This post may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive commissions for purchases made through those links, at no cost to you. Please read our disclosure for more info here.

Your Comprehensive Guide to the Best Kayak Brands

With so many kayak brands on the market, it can be hard to choose the right one. This article is focused on sharing the companies that make kayaks to help with your kayak buying experience.

With this blog, we do a lot of research on many brands of kayaks, so it’s time to share this information with you. Our goal is to help you spend less time researching kayaks, so you can spend more time on the water.

We will share the best kayak brands and tips on how to choose the kayak that will fit your needs. Many factors go into choosing the right kayak, including the brand you choose and how you will use the kayak.

Overall, if we’re choosing the best kayak brand, you can’t go wrong with Wilderness Systems. They have a wide variety of kayaks for every skill level. There is a kayak available for all activities like recreation, touring, fishing, etc. 

This article is focused on recreational-type users, primarily for calm water paddlers and anglers.  But many of the manufacturers we cover design kayaks for ocean or whitewater connoisseurs as well.

Follow along as we get started!

Do kayak brands matter?

In a word, Yes!  A well-made kayak from a reputable kayak brand can keep you paddling your boat for years to come. Kayaks come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges; there is something for every skill level and budget. 

With many consumer products, you pay more for a specific brand name, and it often doesn’t live up to the hype.  With kayaks, it pays to buy a solid vessel from a proven company.

Buying a kayak can be a considerable expense, so it’s worth buying a good-quality boat that will last a long time.

Warranty

A good kayak brand will stand behind the product and give you a solid warranty.  A warranty will give you peace of mind that the company will be there for you if something goes wrong.

Kayaks can be very expensive. So it’s important to know what kind of warranty you are getting before you jump in with both feet. A good warranty will cover the cost of repairs or replacement parts if needed.

For instance, Wilderness Systems’ limited warranty covers the hull and deck for five years. Ensure you check out the warranty before you buy, so you won’t be disappointed down the road.

I once owned a pair of hiking shoes that started to split about a year after the two-year warranty expired. I contacted them anyway.  Wouldn’t you know it; they sent me a brand new pair of shoes!

Reputation

Certain companies have reputations that precede them, whether it’s good or bad. I have had interactions with companies that I know will do whatever it takes to make it right.

Some companies are well-known for putting the customer first. But, unfortunately, some companies don’t value you as a customer.

When you buy a kayak from a reputable kayak brand, you buy more than a quality product. You get a solid warranty and excellent customer service.

This isn’t to say that lesser-known brands can’t have a good reputation, but it’s a good idea to do some research before you make your purchase.

Quality materials

The right materials make a huge difference in the kayak’s weight, durability, stability, and performance.  A reputable kayak brand knows the importance of using quality materials.

Quality materials are essential for a kayak because they will make it more durable and long-lasting. There are many great reasons to go out and buy the best possible kayak you can afford. If you are someone who loves kayaking or you’ve just started, it’s a good idea to invest in a high-quality one.

When you buy a kayak from a reputable company, they use quality materials. If a brand has worked hard to create its reputation, it will work even harder to maintain it.

Good kayak brands take a lot of pride in their product. So they spend time and money on things like innovation, testing, and working to make sure that their kayaks are good fits for what people need.

You’ll find that higher-quality kayaks are usually superior to off-brand options in terms of build quality and materials. Construction materials, manufacturing process, and design should all be thoughtfully considered before you make your purchase.

Safety

If you want the best kayak money can buy, start your search with brands that employ manufacturing methods and use quality materials that adhere to safety standards.

A high-quality kayak brand will typically adhere to manufacturing methods and safety standards set by the national and international governing bodies.

Even a reputable kayak brand can’t guarantee your safety. But, I would rather pay more for a kayak whose hull meets safety guidelines versus a cheap model that doesn’t have the same level of testing and compliance.

Best kayak brand

The best kayak brands - Kayaks standing up in a rack on the beachPin
Photo by Xiaoyu Li on Unsplash

There are many kayak brands available, and for the discerning customer, it’s essential to review various options before making their purchase decision.

Essential considerations include price points, availability and location, brand reputation, quality level, and features beneficial in your individual paddling/fishing scenarios.

Many of the best kayaks on the market are made by mainstream brands employing quality manufacturing processes, with excellent brand awareness and broad distribution.

These kayaks focus on affordability, accessibility, performance- not to mention fun! 

Hobie

Hobie has a reputation for making some of the absolute best pedal-driven kayaks on the market. They make both paddle and sailing kayaks. Hobie has been in business since 1950 and has maintained a solid reputation in the market.

