Best Recreational Kayaks Guide for 2023

Canoes and Kayaks

Many kayakers enjoy the sport of recreational kayaking. It can be a great way to get some exercise, spend time outdoors and explore new waterways. But with so many types of recreational kayaks on the market, it can be tough to know which is right for you. This guide will look at the different types of recreational kayaks available and what to consider when choosing one. We’ll also provide some tips for getting started in recreational kayaking. So whether you’re a beginner or an experienced kayaker, read on for all you need to know about recreational kayaks!

Table of Contents

What is a recreational kayak?

A recreational kayak is a small, lightweight kayak designed for calmer waters. Often used for enjoyment and exercise, recreational kayaks are typically used in lakes, rivers, and ponds. They are easy to maneuver and provide a great workout and a fun way to explore the outdoors.

While not meant for whitewater or ocean conditions, recreational kayaks are incredibly versatile and can be usable in a variety of different settings. So whether you are looking to relax on a lazy river or get some exercise on a lake, a recreational kayak is a great option.

Are recreational kayaks sit on top or sit in kayaks?

There are two main types of recreational kayaks: sit-on-top and sit-in. Sit on top recreational kayaks are popular because they are easy to get on and off and offer a more comfortable experience for beginners. They are also easier to maneuver than sit-in recreational kayaks. Sit-in recreational kayaks are more challenging to board, especially from a jetty, but provide a more immersive experience. They can be more difficult to maneuver, but they offer greater control. 

When choosing a recreational kayak, it is important to consider your goals for using the kayak and your level of experience. For example, a sit-on-top recreational kayak may be a better option if you are new to kayaking. On the other hand, a sit-in recreational kayak may be a better choice if you are looking for a more challenging experience.

Exposure to the elements is also another consideration when choosing a recreational kayak. If you plan to do a lot of kayaking in colder, wetter climates, the added protection from an enclosed cockpit and deck skirt would dramatically increase the overall comfort and enjoyment of your outing. In contrast, if you plan to kayak in summer or climates, you can’t beat the sun on your legs and spray from the paddle to keep you cool.

What's the difference between a touring kayak and a recreational kayak?

Recreational kayaks typically have a wider beam, better stability, are easier to paddle, and the seating is generally a little more comfortable. Recreational kayaks are great for beginners as they provide a stable platform and are designed for calmer waters such as canals, lakes, sheltered coastlines, and slower-flowing rivers.

On the other hand, touring kayaks are built for speed and long-distance paddling. As a result, they are narrower and more streamlined, making them faster and less stable. Unfortunately, they also tend to be heavier, making them difficult to transport. 

So, a recreational kayak is probably the way to go if you’re looking for a relaxed paddle around your local lake. But if you’re planning on a multi-day expedition, you’ll want to choose a touring kayak.

Best Recreational Kayaks

A massive range of recreational kayaks available today offer many different features and benefits, making buying the right kayak difficult.
To help you, we’ve put together this list of some of the best 12 foot recreational Kayaks available.

Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 Kayak

wilderness pungo recreational kayak

Technical Specs

  • Length: 12′ 2″ / 371 cm
  • Width: 29″ / 74 cm
  • Weight: 49 lbs / 22 kg
  • Max. Weight: 325 lbs / 147 kg
  • Cockpit Length: 57″ / 145 cm
  • Cockpit Width: 22″ / 56 cm

The updated Pungo 120 delivers dynamic on-water performance with reassuring stability, unmatched speed, premium comfort, and intelligent outfitting. One of the best seats on the market makes sitting in this yak for hours extremely comfortable. In addition, the Pungo has a replaceable skid plate and comfortable rigid carry handles.

The updated dashboard features a special recess for the Wilderness Systems Lithium Battery (sold separately), allowing you to keep your electronics charged on the go. In addition, the dashboard includes a removable dry box, two cup holders, and SlideTrax™to hold mounts for phones and accessories.
The Pungo also has a compact 10.5 foot model and a 12.5 foot model for larger paddlers. The Pungo 120 is said to be best suited for smaller or medium size paddlers but can easily accommodate a 6’1″ 230 lb paddler.

With its sleek design and comfortable seating, the Pungo 120 is perfect for a leisurely paddle or a vigorous workout.
The recreational kayak market is competitive, but the Pungo 120 sets itself apart with its features, comfort, and performance. It’s a great choice for anyone looking for a kayak that can do it all.


  • Comfortable seating with thigh brace and footrests.
  • Excellent tracking and stability
  • Ability to add a lithium battery to recharge devices


  • Lacks storage room

Perception Joyride 12

Technical Specs

  • Length: 12′ 2″ / 371 cm
  • Width: 27.25″ / 69 cm
  • Weight: 54 lbs / 24.5 kg
  • Max. Weight: 350 lbs / 159 kg
  • Cockpit Length: 51″ / 130 cm
  • Cockpit Width: 23″ / 58 cm

If you’re looking for a recreational kayak that has it all, the Perception Joyride 12 is a great option. This kayak comes with adjustable footrests, a comfortable seat that tilts for thigh support, and a back that tilts for layback paddling. It also has a built-in selfie phone holder so that you can capture all your paddling adventures. Plus, the Joyride 12 tracks well and has good stability, making it a great choice for recreational kayakers. And if you’re worried about damaging your kayak, don’t worry – the Joyride 12 comes with a rubber skid plate to protect against bumps and scrapes.

