In this Guide
We’ve put our heads together to come up with this comprehensive guide to the best tandem kayaks on the market today. We’ve combed through all the options, drawing on our collective expertise, and dozens of professional and buyer reviews. In the end, we chose three great boats to recommend to you!
Here’s a quick snapshot of our favorites:
Best on a Budget
- Our Rating: 4.5
- Popularity: Low
- Our Rating: 4.9
- Popularity: Low
- Our Rating: 4.5
- Popularity: Low
The only thing that could make kayaking any more fun than it already is? Having a partner to share the adventure with! Tandem kayaks are perfect for you and a friend, partner, or child to get out and spend some quality time together on the water.
However, it takes a lot of smart design to make a tandem that really works well for two people. It can be hard to tell the difference between a straight shooter and an awkward wobbler, especially since most boats look fairly similar from the outside.
You’ll have to be extra careful when you’re shopping, to make sure you get a rugged kayak which can handle two people and supplies and gear for each of you. Since tandem kayaks can be fairly expensive, your search has high stakes, and we know the search can feel overwhelming. Well, that’s where we come in!
- Ocean Kayak Malibu
- Ocean Kayak Malibu 2 XL
- Ocean Kayak Zest Two Expedition
The Ocean Kayak Malibu is a versatile, rugged vessel with plenty of adventure potential! We love how many features are packed into its small frame. This is a travel-sized craft which can fit a whole family.
Add in impressive handling as a solo kayak, and you’ve got one of the best multi-purpose boats on the market! For us, the budget price is an added bonus, rather than the defining feature.
The Malibu is a stable and versatile performer. It’s been described by many reviewers as one of the best all-purpose kayaks on the market right now. Since it’s a sit-on-top model, it’s good for any water conditions–flat-water or surf!
At 12 feet, it’s easy to paddle and turn, but has enough length to track straight and true. It’s also nice and wide, which means that in combination with the sit-on-top design, it’s extremely stable. This is a good teaching boat for new paddlers.
It’s also a great choice for people with kids or dogs, since it’s pretty hard to tip. Previous buyers were extremely impressed with how well this one tracks, solo or in tandem. They also raved about how stable it was, and said they felt perfectly safe in any conditions they’d experienced.
One of the most impressive selling points of the Malibu is that it actually makes a great solo model in its own right. You can switch one of the seats to the middle position, or simply paddle it from the rear seat. While a lot of other models are advertised as solo-compatible, the Malibu is one of the only ones which actually performs that way. It’s easy to handle solo as well as tandem.
It’s stackable. The Malibu is a popular choice for families, many of whom buy two or three boats. If you’re going to end up with several boats, you’ll be pleased to find that the Malibu’s is designed to stack with other Malibu’s! That makes them significant easier to store.
It’s rugged. Previous buyers mentioned again and again how well-built they thought the Ocean Kayak was. They said there was a huge difference in quality between this and the cheaper models they had tried in the past.
We found many reviews from people who had been using their Malibu’s for years with no issues! It’s made in the USA, with a rugged, molded hull that’s pretty much indestructible. There’s also a skid plate on the bottom of the hull, to prevent any damage as you’re landing.
It has a high weight capacity-up to 425 pounds! The Malibu is specifically designed for families, as well as couples. You can ride tandem with your partner and still have room for a child or a dog in the middle seat-well. There’s no need to worry about them being unsafe, since the seat is built in.
You can also sit in a range of configurations. The Malibu comes with three seat-wells molded into the hull. You also get two padded, adjustable seats, which we think are well above standard factory issue.
It has molded, overlapping footwells, instead of straps or blocks. That makes it easy to find the right fit for you. Plus, you don’t have to adjust any straps or buckles to change position. Previous buyers loved this design feature, which is exclusive to the brand. We think it’s a shoe-in over the traditional designs used by the competition. It’s a simple fix for one of the most tedious parts of a kayak.
There are storage security straps at the front, rear, and middle.
It’s easy to carry. Even though it’s a tandem, this one weighs just 57 pounds. That’s as light as most single-person models!
There aren’t any storage compartments below deck. The storage space above deck is also fairly limited, since most of the onboard space is dedicated to the seats.
It’s on the smaller end of the spectrum. However, that smaller size is what allows this one to perform well as a solo vessel.
While this is the cheapest boat we’ve recommended here, it’s still well over $500. Some people might find that a bit much, but we really recommend opting for this over anything cheaper. In our opinion, this is the lowest you can go for a real kayak.
