On the surface, all kayaks look pretty much the same, at least to a beginner. The reality is that there are hundreds if not thousands of different kayaks to choose from, and each one is designed with a specific user in mind. That means, if you are new to kayaking, you should not buy the first boat you see but should instead look around and seek out the best one for your needs.
But where do you start when you can’t tell a sea kayak from a fishing kayak? This guide is designed to help!
Buying your first kayak can be a daunting prospect. While kayaking is an all-access activity, it can be hard to decipher the terminology that kayakers and manufacturers use to describe their boats. After all, what is a skeg? What does a spray deck do? And what’s the difference between a planing and a displacement hull?
The good news is that, with a little reading, you’ll have no problem breaking this kayaking code. Then you’ll understand precisely what kayakers are talking about. This will make choosing a beginner kayak a whole lot easier.
To help get you started, in this buyer’s guide, we are going to cover all the things you need to consider when buying your first kayak. We’ve also tried, tested, and reviewed our 5 favorite beginner kayaks just for you.
Check out our favorite Beginner kayaks:
Wilderness Systems Pungotype:
- Tracks incredibly well for its size
- Very comfortable seat
- Well made foot pads
- Inflatable & ideal for beginners
- Easy to use and setup
- Stable and Easy to Manuver
Our top five beginner kayaks – reviewed!
With all this information at your fingertips, you should have no problem tracking down your perfect beginner kayak. But you are still going to have to do a whole lot of searching!
To save you some time and trouble, here is a range of our favorite kayaks.
Each one has been tried and tested so you can easily see if it is the right beginner kayak for you.
1. Sevylor Quikpak K1 1-Person Kayak
In many ways, the Sevylor Quikpak K1 1-Person Kayak is the perfect kayak for beginners. It’s very cheap, inflatable and portable, stable, and light. If you aren’t sure that kayaking is for you, this boat could be your best choice. If it has a downside, it’s that, if you get hooked on kayaking, you’ll soon outgrow this small watercraft and want something bigger, faster, and better able to carry you long distances.
- 21-gauge PVC construction with reinforced tarpaulin bottom
- Multiple air chambers for better buoyancy
- Sit-on design
- Easy carry backpack which doubles as the seat
- Gear storage area with bungee cord net
- Multi-position footrest
- Built-in paddle clips
- Supplied with pump and paddle
This inflatable kayak is ideal for casual use on calm water. Light, and easy to inflate, you can take it anywhere – even areas off the beaten track. It’s stable and comfortable to paddle, but it’s not what you would call a fast kayak. It comes with everything you need to get out on the water, except a PFD, which is mandatory in many places.
- Very budget-friendly
- Ready to use in five minutes
- Easy to transport and store
- Idea for beginners
- Beginners may soon outgrow this kayak
- Not really suitable for extended paddling trips, or using on anything but very calm water
The Sevylor Quikpak solo kayak is a nice little boat for beginners.
If you’re not asking for much more than an easy way to get out on the water – this is a great choice for you. If you’re going to use your kayak regularly, or in more demanding situations, this is not the one for you. But, for cheap, accessible fun on the water, this inflatable beginner kayak is hard to beat.
2. Sun Dolphin Aruba 10-Foot Sit-in Kayak Product name
A lot of kayakers incorrectly believe that sit-in kayaks are not the best choice for beginners. They assume that to enjoy a sit-in kayak, you need to be able to Eskimo roll, and use a spray deck. That simply isn’t true. Sit-in kayaks with large open cockpits are ideal for beginners, and this 10-foot Aruba from Sun Dolphin is a perfect example.
- Large open cockpit with padded seat and back support
- Forward and aft gear storage areas with bungee cords
- Rope and toggle carry handles
- Rugged high-density polyethylene construction
- Adjustable footrests
- Built-in paddle holder
- Supplied with paddle
This sit-in kayak is light, stable, and a joy to paddle on calmer waters.
The open cockpit means that, despite being a sit-in model, you don’t feel penned in or restricted. It’s more agile than an inflatable and strong and sturdy enough to withstand the bumps and scrapes that are inevitable when you are learning to kayak. At just 40 lbs. and ten feet long, this kayak is compact and easy to transport
- Good performance
- Plenty of space, even for tall paddlers
- Stable, rigid construction
- Comfy for even long-distance paddling
- Available in five different colors
- Open cockpit prone to swamping during heavy rain or rough water
Small but perfectly formed, this rigid kayak is tailormade with beginners in mind. It’s small, compact, and stable, but performs well if paddled correctly. If you want a sit-in kayak but aren’t sure if you’ll like feeling so enclosed, this is the model for you.
3. Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Sport Inflatable Kayak
As a general rule, inflatable kayaks aren’t really suitable for anything more than very casual use. They just aren’t tough enough for anything other than very calm water. The Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Sport Inflatable Kayak is the exception to this rule. Despite being inflatable, it’s a real kayak that is great for beginners and anyone looking for a stable, transportable watercraft.
