You don’t have to break the bank to get into kayaking. There are plenty of cheap kayaks on the market that will grant you painless entry into the paddling world. Recreational kayaks best suit the needs of both entry-level paddlers and those working within a conservative budget. For that reason, the focus of this article will largely be on recreational kayaks that fall under the $500 mark.
Keep in mind that more specialized types of kayaks beyond recreational have higher price tags on average, and so even their cheapest models will be priced higher than $500. That being said, the points below can be applied generally to all boats that fall on the cheaper end of the spectrum for a given type of kayak.
So, are you wondering what to look for in an affordable kayak? We’ve polled experts to help answer all your questions about what to look for in a good budget-friendly kayak, including their strengths, weaknesses, typical user and where to find the best selection and prices.
Top picks: Best cheap kayaks for 2023
Best Kayaks Under $500
Aruba 12 ss
Argo 100XP Angler
Marquette 10 Angler
Shop cheap kayaks
Our Paddling Buyer’s Guide includes reviews of every cheap kayak on the market and you’ll find plenty of links to specific boats below—conveniently arranged in a variety of categories. You’ll find in-depth reviews and head-to-head comparisons, along with specs, prices and where to buy.
Note that while this article mainly focuses on kayaks that are less than $500, some types of kayaks or brands lack offerings at this price point. In these cases, we have provided the boats that are considered “cheap” according to the standards of the market for that type of kayak or brand.
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Cheap recreational kayaks
Cheap crossover kayaks
Cheap whitewater kayaks
Cheap touring kayaks
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Cheap kayaks with motors
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Cheap solo kayaks
Cheap clear kayaks
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Cheap inflatable kayaks
Best cheap kayaks by body of water
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Best cheap kayaks
Are you looking for the very best cheap kayak? This section includes our top picks for the most popular brands and types of cheap kayaks (including fishing kayaks, sit-on-tops and sit-inside recreational boats), as well as what you’ll find at the most popular stores.
- Best TSC Kayaks For 2023
- Best Bass Pro Kayaks For 2023
- Best Walmart Kayaks For 2023
- Best Academy Sports Kayaks For 2023
- Best Dick’s Sporting Goods Kayaks For 2023
- Best Dunham’s Kayaks For 2023
- Best Costco Kayaks For 2023
Shopping for cheap used kayaks
There are lots of good cheap kayaks on the new and used market. The considerations of what is a good cheap kayak are the same whether you’re buying used from a paddling shop or privately. Of course, your first step is to do a bit of homework on the specific attributes of the make and model of kayak you’re considering; our Paddling Buyer’s Guide is a great place to start.
Once you’ve narrowed down your selection to a few cheap used kayaks, heed the following advice to get the best boat for your buck.
Don’t buy a piece of junk, unless the price is too good to pass up! Examine the deck and hull of the kayak for deep gouges more than 1/8th of an inch or 3 mm deep; obvious abrasion (especially if the worn areas are a different color from the rest of the kayak); deformities (which will make the kayak paddle less efficiently); and fading (indicating prolonged exposure to the elements).
Remember, plastic kayaks are extremely durable and able to withstand plenty of abuse; some damage is fine, especially if the shape of the kayak remains intact.
Outfitting elements are found at the places where the paddler’s body touches the kayak—think seat, back support, thigh rests and footrests. Is everything included with the cheap used kayak? Sit in the boat before you buy it and make sure you feel comfortable. A supportive and padded seat is obvious; make sure you also check the adjustability of the kayak’s footrests and back support, both of which are essential for more efficient and ergonomic paddling.
One of the drawbacks of many cheap kayaks is substandard outfitting. Take a close look and consider investing in a more expensive kayak if you plan on more serious paddling. Outfitting is easily modified with some glue, foam and DIY time so, if you’re handy, consider any upgrades you could make.
On the water
It’s always best to try before you buy to make sure the kayak fits and performs as you expect. Arrange a meeting place with the seller that allows you to take a few moments on the water. Bring your usual paddle and dress in what you plan to wear while paddling.
Make a deal
In general (that is, before Covid-19) the typical starting point for a used kayak in moderate condition was about half its retail price. Boat shortages brought on by the pandemic have changed that, but you can use it as a starting point in haggling for an acceptable price.
