Best Kayak Canopies, Biminis and Sunshades: Your Ultimate Protection

All kayakers dream of long summer days out on the water. What we don’t always consider is the after-effects. Long days out in hot sunshine can cause short and long-term health issues. 

Shade is hard to find on your local lake. The good news is, you can take the shade with you. Kayak canopies can protect you from the effects of heat and UV rays, letting you enjoy kayaking for longer. 

In this article, we’re going to look at what a bimini is and why you need one, as well as looking at some of the best kayak canopies, biminis and sunshades on the market.

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In a hurry? Here are our top picks:

Comparison table: Best Kayak Canopies, Biminis and Sunshades

Model Specs Where To Buy

Adventure Canopies Barracuda
Coverage: 10 sq. ft.
Shade material: 600D polyester with UPF 50+ coating
Frame material: Fiberglass
Weight: 4 lbs.
Amazon

Adventure Canopies Doubler
Coverage: Not stated 
Shade material: 600D polyester with UPF 50+ coating
Frame material: Fiberglass
Weight: 8 lbs.
Adventure Canopies

WindPaddle Sun Shade
Coverage: 12 sq. ft. 
Shade material: Not stated
Frame material: Not stated
Weight: 2 lbs.
Amazon

Lixada Kayak Sun Shade
Coverage: 8 sq. ft.
Shade material: Oxford Cloth
Frame material: Aviation aluminum rod
Weight: 1.1 – 1.8 lbs.
Amazon

Cypress Rowe Kayak Sun Shade
Coverage: 10 sq. ft.
Shade material: Marine grade polyester canvas
Frame material: Aluminum
Weight: Not stated
Amazon

Moocy Sun Shade Canopy
Coverage: 8 sq. ft.
Shade material: Oxford Cloth
Frame material: Aluminum Rod
Weight: 1.3 lbs.
Amazon
WHY TRUST US: Here at Paddlingspace.com, we spend more time on the water than we do in the office. We paddle, kayak fish, and camp as often as we can, so we know exactly what kayakers and kayak anglers need. Each year, we independently research, review, and rate the best kayaks, canoes, and paddling gear. Our experts analyze hundreds of products to find out key differences, pros, and cons of each product. We only make money from ads or if you purchase through our links. No sponsored posts or biased reviews here, period.

What is a Bimini?

A sun shade on a kayak

A bimini is an open-style canvas covering. These are found on all styles of boats, but most commonly on cruising style yachts. They protect sailors and paddlers from the harsh UV rays that are often inescapable on the water, but also from rain and occasionally wind.

Why would kayakers need a bimini?

Kayakers are often out on the water, unprotected, for long periods. This makes you more likely to suffer the effects of UV and heat exposure. A bimini over the top of your kayak can protect you from the sun’s rays directly, as well as allow you to shelter from the heat. 

Both sunstroke and UV exposure can have some serious short and long-term effects on your health. By using a bimini, you don’t just lengthen the time you can spend on the water that day, but you might find that you can keep hitting the water for many more years to come.

Should all kayakers use a bimini?

They sound great, but should sun shades be used by all kayakers? Not necessarily. Biminis and sun shades are mainly used by recreational paddlers, as well as some kayak anglers.

As we will look at later on, kayak sun shades can affect the performance of your kayak. They can also be affected by wind and wild conditions. This means that they are not suited to more demanding environments like white water or the open sea

Kayakers who are paddling in calmer environments and who want to spend long days out on the water are best suited to using a bimini. Recreational kayakers and often families find that these sun shades lengthen their leisure days. Families with young children, especially, will benefit from sunshades.

RELATED: 8 Best Kayaks for Kids in 2023: Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

Kayak anglers often spend long days sitting stationary out on the water and could benefit from protection against the effects of the sun. However, a sunshade can affect your ability to move around the kayak and to cast. There are different designs available, but in some cases, you may find that a sun shade gets in the way more than it helps.

What are the benefits of a sunshade?

A fisherman sits inside a kayak under the sun shade on the water

What are the key benefits of using a kayak bimini out on the water?

Sun and UV protection

As the name suggests, a canopy will shelter you from the sun. Long exposure to harmful UV rays can cause short and long-term health issues. Protection from these will give you a longer day out on the water, but in the long term, you’ll be able to keep kayaking for more years to come.

While all biminis will offer you shade, different materials have different levels of UV protection. If your primary reason for a bimini is to shelter yourself from UV, make sure that your chosen model has adequate protection.

Heat protection

Overheating is uncomfortable. It can even lead to sunstroke if you don’t seek shade and drink enough water. By adding a sun shelter onto your kayak, you limit the direct effects of heat from the sun.

