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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

      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 Paddling.com 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 nine represent the best kayaks available now.

      Best Recreational Kayak
      Wilderness Systems Pungo 120
      Best Kayak for Beginners
      Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105
      Wilderness Systems
      Best Tandem Kayak
      Perception Tribe 13.5 Tandem
      Perception Kayaks
      Best Kayak for Fishing
      Old Town Loon 106 Angler
      Best Value Inflatable Kayak
      Intex Explorer K2 Kayak
      Best Touring Kayak
      Old Town Castine 135
      Best Pedal Kayak
      Hobie Mirage Passport 12.0
      Best Convertible Kayak
      Bote Deus Aero 11-Foot Inflatable Kayak
      Bote
      Now 10% off
      Best Foldable Kayak
      Oru Beach LT
      How to Get Started in Kayaking, According to Expert Chantae Reden
      kayaking
      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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