Add some accessories
Ask the seller if they’re willing to throw in a paddle, sprayskirt or PFD (make sure it fits and is Coast Guard-approved for the location you’ll be paddling). Or, maybe you can save a few dollars if you have your own paddling gear.
For more tips on what to look for when selecting a used kayak, read our article on How To Buy A Used Kayak.
How to get a cheap kayak
Wondering what you need to know when looking for a cheap kayak? That simple question is often a starting point for so many more. Here are expert answers to the most common questions for those looking to buy a cheap kayak.
Where to buy cheap kayaks
Look no further than big box stores if you’re wondering where to get cheap kayaks. Outlets like Walmart, Dunham’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Canadian Tire and Academy Sports all sell cheap kayaks. With so many prospective buyers searching “Where can I get a cheap kayak” these large distributors are sure to turn up first on Google.
At the same time, big box stores sell a lot of junky kayaks and the sales staff often lack expertise. Take a look at paddling specialty stores if you’re more serious about paddling and want expert advice on buying a cheap kayak that best meets your needs.
Cheap kayaks online
It’s also possible to find cheap kayaks online. Check out Amazon if you’re looking for a new kayak, especially if you have a specific model in mind. Of course, online is also the best spot to find cheap used kayaks; search buy-and-sell platforms like Craigslist, Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace.
How much is a cheap kayak?
For the purpose of this article, a “cheap kayak” is under $500, since it’s specific to entry-level kayaks. However, cheap is a relative term and prices go up along with performance and quality (often related to considerations like length, construction and materials)—a bargain price light touring kayak will sell for $1,000 or less and a cheap sea kayak is under $1,500.
Are kayaks cheaper in winter?
In general, you’ll find better deals on last year’s stock and used kayaks if you’re shopping in the winter months—however, selection will be limited. Supply shortages brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic have upended this trend; kayaking is popular right now and it’s a seller’s market regardless of the time of year.
Best cheap kayak brands
The easiest way to find the best cheap kayak brands is to look to the manufacturers of higher-end, light-touring and sea kayaks and scan their price lists for the cheapest models. Browse paddling specialty shops and talk to experts to find what’s right for you.
In general, manufacturers of high-end kayaks like Wilderness Systems, Perception, Dagger and Delta will incorporate better performance features, design and outfitting in their cheaper models—however the price will be somewhat higher than the mass-produced kayaks available at big box stores.
If you’re on a tight budget and must shop at a big box store, it’s best to choose a kayak that’s made in North America. Our Paddling Buyer’s Guide will set you on the right course.
Cheap vs expensive kayaks
There are big differences between cheap and expensive kayaks. Performance is the obvious place to begin. Cheap kayaks are often mass-produced, sometimes even shaped for the most economical transportation or display options in big box stores (rather than for paddling efficiency).
Expensive kayaks, on the other hand, are carefully designed and tested before going to market to achieve certain performance goals. Similarly, cheap kayaks often feature bare-bones or cheaply made seats, back supports, thigh braces and footrests—key pieces of outfitting that connect the paddler and boat. The old adage, “buy the best you can afford” is a good tenet to live by when shopping for a kayak. There are some exceptions, but most often you get what you pay for.
Cheap kayak reviews
Maybe your cursory online searching has yielded a short list of kayak results? Or perhaps you’re standing in the aisle of a big box store, facing a wall of choices and turning to your phone and Googling, “What is a good cheap kayak” to buy.
Our cheap kayak reviews are your best online resource for complete specifications, design features and impartial criticism of the strengths and weaknesses of dozens of cheap recreational kayaks, including head-to-head comparisons and lists of the best kayaks depending on your paddling aspirations.
- Fishing Kayak Review: SeaStream Angler 120 PD
- Recreational Kayak Review: Perception Swifty Deluxe 9.5
- Inflatable Recreational Kayak Review: Intex Challenger K1
- Fishing Kayak Review: Sun Dolphin Journey 10
- Recreational Kayak Review: Pelican Trailblazer 100 NXT
- Fishing Kayak Review: Sun Dolphin Boss 12 SS
- Inflatable Kayak Review: Sevylor Colorado
- Recreational Kayak Review: Sun Dolphin Aruba 10
- Fishing Kayak Review: Pelican Mustang 100x
- Fishing Kayak Review: Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100