Best Kayak For Camping, Fishing, River Guide

The world is full of outdoor recreation activities. We’ve talked about camping extensively in other posts, but including a kayak in your adventures can elevate your outdoor experience to an entire new level. Getting out on the open water on a mountain lake or floating down a river with a fishing rod can be incredibly peaceful and enjoyable. Finding the best kayak for camping will have you floating on water in the warm summer sun in no time.

best kayak for camping
best kayak for camping

Short On Time? Top Kayak For Camping Picks

Why Buy a Kayak for Camping?

Many people camp, and many people kayak. Combining the two can make it even more fun. There are two ways that you can integrate the two and kayak camp.

First, you can go camping near a lake, pond, river, or the ocean and take a kayak with you to use as an activity. Then, take the kayak out during the day, and come back to relax at night. This is often a great option if you don’t want to bother with many logistics. If you have kids, it may also be a much easier option.

Remote Camping Access With Kayak

The second way is to load your kayak with camping gear and use it to get you to a remote campsite or hunting deer camp somewhere. Again, you can take it along the coast, across a lake, down a creek or river. Then pull your kayak and gear out of the water in the evening and camp on a beach somewhere. Many people make multi-day trips like this that can be a truly unbelievable experience. There are magnificent places like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota, where you can canoe or kayak and camp, or river trips throughout the West. Some of these trips require permits, but many don’t.

Regardless of how you plan to use your kayak for camping, it can be a lot of fun!

Types of Kayaks

There are many kinds of kayaks, so what type you ultimately choose will depend on how you’ll be using it. As you learn about kayaks, you’ll see some standard terms with which you’ll soon be quite familiar. First, we want to talk about the two types of cockpits, as this will be important in deciding which kind of kayak to buy. Then we’ll talk about the two categories of kayaks: flatwater and whitewater; this will also play a large part in what kind of kayak you get.

We also want to note that while we talk about the main kayak categories below, there are also hybrids that you’ll run into while shopping. However, armed with these basics, you should be able to find the perfect kayak for your purposes and decide if a hybrid is right for you.

Kayak Cockpits

The cockpit is where you sit in a kayak. There are sit-on kayaks and sit-in kayaks. Sit-on cockpits have a sealed hull, and, as it sounds, you sit on top. A sit-in kayak cockpit is recessed, meaning you sit inside with your legs in front of you under the hull. There are pros and cons to both.

Sit-on kayaks are easy to get in and out of and escape if you tip over. They’re great for fishing since they allow greater accessibility to gear. The downside is you tend to get wetter if there is lots of splashing.

Sit-in kayaks are better for rougher water or carrying gear or children. You can add a skirt to keep you dry and warm in the rough water. However, they can be more difficult to escape from if you roll your kayak. 

Flatwater Kayaks

There are five types of flatwater kayaks:

  • Sit-on-top
  • Recreational
  • Inflatable
  • Touring
  • Pedaling

Sit-On-Top Kayaks – Perfect For Camping

These kayaks do not have an enclosed place to sit (cockpit). This makes them easier to get in and out of, but you may get wetter. They are usually wider than other types, which means they are a more stable kayak. People like these for fishing because their gear is easily accessible, and they have plenty of room to carry a cooler. They can also be suitable for camping.

Recreational Kayaks

Recreational kayaks are usually 10′ or less. They have a larger sit-in cockpit, which means more room for additional gear or a small child. They don’t track (stay straight) as well as a touring kayak and aren’t as fast, but are great for lakes, slow-moving rivers, or areas of the ocean protected from waves. They’re great for kayak camping due to the extra space in the hull and stern. These typically are less expensive than touring kayaks as well.

Touring Kayaks

Touring kayaks are typically over 12′, are much narrower than the others, and have a smaller sit-in cockpit. The smaller cockpit also has thigh braces for helping you roll upright if you were to tip over. Because they are long and narrow, these kayaks are much faster than others. They’re also less stable than some of the broader kayaks. Touring kayaks are great for ocean kayaking or other large bodies of water where you want to move quickly, but not as good for family adventures. Additionally, they are more expensive and difficult to transport due to their length.

