Best 12-Foot Fishing & Recreational Kayaks

Find your ideal 12-foot kayak with our detailed guide. We’ve reviewed the best options for fishing, tandem rides, and budget-conscious paddlers!

Best 12 Foot Kayaks

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Sitting in-between recreational kayaks and longer touring boats, 12-foot kayaks serve as a nice middle-ground for many paddlers. 

There are various options to choose from, and finding the right kayak for you can be daunting. In this article, we’ll break down the best 12-foot kayaks in several different categories to make sure that you hit the water in a boat that’s right for you. 

Are you looking for the perfect fishing kayak? A new sit-inside for a weekend outing? How about a tandem that’s user-friendly? Whatever you’re in the market for, your next 12-foot kayak is waiting for you below.

Our Top Picks

If you’re in a hurry, here are our top picks. Or continue scrolling to see our full list with in-depth reviews.

Best Sit-Inside: Eddyline Skylark

Length: 12′ | Width: 26″ | Weight: 41 lbs | Capacity: 295 lbs

Eddyline Skylark

A sporty, sleek-looking sit-inside model, the Eddyline Skylark is a versatile and lightweight kayak capable of modest overnight trips in addition to recreational outings. 

Unlike many boats this size, the Skylark boasts two watertight hatches, giving you more storage space than its competitors. So while the load capacity and volume is smaller than more significant touring kayaks, the Skylark operates like a mini version of them. 

Thanks to the deck bungee system in front of and behind the cockpit, additional storage space is available.

Due to its narrower width, the Skylark maneuvers well despite not having a rudder or skeg. However, the shorter keel does mean that tracking in wind or tide can be challenging compared to longer sit-in kayaks.

More experienced paddlers may feel confident doing more challenging paddles in the Skylark thanks to the sharp entry and exit lines or “chines” where the hull and keel meet. These allow you to steer and maintain course by edging the chines into the water. 

Comfort comes in the form of a well-padded seat along with thigh braces and easy-to-adjust foot braces. Add it all together, and you’ve got a kayak that feels comfortable for a variety of shapes and sizes.

Weighing just 41 pounds and built of Eddyline’s ABS Carbonlite plastic, the Skylark provides impressive durability while still being light enough for many to transport without help.

  • Eddyline’s ABS Carbonlite plastic for lightweight durability
  • Watertight bow and stern hatches
  • Capable of handling an array of paddling itineraries
  • Tracking system reliant on paddler’s skill level

Best Value Sit-Inside: Wilderness Systems Pungo 120

Length: 12’2″ | Width: 29″ | Weight: 49 lbs | Capacity: 325 lbs

Wilderness Systems Pungo 120

Another sit-inside model, the Wilderness Systems Pungo 120, is more of a recreational kayak than the Skylark. You only get one watertight hatch in the stern, and while it’s slimmer than any sit-on-top of similar length, it’s three inches wider than the Skylark. This gives long-legged paddlers a bit more room but makes it a little slower and less maneuverable.

While the performance may not be quite as impressive, this is still a reasonably priced boat that paddlers of all skill ranges can quickly adapt to. 

The Pungo 120 has excellent stability allowing you to paddle confidently. At the same time, the well-cushioned and adjustable seat keeps you comfortable for hours. XL foot braces should be large enough for the majority of folks. 

But where this boat really shines is in the flexibility provided by the included gear tracks. The Pungo 120 comes with two of Wilderness Systems’ SlideTrax mounting platforms. From there, you can easily install any number of gadgets, from a GPS to fishing rod holders or whatever else you need for a day on the water. 

The Pungo 120 also comes with a built-in skid plate on the hull. This plate helps protect the hull from damage and allows you to drag it short distances without fear of scraping the keel.

