A Guide to Buying the Best Casual Use / Recreational Kayak

A Guide To Buying The Best Inflatable Kayaks

Did you ever wonder why painters, photographers, movie directors, and other artists always love representing sunsets over water in their works! Well, the honest answer is we do too! That being said we can build our own version as to why. The simplest reason is that you just can’t beat a great day out on the water. Sure some days we want to be super extreme and ride down waterfalls, but that is not what it's all about.

A calm stroll down a quiet lake or mild river while spending time in thought and in awe of nature. It just even seems artistic by reading and imagining the scene. The amazing thing is just about anybody can enjoy this. This is where recreational kayaks come in! 

Person in kayak.

Recreational kayaks are usually very stable boats that are perfect for a nice and smooth ride. Like any other product though there are many options out there to choose from. From our experience with kayaks, we understand that it can be totally overwhelming to try and shop for the right boat. That is why we have taken it upon ourselves to break down everything there is to know about recreational kayaks. Put in a blender and came up with our best recreational kayaks for specific needs and styles of riding.

We have broken down recreational kayaking into a list of main categories. Best overall kayak, most stable kayak, best kayak for big guys, among others. Breaking down why each specific kayak can best fit you if you happen to fit in a particular category. Helping you spend less time in the shop and more time in the water. Let’s get going we have a lot to cover! 

Best Overall Recreational Kayak

Since before we even started going through the kayaks again to put this guide together for you we were thinking about this boat! The Hurricane Santee 116 Sport Kayak is a very versatile recreational kayak. That is one of the main reasons that we picked it above the rest as the best boat.

So many times we see people invest money on inflatable, and other cheaper boat options only to have to upgrade in a matter of months. The main reason behind this is that once you catch the kayak bug and start feeling confident in the water you need a bigger challenge. 

source: amazon.com

This boat is something you can potentially ride around for years to come. This might be a little unfair for other recreational kayaks as this is more of a crossover boat between a recreational and a whitewater kayak. That is the same reason that it is so versatile. The thing is whether you are starting out or are trying to make the jump to faster boats this is a viable option.

  • The cockpit is wide enough for taller people and people who are just getting used to sit-in kayaks. It is very stable, especially when in motion. The only real issue we see with this boat for beginners is that it may not be wide enough for them to feel comfortable. It may only cause, we could say slight insecurities at first. Flipping this boat in calm waters though is a tough task. Even if you are trying to flip it over it’s pretty hard!

    Key Features
  • AirStream Seat and Thigh Pads
  • Twist Lock Foot Brace System
  • Deck Storage for dry bag & gear
  • Wide Cockpit
  • Great Overall Design

Honorable Mention: Wilderness Systems Pungo 120

When looking back at some of the reviews and getting back into a number of boats we previously looked at we felt we needed to include the Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 on this guide. In rereading our review so many memories from this boat came back.

One of the main things that we recall was that we were literally angry at the boat manufacturer and that affected the review. It wasn’t a biased reason, but we felt a bit cheated in the price. Since this guide only really evaluates performance we have to give credit where credit is due! 

source: wilderness systems

The Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 is actually a boat that is very similar in design to the Hurricane Santee 116. Except the Pungo 120 is a lot wider. In this case, if we want to showcase boats that are good for beginners we couldn’t leave it off the list. It doesn’t turn as gracefully as the Santee 116 because of it being wider obviously. Which makes it not such a versatile boat that we would recommend taking anywhere.

As a casual recreational boat though we could see it filling that role perhaps better than any other boat we could potentially write about. If you are looking for purely a recreational boat you can cruise down the river with this is a great option. Our issue was, we thought it was more of a fishing boat, but adding all the fishing accessories cost extra!

Key Features

  • SlideLock XL foot brace system allows for quick and easy adjustment for leg length.
  • Thigh and knee padding
  • Multi-chined hull design provides excellent secondary stability.
  • Bungee deck rigging
  • Different-size air holes in the seat allow for ventilation and water drainage.

