The two big things to take into consideration when choosing a kayak: the kind of water you will be paddling and for how long. Some boats, like the Emotion Comet (seen here) and the Necky Rip, are great for day trips, while some, like the Current Designs Infinity, are better for overnighters. Others, like Hurricane Kayaks' Category 5 and the Hobie Mirage Pro Angler, are more sport-specific. Once you figure out what category of boat you want, you can decide what's most important to you: Weight? Price? Stability? If you can walk into a store knowing these things, you'll walk out with a boat that fits your needs perfectly. The most important part of shopping for your new boat is actually paddling it. For kayaks and our favorite canoe, sitting in a boat for 20 minutes on the showroom floor will give you at least a sense of fit.
This year's winner is Emotion's Comet. We've seen killer prices on Emotion kayaks before, but the Comet pairs that affordability with performance. At eight foot three, it resembles a duckie but tours (and accelerates) like a boat twice the length and six times the price. It's not surprising, since legendary boatbuilder Jim Snyder, who's created more than 75 boats in his lifetime, was on the design team. On the water, the Comet wiggles a little for the first couple of strokes but almost immediately straightens out and tracks like an arrow. Plus it's practically indestructible. (We watched Emotion fill this boat with water, drop it from a forklift, and crush it under a truck—and after both assaults it bounced back unfazed to its original shape.) Adjustable foot pegs let you brace your back against the ample, contoured plastic seat, while front and back deck bungees hold sunscreen or a map. Bonus: An inflatable air bladder in the stern means that even if you flip, the boat will still float.
8'3", 38 lbs; emotionkayaks.com
Maneuverability: 4.9 (out of 5)