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The Definitive Kayak Buying Guide

From slackwater to whitewater, these are the best kayaks available.

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Sung Han

There are few better ways to get out and explore lakes, rivers and oceans than in a kayak. Depending on the style of boat, paddling can be relaxing, exhilarating, a means of transport or a way to work out. If you’re looking to get out on the water this summer, it’s important to pick a kayak that suits your body weight and activity type. While a 14-foot boat is great for touring and moving in a straight line, it is less suited to taking on a narrow river complete with rapids and holes. Each of these kayaks is tailored specifically to each type of consumer whether you have 100 feet of waterfront property or a studio apartment in New York City.

Eddyline Fathom

Best Touring Kayak: Kayak touring can be a great way to experience hidden coves and inlets that are otherwise inaccessible, like those in Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands. Eddyline’s Fathom is constructed from a high-performance thermoplastic that they call Carbonlite 2000. The Fathom tracks straight in all conditions thanks to its adjustable skeg. It also features two large storage compartments to haul all of your gear if you’re heading on a camping trip.

Buy Now: $2,699

Jackson Fun

Best Play Kayak: For those seeking a bit more adventure and adrenaline in their time spent on the water, Jackson’s Fun series delivers. It’s short (available in sizes 6’7″ to 7’2″), which makes it easy to throw around in whitewater and perform plenty of tricks when surfing. The Fun features a planing hull design that makes surfing even more enjoyable, but is still maneuverable and fast on steep sections of river.

Buy Now: $1,019+

Liquid Logic Manta Ray 12

Best Sit-On-Top Kayak: For some people, sit-inside kayaks feel too unstable. For those, the sit-on-top kayak is the perfect option. They are more stable, and also provide more room for moving your legs around and getting in a comfortable paddling position. Liquid Logic’s Manta Ray 12 (it also comes in a 14-foot option) features a Tag-Along wheel that lets you carry it easily from your car to the water, along with plenty of storage for a day on the water.

Buy Now: $769

Dagger Nomad

Best Creeker: Dagger’s Nomad has a bit of an identity problem — in a good way. While it is primarily designed for river running and creeking, it’s also fun to paddle around lakes and larger bodies of water. For a whitewater kayak, it’s extremely stable, but it’s still nimble enough to run steep creeks and big rapids. If your skill level allows, the Nomad is well suited to taking on big drops and waterfalls.

Buy Now: $1,209

Oru Kayak

Best Folding Kayak: Other folding kayak designs are overly complicated, and when you finally do figure how they’re put together, the sun has already set on your day on the water. But the Oru Kayak is simple: it goes from box to boat in as little as 10 minutes. That means more time on the water, while still keeping space at a premium when it’s time to store it in your studio apartment.

Buy Now: $1,275

Wilderness Systems Aspire 105

Best Recreational Kayak: The Aspire 105 is simple and stable. It is designed to tackle flat water when you’re just getting started, but is suited to tackling a bit of moving water once you get your bearings. The Aspire also comes in a 100 version for smaller paddlers.

Buy Now: $759

Hobie Mirage i12S

Best Inflatable Kayak: Most kayaks are lackluster at best, but the Hobie Mirage i12S holds a high level of performance and has us rethinking what an inflatable kayak is capable of. It’s extremely versatile, and features Hobie’s Mirage Drive, which acts as a paddleboat. It can also adapt to fit an optional sail, making the Mirage i12S effectively three boats: a paddleboat, a kayak and a sail boat.

Buy Now: $2,149

Ocean Kayak Prowler 13

Best Angling Kayak: If your ideal day spent on the water includes fishing, the Ocean Kayak Prowler is a great choice. It’s stable so you won’t flip it when casting and also features two rod holders located just behind the seat. Its maximum load capacity is 450 pounds, which also makes it a great choice for larger anglers.

Buy Now: $899+

Wilderness Systems Pamlico 145T

Best Tandem Kayak: The nickname for tandem kayaks is divorce boats. Still interested? While there are certainly many drawbacks to tandem kayaks — they’re heavy, large and therefore difficult to store, and they require teamwork and coordination to paddle — they can also be an absolute blast. It’s a great feeling when the teamwork comes together and you’re gliding effortlessly through the water.

Buy Now: $1,079

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