Finding your first kayak can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be. In this post, I will help you find the best kayak for beginners. There are many types and models of kayaks to choose from, which can be overwhelming.
My goal is to help you make an informed decision, so you can spend less time stressing about buying a kayak and spending more time on the water. I am an avid kayaker. It’s one of my favorite things to do.
We used criteria like price, stability, ease of setup (inflatables), and portability when choosing kayaks that are good for beginners.
Whether you go it alone or with someone else, a great kayak is waiting for you. So with that said, let’s get to it.
If you are in a hurry, here’s a shortcut for you.
Best kayaks for beginners
There are a lot of choices when it comes to choosing the best beginner kayak, so let’s break it down and help you find the right one.
Intex Challenger Kayak Series K1
|Measures:||30″ W x 15″ H x 108″ long (9 ft.)|
|Weight capacity:||220 pounds|
- ✔ SUPER-STRONG – SuperStrong enhanced molecular formulation PVC provides superior...
- ✔ LOW PROFILE DESIGN – The Challenger K1 has a streamlined low-profile design...
- ✔ COCKPIT SEATS – Built with removable and adjustable seats, the cockpit design...
- ✔ REMOVABLE SKEG – Attached to the underside of the kayak, the removable skeg...
- ✔ 1-PERSON CAPACITY – Inflated size is 9 feet x 2.6 feet x 1.1 feet with a weight...
This highly rated inflatable kayak is available in either solo or tandem models and is made of heavy-duty puncture-resistant vinyl. There are two separate air chambers and an inflatable I-beam for added stability.
The closed deck with included cargo net makes it easy to tie down and access your gear. The seat is adjustable or removable so you can get the right fit. Grab lines are included on both ends, making it easy to pull your kayak to shore or tie it up when you are not using it.
The Intex Challenger series includes one paddle, a hi-output pump, and a carry bag. At 27 pounds, this kayak is easy to transport and take with you. The tandem version weighs 35 pounds, has a 400-pound weight capacity, and comes with two paddles.
Easy to transport
It comes with paddles and a pump
You don’t need a rack on your car
Not a lot of storage space
Vinyl could puncture
The Intex Challenger K1 is a great entry-level inflatable kayak for beginners. The price point won’t break the bank, and you can have a lot of fun on the water.
Intex Excursion Pro Kayak
|Measures:||3’1″ W x 12’7″ long|
|Weight capacity:||400 pounds|
- HIGH QUALITY: The Intex Excursion Pro Kayak is high quality and doesn't lose color or...
- DESIGN: This product has a built-in footrest and adjustable seats for your comfort;...
- EASY TRANSPORT: Lightweight and is equipped with carrying handles on the front and...
- INCLUDES: The Intex Inflatable Kayak includes 85.83-inch aluminum long oars and high...
- CERTIFICATIONS: Comes with U.S. Coast Guard I.D. and TUV certifications
The Intex Excursion Pro is a tremendous all-around beginner kayak. It’s stable, relaxing, and designed for a beginning paddler.
The kayak includes front and rear handles and weighs in at 40 pounds, so it’s pretty easy to transport.
The Excursion Pro has some cool features you don’t often see in an inflatable kayak. Features like built-in fishing rod holders, an adjustable footrest, and an adjustable mounting bracket make this kayak a terrific value.
The mounting bracket is for accessories, like a GPS, fishfinder, or other gear you want to take with you. With a 400-pound weight capacity, this kayak is very robust.
The Intex Excursion Pro gives you the stability you need, which helps make this an excellent option for beginning kayakers.
The adjustable seatbacks are an excellent addition, but overall the seats are not the best but they are serviceable. I own a variation of this model, and I usually deflate the seat bottom, which allows more upper back support.
There are no built-in storage areas, like hatches or bungee storage, but there is room under the bow and stern for dry bags, a cooler, or other gear. In addition, there is enough legroom for two paddlers in this inflatable.
The kayak has two removable skegs, which help the kayak track (go straight).
