In this Guide
Recreational kayaks provide a versatile balance of stability and maneuverability in a compact package. They’re our go-to recommendation for new boaters, casual paddlers, and weekend warriors who want to handle a wide variety of waters.
Our own research and experience shows that there are lots of great and affordable recreational kayaks out there for the casual adventurer. However, there’s also a lot of garbage. While you don’t want to spend a fortune on your weekend jaunts, it’s also important to get a real boat-not a junky toy model. We’re here to help you find the happy medium!
We went on a search for the best recreational kayaks on the market today. We looked for affordable, user-friendly models that are versatile enough to take on a variety of adventures, without getting into technical territory. We made sure to find kayaks that are durable, efficient, and rewarding–at prices to suit any budget!
In this guide, we’ve rounded up our three favorite recreational kayaks on the market right now. We’ll take you through all the reasons we’re loving these, and help you figure out which one is the best choice for you!
To get started, here’s a glance at our Top Three!
Best on a Budget
- Rating: 4.8
- Reviews: 24
- Rating: 4.7
- Reviews: 23
- Rating: 4.5
- Reviews: 17
Recreational Kayak Reviews
1. Old Town Vapor 10
Our most accessible recommendation in the recreational department comes from Old Town. Available at around the $500 mark, it’s a simple, stable choice for beginners who want the most affordable “real” boat out there.
We think it provides an excellent balance of stability and maneuverability for new and casual paddlers. The Vapor 10 also packs a surprising amount of storage space into its cockpit. It’s ideal for a picnic expedition or a day-long fishing trip–and you’ll even have room for an animal friend!
It’s easy to transport. The Vapor 10, as you might guess from the name, is only 10 feet long. Previous buyers said they had no problems getting it into an SUV or the back of a pickup.
Plus, it’s less than 50 pounds-that’s no heavier than a bag of dog food. Women and men with smaller frames were pleased to find that you can also carry this one single-handedly. There are handles at either end, too, for helping you pull it up the beach.
It’s much more reliable and durable than cheaper models. While we know that this isn’t the cheapest option on the market, we think it’s the least you can spend for a real quality boat.
The Vapor 10 has a skid plate built onto the hull which protects it from scrapes as you run up on shore. This one is also made from a single-layer molded material, which is much more durable over the long term than boats with seams between pieces of material.
Finally, you have the added quality assurance that comes with buying a boat that’s made in America! Old Town kayaks are all made in Maine.
It has a very large cockpit. There’s plenty of room in the Vapor 10 for a paddler, picnic, gear, and even a dog! It’s a perfect place to kick back and enjoy a drink in the middle of a lake. It’s also an ideal perch for casual fishing. Previous buyers weighing as much as 300 pounds said they still had plenty of space onboard, and never felt cramped.
We like that the cockpit is nicely outfitted, especially for a boat this inexpensive. The molded seat is cushioned and adjustable, and there are adjustable foot-braces for you to find your fit in the seat-well. There’s also a paddle-rest molded into the hull, and a cupholder to boot. It’s not a deluxe model by any stretch, but it’s certainly not bare-bones either!
For storage, you have ample space in the front of the cockpit. There’s plenty of room for a backpack, jacket, and other essentials. There’s also a smaller day-well built into the stern. It’s a perfect place to keep your picnic, beers, fishing bait, or other must-haves.
It’s stable, steady, and easy to paddle. Previous buyers said the Vapor 10 tracks surprisingly well compared to other shorter craft. They were also very impressed with how it handled wakes, waves, and choppier conditions.
While large waves might crest the bow, most conditions don’t faze it at all! It’s light, responsive, and very maneuverable–that’s why we think it makes such a great beginner choice.
While there is a storage well built into the deck, there aren’t any shock-cords or security straps to keep your day items in place. You’ll have to supply your own harness system.
It doesn’t track quite as well as longer models. That’s simply a fact of life with these shorter boats, since they’re designed for stability and easy-turning rather than optimal tracking. However, we didn’t find any reviewers who actually found tracking to be a problem.
Likewise, since this one’s on the wider side, it’s not quite as fast as some longer boats. However, for the average paddler, the difference won’t be very noticeable.
The seat isn’t as heavily cushioned as the more expensive Old Town models.
If you’re looking for something that’s stable and easy to maneuver, but tough enough to handle anything you can throw at it, check out this Ocean Kayak! We love the Frenzy because it can handle surf just as well as flat-water lakes!
This is a small, packable boat that performs admirably in any water conditions. It’s our top choice for new paddlers, as well as passionate kayakers who can’t transport a larger boat easily.
