As someone looking at getting into kayaking seriously: the first step is to own one.
And I’m sure you weren’t surprised to find out that there is a massive range of kayaks in the market: at a variety of price ranges.
Kayaks can easily go up to $10,000 without paddles! And while you may be excited about this brand new sport, I bet you’re not ready to shell out that much coin.
Luckily there are plenty of kayaks in the affordable price range of below $500. This article compiles all the best kayaks for different needs.
Table of Contents
Lifetime Daylite 8 ft Sit-on-top – Best sit on top kayak
The 8 ft. Lifetime Daylite™ Kayak is a compact and lightweight kayak perfect for beginners.
As a sit-on-top kayak, this one is straightforward to get on and off from.
It has a tankwell of dry storage space with bungee cord lacing to secure your fishing equipment, cooler, life vest, or just about anything else you’d need.
A best-seller in beginner kayaks, this sit-on-top is very affordable and versatile.
The adjustable bucket seat is known for being super comfortable and ergonomic, which is essential when you consider the hours you’ll be spending on the boat! It’s also quite high-up, which adds to the stability of the entire kayak.
There are multiple footrest positions for different sized paddlers. It’s been a go-to for kayakers for years and gets sold out and re-stocked pretty quickly.
It’s excellent for transport: easy to carry around thanks to the center handles, and it can also stand upright thanks to the hull design.
You’ll never get too wet thanks to the scupper holes that drain water from the cockpit and tankwell. Beginner kayakers will be happy to know that this kayak is surprisingly easy to maneuver.
The hull is made with UV-protected high-dense polyethylene construction, so you know it’s going to last you a long time (dare we say: a lifetime?)Specifications:
- Length: 8 ft
- 250lbs weight capacity: (113kgs)
- Hull Material is HDPE
- Weight: 36.5 lb. (16.5 kg)
- Width: 29 in. (73.6 cm)
- Height: 10″ (25.4 cm)
- 5 year limited warranty
This kayak is perfect for a novice that wants a kayak for a range of uses.
It’s comfortable to paddle around in, as well as for the occasional fishing expedition, so it really is an all-in-one beginner kayak at an affordable price.
This kayak is also exceptionally comfortable, even for senior citizens!
- Lightweight and easy to carry (even for kids)
- Storage compartment secured with bungee cords.
- Comfortable backrest
- Multiple footrest positions
- Stable and doesn’t tip over with waves.
- Great tracking
- Small enough to fit in garages, closets, and trunks
- The kayak comes with a paddle.
- Paddle isn’t long enough
- Kayak can be small for larger adults.
- Paddle doesn’t have drip shields.
- Not enough space for fishing
Lifetime Tamarack Angler Sit-On-Top Kayak 10 ft -Best Fishing Kayak
- INFLATES QUICKLY: The Driftsun Voyager 2 Person Inflatable Kayak inflates to a full size kayak (11' x 35” x 16”) in less than 5 minutes with the included deluxe high flow double action hand pump....
- COMPACT & MANEUVERABLE: When deflated for transport this inflatable tandem kayak measures only 26”(L) x 16”(W) x 8”(H) and fits nicely into the included carry bag. It’s lightweight design...
- DURABLE DESIGN: Heavy-duty PVC Tarpaulin bottom provides durable protection from punctures, Double Threaded Boston valves are guaranteed not to leak, and tough 840D coated nylon oxford fabric top...
- SUPERIOR PERFORMANCE: Rocker profile and pointed nose entry (bow) delivers excellent performance in both calm and choppy waters, Removable deep fin provides responsive tracking, rear drain plug for...
- EVERYTHING INCLUDED! – Driftsun Voyager Inflatable Tandem Kayak, (2) Adjustable EVA padded seats, (2) Aluminum kayak paddles with ergonomic grip handles, Deluxe double action hand pump, Rear...
The Lifetime Tamarack Angler Kayak is a sit-on-top kayak specially designed for fishing. It promises stellar security and stability so you can focus on your catch!
As a larger sit-on-top than the Lifetime Daylite, the Tamarack can accommodate bigger paddlers.
