If you’re new to the sport or you’ve borrowed a kayak from a friend, you might think to yourself: Alright, a bit of colored plastic. A molded seat. This can’t be too expensive, right? Really, how much does a kayak cost?
Unfortunately, the question is a bit more complicated than first glance may suggest. Depending on the materials and quality, kayaks can range very widely in price from under $100 to over $2,000. Below, we’ve drawn up a shortlist of some of the most common price points for kayaks depending on their type. Afterward, we’ll touch on some of the most frequent questions asked amongst new paddlers.
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Why Are Some Kayaks More Expensive than Others?
Like with any sport, you can go as low- or high-end you want when investing in new gear. Kayaks differ greatly in price depending primarily on their material construction. Kayaks are generally made from wood, polyethylene plastic, thermoformed materials, or composite materials. Different materials are best-suited for distinct activities on the water.
Dating back at least 2000 years ago, kayaks were most frequently made out of wood and used for hunting, transportation, and fishing. The Inuit people developed their own long wooden kayak from driftwood frames that were waterproofed with seal fat. While wood is less popular today, it’s still around – wood is durable and can be fairly lightweight, yet may degrade over time without proper care. As a material, wood can be quite expensive, which is why many opt for polyethylene.
Within the past twenty years, polyethylene plastic has arisen as the top material for kayak construction. Polyethylene is, above all else, exceptionally impact-resistant and cheaply available. They’re the ideal choice for whitewater rafting yet are untenably tricky to repair if punctured and very heavy. On the more expensive end, many advanced paddlers go for composite kayaks made from either kevlar, fiberglass, carbon fiber, or a layered combination of all three. These materials offer mid-range durability, yet they are extremely lightweight and guarantee the best performance.
Owing to their ultra-light construction, these kayaks are best for traversing long distances. Composite kayaks can be several times more expensive than their polyethylene brothers. Aside from material construction, other factors that may impact kayak price include the brand, type, or any customization options included.
Common Price Points for Kayaks
|Kayak Type||Minimum price||Maximum Price|
|White Water Kayaks||$600||$1800|
Price Range of Recreational Kayaks
Recreational kayaks are, by far, the most popular type of kayak geared for those that prefer casual trips. These kayaks are best-suited for flatwater streams, lakes, rivers, and calm paddling conditions.
Generally, recreational models are wider and shorter than other types. They feature a flat-bottomed or slightly arched hull that offers better primary stability. Primary stability means that the risk of capsizing is rare and the kayak is easier to enter and exit from a dock.
However, recreational kayaks don’t track as well as other types. Owing to their broader design, they aren’t the fastest type of kayak on the market. Recreational kayaks can be either inflatable or made of rigid materials. As the largest segment on the kayaking market, recreational kayaks differ widely in price. These kayaks are generally priced from $300 to $700 for a higher-quality, more durable construction. Most recreational kayaks are made from polyethylene plastics, which are very impact-resistant against damage yet are heavyweight. Composite recreational models will cost more, ranging from $500 to $1,000. Kevlar, fiberglass, and carbon fiber offer a more lightweight, speedy performance compared to plastic.
Consider the Wilderness Systems Pungo kayak. The durable, polyethylene kayak carries up to 325 pounds and is replete with tons of features for more advanced paddlers. On the cheaper end of the price range,Sun Dolphin provides a line of Bali recreational kayaks made from rugged polyethylene plastic. The kayak lacks an enclosed cockpit and comes with an adjustable padded seat back, yet may lack the speed and tracking capabilities of the Pungo kayak.
Price Range of Inflatable Kayaks
Inflatable kayaks are often the cheapest type of kayak that you can find. Inflatable kayaks are designed to be pumped up and deflated through isolated air chambers, making them the easiest variety to store after use.
However, inflatable kayaks don’t track as well as recreational models and offer even less return in movement per paddle. That said, there are many high-end inflatable models designed for advanced paddlers.
Inflatable kayaks will range in price from as low as $80 to around $1700. The least expensive varieties are made from puncture-resistant vinyl, PVC, or other high-density ultra-thin film plastics.On the more expensive end, kayaks made with very thin yet highly resilient, environmental-grade PVC are available. They usually come with three or more independently inflated air cells that offer better performance guarantees on the water.
Consider the Intex Explorer two-person kayak. The kayak features three isolated air chambers and comes with two aluminum paddles, a high-pressure inflation pump, and a high maximum load capacity of 180 kg. The more expensive Advanced Elements Advanced Frame inflatable kayak is made from heavy-duty PVC tarpaulin material, making it more puncture-resistant than the Intex Explorer. At 16’ long when inflated, this tandem kayak incorporates an aluminum bow and stern frame to improve tracking.
