Short on time? Our pick for the best inexpensive kayak is the Emotion Spitfire.
The best budget kayaks for any family size or waterway so you can get out and enjoy the water.
I love a good river float day, which is why I find it so annoying that “good” kayaks are so expensive. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you’re interested in trying watersports out but don’t want to break the bank on a top-of-the-line carbon fiber touring kayak, there are plenty of excellent options to help you “get your feet wet.”
I’ve floated down the river in many questionable vessels and I’ve learned a thing or two about picking a solid watercraft.
Below, I’ve rounded up the best affordable kayak for every adventurer. Whether you’re a family, a solo paddler, or your kayaking partner is your dog, I’ve got a budget kayak option for you.
Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.
#1 Intex Challenger
Best Affordable Kayak for Beginners
Our rating: 4.5/5Solo or tandem: SoloWeight: 28.4 lbLength: 9’Weight capacity: 220 lbs
The Intex Challenger is our choice for the best affordable kayak for beginners. It’s rare to find a kayak for under $100 and the Challenger is one of the few that actually has decent reviews.
This inflatable kayak is perfect for paddling lakes or other calm waters. I have this kayak in the tandem version and it’s a great option for first starting out on the water.
The Intex Challenger is a sit-inside kayak and only takes 10-15 minutes to inflate. The design of this kayak includes multiple air chambers, so if one springs a leak you can still get yourself to shore.
One thing to note is that this kayak doesn’t have handles like a hardshell kayak, but they’re not really needed because it’s so light.
This kayak has an inflatable seat that’s attached with velcro and, while the kayak has decent stability, the solo version of this kayak is too small for taller paddlers (over ~6 ft tall).
If you’re tall, you could purchase the tandem kayak model of this boat though and row it solo.
One plus side of the shorter body is that shorter boats are easier to turn and maneuver than longer boats, and this is true of the Challenger.
It also comes with a skeg (a fin that attaches to the back of the kayak and helps steer the boat) which is an essential feature on short kayaks.
Additionally, the carry bag for this kayak has handles that make it easy to transport, although the bag is quite thin, so it can develop holes somewhat quickly.
Finally, the maximum air pressure for this kayak is a little on the low side. Higher-end inflatable kayaks have higher max air pressures, which allows the kayak to have a very rigid feeling. The Intex Challenger, on the other hand, can still be squeezed fairly easily with your hand.
While this isn’t a deal-breaker, you certainly wouldn’t want to take this kayak in fast rivers where contact with the river bed is possible.
#2 Intex Excursion Pro
Best Budget Inflatable Kayak
Our rating: 4.7/5Solo or tandem: TandemWeight: 43.64 lbsLength: 151.2 inWeight capacity: 400 lbs
The Intex Excursion Pro is Intex’s premier tandem inflatable kayak. Compared with the other Intex models, the Excursion Pro is made of more durable materials and has a few more bells and whistles.
This kayak comes with a pressure gauge to measure the air pressure in the kayak as well as a deep and shallow water skeg and two fishing rod holders.
The middle of the kayak also has an optional mounting bracket for additional fishing accessories like a GPS.
Another cool feature is that the pump is a double-action pump so that you’re inflating with both the up and down stroke, which helps the inflation process go faster.
The material (or “skin”) of this tandem kayak is PVC-coated polyester, which is certainly more durable than polyester alone.
In addition to the thicker material, this kayak has a higher max air pressure (.08 bar) than the Challenger, making it overall more sturdy.
Keep in mind this is still a budget tandem kayak, so while it does have a higher max air pressure than the Intex Challenger, it still doesn’t have the air pressure capacity of top-of-the-line inflatable tandem kayaks.
In terms of storage space, both the stern and bow have stainless steel rings to clip dry bags to.
The weight capacity on this tandem kayak is 400 pounds. So, while it likely won’t be a problem for most folks, it may not be suitable for two tall paddlers plus fishing gear and coolers filled with ice and drinks.