Pedaling Kayaks

As they sound, these kayaks are propelled by pedals rather than oars. This means you’ll use your legs instead of your arms, allowing you to go further before getting tired since your legs are typically more muscular and stronger. These kayaks are a good idea if you have arm or shoulder injuries since they come with propellers, which you pedal like a bicycle, or some have flippers like a fish. They come in single or double person and have a sit-in cockpit.

Inflatable Kayaks

You inflate these kayaks with a foot or electric pump. These are typically wider than a hard side and have a roomy sit-in cockpit. Flatwater inflatable kayaks may get a bad rap from some people for being cheaply made, but there are some good ones. However, some whitewater inflatables may suffice for flatwater (see inflatables under whitewater below). Additionally, these are great for those that don’t have a way to transport or store a full-size kayak. Use them for floating rivers, exploring calm waters, fishing, or camping; be careful not to pop them.

Whitewater Kayaks

There are five types of whitewater kayaks:

  • Playboats
  • River Runners
  • Creekboats (creekers)
  • Old School Kayaks
  • Inflatable whitewater kayaks (duckies)

Playboats

These are short at around 4-6′. They are best for waves and holes but not great for running a river. They make for great exercise offshore, but don’t plan on floating from point A to point B with one of these. Playboats are also good for a sport known as rodeo boating. Rodeo boating incorporates skill level, style, and tricks with kayaking.

River Runners

River runners are usually about 7-8′ long. They track pretty well on flat sections of river water, but also navigate turns nimbly. They have plenty of storage to carry gear, suitable for a several-day river camping trip. They’re usually pretty comfortable to sit in as well.

Creekboats (Creekers)

These are usually around 8′, with more volume. This is good if you’re trying to run rivers and they are sturdy enough to withstand drops. Some have a displacement hull, and some have a planning hull. Beginners should avoid displacement hulls because they are problematic in holes, and crossing eddy lines while planning hulls are better for various uses.

Old School Kayaks

These were typically made in the ’80s and ’90s and are in the 10-12′ range. You’ll typically find these used. They are okay for rivers with lots of flat water but are more challenging to maneuver in tight corners. They also have smaller cockpits than more modern boats. If you know what you’re getting into, they can be a great deal as they’re inexpensive to buy used, but you need to understand these boats and how they’re best used.

Inflatable Whitewater Kayaks

These can be great for beginners because they are broader and more stable than others. They can also hold a lot of gear, making them great for river camping. They are also more comfortable than hardshell kayaks. The downside is that they are not as maneuverable as others and therefore aren’t great if you need to make many tight turns. Inflate these kayaks with a foot or electric pump.

Single and Tandem Kayaks

Single kayaks are designed for one person to sit. Depending on the type, they have one seat and may have additional room for your best kayak accessories and other kayaking gear.

Tandem kayaks are designed for two people to use at once. They have two seats and are great for beginners to row with someone more experienced or introduce children to the sport. They typically come with extra storage space as well.

Kayaks for Camping

Because you’re reading this article, you’re likely looking for the best kayaks for camping. Therefore, we will focus on flatwater kayaks since you probably won’t be running whitewater with a bunch of gear in your hull.

There are several considerations when looking for a kayak for camping. These include:

  • Intended use
  • Capacity
  • Performance
  • Storage Options
  • Weight capacity
  • Comfort

Whether you’re looking for a recreational kayak, fishing kayak, lightweight inflatable kayak, or the best tandem kayak for family, consider these six things.

Intended Use

Where you will be using your kayak will factor into which you should get. Do you intend to use it on a calm lake or gentle river, on the ocean, or through light rapids? If you live along the coast, you will likely want to consider something designed to cut through waves, which can track better in the wind, whereas hauling a bunch of camping gear down the Missouri River will require something entirely different.