  • SlideTrax system included allows you to install your favorite toys
  • Excellent stability
  • Large load capacity for a sit-in of this size
  • Limited dry storage space
  • For protected, flatwater paddling only

Best Sit-on-Top: Eddyline Caribbean 12 FS

Length: 12′ | Width: 30″ | Weight: 45 lbs | Capacity: 275 lbs

Eddyline Caribbean 12 FS

Eddyline takes home our top choice for sit-on-tops too. While it has an entirely open cockpit, the seat in the Caribbean 12 FS is more recessed than in a classic sit-on-top kayak. This allows the boat to be narrower and swifter than most sit-on-top designs. However, despite this sleeker build, it’s still a very stable kayak since your center of gravity is closer to the water.

The Caribbean sports similar entry and exit lines found on the Skylark. This improves tracking and makes it one of the few sit-on-tops you can steer by edging these chines into the water. 

A reasonably sized watertight hatch can be found in the bow. There’s another small hatch at the very stern of the vessel, while the rest of the open stern is made up by a recessed, tank-style storage area. Bungee cords are stretched over the tank, allowing you to secure overly large items.

All this storage space and the efficient design make the Caribbean a reasonable choice if you plan to do longer day paddles or head out overnight. Unfortunately, the load capacity is on the low side at 275 pounds, limiting it to just overnight trips. Possibly an entire weekend if you’re stingy about what you take with you.

The Caribbean 12 FS has a well-padded seat that can be easily removed, giving you a handy camp chair at the end of the day. Foot braces are easy to adjust, and there’s a gear track system, allowing you to outfit your kayak with your toys without having to drill any holes.

  • Narrower and more efficient than most sit-on-tops
  • Gear track system allows for customization
  • Load capacity is on the low side
  • Best for flatwater paddling only

Best Value Sit-on-Top: Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120

Length: 12′ | Width: 30″ | Weight: 63 lbs | Capacity: 350 lbs

Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120

The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 delivers everything you’d expect from a sit-on-top kayak and does it all without breaking the bank.

Let’s start with the seat. It’s ergonomic with a honeycomb vented fabric exterior. This will keep you cool on hot days and help wick water from your back if you run into a rain shower. In addition, the seat can be adjusted three separate ways, allowing you to modify the cockpit to your exact preferences.

Storage set-up is similar to the Caribbean 12 FS, with a watertight bow hatch and open stern. However, the load capacity is notably higher, and the stern hatch is more extensive, allowing you to pack more gear. 

Similar customization options are available with Wilderness Systems’ SlideTrax accessory rails. Making it simple to outfit your boat with cameras, fishing poles, or whatever else you deem necessary. 

I prefer the Caribbean 12 from a performance perspective. Still, the Tarpon 120 is more than capable of paddling a wide range of calm waterways with no trouble. The primary stability is excellent, and it tracks well. Secondary stability is also solid, but it behaves more like a traditional sit-on-top. Once you pass that “point of no return,” it’s easier to tip over. 

Wilderness Systems markets the Tarpon as “dog friendly.” While the cockpit is a decent size, the only place I’d recommend placing your canine companion is in the open stern hatch. It’s pretty big, and I think a well-behaved, medium-sized dog could squeeze in. 

The Tarpon 120 is a bit on the heavy side but very durable. Luckily there’s a removable skid plate on the keel, allowing you to drag the kayak short distances without fear of damage. 

  • SlideTrax accessory system
  • Built-in paddle holder
  • Lots of storage space
  • A little heavy at 63 pounds
  • Rudder or skeg would help in windy conditions

Best Tandem: Ocean Kayak Malibu Two

Length: 12′ | Width: 34″ | Weight: 58 lbs | Capacity: 425 lbs

Ocean Kayak Malibu Two

A big, burly double kayak, the Ocean Kayak Malibu Two feels like a battleship on the water. It has excellent primary stability and decent maneuverability, giving even newcomers confidence on the water. While tracking can suffer in moderate chop, the Malibu Two can handle gentle swells and ocean breezes. 

That large load capacity should be enough for most partners and their gear for the day. However, storage space is limited for this double kayak with just a couple of straps in the bow and stern to secure equipment. 

