In recent years, kayaking has become a very popular activity among those who love water sports. Most people get their start in mild rivers or lakes (usually in places where the water current is not very strong). Others prefer to venture through rapids or the open sea. Obviously, before you head into the ocean, you should have some experience dealing with mild winds, currents, and waves.
There are several types of kayaks, and they all have different characteristics depending on the intended use, experience level, and water conditions. There are single and tandem kayaks, inflatable kayaks, sit-on-top designs, and more. Some are perfect for beginners while others are designed for competitions or long expeditions.
Hundreds of options are available and it’s not easy to make a choice. But don’t worry! In this article, we’ll review the main features to take into account to find the model that best suits your needs.
Please keep in mind that this is a review of the best ocean kayaks. I’m saying this because I noticed that other websites recommend flat-water models for sea activities, which is completely wrong.
THE BEST SEA KAYAKS – MID RANGE:
ADVANCED ELEMENTS ADVANCEDFRAME
MATERIAL: Polyester, aluminum
WEIGHT: 17.5 pounds
LENGTH: 10 feet 5 in
WIDTH: 32 in.
CAPACITY: 225 pounds
USE: All around
Similar to a rigid kayak, this hybrid model performs really well. The V-shaped hull and built-in aluminum ribs improve tracking and secondary stability. It features puncture-resistant materials in a 3-layer construction for maximum durability. You’ll find plenty of on-board storage room for long expeditions.
Pros: In my opinion, what sets this model apart from its competitors is its built-in aluminum ribs, which allow it to perform almost as well as a rigid kayak. Also, it’s easy to set up and compact, so you can keep it in the trunk of your vehicle.
Cons: Ultimately, if you’re looking for the best performance, you should go for a rigid kayak.
AQUAGLIDE NAVARRO 145
WEIGHT: 40 pounds
LENGTH: 14 ft. 4 in.
WIDTH: 39 in.
CAPACITY: 500 pounds
USE: All around
This is an inflatable tandem kayak, so you can paddle with your best friend or partner. Great speed, acceleration, and gear storage. This craft is built with high-quality materials to provide impact and abrasion resistance. The hull provides awesome speed and stability. The seats can be easily adjusted so the paddlers will face each other. Easy to set up and portable, it’s perfect for one or two paddlers looking for a versatile kayak.
If you compare this with the previous model, the Aquaglide is suitable for two people. However, I feel that the Advanced Frame Kayak provides greater stability and speed. I’d say that it performs better.
Pros: This model stands out because it’s the only tandem kayak on the list. Also, it’s easy to paddle, which is great for beginners.
Cons: I feel that it’s a bit cumbersome when deflated. Also, I think that higher PSI would provide greater rigidity and stability.
MATERIAL: Corrugated polypropylene
WEIGHT: 28 pounds
LENGTH: 12 feet
WIDTH: 25 in.
CAPACITY: 300 pounds
The Oru Kayak is different from any other model on the list. That’s because it’s a foldable kayak. It’s built with extruded polypropylene to withstand impacts and abrasion. Good performance, resistance, and durability.
Pros: It’s really lightweight, compact, and, of course, easy to transport. You can even carry it on a hike, then unfold it and use it in a remote lake.
Cons: Based on my experience, the low-profile seat doesn’t feel that comfortable. Also, it’s not the best option for intense waves and high winds.
WILDERNESS SYSTEMS TEMPEST 170
WEIGHT: 57 pounds
LENGTH: 17 ft.
WIDTH: 22 in.
CAPACITY: 325 pounds
USE: Open sea
Perfect for midsize kayakers looking for rough-water adventures. It provides great initial stability and firm tracking in strong currents, as well as a very comfortable seating system and padded thighbraces. It has a “Tru Trak” adjustable skeg for better tracking. The stern and bow hatches include a bulkhead to keep your gear dry. It has reflective, static safety lines along the perimeter.
Pros: It features a comfortable seating system with adjustable options, allowing paddlers to find their preferred seating position for extended trips.
Cons: As a higher-end kayak, it might have a higher price point than other models on the market.
DELTA KAYAKS 14
MATERIAL: Thermoformed ABS plastic
WEIGHT: 45 pounds
LENGTH: 14 ft.
WIDTH: 23.75 in.
CAPACITY: 340 pounds
USE: Ocean and lakes
The perfect balance between performance, light weight and comfort. The cockpit includes neoprene padding for greater comfort. The V-shaped hull provides a combination of speed and stability (great for both entry-level and experienced paddlers). You can keep a lot of gear on the deck thanks to the deck rigging rope, dry storage areas and bungees. The thighbraces and footbraces are really comfortable.
Pros: It’s designed to be nimble and responsive, allowing for easy maneuvering and turning in different water conditions.
Cons: I feel that the Delta14 doesn’t offer the same level of speed and efficiency as longer and narrower sea kayaks.
DAGGER STRATOS 14.5 S
MATERIAL: Rotomolted polyethylene
WEIGHT: 54 pounds
LENGTH: 14 ft. 6 in.
WIDTH: 23 in.
