Best Hard-Shell Kayaks in 2021

Best Hard-Shell Kayaks in 2021

Published: Feb 17, 2021

Kayaking is a fun activity to do alone, with your family and friends, or even with your dogs. It is a good cardio exercise to keep your heart pumping and strong. Searching for the best hard-shell kayak may be frustrating, especially now that there are so many options on the market. If you are planning to go on a kayaking trip this summer, then let us help you narrow down your choices. Read along to find out what kayak will best fit your preferences and to know what factors go into a hard-shell kayak.

Go to Comparison Table

Best overall hard-shell kayak

1. Wilderness Systems Aspire 105

Wilderness Systems Aspire 105

Click to view on amazon.com.

Kayak Weight: 48 lbs.

Length: 10 ft. 6 in.

Max. Capacity: 400 lbs.

The Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 is an extremely versatile, sit-inside kayak that works well in all conditions and environments.

What we like about the Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 is that it tracks and glides surprisingly well even with its 29” beam, 10'6” length, and flattened hull. This flat hull also helps for stability, and its drop-down skeg and dual inverted keel lines help the kayak track and glide well. The kayak allows for a smoother, uninterrupted paddle and ride, and its V-shaped nose and upswept hull cut through the water and keep the boat straight. The boat's hull design and size make it incredibly maneuverable. With it, it's easy to turn at around 108°. Also, being able to raise and lower its skeg will let you choose the amount of maneuverability or glide you'd like. Its Phase 3 Airpro seating system is extremely comfortable and highly functional and can contour to any size paddler to ensure a snug contact point that allows for more control and efficient paddling. This seating system has a comfortably contoured seat and backrest with specialized padding, and features a tough and durable mesh cushion covering that allows for ventilation. Plus, the Aspire 105 has easily accessible controls to eliminate strain, highly visible icons on the straps to easily identify functions and adjustment points, and padded thigh and knee braces along the inner raised border of the cockpit that will help you lock into a stable paddling posture. Finally, the kayak also has durable, grippy, and soft rubber covers on its carrying straps to prevent the webbing from cutting into your hands and to make it easier to move around.

What we do not like about the Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 is that it is difficult to drain and heavy to shoulder-carry. All in all, this all-around kayak gives a little bit of everything, from very reliable glide and tracking, to optimum stability and maneuverability. So, if you are looking to paddle in most conditions and any body of water, then you'll surely appreciate this kayak.


 

Best tandem kayak

2. Perception Rambler 13.5

Perception Rambler 13.5

Click to view on amazon.com.

Boat Weight: 78 lbs.

Length: 13 ft. 6 in.

Max. Capacity: 550 lbs.

The Perception Rambler 13.5 is an affordable sit-on-top tandem kayak that can exceed your expectations.

What we like about the Perception Rambler 13.5 is its user-friendly deck. Plus, it is designed for exercise and fun. Its maximum load capacity is 550 lbs., which means you can still bring your gear and supply. Additionally, it is constructed with high-density polyethylene material using one-piece rotational molding technology for a leak-proof, rugged, and durable construction. This kayak features two toggle carrying handles, two molded-in hand grips on each side of the cockpit, and offers a molded storage tray. The rear tankwell is spacious enough for a cooler, and comes with a bungee that is rigged to protect your equipment. There are also three pre-molded round recesses in the front of each seat to fit 8 inches or smaller deck plates. The deck also comes with 10 scupper holes for drainage, which you can plug under the seat to avoid getting wet. Besides, the Rambler 13.5 offers a nice, roomy space with three molded, removable Harmony seats that allow for comfort and a better experience, along with adjustable backrests. Additionally, it features three molded footrests which consist of three grooves to allow for flexibility in accordance with the paddler's size.

What we do not like about the Perception Rambler 13.5 is that it is heavy at 78 pounds. However, it is a tandem kayak, so you can both help transport it. You may also want to bring extra lumbar support if you plan on paddling for a long time. Overall, this is one of the best tandem kayaks. It is designed with excellent stability and is best used for calm coastal, slow-moving waters, and bays, and can also manage moderate winds and light surf well.


