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Last updated: September 29, 2022
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If you’ve been thinking about getting out on the water this summer, paddling a kayak is one of the most enjoyable ways to do it. Kayaks are easy for beginners to get the hang of and offer the potential to access new fishing spots, explore areas that are inaccessible by boat, or even to just get a workout in. Having a lightweight kayak is especially helpful, since you’ll be able to paddle further with less strain on your arms, which means more time and more exploration on the water.
In order to help you find the best lightweight kayak, we considered a number of important features. First, we looked at different types of kayaks, which affects where you can paddle it safely and what types of additional activities – like fishing – you can use it for. We also looked at the weight and length of different kayaks, since these affect how easily it will move through the water and how well it will keep a straight track. Finally, we considered the weight capacity because your kayak will need to support the weight of you and your gear safely.
We spent tens of hours researching kayaks, poring through customer and expert reviews as well as technical specifications. The result is our pick of the six best lightweight kayaks available, highlighted in the table below. The Pelican Maxim 100X is our Editor’s Choice. Continue reading for detailed reviews of each kayak, complete with pros and cons. Our buying guide covers everything you need to know about choosing the lightweight kayak that’s right for you. Finally, we sum up our three overall favorite lightweight kayaks on the market today.
More features: adjustable Ergoform backrest with seat cushion; molded footrests; storage platform
For the avid fisherman looking to access the fishing spots a motorboat simply can’t get to – for example, deep in the reeds of an estuary or in the shallow part of a lake – this sit-on-top kayak from Pelican is an excellent choice. The kayak is ten feet long but 28 inches wide, giving it a nice mix of straight tracking and resistance to flipping over when you’re reeling in a big catch. Plus, the hull is burly enough to handle you and all your gear with a weight capacity of 275 pounds.
The kayak comes with a number of fishing-specific accessories, such as the four pole holders set into the hull of the kayak around the cockpit. The kayak also has two large sealable hatches that are fitted with bag inserts so that you can store your caught fish without getting the kayak itself gross. The seat is highly adjustable so that you can switch positions quickly when switching from paddling to fishing, although users found that no matter how much the straps are tightened the seat continues to slide. Users also wished for slightly more storage space behind the seat in order to fit a cooler or crate of fishing gear.
The kayak comes with everything you need to start paddling, including two paddles, plugs, and liners for the hatches, and Pelican offers a limited lifetime warranty on the boat.
More features: whitewater rating – up to Class III, can be converted to a two-person kayak, NMMA certified
This inflatable sit-on-top kayak from Sea Eagle is designed for the intrepid paddler who prefers the compactness of an inflatable vessel to a standard hard-shelled kayak. The kayak weighs just 26 pounds and breaks down to two feet across by 16 inches long when it is fully deflated, which means it is easy to store inside a packed garage or apartment and transport in a car. The kayak also boasts a 500-pound weight capacity, so you never need to worry about your gear being too heavy to bring along.
The kayak is specifically designed to handle whitewater and is rated for up to Class III rapids. The plastic hull is durable and resistant to punctures so that your adventure won’t come to a premature end, and the I-beam floor construction won’t bend when you hit rocks on the river floor. Sea Eagle offers a three-year warranty to ensure the quality of your kayak.
Another advantage to this kayak is that it comes with a second seat so that you can convert it between serving as a one-person and tandem kayak. All told, inflating and assembling the kayak takes a single person less than 10 minutes using the included foot pump. The seat is relatively comfortable, although like other inflatable kayaks it lacks the excellent adjustability of standard kayak seats – so it can be hard to sit upright and get the most out of your paddle strokes.
Why is it special?
Incredibly lightweight when deflated
Inflatable sit-on-top kayak rated for Class III rapids
Durable plastic hull and I-beam floor construction
Converts between one and two seats
What are the flaws?
The seat is not very adjustable and doesn’t attach to the kayak itself
More features: recommended from ages 5 and up, HDPE construction. reverse chine for stability
This small and lightweight kayak is specifically designed for children to get out on the water and have a good time. At just 18 pounds, your kids will be able to haul this kayak around on their own without your help – a major advantage if you are busy getting your own boat into the water. Note that this kayak is best for kids younger than about 15 as it has an upper weight limit of just 130 pounds.