This is especially important for families with younger children. Youngsters are more susceptible to the effects of heatstroke, but also less likely to tell you about them if they’re having fun out on the water. With a canopy, you can keep your family active and out on the water while helping them stay safe.

Rain protection

They tend to be sold as sun shelters, but biminis can protect you from rain showers. Summer showers often pass through unexpectedly and can cool you down if you’re out kayaking in your summer clothes or bathing costume. 

As we will look at shortly, biminis are easily affected by wind, and often wind and rain go hand in hand. If you plan to use your kayak shade as a rain shelter, check the weather forecast first.

Drawbacks to using a canopy

Several kayaks of different colors with canopies attached lie on the shore

Are there any reasons to potentially not use a kayak canopy?

Canopies are affected by wind

There’s no coincidence that many sun shades look a lot like sails. Strapping a large piece of fabric to the top of your kayak is going to significantly affect how it is blown around by the wind.

Though it’s nice to have a gentle breeze blowing underneath your canopy to take the heat away, there’s a difference between this and feeling unstable. In strong winds, your sunshade could make your kayak difficult to control and in extreme conditions could tip you over.

You can’t easily stand or cast with a canopy

A desirable attribute of most fishing kayaks is the ability to move around the deck freely and to stand up for casting. Fitting a sunshade to the top of your kayak will inhibit how easily you can do either of these. Casting from a seated position is also more difficult with a bimini added. 

In addition, a lot of kayak biminis are designed to fit on gear tracks or rod holders. You’re not only limiting your deck freedom but also your ability to accessorize your kayak. 

Sun shelters can affect kayak performance

Even in calm conditions, adding a bimini can alter how your kayak performs on the water. Adding a sunshade will affect the center of gravity and the stability of your kayak. How much it is affected depends on the height and weight of your chosen bimini.

Changing the center of gravity will affect how your kayak turns and balances, but also how easy it is to climb back onto your kayak safely. If you’re looking to cover any distance in your kayak, adding a sunshade is going to add drag and slow you down. This means you have to use more energy to paddle.

Canopies may make rescues more difficult

It’s rare that you go out intending to capsize, but sometimes it just happens. Will your chosen bimini make it more difficult to rescue and right your kayak on the water? Do the attachment points make it difficult to climb back on a kayak if you fall off it?

Before taking to the water, you should be sure that you can keep yourself safe and aren’t putting yourself in danger.

Factors to consider when buying your bimini

An orange kayak with a bimini, a paddle  and two fishing rods lies on the river bank

What are the important features of a kayak sunshade that make them suitable?

Style

Do you need a bimini that covers the entire kayak and attaches at the bow or one that pops up at the rear and only shades the cockpit? Different styles and shapes of kayak sun shade offer different levels of coverage on the water. They also come in different sizes, weights, and attachments, all of which impact how easy they are to use and how effective they are.

Size 

This might sound similar to what we said about style, but size matters. Different styles of sunshade are usually available in a variety of sizes. You should make sure not only that your bimini fits your kayak, but offers the level of cover that you need.

Packed size is important too. Kayaking comes with a lot of equipment to transport and store. When you’re not on the water you will need somewhere to put your shade. The smaller the pack size, the easier it is to store.

Weight

The weight of your canopy will impact the performance of your kayak. A heavier bimini makes it harder to control your kayak and more likely that you will tip. The weight of your sun shelter will also affect how easy it is to transport. 

Material

The key elements of the sunshade are the frame and the shade itself. These come in different materials and all of them have benefits and drawbacks.

Frame

The frame is integral to the strength and structure of your kayak canopy. A strong frame will usually last longer, but if your frame is too rigid it may snap if it gets bent about. 

Most frames are made from metal, fiberglass, or PVC tubes. Metal frames, especially stainless steel, are by far the heaviest and most likely to impact performance, but they are the most durable. Fiberglass and PVC frames are lightweight and have more flex, so they may withstand wind better.

Shade

Sunshades are usually made from some form of polyester, acrylic, or oxford cloth. Choosing a lightweight, UV protective and waterproof fabric is important when selecting your bimini. Remember to dry your shade out after each use to avoid mildew and mold growing in storage.

The color of your shade is important, too. Darker shades soak up more heat and can feel hotter against your skin, or feel as though they are trapping heat in the kayak. Lighter colors are better against the sun and more visible out on the water.

Compatibility 

Does your chosen kayak shelter fit your kayak? Although many kayak canopies are sold as universal, there are differences in fit and shape between closed-cockpit and sit-on-top kayaks. Even within styles, kayaks differ and you should check that your chosen bimini will fit your kayak.

