kayak for beginners
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The Best Kayaks for Beginners in 2021

The sport of recreational kayaking has been rapidly growing over the past several years. Here are the best beginner kayaks, and the gear you need to get started.

Kayaking has been a part of the human story for thousands of years. Developed by Inuit people for fishing and transportation, kayaking is now an increasingly popular mode of recreation. Similar to canoeing, kayaking offers an active way to get out on the water and intimately enjoy the outdoors.

The growing interest in recreational kayaking is a direct result of the activity’s many benefits and widespread appeal. Kayaking offers a satisfying combination of physical exercise and the grace-filled sensation of being in sync with the stillness and flow of water. On a clear and windless morning, the experience of slicing quietly across the surface of the water as you repeatedly dip and retract your paddle is simply glorious.

For beginner paddlers who are interested in purchasing a kayak of their own and advancing their skills, the kayak market can seem complicated. Although kayaking requires various pieces of gear (a paddle and a personal flotation device), a reliable entry-level kayak is the most important item that a beginner will need.

There many different types and styles of kayaks, each designed for a specific purpose and to best suit a specific kind of paddler. Some categories that beginners should be aware of include sit-in kayaks, sit-on-top kayaks, inflatable kayaks, tandem kayaks, and folding kayaks.

Because there are several categories of kayaks, we’ve chosen the best picks in each category to help find the best kayak for you. Scroll through to view our picks for the best beginner kayak, or jump to a category below.

Our how-to guide at the end of the list also provides answers to frequently asked questions and all the information you’ll need to select the best kayak for your adventures.

The Best Kayaks for Beginners in 2021

Best Sit-On-Top Kayak: Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105

wilderness systems tarpon 105

The Tarpon 105 kayak from Wilderness Systems ($999) is our pick for the best kayak in the sit-on-top category. As a recreational kayak, the Tarpon 105 offers impressive versatility and can perform well when used for various activities such as fishing, camping, exploring, bird watching, and even surfing waves.

For those looking to own a single kayak that is both beginner-friendly and adaptable, the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105 is a wise choice. The newest version of the tried-and-true Tarpon is the Tarpon 105. This updated model builds on the success of previous Tarpon iterations and comes with more features than ever before.

Thanks to Wilderness Systems’ careful attention to detail and function-forward mindset, it’s fully stocked the Tarpon 105 with various features for on-the-water support — no matter what your favorite kayak-based activity is. In flatwater or flowing creeks and rivers, this kayak is sporty, stable, and downright fun.

For fishing purposes, the Tarpon 105 is compatible with fishing pole holders, GPS units, and fishfinder screens. Relative to similar boats, the Tarpon 105 is very stable and can maneuver easily through tight coves and sharp bends.

At 10.5 feet long, the Tarpon 105 is shorter and stubbier than many sit-on-top kayaks. Because of its shape, this boat is not especially fast, nor does it glide through the water outstandingly well.

Simply put, the Tarpon 105 was built for stable cruising and not for speedy racing. For a similar option that is also longer and faster, check out the Tarpon 120.

The 105’s flat hull allows the boat to turn quickly and easily. While paddling, the entire boat changes direction smoothly and with minimal effort.

For long kayaking sessions, the Tarpon 105 is built with Wilderness Systems’ exceptionally comfortable Phase 3 AirPro seating system. The thoughtfully contoured backrest is ergonomic and supportive — crucial traits for a long day on the water.

The Tarpon 105’s impressively long list of well-considered features includes large waterproof storage wells, a magnetic water bottle strap system, a built-in paddle holder, rigid carry handles, and a dog-friendly deck so you can bring your pup on board.

Paddlers who wish to prioritize stability and comfort over speed would do well with the Tarpon 105. Its shorter length gives the Tarpon a boost in portability, and at 55 pounds, it can be carried around without too much trouble.

Although a bit on the more expensive side at $850, the Tarpon 105’s feature-packed, durable design makes it a good-value buy. A versatile kayak that doesn’t sacrifice fun or comfort, the Tarpon 105 is our choice for the best sit-on-top kayak.