 

Best kayak for fishing

3. Malibu Kayaks Stealth 14

Malibu Kayaks Stealth 14

Click to view on amazon.com.

Boat Weight: 85 lbs.

Length: 14 ft. 4 in.

Max. Capacity: 550 lbs.

The Malibu Kayaks Stealth 14 is a sit-on-top fishing kayak that can be used in both freshwater and saltwater.

What we like about the Malibu Kayaks Stealth 14 is that it has a built-in bait tank at the center that can not only be used for your live bait, but also as a cooler. Plus, it has a 550 lbs. weight capacity, which is enough to carry you and all your equipment. It is a self-draining fishing kayak as it is built with small trenches to drain the water to a reservoir area, and drains into two points with scupper plugs which are located at the lowest points of the kayak for continuous draining. Aside from the circulating bait tank with side hatches, the Stealth 14 features a 3-hatch system, four rod holders with really good and efficient placement, an extra-large gator hatch with a bungee system, and an adjustable foot track system. The middle of the kayak comes with a standing platform and is gritted for that extra grip when standing up. There is a scupper plug to let a bit of water in, along with a pump to circulate water and keep your live bait alive. There also is a bungee located on both sides of the kayak. Plus, its footpegs are well designed and have a metal piece in them that moves up and down to provide adjustability, and thus, comfort. Additionally, it features a cup holder, bow and stern handles, and paddle holders.

What we do not like about the Malibu Kayaks Stealth 14 is that it has no padded seat and paddle included. But all in all, this is one of the best fishing kayaks or ocean fishing kayaks with quality construction and excellent stability. It can even be taken on Class II rapids.


 

Best tandem fishing kayak

4. Brooklyn Kayak Company TK181 12.5

Brooklyn Kayak Company TK181 12.5

Click to view on amazon.com.

Boat Weight: 68 lbs.

Length: 12 ft. 5 in.

Max. Capacity: 450 lbs.

The Brooklyn Kayaks Company TK181 is a reasonably-priced, sit-on-top tandem fishing kayak that provides good performance and features.

What we like about the BKC TK181 two-person fishing kayak is that it has a distinctive camo design to help the kayaker or paddler blend in any environment in the wild, which can keep the fish calm and relaxed. This model comes with excellent tracking and is very easy to maneuver. It also comes with a carefully balanced hull to provide maximum stability, even on rough waters. Its maximum capacity is 450 lbs., to accommodate two adults and still have enough remaining weight for carrying your equipment. The TK181 has a big rear compartment with a bungee tie-down system for extra safety and space. There is also an extra storage area located on the back of each seat to secure personal belongings. This tandem fishing kayak is designed for long fishing expeditions, which is why it has two comfortable and ergonomic seats, as well as two high-quality bungee paddle rests, three adjustable mount rod holders, four additional mount rod holders, and several footrests. This kayak includes two aluminum paddles and two padded seats.

What we do not like about the Brooklyn Kayaks Company TK181 12.5 is that it does not come with a standing platform, and some may want to replace the included seats with better ones. Overall, this two-person, or tandem fishing kayak provides impressive stability and handling, plenty of room for two paddlers, and plenty of rod holders and storage space.


 

Best kayak for beginners

5. Perception Carolina 12

Perception Carolina 12

Click to view on amazon.com.

Boat Weight: 49 lbs.

Length: 12 ft.

Max. Capacity: 275 lbs.

The Perception Carolina 12 is a recreational, sit-in kayak that levels with a touring kayak in terms of speed and storage.

