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When you start to look around the kayak industry, it soon becomes apparent just how many brands are on offer. With an almost endless list to choose from, how do you go about deciding who is reputable, and who to avoid? Well, the good news for you is that we have put together this guide to help you avoid the duds and pick the right brand to buy your kayak from.
Quick Answer: Our List of Top Kayak Brands
This list isn’t exhaustive of all the kayak brands, but our top pick of industry-leading kayak companies in the US. We also have detailed reviews of most brands and their model lines, so make sure you click the links to read those.
- Sea Eagle
- Perception Kayaks
- Vibe Kayaks
- Bonafide Kayaks
- Crescent Kayaks
- Old Town
- Wilderness Systems
- Jackson Kayak
- Ocean Kayak
- ORU Kayak
What Are The Best Kayak Companies?
It’s important to remember that quality is a broad spectrum and comes in all forms. We aren’t focusing here on just the top-of-the-range kayaks, but on brands that will deliver exactly what you would expect from a quality manufacturer.
It might sound rough on new companies because some of them are making excellent kayaks, but those that last tend to be the quality option. Age isn’t the only tell-tale sign of quality, but very few sub-par kayak brands make it to ten years, let alone fifty plus.
If you want to know what makes a quality kayak brand, look for the reviews. There are often hundreds of reviews on kayaks, whether they are product reviews like we have across the site or personal reviews from current owners. Reviews will cover every aspect of kayak ownership, from specific kayak features, to build quality, delivery, packaging, and customer care.
How to Choose a Good Kayak Manufacturer
If you’re looking at two kayaks side-by-side that look identical, why would you pay extra for a recognized brand? Aren’t you just paying for the name? Let’s take a look at why buying from a quality kayak company is worth it.
There is a reason that certain brands have become established. They use the right plastics or other construction materials, as well as the right types of foam, webbing, shock cords, etc. when they make their kayaks. This means their kayaks last longer, stand up to use, and maintain their quality for years.
Design and Innovation
The leading manufacturers are usually at the leading edge of the kayak industry. These companies develop new designs and develop existing models continually to ensure that their kayaks are as good as they can be. Whatever level you kayak at and whatever your preferred style of kayaking, it’s reassuring to know that your kayak is as good as it can be when you buy it.
It’s reassuring when you call customer service to know that you’re going to speak to a real person who not only understands your issue, but sympathizes with you. The best kayak brands are run by kayakers. At heart, they just want you out on the water having a great time and using their gear, so they will often go above and beyond to help you out.
Not only is it less likely that you are going to have any issues with your new kayak if you get it from an established company, but if you do, you’re likely to be in safe hands. We can’t guarantee what the warranty will be, but most reputable kayaking companies offer a reasonable warranty to safeguard against any manufacturing discrepancies. They will also actually follow through with their promise, unlike some less established companies.
This is usually pushed more in specific disciplines of kayaking like white water, or sea kayaking, but every kayak should meet certain safety requirements. Whether it’s the integrity of the plastic itself, sharp edges on the outfitting, or the seals on bulkheads to prevent water ingress, safety comes from quality design and build. Top kayak brands hold themselves to higher standards with regards to their materials and design and these are all centered around kayaker safety and comfort.
You get what you pay for with kayaks, but if you want great value for money then a recognized quality brand is the way to go. These are often not the cheapest kayaks on the market, but the value is gained by all the above sections. Your kayak will tick all the right boxes and you’ll get it at a price that is industry regulated.
Who Makes the Best Kayaks? Reviews of Top Kayak Brands
Pelican Sport has been making high-quality boats since 1968 and now have over 800 employees throughout their three production sites in North America. They don’t just make their own kayaks, though. In 2019 Pelican acquired Confluence Outdoor, the owners of six kayak brands including several that feature on this list.