The kayak has everything you need to hit the water, two paddles, a hi-output hand pump, a carry bag, footrests, and two removable skegs.
Adjustable mounting bracket
Roomy for two paddlers
Easy to carry handles
No built-in storage areas
The Excursion Pro is an excellent beginner kayak with features of a high-end inflatable. The adjustable footrest and mounting bracket set this inflatable apart and make it a great kayak for beginners.
Perception Zip 9.5
|Measures:||32″ W x 12.5″ H x 114″ long (9.5 ft.)|
|Weight capacity:||250 pounds|
- Made in the USA, the Perception Zip 9.5 is a uniquely simple and stable "sit on top...
- Enhance your paddling experience with the built-in center cup holder, designed to...
- Self-draining scupper holes ensure a dry ride while keeping you high on the water....
- Stay organized with the Perception Zip 9.5's large rear open storage area, equipped...
- Combining convenience with functionality, this kayak is easy to transport and store,...
This sit-on-top kayak has a lot of features for a great price. The kayak is streamlined and stable. The integrated footrest will fit a lot of different paddlers without having to set them manually. Sit-on-top kayaks allow you to stretch out when you need to.
There is a large open storage area on the back of the vessel, equipped with bungees to tie down your gear. The front storage area is spacious and great for a cooler or other items.
One cool thing about this kayak is its molded handles, making it easy to carry and transport. You will also like the multiuse deck loops, which can be used to secure your equipment.
The only negative is that it doesn’t come with a seat cushion. But on the positive side, you can choose the seat cushion you want.
Well-balanced and agile
Ample storage areas
It doesn’t come with a seat
You will have plenty of legroom with this sit-on-top kayak. The Perception Zip is an excellent kayak for beginners that you will be able to grow into. There is much room for storing gear, and the cockpit is spacious. You can really stretch your legs out on this yak!
Intex Explorer K2 Kayak
|Measures:||36″ W x 20″ H x 23″ long (10’3″)|
|Weight capacity:||400 pounds|
- ✔ EASY TRANSPORT – Lightweight and compact, this kayak is easy to assemble and,...
- ✔ READY FOR ADVENTURE – Explorer K2 Kayak is great for experiencing lakes and...
- ✔ STABILITY – Made with rugged vinyl construction and built for performance, this...
- ✔ 2-PERSON CAPACITY – The Explorer K2 is a two person capacity kayak with a 400...
- ✔ ADVENTURE ACCESSORIES – Includes two 86 inch aluminum oars, two inflatable...
If you are looking for an inflatable two-person beginner kayak, take a look at this one. There is ample space and supports up to 400 pounds. In addition, this kayak is comfortable, with adjustable, inflatable seats and backrests.
The kayak has three separate air chambers and an inflatable I-beam for added support and stability.
The large valves make for easy inflation, and there is plenty of room for two people and some gear.
Intex Explorer K2 has two paddles, a pump, and a carry bag. The best thing about this unit is that you don’t need a cargo rack to transport the kayak. Instead, you can put it in your trunk, and away you go. In addition, there are handles on the front and back of the unit, so it’s very portable.
Inflatable kayaks are great for calmer water, like lakes and mild rivers. With a price point that won’t break the bank, you should consider this.
An excellent option for tall kayakers
It tracks well with the skeg
Great weight capacity
The inflatable seat is low
Oars are short for some users
The Intex Explorer K2 is a great beginner kayak that is stable and roomy. You can paddle solo, take extra gear, or take another person. This is a great way to get started kayaking since it’s not pricey and fits in your car.
Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100
|Measures:||10 feet long x 31 inches wide|
|Weight capacity:||275 pounds|
- Constructed of UV-Protected High-Density Polyethylene. Stable Flat Bottom. Deep Hull...
- Multiple Footrest Positions for Different Size Riders. Adjustable Padded Seat Back...