The right inflatable kayak can be safe, durable, and almost as resilient as a hard-case kayak. As a buyer, you’ll have to take more care to choose the right model – especially if it sits at the cheaper end of the price range.
Price Range of Fishing Kayaks
As a more specialized type of kayak, fishing kayaks are a little more pricey than most low-end recreational models. Fishing kayaks are retrofitted with everything an angler needs to do well out on the water: rod holders, mounting areas for gear, and extra storage watertight storage options. Fishing kayaks are priced between $400 to over $1,000, depending on their materials, rigging, and features.
Most fishing kayaks have a similar build to recreational models, in that they are on the shorter side (10′ to 12′), have a broader width, and often feature a flat-bottomed hull. These watercraft offer enhanced primary stability – in fact, sit-on-top (SOT) fishing kayaks can even be stood on during casting since they’re so stable. Fishing kayaks sacrifice speed, turning, and tracking, in order to provide the best stability guarantee. After all, you don’t want all your gear to go overboard at the slightest hint of water turbulence.
You’ll want your fishing kayak to have a high carrying capacity yet be somewhat lightweight. When fishing, you often need to frequent different lakes and ponds to get different catches, which can make hoisting a bulky kayak difficult. Most mid-priced fishing kayaks are made from polyethylene plastic, which is super durable (yet also very heavy). Be careful if you’re choosing between polyethylene models. The most expensive models will be made from lightweight composite materials like carbon fiber, kevlar, and fiberglass.
The premium-quality Hobie Mirage Passport is made from rotomolded polyethylene plastic. Interestingly, the rider sits slightly elevated in a high-rise seat system that keeps their knees slightly bent for better comfort. At 83 pounds in weight with the seat installed, as well as a rudder and room to add accessories. The Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 is also made from polyethylene, yet boasts a significantly cheaper price. However, it doesn’t come with the elevated seating, nor does it perform quite as well at tracking and maneuverability as the SS107.
Price Range of Sea & Touring Kayaks
Designed to travel faster and track straighter, seafaring (or touring) kayaks are amongst the most expensive varieties you’ll find. These kayaks are designed for advanced paddlers that want to brave the ocean, rough coastal conditions, or unpredictable currents.
Touring kayaks usually range from over $700 to in excess of $2000. Seafaring kayaks feature a longer, narrower design with an arched or V-shaped hull. Due to their hull design, seafaring kayaks boast better tracking and traverse distances more quickly. They lack in primary stability, yet perform very well when maneuvering turns and bracing against waves.
The Wilderness Systems Tempest 165 kayak is made from rigid polyethylene, helping it to withstand rocks, waves, and years of use. It comes with an adjustable skeg system that keeps tracking straight in current and windy conditions. On the priciest end, carbon fiber touring kayaks offer the best performance on the water out of all varieties. The Stellar 18′ touring kayak may be pricey, but it’s exceptionally lightweight at just 35.5 pounds. The clear-finished kayak is molded from epoxy-finished, triple woven carbon fiber laminate.
Price Range of White Water Kayaks
Whitewater kayaks are a specialized type of kayak that is designed to brave rapid currents and swelling rivers. Interestingly, most white water kayaks are offered at a mid-range price point since they’re designed to withstand impact against sharp rocks.
You can find a decent white water kayak priced between $600 to $1800, on average.
The vast majority of white water kayaks are made from polyethylene plastics since – again – they offer the absolute best durability. Yet some are also inflatable since the lightweight construction works well for bracing against impact.
The Star Raven 1 is a self-bailing, fully responsive inflatable kayak designed for both flatwater and Class IV whitewater. It’s made from PVC material that’s reinforced through a seam-welding process that provides superior longevity. A drop-stitch construction inflates to a super rigid 10 psi, providing more stable positioning on the water.
Alternatively, the Riot Kayaks Magnum is a hard-shell option for whitewater rafting. It features an ergonomic seating system that contour fits the body for providing a better range of motion. Despite being primarily polyethylene, the Riot kayak’s weight is comparable to the inflatable Star Raven at just 45 pounds.
What is the cheapest kayak?
While we wouldn’t recommend the cheapest kayaks for advanced paddlers, they provide a great introduction to the sport for newbies. Generally, the cheapest versions you find will be inflatable varieties.