What we like about the Perception Carolina 12 is that it is one of the lightest kayaks on our list, weighing only 49 lbs. Perception kayaks are made of high-density material using one-piece rotational molding technology, which consists of pouring beads of polyethylene into a mild, which then get heated up and slowly rotated so every nook and cranny is filled up. Once they've cooled down, you have an extremely durable kayak. It is a sit-in kayak so you can paddle all year round, even in colder temperatures because the cockpit is designed to offer more protection from the elements than a sit-on-top kayak. The Carolina 12 is a short touring kayak that is best for beginners, kids, and even experienced paddlers. It is built to be stable and versatile, and is designed for long days on the water due to its ergonomically designed, padded, adjustable seat. The seat's bottom is also adjustable to provide extra leg support, along with adjustable foot braces so you can have a more suitable paddling position. The Carolina 12 features dry storage, one sealed hatch at the back, and can hold a lot of gear inside, even a small tent or sleeping bags. The hatch at the front has a lower volume and can only hold a couple of dry bags or other essentials. It has a V-shaped hull to help improve speed and tracking, and also helps with stability for a range of water conditions.

What we do not like about the Perception Carolina 12 is that it doesn't have any bottle holder nor rod holder, which makes it unsuitable for fishing. However, this the best kayak for beginners. It is a sit-in recreational kayak that is best used for a day trip or overnight, and that provides versatile performance and smooth paddling.


 

Best lightweight kayak

6. Sun Dolphin Aruba 10

Sun Dolphin Aruba 10

Click to view on amazon.com.

Boat Weight: 40 lbs.

Length: 10 ft.

Max. Capacity: 250 lbs.

The Sun Dolphin Aruba Sit-in Kayak is the lightest kayak on our list and offers very impressive performance.

What we like about the Sun Dolphin Aruba is that it is a stable and lightweight kayak that suits both beginners and intermediate paddlers. It has a planing hull for better stability compared to a rounded hull. Plus, its 10-foot length makes it very easy to maneuver. The angled bow on this kayak helps it pierce through water and waves, which gives it the ability to handle well while maneuvering through friction. This is an extremely light kayak with plastic construction, which makes it the most portable. The Aruba 10 is made with a rugged UV-stabilized Fortiflex, high-density polyethylene, and features a large open cockpit, a storage compartment, a shock cord deck rigging, and adjustable foot braces which seem to be quite sturdy, a water bottle holder, carrying handles on each side to make it easy to transport, a paddle holder, and protective thigh pads. Due to its weight, it is very easy to transport by yourself. Besides, this kayak is very versatile and shows excellent performance. It will give you a steady base and the ability to shift your weight while on the water. This Sun Dolphin Aruba is best used on lakes and rivers, and will easily get you to your favorite fishing area. It features a portable accessory carrier at the back for storing your essentials, a bungee cord storage area in the front, a well-padded seat, protective thigh pads, and adjustable foot braces so anyone can fit in the kayak, no matter their size.

What we do not like about the Sun Dolphin Aruba is that it offers less padding on the seat. Plus, it has a thin plastic construction and it scratches easily. But overall, this is still an admirable, affordable, and lightweight kayak that is good for beginners. It is stable, maneuverable, and has a wide-open cockpit for ease of entry and exit.


 

Best kayak for kids

7. Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak

Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak

Click to view on amazon.com.

Boat Weight: 18 lbs.

Length: 6 ft.

Max. Capacity: 130 lbs.

The Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak is a very comfortable kayak for kids that is not overly expensive and shows great performance.

What we like about the Lifetime Youth Wave is that it is comfortable, even for long hours of paddling. It is 6 feet long and is ideal for kids 5 or older. It is also designed to accommodate kids' needs and abilities, and is suitable for sea kayaking. Its maximum weight capacity is 130 lbs., which means that older children can also enjoy this kayak. At just 18 lbs., it is very lightweight, so even parents can carry it easily. It has molded finger handles on each side of the kayak for kids to hold onto in case they lose balance. Besides, this is one of the most stable kayaks for kids thanks to its design. Indeed, it has a wide stance for a steady paddling platform to keep your child safe, and an added reverse chine to boost stability. The swim-up step in this kayak is tailored for children aged 5 or more, so they can easily enter and exit the kayak, whether on the ocean, river, sea, or lake. The Lifetime Youth Wave kayak also features a twin fin design to assist in tracking, and even surf riding, an ergonomic cockpit for improvement of motor skills and balance. Plus, the seat is very comfortable and pleasant for kids. It is made with high-density polyethylene for durability and flexibility, and also comes with UV protection so that the outer layer and color will not crack, peel, or fade when exposed to the sun.