It has a flat bottom hull and a tracking skeg, so you can be sure you’re traveling in a straight line with minimum maneuvering.
It’s also comfortable to sit in since you’ll be spending long hours in: with backrest and cushioned seating and four different footrest positions.
Some of the special angler kayak features include three-rod holders, out of which two are flush-mounted rod holders, and the third is a top-mounted adjustable rod holder!
The front and rear paddle cradles have shock cord lacing and two hatches for added storage beneath the deck.
I like the groove it has for the paddle keeper itself, so you can keep the paddle safely while you fish.
Of course, the kayak has blow-molded high-density and polyethylene construction, making it that much more durable and UV-protected, and impact resistant. It even has chine rails.
This all contributes to exceptional stability: this kayak will stay put even in less-than-still waters.
- Length: 10ft
- Weight Capacity: 275lbs (124kg)
- Weight: 52 lbs (23.5 kg)
- 5 year limited warranty
- Width: 31 inches (78.7 cm)
- Hull Material is High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
This kayak is perfect for an angler. If you’re planning to expand your fishing adventures to a boat, a kayak is a much better option than a motorized boat.
It’s not only much cheaper but also quieter and non-disruptive on the water. That’s always a plus when you’re trying not to scare fish away.
With this kayak, you can also reach nooks and crannies that wouldn’t have been able to otherwise: like the periphery of fallen logs in a river where fish love to hide.
You’ll also be incorporating some extra exercise through paddling while being comfortable in a kayak with plenty of storage space for all your fishing gear just like having a fishing crate..
- Plenty of storage space for fishing gear.
- Comfortable backrest and seat for long hours
- Multiple footrest positions
- Lightweight for transport
- Extremely stable kayak with chine rails
- Excellent tracking because of the skeg
- Handles for easy carrying around
- Multiple fishing rod holders
- Compromised speed can be slow.
- Not much weight capacity since fishing equipment can be heavy.
- The seat cushion is a bit thin.
Sun Dolphin Aruba SS – Top paddle kayak
- Large open cockpit with adjustable padded seat with high back support
- Convenient gear storage with shock cord deck rigging
- Adjustable foot braces
- Rugged UV-stabilized Fortiflex High Density Polyethylene
- Spray deflector collar
After looking at two of the best sit-on-top kayaks, it’s time to explore the traditional sit-in kayak.
A sit-in kayak wins over its sit-on-top counterparts on a number of factors: speed, distance, inherent stability, and a real paddling experience.
The Sun Dolphin Aruba SS is specially designed for long trips on flat water.
With a large roomy cockpit and adjustable high backrest and footpegs for comfort, you’ll really feel ‘one with the yak.’
It also has excellent speed, and at 10ft, is large enough for most adult paddlers. Key features of the Sun Dolphin Aruba are a portable accessory carrier big enough to carry your necessities and keep them dry, as well as a water bottle holder.
It’s extremely lightweight and is a breeze to carry around with its carrying handles. This recreational kayak also comes with its own paddle and paddle holder.
Sit-ins tend to be less comfortable than a kayak sit on top, but not the Sun Dolphin Aruba.
What makes it the best is the thigh pads and cushioned insides that really makes a difference when you’re maneuvering sharp turns. No sore joints the next day in this kayak!
- Cockpit Size: 38.5″L x 18.5″W
- Maximum weight capacity: 250 lbs
- Length: 10ft (120 inches)
- Width: 30 inches
- Height: 13 inches
- Hard Shell Rugged UV-stabilized Fortiflex High-Density Polyethylene
This kayak is great for a beginner kayaker who is eager to start paddling long distances. It’s recommended that you stick to flat water since it’s not particularly designed for ocean use.
It would also suit an elderly paddler because of the large cockpit and comfortable padding.
Since it’s so affordable, you can buy this kayak as a gift for someone looking to get into the sport or even teach your kids!
