Paddling the lakes in your area can be a great way to get out and explore places you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. But it can be hard to know what to look for in a good lake kayak.

This buyer’s guide will offer advice on how to choose a kayak and provide recommendations for some of the best kayaks for lake paddling.

best kayak for lakes

The first part of this buyer’s guide will offer you tips and advice on how to choose a good river kayak. If you want to skip ahead to the punch line, feel to jump to the reviews section for the top picks.

How to Choose

How to Choose a Lake Kayak

Clarifying your style of paddling

Knowing you’ll be paddling on lakes is a great start, but it’s useful to further clarify the type of paddling you want to do before deciding on a kayak.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Will you paddle in cool or warm water conditions? Both?
  • Will you be out all day or just an hour or two at a time?
  • Do you favor speed and efficiency or stability?
  • Do you want to engage in other activities while on the water like swimming, diving, or fishing?

The answers to these questions will help you hone in on a kayak that’s better suited to your style of paddling.

Types of Lake Kayaks

There are several styles of kayak that make great choices for lake paddling. They each have their own advantages which suit different styles of paddling; here’s a quick overview.

Sit in vs Sit on top

Deciding whether you’d prefer a traditional sit in kayak or a sit on top kayak is one of the quickest ways to start narrowing down your options.

Sit in

This is the style of kayak most people think of when they picture a kayak. The paddler sits inside the kayak with the lower half of their body sheltered from wind and splashing water.

Their only real downside is that capsize recovery is a more complicated; you’ll have to manually pump out any water inside the kayak before getting back underway.

The paddler can brace the lower half of their body against the inside of the kayak, so you’ll have more control and efficiency while paddling.

Sit in kayaks are ideal for: Cool & warm water conditions. Paddlers that favor performance.

Sit on top

Sit on tops have grown in popularity over the years due to their ease of use. They tend to be a bit more stable but their major drawback is you’re pretty much guaranteed to get wet, so they’re better suited to warm water paddling.

They’re self bailing, which means any water that gets inside the kayak automatically drains out through ‘scupper holes’ in the bottom of the kayak. This also means that capsize recovery is as simple as flipping the kayak back over and scrambling back on.

Sit on tops are also easy to get on and off of, both in and out of the water. This makes them particularly well suited to taking a quick dip while you’re paddling on a lake. The freedom of movement they offer also makes them well suited for fishing.

Sit on top kayaks are ideal for: Warm water. Paddlers that want to swim while paddling. Anglers.

Inflatable vs Hard-shell

The choice between an inflatable or a hard-shell kayak mostly comes down to a tradeoff between portability & ease of storage vs performance & durability.

Inflatable – Most inflatable kayaks pack down to about the size of a small suitcase, which is great if you’re short on storage space or don’t want to buy a car rack for transporting your kayak. They also tend to be lighter, which opens up possibilities to hiking in and paddling remote lakes.

Hard-shell – Traditional hard-shell kayaks are typically more efficient to paddle and perform better than inflatables. And while inflatable kayaks can be surprisingly durable, they’re still not as tough as a hard-shell.

Reviews

Best Lake Kayak Reviews

Old Town Dirigo 120

Overall Score: (4.5/5)

Old Town Dirigo 120 Recreational Kayak, Lemongrass, 12 Feet

Specifications:

Length: 12’”

Width: 27.75”

Weight: 50 lbs

Weight capacity: 350 lbs

Performance:

Stability:

Features:

Value:

Features: Adjustable seat, storage hatches, glove box hatch, deck bungees, cup holder, padded knee braces, adjustable footrests, paddle holder

Ideal for: Performance-focused paddlers that want to cruise around lakes in all-day comfort.

 from $719.43

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-05-25 at 22:56 – Details)

Review

The Dirigo 120 is one of the most popular kayaks Old Town offers, and for good reason. It’s 12-foot length and hull shape makes for efficient paddling, while still ensuring good stability on the water.

