Whether it’s out on a high mountain lake or over the waves of the ocean, kayaking continues to be one of the most satisfying things you can do out on the water. But not everybody can afford the multi-thousand dollar kayaks that are hitting the market these days.

Fortunately, it’s not all about the Benjamins. The best cheap kayaks these days are more durable and more high-performance than they have ever been, thanks to advances in both construction material and design technique.

We’re counting down the 7 Best Kayaks Under $500, as well as stopping along the way to talk about what exactly it takes to qualify as a great cheap kayak.

SUMMARY OF 7 BEST CHEAP KAYAKS
Syle: Sit-inside Length: 9’8’’ Best Feature: Very Affordable Our Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Style: Inflatable Length: 11’’ Best Feature: Lightweight & Portable Our Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Style: Inflatable Length: 10’’ Best Feature: Tear resistant 26G K80 Material Our Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Style: Sit-inside Length: 8’’ Best Feature: Great control Our Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Style: Sit-On-Top Length: 8’’ Best Feature: Stability Our Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Style: Sit-On-Top/Fishing Length: 10’’ Best Feature: Fully equipped for fishing Our Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Style: Sit-On-Top/Fishing Length: 11’’ Best Feature: Stable & fast Our Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

What the Best Affordable Kayaks Have in Common

• DURABILITY

Just because a Kayak is cheap doesn’t mean it needs to be cheap, do you know what we mean? Fortunately, high quality polyethylene is both rugged and lightweight, and it has become the standard material for even the most modestly priced kayaks.

Inflatable Kayaks are something of a different story, however, because they are not quite as durable and special precautions need to be taken to make sure that you don’t cause a puncture.

• PORTABILITY

Often times in kayaking it is necessary to get out of your boat and carry it, so you want to make sure that you are getting something that you can lift easily enough. It should also fit inside of or on top of the vehicle you will be using.

One of the reasons that inflatable kayaks have become so popular is because they take up less than a fraction of the amount of space, which is quite important when you are trying to pack all your favorite gear for the next adventure.

• COMFORT

There are two main considerations when it comes to the comfort of a kayak. The seat is where most of your bodyweight will be centered, so you definitely want to have something there that is going to protect your spine and back muscles. Generally speaking, kayaks do not come standard with high-back seats, but the additional purchase can be a very handy upgrade for anyone looking to spend more than a few hours in the chair.  

Leg Room is another hugely important consideration, and it varies considerably by both manufacturer and model.  If there isn’t adequate space for your legs, you can cramp up quite quickly, and that could be the last thing that you need when you’re out on the water.

The 7 Best Kayaks for the Money

#1 Lifetime Payette

STYLE LENGTH WEIGHT WIDTH CAPACITY COLOR(S)
Sit-inside 9’8’’ 44 lbs 19.5” 250lbs ORANGE

We’re kicking off our list with one of our very favorite affordable kayaks. Not only is this model available for significantly less than other entry-level kayaks, but it handles well enough to make it a reliable option for both newbies and old-hands alike.  

High-density polyethylene construction is a fairly common construction method these days, so it is perhaps no surprise that it is utilized here. What is surprising however is that that it seems to be the same construction quality as many other more expensive boats.

The PAYETTE isn’t exactly teeming with bells and whistles. For instance, the only cargo compartment is going to be inside the cockpit with the rider, so this kayak won’t lend itself as well to activities like fishing. However the adjustable footrest can be moved around, meaning that you can create more space if need be.

The width and depth of this particular model give it an impressive degree of stability. The PAYETTE is easy to re-mount in the case of a flip, and it can handle more side to side motion than many others in its class.

If there is one drawback to the product it is that the Payette has mid to low level tracking. That means it is going to take more time and energy to keep the boat moving in the direction that you want it to. For this reason we don’t recommend it for long adventures, but rather quick jaunts around the bay.