Weight: 55 lbs.

Length: 10’6″

Pros:

  • Comfortable seat
  • Easy to climb in and out of, even while out on the water
  • Makes smooth turns, impressively maneuverable
  • Useful for lots of activities
  • Packed with thoughtful features

Cons:

  • Glides slowly
  • More expensive than other options

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Best Sit-In Kayak: Old Town Manitou Sport

old town manitou sport

The Old Town Manitou Sport sit-in kayak ($800) is an excellent do-it-all kayak for beginners and seasoned paddlers alike. Originally designed by Necky Kayaks, which is now part of the Old Town brand, the Manitou Sport is a simple craft that offers stability and maneuverability above all else.

Except for technical whitewater, the Manitou Sport performs well on most water bodies including lakes, rivers, creeks, and bays. A 26.5-inch hull makes this kayak incredibly stable. Its 10’11” length offers a functional balance between smooth tracking and nimble maneuverability.

On open water, the Manitou Sport can handle plenty of speed. It also responds well to sharp turns in tight areas thanks to its extended keel. It is difficult to find a kayak that shines in so many areas of performance.

Although this boat doesn’t quite offer enough storage space for overnight trips, there is plenty of room for a day trip’s worth of gear. Bow and stern deck rigging lets you secure equipment to the top of the boat, and a dry storage area provides reliable waterproofing.

Adjustable foot pedals and a comfortable seating system make it easy to sit in the boat for hours without becoming stiff or sore.

Overall, the Old Town Manitou Sport is easy to love. Its large cockpit is effortless to climb in and out of. Toggle handles allow comfortable two-person carrying of the kayak from the car to the water and back again.

At $799, this kayak is an excellent value, especially because it comes with a Carlisle Magic Mystic paddle. Old Town built the Manitou Sport to maximize recreational fun on the water, and it delivers with style.

Weight: 44 lbs.

Length: 10’11”

Pros:

  • Durable and lightweight
  • Comes with a paddle
  • Good balance of graceful tracking and responsive maneuverability
  • High-volume bow cuts through choppy water with ease
  • Comfortable cockpit and seat
  • Good value

Cons:

  • Not ideal for open ocean or whitewater
  • Not very practical for fishing

Check Price at REI

Best Budget: Intex Challenger K1

intex challenger k1

The Intex Challenger K1 inflatable kayak ($119 on sale) is our pick for the best budget kayak available in 2021. With a price tag of $147, this boat is far cheaper than other options on this list. For the money, it’s an excellent value that is more than capable of providing many hours of on-the-water fun.

For a cheap kayak, the Challenger K1 handles impressively well on the water. In general, the entire boat rides low, which makes it quite stable and less vulnerable to being pushed around by the wind.

A long skeg helps the K1 track decently well in a straight line. At 9 feet long and 2.5 feet wide, the K1 has a short, stubby profile that turns and steers well.

One downside of the craft’s low profile is the resulting high likelihood of taking on water. The K1 does not have a scupper hole, so to drain any excess water, you’ll have to paddle to shore and flip the entire thing upside down.

The inflatable seat is decently comfortable, and we like that it is both removable and adjustable. On the boat’s upper deck, a cargo net provides a small amount of gear storage. There is not enough space for camping gear, but the net can easily handle a water bottle, a small tackle box, and some snacks.

Intex claims that the K1 is made from venture-resistant vinyl. However, users should take care to keep the boat away from sharp objects — in use and in storage.

Two separate air chambers are quick to inflate. But because there are only two chambers, it is important to wear a personal flotation device when using this kayak. If one of the chambers pops, the remaining chamber will not provide much buoyancy in an emergency.

The K1 comes with an 84-inch aluminum oar, a repair patch, a carrying duffel, and an inflation pump. To set up the boat, simply inflate both chambers until the included gauge tells you that the boat is good to go.

When your paddling session is over, dry the boat with a towel and fold it back into its carrying duffel. When packed down, the boat and all of its components can be easily stored in a closet or garage.