Additionally, while I appreciate the two different skeg sizes, the skeg holder on the bottom of the kayak isn’t always mounted perfectly straight, which means keeping a steady direction on this kayak could be a challenge.
#3 Pelican Sentinel 100X
Best Affordable Kayak for Fishing
Our rating: 4.8/5Solo or tandem: SoloWeight: 44 lbsLength: 9’6’’Weight capacity: 275 lbs
The Pelican Sentinel 100X Angler is our pick for the best affordable kayak for fishing. This is a sit-on-top, hard shell, one-person kayak designed specifically for fishing.
This fishing kayak has a multi-chine hull, meaning there’s a square (or almost square) edge where the sidewall of the kayak meets the bottom of the kayak.
This is opposed to a soft-chine kayak that has a curved edge. The benefit of the multi-chine hull is that it’s very stable. One slight drawback is that it can be harder to maneuver.
If you think about it, a multi-chine hull is exactly what you want in a fishing kayak since you may have to fight with the fish a bit to reel it in (even small fish are surprisingly strong!). So, you’re going to want a kayak built for stability.
This sit-on-top fishing kayak is made from high-density polyethylene (which is quite durable) and has an adjustable padded backrest.
There are two fishing rod holders, which are perfect for placing your rod in different locations as you paddle around.
And there’s a storage space behind the seat with a removable “ExoPak” (aka a little bin) that you can take right out of the kayak and load in the car.
Finally, this fishing kayak is quite lightweight – just 44 pounds. Additionally, there’s a center console that’s useful for holding a cell phone.
If I have any criticism about this kayak, it’s that it’s a little on the expensive side for a budget kayak list.
That said, it’s still not outrageously priced by any means and you get a good bang for your buck.
#4 Perception Rambler 13.5
Best Budget Two-Person Kayak
Our rating: 4.7/5Solo or tandem: Tandem (or up to 3)Weight: 78 lbsLength: 13’ 5’’Weight capacity: 550 lbs
The Perception Rambler 13.5 is one of the best affordable kayaks for two people. This tandem kayak is roomy with a high weight capacity of 550 lbs, making it capable of handling big guys and their gear.
There’s also an optional center seat for a child or dog and a storage hatch at the stern (back) that’s big enough for a cooler to sit in.
This rigid tandem kayak is made of one molded piece of high-density polyethylene and is suitable for ocean bays with minimal surf, lakes, and slow rivers.
Unfortunately, there are no adjustable footrests on this kayak and some users find the built-in ones uncomfortable.
Additionally, the seats are padded, but if you’re on a long trip, you may want to consider bringing some extra padding or support.
This kayak is also a bit on the heavy side at 78 pounds, but if you have two paddlers it shouldn’t be too hard to transport.
Finally, one last con about this tandem kayak is that paddles aren’t included. Lame.
#5 Sea Eagle SE330 Single Kayak
Best Affordable Kayak for Big Guys
Our rating: 4.5/5Solo or tandem: SoloWeight: 44 lbsLength: 11’ 2’’Weight capacity: 500 lbs
The Sea Eagle SE330 is our pick for the best budget kayak for big guys. This sit-inside kayak has a 500-pound weight capacity and long length for a solo kayak (11’2’’), making it perfect for bigger humans.
You can technically use this for tandem paddling, too, but you probably wouldn’t want to put two big people in this kayak.
One nice thing about this inflatable kayak is that the weight is still reasonable (44 lbs), especially if you’re a strong guy.
And inflation on this kayak is quick and easy. The foot pump is easy to use and it generally takes about 10-15 minutes to inflate all three compartments.
Deflation is also easy. The ports on the Sea Eagle SE330 are about the size of golf balls. I have used lots of inflatable floatation devices (kayaks, paddleboards, etc) and the deflation time is often overlooked.
One small con about this cheap kayak is the carry bag. With large inflatable kayaks, it’s nice to have a carry bag that’s designed like a backpack.
This one isn’t and with the weight being 44 pounds, it can be awkward to carry the kayak in its folded-up state.
