Whether you’re in it to escape the commotions of daily life, practice your strokes, or get off the couch, lakes allow you to explore a more leisurely side of paddling. The relaxing, easy-going nature of calm waters and a high degree of accessibility are part of what makes it so attractive.
As long as the weather’s good and there’s a lake nearby, you’re in for a great time – provided that you choose the best kayak for lakes first.
Given the many different types of lake kayaks, that’s often easier said than done. I’m hoping this buying guide can change that!
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At a Glace: Our Top Picks For Best Kayak for Lakes
- Overall Winner: Wilderness Systems Aspire 105
- Budget Pick: Intex Challenger K2 Kayak
- Great For Smaller Paddlers: Wilderness Systems Aspire 100
- Fishing Ready: Pelican Basscreek 100X Angler
- Entry-Level Option: Perception Tribe 9.5
- Budget-Friendly Inflatable Tandem: Intex Explorer K2
- Top Tandem Option: Pelican River Gorge 130X Tandem Kayak
- Best Hybrid: Perception Hi Life 11
In A Rush? The Winner After 40 Hours Of Research:
Wilderness Systems Aspire 105
Why is it better?
- Performance-oriented sit-inside kayak suitable for flat and slow-moving waters
- Designed for beginners and intermediate-level kayakers
- Wide opening and roomy cockpit make it easy to get in and out of the kayak and are suitable for larger paddlers
- Exceptional stability and handling and all-around flexibility in a variety of conditions
- TruTrak retractable skeg with cockpit control ensures spot-on tracking
- Phase 3 AirPro seat features honeycomb-vented, ergonomic foam and lower back support and is fully adjustable
- Onboard storage options include a rear water-tight hatch and bungee deck rigging
- Molded-in dashboard for keeping small items at hand
Best Kayaks For Lake: Everything You Need To Know Before Making Your Choice
Ask any paddler – regardless of previous experience or preferences – and they’ll likely tell you that a calm lake on a sunny afternoon is the definition of pure bliss.
Do you know why lakes are among the most popular kayaking destinations?
Tranquil surroundings and calm water accessible to all skill levels; it’s as simple as that.
And when it comes to choosing a lake kayak, you have more than a few options. From kayak sit-on-top recreational kayaks to sit-inside sea kayaks, lake kayaks come under many different names and in just as many different shapes and forms.
Let’s go over some general guidelines on selecting the best kayaks for lakes and making that decision a bit easier!
Is There A Difference Between Ocean And Lake Kayaks?
Provided that you use good judgment and have the skills to pull it off, you could, theoretically speaking, use any type of kayak in any water conditions. It won’t be a good experience – and you might put yourself at serious risk – but one could argue that it’s doable.
In theory, that is.
Things are a bit different in practice, though.
The reason why kayaks are classified as “ocean kayaks,” “whitewater kayaks,” or “lake kayaks” is because they’re designed for those exact environments. That’s where they perform their best and are, more often than not, safest to use.
So, yes, there will be some differences between ocean and lake kayaks, starting with a rather obvious one:
The former feels right at home in rough, open waters, and the latter is designed for use in calm, flat water environments.
Other differences worth mentioning here include:
- Length & Width – Ocean kayaks are notoriously long and narrow, often measuring up to 20 feet in length. Lake kayaks tend to be shorter – typically somewhere between 9 to 12 feet – and broader to increase stability.
- Storage & Equipment – Ocean kayaks feature ample storage space and additional equipment, such as rudders and skegs, to accommodate long-distance travel needs. Lake kayaks are built for fun and recreational paddling; boating essentials are all you’ll need.
- Efficiency – Kayaks for lakes prioritize stability and comfort over speed and efficiency. Whereas a sea kayak is designed to navigate large bodies of water, track well, and cover long distances with utmost efficiency.
And while you could paddle an ocean kayak on a lake, hitting open waters in a kayak for lakes would be a bad idea.
Safety first, as they say.
What Type Of Kayak Is Best For Lakes?
