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Buyers Guide & Information

Best Beginner Kayaks For Learning

Master your first entry-level kayak with this comprehensive guide and top-rated branded products!

by

Buyers Guide & Information

Best Beginner Kayaks For Learning

Master your first entry-level kayak with this comprehensive guide and top-rated branded products!

by PITeam

by PITeam

Kayaking is a fun activity. It keeps you fit and healthy, gets you out in the fresh air. However, it’s still something you’ll want to ease yourself into rather than diving head-on down some river rapids.

Kayaking can be a highly technical affair. As fun as it is to learn how to kayak, it’s less fun determining which is the best beginner kayak that you should be investing in. So, we’ve put together this guide to help beginners like you find the kayak you need.


What is a Beginner’s Kayak?

A beginner’s kayak is one that's designed for those who are new to the sport. These are cheaper and less outfitted models than other kayaks on the market.


Kayak Types & Styles

You’ll find there are an incredible variety of different boats. They all have that canoe-style design, but each has different qualities and better suited to specific environments.  Below, we've highlighted the main types and whether they're suitable for beginners or not.

Sit Inside

As the name suggests, you sit inside it with the body enclosed around you. This helps your lower body stay dry and when you're kayaking in colder temperatures, warmer. Although these are great for beginners, you need to be careful as they can make some feel claustrophobic and difficult to get out of or climb into in the event of capsizing.

Sit on Top

These have a more open-plan design to reduce the feeling of claustrophobia associated with the above. As they're easy to get in and get out, they're ideal for beginners. They are also cheaper in comparison with sit inside alternatives. 

Inflatable

Inflatable models suit beginners because they’re easy enough to transport, last a long time and are inexpensive. They also offer versatility as they can be used in many types of water conditions. 

Hard Shells

This is another of the most common type. They are designed with rigid and stable bodies, made from fiberglass or plastic. Plastic hard-shell kayaks are strong and durable, making them ideal for beginners. They are also less expensive than fiberglass and carbon models.

Recreational

Recreational kayaks are designed to be used on a recreational basis. They tend to be more stable and easier to use, so they are ideal for beginners. Generally, they’re also wider than the more professional models, which lends to the greater stability.

However, they’re not quite as hydrodynamic. Which really shouldn’t be a bad thing if you’re looking at beginner kayaks, anyway.

Tandem

If you’re thinking the name reminds you of tandem bikes, then you’re right. The basic premise of tandem kayaks is two paddlers or more in the boat can share the work and the experience. 

Fishing Kayaks

You’ll have already guessed these are made specifically for anglers. They’re designed to handle the additional cargo needed when fishing. You’ll also find the seating is more comfortable, and they have a multitude of features such as rod holders.

Whitewater

It should come as no shock these are made for paddling through rough and fast water. We're not entirely sure this is the best option for beginners unless you've already got prior boating experience in such conditions. 


Why Learn Kayaking: Benefits of Paddling

Workout for your upper body

The only way you move in a kayak is by engaging your shoulders, back, and arm muscles. You need to use all upper body muscles to execute a proper stroke. When you consider you’ll do approximately 500 strokes a mile, it’s not hard to see how this can give your upper body an intense workout.

Reduces stress

Any outdoor activity will help reduce your stress. If you have a hectic and anxiety-filled life, concentrate on pushing those paddles through the water to move a kayak, and you'll feel a lot better. 

Weight loss

If you're interested in doing something different from attending the gym or going for a run, you should try kayaking. 

HealthFitnessRevolution noted, "To move the kayak at about 5 mph is going to require about 0.1 hp of effort, which is going to burn about 400 calories per hour. And so, four hours of paddling is going to burn up about 1,600 calories!"

Toning your leg muscles

Although it may seem your legs are used very little during kayaking, they’re a crucial part of the whole experience. They apply pressure and help you to stay secure in your boat, as well as assisting in maneuvering and balancing.


Choosing Top Quality Starter Kayaks

When you are selecting a top-quality beginner kayak, there are several crucial things you need to consider, including the following:

Usage/Purpose – Primary Paddling Location

One of the first things to consider is where you’re going kayaking, as this will affect the type of vessel best for you. As we’ve discussed, there are many kayak types all suited to specific uses. You wouldn’t take a recreational kayak down tough and fast rapids.

Figure out the best for the location you're going to be kayaking on, and you'll make the best choice.

Kayak Style

As well as the location, you need to think carefully about the type of kayak. Are you prone to claustrophobia? You’ll want to avoid sit inside models. Do you have a relatively small budget? You may want to consider investing in a recreational or inflatable model.