Pelican’s use of RAM-X technology lets them make their kayaks as stiff and responsive as rotomolded plastic kayaks, but keep them lightweight and portable. The Pelican Sentinel 100X is one of the best recreational kayaks available. This enormously stable sit-on-top kayak has a payload of 300 lbs. (136 kg) while weighing just 40 lbs. (18 kg). Pelican have a wide range that includes many recreational kayaks, both sit-in and sit-on-top, as well as fishing and touring models.
Pelican’s values take them further than their price tag though. They make their kayaks from recycled industrial plastics and they recycle 99% of their waste plastic. Moreover, they even recycle oven heat to heat their workshops in the cold months! Pelican knows that their users value the natural world, and they want to do their bit to make sure we always have a world to kayak in.
The philosophy is in the name. Lifetime products are designed to be durable and long-lasting for customers and their families. The worldwide company makes chairs, basketball hoops, sheds, and of course kayaks.
Lifetime uses high-density polyethylene on all of their kayaks, so they’re strong and sturdy enough to withstand, well, a lifetime of use. Their range of kayaks, both recreational and angling, are based on stability, inspiring confidence among beginner and intermediate kayakers. Lifetime’s kayaks prioritize function, making sure that first and foremost, you have a kayak that performs exactly how you want it to.
They’re not shy of adding features where they’re needed though. The Tamarack Pro 103 is an excellent mid-range fishing kayak that has all the bells and whistles, without the extra price tag. If you compare it to top end fishing kayaks, it perhaps lacks some of the finesse and fishing specifics, but as an intermediate fishing kayak for under $1000, they don’t come a lot better than the Tamarack Pro.
If the companies above have made their name by making all things hard plastic, Intex has done so as purveyors of all things inflatable. It started with a beach ball and progressed from there, with their knowledge of making pool floats leading them into making high-quality inflatable kayaks.
Intex only makes three models of kayak: the Challenger, Explorer, and Excursion. The Challenger K1 and K2 models are some of the best budget inflatables on the market, made from puncture resistant vinyl and with the solo model coming in at just under $100.
If you want to get more advanced with your kayaking, their Excursion range, made from 3-ply PVC laminate, is designed to go further and to withstand a far greater level of use. The Excursion comes with detachable mount points and rod holders, making it a versatile and portable kayak.
Sea Eagle is considered to be one of, if not the, leading manufacturer of inflatable kayaks currently on the market. Their kayaks have been used all around the world, for first descents of rivers, geological surveys, and introducing families to the joy of kayaking. Sea Eagle pride themselves on their cutting edge design, continually pushing the boundaries of what an inflatable kayak can do.
The Sport series look remarkably similar to the first kayaks Sea Eagle ever made, but there are notable differences that have brought their design into the current century. Their high-pressure valves, thicker material, stronger design, and wide range of designs give you a far higher quality kayak than your traditional inflatable.
At the forefront of their range is the Razorlite series which includes the solo 393rl and the tandem 473rl. These kayaks use drop stitch technology that allows them to be inflated to 10 PSI, almost three times higher than that of most inflatable kayaks. Couple this with the rigid plastic keel at the bow and stern, and you have a highly portable, lightweight kayak that performs and tracks like a hard shelled boat.
Since 1976, Perception could well have introduced more people to the world of kayaking than any other brand. There are few seasoned kayakers throughout the U.S. who haven’t paddled a Perception kayak at any point. The company has been at the forefront of the kayaking industry for over forty years, since making the first rotomolded kayak in 1977, and they don’t look like slowing down any time soon.
Perception has a wide range of kayaks that are all built around comfort, durability, and ease of use. Their touring kayaks are up there among the best recreational tourers on the market, and some of their basic models offer you a lot of kayak for your money. Whether you want a sit-in, sit-on, or even a paddleboard-crossover, there’s a kayak in the Perception range to suit.
