If upper body strength isn’t your forte or you want to be able to travel a long way without wearing your arms out then a pedal kayak could be the answer. The built in pedal propulsion system allows you to use your legs to move through the water leaving your hands free for eating, taking photos or just a well earned rest.
In this post we’re going to cover what we think are the five best pedal kayaks in 2021 along with out buyer’s guide to help answer some of the question you might have about pedal kayaks.
At A Glance: The 6 Best Kayaks With Pedals
How to Choose a Pedal Kayak: A Buyer’s Guide
Most kayak makers are now selling pedal-powered kayaks. These designs started as a costly and rare commodity that few people knew about, but now they’ve grown to take up a large part of the sit-on-top kayak market and popular with beginners. How do these drive systems work, and are they right for you? Let’s take them out for a spin and find out in our pedal kayak buying guide.
What is a Pedal Kayak?
In a way, pedal kayaks are exactly what they sound like they would be. They’re sit-on-top kayaks with a pedal system that allows you to use your feet in addition to or instead of your arms. Some systems are better than others, so some are fun and easy to pedal all day long, while others are just designed to give you a break from paddling for a few minutes.
Pedal kayaks offer quite a few advantages over paddle-only kayaks. Pedaling is faster than using the paddle since your legs are much stronger than your arms, and the propeller or fins are always submerged. Pedal systems are usually found on larger, wider, and more stable kayaks, which helps small people move these bigger boats and leaves you lots of room for gear and storage.
How Does a Pedal Kayak Work?
There are two types of pedal systems for kayaks: Ones with a propeller drive and ones with fins.
Rotational Pedal and Propeller Drive
If you imagine the parts of a bicycle put together to power a kayak, you’d probably have a pretty clear image of what most drive systems look like. A pod drive system is mounted on the deck, and this includes a set of pedals above the water and a propeller below the water.
The drive pod mounts into a molded opening in the boat, so you really can’t swap drive systems from one boat to another. The manufacturer designs both the boat and the drive system, and there aren’t many ways to use aftermarket parts.
It’s important to realize that these drive pods are removable. That allows you to operate in shallow water without damaging the prop and do beach launches or car top carrying. They usually lift in and out of the boat and tilt up to reduce the boat’s draft. It also means that the drive system is usually sold as an accessory and not integrated into the kayak.
The mechanics of the propeller drive unit are not unlike a bicycle. The pedals operate exactly like a bike, with a rotational movement. The work is transferred via gears or a belt through the drive unit to the propeller. Since it’s a direct link, you can pedal forward or backward with ease. To give you more leverage on the pedals, most of these boats come with a tall chair.
Push Pedal with Fins
Push pedal systems, like the Hobie Mirage Drive, work differently. Instead of driving an underwater propeller with a rotational system, it uses push pedals to drive underwater foils. These are two plastic fins, mounted under the kayak along its centerline, that sweep in alternating arcs left and right.
While they might look funny, the underwater fins work essentially like propellers. They are efficient and quiet. The most commonly cited disadvantage of the fin system is that you can’t quickly go into reverse. To pedal backward, you must adjust a lever on the drive system that reverses the fin’s orientation. It’s not hard to do, but it’s an extra step that prop drives do not have.
The advantage of a fin-powered drive is that it’s far less likely to get fouled in weeds or underwater objects. Any boater will tell you that props notoriously catch and wrap every little thing. Fins, on the other hand, let objects fall off. When the pedals are at rest, the fins fold up against the kayak, giving you a natural shallow water position. Therein lies another advantage of this system—when you find the water getting shallow, you need not take any more action than to stop pedaling. The fins underwater have a kick-up design that prevents damage should they strike anything.
Factors to Consider with Pedal Kayaks
Picking a pedal-powered kayak is more challenging than you might think. While regular paddlers need to carefully weigh the boat’s construction, the design and loading characteristics, and its overall comfort, pedal kayak shoppers need to consider all of this plus the drive technology they want to use. There are only a handful of systems that use push pedals and fins. But dozens of companies make pedal propeller drives now, so the choice there becomes much more challenging.
Realize first that not all kayak models can be equipped with pedal drives. Some of the pedal systems themselves are large and heavy. Pedal drives are aimed at a particular type of kayak and kayak paddler. You won’t find them on sleek racing boats; these pedal drives are used where they’ll be appreciated most. They’re of unique benefit to anglers, who want to have their hands free to fish. And they’re useful on very large, very wide, or very heavy boats, which tend to be the most difficult to paddle.
When shopping for this sort of kayak, pay special attention to the setup of the drive unit and how you will transport and store the kayak. Look at the drive unit when it is removed from the kayak, and figure out how you’re going to store it.
Some of the drive units are quite awkwardly shaped. Others are relatively flat and easy to store in a car, like the Hobie Mirage. Most set up quickly, but remember that this will be a new, extra step to every launch and retrieval. Even if you don’t transport your kayak very far, most people remove the expensive drive units when not in use to keep them safe.