It’s worth checking how your sun shelter attaches, too. If it relies on rod holders or gear track, and your kayak has neither, you may need to find another model. Likewise, if it attaches at multiple points that will be intrusive on your model of kayak, it might be worth rethinking your model.

How easy is your bimini to install?

You might have bought the best bimini on the market, but if it isn’t easy to put on your kayak, you will be tempted to leave it in the car. When you get your bimini, practice putting it onto your kayak at home before you head to the water. You want protection, but you don’t want to spend all day on the beach fitting a canopy.

How to install a kayak canopy

Here’s our quick 5-step method to installing your kayak canopy. 

  • Remove the bimini from its storage bag. Check that you have all the pieces and refer to the manufacturer’s guidance if necessary.
  • Attach the framework and make sure there are no sharp edges or ends of screws that could snag or tear the material.
  • Unfurl the shade and fit it to the poles.
  • Attach your canopy to your kayak securely.
  • Tighten the shade with bungees, straps, or other means to secure the shade in place. Check that everything is secure before hitting the water.

Top tips when using a bimini

A woman paddles her blue kayak with a black canopy

Before we look at our favorite kayak canopies, here are some top tips for when you’re out on the water.

Practice

Before you head to the lake, practice putting up your shelter. This will mean you know that you have all the pieces you need and how to use them. There’s nothing more frustrating than standing on the beach and fiddling with poles when all you want to be doing is kayaking.

Always wear your PFD

No matter how warm you get on the water, you should always keep your PFD on. Just because it’s warm above water doesn’t mean the water won’t be cold and take your breath away. Even on the calmest days, you should be ready in case you capsize or fall into the water. 

Wear sunscreen and drink water

The bimini is a great addition to your kayak on a hot day, but you should still remember to wear sunscreen and stay hydrated. Think of the sunshade as another layer of comfort and protection, but not the ultimate answer. 

Keep an eye out for changes in weather

Often in the summer, the weather changes quickly. Wind can affect the performance of your kayak much more than normal if you have a bimini fitted. Keep an eye on the weather and don’t stray too far from land.

Top Rated Kayak Canopies for 2023

Adventure Canopies Barracuda – Best Coverage

Adventure Canopies Barracuda

Coverage: 10 sq. ft. (0.93 sq. m)
Shade material: 600D polyester with UPF 50+ coating
Frame material: Fiberglass
Weight: 4 lbs. (1.81 kg)
Color: Blue / Orange / Yellow / Black

The Adventure Canopies Barracuda is the most comprehensive canopy on our list. The 54-inch long canopy features UPF 50+ coating, tested to withstand 99% of UV A/B rays. This material is hard-wearing and resistant to mildew and condensation building on it.

The fiberglass pole construction is height adjustable and built to withstand rough conditions out on the water. These poles fit into hub mounts which come with stainless steel screws and can be fitted directly onto your kayak.

The Barracuda is designed to work on sit-on-top kayaks where the seat position is no higher than the outside edge of the hull. 

Pros

  • Strong build which stands up well to rougher weather
  • Large coverage and adjustable design

Cons:

  • Restrictive and only works with lower seated kayaks

Adventure Canopies Doubler – Best for Tandem Kayaks 

Adventure Canopies Doubler

Coverage: Not stated 
Shade material: 600D polyester with UPF 50+ coating
Frame material: Fiberglass
Weight: 8 lbs. (3.62 kg)
Color: Blue / Orange / Yellow / Black

Adventure Canopies Doubler is a two-person version of the popular Barracuda model. This sunshade features a sturdy polyester design with UPF 50+ coating, tested to block 99% of UV A/B rays. 

The two-part design uses a sturdy and flexible fiberglass frame that secures each shade individually to the hull. The Doubler uses specific hub mounts that screw into the hull of your kayak. In windier conditions, this extra attachment makes the Doubler a stronger, more secure option.

RELATED: 11 Best Tandem Kayaks in 2023: 2 Person Kayak Reviews and Buying Guide 

If you’re paddling with a youngster, you may just want to shade them while you enjoy the sunshine. The Doubler can be adapted to open up the back canopy while keeping the front piece in place to shade the bow paddler. Each segment comes with height adjustments on the rod ends to fit the canopy to your individual needs.

Pros:

  • Large coverage area 
  • The rear section is removable 
  • Height adjustable

Cons:

  • Works with lower seated kayaks only

WindPaddle Sun Shade – Best for Changing Conditions

WindPaddle Sun Shade

Coverage: 12 sq. ft. (1.15 sq. m)
Shade material: Not stated
Frame material: Not stated
Weight: 2 lbs. (0.91 kg)
Color: Blue / Yellow

WindPaddle Sun Shade is a simple, flexible shade that can withstand rigorous use. The strong framework attaches easily to any kayak, without having to drill holes into your hull. Using the frame itself, bungees, and the hardware already present on your kayak, you can get a secure fit.