Instead of foot pedals, the Malibu Two has footwells to brace your feet. They’re comfortable enough but don’t have the same flexibility that a foot track system has. For taller paddlers (6’2″ or more), the stern seat will feel cramped, so plan on shorter paddles or take frequent breaks so you can stretch.

There is a spot for a smaller third person, including footwells between the two main seats. However, it will only reasonably accommodate a child.

The seats are nothing flashy, but they are easy to adjust and have a simple strap system. I’d recommend adjusting them before setting out; it can be a little challenging to change once you’re on the water.

  • Excellent primary stability makes it a perfect boat for first-timers
  • Can be paddled solo or tandem
  • Light enough to be easily handled by two people
  • Seats could be more comfortable
  • Tall people will feel cramped in the stern
  • Limited storage space

Best for Fishing: Old Town Topwater 120

Length: 12′ | Width: 33.5″ | Weight: 82 lbs | Capacity: 500 lbs

Old Town Topwater 120

I know you just looked at that load capacity and did a double-take. I promise it isn’t a typo. I’m not sure if I’d ever need to carry 500 pounds of fishing gear with me, but it’s great knowing that I can.

Old Town has been building kayaks and canoes for a long time, and the Topwater 120 is one of the best fishing kayaks out there today. 

Back to that load capacity. You’ll need some storage space to approach 500 pounds, and the Topwater 120 has a large, open-air stern hatch secured with bungees. It’s the perfect spot for a tackle box, cooler, or other oversized containers that you don’t mind getting wet. For more water-sensitive gear, there’s a good-sized bow hatch complete with a water-resistant covering.

Seats on fishing kayaks are usually pretty comfortable, and the Topwater 120s is no exception. The seat also has a high and low setting, giving you multiple angles to cast from. The boat has excellent stability, and there’s a traction pad in front of the seat where you can safely stand and cast lines.

For customization, there are three rod holders strategically placed along the hull. But the most significant addition is the built-in, universal transducer that can accommodate most fish finders. 

This is a boat meant for calm water and rivers. I can’t recommend it for more extensive, open ocean expeditions as the tracking and overall performance aren’t quite up to it. But as long as it’s used responsibly, the Topwater makes an excellent fishing platform.

  • Universal transducer for fish finder
  • So stable you can stand and cast
  • Huge load capacity
  • Limited to calm water
  • 82 pounds is probably too heavy to be carried solo

Best Pedal: Hobie Mirage Compass

Length: 12′ | Width: 34″ | Weight: 68 lbs | Capacity: 400 lbs

Hobie Mirage Compass

Marketed as a fishing kayak first, the Hobie Mirage Compass is a versatile pedal kayak capable of much more than that.

The pedal system works on a horizontal plane instead of the circular rotation of a bicycle. This works well for on-water travel and has a low impact on your lower extremities, allowing you to cruise easily over the water. 

With your hands-free, you can busy yourself with your fishing rods or any of the gadgets you’ve installed on the H-track accessory system. There’s also a transducer cavity for a fish finder. It’s not universal like the one you’ll find on the Old Town Topwater. Instead, it’s tailored specifically for the Lowrance model.

Stability is excellent, and there’s a deck where anglers can stand and cast with confidence. The load capacity is 100 pounds less than the Topwater. However, there’s still plenty of storage space, including a massive open-air stern tank and watertight bow hatch. 

You can still paddle if you want, and it’s not a bad idea to bring one just in case something happens with the pedal system. There’s a built-in paddle holder, and Hobie even offers a paddle with your purchase from most retailers.

  • One of the lightest pedal kayaks
  • Paddle included with most purchases
  • Fantastic stability with the ability to stand and cast
  • More expensive than traditional paddle kayaks
  • Propeller fins may need maintenance and can be damaged in shallow waters

12-Foot Kayak Buying Guide

12-foot kayaks are excellent sized boats for various paddling styles. But finding the right kayak for you can be difficult, particularly if you don’t know what to look for as you shop.