Pedal kayaks have a traditional stern-mounted rudder to steer while pedaling. The rudder is controlled by a small tiller handle at the side of the kayak. Be sure to check it for smooth and free movement when shopping. Make sure that the rudder kicks up and flips down easily should you get into shallow water.
Finally, you might be interested in a more powerful option. Some manufacturers, like Vibe Kayaks, sell an electric outboard motor to drive the kayak as well. It fits in the same hole, so you can swap out the pedal drive for the electric drive when desired.
Fishing From Pedal Kayaks
The most popular use of pedal kayaks is definitely fishing. Being able to maneuver the boat with your feet means your hands are free to cast and reel in the big ones. Most brands that make serious angling kayaks have now integrated pedal drive systems into their best models.
Choosing the right pedal system is a personal choice, though. There’s too much that goes into picking a kayak to say that one system is better than another. Plus, a lot will depend on where and when you go kayak fishing.
Besides the factors discussed above that apply to all drive systems, two factors of particular interest to anglers are the ability to reverse and the amount of noise a drive system makes. Most rotational pedals that drive propellers have no problem going either direction. That’s very helpful because you can keep casting the whole time. On the other hand, Fin drives require you to reach down and flip a controller to reverse the fins. You can do it, but it means you must use one hand for the control and another for the fishing. These factors aren’t significant in open water, but fishing in tight canals or near docks may make it more critical.
Nearly all of the drives operate quietly, but some are quieter than others. The Hobie Mirage drive gets good marks for being very smooth and quiet. Propeller systems will often generate a prop wash noise on the hull. It isn’t unpleasant, but it also isn’t silent.
Best Brands of Pedal Kayak
Hobie Kayaks is one of the most popular brands of pedal-driven kayak on the market. Their Mirage Drive was the first one out there, and it’s still the only one like it. They offer a range of Mirage kayaks, including tandems, inflatables, fishing, and trimaran/outrigger options.
Another company that sells a similar fin-style drive is Vibe Kayaks. The Shearwater 125 can accept their X-Drive Pedal kit or a custom-built electric motor.
In the propeller drive category, there are many kayak brands to mention. Native Watercraft makes several models that use their Propel Drive. Ocean Kayak recently released their first pedal-driven model, the Malibu Pedal. Perception has the Pescador and the Crank, and Brooklyn Kayak Company has pedal versions of nearly all of their line-up. Finally, Old Town has several fishing models available, as does Jackson Kayak.
The Best Rated Pedal Kayak Reviews
Here are our pedal kayak reviews to help you narrow down some of the options on the market and make the right choice.
#1. Point 65 N Kingfisher Angler Modular Fishing Kayak
For a slightly more expensive but more tricked-out kayak, check out the Point 65 N Kingfisher Angler Modular Fishing Kayak. This device comes with bells and whistles; riders can control the rudder by hand, store items in the kayak’s massive storage capacity, and adjust their game chair to change positions while sitting on the kayak comfortably.
Its construction can weather most of the elements. This kayak will hold up to whatever conditions you put it through, and its many storage areas make for easy fishing. The only downsides for this device are its higher price and its lower weight capacity. It weighs about 70 pounds, but it can only hold under 300 pounds. It could be difficult to fit two adults.
#2. Hobie Mirage Passport 12 Sit-On-Top Pedal Kayak
Our number two choice is the wonderful Hobie Mirage Passport 12 which is a brilliant sit on top pedal kayak with a 325 lb weight capacity. It’s made with a stable and solid hull to help you glide through the water and it tracks well due to it’s streamlined bow design helping you cut through the water smoothly and efficiently.
As it’s a sit on top kayak there’s plenty of room so it can easily accommodate larger paddlers plus the seat is super comfortable with a strong aluminum frame that won’t rust. You can also take the seat off the kayak when you arrive at your destination as it’s removable.
It’s an ideal kayak for a longer trip where you need to take supplies as it has cargo storage areas at the bow and stern to keep all your gear safely stowed. It even has a sealed hatch in the middle to keep your valuables dry and out of the reach of the water.
We also love the accessory mounts on either side that allow you to cusomize what you take with you and add a sail or any fishing gear, plus, it has two fishing rod holders if you did want to use it as a fishing kayak. Over all, we think it’s one of the best kayaks with pedals and a very easy recommendation from us.
#3. Perception Pescador Pilot 12
- Pedal-driven performance at an unbelievable price - Made in USA
- Lawn chair style mesh seat with 2-level seat adjustment and breathable mesh for ultimate all-day comfort and no pain
- Pilot drive pedal system can be fully recessed into hull for zero draft
Up next we have the USA made Perception Pescador Pilot 12 which is another sit on top pedal kayak with a weight capacity of a huge 525 lbs. It features a removable pedal drive that is very easy to lift up in shallow water or when launching and docking. The convenient to use rudder allows you to steer with ease and makes tight turns easy.
It’s an ideal kayak for fishing and long kayaking trips as it has a lot of storage space. It has a front, rear and center dry storage hatches to keep your valuables dry and away from splashes. The storage pods even can be used with a transducer making it an ideal kayak if you want to use electronics out on the water. It also has bungee storage areas at the bow and stern for storing coolers all the gear you plan on taking.
