Kayaking is one of the best ways to experience the great outdoors. Not only that, but kayaking is a fantastic form of exercise. This is true for all types of kayaks, but it is especially the case for kayaks using the pedal propulsion method. A pedal kayak is something between a boat and a pedal exerciser. It looks like a traditional kayak, only instead of paddling with the arms, the kayaker pedals with the lower body to move through the water.
The first pedal kayak was invented in 1997, and it was immediately seen as a major innovation in the kayaking world. Pedal kayaks are not just a useful way to glide across the water; they're also fun to use. They're great for fishing excursions since they feature hands-free movement, and they’re the perfect solution if you’re looking for a relaxing - yet challenging - outdoor workout. Follow this review on the best pedal kayaks on the market to choose the right one for you.
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How Pedal Drive Kayaks Work
Unlike a traditional kayak, a pedal-driven kayak does not use oars or paddles to move. Instead, the boat can gracefully glide through the water by merely pedaling the feet, as you would on a bicycle. This means that instead of using the upper body, you’ll be utilizing the muscles of the lower body. You will, however, need to use the hands if you want to change the kayak’s direction. To change direction, you’ll just need to make adjustments to the boat’s rudder position.
As you pedal, a set of fins or a small propeller will begin to move beneath the kayak. Just think about how a bicycle operates. As someone pedals a bike, the wheels start rolling, which in turn causes the bike to move. As someone pedals a kayak, the propeller/fins begin to move, allowing the boat to cut through the water. You should always keep a paddle or oar just in case the propeller, pedals, or fins fail.
Types of Pedal Kayaks
There are two main types of pedal kayaks: push and rotational. Both types require movement from the lower body, but they operate in very different ways.
A pedal kayak that uses push pedals requires minimal movement from the kayaker. All you have to do when using a push kayak is move the feet back and forth from the ankles down. You won’t need to move the legs as you would with a bicycle. As you push the pedals, the two propellers beneath the boat will move back and forth. Once you stop pedaling, the propellers will slow down and eventually become still. Between pedaling spurts, no momentum is retained.
This is the ideal option for anyone suffering from a limited range of motion. If you’re hoping for an intense workout from your pedal kayak, one that utilizes a push pedal design isn't the best option. This type of pedal kayak is an excellent choice if you're hoping to relax as you slowly glide across the water; not so much if you're hoping to break a sweat.
With a kayak that uses a rotational pedaling system, the lower body is fully engaged. This is one of the best leg workouts, and it's a great way to get the heart pumping. The pedal motion of a rotational kayak is very similar to that of a bicycle. As you pedal, your legs and feet will move in a full circle, which allows the propeller beneath the boat to rotate in an uninterrupted motion.
Even if you stop pedaling to take a short break, the boat will maintain some momentum and continue to move through the water. You have the option to pedal vigorously or leisurely depending on what you’re hoping to get out of your kayaking experience. If you’re hoping to cut through the water with speed and potentially break a sweat while doing it, choose a pedal kayak with rotational pedals.
The Advantages/Disadvantages of Pedal Kayaks
One of the main benefits of choosing a pedal kayak over a traditional one is the hands-free movement. This means you can drink a cup of coffee, take a sip of water, or cast a fishing line with no need to put the paddle down. These kayaks are especially advantageous for professional anglers and fishing enthusiasts, and not just because of the hands-free design. They move quickly, but also quietly, which is an essential element if you’re hoping to catch a few fish. Here are a few more benefits choosing of a pedal kayak:
There are, however, a few disadvantages to choosing a pedal kayak over a traditional one. The first has to do with price. Due to the additional parts necessary for smooth operation of a pedal kayak, these are often more costly than kayaks using paddles. It’s possible to find a traditional kayak for less than $500, but finding a pedal kayak under $1,000 will be challenging.