- Adjustable high backrest
- Comfortable seat cushion and foot braces
- Protective thigh pads
- Shock cord deck rigging
- Large cockpit
- Handles for easy transport
- Great tracking
- Great speed
- Can accommodate large adults
- Difficult to mount in water
- Only flatwater – not suited for waves
- Can get dented in whitewater rocks
Sea Eagle 370 Inflatable Sport Kayak
- 3 person/650 lb capacity, weighs 32 lbs, suitable for up to Class III whitewater
- 370 Deluxe Kayak Package features two movable, super comfortable Deluxe Kayak Seats for improved back support and 2 paddles, foot pump, and carry bag
- 2 AB30 7'10"" 4 Part Paddles with asymmetrical blade and aluminum shaft
- 2 skegs on the bottom for better tracking & speed
- Open and close drain valve, 5 deluxe 1-way inflation/deflation valves
Hardshell Kayaks are more traditional and durable but can get pricier and be much more difficult to transport.
The advantage of an inflatable kayak is that you can carry it in your backpack, anywhere.
There is a whole range of inflatable kayaks that promise durable material, so you don’t have to worry about them deflating on a sharp rock!The Sea Eagle 370 Inflatable Sport Kayak is a recreational inflatable kayak that can hold up to three people (650lbs!) in the conventional sit inside style.
It comes with two seats, but one can be removed in case a kayaker wants to use it solo.
The kayak is made with PolyKrylar, which is a high-density polymer that is tear-resistant. (That means you can use it with your dog’s claws not digging into it)Unlike the previous kayaks we reviewed, the Sea Eagle is the first one that can handle whitewater rafting.
It has held up well in Class III Whitewater and is highly maneuverable in fast currents. The Sea Eagle comes with two tracking skegs, a foot pump, and a waterproof carry bag.
Because it has such a high weight capacity, you can carry lots of luggage in the storage space.
With the self-bailing drain valve and lashed-down inflatable spray skirts, you’ll get significantly less wet than hard-shell kayak counterparts.
- 10.8 x 1.1 feet Interior dimensions
- 12.6 x 2.10 feet Exterior dimensions
- 31 x 19 x 8 inches Deflated dimensions
- Weight limit: 650 lbs or 3 persons
- Weight: 32 lbs
- Material: 38 mil PolyKrylar (K80 PVC)
- Seam: High-frequency welded
- Air Valves: 5 deluxe one-way
This inflatable Sea Eagle is perfect for novice to intermediate skilled kayakers.
Since it’s ideal for Class III Whitewater rafting, you have an extremely durable kayak that will be a breeze to maneuver on whitewater or flatwater while fishing or water sports.
For the size, quality, and multi-functionality that it offers, the Sea Eagle is a very affordable option.
- Durable and tear-resistant
- Portable once deflated
- Easy to board
- Less likely to capsize
- Incredible weight capacity
- Suited for whitewater rafting
- Adjustable seat layout
- Takes less space than a bulky tandem kayak
- Takes time to inflate and deflate
- Much lower speed than hard-shell kayaks
- Takes more arm strength to paddle
- Collects mildew if damp after deflation
- Feels more like a canoe than a kayak because of a high center of gravity
- Not much tracking
- No footpegs
- Paddles not long enough and rub on the side of the kayak
Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak with Paddle – Best Kayak for Kids
- Specifically designed for kids ages 5 and up; 130 LB weight capacity
- Lightweight 18 Lb. design with molded finger handles on each side for easy transport
- Sloped at the end with a swim-up step allowing rider to easily re-enter the kayak from the water
- Contstucted of High Density Polyethylene for superior strength and durabilty
- Multiple footrest positions for different size riders; backed by a 5-year limited manufacturer warranty
The Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak is specially designed for kids aged 5 years and up. It’s an exceptionally stable and secure kayak that’s perfect for teaching your little ones the water sport.
With polyethylene construction for durability and adjustable foot braces, this kayak is an affordable investment that will last your kid (or kids!) more than a few years.
The wide, flat-bottomed hull is made for extra stability — it’s very difficult to flip or capsize in this one! It also has a sharp bow for speed, so your child can propel themselves forward without too much of an arm workout.
