So… what’s a “recreational” kayak?
This series is intended as a buyer’s guide and will explore the many markets of beginner kayaks, from recreational kayaks to sea kayaks, we will look at kayaks which are best fit for those just starting out. In this article, we will look at recreational kayaks—kayaks which are designed for use primarily in lakes, ponds, and rivers. Recreational kayaks are typically wider and shorter (10’ to 12’ feet) which make them more stable overall. Since recreational kayaks tend to be very stable, their performance is on the slow side and may not respond as efficiently as longer, touring kayaks. Wider, spacious cockpits make recreational kayaks easy to get into and exit both on and off the water.
Most individuals who try kayaking for the first time will find themselves in a recreational kayak. Recreational kayaks do require basic kayak training and are best for novices, angers, photographers, older kayakers, and casual paddlers. In addition, recreational kayaks tend to be more affordable as they are manufactured and marketed in the masses.
The following kayaks have been selected as the “best recreational kayaks for beginners” based on their performance in the following categories: weight, stability, price, durability, and ease of entry/exit.
Wilderness Systems Aspire 105
Sub-Class: Small Rec
Weight: 48 lbs
The Wilderness System Aspire 105 is a state-of-the-art recreational kayak that provides an excellent platform for leisure paddling, fishing, and photography on flat or slow-moving water. Overall, we are very pleased with the performance of the Aspire 105 when we test paddled it in light conditions on the pond! I found that the tracking was better than the average 10’6”-long recreational kayak thanks to the dual inverted keel lines. The Aspire 105 showed some weather cocking in the light breeze but this was managed with minimal corrective strokes and could have been completely compensated for had I decided to deploy the rope-operated drop skeg. The addition of a drop skeg to a kayak of this length is fairly uncommon (the Venture Kayaks Flex 11 comes to mind) but can be very useful! The maneuverability of the Aspire 105 was very impressive. It took only two sweep strokes the turn the craft around 180 degrees without edging the boat at all!
Wilderness Systems Pungo 120
Sub-Class: Large Rec
Weight: 51 lbs
The Wilderness Systems Pungo is the top-selling kayak in North America as it is recognized across the board for its reliable stability; large, spacious cockpit; and excellent tracking. At 12 feet in length, the Pungo 120 is a bit longer than its sibling Aspire 105 but advances some similar features. The Pungo 120 is designed to accommodate a wide range of paddlers including those who traditionally have a difficultly fitting into smaller recreational kayaks. Its large, spacious cockpit creates a wide and comfortable seating area perfect for bringing along photography, fishing, or extra paddling gear. In addition to its many functional benefits, the Pungo’s wide cockpit provides an airy space which may alleviate the “closed-in” feeling commonly associated with sit-in kayaks. Tracking is not an issue for the Pungo 120 as its hard-V shaped hull keeps the kayak tracking straight and true even during windier conditions. Because the Pungo 120 weighs over 50lbs, it may be a struggle for those who have issues with carrying weight to-and-from a launch.
Sub-Class: Lightweight Rec
Weight: 41 lbs
In the world of recreational kayaks, the Eddyline Skylark is on the higher-end of the spectrum in terms of initial quality and weight. Built in Washington state, the Skylark is a great recreational kayak for those willing to pay a little more for a lightweight, stable companion during day trips. Ideal for exploring lakes, ponds, rivers, and protected coastal environments, the Skylark provides stable and predictable performance all day long. We find the Skyline to be very stable and a great fit for those who are new to the sport. Its cockpit is a little smaller than average in the recreational class which may deter those uncomfortable in closer fitting kayaks. Foam padding under the cockpit provides a comfortable and secure seating position for better control of the kayak. At only 41lbs, the Skylark is perfect for those who prefer a lighter kayak for car-topping or carrying across a beach landing. The Skylark comes full price at $1,349 which is more expensive than recreational kayaks on average.
Venture Kayaks Flex 11
Sub-Class: Performance Rec
Length: 10’ 8”
Weight: 45 lbs
The Venture Kayaks Flex 11 is one of the most unique recreational kayaks on the market today. Blending Pyranha inspired whitewater with P&H inspired touring, the Flex provides paddlers with a unique mix between a flatwater playboat and a pocket-sized day tripper. With one sweep stroke and lean, the Flex 11 nearly turns 360 degrees, and with a following reverse stroke effortlessly completes the circle. Fitted with solid thigh braces, the cockpit on the Flex is spacious yet allows plenty of options for a snug fit. The thigh braces are not only solid and securely fastened to the hull, but they were very comfortable. The Flex 11 is ideal for an individual seeking a recreational kayak with shot of espresso. Designed with whitewater inspired outfitting, the Flex fits securely around the hips and thighs which allows for optimum control. At 45lbs the Flex 11 is an easy carry and may even fit in the rear cargo area of larger SUVs.
Old Town Herron 11XT
Sub-Class: Budget Friendly
Weight: 41 lbs
The Old Town Herron 11XT is one of the newest additions to the Old Town family. Designed for budget conscious consumers, the Herron 11XT provides a great compromise between affordable, initial quality, and performance. Outfitted with a rear bulkhead and hatch sets the Herron XT above its competition within this price range. Great for those just starting out, the Herron 11XT is stable and is perfect for exploring inland ponds and lakes. Although the seating area is spacious and provides extra volume at the cockpit, the cockpit opening is smaller than average in this class. In terms of durability, like all Old Town kayaks, the Herron is constructed of polyethylene which is forgiving to bumps and bruises. With minimal moving parts, the Herron is an easy maintenance kayak which will require minimal upkeep other than routine washing and protecting.