All things considered, the Intex K1 challenger is a good purchase for paddlers in need of an affordable vessel and who are more concerned about fun than performance. This is not the kayak that will best suit advanced paddlers with racing or expeditionary aspirations. For a day of summer fun, though, the K1 is a wonderful and portable addition to your kit.

Weight: 23.9 lbs.

Length: 9′

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Packs down into an included duffel bag
  • Comes with a paddle and pump
  • Tracks and steers well
  • Removable and adjustable seat

Cons:

  • No drain plug
  • Not the most durable
  • Included pump inflates slowly

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Best Tandem Kayak: Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Convertible

advanced elements advanced frame convertible

The Advanced Elements Convertible Tandem Kayak ($699) is a high-performance inflatable kayak that can be paddled by either one or two people. Although a bit on the more expensive side for an inflatable kayak, the Advanced Elements is comfortable, durable, and thoroughly packed with practical features.

Depending on how you set up the seats, this kayak can be either a tandem or a single kayak. Its 550-pound capacity can accommodate two paddlers plus additional gear.

Tiedown points, bungees, and integrated pockets offer adequate storage for quite a lot of gear. This kayak could feasibly be used for overnight expeditions — especially when configured for a single paddler.

When paddling the Advanced Elements Convertible Tandem, it’s easy to forget that you are in an inflatable vessel. Impressively, this boat handles more like a rigid-sided kayak than an inflatable. Plus, it offers durability to match with three outer layers of ripstop material.

At 15 feet long, the relatively narrow 32-inch hull provides excellent tracking without giving up too much stability. Multiple tracking fins and a small skeg also contribute to a smooth, straight, and speedy ride.

In tandem mode, this kayak has ample space for both paddlers to move freely without getting in each other’s way. High seatbacks offer sufficient back support and remain comfortable throughout a full day on the water.

The low-lying seats keep your center of gravity close to the water while paddling. This configuration reduces wind resistance and keeps the boat from feeling tippy.

Inflating and setting up the AE Convertible tandem takes some getting used to. A thorough set of instructions is included, but you will still need to practice a few times before setup feels efficient.

Six air chambers can be pumped up, although only three of these are important for structural integrity. Each chamber has specific pressure requirements.

Be sure to be careful when inflating because it can be easy to over or underfill. The kayak does not come with paddles or a pump.

Overall, this is a hefty inflatable tandem that in many ways feels more like a solid plastic boat than an inflatable one. Its bulk may be a downside for some users — it’s difficult to pack into its duffel and carry on your own.

However, on the performance side, this kayak shines and offers tracking and speed that most other inflatable tandems cannot. It’s not cheap, but because it is built to last, it is our pick for the best tandem kayak of 2021.

Weight: 52 lbs.

Length: 15′

Pros:

  • Durable
  • Capacity of 550 lbs.
  • Can be used as a single boat or a tandem
  • Tracks well
  • Handles speed with ease
  • Ample storage space

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • More expensive than other options
  • Setup is difficult, especially with just one person

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Best Pedal Kayak: Hobie Mirage Passport 10.5

hobie mirage passport 10.5 kayak

Hobie’s been making kayaks for over 20 years. This model is one of its newer ones, released in 2019. Since then, we (and many other reviewers) have been putting the Hobie Mirage Passport 10.5 ($1,499) through its paces.

Pedal kayaks have lots of pros. Generally, they are equipped with a few more accessory features and have more room for gear storage. And, of course, they allow you to paddle hands-free. Fishing, bird watching, photography, you name it — there are lots of great applications here.

The Hobie Mirage Passport 10.5 offers great tracking in the water, whether the weight on board is 150 or 200 pounds. The Mirage Glide technology refers to the fins, pedal, and rudder components.

This kayak has a stowable rudder with steering control located by your left hand next to the seat. This kayak is a bit wider than standard kayaks to accommodate the seat and steering control — although still only measures 34 inches across.

You may have noticed the aluminum frame seat. Pro: It’s way more comfortable than standard kayak seats. Con: It adds some weight.

