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
- Best tandem kayaks
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|Product||Type of kayak||Features||Cost|
|Islander Kayaks Fiesta Recycled Kayak||Sit-in||Made from recycled plastic||$$|
|Sun Dolphin Aruba 10||Sit-in||Lightweight||$$|
|Oru Kayak Beach LT||Sit-in||Folds up, easy to transport and store||$$$$$$|
|Perception Pescador Pro||Sit-on-top||Good storage||$$$$|
|Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Dirigo 106||Sit-in||Good for progression||$$$$$|
|Ocean Kayak Malibu||Sit-on-top||Very stable||$$$|
|Sevylor Quikpak K1||Sit-on-top inflatable||Compact to store and transport||$|
|Wilderness Systems Pungo 120||Sit-in||Stable in rough water||$$$$$|
|Ocean Kayak Malibu Tandem||Sit-on-top 2 person||Tandem||$$$$|
|Old Town Dirigo 155 Tandem Kayak||Sit-in||Tandem||$$$$$$$|
Common terms that beginner kayakers should know
Before diving into our list of the best recreational 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 skirt (or spray deck)is an accessory available with many sit-inside kayaks. It cinches around your waist, covers the cockpit of the kayak and seals around the edge of the cockpit to keep water from splashing in during use. Spray skirts are especially helpful when kayaking in cold water or on fast moving rivers. Most beginner kayakers won’t need to consider using a spray skirt until they are more experienced.
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 on foot rests and knees on the sides of the kayak 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. More experience kayakers use a spray deck to prevent water from getting into the kayak at all. If you capsize wearing a spray skirt you’ll need to be able to right the kayak (eskimo roll) without pulling the spray skirt off.
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 and up through the skupper holes 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 and single kayaks 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 two, 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 only basic storage options.
The main storage options on beginner kayaks are:
- Water-tight hatches that are built into the boat. They usually have screw-on lids and will help to keep your gear safely in place and relatively dry. You’ll still need to store gear in dry bags though.
- Bungees that are attached to the top of your kayak. These are elasticated and provide an convenient way to store and secure gear to your kayak. On sit-on kayaks, the bungees usually lash over an indented space to allow you to store more. Sit-in kayaks have bungees lashed on top of the hull. In both scenarios, you’ll need to store your gear in waterproof dry bags.
Size and weight
The weight of your kayak is important, especially if you will be loading your kayak onto a vehicle by yourself. You will also need to consider its size. Do you have somewhere appropriate to store it at home? Is your vehicle big enough to transport it? The lightest kayak on our list is the inflatable Quikpak K1 by Sevylor. The Oru Kayak is also very lightweight and incredibly easy to transport and store (it folds up!). However, if you are looking for a more traditional style kayak then Emotion Glide Beginner Kayak is a good option.
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. Some people like to paddle with their dog! A sit-on kayak is the best option for this, but your K9 companion will also add weight to the kayak. Be sure to consider this.
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.
Single of tandem kayak?
This is an really important factor to consider when choosing a beginner kayak. It also links in with your storage and transportation options.
- Tandem kayaks are ideal if you plan on mostly paddling with another person. You can share the load when it comes to carrying and transportation, but you can also put in double the paddle power. This means that you can go further, faster. Tandem kayaks are also excellent if you have young children. You can do most of the paddling at the back whilst they navigate at the front and put some strokes in every now and then! Tandem kayaks are also heavy and big. So, if you know you want a tandem but will struggle to store and transport them, then you may want to consider a tandem inflatable kayak.
- Single kayaks are best if you are likely to be joining other people (groups or friends) on paddling trips. They are more lightweight and smaller than tandem kayaks, making them easier to store and transport. Single kayaks are also good if you like a little bit of independence when exploring the waterways! If you’re likely to be transporting multiple single kayaks on one vehicle, then you will need to consider the size of your vehicle or opt for stackable sit-on kayaks.
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.