The Dirigo is well suited to longer days on lakes with lots of storage space for food, water, extra clothing, and other essentials. It also has a contoured seat that has a good amount of padding and multiple adjustment points to get the right support for your body and all-day comfort.

The padded knee braces and adjustable footrests give you some added control and comfort while paddling. It also has some nice additional touches like retractable carry handles and a glove box storage hatch for you phone and keys.

If you’s prefer a kayak that is a bit more performance-focused or just want to be comfortable on longer days, the Dirigo 120 could be a great option. Its only real downside is that it’s a bit more expensive than some of the other picks.

Sun Dolphin Aruba 10

Overall Score: (4.1/5)

SUNDOLPHIN Sun Dolphin Aruba Sit-in Kayak (Blue, 10-Feet)

Specifications:

Length: 10’

Width: 30”

Weight: 40 lbs

Weight capacity: 250 lbs

Performance:

Stability:

Features:

Value:

Features: Adjustable backrest, storage hatch, water bottle holder, padded knee braces, adjustable footrests

Ideal for: Paddlers on a budget that are looking for excellent value for their money.

 from $248.05

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2018-11-13 at 11:27 – Details)

Review

If you want to do some lake paddling on a budget, it’s hard to beat the Aruba 10 in terms of value for your money. The build quality isn’t quite as high as some of the other options but it offers some great basic features for its price point. It’ll get you out on the water and having fun without breaking the bank.

Its 10-foot length means it’s a bit more maneuverability on the water that the Dirigo, so it’s a good fit for smaller lakes. The downside is that it doesn’t track as well so it’s not as good over longer distances. The shorter length also means it’s easier to store and transport

The Aruba has adjustable footrests and padded knee braces, which are nice features to see on a budget model. It does have a rear storage hatch but you may want to store water-sensitive items in a dry bag as it’s not the most secure.

One of the biggest downsides of the Aruba is the seat. The ‘seat’ is really just an adjustable backrest. There is no padded section to sit on, so you’re sitting directly on the molded plastic of the kayak. This isn’t an issue for shorter trips but you might want to consider bringing a cushion for longer days on the lake.

Despite its shortcomings, it’s hard to fault the Aruba 10. At its price point, the Aruba 10 is a bargain and a solid entry-level kayak for lake paddling.

Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100

Overall Score: (4.5/5)

Wilderness Systems 9750105110 Tarpon 100 Kayaks, Midnight, 10'

Specifications:

Length: 10’

Width: 30.5”

Weight: 55 lbs

Weight capacity: 325 lbs

Performance:

Stability:

Features:

Value:

Features: Fully adjustable seat, multiple storage hatches, rear tank well with adjustable bungee tie downs, adjustable footrests, accessory track

Ideal for: Paddlers that also want to use their kayak for other activities like swimming or fishing.

 from $699.00

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-05-25 at 22:56 – Details)

Review

The Tarpon 100 is a versatile sit on top kayak that offers great all around performance, comfort, and stability. The fact that it’s a sit on top kayak means it’s a good choice for warmer water and paddlers that also want to swim or fish from their kayak.

Unlike some sit on top kayaks that can be a bit bare-bones, the Tarpon has a number of features that’ll ensure you don’t outgrow it too quickly.

One of the Tarpon’s key features is its exceptionally comfortable seat. It’s well padded with lots of adjustment points, which is great for longer days on the water or if you’re concerned about lower back comfort.

The seat is complimented by the Tarpon’s track-adjustable footrests – an uncommon but welcomed feature in a sit on top kayak. Combined with it’s high quality seat, they work together to make the Tarpon one of the most comfortable sit on top kayaks available.

There’s plenty of space for your gear with two separate sealed storage hatches as well as a large rear tank well with bungee tie downs.

It also has a built-in accessory track so you can customize it to your heart’s content; a popular feature for paddlers that also want to fish from their kayak.

If you want versatile kayak that has the features to ensure you won’t outgrow it for many years, the Tarpon 100 could be a great fit. Like the Dirigo, its only real fault is that it’s not as affordable as some of the other picks.