Lifetime Payette

Pros

Pros
  • Very lightweight & easy to transport
  • High-grade polyethylene construction
  • Very stable

Cons

Cons
  • Bad Tracking
  • No storage compartments or gear tracks

#2 Sea Eagle SE330 Inflatable Sport Kayak Pro Package

STYLE LENGTH WEIGHT WIDTH CAPACITY COLOR(S)
Inflatable 11’’ 26 lbs 34” 500lbs WHITE

Good rapids are even better when they’re easier to get to, and perhaps that’s why the SEA EAGLE SE330 kayak has become so popular in recent years. Although inflatable kayaks are sometimes criticized for having reduced control and poor stability, the truth is that they more than make up for it with ease of transportation the sheer comfort that they provide.

Take the chairs for example. Not only is this one of the only two-seater kayaks on our list, but both seats are larger and more plush than about anything you would find in a traditional kayak. And because it mimics the sit-on-top style of many popular kayaks, the SEA EAGLE is simply one of the most comfortable ways to ride.

We are recommending the PRO PACKAGE here because that is what we were lucky enough to receive for the review. Getting the paddles and foot pump included are an absolute necessity, so springing the few extra bucks shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

After paddling around in this thing, our consensus is that while it is a truly wonderful lake kayak with more comfort and portability than anything else out there, it simply would not be able to perform well in any river rated II or above.

One thing about inflatable kayaks that we are still on the fence about is the need to fully dry them out before folding them up. That’s because leaving them wet can lead to mold and mildew if you don’t unfold it often enough. It’s not a huge deal, but perhaps something to keep in mind.

Sea Eagle SE330

Pros

Pros
  • Lightweight & Portable
  • Two-Seater
  • More comfortable than hard-plastic kayaks

Cons

Cons
  • Requires inflation
  • Poor handling in rough water conditions

#3 Best Inflatable Kayak under $500: Swimline Solstice 29900 Whitewater Rapids ROGUE

STYLE LENGTH WEIGHT WIDTH CAPACITY COLOR(S)
Inflatable 10’’ 65 lbs 33” 360lbs BLUE

Even though the ROGUE by Swimline Solstice is perhaps the most afforable kayak on our list, it also happens to have some of the most intriguing features that we have yet to see on an inflatable / foldable kayak, a few of which are responsible for making this kayak one of our very favorites of the year.

For one, the kayak is constructed of 26G K80 material, which is somewhat heavier than many other inflatables, but it is considerably stronger. Seeing as how one of the biggest weaknesses of inflatable kayaks is there succeptibility to tearing and popping, having a nice tear resistant material really is one of the most important things to consider.

Our favorite part: the ROGUE allows for multiple setup positions, meaning that it can operate as a one OR two person kayak depending on what kind of trip you are looking at. Of course, the recommended capacity is somewhat reduced compared to the SEA EAGLE. With a capacity of only 360 pounds you might want to double check that you won’t be exceeding the limit.

The foldability is fantastic. This thing fits great in the back of the SUV and so far we haven’t had any problems getting it setup, which takes about 10 minutes.

We thought it was strange that the ROGUE didn’t include any instructions on how exactly to get the thing inflated. Because there are multiple inflation stages, a certain order must be followed. We recommend setting it up once or twice at home so you can get the feel of it.

Swimline Solstice 29900

Pros

Pros
  • Can operate as a one-seater or a two-seater
  • Thick, tear resistant 26G K80 Material

Cons

Cons
  • Reduced weight capacity
  • Poor handling in anything but perfectly calm waters

#4 Best Recreational Kayak Under $500: Sundolphin ARUBA SS 8’ Kayak

STYLE LENGTH WEIGHT WIDTH CAPACITY COLOR(S)
Sit-In 8’’ 27 lbs 36” 260 lbs Ocean / Red / Tangerine

One of the easiest ways to make a kayak more affordable is to go with a shorter model, as they are often times significantly less expensive than their 10 foot and 11 foot counterparts. The added bonus is that you are getting a kayak that has an even greater ability to navigate turbulent or advanced waters. Sure, it can be a bit of a learning curve if you are more used to the long, speedy kayaks, but who knows? You might find that you enjoy it.