It’s even more compact than the Old Town. The Frenzy chops a whole foot off the length, and a few extra pounds off the weight as well. It’s 9 feet long, and weighs just 43 pounds. This one’s our top choice for people who need a compact, travel-friendly kayak.
It’ll fit easily on smaller roof racks, and it’ll slide right into the back of larger SUVs and pickups. There are handles at the sides, and at either end to help you port it around.
The molded foot-wells provide much easier adjustment than the support sliders in the Old Town. They’re a patented design, which is why you only see them on Ocean Kayak models. We like them because you can adjust your position mid-paddle without having to fiddle with straps or buckles.
Unlike the Old Town, this one can handle choppy surf as well as lakes and rivers. It’s perfect for exploring around the coast. Previous buyers said it was perfect for rivers, lakes, and bays, as well as surf around beaches. The sit-on-top design makes this one safer than others for uncertain conditions. Plus, it has a very nicely molded hull which tracks steadily while maintaining a lot of maneuverability.
Overall, the Frenzy is one of the most versatile kayaks on the market right now. It’s our top recommendation to people who are looking for an affordable recreational boat that can handle a lot of different adventures. Previous buyers complimented its tracking, and said the stability was exceptional in such a light, spry little boat.
Anyone can paddle this safely. A lot of new boaters struggle to stay upright and steady, and the Frenzy is very forgiving of the learning curve. You can make plenty of mistakes without tipping or getting into danger. It has a sit-on-top design for extra stability, and it’s been designed to be easy for kids or new paddlers to handle.
There are storage wells at the front and the back. They’re equipped with shock-cords across the top of the boat, to keep all your supplies in place. That’s a key advantage over the Old Town, which doesn’t come with any straps or cables.
Like the Old Town, this one has a skid-plate on the hull for added durability and scratch resistance. It’s easy to replace, too, so you can make sure your boat is always protected.
Also like the Old Town, the Frenzy ships with a seat that’s much more comfortable than the average factory model. Previous buyers didn’t have anything to complain about in the comfort department.
The cupholder is more conveniently located than the Old Town’s. This one has the cupholder right between the legs in the cockpit, where the Old Town’s makes you reach forward to the front edge of the cockpit.
It’s made in the USA, and we couldn’t find any reports of durability issues.
Some shoppers might be disappointed to see that this shorter boat costs more than the Old Town. However, we’d argue that the Frenzy gives you a bit more “boat” for your money, since it’s even more versatile. The Frenzy can handle surf and coast conditions, while the Old Town is strictly a flat-water boat.
The storage areas are even less waterproof than the Old Town. Not only are the Frenzy’s compartments not waterproofed, they’re not actually covered. You’ll want to use pack bags to keep any dry items safe.
The seat is a bit narrow, at 18”. Some larger kayakers might find it slightly cramped. Luckily, seats are easy to replace on sit-on-top models like this one.
Like the Old Town, this one’s not particularly fast. We’d describe it as nimble, but not a marathon runner.
Our top quality pick for a recreational kayak goes to another Ocean Kayak model: the Scrambler. The Scrambler is a slightly longer boat along the same design lines as the Frenzy. The longer length means this one tracks even better, moves faster, and has more storage space onboard.
This is the best choice for recreational kayakers who don’t have budget constraints. It’s versatile, roomy, and still relatively affordable compared to the rest of the market. It can handle any adventure with ease!
It’s 11.5’ long. While our other recommendations are compact and travel friendly, they do paddle and maneuver like shorter boats. The Scrambler is still on the shorter end of the spectrum, but it behaves more like a longer boat.
It’s faster, tracks more accurately, and cuts through swells and waves more keenly. The Scrambler is the most efficient mover of the three, so it’s our top choice for people who make longer jaunts,
It also has more to offer expert kayakers. The Scrambler isn’t quite as forgiving of mistakes as the Frenzy or the Old Town, but responds more adeptly to an advanced boatsman’s touch. It turns more smoothly, and has some of the roll you’ll find with a touring kayak.
Its length allows it to be the most versatile of the three boats. That’s why it’s been a best-seller for over 30 years! The Frenzy is also good in the surf, but the shorter length means it does track a bit less sure than the Scrambler.
The Scrambler is the best of the three in choppy water, and it’s faster to paddle on flat-water surfaces. We’d take it on lakes, rivers, mild rapids, and even out into the sea.
It has a lot of the same features we loved on the Frenzy. The Scrambler features the same molded, adaptive footwells, handles, cupholder, and seat. It has a bottom skid plate, and shock-cord storage fore and aft of the cockpit.
The storage compartments get a bit of a boost, because the hull is a few feet longer. So, you get even more space for gear! That makes this one a better choice for picnic expeditions, or for overnight camping jaunts.