The least expensive inflatable models will often be made with polyester and PVC, weighing just under 20 pounds. The Intex Challenger series K1 kayak is made from UV-resistant, puncture-resistant vinyl and includes Boston valves for quick inflation.
The kayak even comes with a high-output inflation pump, soft carry case, paddles, and extra repair patches.
Prefer a hard-case kayak? You can find them in the sub-$200 price range as well if you’re not too picky. Hard case kayaks are great for rivers, lakes, and slightly rougher weather conditions.
Check out the Sun Dolphin Aruba series. Sun Dolphin offers a variety of 8′ to 10′ kayaks made from proprietary plastic materials. These lightweight kayaks usually weigh less than 25 pounds and come with extra open tank well storage, adjustable foot braces, customizable seating, shock-cord deck rigging, and paddle holders.
Keep in mind that the cheapest kayaks are usually 8′ to 10′ long, which is perfect for children and teens, yet may be too short for tall riders of 6′ in height. Make sure to factor in the kayak’s maximum carrying capacity and materials before you make the purchase.
Typically, how much are beginner kayaks?
With so many models, sizes, and materials out there, it’s difficult to settle on one price for a beginner kayak. You’ll need to factor in the type of water faring adventures you intend to go on before settling on a model.
Generally, most beginner kayaks are recreational sit-in or sit-on-top (SOT) models with a flat-bottomed hull, broad width, and length between 10′ to 12′. Beginner kayaks emphasize better primary stability, meaning they’re best-suited for flatwater lakes, rivers, inlets, and streams.
L.L Bean offers a range of Manatee beginner kayaks starting at $350. With a carrying capacity of 300 pounds, these 40-pound kayaks offer a stable, affordable way to get around the water – they’re also made from polyethylene plastics for even more durability.
Of course, you can find even cheaper inflatable and hard-case varieties for beginners, too. However, beginners should note that poor quality kayak can hamper their ability to maneuver around the water.
An excessively cheap or damaged pre-owned kayak can hamper your ability to track straightly, especially if your paddling technique is not up to par. Beginners should be just as discerning when making a purchase as more advanced paddlers.
Where can I store a kayak?
When it comes to storage, you have two options: indoor or outdoor storage. Kayaks are pretty big, which can make them difficult to store if you live in a small home or apartment.
Wherever you store it, you’ll want to keep the watercraft in great condition throughout all the seasons.
Inflatable kayaks are the easiest to store since they can condense down to a compact size that fits in a carry case or duffel bag. Simply deflate the kayak, loosely roll it and stow it in a temperature-controlled, dry place.
For hard-case boats, you’ll need to be more discerning. You’ll want to store your kayak in a place that limits the presence of sunlight, heat, moisture, and extreme cold. Poor storage conditions can deform the shape of your kayak or degrade its material construction, making the kayak porous and less performant over time.
While cold isn’t as huge a concern, repeated freezing and thawing cycles can start to deform the kayak over time. This is especially important for composite kayaks since materials like fiberglass are more sensitive to long-term moisture exposure.
The best place to keep your kayak is indoors, normally a garage or shed. Yet outdoor spots, like under a deck or beneath a tarp, are suitable for protecting your boat. If storing outdoors, find an area protected against moisture and shaded from the sun.
We recommend investing suspension storage to keep your kayak out of the way. Suspension can also help keep water from pooling in the kayak during the off-season.
Should I rent or buy a kayak
The short answer: it depends.
The long answer: You should consider how often you intend to kayak and what would be more cost-effective. If you only kayak a few times a year, it may be more cost-effective to rent when you needed.
Renting means you won’t have to invest in roof rack equipment or figure out a long-term storage system for your kayak. Moreover, you won’t be stuck with a poor-quality kayak for more than a single outing! You’ll never have to worry about damage since most rentals are covered by insurance for accidents. Moreover, the right renter may offer free shuttles to and from the water.
However, if you kayak at least eight to ten times a year, it may be time to consider a durable starter model. Rentals just don’t perform as well as a quality self-owned kayak, since they’re meant to be very heavy to resist the damage caused by several renters.
With rental boats, you’ll never reach the full potential that the sport offers. When you buy a kayak, you can find one that more closely tailors to your size, style, and needs. This is especially true for more technical adventures like coastal kayaking, seafaring, and fishing.
Want to really improve as a paddler? Want to hit the water as often as possible? Owning a kayak is the best choice for you.
So, how much does a kayak cost? If you’ve taken the time to peruse this article, you know the answer varies significantly depending on the watercraft’s materials, branding, type, and features.
Make sure to consider what type of adventures you’re headed on before shelling out for a kayak.