In addition, there is certainly nothing wrong with choosing a reliable name brand as well. Sundolphin is one of the most reputable kayak manufactures for a number of good reasons, but perhaps the one we are most of is that company’s ability to make a durable product. In fact, these things are nigh indestructible. That’s probably why this is the exact model that you see at resorts and lakes across the world: because there is simply nothing you can do to damage the hull.

Now this isn’t a top of the line kayak by any means. Don’t expect any additional storage or gear track accessories. The included paddle storage area features a bungee cord that is thin and doesn’t look like it will stand up to the test of time. In addition, the included seat in the ARUBA is not as comfortable as we would like it to be. Usually, when we are paddling around in a Sundolphin product, we will swap out the factory included seat with a third party kayak seat for increased comfort.

The recessed drink holder is a nice touch. In a pinch you could even use it as a bait compartment if you wanted to use this thing as a fishing kayak.

Also, no foot rests! Might want to install one of those as well, Sundolphin.

Sundolphin ARUBA

Pros

 

Pros
  • Extremely durable
  • Great control in the water

Cons

Cons
  • No footrests
  • Seat could be more comfortable

#5 Best Budget Kayak: Lifetime LOTUS Sit-On-Top Kayak with Paddle

STYLE LENGTH WEIGHT WIDTH CAPACITY COLOR(S)
Sit-On-Top 8’’ 38 lbs 30” 250lbs BLUE

There’s no one out there that is going to confuse Lifetime for a manufacturer of professional-quality kayaks. That’s because their goal is to create simpler, more affordable kayaks that make it possible for all sorts of people to enjoy the sport without having to shell out the extra cash. The LOTUS has become the flagship of the company’s entry-level kayak line, and for good reason.

The simplistic sit-on-top style construction and the relatively flat shape of the hull make for a vessel that is remarkably stable for its price range. Although there is no extra storage to speak of here, the kayak itself is actually stable enough to do some light fishing from the seat, however we wouldn’t recommend using it as a stand-up fishing kayak.

One of the drawbacks of having such a square, flat construction is that the rear end of this kayak creates a considerable amount of drag, making it sit quite low in the water, and increasing the amount of effort it takes to get anywhere. So that’s one thing that we can say for certain. It’s not a racing kayak.

Nor is it perfect for anyone with really long legs. If you are 6 foot or taller it is likely that this 8 foot model will be far too short to be comfortable for you, in which case our recommendation would be to go for the 10 foot model, which also manages to come in at under $500.

Lifetime LOTUS

Pros

Pros
  • Very affordable
  • Quite stable

Cons

Cons
  • Square shape of rear creates drag
  • Not a whole lot of leg room

#6 Lifetime TAMARACK ANGLER 100 Fishing Kayak

STYLE LENGTH WEIGHT WIDTH CAPACITY COLOR(S)
Sit-On-Top / Fishing 10’’ 52 lbs 36” 275lbs Tan

It’s funny how adding a few simple features is enough to turn an everyday run-of-the-mill kayak intro an extraordinary fishing kayak, but that’s exactly what Lifetime has done with their TAMARACK angling kayak. This thing has what it takes in all the right places to make your fishing adventure a success, and it still manages to be one of the best cheap kayaks that we have ever come across.

Let’s talk fishing. First thing you need in a kayak is rod holders, and this kayak has two of them. 6” storage compartments in both rear and center provide adequate space for flies, lures, and small bait. The paddle storage cords are wide and easily accessible, making it fast and easy to stow your paddle when you feel that you have a bite.

Of course the first thing that we wanted to know about the TAMARACK was whether or not it could function as a stand-up fishing kayak, as opposed to just a sit-on-top fishing kayak. The answer is: kind of. If you are an experienced kayak angler and you have a good pair of sea legs beneath you, then you might very well be able to stand up on this thing without flipping. But I certainly wasn’t.