CAPACITY: 275 pounds
USE: Open water, rivers, and estuaries
Perfect for smaller paddlers, this model offers great tracking, stability, and control. It has an adjustable seat system, rugged construction, bow hatch, and large stern hatch to keep your gear dry, as well as an adjustable skeg system for better tracking in currents and wind.
Pros: I like that it’s quite a versatile kayak; it can be used for touring, day trips, and even multi-day expeditions.
Cons: If you compare it with the previous model, you’ll see that this kayak is a bit heavier. Also, it has a lower maximum capacity (275 lb instead of 340 lb).
DAGGER STRATOS 12.5 S
MATERIAL: Rotomolted polyethylene
WEIGHT: 53 pounds
LENGTH: 12 ft. 6 in.
WIDTH: 24.5 in.
CAPACITY: 250 pounds
USE: Sea, rivers, lake
A multi-purpose craft, playful on the sea and stable on a lake. A sporty model for fun on the water, it received an award for being the best recreational touring kayak. It has an optimized rocker for fast acceleration and speed. The seat system adjusts comfortably and the adjustable skeg improves tracking in windy conditions. It has bow and stern hatches.
If we compare this model with the previous model (Stratos 14.5), I feel that the Stratos 12.5 has been designed to be more playful than its larger sibling, while being equally forgiving for novice paddlers.
Advantages: It’s great for small- to medium-sized paddlers.
Disadvantages: It requires a bit more experience to use.
THE BEST OCEAN KAYAKS – TOP-END:
BOREAL BAFFIN P1
WEIGHT: 62 lbs. 6 oz.
LENGTH: 16 ft. 6 in.
WIDTH: 21.5 in.
CAPACITY: 240 pounds
USE: Sea, rivers
This model stands out from its competitors because it features an efficient design provides great acceleration, speed, and initial stability. Great storage space for long adventures. The midship features hard chines, while the tips are slightly rockered, which will help you make carved turns. There is a retractable skeg for better performance in crosswinds. It has a great weight for its size and provides plenty of room for your legs. In my experience, it feels very comfortable to paddle.
Pros: It performs really well. It’s a top-end kayak.
Cons: I wish it wasn’t so expensive.
MATERIAL: Thermoformed ABS
WEIGHT: 44 pounds
LENGTH: 15 ft.
WIDTH: 22 in.
CAPACITY: 270 pounds
USE: Sea and touring for any level of paddler
Great speed and stability thanks to the V-shaped hull, moderate chine, and rockered bow. Built with ultra-resistant thermoformed plastic for greater abrasion resistance and impact resistance. The seat provides fantastic comfort and is easily adjustable – you can move it back and forth to find the right fit. It features two roomy storage areas where you can keep your gear on longer trips. It’s perfect for medium sized and small paddlers.
Advantages: It provides great cruising speed and exceptional tracking.
Disadvantages: I feel that, when unloaded, it sits a bit high in the water. Also, I noticed that in choppy or rough conditions, it doesn’t cut through the waves as effectively.
EDDYLINE SITKA LT
WEIGHT: 49 pounds
LENGTH: 14 ft. 6 in.
WIDTH: 23.5 in.
CAPACITY: 350 pounds
USE: Sea and touring
This is the middle size in the series, which makes it a lightweight and easy-to-maneuver model for your sea or lake adventures. The tracking is great thanks to the retractable adjustable skeg and the V-shaped hull. The seat can move back and forth to provide a custom fit. There are roomy hatches for dry storage.
Pros: In my opinion, it’s perfect for the medium and large paddler looking for one boat that can do it all.
Cons: It can feel slightly tippy until you get used to it.
OTHER POPULAR TYPES:
Recreational: These models are designed for beginners or people who will use their kayaks in calm waters. They can include a closed cockpit. However, most feature a sit-on-top design.
Fishing: These models usually feature a sit-on-top seating system. They should provide great initial stability and they must be equipped with compartments in which to store fishing equipment and fishing rod holders.
Touring: These models tend to be longer and more stable. Because they are designed to be taken on long expeditions, they are equipped with large compartments to store plenty of gear.
Sit-on-top: They don’t include a cockpit because the seating system is open. The secondary stability that this type provides is not as good as that of closed designs; they are designed for calm waters such as mild rivers, estuaries, and lagoons.
THINGS TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT BEFORE CHOOSING YOUR MODEL:
LEVEL OF EXPERIENCE
Some designs are meant to provide more maneuverability and speed to your craft. However, you’ll need good skills to be able to ride in them.
If you are just starting out in the kayaking world, you will want to choose a model that is slightly wider and with good stability. Later, when you have gained some experience, you can think about trying advanced models.
The sinkage level indicates the weight that must be placed on the craft to make it sink an inch into the water. A high level indicates that the craft will have greater stability. If the level is too low and if you are navigating rough waters, more water is likely to get inside the craft.
FLAT WATER OR ROUGH WATER
Water conditions play a major role in choosing the right model. If you want to navigate calm rivers or lagoons, a basic sit-on-top kayak could be a good option because it is easy to maneuver as well as inexpensive.