Durability, Design & Comfort

Durability is vital as this determines how long it will last and how often it may need to be repaired or even replaced. Especially when you’re starting out and aren’t looking to spend lots on a pastime that you're not sure if you're going to pursue.

The materials used are pivotal, therefore, and there are various options. Hard plastic, wood, fiberglass, inflatable plastic, carbon fiber, and Kevlar are just some of the possibilities. While hard plastic is a good option, it can be heavier than others. Whereas fiberglass is lighter, it's also more expansive.

The design of the cockpit and the rest of the kayak is also crucial as it will determine how comfortable you’ll be kayaking. There are seats, but more veteran kayakers will tell you not to settle for the stock option. For the most comfortable seat, you need to invest in a more expensive model or fit your own add-on seat.

Size/Dimensions, Speed & Weight Capacity

The length, dimensions, and weight capacity are all important considerations. Take the length, to begin with. You need to think about what is most crucial to you. If you’re interested in tracking ability and speed, then a longer kayak is best. Whereas if you’re more concerned with being able to turn it efficiently, you’ll want a shorter vessel.

The width and depth are also vital factors when it comes to steering and storage. Wider kayaks are more stable and easier to climb into and get out of. However, the width will significantly impact speed, make drag more noticeable and paddling harder. Deeper kayaks provide generous legroom and storage space.

The weight is important, both the weight of the vessel, when it comes to transportation and user weight.

Stability & Safety Features

When it comes to stability, there are two types; primary, which refers to how stable a boat is when you are engaged in activities with low-level movements or sitting still, along with getting on and off the boat. And secondary, a measure of a kayak’s stability level when engaged in higher motion activities, such as white water and speed paddling.

Storage & Portability

With storage, you need to think about what you’re going to use your kayak for and where you’re going to use it. If you’re intending on using it for fishing or touring, then you’ll need to ensure it has adequate storage space. Whereas, if you’re just using it to speed along or head down the whitewater rapids, you’ll not need quite as much storage space.

The portability is very much determined by the material used to construct the kayak and the type of kayak it’s and its size. Inflatable kayaks will always be the easiest to transport. However, if an inflatable one is not suitable for the specific use you have for your kayak, then you need to consider what the carrying handles are like and whether it's the right size to fit on the roof of your vehicle.

Ease of Setup/Inflation

Are you looking to get out on the water and enjoy some kayaking? Then you'll want a boat that requires as little setup as possible. Whereas, if you are more concerned about being safe and having suitable storage facilities and a good quality boat, there are options available for you. Inflatable kayaks are popular for their portability, but they need to be inflated before you can use them, and you may be put off by the time waiting for it to be pumped up.

Price & Warranty

The price and warranty is just an important consideration when looking for a high-quality beginner kayak. You don't want to spend too much, as you may not enjoy kayaking as much as you think you might. By the same token, though, you don't want to buy one that will need to be replaced very quickly. Try to find a model both affordable but kitted out with all you need and received lots of good reviews regarding its durability and toughness.

The warranty is also a great indicator whether you’re getting a good deal, as most companies which offer higher warranties on their products tend to have great confidence in them.


10 Best Kayaks For Beginners Reviewed

1. Perception Tribe

Best Kayak For Beginners (Top Pick)

Max Load Capacity

350lbs.

Body Type (Material)

One-piece, roto-molded polymer

Kayak Type

Sit on Top

Dimensions

11.5 feet x 30.25-Inches

Kayak Weight

52lbs.

Warranty

Yes. 5 years

The first kayak we’ve selected is the incredibly popular Tribe Sit on Top Kayak from Perception. This is the 11.5-feet model and is one of the easiest to set up, and you can have on the water within minutes. Its built-in seat can be adjusted very quickly, as can the footrest. Perception is known for their attention to detail, this is true, but they’re also known for their focus on the best materials and best manufacturing techniques.

The Tribe has the renowned one-piece roto-molded high-density polymer body you’ll find on most offerings. This may be built with slower rivers, ponds, and lakes in mind, but it's durable and maneuverable enough for paddling through light waves as well as the calmer settings.

This is perfect if you’re concerned with locking down the basic skills of kayaking as a beginner. 

Pros

  • Easy to setup and get started on
  • Very stable
  • Tracks well and cuts through waves nicely

Cons

  • Cushion for your bottom leaves a lot to be desired

2. Perception Kayak Access

Best Kayak For Beginners (Runner Up)

Max Load Capacity

250lbs.

Body Type (Material)

High-density polyethylene

Kayak Type

Sit on Top

Dimensions

9-feet x 31-Inches

Kayak Weight

42lbs.