What we do not like about the Lifetime Youth Wave kids kayak is that it does not come with seat pads, although the molded seat design is very comfortable and loved by many kids. All in all, this kids' kayak is very stable, but it depends on how easily a kid can handle it. Either way, an adult's supervision is still needed. Finally, it comes with a paddle and is one of the best kids' kayak for its price.


 

Best kayak for big guys

8. Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K 140

Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K 140

Click to view on amazon.com.

Boat Weight: 95 lbs.

Length: 14 ft. 1 in.

Max. Capacity: 550 lbs.

The Wilderness Systems ATAK 140 is a very stable kayak that suits big paddlers.

What we like about the Wilderness Systems ATAK 140 is that it is really stable. Even if you try and shift your weight back and forth, the kayak won't roll over. It has a maximum weight capacity of 550 lbs. and features a lot of storage. For instance, there is a large hatch in the front to hold lots of gear, and it includes a strap across the front to tuck your paddle so you would not have to worry about losing it while catching fish. A rectangular hatch is also located at the rear of the boat, which will give you access to the inside for rod storage. And tucked behind the seat is a very generous tank well to hold any crate on the market. The kayak is outfitted with just the right amount of gear track and it is everywhere you need it. The Airpro Max's seat is extremely comfortable due to its breathable fabric and fully adjustable back. It provides a low position for paddling and a high position for easy casting and fishing. In front of the seat, the floor is open and wide to leave plenty of room for your feet. Within easy reach and positioned between your feet is the utility console. This includes a cover with slots for tools, lures, and a bottle holder. Plus, the Flexpod system provides a removable insert to hold your fish finder, battery and transducer, which can be removed easily to store inside your car.

What we do not like about the Wilderness Systems ATAK 140 is that you may need to buy the rudder kit to be able to take it anywhere and anytime. Other than that, this is one of the best kayaks for big guys, as it can accommodate up to 550 lbs., and is spacious and very stable.


 

Best kayak under $800

9. Sun Dolphin Journey 10

Sun Dolphin Journey 10

Click to view on amazon.com.

Boat Weight: 44 lbs

Length: 10 ft

Max. Capacity: 280 lbs

The Sun Dolphin Journey is also an inexpensive choice if weight and transportability are your priorities.

What we like about the Sun Dolphin Journey is that its dimensions allow us to pick up and maintain speed. Plus, it offers stability for fishing. This kayak is made with UV-stabilized Fortiflex, a high-density polyethylene, which is the best possible material for a kayak to withstand impacts and last longer. This is a sit-on-top fishing kayak, which is why it also comes with paddle holders on both sides, two flush mount rod holders, and a swivel fishing rod holder. Additionally, there is a cup holder located in front of the seat, and scupper holes for draining water. At 44 lbs., this is a very portable kayak and a great choice if you usually go paddling on your own. Besides, its retractable carrying handles are easy-to-use and will let you transport the kayak with less effort. Its 30-inch beam and 10-foot length will lend you more stability than longer and narrower kayaks. It is designed for lakes and calm waters, but can also handle moderate currents.

What we do not like about the Sun Dolphin Journey is that it does not have a padded seat, but you may add some padding if you really find it uncomfortable. All in all, this is a good, affordable choice for anyone looking for a lightweight, compact, and stable fishing kayak.


 

10. Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100

Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100

Click to view on amazon.com.

Boat Weight: 52 lbs.

Length: 10 ft.

Max. Capacity: 275 lbs.

The Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 is one of our top choices for fishing kayaks under $500.