Our top mid-range pick is an extra-long version of the Malibu. The 2XL adds about a foot and a half to its hull. That makes it a slightly faster, smoother, and stabler craft. We’d recommend this to buyers who are going to be navigating choppier waters, whether through powerboat wakes or scrappy coastal areas.
It’s also the better choice for people who are going to be bringing a picnic or other supplies, since there’s more storage space and the potential to add hatches.
It’s longer than the base-model Malibu. That improves its overall performance in a number of important regards:
First, that extra foot and a half makes this one a speedier vessel. The difference isn’t tremendous, but it’ll be noticeable to more experienced paddlers, especially on longer trips. Since it’s a longer boat at the same width, it’s more efficient overall. The improvement is most apparent in terms of momentum.
The 2XL takes some effort to get up to speed, but then it flies along. Previous buyers said it took a lot less effort to paddle than other tandems they had used previously. Reviewers found they were able to keep up with single boats easily!
Secondly, the extra length improves tracking. While most reviewers agreed that the basic Malibu tracked very well, this one’s even better. That’s why we prefer it in choppier conditions where waves and wakes are always looking to knock you off course. Buyers said it handled larger waves in bays and surf conditions with ease, especially when two people were onboard.
Finally, it’s a boost for stability. This one’s even less likely to wobble or tip. Again, that’s important for any rougher conditions, whether it’s a mild whitewater or coastal surf. It’s also a safer option in general for people with less experience or confidence on the water–especially when there’s a child onboard.
The extra length also boosts the weight capacity for the 2XL. This one can handle up to 500 pounds! That’s perfect for bigger duos, or for people who want to bring a picnic or other supplies with them. There’s also more storage room as well!
The extra foot and a half means more space at both ends of the boat, and space for two ports on the hull. They make it possible to add storage hatches if you find you want waterproof storage in the future. The 2XL is the better choice for pairs or families paddling to a destination for a picnic or camping adventure.
It has the same versatile seating format as the Malibu. The 2XL seats two paddlers and a child or animal companion amidships.
Also like the Malibu, this one works as a solo boat.
It’s over 60 pounds. That’s getting to be on the heavy side, so this probably isn’t a good choice for one adult to lift alone. We’d suggest lifting it as a team, or using a wheeled cart to get to the water.
While this one does work very well as a solo boat, it does require some strength for one person to handle it alone. Most buyers were surprised by how well it performed solo, but said they wouldn’t want it for their only solo boat.
Our top quality nod goes to the Ocean Kayak Zest Two Expedition. The Zest is a beast of a tandem, at nearly 16.5 feet long. It’s certainly not a casual boat, but it offers nearly unlimited potential to a pair of confident kayakers looking to go on day trips or weekend camping adventures.
It’s faster, surer, and better equipped for big trips than either Malibu model. We recommend it to anyone who can both afford it and paddle a longer kayak with confidence.
It’s the fastest boat here. While the sheer size of the Zest means it takes a bit of effort to get up to speed, it zips along once you’ve got underway. Even though it’s a good 4 feet longer than the basic Malibu, this one’s not any wider. It’s a sleek, streamlined boat that really suits two advanced paddlers. You’ll notice the extra efficiency on longer trips across lakes or to island campsites.
It’s also the nest tracker of the three Ocean Kayaks. This one goes straight, no matter the water conditions. Previous buyers said it’s all but impervious to wakes, waves, or swells.
With that said, it still manages to be very agile. It won’t turn on a dime, but even solo kayakers found it very maneuverable. It responds best to the chine and keel of an expert kayaker, who knows how to use the long length to their advantage.
It has the most storage room of the three boats. There are dedicated storage wells at each end of the boat, and each has bungee-cord netting over the top to keep your gear in place. It’s the only one of the Ocean Kayaks that really has room for overnight camping gear for two people. The Zest also has the weight capacity to match its storage space. This one can handle up to 600 pounds safely!
It follows the same seating setup as the Malibu’s. The Zest can comfortably fit two adult paddlers, and either a child or a dog in the middle.
In all other respects, it’s just like the other two Ocean Kayaks. It’s made from a sturdy, molded hull, which previous buyers found extremely durable. It has paddle-docks, cupholders, and the same molded, overlapping foot-wells as the other Ocean Kayaks. There’s a skid-plate on the bottom of the hull, and ports for adding waterproof storage hatches at a later date.
There are a lot of impressive features on this model, from its weight capacity to its tracking ability. For us, though, the most impressive thing about the Zest is that it still works solo!
Most tandems this big would be awkward and unwieldy for a solo kayaker. Not the Zest! In the hands of an adept paddler, it’s much more responsive and maneuverable than you’d expect. As a solo kayak, it’s an excellent choice for long expeditions which require lots of gear.
