Finding your first kayak can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be. In this post, I will help you find the best kayak for beginners. There are many different types and models of kayaks to choose from, and it can be overwhelming.
In this article, I will discuss the different types of kayaks and things to consider before you make your purchase. 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.
Kayaking is an enjoyable and popular outdoor activity that many people enjoy. It’s a stress-free way to enjoy the outdoors, get some exercise, and breathe fresh air. Whether you go it alone, or with someone else, there is a great kayak waiting for you.
My wife and I go kayaking frequently and has become one of our favorite activities. With that said, let’s get to it.
- 1 Best kayaks for beginners
- 2 Intex Challenger Kayak Series K1
- 3 Sun Dolphin Aruba 10
- 4 Perception Zip 9.5
- 5 Intex Explorer K2 Kayak
- 6 Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100
- 7 Sea Eagle SE370 Pro
- 8 How to choose the best beginner kayak
- 9 Where will you be using your kayak?
- 10 How will you be using your kayak?
- 11 Best beginner kayak – what to look for
- 12 Best place to start kayaking
- 13 Other things to consider
- 14 Anything else?
- 15 Wrapping up
Best kayaks for beginners
There are a lot of choices when it comes to beginner kayaks, so let’s break it down and help you find the right one. If you are in a hurry, here’s a shortcut for you.
Intex Challenger Kayak Series K1
|Measures:||30” W x 15” H x 108” long (9 ft.)|
|Weight capacity:||220 pounds|
- Nimble, durable kayak is made of durable welded material with eye catching graphics...
- Cockpit is designed for comfort and maximized space, and inflatable I beam floors add...
- Cargo net to store extra gear, and grab line on both ends of kayak; Inflatable seat...
- Comes with 84 inch aluminum oar, repair patch and Hi output manual hand pump; Rugged...
- Measures 30 by 15 by 108 inches (W x H x D), with 27.2 pound weight and 220 pound...
This highly rated inflatable kayak is available in either solo or tandem model 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 altogether, so you can get just the right fit. There are grab lines included on both ends, and that makes 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 very easy to transport and take with you. The tandem version weighs 35 pounds and has a 400-pound weight capacity and comes with two paddles.
Easy to transport
Comes with paddles and a pump
You don’t need a rack on your car
Not a lot of storage space
Vinyl could puncture
This 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.
Sun Dolphin Aruba 10
|Measures:||29” W x 115” long (9.5 ft.)|
|Weight capacity:||250 pounds|
- Large open cockpit with adjustable padded seat with high back support
- Convenient gear storage with shock cord deck rigging
- Adjustable foot braces
- Rugged UV-stabilized Fortiflex High Density Polyethylene
- Carrying handles and water bottle holder
This is a tremendous all-around kayak for beginners or intermediate level. The Sundolphin Aruba sit-in kayak is stable and relaxing and is designed for the average paddler. The kayak includes front and rear handles and weighs in at 40 pounds, so it’s pretty easy to transport.
There is a front storage compartment with bungee cords. You can store items in the hatch and also on top of the hatch, with the bungees. Ther is a bungee cord water bottle holder on the back of the kayak. Protective thigh pads, and a large open cockpit give you room to paddle and keep you comfortable on the water.
The Aruba gives you the stability you need, which helps make this an excellent option for recreational kayakers. Adjustable foot braces are great because you can set the length that fits you. A padded seat cushion and an adjustable backrest give you comfort while you paddle.
You can grow into this kayak
Storage on front and back
Easy to carry handles
Storage hatch could be deeper
This is an agile beginner kayak that you can grow into—the integrated footrests and storage help make this a solid option if you are just getting started.
Perception Zip 9.5
|Measures:||32” W x 12.5” H x 114” long (9.5 ft.)|
|Weight capacity:||250 pounds|
- Simplicity and Stability set this sit on top kayak apart from other kayaks on the...
- Molded-in seat and footrests allow for leg adjustments and optimal comfort for a wide...
- Molded handles are perfectly placed to allow for single person carry
- Large rear open storage area with bungee cord lashes for storing and easy access to...
- Perfect for lakes, ponds, slow-moving rivers and calm coastal environments
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 small cooler or other items.
One cool thing about this kayak is the molded handles, which make 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
Doesn’t come with a seat
You will have plenty of legroom with this sit on top kayak. This is an excellent kayak for beginners that you will be able to grow into. There is a lot of 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|
- Comfortable for anyone: Kayak includes an adjustable inflatable seat with backrest;...
- Dimensions: Inflated size 10 feet 3 x 3 feet x 1 feet 8 inch; Maximum weight...
- Directional stability: Removable SKEG for directional stability
- Increased visibility: In case of emergency, bright yellow color helps visibility
- Made for smaller bodies of water: Explorer k2 is made for smaller bodies of water...
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. 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! There is plenty of room for two people and some gear.
Intex Explorer K2 comes with 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. You can put it in your trunk, and away you go. 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 definitely consider this.
A great option for tall kayakers
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, and take extra gear, or take another person. This is a great way to get started kayaking since it’s not pricey, and it 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. You certainly don’t have to be a fisherman to get the most out of this kayak, though.
One thing I love about this model is the integrated molded footrests, which give you a lot of options for your legs. You can stretch out your legs when you want to.
There is a lot of storage on this kayak with front and rear bungees and two storage hatches. The bungees are great because they help tie down your gear. 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.
