This blog turned kayaking into much more than a hobby. Gathering information, comparing brands, and testing all come with the territory. My wife sometimes jokes that I live and breathe kayaking – and she’s not wrong.
Anyway, it got me thinking:
I already have all this information and insights about different kayak brands. Why would I keep it from fellow paddlers who probably need it the most?
So, I put together a round-up of best kayak brands for you! And more importantly, which kayak brands to avoid
If anything, it could help cut the time you’d spend researching and comparing kayak manufacturers in half.
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Why Brands Are Important: Do You Need A Branded Kayak?
There are many different types of kayaks, with distinct design characteristics, made for specific on-the-water activities, such as:
- Sit-inside kayaks
- Sit-on-top kayaks
- Hard-shell kayaks
- Inflatable kayaks
- Recreational kayaks
- Tandem kayaks
- Sailing kayaks
- Touring kayaks
- Fishing kayaks
- Whitewater kayaks
I could keep going.
The point is, you’re bound to come across a variety of manufacturers – and each will strive to come up with unique designs, models, and manufacturing processes that set them apart.
That’s understandable; business 101.
But when there are too many variables at play, the kayaks’ performance, quality, reliability, and safety start to vary drastically. That’s where your knowledge of any given brand’s reputation and reliability comes in handy.
That brings me to my next point…
Benefits Of Buying From Top Kayak Brands
I wish I could say that it’s entirely possible to go with a noname option, save a ton of cash, and still get the functionality, quality, and durability of a branded kayak.
But I’m afraid that my answer is “No.“
The benefits of buying a kayak from a reputable brand far outweigh the initial savings of choosing a similar-but-generic model:
1. Reputable Manufacturer
Do you know what makes a brand successful?
I’m not saying that marketing, offering unique propositions, and all that strategic stuff doesn’t matter. It does – but only to a degree:
The products and services may be in the brand’s control, but its reputation is not.
There’s no way for a manufacturer to control how customers feel about its products.
When you opt for a leading brand, you get that sense of reassurance that you’re buying from a well-established company that built its reputation on delivering expertise, quality, and consistency.
I am not saying new or unknown brands are the kayak brands to avoid – but if your are considering buying from brand without a reputation, you should undertake further research before parting with your hard earned money.
2. Safety Regulations
The best kayak brands will typically employ manufacturing methods and use materials that adhere to the national and – almost always – international safety standards.
The confidence in your vessel’s reliability and safety makes a difference when you’re out on the water, especially in challenging conditions or long trips.
I’m aware that a well-known brand can’t guarantee security.
But as someone who often has a 4-year-old on board, I would rather pay extra for a hull that meets safety regulations, than risk things with a cheap, off-brand kayak that maybe hasn’t had the same level of testing and quality control.
3. Design & Build Quality
Another significant benefit of choosing a reputable company is that it won’t skimp out on resources throughout the manufacturing process.
If a brand worked hard on building its reputation, it’d work even harder to maintain it.
These kayak brands understand the importance of investing time and money into innovations, testing, and – ultimately – making quality kayaks suitable for their intended use.
Kayaks made by leading manufacturers are usually superior to the generic options in build quality and materials used. You can often see it in the details, too.
Sadly, the kayak brands to avoid are often those with the cheaper price tag, all made possible by cutting corners – by not stress testing the kayak design – poor manufacturing processes – or by using inferior materials.
The warranty tells you a lot about the brand as a whole.
You can see how much it cares about its customers – and how willing it is to stand behind its products.
A kayak is no small investment – and adequate warranty policy is the best way to protect it against defective or otherwise unsatisfactory products. You can count on swift repairs and necessary replacements, and have someone to turn to for help.
Most manufacturers will provide some form of warranty; beware of generic brands that don’t.
Top 9 Kayak Brands List: Industry Leaders That Deserve Mention
I can see how listing a few brands and labeling them as “top kayak brands” could be confusing.
So, I figured it’s best to explain what the phrase means – or what it doesn’t – before we dive in:
It doesn’t imply that the brands listed below are the absolute best with no real competition – nor does it suggest that these are all high-end kayak manufacturers.
Top kayak brands are considered mainstream, employ quality manufacturing processes, have great brand awareness, and broad – often global – distribution.
Most importantly, they make kayaks “for the people,” prioritizing affordability, accessibility, performance – and fun.
