Lakes are one of the most friendly environments you can choose for kayaking. Aside from whitewater kayaks, you’ll be able to operate most types of inflatable and rotomolded kayaks with ease on a lake.
That’s not to downplay the effects that wind can have on your ability to get home. Even though lakes are friendly for novice paddlers, proper planning and preparation are always important before you head out on the water.
However, the friendliness of lake environments has led us to include many different types and sizes of kayaks in our list of the best kayak for lakes. You’ll find inflatables, single-person kayaks, and tandems of both the sit-on-top and sit-inside varieties.
To help you choose a kayak for lakes, we’ve done our homework and supplied you with a list of 10 very different options. We’ve also provided recommendations to help you choose the right kayak for your needs, as well as a section with brief definitions of some important kayak jargon that you should become familiar with.
Table of Contents
- 1 Jargon Buster
- 2 Buying Guide
- 3 Best Kayak For Lakes
- 4 Our Pick – Ocean Kayak Malibu 11.5
When comparing kayaks, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the terms and features used in such comparisons. So let’s start by defining some of these key terms before we go any further.
Bow and Stern
These are the kayaking terms for the front and back of your boat, respectively. The bow is the front of your kayak (think bowing FORWARD as a sign of respect) and the stern is the rear of your kayak (this the face that your mom gives you when you want to take something BACK).
Gunwales are the kayak-appropriate jargon for the sides of your kayak. The height of a kayak’s gunwales is largely responsible for how dry the cockpit stays while you’re paddling.
This is often included on the deck (top) of the kayak and it allows you to strap or secure additional items to your kayak.
The cockpit of any kayak is where you sit to maneuver it. Sit-on-top kayaks generally have more open cockpits while sit-inside varieties have closed cockpits.
Unfortunately, there’s not really a one-size-fits-all kayak that works for every situation. In this Buying Guide, we’re going to help you prioritize different kayak features according to your preferences so that you can ultimately choose the best kayak for your needs.
Sit-On-Top Versus Sit-Inside
The first factor you can use to narrow down your choices is deciding whether a sit on top or sit-inside kayak makes more sense for you.
There are pros and cons to each type, depending on your skill level and how you plan to use your kayak.
If you’re a relatively novice paddler, a sit-on-top kayak is the best place to start. This type of kayak has the advantage of having scupper holes that allow water to naturally drain out of the cockpit if the boat capsizes and the cockpit fills with water.
This feature makes it much easier to climb back into a sit-on-top kayak if you fall out in deeper water. Because of their more open cockpit design, sit-on-top kayaks can also be a great choice for larger paddlers.
If you have a bit more kayaking experience and you want a kayak that can cover more distance, check out some of the sit-inside kayaks on our list. These kayaks are generally narrower and allow for higher straight-line speeds over distance.
Sit-inside kayaks are also a great choice for anyone that paddles in a wetter climate. This type of kayak is compatible with a spray skirt that keeps the cockpit (and the lower half of your body) free of water from waves or rainfall.
Inflatable Versus Rotomolded
Now that you’ve decided between a sit-inside or a sit-on-top kayak, you can further narrow down your choices by deciding between a rotomolded or an inflatable design. Inflatable kayaks have come a long way in the last decade, but there are still pros and cons to both of these kayak types.
Rotomolded kayaks tend to offer greater stability and performance than their inflatable counterparts. But, on the other side of things, these kayaks require more storage space at home and generally require more work to transport to and from the water.
Although you might sacrifice high-end performance if you opt for an inflatable kayak, these designs are much better for travelers or anyone that doesn’t have enough storage space for a rotomolded kayak at home.
Additionally, inflatables are usually more affordable than their rotomolded counterparts.
Single or Tandem
Obviously your choice should also consider whether you’re looking for a kayak just for yourself or for you and a partner. Tandem kayaking is a great way to test your relationship and some tandems even offer the ability to be set up for a single paddler if your partner bails.
When deciding between single or tandem kayaks, try to be realistic about everyone’s true desire to paddle. If your partner might not always want to go when you do, you might be better off opting for two single kayaks rather than a tandem.
Length and Width
The measurements of a kayak play a large role in stability, performance, comfort, and storage capacity. For starters, a wider kayak is generally going to be more stable than a skinnier model.
That being said, length and width should really be factored in together when assessing a kayak’s stability. For example, a longer kayak with the same width and as a shorter kayak is generally going to be less stable than the shorter design.
Longer kayaks generally offer better tracking ability and the capability to achieve higher top-end speeds. This is where performance comes into play and must be balanced with the need for stability in your decision-making process.
Additionally, a kayak that has more surface area will typically offer more storage capacity than a smaller kayak. This can come in the form of enclosed storage compartments or open storage areas with bungee rigging.