- Two Flush Mounted Fishing Rod Holders. One Top Mount Fishing Rod Holder
- Two 6" Storage Compartments in Rear and Center. One Paddle Keeper with Shock Cords....
- Durable High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) Construction. 5-Year Limited Warranty
Another highly-rated kayak on this list is the Tamarack Angler 100 from Lifetime.
This is a sit-on-top kayak designed with fishing in mind. However, you don’t have to be a fisherman to get the most out of this kayak.
I love this model’s integrated molded footrests, so you can stretch out your legs when you want to.
This kayak has a lot of storage with front and rear bungees and two storage hatches. The bungees are great because they help tie down your gear. In addition, a tracking skeg for straight paddling and a flat bottom hull provides excellent stability for your journey.
A top-mount fishing rod holder and two flush-mounted holders are great if you want to drop a line or three in the water. The padded seat finishes off this well-featured kayak. Don’t forget about the included paddle and four carry handles.
It holds a lot of gear
Easy to get in and out of
The front hatch is pretty deep
It might be a little bit more than some people need
This model has many features, which is why it’s on the list. This kayak is great for beginners because it’s stable, easy to get on and off, and has a lot of storage. You can also grow into this as you get more experience.
Sea Eagle SE370 Pro
|Measures:||12 feet long x 30 inches wide|
|Weight capacity:||650 pounds|
- Professional 3-person outdoor kayak is ideal for Class III whitewater and is easy to...
- Built with durable materials with an I-beam floor to increase rigidity that...
- Inflatable seats provide superior back support and allow you to sit 5 inches off the...
- Inflate or deflate the kayak with ease with the open and close drain valves and has a...
- Includes (2) 4-part paddles with asymmetrical blades with an aluminum shaft, 2 skegs...
This robust kayak will hold up to three people or a lot of extra gear. With a 650-pound weight capacity, you can take a lot of stuff, and the SE370 is stable and durable.
Inflatable kayaks are incredibly portable; you can set this up in less than 10 minutes. This is one of the best beginner kayaks since it is lightweight and easy to handle. One key feature of this kayak is the hull is tough enough to withstand dog claws.
There is enough room for camping and other supplies, and it can also be used for fishing. It’s a great kayak for beginners because it’s easy to handle, and you can take a lot of extra gear.
Other great features include a pressure gauge and repair kit, a grab line on both the front and back and an I-beam floor for stability and support.
Easy to transport without a car rack
Easy to store
Lots of room for your gear
Not as fast as other kayaks
Backpack style straps for carrying would be nice
The Sea Eagle 370 is a big kayak and might be more than one person needs. If you are looking for a larger kayak for up to three people or maybe a dog, this is worth a look. This is a great beginner kayak because it’s easy to use and can hold a lot of stuff.
How to Choose the Best Beginner Kayak
Honestly, there isn’t really a “beginner” kayak by definition. So in this guide, we chose stable, affordable kayaks and in the case of inflatables, easy to set up.
You might be looking for a kayak to paddle around local waterways on the weekends with your kids, or some folks want to buy a kayak they can grow into.
Either way, there are different types of kayaks to choose from. You should find the style that works best for you. Here are some examples of different types of kayaks.
Sit On Top Kayak
Sit-on-top kayaks are easy to use and offer advantages over a kayak you sit in. The seat is on top of the kayak, thus the name. Sit-on-top kayaks are easy to get in and out of. You can even get off of the kayak, go for a swim, and get back on.
There is also a lot more space since it’s like one big deck. So you have room for a cooler, fishing gear, your dog, or whatever you need to bring. You also have more room to move around since you won’t be more confined like a sit-in kayak.
A lot of sit-on-top kayaks have integrated footrests for different sizes of paddlers. Some will come with adjustable footrests. Sit-on-top kayaks are self-bailing, so scupper holes allow the water to drain out as you take on water.
The biggest drawback to a sit-on-top kayak is that you are more exposed to the elements. You are exposed to water, sun, wind, etc. since you are not covered up.