If you are going to be doing overnight paddles, or even just day touring for hours on end, a comfortable seat is worth it. Even with the extra weight of this kayak, it’s balanced well and feels really streamlined moving through the water.

And new for 2021, the Passport 10.5 has kick-up fins that automatically recess. How cool is that? Whether you are paddling in shallow waters or encountering logs or obstacles, the kick-up fins will automatically recess upon impact to protect both you and your equipment.

Other features on this kayak include an 8-inch twist-and-seal hatch for storing gear, as well as two cargo storage areas with bungee straps on the bow and stern. Especially if you are using this kayak for fishing or touring, storage is important.

There’s plenty of space on this boat to store rods, a tackle kit, dry bags, a small cooler, camera equipment, or anything else you may want to bring along.

While it is more expensive than standard kayaks, pedal/fishing kayaks can run up to $5,000. This Hobie cat model is a great-quality kayak at a great price, especially if you’re looking to pedal. This kayak comes with a two-piece aluminum paddle.

Weight: 65 lbs. (hull weight), 75 lbs. (fitted weight)

Length: 10’6″ (also comes in a 12-ft. version)

Pros: 

  • Very comfortable seat
  • Waterproof gear storage with hatch
  • Rod mounts and accessories to personalize your kayak
  • New kick-up/retractable fins
  • Good price

Cons:

  • More components
  • Heavier than most other kayaks on this list

Check Price at Hobie

Best Inflatable Kayak: Kokopelli Moki-Lite

kokopelli moki-lite

Made for touring across flat water, the Kokopelli Moki-Lite inflatable kayak ($700) is portable, easy to set up, and impressively lightweight. This watercraft is ideal for paddlers who are looking for a simple and high-quality boat for recreational paddling.

Compared to other inflatable kayaks, we appreciate how easily the Moki-Lite transitions from fully deflated to water-ready. In less than 10 minutes, this kayak’s floor and side tubes can be filled with air and launched onto the water. When you’re done paddling, the boat deflates and folds into its roomy river bag for easy transport.

The 1,000-denier reinforced PVC drop-stitch floor is fully rigid when pumped up and is abrasion-resistant. The EVA seat is low-profile and relatively comfortable to sit in.

A removable 9-inch tracking fin helps the Moki-Lite to track smoothly. The entire kayak is just 10 feet long, and this short length results in high-performance maneuverability.

Although a carry bag, Nano Barrel pump, tracking fin, and repair kit come with the Moki-Lite, there is no paddle included, which makes the $700 price tag feel pretty steep. Still, for a streamlined and sporty-looking inflatable kayak, it doesn’t get much better than the Kokopelli Moki-Lite.

Weight: 17 lbs. 3.2 oz.

Length: 10′

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • High-quality 1,000-denier outer material
  • Good tracking with 9-inch fin attached
  • Easy to set up and pack down

Cons:

  • Expensive, doesn’t include a paddle (Editor’s note: As of 2021, the Moki Lite will include an Alpine 4-piece paddle)
  • Not a lot of cargo space

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Best Folding Kayak: Oru Inlet

oru inlet

For those living in tight quarters, folding kayaks offer all of the benefits of owning your own watercraft without the need for a large storage space. Whether you live in a van or a studio apartment, the Oru Inlet ($899) folding kayak is a brilliant tool that can go with you anywhere.

Compared to the often-convoluted process of inflating a kayak, the Inlet’s origami-like folding assembly is as simple as snapping a few clips and slipping into the cockpit. Oru claims that the Inlet can be set up in 3 minutes, a bold statement that has been verified by several owners and testers.

When it’s all folded up, the Oru Inlet can be slung over a single shoulder for effortless carrying. After all, it weighs only 20 pounds.

While the folds in the kayak do create weaknesses in the 5mm double-layered polypropylene exterior, the Inlet has been manufacturer-rated for 20,000 fold cycles. The hull’s 30-inch width provides enough stability for beginner paddlers to feel comfortable. This impressive stability is also handy for fishing.