- Triple-layer polyester construction with PVC coating
- Internal aluminum ribs for increased stiffness
- Forward storage area plus storage space behind the seat
- Comfortable, supportive, removable seat
- Built-in carry handles
- Multiple air chambers for stability and buoyancy
- Supplied with duffel bag and repair kit
Don’t mistake this kayak for an inflatable kid’s toy – it’s a real boat!
The removable internal aluminum frame provides stiffness that rivals most rigid kayaks, and it performs well on flat water and calm seas. It’s wide and stable too, which is what makes it such an excellent kayak for beginners. If you don’t want a rigid boat, but still want a real kayak you can use in a variety of conditions, this beginner inflatable kayak would be a good choice.
- Easy to transport and store
- Large, accessible cockpit
- Decent performance
- Stable design
- No paddle or pump supplied – sold separately
While not explicitly marketed as a beginner kayak, this inflatable is a great boat for paddling novices. The sit-in design means you are close to the water, and it performs well enough that you won’t outgrow this boat after just a few uses. Easy to transport and store, this is an excellent option for apartment-dwelling beginner kayakers.
4. Ocean Kayak Malibu Two Tandem Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
Kayaking is one of those activities that is often more fun with a friend. Tandem kayaks allow you to share the work and also share the whole experience of being out on the water. The Malibu tandem sit-on kayak is a great beginner boat because it’s wide and not too long, which makes it stable and easy to handle. If you want to take up kayaking and don’t want to go it alone, this boat could be the one for you.
- Sit-on design
- 425 lbs. weight capacity
- Twin, padded and removable seats
- Multiple footrest options
- Two storage areas with gear straps
- Two rope and toggle end carrying handles
- Molded side carrying handles
- Space for two paddles and one small passenger
It’s designed for fun days out on the water.
It’s stable and comfortable to paddle and will perform well on even rolling water. At 53 lbs. it’s not too heavy, and two people should have no problem lifting it onto a suitable roof rack or trailer.
- Very easy to use
- A good family boat
- Can also be used by solo paddlers
- Available in two colors
- No paddles supplied
If you want to take up kayaking with a friend or just take someone else out on the water with you, this kayak is an excellent option. Its simple design means it’s easy to use, and you’ll soon find that paddling with a partner allows you to travel further, faster, and will less effort.
5. Eddyline Sky 10 Kayak
The Eddyline Sky 10 Kayak is a small, light, compact sit-in kayak with a large open cockpit and plenty of stability. It’s easy to paddle and will perform well in a range of conditions. Made from ABS laminate, this kayak looks and performs like a composite kayak, but is much more rugged. If you are a beginner kayaker who intends to take paddling seriously, this is the kayak for you.
- Duel-layer laminate construction
- Two sealed gear storage areas
- Two additional storage areas with bungees on top
- Molded seat with padded backrest and removable cushion
- Large open cockpit
- Rope and toggle carrying handles
At only 35 lbs. this kayak is light and easy to carry.
Even on your own, you should have no problem lifting it on and off your car roof rack. However, despite being light, this kayak is stiff and rugged enough to cope with lively paddling conditions. Its stable design means that it’s perfect for beginners who want to progress to more challenging bodies of water.
- Very light
- Compact and easy to paddle
- Highly maneuverable
- Good performance
- Available in two colors
- No paddle supplied
- Quite expensive
Beginner sit-in kayaks don’t come much better than this one! It’s light, durable, and stable, and can be used in a wide range of water conditions. This is not a boat you will outgrow. If you are looking for a kayak that will carry you from being a beginner to an intermediate or even advanced paddler, the Eddyline Sky 10 Kayak is an excellent choice.
Sit-in vs sit-on
The main decision you need to make when buying a kayak is whether to go for a sit-in or sit-on.
Sit-in models envelop your lower body so that only your arms and torso are outside the boat. This provides you with protection from the elements and also puts you lower in the water. This means your kayak will be faster, easier to paddle, and potentially more stable too. However, with sit-in kayaks, you are essentially part of the boat. If you capsize, you’ll fall out, and getting back in can be hard.
Sit-on kayaks are open to the elements, and you ride on top. This means that if you capsize, you can get back in much more easily. They won’t fill with water either. However, sit-on kayaks don’t aren’t usually as fast and tend to be easier and less intimidating to use than sit-in kayaks. Also, because you sit higher on the water, sit-on kayaks aren’t usually as stable as sit-ins.
Does this mean that sit-ons are better than sit-ins for beginners? Absolutely not!
But you should consider the advantages and disadvantages of both types before buying your first kayak.
How Will You Use Your Kayak?
Most kayaks can be used for a wide variety of activities.
Still, while some are designed to be all-rounders, others have a much more specialist function. For example, there are fishing kayaks designed for angling, sea kayaks designed for large bodies of water, whitewater kayaks for surf and fast-moving rivers, touring kayaks intended for camping and expeditions, and even folding kayaks.