Up next, we’ll take a closer look at some key features to look out for when researching 12-foot kayaks so you can get the best model for your needs.

Kayak Type

The majority of kayaks fall into two categories: sit-in and sit-on-top.

Sit-in kayaks have an enclosed cockpit with the seat attached to the bottom of the boat. This means the paddler’s center of gravity is closer to the water, allowing the kayak to be narrower without compromising stability. Because of this, sit-in kayaks are more efficient to paddle.

These kayaks typically have better tracking, making them the favored boat for those that want to make longer journeys. 

The enclosed cockpit can be cut off from the elements by adding a spray skirt that wraps around the cockpit’s combing. 

This makes boats like the Eddyline Skylark better for those looking to paddle longer distances. It also has the advantage of sporting two enclosed hatches so you can protect more of your gear from the elements. If you live in a cold-weather or rainy environment, I’d highly recommend going with a sit-in model to help keep the rain out.

Sit-on-tops are more numerous today, and they make up the majority of recreational and fishing kayaks available. Their seats are mounted higher above the water, giving you a better field of vision, which is especially important if you plan on fishing. 

However, they need to be wider to maintain stability. So don’t plan on keeping up with the Skylark or Pungo 120 if you choose to go this route. 

In many cases, sit-on-top kayaks are a little more user-friendly thanks to their excellent primary stability and maneuverability (more on primary and secondary stability below). However, tracking tends to be less impressive than sit-in boats due to their wider hull, limiting their use to mostly protected bodies of water.


Almost all kayaks in the 12-foot range will be made of some sort of plastic. In many cases, polyethylene will be favored for its rigidity and durability. Plastic boats are also cheaper to produce and require little to no maintenance once purchased, making them great for casual paddlers and newcomers. 

While plastic is heavier than other common materials used in kayak construction, shorter boats are still relatively easy to move for most paddlers.


Kayaking speed is strongly correlated with the kayak’s length. The longer the keel, the faster the kayak will go. 

While some narrower kayaks on this list, like the Eddyline Skylark, can outpace boats of similar length, they’ll quickly fall behind when matched up with longer kayaks. So if you plan on doing longer paddle days (say more than 10 miles a day), I’d recommend investing in a longer boat. 

But if you’re looking for more of a recreational model where you’ll be starting and finishing your day at the same location, any of the kayaks on this list should be suitable. Just be prepared to move slightly slower if you go with one of the wide kayaks listed.

The exception is if you choose to go with a pedal kayak like the Hobie Mirage Compass. Pedal kayaks are noticeably more efficient than their paddling cousins and can keep pace with longer kayaks easier.


In contrast to speed, shorter kayaks tend to be more maneuverable. While longer kayaks often need a rudder or skeg to steer, 12-foot boats can usually maneuver just fine using your basic paddling strokes

Some narrower kayaks like the Skylark can also be turned using the steep edges where the side and hull meet. Also known as edging, these “chines” can be dipped into the water to give you greater control over your boat. 

This does require more shifting by the paddler and a reliance on the boat’s secondary stability. While this is a fun way to paddle, it can feel unnerving if you’re new to the sport.

Again the exception to this is pedal kayaks. These boats do use a rudder to steer. In the case of the Mirage Compass, this is done with a joystick control from the seat. As a result, it has a little bit of a learning curve. Still, it is intuitive and relatively easy for most kayakers to feel competent.


Thankfully, kayak seats have gotten a lot more comfortable in recent years. There’s no reason to buy a kayak that has a rigid, hard plastic seat. All the kayaks on this list have padded seats that can be adjusted with minimal effort. 

For fishing, it can be nice to have a seat that can be raised or lowered, like the type you’ll find in the Topwater 120. The lower setting can be used while traveling from one fishing location to the next. By doing this, you’ll have better stability, and paddling is much easier when you’re lower to the water.

But once you’re at your fishing spot, the higher position offers a better vantage point. Which allows for further, more accurate casting.

