Best Kayak Brands (+ Is There Any Brand to Avoid?)

I’ve written several articles about different types of kayaks. In the course of writing those articles, I researched and tested several kayak brands and I included only the best kayak brands in my articles.

The kayaking world is rapidly increasing and new kayak brands are popping up left and right. This is a good thing in the sense that increased competition brings out innovations and that kayaks may become more affordable than they already are.

However, there are kayak brands that have been around for so many years and have been producing high-quality vessels. I try to keep up with new kayak brands but there are existing brands that one can be assured of the quality of their kayaks.

This article focuses on the best kayak brands available on the market today. You’ll find a brief overview of each kayak brand and why I included the brand on this list. Also, you’ll find recommendations about kayaks to buy from each brand. So here we go.

Why Buy a Branded Kayak?

You already know there are different types of kayaks such as sit-on-top kayaks, sit-inside kayaks, inflatable kayaks, foldable kayaks, touring kayaks, whitewater kayaks, and so on. And with so many types of kayaks, one doesn’t have to be a genius to deduce that there are going to be several kayak manufacturers on the market.

A branded kayak is a kayak that’s produced by a well-known manufacturer and has the manufacturer’s label on it. There are benefits to buying a branded kayak and they include:

Well Known/Reputable Manufacturer

The manufacturers of the best branded kayaks on the market have been in the kayaking niche for years. Some have been around for decades and have won the trust of the kayaking community by consistently producing high-quality products.

A good reputation is something that takes years to build but can be lost in a very short time. These kayak brands know this and always strive to maintain the good reputation they’ve spent several years building.

So, buying a branded kayak is an assurance of quality and you know you are getting a product you’ll be using for a long time.

Safety Regulations

There are several national and international safety standards when it comes to the production of kayaks. And the truth is that you can’t know which manufacturer compiled with these standards just by looking at kayaks.

However, one can be almost certain that a branded kayak adheres to stipulated safety standards.

A reputable manufacturer will not cut corners to make their product cheap but using inferior or substandard materials or not carrying out the proper tests after production.

Warranties

Not all manufacturers offer warranties and the reason is that not all manufacturers can comfortably stand behind their products. A warranty tells you a lot about a brand’s confidence in its products as well as how much the brand cares about its customers.

Kayaks can set you back a bit and you’d want to have protection against defective products. And branded kayaks will offer you this by having warranties and providing necessary replacements if need be.

Best kayak brands - Pelican

10 Best Kayak Brands Overall

There are several quality branded kayaks on the market. I’ve reviewed several kayaks from most of these brands in my many review articles about different types of kayaks.

Below you’ll find the best kayak brands on the market in no particular order.

Perception

Perception is one of the oldest kayak brands on the market having been around for over four decades. On their website, Perception proudly says, “FOR OVER 40 YEARS, PERCEPTION KAYAKS HAS INTRODUCED MORE PEOPLE TO PADDLING THAN ANY OTHER KAYAK MAKER.” That’s the statement of a brand that’s confident in itself.

Perception doesn’t need any introduction in the paddling community and the brand produces almost every type of kayak from sit-inside kayaks to sit-on-top kayaks, tandem kayaks, fishing kayaks, and so on. They even have pedal kayaks! The only type of kayak Perception that doesn’t produce is white water kayak.

To give you an idea of how relevant Perception is in the paddling community, the very first rotomolded kayak was produced by Perception in 1977. I’m talking about a brand that’s behind some of the greatest innovations in the kayaking industry. Long live Perception.

Pelican

A subsidiary of Pelican International Company, Pelican Sport was established in 1968 and is known as one of the best manufacturers of water sports accessories such as kayaks, boats, paddleboards, winter sleds, and other accompanying accessories. But hey, I’m concerned about kayaks in this article.

Pelican has gained a reputation for manufacturing some of the lightest kayaks on the market. The brand is able to achieve this thanks to its proprietary RAM-X™ technology. As a result, some of the highest recreational and fishing yaks on the market today are made by Pelican.

The reduced weight of Pelican kayaks is advantageous to smaller paddlers or those who want a lightweight vessel they can manage on their own when loading the kayak in their car or carrying it from their parking spot to their launch spot.

In addition to recreational and fishing kayaks, Pelican also manufactures touring kayaks and they have both sit-inside and sit-on-top kayak models.

Wilderness Systems

Since 1986, South Carolina-based Wilderness Systems has been producing high-quality kayaks and has been recognized for it through multiple awards. The Wilderness System team is made up of outdoor enthusiasts like you that love to get a break from this chaotic world and enjoy the tranquility and beautiful scenery kayaking offers in spades.

Kayaks from Wilderness Systems are typically cool (wickedly cool, I might add), comfortable, lightweight, and stable while being rugged enough to handle the wilderness. And the brand has several upper-end touring and recreational kayaks on its portfolio.