Performance

If you want to move quickly and cover lots of miles over a long distances, you’ll want a longer kayak, and more streamlined touring kayak designed to do just that. If you’re paddling across a lake or down an accessible river, you’ll probably want something shorter and wider, offering more stability and room for gear. Also, remember that longer boats are harder to turn in small, tight places, whereas shorter boats are designed to maneuver quickly. A longer boat is likely better for a long trip.

Enough Storage Space

If you’re looking for the best camping kayak, you’ll want something with enough storage hatches to carry all your gear, fishing equipment, and potentially another person. Therefore, having enough storage space will be a huge consideration. If you’re day kayaking or running whitewater, storage won’t be as necessary and could affect performance, depending on what you’re doing.

Weight Capacity – Maximum Load

You’ll want to make sure whatever kayak you go with will hold all the weight you intend to put in it. Whether it’s just you or you and all your gear, make sure that it can withstand the number of pounds you’ll load in it. If you’re camping, you’ll have a lot of additional weight. Also, the best kayak for big guys may be different than for smaller people, especially when you add gear to the mix. Kayaks manufacturers typically list maximum weight capacity on their kayaks.

Comfort

Finally, different kayaks have different types of seating. For the best kayak seat, consider factors affecting comfort include a hard or soft seat, how much back support a seat has, and how much foam padding to the padded seat is added. Some have chairs that attach, while others have the bare minimum. Each has varying comfort levels, and some are good for more extended periods of paddling. You’ll want something comfortable for multi-day river camping trips since you’ll be floating all day, paddling, and sitting.

Best Lightweight Kayak

If you’re looking for a great lightweight kayak for camping, look no further than the Oru Kayak Foldable Kayak. Weighing in at 20-pounds, this lightweight, foldable kayak is easy to transport and great for beginners and intermediates.

Foldable Kayaks

Foldable kayaks are an alternative to inflatable kayaks. While some people may be skeptical, these origami-inspired boats are strength tested and exceed the U.S. Coast Guard recreational vessel requirements. They will fit in the trunk of a car or other small spaces an ordinary hard-sided kayak won’t. With some practice, it’s pretty easy to set up and take down.

This sit-in kayak comes with a comfortable seat pad and adjustable backrest, perfect for long days and sitting in the same seat for a long time. It can hold up to 180 L of gear in the bow and stern storage compartments and has a 400-pound storage capacity, making it an excellent choice for kayak camping.

This kayak can be challenging to maneuver in high winds due to its light weight. And, it’s more expensive than many kayaks. However, we think the pros far outweigh the cons, and reviewers say it’s a real upgrade from inflatable kayaks.

Best Lightweight Tandem Kayak

Lightweight tandem kayaks are hard to come by. Most weigh anywhere from 65-80 pounds, making it difficult for one person to load and unload and get into the water. Hard-side kayaks are typically heavier. We think the Aire Tributary Strike 2 Inflatable Kayak is the ticket for an excellent lightweight tandem kayak that one or two people can use.

At 12’4″, this lightweight kayak has plenty of space while only weighing 37 pounds. Its unique hull design makes it maneuverable in both whitewater and flat water. It also comes with 16 inner cargo loops that anchor the seats and make for great anchor points to tie down gear.

Removable Seats

It comes with two removable seats, which are handy if only one person wants to use the kayak. It’s light enough for one person to handle, so take out the extra seat, and you’ve got more than enough space for you, your gear, and the dog! It also has a load capacity of 450 pounds, so you will have no problem fitting everyone.

Best Lightweight Sit on Top Kayak

If you’re looking for a sit on top kayak camping adventure, we suggest getting the Eddyline Caribbean 12 Sit-On-Top Kayak. At 45 pounds, it’s much lighter than many of its competitors.

Eddyline Caribbean

The Caribbean 12 is 12′ long and has a capacity of 300 pounds. It features a Gull Wing design that improves tracking and performance. With a foam-padded high back seat, this kayak will keep you comfortable all day long, whether paddling around for fun or heading to your favorite camp spot. The floor design also makes this the best stand up kayak.