Perhaps the best known Perception kayak in their current range is the Pescador Pro 12.0. Like their recreational kayaks, you get a lot of features and a high performing kayak without your bank taking too much of a hit. With loads of storage space and a capacity of 375 lbs. (170 kg), as well as accessory tracks and plenty of options, this is a kayak for discerning anglers.
Vibe is one of the newer brands on the block, proving that some young upstarts are competing with the older companies. They started in 2013 with their first under-$1000 fishing kayak and haven’t looked back. Founded by a kayak fishing addict himself, Vibe Kayaks focus on angling models that are outfitted with top-end onboard equipment.
Vibe doesn’t just want to sell you kayaks, they want to make you part of their ‘Vibe Tribe,’ which is how they refer to their paddlers. Once you get into the brand, they want to go further and make you part of a family. This isn’t a marketing gimmick, they genuinely care about the people who paddle their kayaks and want to know that you’re getting the most out of your new boat.
Vibe still sells fishing kayaks for under $1000, but their flagship kayak angling boat is the Shearwater 125. This is a fully loaded kayak, with features galore for you to store, stow, accessories and get really comfortable in. For those who like to paddle hands-free, you can pop out the central console from the Shearwater and slot in Vibe’s pedal drive unit in its place.
FeelFree kayaks have been made in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina for over 30 years. This length of time has allowed them to continually review, refine and of course evolve their range into the high-quality kayaks they offer today. They spend a lot of time reading reviews and answering customer feedback and this role is given to genuine people in their offices.
Most of FeelFree’s kayak range are sit-on-top style, ranging from the basic entry level Move, all the way to the Lure, a fishing kayak that comes with a pedal drive system and beaver style rudder system.
The FeelFree experience is all about getting everyone on the water as comfortably as possible. Their development of family friendly kayaks has led them to create the Juntos, a single person sit-on-top kayak that has an extra seat at the bow, designed for children or four-legged friends. This jump seat lets you keep your young paddler close at hand as you start their journey on the water.
Bonafide Kayaks may have only been officially announced in 2016, but they haven’t hung around. Since then, they have been amassing a team of the most experienced and talented kayak anglers onto their books. Team paddlers look great on the website, but they don’t come onto the team unless you have quality kayaks that they want to paddle.
The kayakers behind Bonafide’s innovation and development have their sights set firmly on you, the end-user of their kayaks. They aim to keep everything as user-friendly, comfortable, and environmentally suited as possible. By keeping their manufacturing and development in the US, Bonafide creates jobs in the community and keeps customer service close at hand.
Bonafide don’t have the widest range of kayaks and the price tag probably rules them out of being beginner models. Perhaps their most unique kayak is the EX123, a sit-in kayak with an enormous cockpit area that is designed for camping, fishing, or any adventure. Bonafide claim this SUV of a kayak to be near enough unflippable.
With twenty years of building kayaks under their belt, Crescent Kayaks are no longer considered to be newcomers to the industry. Their range of sit-on-top recreational and fishing kayaks is designed with a simple goal in mind: to get you on the water.
Simplicity runs through everything that Crescent Kayaks do. This doesn’t mean that they limit themselves, though, and their kayaks are continually being developed so they can offer the best models available at an affordable price. Crescent use Aquatuf® Resin, which they claim has the lowest failure rate in the entire industry. This means less waste, reduced environmental impact, and, importantly, lower costs for you.
The two person Crescent Crew features an enormous open deck that makes it easy to climb aboard and confidence inspiring to paddle. The 600 lb. (272 kg) capacity means you’ll ride high and dry out of the water, and this ride is made even better with Crescent’s framed seat. In true Crescent style, you get all of this at a price that is highly competitive.
High-performance thermoplastics and aerospace technology, Eddyline has been using cutting-edge technology to make their kayaks as good as they can be since they kicked off production in 1971 when the legendary Tom Derrer started building his first white water kayaks from fiberglass.
