Kayaking is one of the easiest and affordable ways to explore the outdoors and the fastest growing paddle sport of the past decade. Given its popularity, it’s no surprise that an increasing number of parks and marinas offer rental kayaks and lessons for first-timers. If you’ve already given the sport a test-drive and want to get a kayak of your own, here’s how to find the best kayaks for beginners.
Kayaks come in three main types: recreational, touring, and whitewater kayaks. If you’re a beginner or you plan to paddle only on flat water—lakes and rivers without rapids—you’ll want to use a recreational kayak. Touring kayaks (also called sea kayaks) and whitewater kayaks are more specialized and therefore more expensive. (It’s also worth noting that even though the Great Lakes are technically “lakes,” the water behaves more like an ocean. Not only should touring kayaks be used on the Great Lakes, it’s also important to be a skilled kayaker and take lessons before venturing out.)
In general, recreational kayaks are the most stable kayaks and the easiest to steer. Their wide hulls help keep the kayak upright and allow for a roomy place to sit. Since they’re made from plastic, they also tend to be tough and durable. There is a trade-off however. The wider, shorter hull creates more drag and makes it more challenging for the kayak to track (i.e., keep moving in a straight line).
And of course no matter what type of kayak you use, you’ll want a paddle. Your height and the width of your kayak help determine the length of the paddle you’ll need. Wider boats and taller paddlers should use longer paddles. Here’s a good guide to how to choose the correct paddle.
When it comes to finding the best kayak for beginners, many details come down to personal preference, but here are the different elements of a recreational kayak that you’ll want to consider before you buy one.
Rec kayaks offer two seating options: a traditional sit-in style or a seat that allows you to sit on top. The latter tends to be more comfortable and is a good choice for people who may have mobility concerns. It’s the easiest type of kayak to get in and out of. That said, many sit-in style kayaks include comfortable padded seats that are adjustable. Either way, it’s best to try out different seats before you buy, even if it’s just in the store.
The average length of a recreational kayak is anywhere from 9 to 12 feet long. For more stability, choose a shorter length. For a kayak that tracks more easily, go with a longer one. Also be mindful of storage space. Longer kayaks offer more storage which is important if you plan to take long day trips or overnights.
While touring kayaks are often made from fiberglass, recreational kayaks are made from various types of plastic. This makes them durable and also lighter than touring kayaks.
Weight & Weight Capacity
The length of your kayak and the material it’s made out of will effect the weight. Consider how you plan to transport and store the kayak. If you plan to do a lot of solo trips, make sure to purchase a kayak that you can easily load and unload by yourself.
Planning Your Kayak Trip
Be safe and be sure to plan your kayak trip in advance, especially if you will be traveling to areas that you’re not familiar with.
Here are some of the best kayaks for beginners.
Ocean Kayak Frenzy
This short and scrappy sit-on-top kayak is easy to maneuver and accommodates paddlers of varying heights. Its bungee system is great for strapping in gear or anything else you want to take along.
Length: 9 feet
Width: 31 inches
Weight/Weight Capacity: 44 lbs./325 lbs.
- Responsive and stable, this one-person kayak is playful in the surf but behaves well on flat water.
- Ocean Kayak's renowned Tri-Form hull combines primary and secondary stability, with a long center keel to keep you going straight.
- A durable, four-way-adjustable Comfort Plus seat supports all-day paddling, with comfort for any body type.
- Store gear, food, and other items using the stern tank well with removable bungees and bow deck bungee.
- Easily carry the Frenzy from boat to launch using the molded-in side handles and bow and stern carrying handles.
Perception Tribe Kayak
Like Ocean Kayak’s Frenzy, this sit-on-top model by Perception is built for durability and stability. Its low-maintenance design is easy to clean and includes an ergonomic, adjustable seat. Store your gear and snacks using the bungee system or either of the two open storage compartments.