It’s very expensive. This one costs over $1000, and we know that the sheer price tag might be cost-prohibitive for some people.
This is an expert’s kayak. It’s longer and heavier than the other tandems we’ve recommended, and we only recommend it to people with both the strength and confidence to handle it properly. While it’s the fastest once you’re moving, it takes more effort to get moving at first.
Likewise, even though previous buyers were pleased with how this one performed as a solo kayak, they cautioned that only strong paddlers would be able to handle it easily. Plus, you probably won’t be able to get it into the water solo, so having an extra set of hands to set off is a must.
It’s quite heavy. Again, you’ll need two strong people to get this in the water.
Which is the Best Kayak for You?
The Malibu is the best choice for people on a tight budget, as well as new paddlers. It’s the shortest boat here, which makes it the lightest to paddle.
The wide bottom also makes it ideal for learners to practice their form without worrying about taking a spill. While this is our “budget” recommendation, we think it’s a great little boat which is vastly better than cheaper tandems.
If you’re looking to spend the least amount possible for something that looks, feels, and performs like a real kayaker’s boat, without the high cost, this is the one! It’s also our top choice for people who are tight on space and need a really packable boat.
The Malibu 2XL is our recommendation for the average kayaker looking for a reasonably-priced, manageable tandem. It’s nearly as packable as the Malibu, and it manages to be just as light-even though it’s a longer boat.
For us, the 2XL is simply a better boat in nearly every regard. It’s a bit faster, a bit roomier, and even more stable. It’s a fantastic choice for newcomers who want a boat to grow into, as well as advanced kayakers looking for a bargain boat that won’t leave them craving something more.
The Zest is our top choice for expert and advanced kayakers looking for a family and adventure-sized boat. It has the most to offer advanced paddlers, and it’s the most efficient choice for longer jaunts when you’ll really notice the difference. However, its price and size make it a daunting proposition for casual or new kayakers.
How to Choose the Best Tandem Fishing Kayak & More
Decide on your budget:
Tandem kayaks, overall, are slightly more expensive than single-user kayaks. You’ll find them available from about $300-$1500.
We recommend spending at least $500 for a new tandem kayak. Under $500, you’re looking at awkwardly designed models with shoddy build quality and very limited features. Even if you’re on a tight budget, it’s worth spending the extra $100-$200 for something that’s actually enjoyable to use, and will last you.
Beginners and casual boaters will probably be happy with something in the $500 range. That’s the lowest we’ve found you can spend for a durable, smartly-designed boat that’ll give you years of enjoyment. However, boats at this price tend to be pretty short, so they’re not ideal for hauling camping gear or longer paddles.
We suggest that the average paddler spend about $750 for a tandem. At that price point, you’ll see boats with enough storage space to make them roomy enough for picnics and camping, and with more efficient hull designs for longer jaunts–all without costing a premium.
Experts will do well to budget for a boat around the $1000 mark. That’s where you’ll start to see full-length boats with sleeker designs and added features which really complement advanced paddlers. These boats cost a premium, but they’ll be well worth the price if you kayak very often, and for longer jaunts.
Think about your ability level(s):
When you’re deciding between your options, you should have a good sense your ability level, and whether or not you’re looking to become more of an expert over time.
New paddlers are better off with a shorter boat, around the 10-12 foot mark. These boats are nice and wide, which makes them the most stable options.
They also have a shorter prow which is easier to turn and maneuver if you get into a tight spot. However, the wideness of the design makes shorter boats a bit inefficient for expert or advanced paddlers.
For the average paddler, a boat between 12 and 14 feet is probably the best choice. Kayaks in this size range have a good balance between speed and stability. They also have enough storage space and ports to satisfy most adventurers.
Experts should look for a tandem longer than 14 feet. From 14-16+ feet, you’ll find long, sleek vessels which have hull and keel designs which really suit an expert’s touch. If you and your partner are strong paddlers, these boats make for much faster sailing, and dead-on tracking. Plus, they have plenty of room for overnight camping gear and other equipment.
Plan for transport:
As with any kayak, you’ll want to be sure you can transport whichever boat you eventually buy. As a general rule, tandems tend to be easier to transport, simply because you’ll almost certainly have a helper along with you.
The key thing to consider is how large a kayak you can fit on top of your car, or in your pickup’s bed. While some individual kayaks can squeeze into larger SUVs, fitting a tandem inside a vehicle is almost certainly impossible. Make sure your roof rack can support the length and weight of the boat you buy, or consider using a trailer.