This sit on top kayak is lightweight at 19lbs, so they can carry it easily to the water with the molded finger handles.
It’s sloped at the end, with a swim-up-step, so it’s easy for kids to get off and on the kayak in the water.
They can even stand on it, provided they can balance themselves!The twin fin skegs are what provide excellent tracking for such a small kayak so that they’re not wandering off course every time they stop paddling!
Although it is one of the safest kayaks for kids out there, it’s imperative that they have adult supervision at all times.
- Length: 6ft (183cm)
- Width: 24 inches (61cm)
- Height: 9 inches (22.8cm)
- Weight: 19lbs (8.6 kgs)
- Paddle Length: 72 inches (183cm)
- Weight Capacity: 130lbs (59 kgs)
- Warranty: 5 years limited
This is the best kayak for kids above 5 years old. As a parent, you want a kayak that’s good enough to teach your child with, but also something that will last for more than a few years.
There’s no point in investing in a kayak that your child will outgrow in a year — and the Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak will work for your child until they’re 5’5” (after which they might need an adult kayak).
- Stable design (won’t capsize even if you try!)
- Easy exit & entry
- Easy storage
- Adjustable foot braces
- Limited storage
- Less weight capacity for heavier children
- No seat back
- No handles, only finger grooves
Sevylor Colorado 2-Person Kayak Combo – Best Tandem Kayak
- 18-gauge PVC construction is rugged for lake use
- Tarpaulin bottom provides durable protection from punctures
- Multiple air chambers allow the other chambers to stay inflated if one is punctured
- Airtight System is guaranteed not to leak
- Boston Valve is double threaded for easy inflation/deflation
We’ve chosen the Sevylor Colorado 2-Person Kayak as the best tandem kayak because it is perfect for white water rafting adventures.
As one of the sturdiest inflatable tandem kayaks out there, it can withstand Class III whitewater with its rugged tarpaulin bottom.
Made with 18-gauge PVC construction, this kayak isn’t going to get punctured easily. And even if it does spring a leak, it has multiple air chambers that inflate and make sure you don’t have an untimely accident.
As one of the best recreational kayaks, this kayak has inflated adjustable seats that let you sit higher for more comfortable paddling.
As the best 2-person kayak out of other inflatable kayaks in the market, it can hold up to 270 lbs of weight as well as any other gear you might want to carry.
It’s easy to transport with its carry handles and has an airtight leak-proof system. The D-rings are a great way to attach other equipment to the kayak.
The kayak comes with two paddles, a storage bag to keep the kayak once deflated, a pump, and pressure gauge.
- Inflated dimensions: 10’10” x 2’10”
- Weight limit: 470lbs
- Weight: 32.3lbs
- 1 year limited warranty
This tandem kayak is perfect for adventure sports, if you and your whitewater rafting buddy are looking for an affordable and durable kayak to last you for a long time.
It can be used on flatwater or as an ocean kayak as well with great performance.
However, since it can’t match up to the speed of a hardshell kayak, you’ll get the most out of taking this kayak on whitewater.
- Can be stored anywhere easily
- Multiple air chambers
- Good weight capacity
- Affordable compared to 2 solo kayaks
- River friendly (Class III whitewater)
- Comes with two paddles
- Skeg can get damaged in shallow water
- Has to be dried after deflation or can get mildew
- Difficult to attach paddle handles together
How to Choose the best recreational kayak under $500
After reading through the best Kayaks in 6 different categories, you may be wondering which type of kayak to select for yourself?
There are numerous benefits to each kind of kayak, and it’s just a matter of understanding your own requirements to know which one to go ahead with.
Where you’ll be kayaking is one of the major factors. If you’re kayaking on flatwater, such as in lakes, you’ll want to look for a kayak that has good speed performance.
However, in ocean kayaking or whitewater river rafting, a kayak that’s stable and easy to maneuver is a bigger priority.
Recreational kayaking vs. Water Sports
If you want a kayak to float on while you catch your fish in a still lake, or whether you’re craving adventure also impacts the kind of kayak you’ll choose eventually.