Once on the water, you can be certain that your child is safe, since the kayak is highly resistant to flipping. This is thanks to the short and wide design of the kayak – it is just six feet long and two feet wide. It also features a reverse chine construction, which further enhances its ability to stay upright after being rocked. Plus, since it uses a sit-on-top design, your kids will be able to jump off and go for a swim and then be able to climb their way back into the cockpit easily.
The kayak is highly durable – an advantage for any kids’ model – thanks to the high-density polyethylene construction. A major disadvantage to this kayak is that it does not come with a seat, so it can be difficult for your child to improve their paddling stroke or to gain strength paddling against a current. The kayak does come with a paddle, as well as with a five-year warranty from Lifetime.
More features: removable skeg, U.S. Coast Guard I.D. – NMMA Certified and TUV approved
This inflatable tandem kayak from Intex is perfect for paddling partners who need a compact but capable boat. The kayak features a sit-on-top design with a cockpit that extends up above your hips to keep you protected from splashes in relatively rough waters. The kayak takes some work to inflate using the double-action pump, but users found that the work is not bad when shared between two people. At 37 pounds, the kayak is relatively heavy but packs down small enough to fit in the trunk of a car when deflated. Note that the weight limit of the kayak is 400 pounds, meaning that it will not support two heavy paddlers.
Users found that the rear seat is somewhat close to the front seat, making it difficult for two tall people to use the kayak. However, the inflatable seats themselves are comfortable and provide plenty of support to get strength out of your paddle stroke thanks to the adjustable straps. Users found that while the seats are only secured to the cockpit with Velcro, they are highly stable while paddling.
The kayak also comes with a removable skeg to help with tracking through the water. Users appreciated this skeg, but noted that it frequently comes detached and recommended drilling a hole through it and tying it to the kayak to prevent losing it.
The warranty on this kayak is relatively short at only 90 days, although this is not too much of a problem given its modest price point.
What stands out?
Tandem sit-on-top kayak
Comfortable inflatable seats attach with Velcro
Packs down small to fit in most cars
Comes with removable skeg
What cons did we manage to find?
The rear seat is very close to the front seat
Relatively heavy for an inflatable kayak at 37 pounds
More features: removable skeg, U.S. Coast Guard I.D. – NMMA Certified and TUV approved
This inflatable kayak from Intex mimics the design of a traditional hard-shelled sit-in kayak, while coming in at roughly half the weight of hard-shelled competitors. The kayak is just 27 pounds and easily fits in the trunk of any car when deflated, although inflating it does take several minutes of pumping work. When inflated, the kayak is nine feet long and 30 inches wide, comparable to the Sun Dolphin hard-shelled sit-in kayak, and is capable of providing stability in relatively rough moving water. The 220-pound weight limit is suitable for most paddlers, although it may limit the amount of gear you are able to bring.
Like the tandem Explorer K2 from Intex, this kayak comes with a removable skeg to improve tracking. Again, users warn that the skeg can detach and recommend drilling a hole through it to attach it to the kayak and prevent it from being lost.
An advantage to this kayak is that it boasts a surprising amount of storage space for an inflatable kayak that lacks hatches. The entire front deck of the kayak is covered in webbing so that you can cram gear on top of the deck without worrying about it falling out of the kayak – although it will get wet.
The kayak comes with a paddle and pump, but note that Intex offers only an extremely short 30-day return policy in lieu of a true warranty on this kayak.
More features: large storage compartment and bottle holder, adjustable padded seat back
This sit-in kayak from Sun Dolphin is perfect for paddlers who are looking to cover some distance on the water. The kayak is 10 feet long, bordering on the length of touring kayaks, although it has a 30-inch wide center to reduce the chances of it flipping over compared to similar sea kayaks. The cockpit is relatively roomy and the kayak is suitable for users up to 250 pounds (including gear). Although the kayak is somewhat heavy at 40 pounds, it is not difficult for a pair of paddlers to carry between the car and the water using the two included carry handles.
This kayak has one of the most comfortable seats out of any kayak we reviewed. The padded seat back is highly adjustable so that you can achieve the perfect paddling posture without compromising on comfort. In addition, the adjustable foot pads and knee braces in the cockpit allow you to engage your core when paddling to get the most out of your stroke.
The kayak does have some capability for full-day tours thanks to the single large storage hatch located behind the seat. Webbing on the top of the deck makes it easy to secure water bottles and an extra paddle or bilge pump as well for longer tours, although users wished that the webbing criss-crossed the entire front deck of the kayak. For advanced paddlers, the cockpit can also accept a spray skirt, making this kayak a good choice for rougher waters or kayaking during the shoulder seasons.
