With so many different types of canoes and kayaks out there if can be tricky to know which is most suitable if you are new to the sport. The best kayaks for beginners are not usually appropriate for those wanting to get gnarly on white water or take epic trips across wide open seas. But what they do offer is a stable and safe way to enjoy spending time on lakes, calms seas and slow moving rivers.
Brush up on your knowledge so you know what to look for when shopping for beginner kayaks and check out our top picks.
- Common terms that beginner kayakers should know
- Types of kayaks for beginners
- What to look for in the best kayaks for beginners
- The best kayaks for beginners
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|Product||Type of kayak||Features||Cost|
|Sun Dolphin Aruba 10||Sit-in||Lightweight||$$|
|Perception Pescador Pro||Sit-on-top||Good storage||$$$$|
|Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Dirigo 106||Sit-in||Good for progression||$$$$$|
|Ocean Kayak Malibu Tandem||Sit-on-top 2 person||Good for families||$$$$|
|Sevylor Quikpak K1||Sit-on-top inflatable||Compact to store and transport||$|
|Wilderness Systems Pungo 120||Sit-in||Stable in rough water||$$$$$|
|Emotion Glide Beginner Kayak||Sit-in||Lightweight||$$$|
|Ocean Kayak Frenzy||Sit-on-top||Very stable||$$$|
Common terms that beginner kayakers should know
Before diving into our list of the best recreational and sea kayaks for beginners, it might be helpful to clarify some common terms that appear in kayak product descriptions and reviews that may be unfamiliar to you if you are new to kayaking:
Tracking is a term used to describe how straight a kayak glides without any steering or paddling. Kayaks that are very easy to turn often lose some tracking as a result.
Stability refers specifically to how easily a kayak flips upside down. The more stable a kayak is, the less you will have to worry about flipping it while getting in and out or while maneuvering around sharp turns.
A hatch is an enclosed storage space, usually covered with a waterproof lid.
A spray skirtis an accessory available with many sit-inside kayaks that cinches around your waist to keep water from splashing in during use. Spray skirts are especially helpful when kayaking in cold water or on fast moving rivers.
Skupper holes are holes at the bottom of sit-on-top kayaks that allow water to pass freely through the kayak.
Types of kayaks for beginners
Now that you know the basic terminology, what should you look for in a beginner kayak? First, you will need to decide if you want a sit-inside (SI) or sit-on-top (SOT) kayak. After that, narrow down your choices with a combination of the storage, size, and comfort of each individual kayak. Let’s take a look at each:
Sit-inside kayaks are what you probably think of when you picture a kayak. You will sit inside the kayak itself and brace your feet while paddling. It is easier to get up to faster speeds in an SI because you can use extra leverage that comes from leaning into the foot braces. They are also better suited for cold-water kayaking because it is easier to avoid getting wet while paddling. If you do flip a sit-inside kayak, however, you will need to get to shore to completely empty out the kayak before climbing back in and proceeding with your excursion.
A relative newcomer to the kayak market, sit-on-top kayaks are ideal for warm weather kayaking. You will definitely get wet while paddling because the water laps over the kayak by design. If you want to hop off for a swim or were to flip the kayak, however, it is very simple to climb back on even in deep water. They are very user friendly and are generally less expensive than SIs. Ocean Kayak’s Malibu Tandem or Ocean Kayak’s Frenzy are great models to try if you are looking for a SOT kayak.
For more information of the different types of kayaks and canoes, and the difference between the twoe, read our canoe vs kayak article.
What to look for in the best kayaks for beginners
Before you opt for one type of kayak above another, consider the following things:
If you will be using your kayak for all-day or multi-day trips, you will need something with built-in storage. For a quick day trip, however, you may prefer something lightweight without any extras. Perception’s Pescador Pro has three storage compartments, while Ocean Kayak’s Frenzy comes standard with front and back bungees for on-top storage.
The weight of your kayak is important, especially if you will be loading your kayak onto a vehicle by yourself. It is also a good idea to check the weight limit of any potential kayak purchase to guarantee that it can support you plus the weight of your gear. The lightest kayak on our list is the inflatable Quikpak K1 by Sevylor followed by the more traditional (but still very light) Emotion Glide Beginner Kayak.
While it can be difficult to determine how comfortable a kayak will be without trying it out in the water, there are some measurements to check to increase your chances of finding the best kayak for you. First, if you have very long or short legs, look for a model with an adjustable seat or foot braces like Sun Dolphin’s Aruba 10. The width of the seat is another factor, especially if you need a particularly wide seat.