What we like about the Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 is that it comes with all the features you will need for a standard fishing kayak and that it is great for both professionals and beginners. It features multiple molded footrest positions to fit in different sizes of paddlers, as well as padded seats with an adjustable padded backrest to make you more comfortable. Plus, it has three fishing rod holders — one is adjustable and swivels 360° and the two others are flush mounted located behind the seat. There is also a paddle cradle, and you can also modify the kayak to add a transducer mount or more fishing pole holders, a kayak anchor, or any other extension. The Tamarack Angler 100 has two sealed storage hatches to keep your essentials dry. Besides, there are straps on the front and rear to chord your bags, and extra space on the deck for carrying a small cooler, crate, or small to medium-sized tackle box, drinks, fishing accessories, or other essentials. The kayak is very stable thanks to its hull design with a wide beam and chine rails, and it remains stable even in rough waters.

What we do not like about the Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 is that it only comes in one color and you may opt to add extra cushion for the seat to make it more comfortable. Overall, this is a good choice for anyone looking for a cheap kayak with good performance and features.


Best Hard-Shell Kayaks: Comparison table

FotoHard-Shell Kayaks Max. Capacity Length Boat Weight
Wilderness Systems Aspire 105

1. Wilderness Systems Aspire 105

400 lbs.10 ft. 6 in.48 lbs.
Perception Rambler 13.5

2. Perception Rambler 13.5

550 lbs.13 ft. 6 in.78 lbs.
Malibu Kayaks Stealth 14

3. Malibu Kayaks Stealth 14

550 lbs.14 ft. 4 in.85 lbs.
Brooklyn Kayak Company TK181 12.5

4. Brooklyn Kayak Company TK181 12.5

450 lbs.12 ft. 5 in.68 lbs.
Perception Carolina 12

5. Perception Carolina 12

275 lbs12 ft.49 lbs.
Sun Dolphin Aruba 10

6. Sun Dolphin Aruba 10

250 lbs.10 ft.40 lbs.
Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak

7. Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak

130 lbs.6 ft.18 lbs.
Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K 140

8. Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K 140

550 lbs.14 ft. 1 in.95 lbs.
Sun Dolphin Journey 10

9. Sun Dolphin Journey 10

280 lbs10 ft44 lbs
Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100

10. Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100

275 lbs.10 ft.52 lbs.

FAQs

How dangerous is kayaking?

Like any other sport, kayaking may come with plenty of risks. Yes, it can be dangerous if you do not take the proper precautions and are not being smart about where and when to paddle. However, kayaking does not have to be dangerous if you are careful, if you do your research beforehand, and if you are informed on what choices you can make when some situations arise on the water.

Should you kayak if you can't swim?

Yes, you can kayak, even if you can't swim. However, you have to be mindful of the water conditions. It is better to choose a calm, shallow, slow-moving river or bank. Go kayaking with an experienced guide, wear a personal floatation device, and be informed about kayaking and the situations you may get into while kayaking.

 

Buying guide

 

Types of kayaks

  • Sit-on-top
  • Recreational kayaks for lakes and calm flowing rivers
  • Easy to get in and out
  • Comfortable when air and water are warm
  • Have deck storage areas and hard-to-access cargo space
  • Typically heavier than sit-in kayaks
  • Some include rod holders

 

  • Sit-in
  • This type comes in recreational kayaks and touring models
  • Comfortable when air and water are cool
  • Move fast and track straight
  • Have covered compartments
  • Have a spray skirt
  • More efficient to paddle than sit-on-top kayaks

 

Where do you want to paddle?

  • Lakes

You can go with a sit-on-top or recreational sit-in boat when the weather is fair and the lake is nearby.

  • Coasts

Have a sit-in touring kayak when planning to go to the coast where wind, waves, currents, and tide come into play. However, a sit-on-top can still be a good choice if you plan on doing some kayak surfing.

  • Rivers

A stable, sturdy, and short sit-in or sit-on-top kayak or day-touring sit-in kayak are good choices when you plan on floating on a river.

  • Rivers and lakes

For flowing and still waters, you can opt for a short recreational sit-in or sit-on-top kayak. Kayaks used for rivers and lakes typically have a skeg to help you turn responsively and track efficiently.