It comes with three storage hatches, a large front hatch, a center day hatch, and a rear hatch, which means there is plenty of room for storing camp gear, whether for an overnight trip or a multi-day river trip. Track mounts on both sides allow you to attach accessories like cup holders for a cold beverage, paddle holders or camera holder.

While it’s expensive, reviewers love this kayak for its responsiveness and stability. Additionally, we believe it’s the best kayak for dogs because of the open sit-on-top design and the extra room. If your pup is a good boy, he can ride comfortably between your legs or in the cargo space in the back.

Perception Crank 10

Another solid choice for Sit on Top Kayaks is the Perception Crank 10.

Best Youth Kayak

A good youth kayak is key to ensuring a child has fun on the water. You don’t want something too big or heavy for them, which can quickly lead to frustration. You also want to ensure the kayak is stable since rolling a kayak and dunking a kid in the water when they’re beginning is a great way to make them dislike the sport.

Youth Kayak For Camping

If you’re looking for a good youth kayak for camping, we like the Pelican – Sonic 80X Youth Kayak – Sit-on-Top – Recreational Kayak. We like this for camping over the popular Pelican Solo 6 Feet Sit-on-top Youth Kayak (which is also a good choice) because of the added space for carrying camping gear.

This kayak is 7’9″ and weighs 20 pounds, making it plenty maneuverable for children. It has an open cockpit, making it easy to get in and out of and escape from if the kayak rolls. The padded backrest provides comfort.

The max capacity for this kayak is 225 pounds, which is 125 more than the 100 pound limit on the Solo. While you may not have a kid carry a lot of additional weight on a kayak camping trip, this kayak gives you the option. It is also big enough for a small adult to use, so it’s a great family kayak.

Kayaks for Fishing

We know that camping and fishing go hand-in-hand. Whether you’re simply setting up camp and then fishing on the nearby lake or river or want a crossover for river trips, we have some excellent options. Some of the best fishing kayaks on the market are also great for camping.

Best Inflatable Fishing Kayak

An inflatable kayak is handy because it packs down into a manageable size. Usually, these weigh less than hard-side kayaks, and some even fall into the size and weight range that allows them to be checked on an airplane. The Star Inflatables Star Rival Fish Inflatable Kayak is one of those, but we love it for so many other reasons as well.

This kayak is 12’6″ and weighs approximately 31 pounds. It has a load capacity of 300 pounds, although many reviewers say they’ve packed much more on it. NRS sells this boat, and they say it can be weighted down with over 700 pounds before being submerged, although we don’t recommend it! However, for this reason, this is also a top pick for the best fishing kayak for big guys! A great fisherman gift idea for the angler in your life.

Inflatable Kayak For Camping

The Star Rival is a sit-on kayak that comes with a chair. However, it is sturdy enough to use as a stand up fishing kayak. It has plenty of room for fishing gear and a cooler. You could also use it for paddling across a calm lake or down a quiet river for camping, as there is plenty of room to strap your gear. Just make sure you use dry bags and aren’t getting into anything too crazy!

This kayak comes with a folding back fishing seat, a carrying bag, a pump, and an all-water fin. A screened drain port under the seat allows easy drainage to eliminate standing water on the deck.

Best Tandem Sit on Top Fishing Kayak

Good fishing kayaks come with features that regular kayaks don’t, like beer holders (kidding…maybe). But, they do have things like rod holders that make them unique. So if you’re looking for the best 2 person fishing kayak, look no further than the Brooklyn Kayak Company TK122U.

Yeah, we don’t know where they came up with that awesome name either, but we do think this is an awesome kayak. At 12’6″, it is large enough to fit 2 or 3 people. Since it’s a sit-on-top kayak, it’s also the best stand up kayak for fishing. There is also plenty of room for fishing gear, coolers, and moving around.