One more disadvantage is that a pedal kayak needs a certain amount of underwater clearance. The pedaling propellers/fins hang down beneath the boat, meaning you won’t be able to kayak in extremely shallow water. You'll be able to pull the propeller out of the water or place it flush against the boat, but you must remember to do this, or else propeller damage is possible. Luckily though, the propellers and pedals are made to be durable and require little maintenance.
Choosing Top-Quality Pedal Kayaks
If you’re thinking about purchasing a pedal kayak, the first thing to consider is where you plan on using it. Do you typically kayak in the calm, glasslike waters of lakes and ponds? Or will you be kayaking on faster-moving waters of rivers and streams? No matter where you intend on using your watercraft, remember that pedal kayaks are not ideal for shallow water.
Paddlecraft says that “navigating shallow waters requires the pedal drive to be removed and put somewhere, or retracted.”
Kayak manufacturers have weight limitations in place for a reason. Every kayak on the market, pedal kayaks included, will come with a weight limitation, and it is important to stick to this recommendation. Most pedal kayaks have weight limitations between and 250 and 500 pounds, depending on the model. If you weigh 301 pounds and a kayak’s weight limitation is 300 pounds, move on to the next pedal kayak prospect.
Hull Size & Shape
The hull of a kayak refers to the boat’s bare-bones form. Kayaks come in a variety of hull shapes and sizes. For instance, your kayak could have a rounded hull or a V-shaped one. The shape of the hull has a great impact on how the kayak moves through the water, as does the size of the boat. This is true for all types of kayaks, especially pedal-operated ones.
Other than considering the hull size and shape, it is important to consider the watercraft’s weight. A heavier boat is often more stable and can handle more weight, but not always. Lastly, consider the seating arrangement. Most pedal drive kayaks hold one person, but tandem pedal kayaks can hold 2, sometimes even 3 kayakers.
Stability & Speed
Anytime you’re out on the water, there is a chance of tipping, or even capsizing, so stability is a major factor in choosing the best pedal drive kayak for you. Generally, kayaks with V-shaped hulls are the least stable, but they are also the fastest. If you are an experienced kayaker, staying upright in a V-shaped kayak won’t be difficult. A flat hull is the most stable of all, but it is less maneuverable and much slower.
Tracking & Turning
Kayak tracking refers to the boat’s ability to stay on course and maintain direction. The way a pedal kayak tracks is much different than the tracking of a traditional paddleboat. Pedal kayaks are typically a bit wider and bulkier due to the extra parts, steering and turning the boat can feel challenging at first.
A rudder controls a pedal kayak's direction at the bottom backside of the boat. By changing the rudder position, you'll be able to change direction or turn the kayak around entirely slightly. There is typically a lever in the kayak's cockpit directly next to the kayaker that controls the rudder position. It can be difficult to get used to, but you’ll get the hang of it quickly.
Propellers & Maintenance
The propellers of a pedal kayak work in the same way as motorized boat engines; as the propellers move, the boat is quite literally propelled forward or backward. Since the propellers of a pedal kayak will continuously be in motion (at least while you are pedaling), a durable propeller system is a must.
A propeller system is typically only used in rotational pedaling, while a fin system is used for push pedal kayaks. No matter which propulsion system your boat utilizes, read pedal drive kayak reviews to learn about propeller durability. Lastly, remember that your propellers need to be easily retracted against the boat to prevent damage in shallow waters.
Transport & Storage
Sometimes the most difficult part of the kayaking experience is getting the boat in and out of the water. This doesn’t have to be the case, though. When you invest in a foot pedal kayak, always consider the weight of the kayak. Pedal kayaks are a bit heavier than kayaks using paddles, but it shouldn’t be impossible to lift the boat by any means. Always launch a pedal kayak with assistance since doing it solo will be much more difficult.
During the off-season, you’ll need to store your kayak correctly. Storing the watercraft properly will determine how long it lasts in the long run. Think about where you intend on storing the boat before you make a purchase, and take measurements of the area. Then, compare these measurements to the dimensions of the kayak you’re considering to ensure the storage space can accommodate for it.