He obviously liked how they paddled. Eddyline’s laminated ABS, named Carbonlite, gives their modern kayaks the same stiffness and response as a fiberglass kayak, but the strength of a much heavier plastic model. This thermoform build has been going since 1994 and Eddyline have made a name for themselves as builders of lightweight, high performance recreational, touring and sea kayaks.
The Equinox is an interesting crossover that bridges the gap between recreational and touring kayaks. It comes in at just 14 feet long but has a habit of surprising first time users with how much speed you can get out of such a compact model. It has the stability of a recreational kayak, but features that you would expect on a much higher specification sea kayak.
Hobie lives and breathes watersports. The company has been making top-end plastic craft since the ‘50s. Their surfboards were some of the most renowned competition boards in the ‘60s and their sailing boats are used around the world. Hobie found their feet in the kayak market in the ‘90s and there was no looking back.
The high-end Pro Angler 12, which tops Hobie’s range of exceptional quality fishing kayaks. From bow to stern, the Pro Angler 12 is jam-packed with fishing features that will appeal to the serious kayak angler. This kayak, which could reasonably stake the claim as being the best angling kayak in the world, comes with a price tag to match.
Not all of Hobie’s kayaks come at such a premium though. They have a full range of recreational and angling kayaks that fit anyone and everyone. There are inflatables, pedal drives, and even stand-up paddleboards available in this broad Hobie range.
Old Town cut their teeth making some of the best tripping canoes in the world before moving their production to include kayaks. It’s safe to say that when they made the change, they didn’t alter the quality that they have been pushing since 1898.
The Old Town lineup ranges from some of the most basic recreational kayaks all the way to some high-end angling kayaks, and everything in between. They have models such as the Vapor, one of the lightest recreational kayaks on the market that you can cartop with ease, as well as the Loon range.
Old Town Loon 126 is the company’s longest recreational kayak. It is aimed at more experienced kayakers. This fast and nimble kayak features a sharp keel line for better glide and tracking over the water and the rounded hull provides a good level of primary stability.
Wilderness Systems’ tagline is ‘chasing perfection’. Their version of perfection is getting out and into the wilderness. The company has been striving to create kayaks that let everyone share in their perfection since 1986. Wilderness Systems have been innovating and developing since then and have a range of kayaks that have collected awards and accolades throughout the world.
The current Wilderness Systems range is primarily recreational and touring kayaks designed to get you beyond the ordinary. These touring kayaks range from recreational touring models like the Pungo, up to the 17 feet long Tempest, designed for long days out covering distance on the water.
Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 is one of the world’s best selling recreational kayaks and the success is built on how rounded this model is. Designed to offer maximum stability and speed, without sacrificing comfort. With a range of sizes, there’s a Pungo for everyone and the removable dashboard lets you keep cameras, phones, drinks and snacks close at hand as you explore further.
When they were set up in 2006, NuCanoe was focused on ‘putting a billion butts in boats’. Basically, their goal is getting everyone out on the water to have a great time and enjoy kayaking.
NuCanoe’s kayaks are all about stability. They manufacture hunting and fishing kayaks with some of the highest capacities on the market. With a focus on hunting and angling, NuCanoe’s kayaks tend to have large open decks that give you loads of room to walk around on the deck and catch or shoot from the best position.
Nucanoe Frontier 12 is a spacious and extra-wide open platform with a huge capacity of 650 lbs. (294 kg). This extra width gives you greater stability in choppy water as you stand and cast. As they’re made of such tough stuff, NuCanoes kayaks tend to be among the heavier kayaks on the market, better suited to trailers and assisted car topping.
They’re best known for their steep creek machines and Dagger kayaks have appeared in some of the gnarliest videos and white water records in the world. Dagger is still among the most advanced white water pioneers in the world, but they also make a wide range of beginner and progression river kayaks, as well as touring kayaks.
Many kayaking aficionados started their careers in Dagger kayaks and have never found a reason to look at another brand. The hull designs perform exactly how you want them to and the company continually makes subtle tweaks based on paddler feedback. Add to that their incredible contoured outfitting and it’s easy to see why people stick with them.