Larger length and width dimensions can also be a sign of a larger cockpit, which will be more comfortable for larger paddlers. The trade-off is less maneuverability if you’re a smaller paddler trying to muscle a larger kayak around.
It should also be noted here that hull design plays a big part in a kayak’s stability and performance. To gather more information about various hull designs and their significance, check out this article.
Best Kayak For Lakes
If you’re looking for a brand that’s trusted by many kayak guide companies and outfitters, Ocean Kayaks is impossible to overlook. The Ocean Kayaks Malibu 11.5 is a very popular kayak for rental companies and guiding outfits.
This kayak has a very adjustable seat that makes it easy for paddlers of many sizes to find a comfortable position. It also has multiple molded-in footrest positions to accommodate paddlers of varying heights.
Right in front of the seat, you’ll find a small, six-inch storage hatch and a water bottle holder that encourages you to stay hydrated on the water. Bungee rigging over the open storage areas in the bow and stern of the kayak gives you additional ability to secure gear and supplies.
As its name implies, the Ocean Kayaks Malibu 11.5 measures 11 feet and five inches long. It has a width measurement of 31 inches, a total weight of 59 pounds, and a maximum weight capacity of 360 pounds.
If you’re looking for a lake kayak suitable for a family with individuals of many different heights, check out the Lifetime Tioga kayak. This kayak has multiple molded-in footrest positions to accommodate paddlers of many heights.
For those that take this kayak out for multiple hours, you’ll enjoy a small storage hatch in the center for dry valuables. You’ll also be able to secure additional gear and supplies using the bungee rigging in the bow and stern of the kayak.
This is also a great lake kayak for beginners because the sit-on-top design features scupper holes for water drainage. This reduces water accumulation in the cockpit and also makes it easier to flip and re-enter this kayak if you happen to capsize.
The Lifetime Tioga kayak is 12-feet long and measures 31 inches across. The chine rail design on the hull makes this kayak extra stable and it boasts a maximum weight capacity of 275 pounds while weighing in at 50 pounds.
The SUNDOLPHIN Bali SS offers a distinct design that’s somewhat of a hybrid between a sit-on-top and sit-inside kayak. The cockpit is open but sunken so that the gunwales on either side are high.
This design reduces the amount of water that splashes into the cockpit while allowing for more stability than a traditional sit-inside kayak might offer. It also has two mesh pockets on either side of the cockpit for storing small items.
In the stern of the kayak, there’s a large storage hatch for dry gear. Additionally, there’s bungee rigging on top of the stern hatch and in the bow of the kayak that allows you to secure additional items that can get water splashed on them.
The Bali SS is a 10-foot lake kayak with a width of 30 inches. The sunken cockpit is 11 inches deep, the kayak weighs a total of just 44 pounds, and it offers a maximum weight capacity of 250 pounds.
Those in search of a sit-inside lake kayak should check out the Old Town Dirigo 106 for its useful combination of performance and storage capacity. This kayak is also compatible with a spray skirt in case you find yourself paddling in adverse weather conditions.
The stern hatch in this kayak is large enough to fit a medium-sized dry bag with your gear. So more intermediate or advanced paddlers can even use this kayak for overnight or multi-day paddle expeditions.
Inside the cockpit of this kayak, you’ll find thigh braces to keep your legs comfortable and a Glide Track foot brace system. This system gives you a place to push your feet up against so you can maintain an upright paddling position with your core muscles engaged.
The Old Town Dirigo 106 measures 10.5 feet long and 27.75 inches across. The cockpit dimensions are 38 by 18.5 inches and this kayak offers a maximum weight capacity of 300 pounds while weighing in at 42 pounds.
The Intex Challenger K1 Kayak is easily the most affordable lake kayak on our list. It’s an inflatable design made for a single paddler and it comes with a two-piece paddle and double-action pump.
Using the included pump, you’ll be able to inflate this kayak in less than 15 minutes. If you choose to get an electric pump instead, you’ll have it ready to put on the water even faster!
The design of this inflatable includes two air chambers so that it retains buoyancy if only one chamber is compromised by a puncture or tear. The inflatable I-beam floor also adds stability and improves the kayak’s performance on the water.
The Challenger K1 measures nine-feet long and 30 inches across. It has a maximum weight capacity of 220 pounds and one of these kayak’s best features is that it only weighs 27.2 pounds when fully inflated.
This is a great lake kayak for a single paddler that wants a lighter boat so it’s easier to handle on and offshore. The Emotion Kayaks Guster features a compact design with plenty of cockpit space for smaller paddlers.
The cockpit actually measures 38 inches by 19.5 inches and it’s compatible with a spray skirt if you paddle in places where it rains frequently.