Budget & Warranty
Choosing a pedal kayak that stays within a budget is a concern for most avid kayakers. Keep in mind that fishing kayak with pedals will cost more than traditional paddling kayaks. There are a few reasons for this, and the first is that pedal kayaks come with more parts and pieces. Unlike a paddle kayak, a pedaling watercraft comes with a propeller, rudder, and foot pedals in the cockpit. These boats are also a bit larger and wider to accommodate for the extra parts. More materials lead to additional costs.
Since there are more parts and pieces required for pedal kayak operation, choosing one with warranty coverage is a good idea. Warranties range from kayak to kayak, but you can count on at least one year of coverage from the date of purchase. Read the specifics of the warranty agreement; some warranties will cover only certain kayak parts, while others will cover the entire watercraft.
7 Best Pedal Kayaks Reviewed
1. Perception Pescador Pilot
Best Pedal Kayak
Max Load Capacity
Body Type (Material)
12’ L, 33.75” W
Hull: 5 Years, Parts: 1 Year
The best pedal kayak to top this list is the Perception Pescador Pilot Fishing Kayak with Pedal Drive. This pedaling watercraft was specifically designed for fishing enthusiasts in mind. It has plenty of storage for fishing equipment and personal items, plus these storage compartments are open for easy access. No more rummaging around for tackle, bait, or other outdoor gear.
This kayak features durable construction and a leak-proof design with built-in buoyancy for a much safer experience. Nearly anyone of any size can comfortably use the Perception pedal kayak thanks to the fully adjustable seat. The seat is constructed with breathable mesh, a much comfier alternative to the hard seatbacks used in other pedal drive fishing kayaks. This means you can spend a full day on the water with no discomfort or pain.
If you are indeed using this kayak for fishing, you’ll love the integrated accessory rails for mounting all of your fishing gadgets. It also comes with 4 rod holders, while other pedal fishing kayak models come with only 2 or 3. The rotational pedal drive system is completely removable, so if you want to go from a pedaling leg workout to a paddling arm workout, you can do so easily.
The rudder located at the back of the kayak is easy to control with the one-handed lever situated in the cockpit. All in all, this is the best pedal kayak for fishing on slow-moving rivers, flat-water lakes, and even slightly choppy coastal waters.
More of our favorite Perception kayaks are reviewed here.
2. Hobie 2019 Mirage Passport
Max Load Capacity
Body Type (Material)
10.5’ L, 34” W
Another great choice for fishing kayakers, the Hobie 2019 Mirage Passport uses the traditional Mirage push-pedal drive system with fins. The power and simplicity of this kayak’s design allow you to pedal to places that others are unable to. The design isn’t just focused on speed, ease-of-use, and power, but also on providing a fun kayaking experience, whether you plan on fishing or not. That is actually one of the main goals of the Hobie brand: to deliver fun pedal kayaks that anyone can use.
The steering system of the Hobie Mirage Passport makes this watercraft extremely maneuverable. Mirage pedal kayakers love the fact that this boat isn’t just powerful, but also easy to use. To steer, all you need to do is adjust the rudder while you continue to pedal. This allows you to move easily, even through shallow waters and weeds. The rudder features a twist-and-stow design, which means you can easily stow it away when it’s not needed.
This kayak comes with 2 open storage compartments, one at the front and one at the back. The suspended mesh seat cannot be adjusted, but the drive pedals move forward and backward to accommodate height differences. For added comfort, the seatback does recline; it just doesn't slide back and forth. Another cool feature is the stackable hull design, which means you'll be able to stack and store each Hobie pedal kayak you buy easily.
The only reason to avoid this kayak is if you're looking for a more intense workout. In this case, a rotational pedal system will be more fitting. But if you're hoping to leisurely glide across the water, this is a strong contender for the best pedal kayak of 2019.
3. Native Watercraft Slayer 13
Quality Shorter Model
Max Load Capacity
Body Type (Material)
13’2” L, 22” W
Our top choice for the best pedal-drive kayak is the Native Watercraft Slayer 13. This kayak features a unique pedal drive system used only by Native Watercraft, which allows users to move backward and forwards. This is one of the few pedal kayaks on the market that can move in reverse. The freedom of movement offered by the Slayer 13 means that hands-free fishing is easier than ever.