One thing to note about the TAMARACK is that although it boasts a 275 pound weight capacity, it becomes considerably less stable if the load is anything above 200 pounds, which reduces the kayak’s utility as a fishing vessel and can make you slower in the water.

Lifetime TAMARACK

Pros

Pros
  • All the necessary features for fishing
  • As affordable as recreational models

Cons

Cons
  • Performance weight limit is closer to 200 pounds
  • Not quite stable enough for stand-up fishing

#7 Best Fishing Kayak Under $500: Emotion STEALTH Angler Fishing Kayak

STYLE LENGTH WEIGHT WIDTH CAPACITY COLOR(S)
Sit-On-Top / Fishing 11’’ 58 lbs 36” 300lbs Sandstone

Here is a fishing kayak that is at the upper end of what we would consider to be a “cheap” kayak, but we don’t think that we’re breaking the rules. Simply put, the STEALTH angler kayak by Emotion Kayaks is one of the most feature-stuffed, high-performance kayaks in the entry-level price range. In fact we have looked at many of the more expensive fishing kayaks out there, and this model is giving them all a run for their money.

First of all, it’s got the TRIPLE THREAT rod mount system going for it. That’s what Emotion likes to call it, but all it really consists of is the addition of a third rod mount on the deck, in addition to the two flush mounts that are closer to the back.

We love the cargo net lacing. It’s perfect for the quick storage of a jacket or hat in the case that you have a fish on the line and are already quite distracted. It comes in addition to the one-of-a-kind “Solace Hatch” which is a unique innovation on Emotion’s part, as it allows for even more storage beneath the deck.

Hull design works well for a fishing kayak. She is stable and tracks better than you would think of something of this size and weight. It really is one of the more burly kayaks we looked at … certainly not an ultralight model, but perfect for the angler who would rather spend his hard-earned dollars on an electronic fish-finder than an overpriced kayak.

Emotion STEALTH

Pros

Pros
  • Designed for high-performance fishing; 3 rod holders
  • Lots of storage
  • Stable & fast in the water

Cons

Cons
  • Heavier & bulkier than other budget kayaks

The Different Types of Recreational Kayaks Under $500

As you no doubt noticed if you read through our list, not all kayaks are built the same way. In fact, some are quite different from one another as far as a manner in which you use it. There are essentially three kinds of kayaks:

Sit-Inside

This is the most traditional variety of kayak and perhaps the one that you are most familiar with. Sit-inside kayaks (SIKs) feature a large, hollow, cockpit-type opening in which you put your legs, while your upper body sits above the line of the deck. The advantage of this style of kayak is that is allows the user to exert a greater amount of control over the motion of the kayak.

One of the drawbacks to SIK-style kayaks is that they require more user training on how to exit the kayak safely if you capsize.

Sit-On-Top

As opposed to the more traditional SIK style kayaks, Sit-On-Top models (SOTs) do not feature a cockpit at all, but instead have a seating area that is directly on top of the deck. This makes it considerably easier to get in and out of the kayak (or in this case perhaps “on” and “off” is more appropriate).

Because you are sitting much closer to the water in a SOK, there is a much higher chance that you will be getting wet. However SOT style kayaks are most popular in warm climates and sunny beaches where this isn’t an issue.

SOTs are not appropriate for high-intensity waters like high-graded river rapids. There simply would be no way to stay on top of the kayak in these situations.

Inflatable Kayaks

One of the most impressive innovations in kayak technology over the last few decades has been the arrival of high-performance inflatable boats that are not only supremely portable, but are also considerably lighter than their polyethylene counterparts which can become quite burdensome for smaller riders.

Inflatable kayaks can also be more comfortable than their hard plastic competitors, though this usually varies from products to products.

One big drawback to inflatable kayaks is their susceptibility to being punctured while you are out on the water, which would  make getting back home an adventure to say the least. They are also unable to support most gear-track installations, so modifying your inflatable kayak with upgrades might not be as easy.