In short, these kayak brands managed to hit the “sweet spot” – and earned a place on this list.
The first name to land on my top kayak brands list, the South-Carolina-based Wilderness Systems, started manufacturing kayaks in 1986.
Wilderness Systems kayaks’ team consists of outdoor enthusiasts that love escaping the city lights and noise for the landscapes and open waters’ calmness. So, they joined forces and designed kayaks that are up to the task:
Stable and lightweight, yet rugged enough to handle the wilderness.
Innovative designs fine-tuned for performance, premium quality, and top-notch outfitting, combined with the love of outdoors – that’s Wilderness Systems for you.
It’s no wonder that Wilderness Systems is one of the most renowned kayaking brands, consistently recognized as one of the best in the game:
Not only does the brand make cool-looking kayaks but keeps winning awards for its envelope-pushing designs, too.
Seriously, though, Wilderness Systems has one pretty impressive list of award-winning designs and have produced some of the finest sit-on-top fishing kayaks – you can check it out here!
“For over 40 years, Perception has introduced more people to paddling than probably any other kayak maker.”
Perception’s website sums it up so perfectly that I feel like I should leave it at that.
I mean, with a brand like Perception, recognized by pretty much everyone in the paddling community, there’s not much need for introduction, anyway.
I bet if you were to take a paddle around the local rivers and lakes you would see more Perception kayak than any other brand.
Here’s a fun fact, though:
The first rotomolded kayak ever was manufactured by – you guessed it – Perception Kayaks, back in 1977!
Perception positioned itself at the forefront of this innovation and is industry-acknowledged as the pioneer of plastic rotomolded kayaks.
Today, Perception Kayaks’ range of products includes tandem fishing kayaks, recreational kayaks, touring kayaks, premium and budget fishing kayaks, and Sit-On-Top kayaks that focus on reliability and functionality – without compromising simplicity.
On the opposite end of the rotomolded hard-shells, you have affordable inflatable kayaks made by Intex.
Many would class Intex as the king of the budget inflatable kayak – personally I think its a tough call between Intex and Sevylor.
Intex Recreation Corp. is a USA-based brand that’s part of a larger family of companies operating worldwide. It has over 50 years of experience under its belt, with a strong focus on quality, value, and family time – and it all started with a beach ball.
A company that’s widely recognized as a distributor of affordable inflatable products in more than 100 countries started with a beach ball!
Above-ground swimming pools, air beds, pool floats, and sporting goods – that’s the Intex we know today.
One more thing to love about Intex is the company’s dedication to reducing its carbon footprint. Over the past ten years, the brand showed commitment to the environment and efforts to make manufacturing more sustainable.
If you are looking for a well made, budget friendly inflatable kayak then you can go far wrong with an inflatable kayak by Intex.
Many of the top kayak brands didn’t start as kayak manufacturers but rather worked their way to it. Sevylor, however, takes the cake for the most unusual origin story:
The France-based company was founded in 1948 and started out manufacturing electrical accessories. It wasn’t until they came across a specific PVC-handling process that they created their first inflatable product – and began building their current line-up.
Over the past seven decades, Sevylor has grown into one of the best-known manufacturers of affordable inflatable kayaks, inflatable boats, pool floats, and other air-filled recreational products:
Inflatable kayaks, canoes, standup paddleboards, recreational and fishing boats, pool toys, air beds – if it’s a PVC-made inflatable, Sevylor probably made it.
Sevylor Kayaks have made their way into many of the best kayak roundups, whether that’s; best budget kayak, best tandem fishing kayak, best lightweight kayak, best fishing kayak or the best kayak for big guy. Sevylor is truly a inflatable kayak all rounder.
Another name known for its kayaks but hasn’t started its journey with paddling-oriented products is the Utah-based multi-sport brand Lifetime.
The story begins in 1986 with a simple basketball hoop. From there, Lifetime invented the first complete one-box basketball system and a folding picnic table with a blow-molded tabletop.
Eventually, the company expanded beyond the initial projects and applied these manufacturing processes and technologies to making vessels, becoming a world-wide trusted brand along the way.
The goal remained the same, though – producing affordable and durable products that would last a lifetime.
Today, Lifetime’s known for its entry-level sit-inside and sit-on-top kayaks, paddleboards, and youth kayaks built from blow-molded, high-density polyethylene.