Hobie manufactures a broad line of kayaks, from recreational models to fishing kayaks. Hobie uses the pedal-drive system as standard equipment.

The pedal system is one of the most efficient means of propelling a kayak you can find out there! Pedal instead of relying on your arms to push and pull and use those larger muscles in your legs.

Hobie is on the high end when it comes to price, but you can expect excellent quality, making these kayaks extremely popular. 

Wilderness Systems

One of the tops brands on our kayak list is Wilderness Systems, a South-Carolina-based company that started manufacturing kayaks in 1986. Their team consists of outdoor enthusiasts who love open water.

Wilderness Systems designs kayaks that are innovative, stable, and rugged. So it is not surprising that Wilderness Systems are some of the most reputable kayakers, consistently recognized as one of the best in the business: They make cool-looking boats and have won awards for their envelope-pushing designs too.

If you’re looking for a high-quality kayak with many sizes, shapes, and options in terms of design, Wilderness Systems’ boats are among the most acclaimed paddling experiences in the world. From new entrants to seasoned experts, Wilderness Systems kayaks are designed to get you on the water.

Vibe

Vibe Kayaks was founded in 2013 by Josh Thomas. Thanks to their innovative designs at a range of prices, it quickly became the industry’s go-to option for budget fishing kayaks.

Vibe Kayak’s philosophy is that there is “no drama, just adventure.” They saw the necessity for an authentic fishing kayak and designed one to fit into everyone’s budget – the original $1000 “true” fishing kayak. It was this design that set in motion what our company has become today.

Their line of kayaks includes several designs for single and tandem paddlers. The company is based in Kennesaw, Georgia.  Due to its proximity to some of the best bass waters in the country.

One cool thing about this brand is that it builds community around their brand, called the “Vibe Tribe.”  Every customer and dealer is part of the family to help everyone reach their dreams.

Perception

Perceptions Kayaks, a kayak company that designs, molds, and assembles its products in Greenville, proudly manufactures every kayak. In each size and model, Perception Kayaks offers personal touches that make paddling fun for beginners and more experienced enthusiasts.

Perception Kayaks are widely used by kayak guides and rentals companies because they make a very stable boat.  The seats can be flipped up or folded down, which means they can be turned over quickly for rentals and guides.

They produce various models, including sit-inside kayaks, sit-on-tops (SOT) kayaks, fishing kayaks, and pedal-driven kayaks. The company understands how different strokes for different folks are an essential consideration, so each model is designed with the specific groups in mind.

Perception kayaks are great for beginners because they are durable and stable.

Old Town

Old Town Canoes is one of America’s oldest, best-known paddle boat makers from their home in Maine. They’ve been producing high-quality craft for over 115 years.

Old Town has expanded from just manufacturing wood and canvas canoes to producing some of the best-equipped fishing kayaks, pedal kayaks, and tandem kayaks on the market. In addition, they provide options such as the Loon or Looksha kayak.

All boats manufactured by Old Town Canoes and Kayaks reflect an age-old tradition of high-quality craftsmanship that set the standard in outdoor recreation. Whether angling, kayaking, canoeing, or taking it easy on a lake with something nautical to help navigate the waves—there’s always an Old Town kayak for you.

3 Waters Kayaks

3 Waters Kayaks’ mission is simple: to make the best quality fishing kayaks for those who want to sit or stand up while flipping and/or jigging bait. Our ones are stable, comfortable, and built to last – but not too expensive, so anyone can join in on the fun by catching a big fish!

3 Waters Kayaks offers an affordable, stable, comfortable, and full-featured fishing kayak. They’re designed in the US by a team of designers and manufacturers that just want to help you to catch more fish … from anywhere you choose.

Jackson Kayak

The company originated in Rock Island, Tennessee, in 2003 when Eric “EJ” Jackson and his partner Tony Lunt founded the business. The company specializes in designing kayaks for fishing, whitewater, and recreation. Jackson’s array of kayaks includes both sit-on-top and sit inside kayaks – all cater to different types of users.

Jackson Kayaks was quickly seen as the leader in innovation and build quality. The brand established itself into a line of recreational kayaks with thoughtful design and has elite performance and soon diversified to include fishing kayaks.

Jackson Kayaks is unique in that they use molded-in bucket seats instead of clip-in or folding kayak seats. As a result, they will be less likely to collect mold or house critters when stored.

Feelfree

Feelfree is based in North Carolina and designs kayaks under a variety of names, including 3 Waters Kayaks, Jonny Boats, in addition to Feelfree Kayaks.