At $900, the Inlet is cheaper than other offerings from Oru, although it’s still expensive compared to many kayaks on this list. The ideal user is someone who enjoys mellow on-the-water excursions and really wants to prioritize easy storage and compact gear.

The cockpit is large enough to store a small dry bag or a bit of fishing gear. However, there probably isn’t enough room for overnight gear, and there is no water-proof cargo area.

Although this is certainly a niche kayak, it easily earns its place on this list of best beginner kayaks. With the Oru Inlet, the entire user experience is defined by simplicity.

It’s simple to set up, simple to paddle, and simple to use regularly. With the Oru Inlet, limited gear storage space in your life will no longer keep you from getting out to paddle.

Weight: 20 lbs.

Length: 10′

Pros:

  • Super light
  • Easy to set up and fold down
  • When folded up, the kayak can be carried with a simple shoulder strap
  • Padded seat
  • Open cockpit is simple to enter and exit
  • Beginner-friendly

Cons:

  • Maximum weight capacity of 275 lbs.
  • Expensive
  • Does not track especially well

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Best Kayak for Kids: Perception Hi Five

perception hi five

Part stand-up paddleboard and part kayak, the Hi Five watercraft from Perception ($245) is all about fun on the water, which is why it is our pick for the best kayak for kids.

The Hi Five is sized to perfectly suit kids up to 120 pounds. At just 6 feet long and 2 feet wide, this small kayak fits easily into most hatchbacks and roof racks.

Its unique design integrates the seat and other features into one continuous piece of polyethylene plastic that weighs just 24 pounds. Because the entire boat is one solid piece, there are very few ways a user can break or damage the Hi Five.

People with kids will know that the ability to withstand rough handling is an asset of any piece of kids’ gear, and the Hi Five is fully up to the task.

On the Hi Five’s stern, a flat swim-up deck allows for swimmers to easily climb aboard. Other clever features include a paddle rest, a large standing surface, and ergonomic grab handles. All of these features come in handy during blissful hours of family time on the water.

Additionally, the Hi Five is specifically designed to keep working as kids grow, making it a good long-term investment that can stay with you for many years.

For maximum safety, the Hi Five is super stable. It comes with a hitch-and-tether system so mom or dad can tow the boat when the smallest paddler in the family gets tired.

For $250 with a kid-size paddle included, the Hi Five can offer many years of joy and paddling progression. From rivers to creeks to small backyard ponds, the Perception Hi Five is a standout kids’ kayak.

Weight: 21 lbs.

Length: 6′

Pros:

  • Good value
  • Entire watercraft is one durable piece of molded plastic
  • Progression-focused
  • Lightweight and easy to transport

Cons:

  • Not the most comfortable seat

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Beginners’ Buyer’s Guide for Kayaks: How to Choose

Before you purchase a beginner-level kayak, you first need to determine what type of kayaking you want to do. There are lots of well-made and high-quality kayak brands.

However, the functions and purposes of the boats on the market vary widely. Once you know what kind of attributes you are looking for in a kayak, it will become much easier to choose.

If you want a kayak for mellow cruising on a backyard pond or small lake, you do not want to purchase a sea kayak that is made for slicing through big waves. Similarly, if you need a kayak that will be easy to transport, you don’t want to purchase something bulky and heavy.

There are a few key things to consider when deciding what your kayaking needs really are. There are many unique categories of kayaks, and each category has its own strengths and drawbacks.

In this buyer’s guide, we will provide information about many of these categories, including sit-on kayaks, sit-in kayaks, tandem kayaks, recreational kayaks, day touring kayaks, inflatable kayaks, folding kayaks, pedal-powered kayaks, and whitewater kayaks.

Once you have identified which category best fits your needs and plans, other important considerations to keep in mind include material, weight, capacity, durability, and price. Purchasing the right kayak can feel confusing, but with the use of this in-depth guide, we hope you’ll be able to identify the right kayak to buy.