Most Stable Kayak for Beginners

There are plenty of kayaks out there that have a wide platform-like hull that passes as very stable for beginners. It’s not that we have anything against fishing platforms, but we do believe that kayaks are just different. To stick with fishing though we chose a fishing kayak for this category. Vibe Kayaks Yellowfin 100 10 foot Angler Sit On Top Kayak is a very stable kayak for beginners in our book. 

source: vibe kayaks

For starters, it is a sit on top kayak and we feel that most people should start in one of those. It makes people a lit bit comfortable as it is easier to enter. You get kind of a best of both worlds experience. It is pretty agile and fast for a fishing kayak. So even though your main intent may be to cruise gracefully you also have the option of turning it up a notch. If you notice this boat doesn’t have the typical canoe like design that speedier boats have.

Its side walls also reach down to the water. This provides more stability and makes beginners usually feel a lot safer out on the water. A quick reminder many of these fishing kayaks are designed so that you can also stand in them. So typically fishing kayaks will be more stable than sporty versions. Another plus of riding around in a fishing kayak as a beginner is that you will have way more storage room on your boat. Especially dry storage spaces, so you can carry things like cameras and food.

Key Features

  • 10 ft kayak
  • 4 Carry Handles
  • 2 Waterproof Storage Hatches
  • 2 Adjustable Foot Braces
  • Large Rear Tank Well And Bungee
  • Framed Seat
  • Dash with cup holder and mount trey

Best Kayak For Big Fellas

Kayaking is a pastime that is mainly used to relax, unwind and feel comfortable. Especially when you are only doing recreational kayaking. The idea is to feel as loose and at ease in the water as possible.

That is why we recommend that you try and avoid virtually any type of currents or mildly choppy waters when paddling for recreational purposes. , the less effort you have to put into paddling for this type of kayaking the better. That being said there is no shame in being honest and saying you are not comfortable in a kayak because you don’t fit right. That is why we bring you the best kayak for big fellas.

source: amazon.com

​The Teton 90 Hard Shell Recreational Kayak it is a boat very similar to the Yellow fin 100 which we dubbed the most stable. We went with the Teton 90 as the perfect for big fellas because we feel it has a little more leg room.

Even though they are virtually the same size. There was a discussion here whether to go with a 12 foot kayak in this spot. It is true that these kayaks will have even more leg room. The length though could cause a lot of problems for beginners. Both in and out of the water during transport. That is why we ultimately went with this boat! Plus while still being a relatively light boat it can hold up to 300 pounds. That is way beyond the limits of most boats this size!

Key Features

  • Kayak Length: 9'
  • Kayak Width: 32"
  • Kayak Weight: 47 Lbs.
  • Recommended Weight Limit: 300 lbs. 
  • 4 Flush Mount Capped Rod Holders
  • 2 Sealed Dry Storage Hatches


Other Beginner Options

A lot of times we come across people who end up not getting into kayaks because they feel the price is to steep especially when you have to buy two or more boats. While kayaking is usually a solo endeavor it is also nice to have some company while out on the water.

People who want to bring their wives or kids along have a hard time finding the right boats. Especially when starting out, because what fits one person may not feel the same for another. This makes the starting prices increase, and scares people away from kayaking before they even start! The Voyager 2 Person Inflatable Kayak may help solve those issues.

This kayak obviously seats two which is an advantage when starting out. It’s perfect for couples or even your kids. You won’t have to buy 2 separate boats to start out in the kayaking world.

source: driftsun.com

We don’t typically recommend inflatable boats because of the puncture issues and the time you spend inflating. We made an exception here, though, because this boat is actually very well made and quite a safe option. The main benefit of inflatable options is always having easy storage.

This is key when starting because getting a kayak onto your car or having to tow it is always a hassle for beginners. Specifically those with very compact cars. In this case, though you just deflate fold and your good to go. Plus with this kayak, you are getting a very maneuverable boat. It won’t take a whole bunch of strokes to get it up to full speed and for a relatively wide boat, it is very maneuverable. 

This will make beginners enjoy a ride without too much effort. Although it sits 2 one person can carry the load of the work if necessary. We remember seeing a man on this boat with a relatively large dog (who obviously wasn’t paddling) and he had no problem moving forward.

The main reason we chose this boat though was, this boat costs under 500 dollars, and it comes with 2 paddles, 2 seats, a pump and any and all features you need to get out on the water. This is a great deal for beginners or parents who want to get their kids into kayaking!