Length: 9.5 feet
Width: 31.25 inches
Weight/Weight Capacity: 46 lbs./300 lbs
- Versatility is the name of the game in this fun, sit-on-top boat
- Comfort Seating System with thick padding for superior support
- Adjustable seatback positioning for a personalized fit
- Multiple footrest options accommodate paddlers of all sizes
- Large front and rear open storage for cooler and other gear
Old Town Vapor 10 Kayak
This rec kayak has a traditional sit-in style seat but its open design means it’s still roomy—some reviewers report it has enough space to bring along your canine companion. It’s also on the lighter end of kayaks which makes it easier to transport.
Length: 10 feet
Width: 28.5 inches
Weight/Weight Capacity: 47 lbs./325 lbs.
- Single-user kayak great for quiet water paddling on lakes, ponds, and slow moving rivers
- Made from highly durable single layer linear polyethylene
- Adjustable Comfort Flex padded seat for all day paddling comfort and a cockpit rim paddle-rest
- Comfortable thigh/knee pads and Glide Track Foot Brace system for good fit and control. Built in carry handles
- Stern Day Well provides easy access to day-use items without storing them in the bilge of the boat
Sundolphin Aruba 10 Kayak
If you’re looking for a lightweight kayak that’s still rugged, this model is for you. At just 31 pounds, it’s the lightest kayak on our list. It’s a sit-in style but has an open cockpit and an adjustable padded seat. As a bonus, it also comes in a rainbow of colors including bright pink and lime green.
Length: 10 feet
Width: 30 inches
Weight/Weight Capacity: 31 lbs./280 lbs.
- Great for rivers and lakes
- Adjustable, padded seat back
- Storage compartment
Ocean Kayak Malibu Two
One of the best tandem sit-on-top kayaks is this model from Ocean Kayak. At 12 feet long, it can easily accommodate two people plus some gear. The seats actually have three positions so it can also be converted to a solo kayak. Like other sit-on-top kayaks, it’s also “self-bailing” meaning there are holes that drain away excess water.
Length: 12 feet
Width: 34 inches
Weight/Weight Capacity: 57 lbs./425 lbs.
- Enjoy sun and surf with a friend or a furry companion with the kayak's three seating positions, which support solo, tandem, or tandem paddling with a child or pet.
- A pair of Comfort Plus seats provide four-way adjustability, generating a custom fit and greater slip prevention over molded seats.
- Patented overlapping foot wells allow center-seated paddlers to settle in and brace their feet comfortably. Hatches - None
- The open, sit-on-top hull makes it easy to get on and off the kayak and includes a pair of molded-in handles and skid plate.
- Maximum capacity of 425 pounds; measures 12 feet long and 34 inches wide. Lifetime warranty on the hull.
Sundolphin Bali SS
For people who want a beginner’s kayak that’s on the faster, sleeker side, this sit-on-top boat is it. At 12 feet long, it has less drag than most rec kayaks. It also has a covered storage compartment to keep gear dry.
Length: 12 feet
Width: 29.6 inches
Weight/Weight Capacity: 48 lbs./395 lbs.
- Tracks and paddles with ease while offering maximum stability
- P.A.C. (Portable Accessory Carrier) can be used as extra storage
- Storage compartment with shock cord deck rigging
- Lightweight, easy to carry
- Large, comfortable seating area with protective thigh pads, adjustable foot braces and paddle holder
Vibe Kayaks Skipjack
If you plan to paddle and fish, there are rec kayaks specifically designed for this purpose. This model from Vibe Kayaks is a favorite on Amazon. With flush-mount rod holders, sealed hatches, and paddle parks (to prevent lost paddles), the Skipjack is a budget-friendly option for paddlers and anglers alike.
- KEY FEATURES | 1-person sit on top fishing kayak - 9ft 46lbs fishing kayak with Journey paddle and deluxe kayak seat that provides portability and stability in a smaller package
- MOUNT FOR ACCESORIES | 4 capped flush mount rod holders and mounting point for Scotty, RAM and Vibe mount accessories
- NO MORE OVERBOARD PADDLES | Two paddle parks to help secure paddles when not in use, preventing lost overboard paddles
- MULTIPLE STORAGE OPTIONS | 2 sealed hatches with bag inserts and large bungeed rear tank well to protect all your kayaking necessities
- EXTRA FEATURES | 4 easy-grip carry handles for transport and portability
Did we miss any? What’s your favorite kayak? Please feel free to share in the comments section below.