BKC

Brooklyn Kayak Company (BKC) is one of the best kayak brands available today. The company’s About Page says – “From built-in waterproof storage compartments to paddles and seats included with every purchase, we tried to think of everything we would want in a kayak ourselves … without adding extra costs … if some other brand was making kayaks this good at prices these fair, we never would have opened shop.”

The above statement sums up everything about BKC kayaks as the company offers kayaks with high-end features at an affordable price. Perhaps I should quickly tell you what led to the establishment of the brand.

You see, the founders of BKC founded the company after they decided that the type of kayak they wanted didn’t exist. What were the founders looking for? They were after a standard fishing kayak with an excellent combination of stability and durability that’s also affordable.

When the founders couldn’t find such a kayak, they decided to create one, and hence the company BKC was born.

Lifetime

The goal of Lifetime is to produce kayaks that will last you a lifetime. The brand also intends to make its kayaks affordable. Affordable and durable products that can last a long time? Seems life Lifetime is promising a lot.

But it’s safe to say the company has largely succeeded to achieve its vision as Lifetime products are among the most affordable, durable, and highest performing kayaks on the market.

I like that Lifetime also produces kayaks making kayaking a sport for all. Using high-density polyethylene for most of their products, many Lifetime kayaks are lightweight which offers a number of benefits to paddlers.

Best kayak brands - Hobie

Hobie

Hobie’s slogan goes as thus- “Hobie didn’t invent the kayak. We perfected it.” Hobie’s root can be traced all the way back to its founder, Hobie Alter, who wanted to apply his life of woodworking to surfboard. It wasn’t until the ’60s before Hobie started working on boats and that was the beginning of something that was going to become big.

The brand has produced some classic kayak designs and some of their best products include innovative pedal-driven kayaks, kayaks featuring some of the best deck features as well as vessels that have the ability to sail.

Today, Hobie is recognized as one the best kayak brands available on the market.

Ocean

Ocean kayak has been gobbled up by Johnson Outdoors, a move that seems to be beneficial to both brands. The origin of Ocean Kayak is a rather interesting one as the founders established the company due to their love for scuba diving and riding waves.

It wasn’t until the mid-80s before Ocean took a look at kayaks. The company now operates from Old Town, Maine, and is now popular for producing some of the best sit-on-top kayaks on the market. Ocean’s sit-on-top kayaks are ideal for beginners as they are very stable and easy to enter or exit.

The brand also has a couple of fishing kayaks, tandem kayaks, and a pedal kayak in its portfolio.

Sevylor

The story of Sevylor is similar to some of the other brands I discussed above since they didn’t start with the production of kayaks but worked their way to it. Sevylor started in 1948 with the production of manufacturing electrical accessories and it was when the company stumbled upon a specific PVC-handling process that they produced their first inflatable product.

Today, Sevylor is one of the best producers of inflatable kayaks, pool floats, inflatable boats, and other air-filled outdoor/recreational products. But I’m concerned about their inflatable kayaks as they are of superb quality. I’ve even received a couple of their products in my article about the best inflatable kayaks.

Another thing I like about Sevylor inflatable kayaks is their affordability especially when you consider the quality of the kayaks. It’s also an open secret that Sevylor guarantees the quality of their products by ensuring that every single kayak is NMMA (National Marine Manufacturers Association) certified.

Malibu

I move to Malibu, another reputable kayak brand that I can’t just look past. Malibu started as a kayak retailer. In 1999, Malibu became a kayak manufacturer when it produced its first kayak, the Pro Explorer.

Malibu started manufacturing kayaks because it thought it could produce better kayaks than those that were available then. And the brand sought to do this by coming up with different innovations to improve kayaks and consequently kayaking experience.

Malibu’s innovation is evident in the first kayak it ever produced as the Pro Explorer incorporated features such as dry seating, versatility, and primary stability. I’ll have you know that these features weren’t common among sit-on-top kayaks then.

The brand has grown from strength to strength over the past years and is now producing sit inside kayaks with some of the features of sit on top kayaks. Oh, and did I mention that Malibu’s kayaks are affordable relative to the features you’ll be getting? Now you know.

Vibe Kayaks

Start vibing on the water with a vibe kayak, buddy. Established in 2013, Vibe is a young brand that has managed to penetrate the kayak market thanks to innovation.

As a young brand, Vibe needed to do something different to stand out and the brand was able to do this just fine. Vibe focused on producing quality recreational and fishing kayaks for both beginner and experienced paddlers. Their motto, “No Drama. Just Adventure – For Everyone” sums up everything the brand is all about.