Key Features

  • Measures only 26”(L) x 16”(W) x 8”(H) and fits nicely into the included carry bag
  • Adjustable EVA padded seats
  • Aluminum kayak paddles with ergonomic grip
  • Double action hand pump
  • Rear tracking fin
  • Repair kit and Travel bag

Best LightWeight Boat

We really don’t want to sound biased with this pick! The problem is we really can’t help ourselves when it comes to liking these boats. In this category, we had to pick the best lightweight boat. Without a doubt, we went with the Hurricane Skimmer 128 Sit On Top Kayak. We obviously like hurricane boats as we have one of them as the best boat. That being said we do want to elaborate as to why we chose both of these boats.

In this category, we went with the Hurricane Skimmer 128 Sit On Top Kayak as the best lightweight boat because of all of the things you can do with this boat at a lightweight! As it is one of the fastest boats on the market. At least in the recreational, and fishing kayak markets. Not only that, but you can potentially stand in for fishing.

Despite it not being so wide it doesn’t make you lose stability. Those are the 2 main reasons we rate it so high. Being a sit on top it allows you to be more comfortable when out in the water for long periods of time.

Another thing we loved about this kayak and we rarely talked about in this guide is room. This kayak can be as much a recreational kayak as it can be a fishing kayak. The fact that you could potentially kill two birds with one boat is a definite plus.

This boat only weighs around 50 pounds. So it is great for solo use. It won’t be tough to pick up in or out of the water. In the water, you will be able to reach maximum speeds with just a couple of paddles. Like we mentioned you can actually tackle a wide variety of waters with these boats. Recreational only kayaks can put you in danger even on a day at the lake. This boat on the other hand won’t have an issue with getting through some rough patches.

Key Features

  • Length: 12ft. 9in.
  • AirStream Seat
  • Hatches: Bow & 2 Stern
  • Weight Capacity: 315 lbs.
  • Kayak Width: 28in
  • Comes With One Paddle

Is It Smart To Buy A Special Kid Kayak?

Parents typically want to get their kids into the same things that they like. If you are one of those kayaking parents especially if you and your partner are both kayakers it makes sense that you would want your kids to get into kayaking.

Finding the right boat for them to do so may be a bit of an issue, though. The reality is that there aren’t many special kayaks for kids. Most of the options are very low-quality inflatables. That will not work properly and most likely irritate your kids instead of encouraging them. Not to mention the right age for them to start paddling off on their own is in itself a debatable topic! Knowing how to swim is obviously a must, but what other things should they know?

Having them paddle with an adult before going off on their own is almost also a must. This way kids will get used to the paddle motion and will learn how to pace themselves out on the water. Otherwise, they may wander off and then be too tired to paddle back. What are the options when it comes to kayaks for kids?

We probably don’t recommend specialized kids kayaks to be fully honest. There is one boat the Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak that could help get kids into kayaking. It is essentially a wave boat though. It is very similar in design to many whitewater kayaks.

Which means that it isn’t quite fit for a prolonged use in calm waters. It just isn’t that comfortable to be on in for that long. The short answer for "is buying a kid kayak for recreational use worth it?" is probably no. There are plenty of inflatable options out there that can be better suited for kids at an affordable price. That way they will be able to learn first hand, plus many of the boats are very light and maneuverable in the water anyway.

So it won’t take them much effort to paddle out. Now if you want to get your kid into whitewater kayaking then the Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak is a viable option. Get them to ride along the shore even at lakes and experience the force of the water first hand. Riding one of these boats will make the transition to whitewater kayaks and tough waters much easier. Speaking of lightweight boats though we might have just the thing! 

Conclusion

Even within the realm of casual use kayaks, there are many options to choose from. Like we have clearly seen in this whole review. Before buying a boat it is important that you scope out what the waters are literally like at the place you are going to be using it most. If you are planning on just using it in a calm lake then maybe you can look for a cheaper option that will allow you to float calmly in the water. A word of warning, though! In our experience kayaking can get a little addictive.

Leaving you with the urge to constantly try new things and why not test your limits a little bit! That is why we typically choosing boats that are a lot more versatile. That way you won’t find yourself walking out of the store with a new boat every 4 months! That can turn kayaking into a very expensive hobby when it really doesn’t have to be. Finding a boat that you feel safe on and can relax in is literally winning half the battle!


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