The best kayaks for beginners
Now that you know what to look for in a starter kayak, here are our top picks for beginner kayaks, including descriptions of the features you might use to determine which model is best for you.
The common sentiment among owners of Sun Dolphin’s Aruba 10 is that it’s the perfect kayak for beginners. There are few kayaks more accessible to beginners because the Aruba 10 comes at an incredibly low price and can be found online and in stores easily. It is lightweight — which is a great benefit when loading and unloading — and easy to maneuver. Although it does not include many accessories or extra features, the padded seat and foot braces are both adjustable so you can find the best fit.
- 7 color options
- Manoeuvrable and lightweight
- No accessories
- Not as durable as higher end kayaks
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Perception’s Pescador Pro comes with three separate storage options, including a lidded, waterproof storage container behind the seat. If ample secure storage is top priority for you, the Pescador Pro is a great option. A molded cup holder and paddle park are extra features that make your trip more convenient without adding much weight or bulk. In addition to superior storage, the Pescador Pro is incredibly stable in the water, tracks (turns) easily, and comes with an incredibly comfortable stadium-style seat.
- Ample storage
- Removable seat
- Tracks smoothly
Although this list is focused on the best kayaks for beginners, there is no reason you cannot purchase a kayak that is both suited for a new kayaker that will also last for years. The Dirigo 106 from Old Town Canoes and Kayaks is extremely durable and lightweight. It includes thoughtful features like a paddle keeper for a hands-free option, two waterproof hatches, thigh pads for additional comfort on long trips, and optional rod holders for easy fishing.
- Best beginner kayak for fishing
- Very durable
- Suitable for more experienced kayakers as well
Ocean Kayak’s Malibu Tandem is a compact tandem kayak, finding a balance between being comfortable for two and small enough for just a single paddler — making it a perfect multipurpose kayak and well-suited for whole family adventures. It is not the lightest kayak on our list, but it is very maneuverable for its size once you get it in the water. As a sit-on-top kayak, it offers less protection from splashes and sprays than some kayaks, but it will be easier to get in and out of the kayak in the water if you want to hop out for a swim.
- Compact design
- Fits two adults and a child comfortably
- Not ideal for cold-water kayaking without extra gear
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If you want to try kayaking without committing to the price or storage requirement of a traditional kayak, coxxnsider the Quikpak K1 by Sevylor. Because the kayak is made up of five inflatable sections and folds down to a backpack carrier, it is both easy to store and transport. With the lowest price of any kayak on our list — by over half! — it makes a great model for occasional kayakers or anyone needing a backup kayak for guests. Wind and waves are more of an issue with this kayak because it is so lightweight, but the material is fairly durable for its weight.
- Quick set up
- Compact storage design
- Easier to blow off course
- Best in slow, calm water
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The highest quality kayak on our list, and the most expensive, is the Pungo 120 Kayak from Wilderness Systems. It is easy enough for a beginner to use but also sleek enough for more experienced kayakers to enjoy. The Pungo 120 stays straight and stable even in rough water and is easy to load and carry. Ventilation and drainage holes in the seat make it breathable even on long trips. This is a kayak you will use for years thanks to premium construction and a design that is truly meant to last.
- One of the best on the market
- Stable in rough water
- Durable construction
- Perfect for intermediate kayakers as well
- No drain plug
Emotion Kayak’s Glide Kayak is a popular choice among beginner kayakers because it is light enough for most users to carry solo at only 37 pounds. Although it is a fairly basic kayak with no designated storage compartment and a small design, there are a few thoughtful accessories: a cushioned seat, a hands-free paddle keeper, and adjustable foot braces. The Emotion Glide’s main selling point, however, is its compact size, which makes the kayak lightweight, fast, and easy to maneuver.
- Adjustable foot braces and cushioned seat
- Easy to steer
- No designated storage
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All of the kayaks on our list are stable enough for beginners, but Ocean Kayak’s Frenzy is our favorite sit-on-top kayak if stability is your top concern. The design of the kayak makes it difficult to flip, even for new kayakers. This relatively basic kayak lacks some common accessories like waterproof storage or adjustable foot holds. Instead of a storage hatch, it comes with front and back bungees for tying gear down on top. While the kayak itself is wide, some kayakers find the seat too narrow for long trips. This is one of our top picks for groups because multiple kayaks stack so easily on top of one another.
- Very stable
- Stacks easily with additional kayaks
- No waterproof storage compartment
- Narrow seat
While there is no substitute for getting in the water and trying a kayak for yourself, you are sure to find a great beginner kayak on our list of the best recreational kayaks for beginners.