Warranty

Yes. 5 years

Our runner up selection is another great sit on top kayak from Perception. The 9-ft long model from the Access range is another built to be as stable as they come. The great thing also about this boat is it is completely sealed. It'll take on water, sure and you'll get wet, but it won't fill up or even tip over.

Perception has spent a long time developing great vessels for the industry and know a thing or two about producing them with precise and high-level maneuverability and tracking. And that's what you get with this model. Considering its length, it tracks rather well in a straight line, something shorter kayaks often struggle with.

It also benefits from having lots of on-board storage space which is always beneficial for a beginner paddler. 

Pros

  • Tracks very well
  • Lots of onboard storage space
  • Comfortable seat

Cons

  • Unsurprisingly, not especially fast

3. Old Town Dirigo 106

Best Recreational Kayak for Beginners

Max Load Capacity

300lbs.

Body Type (Material)

High-density three-layer polyethylene

Kayak Type

Sit Inside, Recreational

Dimensions

10.6-feet x 27.75-Inches

Kayak Weight

42lbs.

Warranty

Yes. 5 years

Read any review anywhere about the Old Town Canoes and Kayaks 106 Kayak, and you'll see it's almost universally agreed upon as being the best recreational kayak for beginners on the market. The Dirigo has a huge cockpit which has plenty of legroom.

The reason for this is because beginners don't tend to enjoy learning how to paddle in a more enclosed design. What Old Town has essentially done, then, is combined the best of both worlds with an open plan feeling of a sit on top vessel with all the things people love about sit inside ones.

It’s a little smaller than many others in our guide. However, that hasn’t stopped there being enough storage onboard. One great feature is the glove box style compartment where you can put your wallet and smartphone. You also get the benefit of a bungee system for attaching additional gear, like a dry bag.

Pros

  • Fully contoured and padded seat
  • Tough and durable three-layer construction
  • Improved cockpit space

Cons

  • The glovebox feature is not suitable for larger phones

4. Dagger Zydeco 9.0

Best Whitewater Kayak for Beginners

Max Load Capacity

220lbs.

Body Type (Material)

High-density three-layer polyethylene

Kayak Type

Sit Inside, Whitewater

Dimensions

9.1-feet x 28.5-Inches

Kayak Weight

36.5lbs.

Warranty

Yes. 5 years

Although we would advise you think carefully about tackling whitewater kayaking if you’re just a beginner, the best starter model is the Zydeco 9.0. This is extremely easy to control and works just as well in slower-moving bodies of water as it does in those white-knuckle locations. As it has a much lighter design than others in our guide, it's easy to launch and carry around.

More importantly, though, because it has such a short frame, it has enhanced control and stability - two things you want when you're hurtling down those rapids. It's also highly responsive to your movements, meaning you don't need to exert yourself when taking those sharper turns. This will greatly improve your energy levels as a kayaking beginner. 

Pros

  • Easy to launch and easy to carry
  • Spacious, even for its short frame
  • Offers superior control, stability, and speed

Cons

  • Tracking could be improved

5. Perception Pescador

Best Beginner Fishing Kayak

Max Load Capacity

375lbs.

Body Type (Material)

Roto-molded polyethylene

Kayak Type

Sit on Top, Fishing

Dimensions

12.1 x 33-inches

Kayak Weight

64lbs.

Warranty

Yes. 5 years

The Perception Pescador sit on top kayak is ideal for all anglers looking to try fishing kayaking. At a length of 10-feet, the Pescador fishing kayak tracks well and is easy to maneuver. It has generous amounts of storage, ideal for fishing, with 2 compartments for dry storage, one at the back and one at the foot.

One of the great features is the Comfort Seating System that makes it comfortable to paddle. This, along with the built-in footwells and a tank well, make this a great fishing watercraft. The biggest downside, which is only a small thing really, is it’s not the best for people with larger frames.

Pros

  • Maneuvers easy and versatile
  • Very stable, suitable for fishing
  • Lots of storage space

Cons

  • Not ideal for taller people

6. Lifetime Youth Wave

Best Beginner Kayak for Kids

Max Load Capacity

130lbs.

Body Type (Material)

High-density polyethylene construction

Kayak Type

Sit on Top, Kids

Dimensions

6 x 24-inches

Kayak Weight

18lbs.

Warranty

Yes. 5 years

So far, we’ve covered the best beginner kayaks for adults. The next product we’ve selected in this list is squarely aimed at children. The Lifetime Youth Wave Kids kayak is the best beginner kayak for kids. This has a user weight capacity of 130-pounds, so is more than enough for most children. It’s also incredibly lightweight at just 18-pounds, making it ideal for transporting without any issue at all.

