Comparing Entry Level Kayaks

Good morning gang,

I’m considering purchasing an entry level kayak and I was hoping yall could give me some advice. I have been in kayaks before, as well as canoes and rowboats, but nothing serious, recent, or extended. That being said, I work at home so I never leave this house and it’s starting to slowly drive me insane. I REALLY want to get on the water this summer! I’m 5’11 and weigh in at about a buck ninety. My plans would be to cruise up and down the slow moving northern Illinois river along with adjoining creeks and tributaries. Nothing strenuous or marathon, however, I would like to consider some kayak camping to further keep me out of the house.

I’m not looking to spend much more than about $250 dollars and I’m not looking to go with anything smaller than 10’. I know, as with many things, I may be better off spending more, but that’s something I can do once I know this is something I’d be willing to invest in. With that in mind, I’ve been reading the reviews of entry level boats but unfortunately, every review is pretty much the same. Either “I just bought this, it’s great!” or “This sucks, upgrade to a $600 boat.” So I thought I’d come to the people who may have actually have experience and ask directly.

The three kayaks I’m considering are the Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 which seems to be the standard entry kayak running about $200 - $250 from Wally World. The Pelican Trailblazer 100 running between $200 - $220 from Dicks and the Viper 10.4 which also seems to be called the Equinox 10.4 and the Future Beach Express 124 depending upon whether you are buying it at Menards, Costco or elsewhere, which runs about $250. The reviews seem to be the best in that order, as does the cost, however, the carrying capacity and frankly, the ease of purchase work in the reverse order.

Anyone have any experience with these three kayaks? Are there ones I’m a fool for not considering? Any insights would be fantastic! Thanks in advance gang!


These boats…
…will get you on the water and you’ll have fun, but they’re really all glorified pool toys.

With your budget I’d be limiting my search to used boats. Go find a dedicated paddle shop and talk to them. They might have a used demo recreational boat that you could try out.

Also keep in mind that a decent paddle and PFD are also going to add at least $150 to your budget.

Do able on Craigslist - $300
Keep an eye on craigslist for used boats, check the reviews of the boats offered. Often someone will throw in a paddle and PFD, they will be crap, but will get you started.

The boats at big box stores for $250 or less are a waste of money. Cheap plastic pool toys that will be pretty rough to paddle up stream and pretty unstable in moving water, with their wide flat bottoms.

Northern IL
I live in northern IL, while the rivers look slow moving they move faster than a 10’ kayak will move upriver. In places it’s a challenge to move upriver in a 17 footer.

If you’re in the middle of the state look at Rock Cut State Park, they have rentals and a very knowledgeable owner/operator.

Bill H.

Buy used.
And while you’re at it, set your minimum length bar a little higher - ideally 12’ or more. You will need that to accommodate your size and weight without resorting to a fat pig of a boat.

Lots of used Pungos and Old Town Loons out there as the season gets going. Craigslist is your friend.

Snobbery reigns around here.
As usual, the snobs pipe in with their idiotic cry of “pool toy.” Ignore them.

Any of the boats you listed would be great for the paddling you describe, but camping might be another matter. You’ll need enough weight displacement to account for your gear and hatches to stow it properly.

Good luck with whatever you decide, but don’t let these guys convince you that you have to bust your budget.

My Experience…

– Last Updated: Mar-17-16 3:01 PM EST –

My own experience was I started out just wanting a simple 10' kayak just to explore narrow winding creeks and small rivers. I was concerned about storage, transportation, stability, big cockpits, etc. I felt that I quickly outgrew that kayak and all my other concerns I quickly realized were solvable. In retrospect, I wished I just started out in a 12 or 14 footer. If you just unsure and really want to keep costs down I would really recommended you consider something around 12' over 10' and under.

I have friends who bought various big box kayaks and cheap heavy paddles. My really athletic friends are able to deal with the heavy paddles but those in average shape really found even the cheapest name brand paddles (like Werner or Aqua-bound) to make paddling so much more enjoyable. It seems they are always fiddling with the seat and trying to find ways to make it more comfortable which never seems to work. If you just want to go out for a mellow float for an hour or so they are probably fine -- my friends they never seem to want to stay out very long or paddle very far.

Really the only way to stay in your budget is to look at used kayaks. You are a normal build so you shouldn't have problems finding things that fit -- paddle, PFD, kayak -- and maybe get something nicer than what you are looking at. If you really want a 10' big box store kayak, you usually can find tons of them on Craigslist. If you don't like it or out grow it in a year or so you probably can resell for around the same price. New kayaks don't stay new long just as just getting it home gives it a few scratches.

Going upriver
My petite wife and daughter both go up the nearby Snake in a 12’ Wilderness Chesapeake. Current there is pushy, but the trick is to not fight it head on like a bull. All rivers have eddy ccurrent you can use to advantage - along the banks if nowhere else. If the water is deep enough for a paddle and there are no sweepers or strainers in the way - on flat water, it can be done. Ferry to inside of bends and paddle up in easy water. Yes it’s still slow, but it’s do-able, and it’s paddling.

yes - shop used!

– Last Updated: Mar-17-16 3:46 PM EST –

Depending where you are, it's a great time of year to shop used. Check Craigslist and Ebay as well as the classifieds here and any paddling store near you. Check You may have to increase your budget, if you could double it you'll find a much better used boat than anything you listed.