#6 Pelican Maxim 100X
Best Budget Sit-In Kayak
Our rating: 4.8/5Solo or tandem: SoloWeight: 36 lbsLength: 10’Weight capacity: 275 lbs
The Pelican Maxim 100X is my pick for the best budget sit-in kayak for a good reason.
One of the benefits of a sit-in kayak is that you tend to stay drier. Not only are your legs covered, but you can put a spray skirt around the cockpit of the kayak to keep drips from the paddle out.
This is a solid shell kayak made of high-density polyethylene (a common material for good inexpensive kayaks), which also helps keep the kayak lightweight.
At just 36 pounds, this kayak is fairly easy to move and transport. The kayak length is 10 feet, which fits on a standard roof rack pretty well.
One thing to note about sit-inside kayaks is that they can be *a little* less stable than sit-on-top kayaks.
The Pelican Maxim 100X has a shallow V-chine hull, which means that the bottom of the boat is v-shaped. This design offers great maneuverability and tracking (tracking is the ability to move through the water with the least amount of effort).
However, V-chine hulls are a bit less stable than flat-bottomed or multi-chine hulls, and brand new kayakers may need to take some time to “get their sea legs,” with this design.
Lastly, there’s a storage hatch at the bow and stern of this kayak, plus a bottle holder.
While it’s great to have so much storage, the bow (front) storage hatch is basically inaccessible while you’re in the water because of how far forward it is.
#7 Perception Tribe 9.5
Best Budget Sit-On-Top Kayak
Our rating: 4.8/5Solo or tandem: SoloWeight: 46 poundsLength: 9’5’’Weight capacity: 300 lbs
One of the benefits of sit-on-top kayaks is that they’re easier to get on and off, especially if you tip over.
I chose the Perception Tribe 9.5 as the best sit-on-top kayak because it offers good stability and tracking in a variety of settings.
It does great on lakes and rivers (up to class II rapids) and I’ve seen people take it out for ocean kayaking too.
The hull shape is broad and flat, which helps with stability, while the short-ish length of the kayak makes it easier to turn than longer kayaks.
This solo kayak is 9’5’’ long and 46 pounds. The sides and ends of the kayak have toggle handholds and while 9’5’’ is a manageable length, 46 pounds is somewhat heavy for one person to manage (at least for me).
Additionally, there are multiple storage compartments on both the bow and stern, and it comes with a small dry bag for a cell phone and keys.
There’s also a small storage hatch in the center of the kayak with a neoprene lid and a bottle holder. This kayak unfortunately doesn’t come with a paddle though.
Finally, the stern seat on the Perception Tribe 9.5 was recently redesigned to be more adjustable and to have more cushioning.
While this kayak is on the pricier end than the other kayaks on this list, it’s still considered budget-friendly compared to higher-end recreational kayaks.
#8 Sevylor Big-Basin 3-Person Kayak
Best Affordable Kayak for Families
Our rating: 4.6/5Solo or tandem: Tandem (up to 3)Weight: 34.76Length: 12’ 3’’Weight capacity: 490 lbs
The Sevylor Big Basin 3-Person Kayak is our choice for the best tandem kayak for families because it’s inflatable, seats three, and is very cheap.
Once you start reading tandem kayak reviews, you’ll quickly learn that most kayaks can’t seat three people, but the Sevylor Big Basin can!
Also, some inflatable kayaks don’t pack down very small (especially after the first time you use them) but this model packs down to a 2’x3’ carry bag – perfect for stuffing in amongst all your other family stuff.
This kayak is made of thick 18-gauge PVC and is certified by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) as safe for up to class II rapids. NMMA certification is a good hallmark of a quality product.
There are two air chambers on this kayak and the air ports are Boston valves. Boston valves are one-way valves that are common on large inflatable items to help them inflate and deflate quickly.
Other features I like about this tandem kayak: a spray cover that helps keep you dry and D-rings on the hull that are useful for attaching dry bags. And a removable skeg helps with tracking in deeper water but can be removed in more shallow water.
Finally, this is a very affordable kayak, especially for its size.