The uncluttered flat deck allows for plenty of space to move around the watercraft, and even stand comfortably. At the stern of the Slayer 13, you’ll find a large open storage compartment equipped with tie-down straps. At the bow of the boat, there is another large storage compartment, perfect for stowing fishing gear and equipment.
The seat is entirely adjustable, and the padded foot pedals are designed with noise reduction in mind. The only potential drawback of this pedal kayak is the size. It is one of the largest models on the market, extending over 13 feet in length. But as long as you have the space to store it and the manpower to transport it, the Native Watercraft Slayer 13 is a great choice.
4. Hobie Oasis
Best Tandem Pedal Kayak
Max Load Capacity
Body Type (Material)
14.5’ L, 33” W
Another great choice from Hobie, the Oasis model is the best tandem pedal kayak on the list. If you know that you’ll have a kayaking partner, it’s important to filter out the solo kayaks and only consider the tandem models. This tandem kayak uses the signature Mirage push pedaling system, making for a laid-back, relaxing workout. Older couples with limited mobility love everything about the Hobie Oasis; it’s a great way to engage in easy low-impact cardio while also enjoying the natural surroundings.
The Hobie Oasis comes with 2 seats, 2 pedaling systems, and tons of space. Similar to the Hobie Passport, this watercraft features a twist-and-stow rudder. While pedaling through shallow waters, simply twist the rudder to stow it on the boat’s stern. The retractable rudder system is one of the most-loved features of Hobie kayaks. Hobie kayaks are designed with speed in mind, as well as comfort.
This watercraft can easily accommodate two full-grown adults without sacrificing the necessary storage space. Within the kayak, there are 4 convenient storage hatches, several molded-in rod holders, and T-shaped rudder control handles.
We have reviewed more tandem kayak options in this article.
5. Hobie 2019 Mirage Outback Camo
Best Sit-On-Top Pedal Kayak
Max Load Capacity
Body Type (Material)
12’9” L, 34” W
A lot of kayakers prefers the sit-on-top design for a few reasons. Sit-on-top watercraft offer tons of stability, lots of onboard space, and high weight capacity. If this all sounds good to you, consider the Hobie Mirage Outback pedal kayak. This is the best sit-on-top pedal kayak, and not just because it comes from the trusted Hobie brand.
The comfortable, sit-on design makes it a top choice for a fishing kayak with foot pedals, no matter if you’re casting lines on light ocean waves, smooth lakes, or slow-moving rivers. In all Hobie kayaks, the amount of onboard storage is impressive, and the Outback model is no exception. There’s even enough space to safely bring the dog along for the ride.
Like all other Hobies, the Outback uses a push-pedal system that moves the fins beneath the boat back and forth. This allows for smooth, easy movement across the water. However, this model does not use the twist-and-stow rudder technology of the other Hobie kayaks we’ve reviewed and rated. Instead, the rudder uses a more basic design, allowing it to lock in place when needed and retract against the boat on impact. The twist-and-stow is a much more advanced system, but this rudder system gets the job done.
6. Old Town Topwater 106 PDL Angler
Best for serious Fishing
Max Load Capacity
Body Type (Material)
10.5’ L, 36” W
Hull: Limited Lifetime, Part: 5 Years
We’ve already covered a few solid choices for avid anglers, but the award for all-time best pedal fishing kayak goes to the Old Town Topwater 106 PDL Angler. The entire kayak is outfitted with fishing in mind. It comes with plenty of storage space for fishing gear, whisper-quiet forward and reverse movement, and a comfy seat perfect for hours on the water. On top of that, it comes with 3 rod holders throughout the kayak.