People here are rightly trying to make sure you have an experience that encourages you to continue paddling. Fact is that some of those boats you mentioned either won't last long under regular use, or will be less than pleasant to paddle. My first kayak was a $500 used buy, down from a $1,000 new price, a 14' kayak that was good enough to actually make me want to paddle more. I sold it for $350 a few years ago and would be surprised if it's not still in use.

I'm sure if you shopped used and posted what you were finding within your price range, people here would be willing to give you their input on the specific boat, just as they did for the ones you just asked about.

No snobbery here.
I have an old OT Loon 111 sitting in the shed that I’m not too proud to use. It’s a bare minimum though, as far as I’m concerned.

And you don’t need dry hatches to do a little easy paddle camping. Cheap dry bags will do.

Ditto ShadyClip

– Last Updated: Mar-17-16 3:17 PM EST –

I started out with a new 10 foot Necky. Six weeks later it was just too frustrating to be fun.

Found a used 12-foot Eddyline on Craigslist and discovered my love of paddling in that boat. It saved me from quitting.

No snob here
I paddled a piece of crap when I started, but a piece of crap is a piece of crap. Buying a shiny piece of crap instead of a cheaper used piece of crap is not a wise investment.

Ignore the newbie yelling boat snob, they are the ones writing the 5 star reviews on their piece of crap.

Lots of newbies giving 10/10 …
on all of the boats. And these even mention the cheap plastic, lack of a seat, and wide boat with a flat bottom.

In the interim, Qrat,
to preserve your sanity while you’re looking for a kayak, why not get out of your workplace house and take a 30 minute brisk walk each day? Or two 15-minute sessions?

It’s a great way to de-stress.

my experience
I agree ignore the clueless idiot yelling snobbery and with the others comments about him.

Sadly you get what you pay for. No you don’t have to drop thousands of dollars, however there is a BIG difference in performance and comfort over the cheap extreme entry level kayaks and a slightly more expensive quality kayak.

I’ve paddled before, my wife hasn’t. She said to get her a cheapo entry level. Well for $350 I could have gotten her a kayak that would have plowed the water, wasn’t as comfy and she would not have enjoyed it nearly as much. Instead I got her a Jackson Tupelo and as soon as she sat down in it she was shocked at the difference in feel. Even in her inexperience she could tell the difference. She has a far better chance of enjoying it and staying in the sport than she would have if I had skimped on a cheap excuse for a kayak. She would have easily outgrew it, or stopped altogether.

I can get a $350 kayak, need to sell it and take a $200 loss, or I could get a better quality boat, have a better chance in reselling it, and lose less money.

I do commend you about wanting to get out on the water. I will paddle with anyone, regardless of the boat they have. I would hate to see someone regret their boat.

Remember when…
Entry level kayaks were 14’ Pungos or Necky SOTs?

Back then anyone who praised the performance of a composite sea kayak or a carbon paddle was called an elitist.

Now anyone questioning the performance of the big box store’s $200 10’kayaks piled high near the entrance are called snobs.

If you are going to drag it along …
the concrete, like I see a good many of the noobies doing, get the cheapest you can find.

Then your loss will be minimal!

Jack L

Not a snob here!
I am still with the boat I started out with, a rec 10’ Emotion Glide, and I still like it a lot. I can keep up with many paddlers in sleeker longer sea kayaks, BTW. This boat is durable, easy to use, stable and maneuverable. NO, it is not a serious sea kayak, but that’s not what you’re seeking from your post.

I had to add an extra float bag for safety. If you don’t have front and rear compartments, look at float bags to ensure you won’t drown someday. Cheap enough and can be made at home if you’re handy.

I made my own Aleut paddle. Several excellent paddle types can be made at home with minimal tools and skills and low cost. That paddle is the envy of many, BTW.

Bought a still very usable PFD on sale from Cabella’s.

This starter outfit - all new - cost me under $600.

Here’s where I would not differ with any of the “snobs”: the best advice is to take at least one good lesson BEFORE you buy anything. You will increase your enjoyment, markedly increase your safety AND you will know better what the differences are between classes of kayaks for different uses. Then you can make a better decision informed by whether you like the sport and are willing to invest more into it.

If you’re patient
You might hang around the water and find a couple of starter “pool toys” like I did. No, I don’t mean that’s how I got started, but I did find two boats–at different times.

I actually got started in a $50 canoe that one of my wifes friends was selling. I made a paddle for it and thought I was at the top of the game. I had a lot of adventures in that boat and probably would have drowned a couple of times, but I am a good swimmer.

Anyway, the folks here that are telling you to look for used boats are giving you good advice. The canoe I paid $50 for would have cost me about $800 new.

Here’s the rest of it: Once I had my first taste of kayaking, things began to snowball from a 12’ inflatable to a nearly 14’ recreational kayak, to a 17’ sea kayak and then to a 19’ sea kayak. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that $50 canoe would cost me thousands and thousands of dollars, but it is the best money I’ve ever spent.

So beware of what you are getting into, but go for it.

for those whining about snobbery

– Last Updated: Mar-18-16 10:13 AM EST –

Stop it.

No one is trying to sell this guy a composite sea kayak. They're trying to keep him away from crap. If you own crap and you like it - good for you, you gambled and beat the odds. That doesn't make anyone else a snob.

I took 5 minutes to scan my area Craigslist. This is what I found that rises above crap:

Necky Eliza: $800
Wood strip kayak: $750
TWO looksha LVs: $725
A folbot double: $600
Old Town Dirigo: $500
Riot Chaser: $450

That from 5 minutes online.

I, too, will paddle with anyone paddling anything. Even with people who think I'm a snob in the first mile but are exhausted or lagging by the fourth mile.