Weight: 42lbs / 19kg
Weight capacity: 286lbs / 130kg
Made entirely from recycled plastic and assembled in the Somerset, UK, theFiesta Recycled is an eco-friendly sit-in kayak for first-time paddlers. Its wide hull provides plenty of stability while a v-shaped bow helps with tracking. Even with the shaped hull, however, this kayak is best suited to paddling on sheltered waters. The mounded seat with an adjustable backrest and adjustable foot brace provide enough comfort for a more than a few hours on the water. Plus, a large cockpit and generous weight capacity make the Fiesta Recycled a good choice for larger paddlers.
- Very stable
- Comfortable cockpit
- Portable weight
- Not the best tracking
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Weight: 40lbs / 18kg
Weight capacity: 250lbs / 113kg
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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Weight: 26lbs / 11.8kg
Weight capacity: 300lbs / 136kg
Though the most expensive single kayak on our list, the Oru Kayak Beach LT is by far the most portable. And weighing in at an incredible 26lbs / 11.8kg, it is also the most lightweight kayak for beginners, probably in existence! This genius little fold up kayak can be set up in under 5 minutes and packed away even more quickly. Once folded, it can be carried in a backpack (bought separately), transported in the trunk of a small car, and doesn’t need special storage space at home, making it an ideal option for solo paddlers. It also happens to paddle very nicely on calm lakes, gentle rivers and estuaries, and sheltered bays. Plus, it’s a sure-fire way to make new friends — everyone who sees this thing just wants to know more about it!
For more information read our full review of the Oru Kayak Beach LT.
- Mega lightweight
- Folds up!
- Easy to paddle
- Goes fast in gentle conditions
- Very stable
- Highly portable — easy to carry and transport on your own
- Not great in very windy or choppy conditions
Weight: 64lbs / 29kg
Weight capacity: 375lbs / 170kg
- Ample storage
- Removable seat
- Tracks smoothly
Weight: 50lbs / 23kg
Weight capacity: 350lbs / 159kg
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
Weight: 50lbs / 23kg
Weight capacity: 325lbs / 147kg
All of the kayaks on our list are stable enough for beginners, but Ocean Kayak’s Malibu is our favourite sit-on-top kayak if stability is your top concern. Like the two person version, the design of this kayak makes it difficult to flip, even for new kayakers. It may be an ideal beginner kayak when it comes to paddling, it also includes a few appealing extras to make your first strokes on the water comfortable and convenient. Like the splash-resistant QuickStash dry hatch to store essentials and keep them close at hand. There’s also 3 molded-in cup holders, molded-in paddle rests and bungee storage both at the front and rear of the kayak. but it does lack adjustable foot holds. 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
- Lots of storage features
- Not the best for covering longer distances
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Weight: 18lbs / 8.1kg
Weight capacity: 400lbs / 181kg
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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Weight: 49lbs / 22kg
Weight capacity: 325lbs / 148kg
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
Best tandem kayaks
Weight: 68lbs / 31kg
Weight capacity: 500lbs / 227kg
- Compact design
- Fits two adults and a child comfortably
- Not ideal for cold-water kayaking without extra gear
Weight: 72lbs / 33kg
Weight capacity: 475lbs / 215kg
At over 15ft long, the Old Town Dirigo 155 Tandem Kayak is the biggest kayak on our list. Despite this, it provides unrivalled versatility for families wanting to enjoy time together on the water. This tandem sit-in kayak is designed for two people, but can also be easily paddled solo, thanks to the adjustable stern seat that moves forward for lone paddling. Additionally, the spacious kayak can accommodate a child (as well as two adults). It comes with a removable, snap-in child seat for kiddies of up to 60lbs to sit in the stern cockpit.
It features several storage options including a stern hatch, a small watertight hatch at the bow, cup holders, paddle holders and bungee storage at the bow and stern. It also has adjustable foot braces and provides good stability for beginners and improvers, alike.
- Versatile for families
- Fast – good for distances
- Good storage options
- Good for improvers as well as beginners
- Not as stable as a sit-on tandem kayak
- Heavy and big
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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.