The unique pontoon-style DoubleU design of the hull, not many pedal kayaks match the stability of the Old Town pedal kayak. You'll be able to comfortably stand on the boat while you cast a line with minimal risk of tipping. The short and wide design (10.5 feet by 36 inches) and lightweight hull (95 lbs) make transport and storage of the PDL Angler easier than ever.
All in all, if you’re looking for a stable, powerful, and comfortable pedal kayak that you plan on using to fish, this is a great choice. However, if fishing isn’t on your agenda, you may want to set your sights elsewhere. Similarly, there are other great fishing kayaks that don't require you to pedal if that's not your preference.
7. Wilderness Systems Radar 115
Best Cheap Pedal Kayak
Max Load Capacity
Body Type (Material)
11’8” L, 34.5” W
Hull: Limited Lifetime, Parts: 1 Year
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly watercraft, the best cheap pedal kayak is the Wilderness Systems Radar 115 Kayak. The price may be the cheapest on the market, but the kayak itself is by no means made cheaply. The boat weight just 85 pounds, but it is 85 pounds of pure power and durability. If you're looking for something that will last, but you don't have a huge budget, this is a reliable sit on top pedal kayak.
Here’s what the Wilderness Systems manufacturer has to say about their kayaks: “Innovative designs tuned for performance, premium outfitting, and stunning quality have made these boats among the most acclaimed paddling experiences in the world. From new entrants to seasoned experts, Wilderness Systems kayaks are designed to get you where you want to be, more often - on the water.” This is exactly what you get from the Radar 115.
With this kayak, you get the biggest bang for your buck. It comes with storage hatches in the bow and center of the boat, a rigging-system at the stern, and a comfortable adjustable seat. The steering control system of the Radar 115 is easy to use, allowing for easy navigation and hands-free fishing. The only drawback is that the pedal system must be purchased separately, so be sure to order the compatible Helix Pedal Drive if you plan on pedaling this kayak.
Pedal Powered vs Paddle Kayaks
Top-rated paddle kayaks are popular for many reasons. Paddling is an excellent upper body workout, and kayaking is an amazing way to get in touch with nature. But if you're looking for the most efficient method of cutting across the water, a pedal kayak is the better choice. The main difference between the two is the muscles of the body that are targeted, but there is also a difference in overall performance.
With a pedal kayak, you can count on greater speed and efficiency as well as the ability to control the boat without the use of your hands. While you adjust the rudder to change direction, the boat can continue to move. Of course, there are perks to the paddle system as well, especially if you're a fan of simplicity. But overall, a pedal kayak is more efficient, and it's the better option for kayak fishing.
Using a Pedal Kayak
Once you get the hang of it, using a pedal kayak is easy. However, it can still take some time to get used to turning and navigating while also pedaling. Pedal kayaks are typically a bit larger and bulkier than paddle kayaks since they come with additional parts. Because of this, handling a pedal kayak is more challenging, especially for beginner-level kayakers.
The most difficult aspect of using a pedal kayak is launching and beaching. While in the water, though, the steps for using your pedal kayak are fairly simple. To turn, you’ll use the lever that controls the rudder. This should be located directly next to your seat, somewhere in the kayak cockpit. Remember that you should always keep a paddle on board, just in case the steering or pedaling mechanisms fail.
Launching & Beaching a Pedal Kayak
OK, so now on to the difficult part. Launching a pedal kayak is completely different than launching a traditional paddle kayak. The most important thing to remember is that pedal-driven boats have essential parts and pieces attached to the underside, which can make launching and beaching difficult. The main objective is to keep the fins, propeller, and rudder from hitting the bottom and becoming damaged.
Freedom Hawk Kayaks says that “most, if not all, pedal drive manufacturers offer one way or another of temporarily disengaging, or lifting the system. This applies to both aftermarket pedal drive makers, and ones that make their own kayaks with a pedal drive.”
As you launch your kayak into the water, be sure that all of the mechanisms on the underside of the boat are tucked away nicely.