Holds a lot of gear
Easy to get in and out of
The front hatch is pretty deep
Might be a little bit more than some people need
This model offers a lot of features, and that is why it’s on the list. This kayak is great for beginners because it’s stable, easy to get on and off of 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|
- 3 person/650 lb capacity, weighs 32 lbs, suitable for up to Class III whitewater
- 370 Deluxe Kayak Package features two movable, super comfortable Deluxe Kayak Seats...
- 2 AB30 7'10"" 4 Part Paddles with asymmetrical blade and aluminum shaft
- 2 skegs on the bottom for better tracking & speed
- Open and close drain valve, 5 deluxe 1-way inflation/deflation valves
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 with you, and the SE370 is stable and durable.
Inflatable kayaks are incredibly portable, and you can set this up in less than 10 minutes. This is an excellent kayak for beginners 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, grab line on both the front and back, 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
This is a lot of kayak and might be more than an individual 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
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 some 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 kind of like one big deck. You have room for things like a cooler, fishing gear, your dog, or whatever you need to bring along with you. You also have more room to move around, since you won’t be more confined like with a sit-in kayak.
A lot of sit on top kayaks have integrated footrests for different sized paddlers. Some will come with adjustable footrests. Sit on top kayaks are self-bailing, so as you take on water, scupper holes allow the water to drain out.
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, or part of it anyway, covered. 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. Mind you, you are still exposed to the elements, but a little bit of 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. It is not as easy to get in and out of a sit-in kayak, and you may find yourself taking on water, which you will need to bail that yourself. These are definitely harder to get in and out of, in case you want to go for a swim in the middle of a lake.
Is a sit on top or sit in kayak best?
Whether you choose 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 you also have more deck space to carry items that you need. It really depends on how you plan to use your kayak and what your needs are.
If you are using the kayak in a cold-weather area, you may want a sit-in variety. If you are in a warmer climate and plan to get in and out of the kayak a lot, a sit on top might work best for you.
Many different 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.
If you are just getting started, plastic kayaks are a great way to go. 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. Often times, when you are just starting out 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, and that makes it easy to get where you want to go without spending a lot of money on extra equipment, like a roof rack.
Inflatables are a great kayak for beginners because you can get started pretty inexpensively, put it in your trunk, and away you go.
You can use an inflatable kayak on lakes, rivers, 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. You will need to keep a repair kit with you in case you run over a rock or something.
Inflatable kayaks are a great way to get started kayaking. You don’t need a roof rack and are pretty affordable.
A tandem kayak is made for two people. Two people on one vessel can be a blessing or a curse depending on your outlook. My wife and I considered getting a tandem, but we each kind of like our own space when we are on the water.
Even though we stick together, it’s just kind of nice, if I want to go one way, and she wants to go another way, we can do that. We aren’t strictly tied to each other. Maybe that’s what 25 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 all on your own.
With a tandem kayak, you will have more room for your stuff also. 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 kind of 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 on the water to kind of do your own thing. My wife and I love to explore different places, even when we are 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 want some extra space, then a tandem might be right for you. If you are both fishing, then a tandem yak might be great for you.
Just keep in mind, there is no getting away from your partner when you are on a tandem kayak, no matter how fast you paddle.
Where will you be using your kayak?
This may help you decide what type of kayak you want. If you are primarily using 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, then a sit-in kayak might be your best bet. Water conditions and weather can play a significant factor in your decision.
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 right away. It can be challenging enough to keep your balance without adding a wiggly dog to the mix.
Defining how you will use your kayak, will give you some insight into which type you want to buy. 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 and that will help you determine which model will work best for you.
Best beginner kayak – what to look for
By storage, I mean, storing stuff on your kayak. I will get into storing your actual kayak in a bit. There is a limited amount of space for gear on your kayak, so you need to 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. 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 already 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 decks 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 things like a small cooler or even a dog on spacious deck areas. Shock cords, along with 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. Depending on what you will be doing, your kayak may be longer or shorter. 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 decide to purchase a hard kayak or an inflatable, check the weight capacity. Some inflatable tandem kayaks are rated for up to 400 pounds, and some hard solo kayaks will support 275 pounds. There are a variety of options when it comes to weight capacity.
Weight of kayak
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. 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.
For me, I have to hoist my kayak on top of my car onto a rack. My kayak weighs 40+ pounds, which isn’t super heavy, but again, depending on how much you can lift, this is something to keep in mind. You can always buy a cart to maneuver the yak to the water. You may still have to put in the back of a pickup or on top of a car.
Comfort is such an essential factor when you are kayaking and will make or break your experience. You want to have adequate legroom and a comfortable seat. Solid back support is also important. As a guy who has dealt with a lot of back problems, I am speaking from experience.
A sit-on-top kayak offers a lot more room in terms of leg space and with integrated footrests, you can change your posture and footing as often as you need. These are some things to think about 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. 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, more narrow kayaks will be less stable than a wide, short kayak. 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.
If you are just getting started kayaking, there is going to be a learning curve. 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. They can still be punctured by sharp rocks and things like that, 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 are learning 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, so this is one thing my wife and I struggled with for a while. We were so excited when we bought our kayaks, we didn’t think enough about storing them. We used to just 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 our 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), 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 it was easy to toss the kayaks in the back. Then we had to sell the truck.
We bought a roof rack for our car, which was an added expense. When you are just getting started, you may not have all the necessary equipment. 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. 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 things like lifejackets, permits, fishing licenses, etc. There are some lakes and rivers in our area that you have to have a permit to use.
Finding the best beginner kayak doesn’t have to be hard. Knowing what you want and the options available to you 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? Ask yourself a few simple questions and that will help you narrow down your search.
Please let me know if you have any questions, I am happy to help.