Durable and lightweight, the products are regarded as highly stable and beginner-friendly, with different styles and accessories available.
Ocean Kayak, now operating under Johnson Outdoors Family, has rather humble roots:
The brand’s innovations-fueled journey starts in 1971 with a surfboard carved out in a Malibu backyard.
That’s right, Ocean Kayak – one of the world’s biggest sit-on-top kayak manufacturers was born out of love for scuba diving and riding waves!
In the mid-80s, Ocean Kayak moves to Washington and begins looking into kayak mass-production methods, finally settling with roto-molding. Scupper Classic was the first in a long line of tough Sit-On-Top that looked nothing like traditional kayaks.
Tens of thousands of vessels later, the brand operates from Old Town, Maine, distributing kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, fishing boats, and other water-sports accessories worldwide.
Ocean Kayak took paddling sports, especially sea kayaking, to the next level with innovative features and great value-for-money recreational kayaks. Many would call them the king and queen of the Sit-On-Top and sea kayaks.
Old Town Canoes are widely known and one of the largest and best canoe makers in the United States. They have been producing high quality water craft for well over 115 years from their home in Maine, New England.
SInce 2004 Old Town have been part of the wider Johnson Outdoor Family, along other premium outdoor brands as; Ocean Kayak, Humminbird and Scubapro
Although originally Old Town just manufactured wood and canvas canoes, they now also produce some of the finest and best equipped fishing kayaks, pedal kayaks and tandem kayaks on the market. Such as the Old Town Loon or the Old Town Looksha.
“Hobie didn’t invent the kayak. We perfected it.”
I always liked the modesty-turns-confidence vibe of Hobie’s slogan. But anyway, back to Hobie’s roots:
Hobie Alter’s dream of applying his love of woodworking to surfing sports was born in 1950 when he made his first surfboard in his parents’ garage. Then, a few years down the line, with a little help from a friend, Hobie made history by inventing the polyurethane foam surfboard.
It wasn’t until the late 60s that Hobie started working on boats.
The revolutionary Hobie Cat sailing boat was the first to come, and kayaks followed soon enough. Finally, in 1997, Hobie introduced the MirageDrive pedal-propulsion system – something it’s still recognized for, to this day.
Hobie’s logo quickly became synonymous with the very best in everything water-sports-related.
Today, it offers globally-distributed vessels – sailboats, SUPs, recreational and fishing boats, and kayaks – and a comprehensive array of accompanying accessories.
And, I am sure that if asked 1000 kayakers to name a high-end fishing kayak manufacturer, the majority would say Hobie.
Did you know that Malibu Kayaks started as retailers and didn’t transition to kayak manufacturers until 1999 when it introduced the Pro Explorer?
Why did the brand decide to switch lanes?
In the company’s own words, they believed that they could design better kayaks than what was the norm at the time. To this day, Malibu Kayaks sticks to the principle of disrupting the “one hull fits all” model through innovation.
The Pro Explorer marked the introduction of elements not commonly associated with sit-on-top kayaks, primarily stability, versatility, and dry seating. Then, in 2010, Malibu Kayaks branched out, designing the first sit-inside kayak with Sit-On-Top characteristics – the Sierra 10.
The brand’s line-up includes a unique and affordable option for every purpose and every paddler, staying true to the initial goal:
Malibu Kayaks fit the paddler’s needs – and not the other way around.
Compared to many other top kayak brands, Vibe Kayaks is relatively young:
The first premium-quality fishing kayak made to fit every angler’s budget was introduced in 2013, launching the entire Vibe movement.
The founder took a new approach to manufacture, with a focus on sustained passion and all-in authenticity, rather than mere profits, which many “older” brands are yet to learn.
Vibe Kayaks has a simple belief – “No Drama. Just Adventure – For Everyone” – that rules every aspect of the company. This laidback, relaxed approach, and the Vibe Tribe community that the brand built along the way has quickly made it the go-to brand for outdoor enthusiasts – and those into kayak fishing.
Today, Vibe Kayaks is a leading fishing kayak brand that blends good looks, durability, versatility, great features, and affordability.
Its line-up is all about delivering more for less – for paddlers and anglers at all skill levels.
“There’s only one way to take the ultimate step up in kayaking: Ascend.”
