn proper paddling techniques from a guide before venturing solo.

      RW: Once readers have a boat, what else do they need for a day on the water?

      C.R.: As soon as you get your kayak, you’ll want to purchase a life jacket and paddle that’s suited to you. Depending on your craft, you might also need something to help store your kayak, like a rack in the garage or cover if you’re keeping it outside. If your kayak is not easily portable, you’ll also need roof racks for your car or a trailer to take it to the water. After that, pack snacks, sunscreen, water, a hat, and a set of clothes tucked safely into a dry bag.

      RW: What are some helpful resources for finding good kayaking spots?

      C.R.: Just about any body of water can be explored with a paddle in hand. To find the best spots near you, check your local state parks and recreational areas. National parks also often have prime waters for kayaking. Chatting with a local kayak club member or kayak retailer is also a great way to find off-the-radar spots. If you’re on the move, searching for kayak rental companies on a map will often lead you right to the water.

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