The seatback is adjustable and thigh pads inside the cockpit keep the tops of your legs from rubbing or banging against the hard plastic.
In the stern of the kayak, you’ll find a storage hatch for keeping larger items. On top of that hatch, as well as on the bow deck of the kayak, there are bungee straps for securing additional gear.
The Emotion Kayaks Guster weighs a total of 48 pounds and has a maximum weight capacity of 275 pounds. This is a 10-foot kayak that measures 30 inches across and includes an ST Performance Hull design for better tracking and stability.
The Lifetime Beacon is a moderately priced tandem kayak for lake use. It features a sit-on-top design that makes it much easier to climb in and out of, whether you’re doing so from the shore or once you’ve hopped off the side to cool off in the water.
Each of the two seats in this kayak is adjustable so you can find a comfortable paddling position. Bungee straps in the bow and stern of the kayak give you a way to secure the essentials for a few hours on the water.
In front of each seat, there’s also a small storage hatch for storing valuables like keys, phones, and wallets. That said, we often recommend leaving these items behind or keeping them in a small dry bag because many storage hatches aren’t as “watertight” as the manufacturer might suggest.
This is a 12-foot kayak with a width of 32 inches. It weighs 90 pounds though, which is why they included a skeg wheel in the design to help you more easily transport this kayak from the car to the beach.
If you’re looking for a single-person inflatable kayak for casual lake paddling, check out the Sevylor Quikpak K5 kayak. This inflatable kayak offers a very enclosed cockpit to keep less water from entering.
For an inflatable kayak, this model actually boasts quite a bit of storage capacity. It has a covered storage area toward the stern of the kayak and two large bungee straps on the deck.
You’ll also be able to store additional gear between your legs in the cockpit if you need quick access to them. The kayak’s 24-gauge PVC construction is reinforced with a tarpaulin bottom and polyester cover to improve this kayak’s resistance to punctures and tears.
Although the Quikpak K5 won’t have you covering serious distance, it’s a great selection for recreational lake paddling. It also has the advantage of weighing only 25.5 pounds and being able to deflate and store in a more compact area than you’d ever be able to store a rotomolded kayak.
The Riot Kayaks Edge 13 is a great sit-inside kayak for anyone that wants to get into longer lake excursions. It has two storage areas in the bow and stern of the kayak for gear and plenty of straps for securing one of the best kayak deck bags.
The sit-inside design of this kayak means that it’s compatible with a spray skirt in case you want to close the cockpit in. This is a great option to keep in your back pocket if you happen to paddle anywhere with rain in the forecast.
Despite its name, this is actually a 13-foot, one-inch kayak with a width measuring 25 inches across. This narrow width can mean less stability for novice paddlers, but it also means more straight-line speed and easier tracking if you want to cover more distance.
The Riot Kayaks Edge 13 offers cockpit dimensions of 35.8 by 17.3 inches and a weight of 55.7 pounds. This kayak is rated to hold a maximum of 300 pounds and it includes a stern skeg system that further improves its tracking ability.
The TK122 tandem kayak from Brooklyn Kayak Company is a great selection for lake kayaking couples. One of the best features of this kayak is its raised aluminum seat frames.
The raised seats offer exceptional comfort, especially for taller individuals. This means you won’t have your knees cramped up into your chest once you’re sitting in the cockpit of the kayak.
While you don’t have to use them, this tandem kayak is outfitted with four fishing rod holders. It also has two paddle parks that allow you to keep your paddles secure as you relax in the sun or enjoy lunch right on your kayak.
The Brooklyn Kayak Company TK122 is 12.9-feet long and 34 inches wide. The kayak weighs a total of 77 pounds and boasts a maximum weight capacity of 770 pounds.
We’ve chosen the Ocean Kayak Malibu 11.5 as our pick for the best kayak for lakes. In large part, our selection is due to the fact that many lake-based guide companies utilize this Ocean Kayaks model for all of their guiding and rental needs.
This kayak is affordable and reliable. It boasts excellent stability for new kayaks while still being able to perform reasonably for those with more experience that want to cover ground on a full-day kayaking adventure.
While this kayak wouldn’t be our first choice for a multi-day lake kayaking excursion, it provides the stability to handle wind and waves if conditions change on a bigger lake.
This also makes it an excellent choice for those traveling to new lakes, as long as you have the ability to load your kayak onto your vehicle with relative ease.
Perhaps most importantly, the Ocean Kayaks Malibu 11.5 is a tough, durable kayak that’s going to last. It’s thick enough to handle bumping it against rocks and dragging it along the beach.
You’ll be able to rest assured knowing that this kayak isn’t going to break your budget and it’s going to be around for a while. Those are two of the biggest reasons why this is our top pick for the best kayak for lakes.