Best Kayak Brands For Fishing, Sea Kayaking, Touring & More

Paddling Buyer’s Guide

What makes a good kayak brand? The best kayak brands offer comfortable, efficient designs; well thought out, user-informed outfitting and accessories; durable, attractive construction; and integrated safety features—all while keeping the cost of their kayaks within the budget of their target paddlers.

Brand loyalty can be strong among kayakers. When people find a brand they like, they often stick with it. The top kayak brands make boats of varying sizes and shapes that fill different paddling niches and suit many types of paddlers. As paddlers upgrade or progress their skills, the same brand may offer more advanced models to continue that progression.

Some brands specialize in building kayaks with specific processes and materials like thermoformed plastics or ultralight composites. If they’ve been doing it for a while, you can be assured that they’ve nailed the construction.

There’s also merit in seeking out kayak brands that are steeped in the waters you’d like to paddle. This has been true since the inception of kayaks, when Inuit people used them for hunting and travel across the Arctic. Hundreds of years ago, Inuit kayak designs varied by where they were built.

East Greenland’s calmer waters resulted in low-profile designs that could silently stalk even the wariest of seals. West Greenland was subject to more wind and waves funneling through the Baffin Strait, and as a result, the kayaks built there had more upturned bows to cut through the rough seas.

Whether you aspire to paddle rugged ocean coastlines or quiet meandering rivers, consider what waters inform your potential kayak brand’s designs. For example, West Coast kayak brands like Delta and Seaward produce capable, high-volume coastal cruisers with spacious hatches for packing gear on extended trips.

Whitewater heritage influences river-ready recreational kayaks from Southeast brands Dagger and Jackson Adventures. Of course, with today’s global markets and paddlesports conglomerates, many of the top kayak brands cover a range of waters and paddling ambitions.

What will your kayak brand be? We’ve compiled everything you need to help narrow your search for the right brand, and find the perfect kayak to make your paddling dreams come true.

Shop kayak brands

If you’re ready to jump in, follow the links below to see what each brand has to offer. We’ve compiled all the best kayak brands in our comprehensive Paddling Buyer’s Guide, so you can compare specs, read reviews and discover where to buy—all in one easy place.

Explore kayak brands

Start exploring kayak brands based on the types of kayaks they make. Many brands make more than one style of kayak. If you already own a recreational kayak from a brand that also makes touring kayaks, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect in terms of seat systems and build quality. Often, a brand will also use the same material through all of their models.

Scroll down to find kayak brands sorted by kayak type, materials, user, price and country of origin. Click the links to begin exploring.

Sea kayak brands

Pedal driven kayak brands

Sit-on-top kayak brands

Whitewater kayak brands

Fishing kayak brands

Ocean kayak brands

River kayak brands

Kayak brands for beginners

Sit-in kayak brands

Inflatable kayak brands

Recreational kayak brands

Kayak brands for lakes

Fiberglass kayak brands

Folding kayak brands

Racing kayak brands

Tandem kayak brands

Thermoform kayak brands

Canadian kayak brands

Kayak brands made in USA

Coming soon

Kayak brands UK

Affordable kayak brands

Coming soon

Expensive kayak brands

Coming soon

Best kayak brands

What does it take for a brand to be considered “The Best?” It’s generally a combination of factors. Often, these brands build kayaks that excel at a particular type of paddling. Other brands make exceptionally comfortable or durable kayaks, which earns them a spot on this list.

Start browsing the best kayak brands using the links below. Each link takes you to articles about these kayak brands, including details on their top models and buying advice for new and used kayaks.

Best Kayak Brands

Best Kayak Brands By Type

How to choose a kayak brand

Before you ask, “What brand kayak should I buy?” consider this expert advice to ensure you get the best kayak for your paddling aspirations:

1 Define your needs

The first question you should be asking yourself is, “How and where do I want to kayak?” Are you looking to paddle casually for an hour or two on sheltered waters, or load your kayak for backcountry camping excursions? Your paddling style and ambitions will influence the type of kayak that best suits your needs, which in turn, will lead you toward the best kayak brand to choose.