Stability & Tracking

Kayaking stability falls into two categories: primary and secondary

Primary stability refers to how a kayak feels under normal paddling circumstances. A kayak with good primary stability has minimal rocking and should rarely feel like it’s in danger of tipping over

Wider, sit-on-top kayaks tend to have excellent primary stability. This makes them a good choice for newcomers or those that may be a little nervous about capsizing. They feel solid underneath you, and many fishing models like the Old Town Topwater 120 or Hobie Mirage Compass are stable enough for you to stand up. 

However, these kayaks usually have subpar secondary stability. This means if you start to feel yourself tipping over, it will be much harder to recover and regain your balance.

While narrower than their sit-on-top cousins, sit-in kayaks can be just as stable, though they will require a more practiced hand. These models may feel unsteady during regular paddle strokes with more side-to-side movement. But their excellent secondary stability makes it easier to recover and avoid reaching “the point of no return.”

Tracking refers to how well a kayak can paddle in a straight line. There are rarely no external factors like wind, waves, or tide pushing you off course. Longer, narrower kayaks are usually better at maintaining a straight line. But a practiced, experienced kayaker using some basic paddle strokes can also achieve this in a shorter kayak. 

Longer kayaks often have a rudder or skeg to help with tracking. But 12-foot kayaks are usually used for shorter, recreational ventures where long crossings across challenging water aren’t necessary. Because of this, only the Hobie Mirage Compass comes with a rudder.

If you’re looking for maximum tracking capabilities with a 12-foot kayak, I’d recommend going with a sit-in model. 

If you want, you can install a rudder on most kayaks that have a sliding foot pedal system. But this does require some technical know-how, additional cost, and the bravery to drill holes in your new boat.


Since all the kayaks in this article are made from rigid plastic, their durability is pretty similar.

However, the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 and Pungo 120 have a skid plate installed on the hull. This allows you to drag your kayak over solid ground without doing severe damage. So they’re excellent choices if you’ll be kayaking alone and struggle to carry a kayak.

In general, plastic boats are difficult to damage. They can absorb most bumps, drops, and collisions without an issue. However, this doesn’t mean you should treat your kayak carelessly. Cumulated collisions and scratches will dig grooves into the hull and cause the plastic to peel. Eventually, this will hamper your kayak’s paddling efficiency.

When carrying your kayak and gear to the water, it can be tempting to load up your boat first, so you don’t have to make a trip back for your equipment. Even if you’re strong enough to carry a fully laden kayak, the hull isn’t designed for this sort of stress. Over time, the hull will begin to “bow,” hampering your kayak’s performance.

Portability & Storage

12-foot kayaks are some of the easier kayaks to transport and store. Unless you have a truck with a large bed, chances are you’ll need some sort of rack on your car to safely move your kayak to the water. Today, there’s a wide range of kayak racks available for reasonable prices.

If you’re looking for a method of transport that doesn’t require a car, there are alternative options. 

Kayak carts allow you to pull your boat on foot. There are even kayak trailers for bicycles if you want more of an adventure. However, these alternatives may be more difficult for some heavier kayaks on this list, like the Hobie Compass and Old Town Topwater

Ideally, you’ll be able to store your kayak in a climate-controlled location like a garage. But plastic boats can stand up to the elements if you must keep them outside. 

If so, keep your kayak undercover with a tarp and out of direct sunlight as much as possible. While polyethylene is UV resistant, prolonged exposure can cause colors to fade and plastic to weaken. 

The Verdict

Hopefully, this article has highlighted how diverse and wide-ranging the world of 12-foot kayaks can be. What may be the perfect kayak for one household may not work for others, which is why we didn’t select a “best overall” in this review.

However, we are personally big fans of the Eddyline Skylark. The combination of comfort, gear storage, stability, and speed makes it an excellent kayak for novice and experienced paddlers alike.

I hope this guide helped steer you in the right direction, and I look forward to seeing you out on the water.