You might’ve decided to stick to paddling in nearby lakes – but that doesn’t narrow down your options as much as you’d expect:
Lake kayaking is a pretty broad term – and the concept of the best kayak for lakes has to be considered in the broadest possible sense, too.
I mean, think about your skill level, previous kayaking experience, and the type of kayaking you want to do. You can’t expect to find a single kayak that meets every need and every purpose; the verdict on what’s the best kayak for lakes often depends on who you ask.
For lake kayaking, I’d highly recommend one of the following kayak types:
- Recreational Kayaks – Since they prioritize user-friendliness above everything else, recreational ‘yaks are the right choice for – well, pretty much everyone who enjoys casual paddling.
- Inflatable Kayaks – Highly portable, space-efficient, easy to use, inexpensive, and lightweight; inflatables lead the way among travel-friendly, easy-on-the-wallet kayaks.
- Fishing Kayaks – Lakes make for excellent fishing ground. If that’s your thing, a fully rigged fishing kayak that prioritizes stability, roomy deck, storage, and compatibility with fishing accessories is your best bet.
- Touring Kayaks – If you’re planning lengthy excursions, long and narrow touring kayaks, with ample storage and excellent tracking performance, are the best for the job.
Additional Considerations When Choosing The Best Kayak For Lakes
Okay, let’s say you’ve settled on the type of kayak that would fit your lake kayaking needs the best.
Well, there are still a few more factors you should consider before you start browsing the market and make the final choice.
Style Of Kayak: Sit-On-Top Or Sit-Inside?
Kayaks can, broadly speaking, be grouped into two distinct “styles” based on cockpit design:
- Sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks that feature an open deck and are easy to get in and out of, especially for beginner paddlers
- Sit-inside (SIK) kayaks are a much better choice for a variety of weather and water conditions due to the enclosed cockpit
Sit-on-top vs sit-in kayak is the eternal debate amongst kayakers. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. Your choice between a SOT and a SIK will, in many ways, depend on the type of kayak you want:
If you plan on using the ‘yak for lake fishing, you’ll probably want a sit-on-top kayak And if you’re more interested in touring kayaks, a sit-in kayak would be a much better fit.
What if you can’t make up your mind, though?
Well, a hybrid – the middle ground between a sit-on-top and a sit-in kayak – might be right up your alley.
Size & Weight
The first one is the number of people it can accommodate. Are you thinking of bringing someone along for the ride and making lake kayaking a group activity?
If so, tandems might be an excellent alternative to buying two one-person kayaks.
Do you have the needed storage space at home for a full-sized kayak? Can you carry the boat to and from the water by yourself? Will you need a kayak trailer?
Lastly, take a moment to consider how size can affect the kayak’s performance:
A longer kayak will be heavier and harder to transport – but will also be far more efficient in long-distance trips. Shorter kayaks, on the other hand, tend to be more maneuverable.
Also, hull width usually dictates stability; don’t overlook this vital aspect of the kayak’s size.
Kayak’s Weight Capacity
Whether you’re going with a full-sized touring kayak for lakes or an inflatable sit-on-top, weight capacity is something you need to consider.
This manufacturer-specified rating will indicate how much weight the kayak can hold and stay afloat.
Keep in mind that this number doesn’t indicate the paddler’s body weight, though. Instead, it specifies the maximum amount of weight you can bring on board – that includes you and all your gear – with the kayak staying afloat.
Do some math and figure out your total weight requirements; it will help you get a rough estimate of the load capacity you should aim for in a kayak.
Your Experience & Skill Level
If you think about it, it doesn’t make much sense to get a kayak that doesn’t fit your experience and paddling skills.
You won’t get as much out of it performance-wise as you hoped for as an expert paddler. Or you’ll splurge on a top-of-the-line kayak that, for a beginner, might be hard to maneuver.
Either way, you won’t be thrilled with your choice.
Here are a few pointers on how to choose a lake kayak according to your skills and experience:
- Beginners and those who are “testing the waters” should prioritize convenience, stability, and ease of access found in wider sit-on-top kayaks – and even inflatables.