Feelfree Kayaks is more than just a company offering innovative kayak and accessory brands on the market today. The FreeFree team comprises experts with decades of industry experience to deliver an unmatched outdoor experience.

The Feelfree kayaks offer pedal and power propulsion systems. Feelfree also offers the Motordrive system, which allows for forward and reverse pedal drive and power-driven capabilities when paired with the Motordrive add-on.

Pelican

Pelican kayaks are very popular and are readily available at many retail and online stores.  A lot of people own Pelican kayaks due to the entry-level price points on many models. In addition, Pelican kayaks are great for beginners because, often, you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get started.

That said, Pelican does sell a variety of kayaks at different price points. For over 50 years, Pelican has created high-quality products at affordable prices. They have invested in state-of-the-art technology, and stringent quality control standards and a commitment to innovation is their business philosophy.

Pelican uses RAM-X technology to make their kayaks durable and lightweight, great for paddlers at all levels.

Lifetime

Lifetime also has many kayaks at the entry-level price point, which makes them popular. Lifetime is known for its entry-level kayaks and paddleboards built from blow-molded polyethylene.

Lifetime is based in Utah. They have a wide array of entry-level quality kayaks, including sit-inside, sit-on-top, fishing, and tandem models available for purchase. Entry-level and affordable Lifetime kayaks are perfect for beginners interested in paddling from the shore or paddling on open water.

Durable and lightweight, these products are highly stable and great for beginners with different styles to choose from. In addition, they build products that are intended to last a “lifetime.”

Brooklyn kayak (BKC)

Brooklyn Kayak Company is a company that seeks to inspire people to unplug, get outdoors and reconnect with nature. Brooklyn Kayak Company knows doing so can be tricky, but nothing worth doing is easy.

They help people take steps towards enjoying life’s simple pleasures through their advice on paddling. Whether you want a single, tandem, or pedal kayak, BKC has you covered. They offer a wide variety of kayaks, including sit-on-top, sit inside and fishing pedal, and touring kayaks. 

Ocean kayak

The company got its start in Malibu, California, in 1971. Ocean Kayak’s designs offer an open cockpit design that is easier for beginners to get in and out of.

Ocean Kayaks’ boats are made from the same century-long tradition, which is the best way to encapsulate how unforgettable every voyage over water can be. So whether you’re fishing for your next meal or kayaking through unexplored territory, there’s an Old Town boat for any type of adventurer.

Ocean Kayak’s recreational models offer a no-frills design. They do, however, produce kayaks for fishing and tandem paddling, as well as one pedal-driven kayak model in their arsenal.

Eddyline Kayaks

Since 1971, Eddyline Kayaks have produced exceptional touring kayaks. They were founded by legendary kayak designer Tom Derrer, and they are credited with pioneering vacuum bags and thermoformed technologies for their design.

Eddyline Kayaks is a kayak manufacturer that specializes in premier products for an enjoyable paddling experience. They’re known as pioneers in thermoformed ABS technology and have been setting strong quality, fit, and finish standards.

The reason they were able to make lighter touring kayaks is because of their designs. The design was successful at sea kayaking and in open-water touring models. It also allowed for recreational paddling, and when it came to fishing, the model performed well there.

Eddyline remains independently owned and operated throughout its long history.

Best inflatable kayak brands

Pin

Inflatable kayaks are very popular for a couple of reasons; they are easy to transport and store. You don’t need a pickup or an expensive roof rack to transport an inflatable kayak to and from the water. 

Cleaning and maintaining an inflatable kayak does take a little bit of work, but storage is pretty simple too. You can store an inflatable kayak in a closet or a garage shelf. With a hardshell kayak, you need a lot more space to store your kayak.

Here are some of the best inflatable kayaks brands.

Advanced Elements

Many people scoff at the idea of an inflatable kayak, but that thinking is changing.  Developed in California, Advanced Elements goal is to provide their customers with a new and unique paddlesport product that will enhance their outdoor experience.

Their focus is on designing inflatable kayaks with cutting-edge technology and providing excellent customer service. AE specializes in top-of-the-line inflatable kayaks for different types of paddlers.

Advanced Elements has a line of kayaks for various levels and purposes, such as recreational paddling, day touring, expedition touring, kayak fishing, crossover paddling (flatwater and whitewater), and whitewater kayaking.

One of its strengths is that its hulls are rigid and include a long skeg, which helps these kayaks perform very well.

STAR

STAR is a subsidiary of NRS, one of the most dominant players in paddlesports equipment.  STAR has an impressive lineup of inflatables, including river, flatwater, fishing, and whitewater.