The weather can play a factor, so if you need or want to be partially covered, that is something to keep in mind with a sit-on-top kayak.
Sit In Kayak
A sit-in kayak keeps your lower body covered, or part of it anyway. This can be a great advantage over a sit-on-top kayak if the weather is not cooperating.
Maybe it’s windy or cold. You can stay dryer and warmer inside the cockpit of a sit-in kayak.
You are still exposed to the elements, but a little coverage can go a long way to making your trip more enjoyable.
Sit-in kayaks can also give you more control over the kayak with your butt, legs, and feet in contact with the kayak.
However, getting in and out of a sit-in kayak is not as easy, and you may find yourself taking on water, which you will need to bail out.
Is a Sit-On-Top or Sit-in Kayak Best?
Choosing a sit-in kayak or a sit-on-top kayak will depend on many factors. You can see from what we discussed the pros and cons of each. While a sit-on-top kayak is easier to get in and out of, you may want a cockpit if the weather is an issue.
With a sit-on-top kayak, you are more exposed to the elements but have more deck space to carry the items you need. It depends on how you plan to use your kayak and your needs.
You may want a sit-in variety if you use the kayak in a cold-weather area. However, a sit-on-top might work best in a warmer climate, and you plan to get in and out of the kayak.
Many materials are used to make hard-shell kayaks, including plastic, fiberglass, and wood. Plastic-type kayaks are great for beginners because they are the most affordable, durable, and strong.
Plastic kayaks are a great way to start if you are a newbie. Serious kayakers need more lightweight materials that cost a lot more money. Unless you need crazy high-performance, a plastic kayak will work great.
Inflatable kayaks are great for beginners because they are inexpensive and easy to transport. When just starting with an activity such as kayaking, you may not have all the necessary gear, like a rack to transport a kayak.
You can haul an inflatable kayak in your trunk, making it easy to get where you want to go without spending a lot of money on extra equipment, like a roof rack.
Inflatables are great beginner kayaks because you can get started inexpensively, put them in your trunk, and away you go.
You can use an inflatable kayak on lakes, rivers, and even the ocean because they are very versatile.
Of course, the downside to an inflatable is that you have to pump it up, which does take some time and energy. Also, you run the risk of holes, so keep that in mind. Finally, you must keep a repair kit with you if you run over a rock or something.
A tandem kayak is made for two people. Depending on your outlook, two people on one vessel can be a blessing or a curse. My wife and I considered getting a tandem, but we each like our own space when we are on the water.
Even though we stick together, it’s just nice. If I want to go one way, and she wants to go another, we can do that. We aren’t strictly tied to each other. Maybe that’s what many years of marriage does, LOL!
Anyway, tandem kayaks are available in hard shells and inflatable. If tandem is your cup of tea, then go for it. Paddling in tandem shares the burden and is much easier than doing it alone.
You will also have more room for your stuff with a tandem kayak. Or if you like to take your dog with you, there is room for him or her too.
Is a tandem or solo kayak best?
Well, I touched on this already, but here is a recap. With a tandem, you can buy one kayak and share it. This eliminates the need to buy two kayaks and transport them.
A solo kayak gives you more freedom to do your own thing. My wife and I love exploring different places, even when together. She can do her thing while I am off fishing on my kayak. Solo’s work well for us.
If you want to share paddling duties and are keen on extra space, then a tandem might be right for you. If you are both fishing, then a tandem yak might be great.
Remember, there is no getting away from your partner when you are on a tandem kayak, no matter how fast you paddle.
Best Beginner Kayak – What to Look For
There is limited space for gear on your kayak, so you must plan accordingly. Look for things like a storage hatch where you can keep some of your gear while you are on the water.
These hatches can keep things dry, but I warn you that you may want to take extra precautions. My experience has been that even “dry” hatches can be prone to leaking.
Another thing to look for is shock cords, also known as bungees. Bungees are great for keeping your gear contained while you are on the water.