One small criticism I have about this kayak is that the seats aren’t super comfortable. Also, the carry bag, while conveniently small, is almost too small for the post-inflated kayak. You may have to work to get all the air out before you can re-pack it.
#9 Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Inflatable Kayak
Best Affordable River Kayak
Our rating: 4.7/5Solo or tandem: SoloWeight: 36 lbsLength: 10’5’’Weight capacity: 300 lbs
For rivers with up to class II rapids, the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Inflatable Kayak is a great choice.
The AdvancedFrame kayak is an inflatable solo kayak with a rigid aluminum frame reinforcement in the bow. This makes the kayak a hybrid between a hardshell and an inflatable kayak.
The rigid frame does the job of a skeg, which helps with tracking, but additionally, there’s an extra tracking fin that can be added for improved performance.
The shorter length of the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame also makes it easy to turn, which is very useful in rivers.
The hull is made of a triple-layer of polyester that’s coated with PVC on both sides to ensure the hull isn’t punctured. And in case you do get a hole, the kayak comes with a repair kit.
The carry bag on this item is heavy-duty, but one downside is that it doesn’t come with an air pump. The manufacturer recommends using a 12V electric pump, and the air ports are compatible with most air pumps.
Lastly, this kayak has a decent amount of space for a solo kayak. There’s bungee rigging on the bow to slide a dry bag under, as well as two zippered compartments in the bow and stern for items.
Best Budget Touring Kayak
Our rating: 4.9/5Solo or tandem: SoloWeight: 35 lbsLength: 13’3’’Weight capacity: 400 lbs
Touring kayaks differ from recreational kayaks in a few respects.
Touring kayaks are designed for more serious kayakers who want to take longer trips. They tend to be more expensive and lighter in weight than recreational kayaks, so finding a budget touring kayak is somewhat difficult.
Touring kayaks are also typically a few feet longer than recreational kayaks and are a few inches narrower.
The length of the kayak makes it easier to track: to move quickly through the water with minimal effort in a straight line. Touring kayaks often have more V-shaped bottoms, which makes them faster, but also more prone to tipping.
My pick for the best budget touring kayak is the Aquaglide Navarro, a convertible open deck/sit-inside 13’ 3’’ inflatable kayak.
It’s “convertible” in the sense that the top of the kayak has a zip-on cover that can be added to keep you warmer or to keep water off your legs. When it’s unzipped, it forms more of an open cockpit in nice weather.
You can also add an additional spray skirt. Unfortunately, both the zipper cover and spray skirt are sold separately.
Additionally, the bottom of this kayak has a flat profile (most touring kayaks have a V-shape). The hard bottom makes this kayak very stable while still providing good tracking. It also includes a skeg to help improve tracking even more.
The front bow also has a zippered compartment for storage as well as bungee rigging on the top of the deck.
Lastly, this kayak has paddle holders on each side of the hull so you can free your hands for fishing or photography.
#11 Advanced Elements Island Voyage 2
Best Budget Lightweight Kayak
Our rating: 4.5/5Solo or tandem: Solo or TandemWeight: 31.5 lbsLength: 11’2’’Weight capacity: 400 lbs
I picked the Advanced Elements Island Voyage 2 as the best budget lightweight kayak because, well, it’s the lightest kayak on the list (except for the one designed for kids).
This is a tandem inflatable kayak but it can be used by a solo paddler as well.
Most tandem kayaks are heavier than solo kayaks, but this one is an exception. At just 31 pounds, this is easily carried to the water with or without the four carrying handles on the kayak.
There are three separate air chambers on this kayak and the ports are easy-to-use Boston valves. There’s a double-action pump included with this kayak too.
As a bonus, this kayak has storage space on both the bow and stern in the form of bungee lacing, plus you can attach gear to one of three D-rings around the edges of the kayak.
The padded seats are also adjustable and have velcro pockets for small items. However, these pockets aren’t waterproof, unfortunately. I’d personally like them better if they were more like a dry bag.