Best kayak brands - Ocean kayak

Best Kayak Brands Depending on Kayak Types

As you know, there are different types of kayaks. Some brands have developed expertise in producing a particular type or type of kayaks. This section focuses on different types of kayaks and the best brands that produce each type of kayak.

Sit-on-top kayaks: Sit-on-top kayaks are a type of kayak that doesn’t have an enclosed seat. SOTs are wider, very stable, and easy to enter and exit, features that make SOTs ideal for beginner paddlers.

SOTs are also ideal for use in warm weather since the lack of an enclosed cockpit means you are exposed to the elements which will help cool you down.

The best brands for SOTs are Pelican, Perception, Wilderness Systems, and Lifetime.

Inflatable kayaks: are typically made of a PVC or similar material and are inflated before use. When deflated, inflatable kayaks are about the size of a small backpack making them easy to transport and store.

There are many good manufacturers of inflatable kayaks but the very best are Intex, Advanced Elements, Driftsun, and Sevylor.

Folding kayaks: Folding kayaks, as the name implies, can be folded into a convenient carrying case for easy transportation and storage. They differ from inflatable kayaks (which are pumped with air) in that they are made of a hard corrugated plastic that is bendable.

The best manufacturer of folding kayaks right now is Oru kayaks. There is no competition here.

Recreational kayaks: Are sit-in and sit-on-top kayaks that are affordable, stable, and easy to maneuver. Recreational kayaks are suitable for calm waters and short kayaking trips. And they have just enough storage space for a few essentials.

The best brands for recreational kayaks include Pelican, Perception, and Lifetime.

Ocean kayaks: are specially designed for off-shore exploration. If you like to venture into the open water, you should buy an ocean kayak as it will make your paddling experience in the open water safer and more enjoyable.

The best brand of ocean kayak to buy is Wilderness Systems.

Touring kayaks: Are designed for longer kayaking expeditions (weekend kayaking and multi-day kayaking trips). As a result, they are longer, narrower, and faster. They also have larger storage space as longer kayaking trips mean more gear/supplies.

The best manufacturers of touring kayaks are Ocean kayaks, Eddyline, Delta, and Wilderness Systems.

Pedal-driven kayaks: Use a pedal-driven system to propel the kayak instead of a paddle. They offer increased speed and a hands-free kayaking experience.

Brands of pedal kayaks to buy are BKC, Hobie, Perception, and Wilderness Systems.

Fishing kayaks: Are kayaks (especially the sit-on-top kayaks) that are tailored for fishing. They usually come with rod holders, are very stable, have more storage space, and allow the kayaker to move freely.

The best fishing kayak brands include Hobie, Wilderness Systems, Vibe kayaks, and Old Town kayaks.

Whitewater kayaks: Refers to kayaks that are suited for paddling on rough waters. This type of kayak is easier to maneuver.

Dagger kayak makes the best whitewater kayaks on the market.

Best kayak brands - Sun Dolphin

Is There Any Kayak Brand to Avoid?

The increasing popularity of kayaking means there’s an increasing demand for kayaks and this is the main reason behind new kayak brands popping up left and right.

There’s a number of cheap, knock-off kayaks out there and it’s in your best interest to avoid them. While low price doesn’t always mean low quality, some cheap kayaks are made by unknown manufacturers and no one has anything good to say about their products simply because they suck.

I know you want to me list names of kayak brands to avoid but I won’t be doing that. Why? I’m not going to throw someone’s business under the bus. If you want a cheap, knock-off kayak, go for it by all means as long as you know what you are getting.

It’s not unusual for someone to experience issues with kayaks from some of the reputable brands I’ve listed above. Design or manufacturing flaws can’t be totally eliminated and that’s why those reputable brands have warranties. You contact them about a design flaw and a replacement kayak will be at your doorstep in no time.

Kayaks aren’t exactly cheap but if you are on a tight budget, there are still a number of affordable kayaks from reputable brands you can take a look at.

When buying a kayak, you should make sure to buy one that’s right for you. This means putting the following factors into consideration:

The terrain where you’ll be using the kayak. Some kayaks are designed for use on calm waters while there are those that can handle choppy or rough waters.

Ease of transportation – Do you have a car, SUV, or truck that you can use to transport your kayak to water bodies. If not, you should take a look at folding and inflatable kayaks.

Ease of storage: Do you have a shed, garage, or enough space in your home to store your kayak? Or perhaps you’ll consider storing and locking the kayak outside.

Your body type – height, size, weight. Deep hull kayaks are for taller and heavier paddlers.

Final Thoughts

There you have it, the best kayak brands available today. I’ll update this article as I come across new brands that produce quality kayaks.

You can buy kayaks from the brands on this list with peace of mind since you know you’ll be getting a quality product and should there be any problem on the part of the manufacturer, you are covered with warranties.

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