If you want a kayak for general paddling, there is no need to buy a specialist touring or fishing kayak. But, if you’re going to use your boat in a specific environment or for a particular activity, make sure your purchase is up to the job.
Are Rigid Kayaks Better Than Inflatables?
Rigid kayaks generally perform better than inflatables.
That is to say, they are faster, track straighter, and are easier to paddle. However, they are not always easy to transport, and storage can be a problem too. Even a compact solo kayak takes up a lot of space.
The good news is that you can get around both these problems with an inflatable kayak. Inflatables are not as fast as rigid boats, but the best ones come very close.
The main benefit is that you can transport and store an inflatable kayak much more easily than a rigid boat. They also tend to be cheaper too. You won’t need a roof rack to get your boat from your house to the water. Most deflate and pack down to a size that will fit in the trunk of even a small car.
Beginner Kayak Length, width, and weight
Kayaks come in all shapes and sizes. Longer, narrower kayaks are more streamlined and efficient to paddle. Still, they are also less stable and more prone to capsizing. Shorter, wider kayaks are more stable, but they are slower too.
As a beginner, you might be tempted to go straight for a short, wide kayak.
While this does make sense, it’s also important to remember that, after a few paddles, you’ll soon start to feel more comfortable and confident in your boat. You may even come to think that your super-stable kayak is now too slow. Don’t automatically believe that, as a beginner, you should only buy a wide, slow kayak. Think about the future too.
Regarding the weight, remember that you’ll need to carry your kayak from your car to the water – even if it’s an inflatable. Make sure that you are strong enough to handle the weight. Heavy kayaks are often more robust and stable and are usually cheaper. But, if you can’t lift your kayak off your roof rack unaided, this extra weight could be a real problem.
Solo vs Tandem Kayaks
Do you want to do most of your paddling alone? Or do you expect to kayak with a partner, child, or friend?
Make sure you decide on this early on in your search for the best beginner kayak. Solo kayaks tend to be smaller, lighter, and cheaper than tandems, but tandems can also be used by just one person. Consider both options and, if you are in any doubt, go for a tandem, so you always have the opportunity to paddle with a partner.
What Material Is Best?
Beginner kayaks are made from a wide range of materials. The type of material used will affect things like rigidity, toughness, weight, and price. Popular materials used for making kayaks for beginners include:
- Single-layer polyethylene: durable, light, and cheap, this is an excellent choice for budget beginner kayaks.
- Double and triple-layer polyethylene: heavier, thicker, and more expensive than single-layer polyethylene, but more robust and likely to last longer.
- Fiberglass: light and rigid, but also prone to damage if you hit a rock, coral, or anything else hard. Fiberglass can be repaired, but repairs can be expensive. Fiberglass boats usually cost more than those made from polyethylene.
- Kevlar carbon: the lightest material for making kayaks, it’s stronger than fiberglass, but it’s usually more expensive.
Don’t Underestimate Comfort!
As a beginner, you might not spend more than an hour or two at a time paddling your kayak. Because of this, you may not think that comfort is much of an issue. But, as you become more proficient, you will probably find yourself spending more time in your boat. That’s when comfort really starts to matter. Lots of factors affect kayaking comfort, so make sure you consider all of them before buying your boat. An uncomfortable kayak can make being out on the water very unenjoyable. A good kayak seat will make all the difference.
What’s Your Budget For Your First Kayak?
Kayaks can be expensive, especially if you go for a state-of-the-art carbon fiber boat. Light and fast, carbon fiber kayaks are the Rolls Royce of the kayaking world. However, many of the advantages of such a light, high-performance boat will be wasted on the average beginner.
The good news is that you don’t need to spend a fortune on a great beginner kayak. There are models to suit all budgets, and more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get more out of your kayak.
Start your beginner kayak search with a budget in mind. That way, you won’t waste your time looking at boats that are out of your price bracket. Whatever your budget, there is a kayak out there for you.
Don’t Forget All The Safety Accessories!
As a beginner, you probably don’t have a paddle, a personal floatation device, a roof rack or trailer yet.
However, once you’ve got your kayak, you will need all of these things and more to get out on the water. Some kayaks, especially inflatables, come with many added extras, which means you are already one (or several) steps closer to getting out in your boat.
Make sure you consider all these extra items in your search for the best beginner kayak.
So, What’s The Right Choice For A Novice Kayaker?
Every one of the kayaks we’ve reviewed will provide hours of entertainment and enjoyment for beginner paddlers.
The inflatables are ideal if you have limited storage space, or don’t want to have to buy a roof rack or trailer for your car. The sit-on models are perfect if you don’t like the idea of being enclosed while you paddle. The sit-in boats offer slightly better performance and, if you want to paddle with a friend, the tandem is the perfect choice.
Weigh up the pros and cons of each one, apply your budget to the equation, and what’s left is the right kayak for you. See you out on the water!