Typically these parts need about 1 ft of clearance depth, sometimes 18 inches. Once you have reached the appropriate depth, go ahead and lower the propeller (or fins if you’re using a Hobie kayak) and rudder. You’ll need to follow the specific manufacturer’s instructions on this since all pedal kayaks are made differently.
For beaching the kayak, follow the same steps for retracting the propeller/fins and rudder before entering the shallow water. This is why you should always have a paddle on board; in the shallow, you won’t be able to use the pedal system. You’ll have to resort to good old-fashioned paddling for parts of the launching and beaching process.
Pedal Kayaking Safety Tips
The first piece of safety advice is to always keep a paddle on board. There is still the chance of the pedaling mechanisms failing, especially if you attempt to use a pedal kayak in shallow waters. Most pedal drive kayaks will come with a mounting system for keeping a paddle on board, but also keeping it out of the way. Here are a few more helpful safety tips to follow while using your pedal kayak:
Care & Maintenance: Taking Care of Your Pedal Kayak
Taking care of a pedal kayak is basically the same as caring for a traditional paddle kayak. The main difference is that you should frequently check the state of the propeller/fins and rudder to make sure there is no damage. After each use, be sure to clean the rudder and propeller thoroughly, especially if you’ve been kayaking in saltwater. A rudder or propeller can eventually jam up from the sand, salt, and dirt build-up if you fail to clean them.
Not only should you clean the rudder and propeller/fins, but it is also important to clean the entire boat after each use. Simply spray it down with water from a hose. After that, keep it stored in a safe place out of the sun. Sun can damage the integrity of a kayak, both aesthetically and structurally, so always keep it in a shady place.
A garage or shed is an ideal kayak storage spot. It’s also a good idea to keep it covered, especially the cockpit area. This will keep rainwater and animals out of the kayak while it’s not in use.
Pedal Kayak Accessories
Frequently Asked Questions
How fast is a pedal kayak?
A pedal kayak's speed depends on whether push pedals or rotational pedals drive it. It also depends on the size of the watercraft and the amount of weight on board. In general, though, a pedal kayak moves between 3.5 and 4.5 miles per hour. Some kayakers have even been able to maintain a speed of 8 mph with continuous pedaling.
What are the best brands of pedal kayaks?
As the very first manufacturer of pedal kayaks, Hobie Mirage is the most well-known brand. The company created the first-ever pedal kayak in 1997 and is still thriving as the leading pedal kayak provider today. Other popular brands include Native Watercraft, Wilderness Systems, and Perception. All of these brands are included in our pedal craft kayak review.
How does one fish with a pedal-driven kayak? What considerations do you need to consider?
Fishing is much easier in a pedal kayak than it is in a traditional kayak boat. With your hands-free from paddles, you can easily cast a line or bait a hook. It’s even possible to comfortably stand on a pedal kayak while fishing. The only downfall is that you will be more limited on space with a pedal kayak. Although these boats are larger than paddle kayaks, the pedal system takes up some space.
How do I choose the best size of the pedal kayak I will be buying?
The main consideration for kayak size is the boat's weight capacity. Consider your weight when choosing a kayak, as well as the weight of the equipment you plan to bring onboard. The main drawback to a larger kayak is that transport and storage will be more difficult.
What is the best construction material for a pedal-powered kayak?
The most durable material for pedal-powered kayak construction is polyethylene. Polyethylene is a common form of plastic that is extremely durable. Kayak manufacturers typically use high-density polyethylene and cover it with a UV-resistant coating for protection from the sun.
Can pedal-powered kayaks go backward?
This depends on the specific pedal kayak you choose. If you opt for a Hobie Mirage kayak, pedaling backward is not possible. You’ll need a rotational pedal system that has reverse pedaling capabilities, such as the Native Watercraft Slayer 13.
After everything we’ve covered on pedal kayaks, we’re still confident in saying that the Perception Pescador Pilot is the best all-around pedal kayak of the year. It is durable, comfortable, and features unbeatable pedal-driven performance and a fair price. Whether you plan on fishing or cruising through the water, the Perception Pescador Pilot is an amazing choice.
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