What makes it stand out?
Sit-in kayak with potential for touring
Large storage hatch and deck webbing
Highly comfortable, adjustable seat
Which disadvantages must you keep in mind?
Could have more webbing on deck
Sit-in kayak is designed for more advanced users
Things to Consider
Now that you’ve learned more about our six favorite lightweight kayaks on the market today, how do you choose the kayak that is right for your next adventure on the water? There are many different types of kayaks, each catering to a different style of kayaking or activity, so our buying guide will walk you through everything you need to know to choose the best kayak for your needs.
How much do kayaks usually weight, and what is a lightweight one?
If you’ve ever had to carry a kayak from your car to the boat launch at the local river or lake, you know that the weight of your kayak can make a huge difference in how likely you are to use actually use it. In addition, kayak weight affects how much paddling force you need to put into your strokes in order to propel it forward through the water – a heavier kayak can be much more tiring to paddle than a lightweight one.
With the importance of weight in mind, how do you determine whether a kayak is lightweight or not?
In general, kayaks can weigh upwards of 50 to 70 pounds for a single-person kayak. However, lightweight kayaks use innovative design features, like inflatable components, and lightweight materials, like PVC plastics rather than polyethylene plastics, to significantly cut down on weight.
While there is no exact definition for what constitutes a lightweight kayak, all of the lightweight kayaks we reviewed weigh less than 50 pounds and the Lifetime kayak, in particular, weighs as little as 18 pounds.
Types of kayaks
There are a huge variety of kayaks available, many of which are designed with different purposes in mind.
Most common, especially among infrequent paddlers or summertime beach-or lake-goers, are recreational kayaks. This class of kayaks includes both sit-in and sit-on-top kayaks with designs that are highly resistant to flipping to make them easy for novice paddlers. Some recreational kayaks, like the Vibe Kayaks model, are specifically designed for fishing by including pole holders and storage for fishing gear. Touring kayaks, both for day use and for longer multi-day trips are also available and resemble recreational kayaks. These are typically sit-in kayaks with long, narrow designs to make them extremely streamlined in open water.
Whitewater and beach surf kayaks are also popular since they are relatively inexpensive and lightweight. These kayaks are designed to flip easily, since rolling is an essential skill for whitewater paddling, as well as to be extremely maneuverable. However, these same design aspects can make them difficult to use for paddling long distances across still water as they do not track in a straight line well.
Another consideration when choosing a kayak is whether you want a one-person or two-person kayak. If you will frequently be paddling with a partner, choosing a two-person kayak can save you money. Plus, a single tandem kayak is easier to transport than two single kayaks. However, paddling a two-person kayak alone can be arduous and you have to be in sync with your partner when paddling.
Finally, kayaks are available in not only the standard hard-shelled designs, but also inflatable or folding designs. Inflatable designs are extremely lightweight and portable, but typically lack the smooth paddling of a hard-shelled kayak and do not have much room for gear storage. Folding kayaks can be very comparable to standard kayaks when set up, but offer easier transport thanks to their origami design. However, folding kayaks tend to be relatively expensive.
Sit-in or sit-on-top?
Kayaks come in two dominant styles – sit-in and sit-on-top.
Sit-in kayaks are the more traditional style of kayak, in which you climb into the kayak and slide your legs under the front deck. Sit-in kayaks, like the model from Sun Dolphin, typically have foot and knee braces so you can get more strength out of your paddle stroke, which is an advantage when paddling long distances or in rougher waters. In addition, sit-in kayaks are designed to accept a spray skirt, which keeps water out of the kayak cockpit. For this reason, sit-in kayaks are preferred by cold weather paddlers or in places where the summer season is short.
The downside to sit-in kayaks is that they are less stable than sit-on-top kayaks, and if you do roll the kayak over you’ll likely need to swim with it back to shore to get the water out of the cockpit.
Sit-on-top kayaks, on the other hand, are designed such that you simply climb onto the top of the kayak and there is no enclosed cockpit. These kayaks tend to be relatively resistant to rolling over, but even if you flip the kayak it is easy to turn it back over and climb back in with no need to empty water out. Sit-on-top kayaks are popular in warm areas because they make it easy to go for a swim mid-paddle and because you’ll get a lot more water on you than when paddling a sit-in kayak.