- Intermediate-level kayakers should be prepared to spend a bit more, focusing on durability, maneuverability, and lightweight construction.
- Seasoned paddlers will need kayaks capable of handling a wide range of harsh weather and water conditions; longer and narrower sit-in touring kayaks might fit the bill.
Best Kayaks For Lakes – Top 8 Reviews & Recommendations
Best Inflatable Tandem Kayak For Lakes
Intex Explorer K2
The first one is the Explorer K2 – an inexpensive tandem kayak that shows Intex still rules the low-cost inflatable kayaks market.
This 10-foot banana-looking kayak is a simple but functional option for families with kids looking to give lake kayaking a try.
It features a three-chamber vinyl hull, an I-beam floor, inflatable seats, a removable skeg, and a complete starter kit. While it tips the scales at an ultra-light 30.6 pounds, it boasts a 400-pound load capacity.
I’m not overly impressed with the back support offered by the inflatable seats or the lack of actual onboard storage. Still, it’s a solid choice for beginners and occasional outings.
- Sit-on-top inflatable kayak
- Vinyl construction
- 10.25 x 3 feet
- 30.6 pounds
- 400-pound capacity
- For smaller bodies of water and occasional use
- Simple, lightweight, and highly portable
- Two paddles, a skeg, and a hand pump included
- Beginner- and budget-friendly
- No dedicated storage options
- Comes with a flimsy, low-quality carrying bag
- Inflatable seats offer very little back support
- It won’t work for experienced kayakers
When it comes to budget-friendly inflatable tandem kayaks for lakes, Explorer K2, although only suitable for occasional outings, is still a more than decent choice.
Overall Best Kayak For Lakes
Wilderness Systems Aspire 105
Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 is everything you would expect a high-performance sit-inside recreational kayak to be:
It’s a practical, performance-oriented kayak that combines responsiveness and maneuverability with hard-to-beat stability in a 10.5-foot, 48-pound frame. You’re in for all-around flexibility and versatility, whether you’re a beginner or an intermediate-level kayaker.
And with a 400-pound capacity, water-tight rear hatch, molded-in console, and bungee rigging, it has enough storage – even for longer overnight trips.
There’s a lot to love about the Aspire 105, but it’s the Phase 3 AirPro seat, coupled with a wide, easy-to-get-into cockpit opening, that steals the show.
Ergonomic foam, lower back support, breathability, and complete adjustability; need I say more?
- Sit-inside kayak
- High-density polyethylene plastic construction
- 10.5 x 2.4 feet
- 48 pounds
- 400-pound capacity
- Retractable skeg with cockpit control
- Comfortable and highly adjustable seat
- For beginner kayakers and intermediate paddlers
- Not just confined to lakes and rivers, can go beyond flat water
- Exceptional maneuverability and stability
- Flimsy locking levers on the hatch
- Shouldering the kayak feels unbalanced and uncomfortable
- Hard to find a spray skirt for the large cockpit
Wilderness Systems’ Aspire 105 seamlessly blends maneuverability, stability, tracking, and comfort – in short, everything you could want – without question one of the best performance-oriented sit-in kayaks for lakes.
Best Tandem Kayak For Lakes
Pelican River Gorge 130X Tandem Kayak
If you’d like to share your on-the-water adventures with a friend, Pelican’s River Gorge 130X is the hard-shell tandem for the job.
THis river kayak is built for two, and, at 13 feet, it’s reasonably long – and far from lightweight. Then again, the 73-pound kayak should be manageable enough with two paddlers.
Also, it boasts an impressive 500-pound capacity, open cargo spaces with bungee rigging, and two dry storage hatches. You may even squeeze in a third passenger – a child or family pet – which is always a plus.
One potential downside is the price – but it has enough extras to make up for it.