You are not limited by a defined space with bungees like with a small hatch. Pile up your equipment, and the shock cords will keep it tied down.
An under-deck water bottle holder is also a nice added feature if you can find it.
I mentioned a storage hatch, but you can also look for deck gear pockets to keep your items tucked away. Integrated pockets or pouches keep your stuff within easy reach.
Kayak bulkheads can serve as dry storage, and you can find these on the bow and/or stern on some models. Bulkheads also help with buoyancy.
Open Deck Areas
I mentioned the shock cords a bit ago, and you will often find these on open areas of a kayak. On some kayaks, you can put a cooler or your dog if the deck is large enough. Shock cords and open deck areas will help you securely strap down your gear.
Most run-of-the-mill recreational kayaks are around 10 feet long. Tandem kayaks are longer because there are built for two people. Touring kayaks and sea kayaks are even longer. Some fishing kayaks will be more than 10 feet long as well.
A standard beginner kayak will be about 10 feet long. Your kayak may be longer or shorter depending on what you will be doing. With a longer kayak, you will sacrifice turning ability for speed. Also, consider transporting and storing your kayak when considering the length.
Make sure the boat is rated to support you and your gear. Whether you purchase a hard kayak or an inflatable, check the weight capacity.
Some inflatable tandem kayaks are rated for up to 750 pounds, and some hard solo kayaks will support 275 pounds. So there are a variety of options when it comes to weight capacity.
Kayaks can be a bit of a challenge to handle for a single person. Although they are not extremely heavy, kayaks are an odd shape and can be cumbersome.
In addition, if you are going solo, you will need to be able to carry the kayak from your vehicle to the water. Sometimes that is a long way. Sometimes it’s short.
You can always buy a cart to maneuver the yak to the water. However, you may still have to put it in the back of a pickup or on top of a car.
Comfort is essential for kayaking and will make or break your experience. You want to have adequate legroom and a comfortable seat. Solid back support is also essential. As a guy who has dealt with many back problems, I speak from experience.
A sit-on-top kayak offers a lot more legroom, and with integrated footrests, you can change your posture and footing as often as you need. These are some things to consider when looking for the best kayak for beginners.
The goal is to stay upright when you are kayaking. When you are just getting started, stability is an important factor. Most recreational kayaks for beginners are pretty stable.
However, I have learned the hard way it is possible to flip a kayak, so keep that in mind. You will quickly learn how the slightest movements will rock your boat.
Longer, narrower kayaks will be less stable than a wide, short kayaks. The shape of the hull will play a factor in the stability of a kayak as well. Different hull shapes can influence speed and maneuverability.
A flat hull will be the most stable.
There will be a learning curve if you are just getting started kayaking. You will probably run into rocks, stumps, or other objects while you are getting used to maneuvering. Make sure you buy a kayak that can take a beating.
This also brings up the debate between a hard kayak and an inflatable. Hard kayaks can take a beating to a certain point. However, they can still be punctured by sharp rocks and things, though not as easy as an inflatable.
Depending on how and where you will be using your kayak, think about durability. A hard plastic kayak can last for years. An inflatable kayak can last a long time, but you want to make sure you have a repair kit.
Best Place to Start Kayaking
When you learn how to use a kayak, it’s best to start on calm water. First, you will have to get the feel of how to get in and out of your kayak, and calm water makes this easier. You will probably be wobbly when you get started, too, so calm water is ideal.
The worst thing you can do is start your first kayak trip trying to load up when the water is choppy, or there are lots of waves. You want to get the basics down first, loading and balancing yourself, so calm water is best.
Other Things to Consider
How to Store Your Kayak
Okay, this is one thing my wife and I struggled with for a while. We were so excited when we bought our kayaks that we didn’t think enough about storing them.
We used to keep our yaks on the back patio, but then they were in the way. Keeping them outside exposed to the heat and sun is not a great idea as the materials can break down and weaken over time.
We decided to hang them from the garage ceiling. We tried a couple of different options before we finally figured it out.