For the anglers, it has a number of features that make it a good choice. The four molded in rod holders, lots of storage for tackle and your catch at the end of the day plus it has gear tracks either side for attaching any accessories you might want to use.
#4. Perception Crank 10
- Incredible pedal performance in a punchy 10 ft. package - Made in USA
- Perfect for lakes, ponds and calm coastal waters
- Efficient and easy-to-use pedal drive system; ability to go forward and reverse without removing the drive from the boat
In at number four we have another kayak from USA brand, the Perception Crank 10, a 10 foot long, sit on top kayak with pedal propulsion drive system and a 350 lb weight capacity. It’s got an easy to use, retractable pedals that make moving through the water easy.
Although not quite as much as the Pescador Pro, it’s got lots of storage space too, with both front and rear storage areas that you can secure your belongings with the bungee ropes to ensure they don’t go overboard.
It features a large and comfortable captain’s chair that you can adjust to any height you want, plus, it’s removable so you can take it with you and fold it up for each portability.
Although it’s not made for fishing (it doesn’t have rod holders), the Perception Crank 10 has gear mounts either side of the cockpit to attach any fishing accessories you want to use. It also has a transducer scupper built into the hull to be used safely with electronics like fish finders.
The one downside with this kayak is the lack of dry storage hatches. Make sure you get a waterproof dry bag to keep any valuables that you don’t want getting wet. Other than that it’s a fantastic pedal kayak that gets a thumbs up from us and gets great reviews from other customers too.
#5. BKC TK122 12.9′
- THE PERFECT KAYAK FOR OUTDOOR FUN: Our Brooklyn Kayak Company BKC TK122U tandem kayak has extra space to fit 3 - making it ideal...
- FULLY LOADED ACCESSORIES: Our kayak comes equipped with 2 ergonomic aluminum frame seats, 2 adjustable aluminum paddles, 2...
- CRAFTED FOR STABILITY: Our Roto Molded single Piece High density polyethylene material is superior to inflatable kayaks and a...
Next we have the Brooklyn Kayak Company TK122 which is a 12.9 foot, sit on top, tandem pedal kayak. It’s built with stability in mind with a wide, flat bottom hull and with a wapping 770 lbs weight capacity it can easily hold you and your tallest friend, plus all the gear you want to take for a days paddling.
Despite it’s high weight capacity it’s surprisingly portable weighing in at 77 lbs and built with handles at either end to allow two people to carry it. Plus it also has a rotomolded handle to allow you to tow it over more difficult terrain.
When it comes to the seating it has very comfortable ergonomic chairs that provide great back support and allow you to spend the whole day out on the water. They’re padded with memory foam and can be adjusted to suit various different paddler’s heights.
As you’d expect from a kayak with such a large weight capacity it has a lot of storage space aboard and under each seat is a watertight hatch for keeping your valuables as well as front and rear cargo area that can be secured with the bungee cords. This allows you to take up to a 20l cooler, camping supplies or any other fishing gear you might want to bring with you.
Speaking of fishing, the BKC TK122 is designed with four fishing rod holders to allow you to keep your hands free and leave the lines in the water. It also has four accessory rails to put any other gear that you might out on the water. All in all, a very good option for those looking for a tandem fishing kayak with pedals.
#6. Old Town Topwater 106 PDL
- Old Town's Topwater PDL Angler fishing Kayak provides a stable, comfortable, easy-to-maneuver, hands-free fishing platform in a...
- The Topwater PDL Angler uses the low maintenance forward/reverse pedal drive and a patent-pending easy-docking system for...
- Packed with features, the Topwater PDL Angler includes an adjustable element Air seat, an oversized stern tank well for storing...
And last, but by no means least we have the Old Town Topwater 106 PDL, a sit on top solo pedal kayak built with the fisherman in mind. It’s also designed with a flat hull which results in a very stable kayak, even for stand up casting.
US kayak and canoe brand Old Town, are the oldest maker of kayaks in the world being founded in 1898. Since then they’ve been producing quality products that have stood the test of time. The Topwater is no exception and is
Weighing in at only 70 lbs, the Topwater 106 PDL is relatively lightweight and easy to carry for a pedal kayak. But despite this, it has a high weight capacity and can carry up to 450 lbs of paddler and gear combined.
When it comes to storage, the Old Town Topwater PDL has plenty of room for you and all your gear. It has storage areas at the bow and stern plus it has built in rod holders so you can fish hands free.
Pedal kayaks are fun and different way to enjoy kayaking on the water. They’re the epitome of the simple to operate kayak that is fun to take for an hour at the beach but equally capable of spending a week traveling in the wilderness camping and fishing.
If you’re still wondering which one to go for we’d recommend the Point 65 N Kingfisher Angler Modular Fishing Pedal Kayak. With all it’s amazing features, strong durable materials, great reviews and reliable pedal system it’s easily one of the best kayaks with pedals on the market and we’d recommend taking a look. To get the best price, click the button below.