Kayaking is an enjoyable recreational activity, but it’s often more than that as well. Fishing, competition, whitewater kayaking, exploration, and leisure are all part of it. The last thing you want to do is spend your hard-earned money on an underperforming mess that barely treads water on a calm day.
As with everything in life, you get what you pay for. While going cheap, with an off-brand or an unreliable brand is often the best that some can do at the moment, sometimes it’s better to sit back and save for something a little better.
There are kayaks out there, some of them by very reputable brands, that are best left on the store rack or in the online picture where you found them. Fortunately, we’re looking out for you. You’ll notice a theme throughout when it comes to which kayak brands to avoid.
Worst Kayak Brands to Avoid
There are two themes you’ll notice as we cover the following five kayak brands. The first is that some of them have pretty widely acclaimed brand names. The second is purely a durability and quality manufacturing issue.
1. L.L. Bean
Really? L.L. Bean? Don’t they make clothes? They sure do. Apparently, they manufacture kayaks as well and quite poorly. Some of the biggest complaints about L.L. Bean kayaks are comfort and durability. If you need something to toss in the kiddie pool now and then, maybe L.L. Bean kayaks should be on your list.
If you’re into heavy recreation, fishing, or competition, avoid L.L Bean kayaks like the plague. Their clothes are perfectly fine, but you should never trust a clothes manufacturer to put together watercraft.
2. Field & Stream
You probably notice the theme by now. Non-kayak brands suddenly making kayaks. Perhaps Field & Stream thought that since they put out good fishing and hunting magazines, a few hundred camouflaged kayaks would sell like hotcakes.
Unfortunately, it takes a little more dedication to manufacture a seaworthy kayak, than knowing how to make turkey calls and writing about it. Field & Stream kayaks suffer from the same things L.L. Bean kayaks do—durability and comfort. In fact, Field & Stream Kayak owners log a lot of complaints about handles falling off, hinges breaking, etc.
If you don’t recognize the brand, don’t feel bad. Few will. You have to give TuckTek one thing—they’re trying to innovate with a foldable kayak. Unfortunately, they’re a leaky mess, especially in water only slightly more choppy than a slick pond.
If there’s no wind, you’re good. If the wind is strong enough to shift the hair on your head a little, prepare yourself for serious instability problems. TuckTec may be onto something, but the project needs more work before you plop your hard-earned dollars on the counter.
SunDolphin just sounds like one of those generic products. It’s like going to the grocery store for Reese’s Puffs cereal and, instead, you find “Peanut Butter Flavored Puff Balls.” SunDolphin kayaks are cheap for good reason. They don’t include much in the way of seating comfort.
They also have low-weight capacities and are considered one of the least durable brands on the market. If you’re looking for something that will carry around an anemic dog, a SunDolphin may fit the bill. Even then, you should worry.
Not the Lifetime TV channel. The Lifetime Kayak is right up there with SunDolphin. They’re good enough to float, then you have to sit in them. They get some decent reviews from lightweight folks, but the lightweight design is very easy to roll if you’re a larger kayaker.
Lifetime kayaks are also known as one of the slowest kayaks out there. At best, it might be a good choice for one of your kids, just to use it as a learning kayak. If you want something more stable, look elsewhere.
Best Kayak Brands
A lot of things go into what makes a brand reputable, including warranty, customer service, design, innovation, quality, and safety. The best manufacturers cover all the bases, even if some are more of a four-star rating than a five.
Pelican manufactures one of the stiffest and most responsive kayaks in the world. Their process is based on their RAM-X technology. Pelican also branches out into several kayak types, including recreational, fishing, sit-in, and sit-on-top.
2. Perception Kayaks
One of the longest-running brands in the kayak manufacturing world, Perception is probably one of the most popular as well. The Pescador Pro 12.0 is one of the highest-rated kayaks in the world.
Even Perception’s misses are still popular. You get a lot for your money, including stability, durability, range, speed, and long-term dependability.
Hobie is one of those manufacturers that is totally immersed in their craft. Their kayaks are expensive, but they put a ton of work into them, ensuring that every feature falls in line with the enjoyment and operability of the craft.
4. Old Town
Even if you’re new to kayaking, you’ve probably already heard of Old Town. They started as canoe manufacturers, but they didn’t miss out on the exploding popularity of kayaks. Old Town specializes in exceptional recreational kayaks and manufactures some of the largest ones on the market.
5. Ocean Kayak
Known for its sit-on-top kayaks, Ocean Kayak is one of the most popular when it comes to stable, recreational kayaks that can go anywhere. They also do a great job manufacturing kayaks for beginners with design features to help newbies master stability on open water.
Some may disagree with the “worst kayak brand” choices on here and that’s fine. It’s never easy to achieve universal agreement. However, the brands that went into the “avoid” category are there because of the accumulation of poor reviews.
In the broad scheme of things, however, some truly stand out, and those who suffer from durability and user issues. The best five kayaks avoid those things at all costs. Even Pelican finds itself in the “bad” category from time to time, and most people would disagree with that.
Some have had excellent experiences with SunDolphin or Lifetime. That’s great. Everybody should enjoy their kayaks and get the best for their money. But if you want one of the best, the last five brands are some of the best kayak manufacturers in the world, and it’s hard to go wrong with that.
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