The inflatable watercraft is lightweight, compact, and hassle-free for traveling and storing. STAR uses the highest quality materials, which ensures long-lasting reliability, and they’re designed with performance, stability, ease-of-use in mind to provide you with a great outdoor experience.

STAR wants to make water accessible to everyone. So whether you’re looking for whitewater thrills, solitude, or fitness improvement, STAR kayaks are a great option.

Kokopelli

Kokopelli Packraft was founded in Denver, Colorado, with a vision to create the opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts to explore nature and its serene settings. Kokopelli set out to accomplish this by developing high-quality inflatables through extensive research and customer feedback.

Kokopelli is founded on a single principle of innovation. In the early years, this means that they were solely focused on innovating our packrafts. As they expanded, this has grown into innovation having three foundational pillars: Performance, Education, and Community.

The company specializes in packrafts, and also has more traditional kayak style boats in the Moki series.

BOTE

Located in Miramar Beach, Florida, BOTE is an innovative company in the inflatable paddlesports space.  They offer a variety of inflatable options, including a stacked lineup of kayaks and paddleboards. 

BOTE has taken the inflatable kayak market to the next level and created serious competition in this space.

Their products have become more advanced, and they now offer a wider variety of kayaks. In addition, they use their proprietary Aero technology to produce both stand-up paddleboards and inflatable kayaks that provide unmatched rigidity.

BOTEs inflatables are made to hold air pressure higher than most other brands in the market. This translates to a more rigid and, therefore, better design, handling, and more durable open water for the paddler.

Sea Eagle

Sea Eagle is family owned and operated since 1968 and has been a trusted brand for many years. They are an industry leader when it comes to inflatable kayaks.  Sea Eagle has a wide variety of options for inflatable kayaks, from white water to flatwater fishing.

Sea Eagle inflatable kayaks are lightweight, durable, and available in a range of sizes. Sea Eagle is the leading manufacturer of recreational kayaks.

They offer different types of inflatable kayaks such as touring models, whitewater models, fishing models, recreational models, and multiple size options to fit all paddlers from children to tall adults.  The kayaks have a rugged PVC hull and welded seams for added durability.

Intex

When it comes to value, Intex has you covered. For example, Intex inflatable kayaks are a great way to explore the wonders of the world without breaking the bank. 

Intex is a leader in all things inflatable, from air bed, pool toys, etc. But, don’t be fooled. Intex makes some solid inflatable kayaks. The Challenger and Explorer series is excellent for tandem or solo paddlers, and they have plenty of room for all your gear.

Intex inflatable kayaks are durable, lightweight, and very easy to take with you wherever you go.  If you are in the market for a well-made, inexpensive inflatable kayak, Intex is worth a shot.

Type of kayak

Best kayak brands - Man in a kayak towing a bunch of kayaks across the waterPin
Photo by Arvid Høidahl on Unsplash

Different kayak brands specialize in different types of kayaks, like hardshell, inflatable, solo, and/or tandem. Therefore, when looking at the best kayak brands, it’s essential to decide which type of kayak will fit your needs the best.

Hardshell or inflatable

Determine if you want a hard kayak or an inflatable. Both hardshell kayaks and inflatable kayaks come in solo, tandem, or the ability for both. 

Hardshell kayaks are typically more durable, track better but require special equipment to transport to and from the water. Inflatable kayaks are popular in part for portability and storage.

Once you decide if a hardshell or inflatable kayak is right for you, refer back to the kayak brands listed above.

Solo or tandem

I always say about a tandem kayak because you have twice the paddling power, but no matter how fast you paddle, you can’t get away from your paddling partner.

If you are paddling alone or with a partner and want some space, it’s nice to have your own vessel.  You can still paddle together, but you are not connected at the hip. But this means you have to transport and store two kayaks, which can be cumbersome.

Tandem kayaks are great in that you have two people paddling. If someone needs a break, the other person can continue paddling. The other nice thing with a tandem kayak is you only have to transport one kayak.

What type of kayaking will you be doing?

Best kayak brands - Kayaks on the water ready and waitingPin
Photo by Xiaoyang Ou on Unsplash

When deciding on the best kayak brand for you, think about what type of kayaking you will be doing. For example, do you enjoy kayak fishing, flatwater paddling, or will you take on some smaller rapids? The type of kayaking can help you determine the best brand.

For instance, an excellent brand for touring is Wilderness Systems, and the best kayak brand for recreational kayaks is Perception kayaks. Another example is fishing; one of the best kayak brands for fishing is 3 Waters Kayaks.