- Sit-on-top tandem kayak
- RAM-X PREMIUM polyethylene construction
- 13 x 2.8 feet
- 73 pounds
- 500-pound capacity
- High weight capacity and plenty of storage
- Twin-arched multi-chine hull aids stability and tracking
- ERGOFIT seating system with adjustable backrests
- Doesn’t come with paddles
- It’s not the most lightweight lake kayak at 73 pounds
- Not the best choice for paddlers on a budget
If kayaking alone isn’t your thing, Pelican’s River Gorge 130X tandem might be the best kayak for lakes for you and your paddling buddy.
Best Recreational Kayak For Lakes
Perception Tribe 9.5
Did you come here in search of a do-it-all sit-on-top kayak designed for lazy afternoons and weekends on lakes, slow-moving rivers, and calm coastal waters?
Then, you want the easy-going Perception Tribe 9.5, period!
As recreational kayaks go it’s relatively compact and portable at just under 9.5 feet and 48.5 pounds. The wide-open deck feels spacious and clutter-free but still features front and rear cargo areas, a center hatch, and a 300-pound capacity.
I might sound nitpicky here, but I do wish the center hatch were water-tight.
That little detail aside, this ‘yak offers versatility, care-free comfort, and superior stability, with the fun factor to boot.
It’s “just right” in every aspect of its design and performance!
- Sit-on-top kayak
- Polyethylene construction
- 9.4 x 2.6 feet
- 48.5 pounds
- 300-pound capacity
- An adjustable comfort seating system
- Open storage and a center hatch
- Spacious deck and superior stability
- Easy to maneuver and confidence-inspiring
- Suitable for smaller paddlers and beginners
- Toggle handles wear the bungee cords down
- The central storage hatch isn’t water-tight
- You have to buy the paddle separately
- No paddle parks
Exceptional comfort and a high degree of stability, maneuverability, and versatility wrapped in one good-looking, compact, and affordable package; the Tribe 9.5 is the ultimate recreational kayak for lakes and a great entry-level option!
Best Lake Kayak For Fishing
Pelican Basscreek 100X Angler
If you’re looking forward to doing some kayak fishing, Pelican’s reasonably-priced Basscreek 100X Angler kayak is a safe bet.
This 10-footer clocks in at 50 pounds, which is reasonable enough for a fishing kayak. It’s every bit as maneuverable on land as it is on the water.
It has a 325-pound capacity and storage space options that include a rear tank well, large front hatch, and a 4-inch dry storage hatch in the back. It’s also equipped with two flush-mount and one swivel rod holder, paddle tie-down, and accessory eyelets.
What’s more, the multi-chine flat-bottom hull ensures much-needed stability.
The ERGOFIT G2 seat isn’t as comfortable and supportive as I hoped, though.
- Sit-on-top kayak
- RAM-X polyethylene construction
- 10 x 2.5 feet
- 50 pounds
- 325-pound capacity
- Ample storage with two hatches and tank well
- Two flush-mount and one swivel fishing rod holders
- Multi-chine flat-bottom hull for stability
- Camouflage design for fishing
- This model doesn’t come with a paddle
- The seat offers minimal back support and can be uncomfortable
- Weight capacity could be a bit higher
As far as kayaks for lake fishing go, there’s not a doubt in my mind that Pelican’s Basscreek 100X Angler will meet – and exceed – your needs.
Best Cheap Kayak For Lakes
Intex Challenger K2 Kayak
I kicked things off with a cheap Intex inflatable tandem – but I couldn’t bring myself to leave out the Challenger K2 in my round-up.
There’s nothing mind-blowing about this 11.5-foot two-person kayak, except maybe for the sporty graphics. It’s your typical Intex inflatable, designed with two separate chambers and an I-beam floor.
This gem of an inflatable kayak is not only super-cheap, it has a 400-pound capacity, weighs only 33.5 pounds, and is easy to transport and store. Plus, it includes a pump, a detachable skeg, two paddles, and a carry bag, although the latter doesn’t seem very promising.
Also, the semi-enclosed cockpit gets rather hot during the summer – when you’re most likely to use this lake kayak.