Types of Kayaks

Sit-On-Top Kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks do not have an internal, hollowed-out cockpit that you have to climb into. Instead, this style of kayak allows you to sit right on top of the boat, where your legs will be exposed to the open air.

Sit-on-top kayaks tend to be easier to get on and off of than sit-in kayaks. Also, sit-on-top kayaks tend to feel more stable than sit-ins, especially for new paddlers who are getting used to the water.

Sit-on-top kayaks are good for warm weather because the user is likely to get wet. This style of kayak is also better for users who plan to paddle with a dog on board.

best sit-on-top kayak for beginners
Photo credit: Amazon

Sit-In Kayaks

Sit-in kayaks have an internal cockpit that you have to climb into to paddle. When paddling a sit-in kayak, you will have a low center of gravity, and the rotation of your hips will be more involved in steering the boat.

Some sit-in kayaks that are built for whitewater paddling utilize spray skirts that cover the cockpit to prevent water from getting inside. Sit-in kayak users will experience less wind resistance than sit-on-top kayakers.

Tandem Kayaks

Tandem kayaks are paddled by two people at once. To allow this, these boats are usually longer than single-user boats and include two seats instead of one.

Tandem boats can be inflatable or made of solid material. The process of learning how to paddle in sync with your partner can be a fun and tricky challenge.

best tandem kayak for beginners
Photo credit: REI

Recreational Kayaks

When a kayak is labeled “recreational,” that means it is built to prioritize fun over high-end performance. Recreational kayaks will not be the fastest or lightest boats on the market, but they will include practical features that maximize comfort and allow you to enjoy your paddling experience.

Day Touring Kayaks

Day touring kayaks are meant for single-day excursions. These boats lack adequate storage space for overnight trips or expeditions. Often, day touring kayaks are simple and user-friendly vessels built for a quick session on the water.

Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks are filled with air like a balloon and can be deflated when not in use. For users who do not have enough storage space to keep a rigid plastic kayak at home, an inflatable kayak can be a fantastic solution.

Inflatable kayaks typically have multiple compartments that must all be pumped full of air before use. This list includes both single-user and tandem inflatable kayaks that we recommend.

Folding Kayaks

In recent years, many folding lightweight kayaks have entered the market. These boats aim to maximize portability for kayakers who don’t have a lot of available storage space in their lives.

Folding kayaks require some practice to assemble and set up properly. Although folding kayaks tend not to be as durable on the water as solid plastic kayaks, they tend to be more lightweight than any other category of kayaks.

Pedal Kayaks

Pedal-powered kayaks do not require a paddle to move about the water. Instead, these kayaks are operated using your legs, either by pushing or rotating the pedals to generate thrust. This style of kayak is excellent for fishing because the foot pedals leave your hands free to cast out and tend to your fishing rod.

Whitewater Kayaks

Whitewater kayaks are made to maneuver through fast-flowing water. Whitewater kayaks usually sit inside kayaks, with a short length and minimal storage space. Most whitewater kayaks utilize a spray skirt to keep water out of the cockpit.

Kayak Features

Material vs. Weight

Most kayaks on market these days are made of solid plastic, inflatable abrasion-resistant PVC, thin foldable plastic, or fiberglass. Different materials work well for different functions.

Solid plastic boats tend to be the most durable. Inflatable PVC and foldable plastic are lighter and easier to pack down and store in a small space.

If you plan on paddling with a dog on board, it may be wise to steer clear of inflatable kayaks that can be punctured. Solid plastic kayaks tend to be heavier than inflatable and foldable kayaks. (And obviously, tandem kayaks are heavier than single kayaks.)

If you plan to kayak alone and need to load and unload your kayak from your car on your own, it is wise to purchase a lighter kayak that you can easily carry. Or, get a kayak dolly. Kayaks on this list vary widely by weight, so be sure to check the kayak’s weight before purchasing.

best tandem kayak for beginners
Photo credit: REI

Capacity

The majority of brands measure kayak capacity by weight. Before you purchase a kayak, make sure that the boat will be able to accommodate the total weight of the anticipated user (plus the weight of any gear). It’s good to stay on the conservative side of a boat’s capacity limit to ensure that it will perform safely and as intended.