Finally, the hull is made of durable, multi-layer PVC material and has a removable skeg for improved steering.
Even though tandem kayaks are often more expensive, this one is still reasonably priced.
#12 Perception High-Five
Best Affordable Kayak for Kids
Our rating: 4.8/5Solo or tandem: SoloWeight: 21 lbsLength: 6’Weight capacity: 120 lbs
The Perception High Five is our choice for the best inexpensive kayak for kids because it’s specifically designed for youths and is affordably priced but still has good reviews.
This is a sit-on, hardshell kayak specifically designed for kiddos. It comes with a youth-sized paddle and can be paddled sitting or standing. This makes it like a combination of a standup paddleboard and a kayak.
Although this is a cheap kayak, it was designed with safety in mind. There’s a hitch and tether option so you can leash the kayak to an adult’s kayak. It’s also wide and stable enough that kids can climb onto it from the water easily.
There are even handholds for kids to pull up on from the water and a special lowered “deck” for them to grab a hold onto. No need to worry about teaching your kid to self-correct if they flip their kayak!
If there’s anything to criticize about this kayak it’s that the fun kid colors aren’t as vibrant as they are in the pictures.
#13 Ocean Kayak Malibu
Best Affordable Kayak for Dogs
Our rating: 4.6/5Solo or tandem: Solo or tandemWeight: 57 lbsLength: 12’Weight capacity: 362 lbs
The Ocean Kayak Malibu is one of the best tandem kayaks for your fur baby because it has a flat, multi-chine hull (which makes it very stable), plus plenty of room for you and your “child.”
You can modify the seats in this tandem kayak so that you sit in the center or you can leave both seats intact if your pet is well-behaved enough to stay in one place.
This is a sit-on-top kayak with a rigid hull, both of which are essential for bringing a doggo.
Most people wouldn’t be able to get a dog to sit in a true cockpit, and although a dog’s claws shouldn’t be sharp enough to puncture an inflatable kayak, why chance it?
As the name suggests, you can take this out on the ocean. It also does great on lakes with boat wakes.
Two small downsides: there aren’t storage wells on this kayak, just a storage platform with bungee cords on it. Additionally, paddles aren’t included with this kayak.
#14 Sun Dolphin Aruba
Best Affordable Kayak for Women
Our rating: 4.5/5Solo or tandem: SoloWeight: 40 lbsLength: 10 ftWeight capacity: 250 lbs
The Sun Dolphin Aruba is our choice for the best budget kayak for women because of its relatively small size and manageable weight.
At 40 pounds, some women may need a hand to load this kayak, but most kayaks are around 35-45 pounds, so you won’t get too much lighter than this anyway unless you go with a kids kayak.
The Sun Dolphin Aruba is a sit-inside kayak made of high-density polyethylene. At 10 feet long, this is also one of the shorter recreational kayaks on the list and will sit on top of most vehicles with a roof rack.
There are also handle toggles on the bow and stern for ease of carrying (trust me, these make a difference).
And there are pre-molded footrests of various sizes built-in, so ladies of different sizes can fit inside it comfortably.
In terms of performance, this is a very stable kayak. It has a flat bottom, so while you may not want to try and race anyone with this thing, you likely won’t tip over any time soon.
One downside is that there isn’t much storage on this kayak, but it at least has a water bottle holder.
This is a good kayak for short outings on calm water. It doesn’t handle great in high wind or on complicated ocean waters.
That said, for the price, this is still an excellent affordable kayak that will get you on the water.
#15 Emotion Spitfire 9 Sit-On-Top Kayak
Best Affordable Kayak for Lakes
Our rating: 4.7/5Solo or tandem: SoloWeight: 45 lbsLength: 9’Weight capacity: 350 lbs
I chose the Emotion Spitfire 9 as the best kayak for lakes partly because it does well on flat water (most cheap kayaks do), but also partly because of all the storage space in it.
If you’re out for a long day at the lake you may want snacks, a beer cooler, or fishing gear.