The moral of the story is that you need to have a place to store your kayak. We live in a hot weather climate, so keeping your kayaks in the garage, or a shed, out of the searing sun is best.
If you live in a more moderate climate, you might be able to get away, storing your kayak outside. I would recommend covering it with something, though. You are spending a decent amount of money, so protect your investment.
This is one great advantage of inflatable kayaks vs. hard kayaks (read more). In addition, they are much easier to store.
How to Transport Your Kayak
Transporting a kayak is something to keep in mind. If you don’t have a pickup or a vehicle that can easily carry a kayak, you will need to invest in a roof rack or something similar. We used to own a pickup, and tossing the kayaks in the back was easy. Then we had to sell the truck.
We bought a roof rack for our car, which was an added expense. You may not have all the necessary equipment when you are just getting started. This is an advantage of an inflatable kayak, you can throw it in your trunk, and away you go.
You will figure it out as you go as far as what gear you need, etc. Unfortunately, it’s tough to tell you every little thing you might want or need when it comes to accessories.
You will want to check with your local jurisdictions and learn about lifejackets, permits, fishing licenses, etc. There are some lakes and rivers in our area that you have to have a permit to use.
Where Will You Be Using Your Kayak?
This may help you decide what type of kayak you want. For example, if you primarily use your kayak on calm or sheltered waters, you might want a sit-on-top kayak where you won’t need a cockpit to help protect you.
Going to the lake, or want to swim? A sit-on-top kayak is easier to get back on if you take a dip. If the weather is cold or you need protection from the elements, a sit-in kayak might be your best bet.
How Will You Be Using Your Kayak?
Do you need space for a dog or another person? Need extra space for gear? A sit-on-top kayak is a great option for these types of situations. Or, if you plan on fishing, this is another great application for a sit-on-top kayak.
If you are a beginner, I don’t recommend taking your dog out immediately. Keeping your balance can be challenging enough without adding a wiggly dog to the mix.
Defining how you will use your kayak will give you insight into the type you want to buy. For example, if you plan on fishing a lot, you will need a place to store your gear. If you want to go for a swim and be able to board your kayak afterward, a sit-on-top kayak is good for this.
Think about how you will use your kayak, which will help you determine which model will work best for you.
What Kind of Kayak Should a Beginner Buy?
A beginner should buy the best kayak they can buy with the money they have to spend. Inflatable kayaks are great because they are very stable and often come with everything you need (paddles, pump, etc.) to hit the water immediately.
Look for a kayak that is stable and tracks well. A flat-bottom kayak will be the most stable.
What Size Kayak Is Good for Beginners?
There are a lot of factors in choosing the right size kayak, including how tall the paddler is. A 10-foot kayak is a good size for an average size person up to about 6 feet tall. Bigger folks will need a bigger kayak.
How Much Should I Spend on My First Kayak?
Buy the best kayak you can for your budget. You can spend less than $100 on some entry-level inflatable kayaks, or you can spend $ 1,000’s dollars. I recommend buying the best kayak that fits your budget. You might be able to afford a higher-end kayak, so you won’t have to upgrade so soon.
If you are just starting and unsure if kayaking is for you, then spend what works for your budget. You might consider renting or borrowing a kayak for the first few times.
Is a Sit-on or Sit-in Kayak Better for Beginners?
Sit-on-top kayaks are stable and great kayaks for beginners. They are easier to get back on if you fall overboard. Sit-on-top kayaks are also great for summer fun. You can take a quick dip and get back on your kayak easily.
Sit inside kayaks are good if the weather is an issue since you are partially protected in the cockpit and can add a spray skirt if necessary.
Finding the best beginner kayak doesn’t have to be hard. Knowing what you want and the options available will help you make your final decision.
Think about whether you want a hard kayak or an inflatable. Do you want a single or tandem kayak? Then, ask yourself a few simple questions to help narrow your search.
Please let me know if you have any questions. I am happy to help.
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.