Durability

Kayaks are built to be durable, but not all boats are created equal. Inflatable watercraft tend to be less durable than solid plastic ones because they are vulnerable to punctures.

To maximize the longevity of your kayak’s life, be careful not to drag it along jagged rocks during loading and unloading. When storing your kayak, be sure to keep it out of the full sun and away from potentially harmful objects and substances. And of course, always follow PSI recommendations to prevent overinflation.

Price

It is wise to decide on a specific budget before you begin the actual shopping process. Kayaks vary in price a lot, and high-end options can be very expensive.

Still, it is very possible to find a fairly priced kayak that offers excellent value for the money. If you are considering buying a kayak for yourself and your partner, you’ll also want to weigh the options of buying two kayaks versus buying a tandem.

FAQ

What Is the Best Type of Kayak for Beginners?

We recommend all of the kayaks on this list to beginner paddlers. Ultimately, the best kayak will be the one that meets your individual needs and helps you progress as a paddler. Depending on your lifestyle, storage space, preferred paddling location, and other factors, some kayaks will suit you better than others.

What Size Kayak Is Best for Beginners?

There are kayaks of all shapes and sizes on the market. The size and shape of kayaks vary depending on their intended function. Beginner kayaks tend to be between 9 and 12 feet long and are 2 to 3 feet wide.

Long, thin kayaks are built for going fast in a straight line and cutting through choppy water and waves. Short, stubby kayaks are made to be nimble and easy to turn in fast-moving streams and whitewater. Many of the kayaks on this list are midsize to provide a good balance between smooth tracking and maneuverability.

Most kayaks — regardless of their size or shape — can accommodate paddlers of various heights and weights. Before purchasing a kayak, check to make sure it can accommodate a paddler of your size.

Which Is Better: Sit-on-Top Kayaks or Sit-In Kayaks?

Neither kayak style is strictly better — they simply have different strengths and weaknesses.

A sit-on-top kayak is easier to climb in and out of, especially while out on the water. Sit-on-top kayaks also tend to be better for kayaking with a dog on board. Overall, sit-on-top kayaks tend to be more comfortable for long paddling sessions, as they allow the user to stretch their legs and move around.

Sit-in kayaks keep the paddler’s center of gravity low, which decreases wind residence and creates superior maneuverability. In colder or rainy weather, sit-in kayaks allow the user to stay fairly dry, especially with the use of a spray skirt.

What Size Kayak Should I Get for My Height?

Most kayaks are made to accommodate people of a wide range of heights. Many recreational kayaks for beginners are around 10 feet long and will be suitable in size for most adults up to 6 feet tall. For those taller than 6 feet tall, a recreational kayak around 12 feet long will likely be a better fit.

It can be helpful to test a kayak’s size by sitting in it before purchasing. Make sure that there is enough legroom and that your hips fit comfortably in the seat and cockpit. Many kayaks have multiple or adjustable footrests to accommodate paddlers with shorter or longer legs.

best budget kayak for beginners
Photo credit: Amazon

What Length Paddle Do I Need?

Having a properly sized paddle can make all the difference. When deciding on the length of your paddle, you must consider both your own height and the width of your kayak. Generally, the wider the kayak is, the longer paddle you will need to ensure that the sides of the boat won’t get in the way of the paddle blades entering the water.

Most of the beginner kayaks on this list are between 24 and 32 inches wide. So, here is a basic guideline for how to size kayak paddles for kayaks that are between 24 and 32 inches wide.

Paddlers under 5’5” should use a paddle that is about 220 cm in length. For folks between 5’5” and 5’11”, they should use a paddle that is about 240 cm in length. Paddlers over 5’11” should use a paddle that is around 250 cm in length.

Adjustable paddles are a good idea for those who will not be able to test out their paddles before purchase. Adjustable paddles are also great as they divide into pieces for storage and travel.


Have a favorite kayak? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll check it out for future updates to this article.


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