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame

Overall Score: (4.4/5)

Advanced Elements AE1012-R AdvancedFrame Inflatable Kayak

Specifications:

Length: 10’ 5”

Width: 32”

Weight: 36 lbs

Weight capacity: 300 lbs

Performance:

Stability:

Features:

Value:

Features: Adjustable seat, built-in aluminum ribs, durable 3-layer construction, deck bungee

Ideal for: Paddlers that want the performance of a hard-shell but the exceptional portability of an inflatable kayak.

 $471.95

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-05-25 at 22:56 – Details)

Review

If you like the portability of an inflatable kayak but but don’t want to sacrifice too much performance, it’s hard to beat the AdvancedFrame inflatable kayak from Advanced Elements.

Weighing in at a dainty 36 pounds and folding down to 30” x 17” x 10” means the AdvancedFrame will easily fit into the trunk of even a small car with room to spare for gear. And when you’re not using it, you can stash it away in a closet, which makes it a great choice for paddlers that are short on storage space.

If you’ve ever paddled in a basic inflatable kayak, you’ll know that many of them suffer from poor performance and tend to swerve from side to side as you paddle through the water. To remedy this, the AdvancedFrame has a built-in aluminum ribs that help it cut through the water and perform more like a hard-shell than an inflatable kayak.

It still won’t be able to outperform higher end hard-shells, but it’ll give some of the more basic ones a good run for their money.

And if you’re worried about durability, the AdvancedFrame uses three layers of material to provide extra protection against punctures. It’s still not quite as tough as a hard-shell but it can definitely take some serious abuse.

The AdvancedFrame opens up a whole new world of paddling possibilities for paddlers that have limited storage space or want to be able to hike in to a paddling location.

If you like the compromise between portability and performance the AdvancedFrame offer but want to do some tandem paddling, Advanced Elements also makes a tandem version that can be converted for both solo and tandem paddling.

Sea Eagle SE370

Overall Score: (4.1/5)

Sea Eagle SE370 Inflatable Sport Kayak Pro Package

Specifications:

Length: 12’ 6”

Width: 34”

Weight: 32 lbs

Weight capacity: 650 lbs

Material: PVC (38 mil PolyKrylar)

Performance:

Stability:

Features:

Value:

Features: Two removable & adjustable inflatable seats, drain valve, two rear skegs, includes paddles

Ideal for: Paddlers that want to do a mix of solo and tandem paddling and need something portable.

 $324.99

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-05-25 at 23:35 – Details)

Review

If you want to do a mix of solo and tandem lake paddling the SE370 could be a good option. It comes with two inflatable seats that can be removed or repositioned so you can hit the water by yourself or with a partner. Just don’t expect to break any speed records.

The SE370 is a versatile inflatable kayak that’s made out of a durable 38 mil PolyKrylar PVC, which means it’ll hold up against collisions with rocks and sticks. It’s rated for class III rapids, so that should give you a good idea how tough it is.

Measuring in at over 12 feet, it’s a little less maneuverable than some of the other options. But its generous 650 weight capacity and the extra legroom means it even has enough space for a small third passenger – ideal for kids.

While the SE370 doesn’t have any dedicated storage space, there’s some space at the front and back to stash away essentials. If you’re paddling solo, on the other hand, there should be plenty of space even for overnight camping gear.

The SE370 has two removable skegs that improve its tracking in the water but you may want to remove them if you’re going to be in shallower water as you’ll run the risk of knocking them off on a rock.

While it’s a little light on high-end features, the SE370’s larger footprint means it’s an exceptionally stable and reliable option. The ability to convert it for solo and tandem paddling offers a lot of flexibility if you want to mix it up from time to time.

Wrapping Up

The Old Town Dirigo 120 wins the title of best kayak for lake paddling. Its balance of performance and stability means it’ll give you the most flexibility for paddling different lake environments. Its high end comfort features and ample storage space mean it’s also suited for longer days on the water and should offer many years of fun and adventures.

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