The bow line on the WindPaddle Sun Shade can be dropped quickly if you need to cast, or if a strong gust is on its way. Unfortunately, it’s not quite so easy to refit and you will most likely need a spare pair of hands to help you out.

Although this sunshade offers good coverage, it’s only rated to UPF 10, so you need to make sure you have adequate sun protection. WindPaddle suggests this canopy is suitable for strong winds, but most users have found that it is best to drop it in the event of a strong gust.

Pros:

  • Universal mount 
  • Doesn’t require any holes drilled in your kayak
  • Releasable to cast or for wind
  • Lightweight and easy to use

Cons:

  • Low UPF rating
  • Difficult to refit once you release the bow line
  • Not suitable for strong winds

Lixada Kayak Sun Shade – Best for Saving Space

Lixada Kayak Sun Shade

Coverage: 8 sq. ft. (0.74 sq. m)
Shade material: Oxford Cloth
Frame material: Aviation aluminum rod
Weight: 1.1 – 1.8 lbs. (0.49 – 0.81 kg)
Color: Gray / Light Blue / Dark Blue / Orange / Black / Red / Green / Camouflage 

Lixada sunshade is a simple design that opens up a load of space on the top deck of your kayak. The two aluminum poles can fit onto any kayak, though you may need to make some adjustments to securely house the ends of the poles. From there, you simply attach the bow line to the front of your kayak and you have a secure, durable sunshade.

Made from ripstop oxford cloth, this shade does not have a UPF rating, but will still protect you from the sun as well as the rain. Lixada extended the poles from the first model of this shelter, giving you more space under the shelter than with any other bimini. If you want to be unique, this shelter comes in a wide range of colors and camouflages too.

Pros:

  • Loads of space in your kayak
  • Lightweight
  • Plenty of colors to choose from
  • Durable design

Cons:

  • No UPF rating

Cypress Rowe Kayak Sun Shade

Cypress Rowe Kayak Sun Shade

Coverage: 10 sq. ft. (0.93 sq. m)
Shade material: Marine grade polyester canvas
Frame material: Aluminum
Weight: Not stated
Color: Beige

Cypress Rowe Kayak sunshade is a fully metal-framed, rigid design that unfolds well above your head. This is secured in place with provided hardware on either side of the paddler and with nylon webbing straps front and back.

This bimini is probably the closest on this list to the traditional yacht style canopy and, though they don’t state the weight, almost definitely the heaviest. The marine-grade polyester canvas is waterproof and mildew proof, built, Cypress Rowe state, to last twenty years.

They’re so confident in their technology that Cypress Rowe offers a lifetime guarantee on their canopies. 

Pros:

  • Sturdy and well built
  • Waterproof and durable
  • Universal fit and all mounting accessories are provided
  • Lifetime warranty

Cons:

  • Heavy design compared with other models
  • Requires drilling holes in your kayak

Moocy Sun Shade Canopy – Best Budget

Moocy Sun Shade Canopy

Coverage: 8 sq. ft. (0.74 sq. m)
Shade material: Oxford Cloth
Frame material: Aluminum Rod
Weight: 1.3 lbs. (0.58 kg)
Color: Orange / Black

The Moocy sunshade is a simple and universal design that suits both the kayak and the wallet of a recreational kayaker. The coated oxford cloth design offers UPF protection, as well as shade and shelter from the rain. 

The Moocy sunshade uses aluminum rods and three attachment cords to keep it secure. These can be fitted into pre-existing points on your kayak, or you can make your own attachment points. The whole system is lightweight and fits into a convenient storage bag, so it’s easy to take to and from the water.

Compared with other shades, the Moocy canopy sits quite low and isn’t suited to kayaks with a higher seating position. It is suitable to use in mild winds, but won’t withstand rough conditions.  

Pros:

  • Reasonable price
  • Universal fit
  • Lightweight

Cons:

  • Low top
  • Does not stand up to winds as well as others
Tom Kilpatrick avatar

Moose started his paddling life on the ponds and rivers in the South-East of England. He has slowly worked his way north and has spent the last few years paddling in Scotland, both with friends and as a canoe guide. A very experienced and knowledgeable coach and guide across Scotland and the rest of the UK, he spent a summer in Norway and a month in Nepal. He is also a cofounder of PaddleMore.co.uk.

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