 

Categories

  • Recreational kayaks (sit-ins and sit-on-tops)

These are affordable, easy to get in and out of, stable, and simple to turn. They are mostly for flatwater, meandering rivers, but not for longer trips, waves, or rapids.

  • Day touring kayaks (sit-in)

These are versatile kayaks that are sleeker and more efficient to move than recreational kayaks, but are often more expensive. These track straighter and give you more control in rough water than recreational kayaks. They are also shorter than sea kayaks and easier to transport and handle.

  • Touring kayaks (sit-in sea kayaks)

These are long, robust touring kayaks that are super efficient over distances. They track well, have a rudder or skeg to deal with wind and currents, and provide ample cargo space. These are a good choice when you are committed to long trips and coastal kayaking.

 

Specialty

  • Folding kayaks

If you have less storage space, and plan to travel or hike to a remote location for a trip, then a folding kayak might be a better choice. However, these are not as rugged as hard-shell kayaks, but offer comparable handling and storage to many touring kayaks.

  • Inflatable kayaks

These also save storage space and are also sturdy and versatile. Purely recreational models are best for close-to-shore play. Wide, rugged inflatables are good for flowing rivers because they bounce off obstacles, while few inflatables are designed for serious touring.

  • Tandem kayak

You can save money by buying one tandem boat rather than two solo kayaks. These are typically more stable than a one-person kayak and are also great if you're taking your kids or your dog along.

  • Pedal-powered kayak

These kayaks make use of bike-like or push-pedals to power a pair of fins. Steering is done by the use of a rudder you can operate by a hand, and you also sit higher to leave room for the pedaling motion. 

 

Materials

  • Polyethylene plastic

This is an inexpensive and abrasion-resistant material, but it is the heaviest option and the sun's UV rays will degrade it after an extended exposure to the sun.

  • ABS plastic

This material is slightly more expensive than polyethylene but offers the same durability. For a higher price, it gives you a slightly lower weight than polyethylene and provides more UV resistance. Thermoformed ABS kayaks are made by bonding the deck and the hull, which is made separately. This causes its two-tone design.

  • Composites

Lightweight fiberglass and ultralight carbon-fiber kayaks increase performance and price. UV rays are not a big concern with composites, but rocks can be.

 

Other features

  • Weight capacity

This is the total maximum load limit of the kayak, including you and your gear. This is important to consider if you plan on taking your equipment for a multi-day tour. Note that if your kayak is overloaded, it will sit too low in the water and will limit your paddling efficiency.

  • Length

Longer kayaks can cruise more efficiently and offer adequate storage space for overnight touring gear, while shorter hulls turn more quickly. A few inches in the kayak's length won't matter that much, but two feet or more will make a difference.

  • Depth

Deeper hulls offer more room for anyone with longer legs. Plus, they provide some more storage, while shallower hulls are less affected by the wind.

  • Width

Wider hulls offer more primary stability, while narrower hulls can go faster.

  • Seats

A quality seat can add more to its price, but you will be spending a large amount of time in that seat. Thus, having a more comfortable, adjustable, more padded, and ergonomically suited seat will be worth the money.

  • Cockpit's size

A small, snug cockpit will give you more control and protection, especially in rough conditions. Meanwhile, a large cockpit will make it easier for you to get in and out of the boat.

  • Hatches

Hatches give access to interior storage areas. Bigger touring kayaks will have two, while day-touring kayaks and a few recreational ones will only have one.

  • Skeg

This is a simple dropdown fin to help prevent a side wind from blowing the boat off its course.

  • Tracking fin

This also helps prevent a side wind from blowing the boat off its course, but it cannot be retracted while you're paddling. This is commonly found on inflatable kayaks. However, you can remove a tracking fin prior to paddling if you want more ability to turn quickly.

  • Rudder

A fin that flips down from the back of a boat. It does the same thing but it is not fixed in one position; its angle can be constantly readjusted using foot pedals, so that it can be more responsive to changing conditions.


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