If you’re planning to venture into the sea or rapids, you will need a model with a tighter cockpit and a V-shaped hull. This will help you maneuver through the waves and move around quickly.
PRIMARY AND SECONDARY STABILITY
The craft’s stability is expressed in two directly related terms: primary stability and secondary stability.
Primary stability indicates the kayak’s stability when it is resting in flat waters.
Secondary stability indicates the craft’s ability to remain stable when tipped on its side.
Some beginners think that they should look only for great primary stability. However, the most important thing is to know what kind of water you’re going to navigate. Then you can choose the right stability. Often, models that are stable in flat water are unstable in rough water and vice versa.
For instance, a fishing model must have a good primary stability that will allow you to relax throughout the activity. On the other hand, a sea kayak must have good secondary stability, especially if you will be paddling through rough water.
MATERIALS AND CONSTRUCTION
This is one of the most widely used materials because it’s lightweight, durable, and cheap. In addition, polyethylene is quite flexible and resistant, so it withstands impacts very well. While it can suffer significant degradation from the sun, so long as you take care of your kayak, you’ll be able to use it for many years.
These models feature a bright look similar to fiberglass. The surface has a smooth finish, which creates less water friction and improves speed. They are lighter than polyethylene models, although they aren’t as durable.
Fiberglass models provide great strength at minimum weight. They are not as impact-resistant as kayaks made of polyethylene but they are easier to repair if they take on a strong impact. Unfortunately, these models are usually quite expensive.
Composite is a mixture of different materials, including fiberglass, Kevlar, and carbon fiber, which form a high-quality final product. The layers of the different materials are overlapped and mixed using epoxy. Models built with composite materials provide greater resistance, durability, and rigidity. In addition, they are usually quite lightweight.
It’s pretty uncommon to find wooden crafts, though if they are designed well, they can offer great performance. Unfortunately, excellent skills and a significant amount of time are required to create these models, which makes them expensive and scarce.
The hull shape indicates the type of cross-section that the craft will have. This is an important factor affecting the final stability.
This is the most recommended shape for open-sea kayaking because it easily adapts to waves and strong currents. The V shape provides great secondary stability and tracking, which is really important for touring and ocean activities.
The round hull shape improves primary stability in flat water but is not recommended for the sea. Otherwise, you’ll feel like the kayak could tip over at any time. The exception to this is paddling around mangroves or in flat-water bays.
If the hull shape refers to the cross-section of the boat, the rocker indicates the shape of the craft in its longitudinal section. Those who are into skiing or snowboarding will likely know all about this.
In a rockered craft, the bow and stern lift off the horizontal plane (like the shape of a banana). The arc that forms over the water makes the endpoints less submerged, which improves the kayak’s ability to maneuver and make faster turns.
Having some rocker will improve performance when one is paddling in the sea. When it comes to touring models, not much rocker is recommended, as a means of reducing the “zigzag effect.”
The chine is the submerged part that shapes the transition between the bottom and sides of the kayak. The chines can take several forms but are generally classified as soft chines or hard chines.
Hard chines have a crease that separates the sides and bottom of the boat. These chines provide good primary stability and great speed.
Soft chines don’t feature any lateral crease, as the transition between the side and the bottom is more progressive. This type of chine provides great secondary stability, so it works very well in rough water. The main disadvantage is that it doesn’t provide as much speed as hard chines do.
If you take a look at the most popular types of kayaks, you’ll know which type of seat or cockpit is most recommended for each activity. Sit-on-top cockpits are designed to navigate in calm waters, for fishing, or for relaxing activities.
Ocean kayaks, on the other hand, have a relatively small cockpit. There should be enough space that you don’t experience claustrophobia but there should also not be too much free space. This reduces the amount of water entering the cockpit when one is handling waves. Models designed for paddling in calm waters or mangrove areas feature wider cockpits.
LENGTH AND WIDTH
Ocean kayaks tend to be longer than other models. For ocean activities, a length equal to or greater than 11 feet is recommended. This provides greater stability and makes it easier to paddle through the waves.
As for the width, you will find many options. Slightly wider models provide greater stability. Thus, they are the favorite option for those who are starting out. Designs that are less than 19.5 inches wide are not recommended because they could tip over more easily.
A good kayak shouldn’t be too heavy or too light. You want your craft to be lightweight and easy to move when you’re transporting it. However, it should also be heavy enough once it’s in the water. Otherwise, it would be strongly affected by weather and water conditions. A too-light model carrying a thin person on top can be very difficult to handle.
IS IT NECESSARY TO CARRY A PFD (LIFE JACKET)?
Safety regulations regarding paddling crafts such as canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddles vary from country to country. Some places have no regulations regarding this type of boat. However, many countries require the use of a life jacket or another inflatable safety device. Sometimes it’s mandatory that you wear the vest, while in other cases you simply need to have it on board.
If you are going to paddle in rough water, in which your chances of tipping over are much greater, it’s recommended that you wear a life jacket at all times.
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Hi, I’m Miguel; Adventure traveler, scuba diver and hiking lover. I have been traveling the world for the last 12 years and I hope my experiences, photos and hiking routes inspire you to travel the world too.