- Sit-inside inflatable kayak
- Vinyl construction
- 11.5 x 2.5 feet
- 33.5 pounds
- 400-pound capacity
- Cheap, light, and easy to set up
- Front cargo net
- Kayak paddle, pump, and skeg included
- Two-chamber construction for safety
- Bright graphics improve visibility
- Lacks scupper holes so water congregates on the deck floor
- Hard to dry completely
- Cockpit tends to get hot during the summer
- The included carrying bag isn’t remarkably durable
- Wind will push you around
If you want something cheap and beginner-friendly, the Challenger K2 might be what a beginner kayaking duo needs to get a taste of the action.
Best Hybrid Sit-On-Top Lake Kayak
Perception Hi Life 11
Lake kayaking is all about having fun – and nothing says fun like Perception’s Hi Life 11.
I mean, there must be a reason why this hybrid of a stand-up paddleboard and a sit-on-top kayak is an award-winning design.
When it comes to versatility, this 11-footer is insane:
This kayaks sit-on-top design can be paddled as a “regular” kayak – but the soft-yet-grippy deck cushioning means it performs just as well as a stand-up paddleboard.
Plus, it has front and rear swim decks, a hidden built-in cooler space under the seat, and gear tracks.
The capacity is decent enough at 280 pounds, although it lacks conventional onboard storage.
- Hybrid sit-on-top kayak
- Polyethylene construction
- 11 x 2.8 feet
- 55 pounds
- 280-pound capacity
- Designed for slow-moving, flat, and calm coastal waters
- A versatile SOT/SUP hybrid
- Grippy surface cushioning and swim-up decks
- Built-in buoyancy for improved safety
- It doesn’t have any conventional onboard storage options
- You have to get the Hi Life convertible paddle separately
- Requires constant paddling to keep straight
If you can’t make up your mind between a SUP and a sit-on-top kayak for lakes, the oh-so-fun Perception Hi Life 11 might be right up your alley!
Best Lake Kayak For Smaller Paddlers
Wilderness Systems Aspire 100
Don’t be too surprised to see another Wilderness Systems kayak – and an Aspire model, no less – on this list.
It’s 10 feet long and weighs 44 pounds, meaning it’s compact and easy to manage. Shouldering the kayak is more comfortable than the Aspire 105, but it could be lighter, given its size.
You’re getting a 400-pound capacity, a large storage hatch, and bungee deck rigging, though.
The broad cockpit opening, a signature element of Aspire kayaks’ design, makes getting in and out easier. I’d say it’s a good fit for beginners and small-framed paddlers, bridging the gap between stability, efficiency, and a comfortable fit.
- Sit-inside kayak
- Polyethylene construction
- 10 x 2.3 feet
- 44 pounds
- 300-pound capacity
- Great fit for beginner and smaller paddlers
- Wide cockpit opening for easier entry and exit
- Drop-down skeg with cockpit control
- Comfortable Phase 3 AirPro seat
- Doesn’t feature a paddle holder
- Rear bungee rigging doesn’t seem functional
- It could be lighter for a kayak its size
- Somewhat hard to drain
Easy handling, excellent tracking, and ultra-stable hull, coupled with compactness and comfort to boot, make the Aspire 100 a perfect lake kayak for smaller paddlers.
Best Kayak For Lakes – Final Verdict
It’s Saturday afternoon, the sun is shining, you’re miles away from civilization, surrounded by nature and tranquil waters, and you don’t have a care in the world.
Does that sound like your idea of heaven?
Well, then, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to love the Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 – because it fits the lazy, worry-free weekend paddling scenarios entirely.
It’s versatile, offering overall flexibility, stability, tracking, and maneuverability that will meet the needs of beginner and intermediate paddlers alike. Aspire 105 is a jack of all trades – and a master of a few, too.
Oh, and did I forget to mention how insanely comfortable it is with the roomy cockpit and fully adjustable seat? It’s the best kayak for lakes – at least in my humble opinion, anyway.