Important features to consider before you buy a kayak
Now you know about the important differences in the types and styles of kayaks available, but how do you choose between kayaks when it comes to the smaller details? Here, we’ll introduce you to the important features you need to consider when choosing a kayak.
One of the most important design aspects of any kayak is its length and width.
Long and narrow kayaks are typically better for long-distance paddles in open water because this shape makes them very streamlined and able to track in a straight line through the water. For this reason, sea kayaks are typically longer than 10 feet.
However, narrow kayaks are more prone to rolling, so many lightweight kayaks, like the Vibe Kayaks and Sun Dolphin models, take a long and wide approach that is more stable on the water. These kayaks offer a blend of straight tracking during paddling and stability.
On the other extreme are kayaks that are short and wide, like the Sea Eagle and Lifetime kayaks. These kayaks take more power to paddle through the water and will have difficulty paddling against currents, but are very difficult to flip over.
The weight capacity of a kayak is an important consideration since exceeding the rated weight capacity will force the kayak to sit lower in the water than it is designed to, making it hard to paddle. Weight capacities range widely, with some kayaks like the Intex Challenger K1 and Sun Dolphin kayaks rated for capacities of 250 pounds or lower. Remember to consider not only your weight, but the weight of your gear as well.
Rudders and skegs
Rudders and skegs are features found on some kayaks that are designed to improve turning and tracking in a straight line through the water. While these aren’t entirely necessary, skegs like those found on the two Intex kayaks can make paddling out to a specific point significantly easier.
However, whenever paddling with a rudder or skeg attached to your kayak, it is important to remember to pull up the device in shallow water, or it can be damaged by scraping against the bottom.
The seat is one of the most important features of a kayak because it drastically impacts your comfort during a long day on the water. Your seat should ideally be adjustable, as on the Sun Dolphin and Vibe Kayaks models, so that you can sit upright with enough back padding to let you put power into your paddle stroke. Many inflatable kayaks, like the Sea Eagle and Intex Challenger K1 kayaks, use inflatable seats as well, although these can be difficult to adjust or lack firmness.
Cockpit sizes vary according to the dimensions of the kayak, but it’s important to make sure that you will comfortably fit inside the cockpit when choosing a kayak. This is especially relevant for sit-in kayaks like the Sun Dolphin model, since there is no way to “overflow” out of the cockpit as there is for a sit-on-top kayak.
If you’re planning to be out for a long day or to use your kayak for activities like fishing that require a lot of gear, having one or more storage hatches can make a big difference in your ability to carry everything and stay organized. The Vibe Kayaks model has two storage hatches, while the Sun Dolphin kayak has one large storage hatch on the front deck. Note that most inflatable kayaks lack storage hatches because they are incompatible with the inflatable design.
A kayak is a significant investment, so you want to be sure that your purchase is protected against defects. Kayak warranties range from as little as a few months for inflatable models like the Intex kayaks to up to lifetime warranties for the more durable Vibe Kayaks and Sun Dolphin models.
Yes, as long as you have a kayak that is made from a hard plastic material rather than an inflatable kayak. This is because mounting the motor will require drilling some holes into the kayak hull, which is not possible with an inflatable model.
There are a ton of options for transporting a kayak, but most people opt for roof racks on their car. For small cars, it may be easy to lift a lightweight kayak directly onto a kayak rack. For taller cars, there are mechanized lift options that help the kayak up to the roof. Once you reach the boat launch, consider getting a rolling kayak cart to transport the kayak from your car to the water instead of hand-carrying it.
Yes! Inflatable kayaks lack the storage hatches of hard-shelled kayaks, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take them out for full-day or even overnight paddles. You’ll just need to get creative about tying down your gear to the kayak.
We feel that the Pelican Maxim 100X, the Sea Eagle SE330, and the Lifetime Wave Youth Kayak are the three best lightweight kayaks for your next adventure on the water. The Pelican Maxim 100X is ten feet long but 28 inches wide, giving it a nice mix of straight tracking and resistance to flipping over when you’re reeling in a big catch. Plus, the hull is burly enough to handle you and all your gear with a weight capacity of 275 pounds. The Sea Eagle is particularly impressive as an inflatable kayak thanks to its extremely durable design and rating for Class III rapids, plus the ability to interchange it between single-person and tandem seating. The Lifetime Wave Youth Kayak is a small and lightweight kayak specifically designed for children to get out on the water and have a good time. At just 18 pounds, your kids will be able to haul this kayak around on their own without your help.