It has two ergonomic seats, two rod holders, two watertight hatches, one bungee cargo hold, two articulating rod holders, and four accessory rails for adding storage and accessories. Additionally, it comes with two paddles, which not all kayaks do.

This kayak is built for stability and has a capacity of 770 pounds! It does excellent in choppy water or swift currents. It weighs 74 pounds, but hopefully more than one person will be using it since it is tandem and you’ll have help carrying it!

Weekend Family Kayak For Camping

Reviewers love the comfort of the seats, saying they’re great for paddling all day. Because of the extra storage space and room, this kayak could easily carry two adults, a kid, and gear (sleeping bag, tent, first aid kit, camping equipment) for a weekend kayak camping trip. For this reason, not only do we love this as the best tandem fishing kayak, but we also rate it the best family kayak.

Best Lightweight Fishing Kayak

“Lightweight” is often a relative term, especially when it comes to things like kayaks. However, there is a big difference between 20 and 40 pounds, which is why we like the Brooklyn Kayak Company UH-RA220. At 11’6″ in length, it weighs in at 20 pounds, making it easy for one person to move around.

Kayak Storage For Cooler or Camping Gear

It has three watertight storage areas and a fourth with a cargo net, meaning there is room for fishing gear, a cooler, essential backpacking gear or camping gear for an overnight trip. It also comes with two flush-mounted rod holders and one adjustable rod holder for fishing all day long.

It’s stable and tracks well. It has a foot control rudder for hands-free paddling while you’re busy changing fishing lures. It also comes with an adjustable seat for all-day comfort.

While a little on the pricey side, we like this kayak for its features, comfort, and multi-purpose uses.

Best Beginner Fishing Kayak

We believe there is no reason to spend a bunch of money when you’re first trying a sport out. So if you’re just getting into fishing with a kayak, then we think the Pelican Sit-on-Top Kayak – Sentinel 100X is a great inexpensive option for beginners.

It’s 9’6″ long and weighs 44 pounds, meaning it’s easy for beginners to get the feel of and maneuver. The flat bottom ensures stability when casting and reeling while still being relatively fast. Because of its design and stability, this may also be the best fly fishing kayak. It can easily go down a river, but standing up is the critical part of fly fishing, which this kayak allows you to do.

The Pelican Sentinel has a maximum capacity of 275 pounds. So, while not the largest capacity, you can still hold a fair amount of gear.

It comes with an adjustable backrest and seat cushion, making it comfortable for a full day of fishing. This kayak has two rod tie-downs, two flush mount rod holders, a rear tank, a front storage platform with a mesh deck cover, and an ExoPak removable storage compartment.

While we recommend this kayak for beginners, it is plenty of boat for more experienced kayakers and anglers for the price.

Best Kayak For Camping Final Thoughts

Whether you’re new to kayaking or an old pro, finding the best kayak for camping will ensure you have the best time on the water and your camping trip. Camping requires plenty of logistics, from what to eat to what shelter you’ll use. Throw a kayak in the mix, and now you’ve got even more to think about! Luckily, we’ve given you plenty of great options to consider.

We hope we’ve given you plenty of buying guide information, from the best stand up fishing kayak to the best lightweight tandem kayaks. There are many great options, whether you’re using a kayak for camping, fishing, or both.

Some of the main things to keep in mind include what you’ll be using your kayak for, how much weight you’ll carry, and what type of water you’ll be using it on. You’ll also need to decide if you need a single or tandem kayak. Consider the weight of any kayak as well, as you’ll have to be able to move it around, whether alone or with help. Also, consider brining along safety equipment such as a kayak helmet or kayak life vest (pfd).

Whether you’re out on the ocean camping along the coast, floating a cold mountain river in Montana, or fishing a lake in the Midwest, there is a right kayak for you. With prices for all kinds of budgets and plenty of all-around options (like adjustable footrests), there is no reason you can’t get out on the water this summer and take an epic camping trip in your kayak!