Onboard storage options

Different kayak brands are designed differently, so you need to decide what kind of storage you need. Many fishing kayaks come equipped with a healthy amount of storage space. However, the average inflatable kayak typically doesn’t have much onboard storage, like hatches, etc. 

If you want a lot of built-in dry storage, try Pelican or Wilderness Systems. Touring models like Old Town typically have a large front and rear storage hatch.

Storing and transportation

When you choose a kayak brand, there are some considerations for storage and transportation. For example, some kayak brands build heavier kayaks, which are more challenging to lift, and haul. 

Pelican kayaks are so popular because many of the entry-level models are lightweight and are pretty easy to lift and carry.  Some of these lightweight models weigh in at under 40 pounds.

Some fishing kayaks are very heavy. For instance, the Vibe Shearwater 125 weighs over 80 pounds before you start loading gear! That is a tough kayak to lift onto the top of a vehicle, like an SUV.  But, with that weight, you get a stable kayak that can handle choppy water.

This is another reason many people choose an inflatable kayak because they are typically pretty lightweight, and you can put it in your trunk or backseat. 

Where can you find the best kayak brands?

Best kayak brand - Yellow and blue kayaks on the beachPin
Photo by Rohith Goura on Unsplash

There are a lot of retailers where you can buy kayaks, online or in-store.  You can also order directly from the manufacturer in some cases.

Popular places to buy kayaks include?

Amazon.com – Duh!  Amazon is not only one of the largest retailers on the planet. They also carry a healthy assortment of kayaks and gear.

REI – REI carries all kinds of outdoor equipment, including different kayak brands, kayak gear, as well as roof racks, and other stuff for your kayak adventure. 

Dicks Sporting Goods – This past spring, I was SHOCKED by how many kayaks Dicks had in stock. No way would they sell all of those kayaks, right?  Well, a couple weeks later, they were all gone. Dicks has a healthy supply of kayak brands.

Austin Kayak – AKC has a substantial online presence, and they offer many of the top kayak brands.  The staff is truly knowledgeable. If you have any questions about kayaks in general or specific kayak brands, the sales staff will help you find the right one.

Cabelas – One of the top outdoor stores anywhere, Cabelas sells kayaks and equipment.  They mainly deal in Ascend kayaks, which are solid in their own right.

Walmart – Walmart offers entry-level boats online and in-store. So if you are in the market for a budget-friendly kayak, be sure to check out Walmart.

Sportsman’s Warehouse – Maybe not as popular as some others on the list, you can find some good kayak brands at Sportsman’s Warehouse. Mostly known for hunting and camping gear, they have a good assortment of kayaks and gear.

Kayak brands to avoid

A brand is usually what people identify with when they see a product. We aren’t about to name any names here, but there are some kayak brands to avoid based on the following criteria:

  • Poor quality
  • Unreliable manufacturing process and/or parts
  • Poor customer service (either online or at physical shops)

Many kayak brands on the market range from cheap $300 models to $3000-4000 high-end luxury models. It is essential to understand that you don’t need to spend a fortune to have a great kayaking experience.

Several decent mid-range kayaks will last you for many years. However, if you do have the money to spend on expensive kayaks, make sure to purchase only those made of good quality material and constructed by reputable companies with a strong manufacturing background.

Should you buy a used kayak?

You might be able to save money buying a used kayak instead of opting for a more expensive new model upfront.  Used also puts you in control of the deal, as you have some power to negotiate.

Some people buy used for environmental reasons, too, there is less pressure on the environment if more people buy used instead of new.

I would not recommend buying a used kayak without thoroughly checking it for any problems or safety issues. Always inspect and test a used kayak before you buy it.  You want to tell the difference between issues you can live with and potential ones that may cause significant problems for you.

Click here for more information on buying a used kayak.

Conclusion – Best kayak brands

If you want to have a great outdoor experience, then getting an excellent kayak is essential. You will find that there are many different brands and models on the market today.

The best way for you to figure out which one would provide you with the most enjoyment is by doing some research into what suits your needs and learning about their pros and cons before making any purchases.

We hope this article has given you a better understanding of choosing the right kayak brand for yourself, so go ahead and make your decision!

If you want to learn more about purchasing information or need assistance finding the right kayak for your needs, please contact us at any time with questions.

Let us know what your favorite kayak brand is.

Steve, Founder of Paddle About
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve is an avid kayaker and founder of Paddle About. When he is not on the water, Steve enjoys outdoor activities, including fishing, camping, and hiking with his family. Read more.

Leave a Comment