Despite it being designed for children, it's got some cool features like the reverse chine to increase its stability and ergonomically built cockpit for enhancing balance and motor skills and self-draining scupper holes to stop it filling up with too much water.

Like higher-quality adult models, it's made from HDPE and therefore is a robust kayak. The only drawback we could find was the size. Which means it will only last your kids for so long before they outgrow it. We’re not going to lie and say this is the best ever, but it does a solid job for your kids.

Pros

  • Light and durable
  • Low priced
  • Easy to transport and launch

Cons

  • Not adequately sized to grow with children

7. Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible

Best Inflatable Kayak for Beginners

Max Load Capacity

550lbs.

Body Type (Material)

High-density polyethylene construction

Kayak Type

Inflatable, Tandem

Dimensions

15 x 32-inches

Kayak Weight

52lbs.

Warranty

52lbs.
Yes. 5 years

Perhaps you don’t have space to transport a hard-shell kayak here and there; then you might want to invest in an inflatable kayak. Now, there are a lot of great inflatable kayaks out there, but the best inflatable kayak for beginners in our opinion is this great model from Advanced Elements. The AdvancedFrame inflatable kayak is versatile because it's not only great for flying solo along the river but great for taking a buddy or spouse along too.

Advanced Elements utilizes an open cockpit making it incredibly easy to get in and out of. This is also a very sturdy vessel, so not the mushy or flimsy kayak you may be imagining. As well as the inflatable 3-layer PVC shell on the outside, it has aluminum ribbing that keeps its shape.

Further to this, because it uses drop-stitch tech, that really reinforces it and makes it as trustworthy as a hard-shell design.

Pros

  • Sturdy and robust
  • Generous legroom
  • Easy to setup and launch

Cons

  • Hard to dry

8. Ocean Kayak Malibu

Best Tandem Kayak for Beginners

Max Load Capacity

425lbs.

Body Type (Material)

High-density polyethylene construction

Kayak Type

Sit on Top, Tandem

Dimensions

12 x 34-inches

Kayak Weight

57lbs.

Warranty

Yes. Lifetime warranty on hull

Want a nice way to enjoy some quality time on the water with someone you love? The Ocean Kayak Malibu Tandem is an ideal choice for families looking to have some fun with this great pastime. Although it's not the lightest of all kayaks, it's still very easy to maneuverer, and there is enough space for not just two grown-ups but also a child too.

Ocean Kayak claims this is the best of its kind in the area and class, and given how responsive and sturdy it is, it’s not just great for beginners but great in general.

Pros

  • Great amount of legroom
  • Versatile layout
  • Reasonable price for what you get

Cons

  • Hard to carry

9. Intex Challenger K1

Best Cheap Beginner Kayak

Max Load Capacity

200lbs.

Body Type (Material)

Vinyl

Kayak Type

Inflatable

Dimensions

9-feet x 30-inches

Kayak Weight

27.2lbs.

Warranty

Yes. Lifetime warranty on hull

This kayak from Intex Explorer we reckon might just be the best cheap beginner kayak out there. Although it's designed for only one person, there is still a lot of room to move around in it. The construction itself is made from a tough inflatable vinyl that is high quality and puncture-resistant. Thanks to the grab lines at either side, it's easy to lift and transport.

With a backrest that’s also inflatable, it’s comfortable to sit on. We think you could do a lot worse than choosing this beauty if your budget is very tight, especially as it doesn't feel like your cutting corners with it.

Pros

  • Heavy-duty puncture-resistant
  • Spacious cockpit, despite its 1-person design
  • Comfortable and supportive inflatable backrest

Cons

  • Hull gets very warm during summer sun shining days

10. SUNDOLPHIN Aruba SS

Best River Kayak for Beginners

Max Load Capacity

260lbs.

Body Type (Material)

Vinyl

Kayak Type

Inflatable

Dimensions

8-feet x 28-inches

Kayak Weight

27lbs.

Warranty

Yes.

The last of the beginner kayaks in our guide is the Sun Dolphin Aruba SS 8-foot sit-inside model. This is by far the lightest of all the non-inflatable kayaks. It’s also one of the shortest, but you get a comfortable and generously spaced cockpit, adjustable and padded seating and it provides a very stable boating experience. What we really like is the dry storage area just behind the seat, and there is a paddle and bottle holder too.

Unsurprisingly, it's easy to transport, thanks to its weight and there are 2 tough carry-handles at either side of the boat, to make it easy to carry around. You'll also find it easy to climb in and out of it.