What a clever play on words, huh?
If you’ve ever visited one of the nearby Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shops and wandered straight into the store’s boating section, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve seen a few Ascend kayaks on display – even if you didn’t necessarily recognize the brand.
Ascend is a relatively young brand, much like Vibe Kayaks; the Ascend line was first launched in 2010. However, the company behind Ascend – the White River Marine Group – is a well-known US-based kayak manufacturer.
The brand quickly gained traction among paddlers of all levels and preferences, from beginners and recreational paddlers to fishing enthusiasts. And that’s all thanks to the user-friendly design, high-quality AQUATUF material, reasonable price, and overall reliability of these Missouri-made kayaks.
Furthermore, Ascend Kayaks is one of only two kayak brands that have earned the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) certificate. Hobie is the second manufacturer to earn that certificate, in case you were wondering.
That’s a clear indicator that these kayaks meet and exceed the standards set by the American Boat & Yacht Council and the US Coast Guard.
Today, Ascend’s range of kayaks includes a wide range of options, like the absolute beast that is the Ascend 128T – and the H12, the undisputed champion of Ascend’s Hybrid category.
You can learn more about the brand – and check out my Ascend Kayaks reviews – here.
What Kayak Brand Is The Best?
Imagine if it were that easy:
You come here and ask me about the best kayak brand, I give you a specific name, and we call it a day. That’s it, no further discussion needed.
I feel like I’m repeating myself a lot, but – things aren’t that simple.
I mean, I could probably pick any name from the kayak brands list you just saw and highlight it as the best kayak brand on the market. Each one is popular enough and has the experience, expertise, and reputation for it.
And no, I’m not trying to talk my way out of a direct question here.
Picking one brand as the best would be way more straightforward – but it would also be deceiving.
Sure, a brand that finds a way to combine build quality, durable materials, reasonable prices, functionality, and cool-looking designs with popularity and availability certainly deserves the title.
But all that won’t matter much if the kayak doesn’t work for you.
Instead of focusing on brand names from the start, I recommend that you figure out what you want from your kayak, first. Once you have an essential list of requirements in mind, you can move on to finding a reputable brand that can meet them.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you pick the best kayak brand.
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What About Kayak Brands To Avoid?
Kayaking continues to grow more popular as a unique way to experience local waterways, stay in shape, and spend quality time outdoors, be it with friends or family. Or alone – you know, social distancing and all that.
Do you know who else picked up on the growing popularity of paddling sports, though?
Manufacturers of cheap, knock-off kayaks. Also known as, the cheap copy kayak imports.
It’s not an easy or direct question to answer what are the kayak brands to avoid. I won’t throw any brands under the bus or name any names. Then again, I can’t ignore what’s going on, either.
So, how about a different approach?
You can’t have a real kayaking experience without the real thing – but we all know that branded kayaks cost money. A super-tight budget might make it tempting to give cheaper knock-offs a shot.
If that’s the case, be sure to dig deeper and research brands within your price range:
Check out their websites, read online reviews – and if anything starts looking fishy, move on. There’s usually a pretty good reason for the considerably lower price tag.
Before opting for a lesser known brand or copycat ‘yak have a look for branded kayaks on the secondhand market.
Also, a single bad experience with a brand doesn’t necessarily mean they are a brand to avoid. The problem can often be traced back to inadequate kayak design.
So, avoid pointing fingers and labelling a company as a kayak brands to avoid, instead, try to keep these factors in mind before buying a new kayak:
- Typical water conditions and paddling environment
- Your preferred type of kayaking activity
- Your body type, mainly height and size
- Matters of kayak transportation and storage
- On-water performance, such as stability, maneuverability, and speed
Final Word About Best Kayak Brands
Attempting to put together a complete kayak brands list that includes each and every manufacturer, their benefits and the kayak brands to avoid, would be futile. I’m not sure I could ever finalize a round-up like that.
There are way too many kayak brands out there – and there’s just one of me.
That said, I did try to include the best kayak brands based on the performance, quality, affordability, and accessibility – and I hope this list helped a bit.
Again, your kayak’s performance will be determined by the type of construction and quality of materials used. It would be best if you didn’t get all fussy about particular brands after reading this, but:
Unlike their knock-off counterparts, top-of-the-line kayaks usually make for a long-lasting investment.