Kayaks are specially designed to withstand different grades of activity: so make sure you have a good idea of what you’ll be using your kayak for.
Some kayaks will hold up a kayaker’s weight even if it’s above the weight capacity, but not for very long durations. It will also significantly affect the performance of the kayak.
On the flip side, being too light or small for a kayak can be less than optimal. You may not fit correctly on the foot rests and be uncomfortable, while also having to exert too much effort padding a boat too big.
Keeping the dimensions of a kayak in mind is key while choosing the correct one.
If your height is above 6ft, you’d be more comfortable in a 12ft boat rather than a 10ft one.
The wider your kayak, the longer the paddle needs to be to ensure it’s not rubbing against the sides of the boat and is being completely submerged into the water.
However, a very long paddle is naturally heavier to hold and can be exhausting for long journeys.
A sit on top kayak has a higher seat and would require a shorter paddle while a sit inside paddle would need to be longer.
Types of recreational kayak under $500
Sit-inside Kayak vs. Sit-on-top
Most kayaks can be categorized into either a sit-inside or a sit-on-top kayak. Once you’ve zeroed in on which one would suit you best, you can go ahead with looking at further specifications.
Sit-inside kayaks are more preferred for recreational settings. Kids and senior citizens also prefer these because of the ease of use.
- Easy to get on and off the kayak while in the water
- More comfortable seating with most sit-on-top kayaks having cushioned backrest options
- Great for a wide range of activities: sightseeing, touring, photography, swimming and especially fishing. Specialisations just for fishing like fishing rod holders can be done only on a sit on top kayak.
- You can even stand on them (if you have good balance!)
- Ideal for multiple people! (And kids! And pets!)
- You will get splashed with water a lot in a sit on top. Therefore, it’s ideal for warm environments.
- Not much dry storage space
- You have to be on flat water on this kind of kayak. Even with the slightest ocean waves of current, or a jet ski going past you, a sit-on-top kayak will become unstable and difficult to get back on track.
- Paddling is difficult, tougher on the arms, and slower than a sit inside.
The traditional sit inside kayak performs better than the sit on top in a number of areas. Let’s take a look at them.
- When you sit inside the cockpit of this kayak, your center of gravity is lowered. That makes paddling much easier. You use your core instead of your arms as much.
- Much greater speed than a sit on top: you can travel longer distances. So if you’re serious about really getting somewhere, this kayak is your best bet.
- More dry storage space in the hulls
- Easy to maneuver: When you’re sitting inside a kayak, you’re not just using the paddle to move the boat, but also your entire body. You really feel one with the kayak and also use your lower body to navigate
- Inherent stability in a sit inside kayak and it’s difficult to capsize (unless you really try!)
- Difficult to get into the kayak from the water.
- Harder to launch into the water unless you have some help!
- Not suited for any other water activities: like fishing!
- Not many options for two-person tandem kayaks
Another option that you can opt for are inflatable kayaks. They’re typically more affordable and also easy to carry around since you can deflate them after use and store them in a bag.
The only drawback is that you might have to spend a good ten to fifteen minutes pumping it with air every time you want to take it out on the water.
Fifetime Kayaks Final Words
If you’re still undecided about which kayak to go for: we recommend getting the Lifetime Daylite 8ft which was the Best Sit-on-top kayak winner.
As one of the most affordable kayaks on this list, it’s the most multipurpose and is a great start to your kayaking journey!
Even though it’s not a serious speeding boat like some other sit inside kayaks, you’ll definitely have a lot of fun frolicking on the Lifetime Daylite which has great stability and comfort and doubles as a fishing kayak as well.
However, if you’re keen on a tandem kayak to have fun with the family: we’d suggest that you go for the Sea Eagle 370 that has the highest weight capacity and can hold up to three people. It wins our hearts especially because it’s so pet friendly.
Take your dogs, kids, and fishing equipment on a kayak that’s almost luxuriously comfortable to float in.
As one user put it: it’s like a massive water-friendly family sofa on the water!