There’s a storage compartment at the stern with a bungee cord lacing system overtop to slide jackets or dry bags into. There’s a similar storage system at the bow and there is center storage in the bottom of the hull as well.
And with a 350-pound capacity, you should have plenty of wiggle room for as much gear as you need.
The Emotion Spitfire 9 has a molded-in skeg, meaning you can’t take it out. I don’t love that feature, but it’s another reason it’s good on lakes.
If you’re paddling a shallow river you sometimes need to take the skeg off so you’re not dragging it. But in a lake, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Like most kayaks, there are four handles to carry this item. I’ve seen people complain that the side handles are useless, but you should still have the handles at the bow and stern, so it’s hardly a deal-breaker.
Buying Guide: How to Choose the Best Budget Kayak
What to Look for in a Budget Kayak
Longer kayaks (over 12 ft) are well-suited to longer trips since they move through the water in a straight line more efficiently.
Shorter kayaks may take more effort to go in a straight line, but they can be turned more easily than long kayaks.
Wider kayaks (over 30 inches) are more stable and are well suited to beginners and kids.
The bottom of the kayak will influence how easy it is to paddle. Flat bottomed hulls (like multi-chine) are very stable and are good for fishing kayaks.
V-chine hulls are more maneuverable but may feel unstable to newbies.
Skeg or Rudder
Skegs are fins that are seated on the bottom of the kayak, while rudders can be dipped into the water from the stern (back).
Skegs help to steer the vessel in a straight line as you paddle, whereas rudders, which are often controlled by foot pedals, help steer the kayak in different directions.
It’s nice to have a removable skeg so you can take it off in shallow water. Bonus points if the kayak comes with a deep and shallow water skeg.
Types of Kayaks
Sit-on-top kayaks are great for beginners because you don’t have to learn any special maneuvers to right yourself if you tip over (unlike a sit-inside kayak).
These kayaks are good for warm weather because you’ll inevitably get a little wet just from the paddle drips.
Sit-inside kayaks are best for colder water or weather as you can attach a spray skirt and keep all the water off. These are better suited for those with a little kayaking experience.
Hardshell kayaks on the cheaper end are made of polyethylene, which is durable plastic.
It’s not as lightweight as carbon fiber or kevlar, but for the price, it will get you on the water and keep you afloat for many years.
Inflatable kayaks are best for those without a garage or storage space to keep a regular-sized kayak. These are sometimes a little lighter than hardshell kayaks.
Solo vs. Tandem Kayaks
Kayaks can be made for one, two, or three people. Pick the kayak size that’s right for your family or your intended activity.
If you’re a bigger person, you can also consider paddling a tandem kayak solo.
Touring vs. Recreational Kayaks
Touring kayaks are intended for serious kayakers with experience. These are longer and thinner boats that are designed to move fast with minimal effort.
Recreational kayaks are designed for people who are just paddling around for fun. These are wider than touring kayaks with flatter bottoms, both of which make the kayak more stable.
It can be hard to find a budget touring kayak, but you should at least be aware of the difference.
FAQs About Budget Kayaks
Are cheap kayaks any good?
Yes, there are lots of cheap kayaks that are perfectly suited to calm or moderately turbulent waters.
How do I find kayaks on sale or the best deals on kayaks?
One great way to find deals on kayaks is to go through the manufacturer and look for sales around Christmas and Memorial Day. If that doesn’t work don’t forget about eBay!
How much should you spend on your first kayak?
Beginner kayaks run anywhere from $100-$800.
Why are kayaks so expensive?
Good kayaks are so expensive because lightweight, durable materials like fiberglass and carbon fiber are expensive. These materials are also better equipped to handle a wider range of environmental conditions.
Conclusion: Our Pick for the Best Budget Kayak
My pick for the best inexpensive kayak is the Emotion Spitfire. I chose this solo, hard shell, sit-on-top kayak as the top choice because it combines the essential elements a kayak needs at a reasonable price.
Sit-on-top kayaks are easier for beginners to learn on, so I like it for that reason, too. It also has lots of storage space for longer day trips and has a high weight capacity.
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