Pros

  • Incredibly lightweight
  • One of the best for beginners
  • The dry storage unit

Cons

  • Not designed for speed

Best Places to Kayak for Beginners

If you look around your local area, there are lots of kayaking schools that are great for helping you to learn the basics and fine tune those skills towards more levels of technical ability. However, the best place to always try kayaking for the very first time is on gentle, calm, and flat waters.

Slow-moving rivers and calm lakes are perfect. Schools sometimes have swimming pools that teach the core skills involved in paddling a kayak.


Learning To Paddle with a Kayak

  • Adjust the kayak properly
    The first thing you need to do is adjust the kayak before using it. You need to make sure you're sitting with your back against the backrest, feet in the foot supports and thigh braces (if applicable), to allow you to control the kayak.
  • How to Board and Sit On the Kayak
    You need to learn how to get onto the kayak on the water. 
  • Proper Way to Hold the Paddle
    This video explains it better than we could

Beginner Kayaking Safety Tips

  • Always wear a buoyancy aid or life jacket
  • Dress appropriately for the weather and conditions
  • Heed the local rules for boating
  • Consider investing in a helmet
  • Pick out an ideal location for kayaking
  • Avoid drinking and paddling
  • Practice getting back into your kayak while in the water
  • Let someone know where you’re going
  • Always check your equipment before you head out

Kayaking Gear & Accessories

  • Buoyancy Aids/PFD – Personal flotation device, like a life jacket or something similar, that is designed to keep you afloat
  • Paddles – like an oar, this is the device that enables you to power the kayak and steer it. It’s different from an oar, as it’s supported mostly by your own hands and not the boat.
  • Paddle Float – This is used to help with reentry into your kayak when it capsizes. There are two forms, inflatable and foam versions.
  • Paddle Leash – This is used for making the paddle of a sea kayak secure on open water.
  • Sea Socks and other Kayaking gear – Sea socks are attached to the cockpit rim on the inside, and you sit in it for additional waterproofing
  • Spray decks/Spray skirts – This is a waterproof, flexible cover the boat with holes you can sit in. They stop water from getting into the boat when you're paddling.
  • Kayak Anchor – Like other anchors, this can be used to grip to the sea bottom to hold it in place.
  • Kayak Cart – This can be attached to the kayak to make it easy to transport your kayak over terrain.

Taking Care of Your Kayak


Kayaking Terminology for Beginners

  • Hatches – closed off storage space, often with a waterproof covering or lid
  • Rudders & Skegs – the blade connected to the stern to help it pivot
  • Turning Vs. Tracking – turning is self-explanatory, but tracking refers to how straight a boat travel
  • Rocker – this is the curvature measurement of the hull from the bow to the stern
  • Waterline – this plays a part in the speed a kayak can achieve
  • Edging – the skill involved with balancing and controlling the kayak, by tilting it on one side or from one side to the other
  • Chine – the design of the bottom and the sides and how they meet, giving the boat a boxy or rounded look.
  • Scupper Holes – holes in sit on top kayak bottoms to enable water to run through the kayak

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of paddle should I get for a starter kayak?

The paddle you get for your starter kayak should be chosen based on the width of the kayak and your height. 

How do I determine the best length for my first kayak?

This is a great resource for working out first kayak length - "What kayak size do i need?"

Is it easier to fish in a starter kayak?

As most starter kayaks are steadier and easier to control than others, they’re ideal for fishing.

What’s the best way to transport a kayak?

This is a helpful video that will show you how to properly transport your kayak.

Which is better: Sit-in-kayak or Sit-on-kayak? Which is more stable?

As they have a higher gravity center, and are wider than sit inside models, sit on top kayaks are thought to be more stable.

Am I required to wear a life jacket?

Although it generally depends on where you are, the rule of thumb is that you should always wear one.

What are the best beginner kayak brands?

Any of the brands responsible for the models featured in our guide would be ideal. So, Intex, Ocean Kayak, Perception, Old Town Canoes & Kayaks, Sun Dolphin, Lifetime, Advanced Elements, Dagger.

Where is the best place to buy kayaks for beginners?

Although we’d suggest you go to an actual brick and mortar store to check out kayaks in person, you’ll find better deals and easier delivery if you shop for one online, at Amazon for instance.


Conclusion

Hopefully, now you've reached the end of our guide, you've got a better idea of what beginner kayak is right for you. In our guide, we tried to cover all bases, so there's something for everyone. However, our choice of the best beginner kayak overall would be the Perception Tribe.

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