Dagger’s best all round white water kayak is the Mamba, which comes in a range of sizes. This kayak can do it all, and it has. Whether you’re a first time white water kayaker looking for a confidence inspiring, easy to roll kayak, or you’re pushing the boundaries of what is possible in steep creaking, the Mamba will keep you on line and in control.
Is there a name more synonymous with extreme white water kayaking than Jackson? From their beginnings in 2003 with EJ giving his name to the product, to having Dane Jackson their paddler of choice, arguably the most accomplished white water kayaker in the world. Their kayaks have won freestyle world championships and downriver creek races, picking up endless accolades along the way.
They aren’t just white water-focused though. Jackson kayaks make fishing kayaks and recreational kayaks, all underpinned by their focus on excellence and great service. Although the name often adds a few extra dollars to the price tag, it’s not without reason. The build and design quality of Jackson keeps their kayaks at the forefront of the industry.
Jackson kayaks believe that the opportunity should be there for anyone and everyone that wants to go paddling. Their entry models like the Riviera are confidence inspiring and accessible, while their higher end models like the kayak fishing Coosa and the white water Nirvana push the sport to new levels.
Ocean Kayak is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of sit-on-top kayaks. They believe that the sit-on-top is less confining than the sit-in kayak and more welcoming to those who have always wanted to try kayaking but were nervous.
Their stable, recreational-style kayaks are used in kayaking schools and vacation hotspots around the world. Ocean Kayaks focus on beginner comfort and stability can be seen throughout their range which is designed to be as appealing on the water as they are to the bank account.
The company was founded in the sunshine in a backyard in Malibu, so it’s only fitting that one of their most popular kayaks takes its name from their foundations. The Malibu Two is, in fact, one of the most popular tandem kayaks on the market. The huge stability and ease of paddling makes this a family favorite.
Drawing their inspiration from an unlikely pair of sources, Greenland kayaking, and Japanese origami, ORU Kayaks make folding kayaks capable of taking on extreme challenges. Whether you want a portable recreational kayak, to play in the ocean surf, or a convertible tandem/solo kayak, there’s a boat in the ORU range for you.
ORU focus on their folding kayaks being made from the highest quality materials, but also being quick and easy to set up so you can get on the water as fast as possible. They use 5 mm double layered, custom extruded polypropylene. In short, this means their kayaks are long-lasting and puncture-resistant.
The Coast LT folds up to around the size of a large suitcase and is light enough to carry on your back. This is more than just a basic kayak though and is capable of taking on some rough conditions and performs well in ocean surf and swell. You can even fit a spray skirt to these folding kayaks.
Which Kayak Brands to Avoid?
Now, we’re not going to throw any brands under the bus here and tell you not to buy their kayaks. We also don’t claim that the brands above are the only kayak brands you should buy from, they’re just 18 brands that we like in the U.S.
But how do you tell which brands to avoid?
Remember all those things that we mentioned earlier that make a quality company? It’s pretty much those but in reverse. In truth, the only way to know whether you should, or shouldn’t avoid a company is by researching them.
Reviews are a great starting point and will give you honest feedback on every part of the user’s experience with their new kayak. You’ll be able to find out how easy the company was to deal with, the delivery, the customer service, as well as the hard-and-fast facts about how the kayak was to paddle.
We don’t recommend avoiding new brands at all costs and as we’ve shown on the list, new brands definitely can compete. What we do suggest though is that you research new brands a little more deeply. Check their manufacturing methods, their plastics, their designs. Some new brands are, in fact, just a knock-off of an existing brand, selling a sub-par version of the same kayak at a cheaper price.
A cheaper price? That sounds great, right? Not when you realize that cheaper price means lower build quality, compromised safety standards, and nowhere to turn when your kayak isn’t what you thought it was.