The hatch at the rear provides safe, easy access to stored items, and the water bottle and mobile phone selfie slot are perfect for keeping your devices close at hand. The two recess mounts on the dashboard make adding Bluetooth speakers or a fish finder a breeze, making this kayak perfect for a day on the water. With its versatile design and convenient features, the Perception joyride 12 recreational kayak is a solid choice for any paddler.


  • The moulded front and rear carry handles
  • 4 cool color options
  • Adjustable footrests
  • 2 mount recesses to add accessories


  • No drain plugs

Sun Dolphin Aruba SS 12

Technical Specs

  • Length: 143″ / 364 cm
  • Width: 30″ / 76 cm
  • Weight: 47 lbs / 21 kg
  • Max. Weight: 395 lbs / 179 kg
  • Cockpit Length: 39″ / 99cm
  • Cockpit Width: 20″ / 50.8

The SunDolphin Aruba SS 12 lightweight recreational kayak is a budget-friendly option that features drain holes in the front and rear, thigh and knee pads, adjustable foot braces, and two fishing rod mounts behind the cockpit. It also has a unique removable waterproof container on the rear deck, making it ideal for carrying your essential gear. The kayak is quite maneuverable but lacks tracking when carrying a light load well below its 395 lb weight capacity.

It is important to note that the attention to detail and finish on the plastic around the cockpit is not fantastic. This is not unexpected, given the price point, but it is something to keep in mind when considering this kayak. The good news is that the SunDolphin Aruba SS 12 recreational kayak is still a great option and is a good contender for the best cheap recreational kayak on the market. The Aruba would make an ideal beginner recreational kayak.


  • Affordable
  • Good for beginners
  • Very manœuvrable
  • Has front and rear drainage holes


  • The finishes on plastic is a little rough is places.
  • Doesn’t track too well with lighter loads

Dagger Axis 12 Kayak

Technical Specs

  • Length: 12′ / 365 cm
  • Width: 27.5″ / 70 cm
  • Weight: 55 lbs / 24.9 kg
  • Max. Weight: 350 lbs / 158 kg
  • Cockpit Length: 38″ / 96.5cm
  • Cockpit Width: 22″ / 53.3 cm

The Dagger Axis 12 recreational kayak is the perfect choice for those who want to enjoy the occasional class 2 water while also being able to fish with ease. However, anything more than class 2 could be an issue without a skirt as this craft has no front dry storage for added buoyancy and could become front-heavy if taking on water.

This kayak is extremely stable and durable, making it a great choice as a first or second kayak.The drop-down skeg provides excellent tracking when lowered, enabling the kayak to turn on a dime when retracted, making it easy to navigate through challenging waters and windy conditions.

Whether you’re an experienced kayaker or a beginner, the Dagger Axis 12 recreational kayak is a sound choice for anyone who wants to enjoy a day on the water.


  • Drop down skeg provides excellent tracking
  • Comfortable seating system
  • Very manœuvrable
  • Durable construction


  • Netting system on the front becomes unsightly after substantial use
  • No small dry storage option in cockpit

Pelican Sprint 120 XR Performance Kayak

Technical Specs

  • Length: 12′ / 365 cm
  • Width: 28″ / 71 cm
  • Weight: 50 lbs / 22.7 kg
  • Max. Weight: 325 lbs / 147.4 kg
  • Cockpit Length: 34.6″ / 88 cm
  • Cockpit Width: 18.1” / 46 cm

If you’re looking for a recreational kayak that can handle a little bit of everything, the Pelican Sprint XR120 recreational kayak is a decent option. Its deep V-chine hull design gives it good secondary stability to withstand some choppier conditions while still being able to move quickly and efficiently through the water.

The Pelican recreational kayak cockpit is spacious and comfortable, with a padded seat cushion, adjustable backrest cushion, adjustable footrests, and premium knee pads. There’s even a 10 cm front storage day hatch and bottle holder for your convenience. Plus, if you need to stow away the rest of your possessions safely, the rear quick-lock hatch has got you covered.

So whether you’re paddling lakes or cruising down rivers, the Pelican Sprint XR120 is definitely worth a look kayak for any adventure!


  • Good secondary stability
  • Spacious cockpit 
  • Premium knee pads


  • No tracks or mounts to accessorise easily 

Summing Up

So there you have it, our top 5 kayaks for recreational use. We hope this guide has helped you decide which kayak to purchase. Before we go, we want to remind our readers that the best way to learn about kayaking is by getting out on the water and practicing. The more time you spend paddling, the better prepared you will be for your next big adventure. Are you ready to hit the open water?


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About The Author 

Hi, my name is Andy and I am the creator and owner of I’ve been into water sports for as long as I can remember and I love nothing more than spending a day on the water with my family. This website is a way for me to share my passion with everyone, through providing some helpful guides and tips for canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding.

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