It also adds a dry storage compartment. The 6” porthole is conveniently located between your legs in the seat molding. It’s ideal for keeping phones, wallets, and other important items dry. The cupholder moves forward a few inches to accommodate the dry storage, but it’s still within easy reach.
Since it’s larger than the Frenzy or the Old Town, it might be harder to fit in an SUV. This one’s best-suited to a roof rack or pickup. However, it’s still light enough for one person to port without assistance.
The longer length is faster once you get up to speed, but it requires a bit more initial strength to get there. That’s why we’re recommending this one to more advanced paddlers.
It’s the most expensive boat here. While the Scrambler is still relatively cheap compared to most of the kayak market, it’s a few hundred dollars more than the Old Town.
Which Kayak is Perfect for Your Adventures?
If you’re a new kayaker looking to get your feet wet, or simply shopping on a budget, the Old Town is the obvious choice. It’s the most affordable boat here, and it covers all the basics of a great recreational kayak.
If you’re planning on sticking to flat-water or fishing expeditions, this isn’t a boat that will leave you wanting in the slightest. However, it’s a bit bulkier, slower, and sea-shy than the Ocean Kayaks.
If you’re looking for a versatile companion that’s extremely packable, the Ocean Kayak Frenzy is your best bet! While it’s slightly more expensive than the Old Town for a smaller boat, the boat you get is more stable, nimble, and portable.
It’s our top choice for younger paddlers, since the sit-on-top design is so safe. It’s also the better choice for budget buyers who don’t want to be limited to flat-water conditions.
If you’re an advanced boater who wants the absolute best in a new recreational kayak, the Ocean Kayak Scrambler offers the best performance of the three boats here. It’s faster, more agile, and more of a straight tracker than the Frenzy or Old Town.
We strongly recommend it to any confident paddlers who can afford it. On the other hand, you’ll need to be sure you have room to store it and port it. It’s also a few hundred dollars more than the other two.
How to Choose the Best Recreational Kayak
Establish your budget:
Recreational kayaks can cost anywhere between ~$250 right up to near the $1,000 mark. We don’t recommend spending below $400-$500, as cheaper models tend to be quite awkwardly designed, and they damage easily. Even if you’re on a tight budget, it’s better to spend $400 once than $250 twice!
Pricing for recreational kayaks is pretty straightforward. You’ll pay more for a longer boat, and length is the primary factor to consider. It makes the biggest difference in how a boat performs, and it’ll dictate the types of activities you can do with your new boat.
You’ll also pay extra for amenities like waterproof storage compartments, adaptable footrests, and shock-cord storage on the deck. As a general rule, the more you pay, the better overall quality you can expect from your boat. However, above $500, nearly all models are made in the USA, so the differences in durability aren’t drastic.
As we’ve said, even beginners or people on tight budgets should be prepared to spend a minimum of $400 for a new boat. After all, if you’re starting out, buying a badly-made $250 boat isn’t a good business move if it turns you off kayaking for life!
Experienced and advanced paddlers should aim for the $500-$750 price range. These boats are a bit longer, and suit advanced strokes better. They also have more storage space and better tracking for longer jaunts.
Think about your kayaking plans:
Before you shop, make sure you’ve got a clear picture of your ideal expeditions in your head. Think about whether you’ll be going mostly on lakes or rivers, surf or flat-water. Think about the water conditions you’ll be paddling, so you know how much stability you need from your new boat.
You’ll also want to think about whether you’ll be making shorter trips, or spending a day out on the water. If you’re planning on making longer trips, you’ll need lots of storage room for gear, food, and other essentials. Planning to take a dog along? You’ll want to make sure you have room for them, too!
Know your skill level:
It’s very important to be realistic about your skill level as a kayaker before you shop. While recreational kayaks are generally more user-friendly and forgiving than a longer, leaner touring boat, some longer recreational models can be hard for newcomers to use.
We suggest starting out with a small to midsize boat (8-10 feet long) and working up to a full-length boat. If you’re already a confident kayaker, we’d recommend something above 10 feet in length.
Make sure you can transport your new boat:
One key point which a lot of people forget about while shopping is that whichever boat you buy, you’ll eventually have to transport to the water. Make sure you know how long a boat you can fit in the back of your vehicle If you’re getting anything over 10 feet, you’ll probably need a roof-rack or trailer to haul it around.
Besides your vehicle, you also need to make sure you can get your boat from the vehicle to the water. If you’re traveling solo, make sure you can lift the whole of the boat safely and easily. remember that in many cases, you’ll need to be able to lift it overhead, in order to get it on and off your car.
Want to compare the rest of the best kayaks on the market? Check out the top sellers on Amazon!