There’s nothing worse than investing in a new kayak that doesn’t perform the way you hoped it would. Worse yet, you just purchased a new kayak less than a year ago and it’s already broken or warped.
While we hope you’ve followed our recommendations for how to build a kayak storage shed somewhere on your property, the reality is that certain kayak brands just don’t hold up as well as others.
User reviews can be a great tool for seeing how well certain kayaks really perform, but aside from that, it’s really important to know which kayak brands to avoid. So that’s exactly why we’ve written this article for you.
We don’t mean to throw anyone under the bus here, but we’ve chosen the 5 worst kayak brands to avoid and chronicled them here.
We’ve also provided a comprehensive buying guide to help you choose a quality kayak for all of your upcoming adventures.
Table of Contents
- 1 Jargon Buster
- 2 Buying Guide
- 3 Five Worst Kayak Brands
- 4 A Kayak Brand You Can Trust – Pelican
- 5 Enjoyed Worst Kayak Brands To Avoid? Share it with your friends so they too can follow the Kayak help journey.
Choosing a quality kayak requires some basic knowledge of how kayaks are constructed and what features are really important. So before we get into our Buying Guide, let’s define some key kayaking terminology that you’ll encounter as you read on.
Bow and Stern
Let’s start with the cardinal directions of your kayak. The bow is the term for the front of your kayak and stern is used to describe the back portion of a kayak.
To put it simply, the hull is the bottom of your kayak. The design of a kayak’s hull plays a large roll in how well it performs in various conditions.
A keel is something that may or may not be included on the bottom of a kayak’s hull. It’s a fin-like protrusion that impacts how well the kayak stays straight (or doesn’t!) when you’re paddling.
Scupper holes are holes that are intentionally included in the hull design of a kayak. They allow water that enters the cockpit to drain out naturally, which makes it easier to right and re-enter a kayak, but they are common only to sit on top kayaks.
The cockpit is where you sit in a kayak to paddle. In terms of size, most sit-inside kayaks have smaller cockpit areas than their sit on top counterparts.
A rudder sometimes comes on the back of a sit-inside kayak or can be installed as an aftermarket part. A rudder can either be operated by hand or by foot pedals and it will help the kayak track straighter in windy conditions or heavy currents.
Buying a kayak can be a complex process if you’re new to it. So in this Buying Guide, we’re going to cover all of the factors you need to consider to narrow down your choices and choose a kayak that is best suited to your specific needs.
Sit On Top Versus Sit Inside
The first major decision to make when you’re buying a new kayak is whether you need a sit on top kayak or a sit-inside kayak. Each has its own specific use and comes with pros and cons that you should be aware of.
Sit on top kayaks are more commonly used for beginners, which is why you’ll find most recreational kayaks boasting this design. They have scupper holes in the hull to allow water to drain naturally and make it easier to climb back in if you capsize.
They also have a larger, more open cockpit that allows paddlers of varying heights and weights to get comfortable without feeling like you’re squeezed into a small cockpit that makes you feel a bit claustrophobic.
The downsides of sit on top kayaks include lower top-end speeds, a wetter paddling experience, and less straight-line tracking ability. They do make up for their lack of speed, however, by being reasonably easy to maneuver even if you’re just learning how to paddle a kayak.
On the other hand, sit inside kayaks will keep you drier while you’re paddling, which is why they’re often used in wetter climates and for ocean kayaking. They also give you the ability to add one of the best spray skirts to keep your legs (and the entire cockpit) dry and warm.
Sit inside kayaks also tend to achieve higher top-end speeds and track straighter over longer distances. The best sit inside kayaks even come with a stern rudder that gives you even greater ability to keep them pointed in the direction you’re actually trying to paddle.
But sit inside kayaks can often be difficult for beginners to balance in. They tend to be narrower than their sit on top counterparts and they have smaller cockpits that require a bit more technical skills to climb back into if you capsize.
Additionally, sit inside kayaks don’t have scupper holes that allow water to drain naturally if it does enter the cockpit. So this means you’ll always need to have one of the best kayak bilge pumps (and also a sponge) on hand to empty the cockpit if it gets wet.
Inflatable Versus Hard Shell
The next choice you’ll need to make is whether you want an inflatable or a hard-shell kayak. Just like choosing between sit on top and sit inside kayaks, there are pros and cons to choosing an inflatable or a hard-shell kayak.
In recent years, inflatable technology has greatly improved to allow inflatable kayaks to perform more closely to how their hard-shell counterparts perform.
However, it’s widely known that most inflatable kayaks don’t track as well or achieve the kind of top-end speeds as a hard-shell kayak.
Inflatables do have the advantage of being much lighter than hard-shell kayaks though.