In many ways, choosing a kayak brand is similar to choosing a car brand. Certain brands focus on reliability, while others emphasize speed, off-road capability or comfort. Just as Toyota makes vehicles that are of good quality and value, Lexus builds luxury vehicles with extra features (and higher price tags). Both brands are owned by the same corporation, but each meets a specific need.

This can be seen in kayak brands as well. For example, Perception and Wilderness Systems kayaks are both owned by Confluence Outdoors. Perception boats have less refined outfitting and land at a lower price. For a few hundred dollars more, Wilderness Systems kayaks boast more deluxe seating and extra features like additional hatches or bungees for better storage. Both kayak brands are great options, but they meet different users’ needs.

2 Know the kayak brands to avoid

Kayak brands to avoid include mass-market companies that sell poorly designed kayaks alongside the other beach toys they produce. These kayaks are generally found on the shelves of big-box retailers, and they are much cheaper (about a third of the price) than the kayaks you see in specialty paddle shops. If you only plan to paddle casually for an hour at the beach, cottage or campground, the price of these discount box-store brands makes them an attractive option.

But for a bit more money, you can get a kayak designed by a brand that understands the realities of kayaking. Subtle design changes reflect this knowledge, leading to a more comfortable, better-performing and safer kayak.

Physically trying out a kayak is the best way to ensure it fits and performs as expected. Head to a dedicated paddlesports shop or demo day at your local waterfront and feel for yourself the difference in a quality kayak from a reputable brand. It’s not just comfort and performance that matters here—safety is an important consideration as well, especially if you plan to paddle in anything but the most sheltered waters.

Cheap sit-inside recreational kayaks usually don’t have bulkheads (interior walls inside the hull, which ensure the kayak remains floating even if the cockpit fills with water). Instead, they put a piece of styrofoam in the back. This foam is not sufficient for flotation, and if the kayak fills with water, it becomes useless and may even sink.

3 Go with what they know

Many kayak brands carve out some sort of niche or specialization. They may use a specific material, or focus exclusively on one type of kayak (fishing kayaks, for example). If the brand has been around for a long time, they’ve had time to correct mistakes and tweak their designs.

The largest brands offer quality options in a variety of styles—recreational, touring, fishing—but if a niche brand decides to foray into a new genre one year, you should be a little skeptical until you see positive reviews from trusted sources.

4 Shop local

If a brand builds its boats in the USA or Canada, they’ll proudly state it on their website. While there are certainly quality brands built overseas, buying a boat made domestically is a reliable way to ensure your purchase supports a brand with a focus on sustainability and workmanship.

5 Looks are important

Let’s revisit the car brand analogy briefly. One major difference is that cars are often bought out of necessity, while a kayak is purely for fun. Driving a late-model Honda Civic is practical, sure, and it will get you from A to B. Your kayak should be more than that.

Don’t pass up a boat you love because you want to save a few hundred bucks. Years later, you probably won’t miss that money, and you’ll be glad you chose a kayak you love to paddle.

If you like the aesthetics of a kayak, but it doesn’t match the type of paddling you do or doesn’t fit quite right, look at other boats in the brand’s lineup. Most brands carry a range of sizes and designs.

6 Join the clubs

Buying certain brands of kayaks grants access to members’ clubs and support. Kayak brands like Hobie have an owners’ group where people can discuss repairs, modifications or just share stories about their experiences with the kayaks. Old Town kayak also fosters a community page where people share photos and stories.

Belonging to these groups can be helpful if you ever have specific questions about the kayaks. They also get paddlers connected by organizing social events and meetups throughout the country.

7 Keep an open mind

Shopping by brand is just one way to buy a kayak. You can also choose a kayak based on its features, by reading reviews, or test paddling and comparing boats from multiple brands. In fact, the latter is by far the most reliable way to find a kayak you’ll love.

You may also find the ideal kayak inadvertently. You may have a specific kayak model in mind, but with demand surging, it’s become difficult to find. Some distributors have already maxed out their pre-orders for the year, and if you want to get on the water, it will have to be in a different kayak brand.

Make note of the things you love about your dream boat, and then shop around. Few designs are unique to one brand; more often than not, there’s something similar available from a competitor. Reach out to your local paddling shop, tell them the model you had in mind, and they’ll show you other comparable options.


This content was made possible with the support of Ontario Creates.

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