Mirage Outback ($2,799)
Hobie’s original Mirage Outback entered the market 17 years ago and became the most popular kayak for the company that introduced pedal-powered fishing boats to the masses. The 2019 iteration is the most tricked-out yet. The bungee tie-downs easily accommodated a cooler, and the large standing deck in front of the seat created a solid casting platform. We also appreciated subtle changes like side handles, which helped us lean into turns and load the 85-pound beast on top of a car.
Wilderness Systems Pungo 125 ($999)
First appearing in 1997, the Wilderness Systems Pungo 125 was at once wildly popular and supremely polarizing. Some say it ushered in an era of poorly built plastic boats, while others lauded its affordable price. After laps around Oregon’s Emigrant Lake and a Class II stretch of the Rogue River, the capability of this year’s iteration couldn’t be denied. The thinner, flatter, more stable hull turned quickly to navigate slow-moving whitewater with ease. And the cushy adjustable seat offered plenty of support during hours of lake paddling.
Kokopelli Inflatable Rogue-Lite ($742)
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Kokopelli’s inflatable Rogue-Lite, an update on its Nirvana. Kokopelli lightened it up with new seam tape and added a Kevlar floor for durability. The result: a highly maneuverable boat that testers hammered through low-volume Class II and III creeks. Plus, it eliminates the need for long portages. The 5.2-pound Rogue-Lite weighs less than a three-person tent and rolls up to the same size. We hardly noticed it in our packs on a five-mile hike.