This makes them easier to transport to and from the water and, when you’re done paddling, they deflate and store in an infinitely more compact space than any hard-shell kayak ever will.
All that being said, hard-shell kayaks are generally more durable and longer-lasting than their inflatable counterparts. They also perform better on the water and are less susceptible to being blown off-course by heavy winds.
While both types of kayaks need to be stored properly when not in use, hard-shell kayaks tend to be less likely to accumulate mold or mildew when left unattended.
This can sometimes be a problem if your inflatables aren’t properly dried before being stored in their bag or box.
The major downsides to hard-shell kayaks are transportation and storage. They are almost always going to be heavier than an inflatable kayak and they also require more storage space at home when you’re not using them.
Additionally, you’ll need some sort of roof rack or kayak trailer to transport a hard-shell kayak, whereas inflatables can typically be transported in the back of your vehicle when they’re deflated.
Length and Width
The length and width of a kayak will dictate stability and comfort. It should be obvious that larger individuals should look for a longer and wider kayak design so that you can feel comfortable and stable inside.
Combined with hull design, a kayak’s length and width also determine its performance. Longer, narrower kayaks are faster (but less stable) while shorter, wider kayaks are more maneuverable (but slower).
There are four basic kayak hull designs that you’ll need to decide between when you’re choosing a new kayak. They include the V-shaped hull, flat hull, pontoon hull, and the rounded hull.
Most high-performance kayaks have a V-shaped hull because they minimize drag and also improve tracking ability.
Kayaks with flat hulls are more common to whitewater paddling because they are super maneuverable and responsive to your paddle strokes.
Most recreational kayaks will either boast a pontoon hull or a rounded hull. These hull designs offer great stability but sometimes require a compromise in terms of overall speed and responsiveness.
The exact hull design that’s best for you depends on whether you’re interested in long-distance touring (V-shaped hull), whitewater paddling (flat hull), kayak fishing (pontoon hull), or recreational paddling (pontoon or rounded hull).
It’s also important to look at the amount of storage capacity on a given kayak. While you might not initially think you’ll need to bring a lot of gear along on your paddles, time may change your mind as you fall deeper in love with the sport of kayaking.
A kayak with quality storage capacity will offer both open storage compartments and sealed, watertight hatches. This gives you plenty of space for dry storage while also being able to keep certain items accessible above the deck.
Keep in mind that not all kayak storage hatches are as watertight as the manufacturer might claim.
So if you really have sensitive gear or clothing that can’t get wet while you’re paddling, we recommend outfitting your kayak with one of the best kayak deck bags.
Whether your interest is in whitewater padding, long-distance touring, kayak fishing, or simply recreational use, kayaks these days are very specifically designed to fit the precise application that you want to use them for.
The problem with this is that many beginners are still learning which type of paddling they favor. So when you’re just starting out, it’s really important that you choose a kayak that offers a high degree of versatility.
This requires finding a balance between stability and performance. You want a kayak that’s going to keep you upright in windy or wavy conditions, but you also want something that’s going to make decent time if you’re paddling all day.
If you’re a beginner, we recommend narrowing your search down to kayaks that are labeled for recreational use.
These typically give you the most versatility when you’re just starting out because they’re stable enough to handle unforgiving weather but they also perform decently over distance.
If you already know that you’re most interested in fishing, touring, or whitewater paddling, on the other hand, it’s always worth investing in a kayak that’s made for your intended purpose right off the bat.
This will save you time and also speed up your learning curve in the long-term.
The weight of a kayak should also be considered before you finalize a purchase. For beginners, the hardest part about getting into kayaking is often learning how to transport the kayak (and all its accompanying gear) to and from the water.
Depending on where you plan to do most of your paddling, the weight of a kayak could be more or less important to you.
If, for example, you have a lake house where you can keep your kayak regularly stored on a dock, then you can get something a little heavier because you won’t have to move it very far when you’re ready to paddle.
On the other hand, if you live several miles from the closest body of water, you’ll need to load your kayak onto a J-rack or some other type of trailer every time you want to go out. That makes having a lighter kayak much easier.
It will also reduce the amount of time you spend loading and unloading your kayak so you can actually spend more time on the water. As a good rule-of-thumb, try to find a new kayak that weighs somewhere between 40 and 60 pounds.
But if you have to go heavier, make sure you consider getting one of the best kayak carts to go along with it. This will make it easy to roll your kayak down to the water and save your muscles for when it’s actually time to paddle!
Brand names can tell you a lot about the quality of construction in a certain kayak. New brands are sometimes attractive because they claim advancements and innovation that older brands don’t.
But there’s an old saying that applies to this situation (and many others): “If it ain’t broke, there’s no need to fix it!” Kayak brands that have been doing it for more than 50 years have perfected their manufacturing process at this point.