Fishing / Angling Kayaks

There is a popular subset of kayaks that are designed specifically for catching fish. While fishing kayaks can be either SIK or SOT style, the large majority are the latter, as they make it far easier to change your position in order to reel the fish in. Many fishing kayaks are also Stand-Up (SU) style, which allows anglers to increase their range of motion for a number of different tasks.

In general, angling kayaks feature:

  • Increased Storage
  • Integrated Rod Holders
  • Quick-access paddle storage
  • Optional gear-track installations

If you want learn more about angling kayaks, check out our list of the Best Fishing Kayaks for the Money.

Top Recreational Kayak Brands

Lifetime

Utah-based Lifetime Products got its start producing high-quality basketball hoops, but they quickly expanded into a range of different materials, all designed and manufactured under the same enduring vision to offer customers a line of products that would last, especially in the age of planned obsolescence when nothing lasts as long as you’d like it to.  

Sundolphin

The hugely-popular kayak & paddleboard manufacturer Sundolphin has come a long way from its start as a two person company that sold a single paddle-propelled boat. Today they are known as one of the most reliable options when it comes to affordable kayaks and kayaks under $500 in particular. In recent years their product line has grown to include canoes, pedal boats, and fishing boats.

Emotion

The beautiful simplicity and versatility of Emotion Kayaks is a representation of the philosophy that the company seems to hold dear, that success comes from eliminating complications and returning to sleek basics. Emotion has managed to capture a surprising amount of the market in recent years as kayaking continues to become more popular.

Swimline / Solstice Water Sports

Formerly known by the name of its parent company Swimline, Solstice Water Sports became independent in 2007 when it emerged as its own unique and expanded brand of high end sports and luxury lifestyle equipment. While some of their more creative products include giant inflatable party ducks and floating sun decks, they are also the manufacturers of some of the best new affordable kayaks this year.

FAQ

Q: Do Affordable Kayaks Come with Paddles?  

A: That’s actually a good question, because the answer is that it varies. While some manufacturers have decided to include a paddle in with the purchase price, others might sell the paddle separately, so it is important to check the specifications before you make the final purchase.

Q: What Type of Carriers do you use to attach the kayak to your car / vehicle?

A: While many kayaks are small enough to fit inside the vehicle, others will be more suitably placed on top of the vehicle. If you are going to be transporting a kayak on top of your car, you are going to need the necessary roof rack to go along with it. For the most part, any company that makes car top racks is going to offer a good boat rack as well.

Q: What’s the difference between long kayaks and shorter kayaks?

A: The length of a kayak determines how it will cut through the water, and therefore, how it will feel and perform to the user. Generally speaking, the longer a kayak is, the better the tracking will be, which can lead to both increased speed and decreased effort.

Shorter kayaks have their advantages as well, namely that they are considerably more maneuverable than long kayaks and can navigate the more intense waters of rivers and rapids.

Q: Do I need a paddlesports certification?

A: Although no certification is required to operate a kayak at any level, every participant is required to know their local regulations.

If you are interested in learning more about paddlesports safety and correct procedures, check out the American Canoe Association’s Online Boat Ed Course.

Conclusion

It’s a big responsibility, deciding which kayak wins the prize for the best affordable kayak. We were more than a little impressed with how all the products performed, and we would be lying if we didn’t admit that we had perhaps too much fun in the process.

As an angler myself, I cannot recommend more highly the Emotion STEALTH fishing kayak. For the price it is quite possibly the best value out there, and the whole team is looking forward to enjoying the many fish that we catch from it’s deck.

However kayaking isn’t always about the fish. There’s nothing like a quick paddle about the sun-drenched bay, and for recreational trips like these, the clear winner is the Swimline / Solstice Products ROGUE inflatable kayak. We know there are some people out there that don’t know how to appreciate a good inflatable kayak, but in our opinion it was clearly the most comfortable.

Don’t forget that prices tend to go up in the spring, so if you are thinking of getting yourself one of these affordable kayaks, you might want to do so sooner rather than later!

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