Brands that have built a trusted reputation in the kayak industry haven’t achieved that reputation by accident. They make great kayaks that perform well, last long, and are super comfortable to spend multiple hours paddling in.
For our money, some of the best and most-trusted kayak brands in the industry today include Perception Kayaks, Pelican Kayaks, and Ocean Kayak. If you’re looking for one of the best inflatable kayaks, you won’t go wrong with
Advanced Elements, Sea Eagle, or Sevylor.
Ultimately, purchasing a quality kayak the first time around is going to require a larger upfront investment than you might be prepared for.
But you have to factor in how long your kayak is expected to last and the repair/maintenance costs that often come along with buying a cheaper kayak.
In general, we recommend spending somewhere between $600 and $2000 for a new kayak. We know this is a large range, but your ultimate choice will depend on the number of other factors we’ve listed above.
Five Worst Kayak Brands
WaveSport makes a variety of kayaks for all applications. But their user reviews don’t necessarily sing praises of great performance and exceptional long-term durability.
Many users claim that their whitewater kayaks are very slow and difficult to roll when needed. For whitewater specifically, users also reported that these kayaks didn’t hold their line as well as many others.
The main complaint about WaveSport, however, is the extremely slow speed of their kayaks. So while they might be alright for beginners, they aren’t the greatest kayak brand for a boat that’s going to perform well as your experience level grows.
There’s a reason why Sundolphin’s kayaks are always among the cheapest options available on the market.
They might be decent enough for irregular use if you store one at your second home, but you’ll never want a Sundolphin kayak for daily use or longer paddle trips.
Comfort is also a common issue with Sundolphin kayaks, as they don’t include bottom seat cushions. This can irritate your backside if you’re trying to use a Sundolphin kayak for a long day of paddling.
Additionally, these kayaks tend to have relatively low weight capacities. This makes them suitable for kids, teens, and small adults, but they’re certainly limited in their ability to offer a comfortable paddling experience for a wide range of body types.
3. L.L. Bean
When you hear the name L.L. Bean, are kayaks really the first thing you think of? Well, that’s definitely not the case for us, and we have a hard time trusting a company that doesn’t make producing high-quality kayaks it’s first (and maybe even only!) priority.
It’s worth noting that many of L.L. Bean’s kayak products have now been discontinued, which should be a sign in and of itself that making great kayaks wasn’t this brand’s primary concern.
Unfortunately, users of these kayaks have reported that they are relatively slow and don’t track very well because of the lack of a keel.
While they might be suitable for the beginner who only paddles on rare occasions, these aren’t worth investing in if you plan to make kayaking a more serious hobby.
While these kayaks might look cool to the uninformed buyer, foldable kayaks are still really new to the kayak market in general. Aside from Oru Kayak, there aren’t many trusted brands in the foldable kayak industry yet.
Tucktec does make some intriguing designs, but users have complained about the amount of time they require to set up once you’re at the water.
With any folding kayak, there’s going to be a little more setup time involved to make sure the design is watertight.
But folks have also noted that these kayaks aren’t very stable in rough waters. So while they might be decent enough for super calm lakes and rivers, they won’t give you much versatility to paddle on other bodies of water.
5. Field & Stream
There’s a reason why the name of this kayak company sounds more like a magazine producer than a kayak manufacturer. And that’s exactly because they are a magazine producer!
While many anglers, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts trust Field & Stream for informative articles on all things outdoors, their kayaks, unfortunately, don’t have the best track records.
Many users have reported issues with handles falling off and screws loosening quickly after just a few uses.
The worst part is that many have experienced less-than-satisfactory customer service when they tried to reach out to Field & Stream directly about these issues.
A Kayak Brand You Can Trust – Pelican
Pelican is one of the most trustworthy kayak brands on the market today. Their kayaks are a great choice for beginners because they are affordable and durable enough to handle a few mistakes when you’re starting out.
With many hard-shell kayaks, dents are nearly impossible to pop out if you happen to drop your kayak or hit it against a rock. But Pelican sought to correct that very issue when they designed their kayaks.
All of their models use a patented RAM-X Technology that makes the kayak much easier to pop back into place if it gets dented. This technology also makes Pelican kayaks less likely to crack if they suffer heavy impacts.
Pelican offers a number of designs, including sit on top and sit inside kayaks. They also make kayaks that are specifically designed for fishing, touring, recreational use, and other common kayaking applications.
They also make some of the lightest hard-shell kayaks that you’ll find out there. For beginners, having a lighter kayak is a great advantage because you won’t get frustrated just moving your kayak around.
And finally, Pelican also manufactures tandem kayaks if you want something you can paddle with a partner. If you want more information about this great kayak brand, check out our full Pelican Kayak Review!