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The Best Kayaks for Beginners in 2024

Recreational kayaking has seen increased popularity over the past few years. To help you get in on the fun, we've narrowed down the best beginner kayaks of 2024.

kayaks for beginners(Photo/Amazon)
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Kayaking has been a part of the human story for thousands of years. And if you’re looking to jump into the sport, the options can seem overwhelming. Luckily, we’ve taken the plunge and dipped our paddles in the best the market has to offer, testing kayaks for three years now with an eye toward beginner-friendly models.

There are many different types and styles of kayaks, each designed for a specific purpose and to best suit a specific kind of paddler. Some categories 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, we’ve chosen the best kayaks in each category to help find the best kayak for you. Be sure to read our buyer’s guide and our comparison chart to better inform your decision. Otherwise, scroll through to view our picks for the best beginner kayak.

Editor’s Note: We updated our beginner kayak guide on November 20, 2023, to add our new favorite inflatable kayak, the Kokopelli Platte, as well as ensure that our selection was still current.

The Best Beginner Kayaks of 2024


Best Overall Beginner Kayak

Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105

Specs

  • Weight 55 lbs.
  • Length 10'6"
  • Width 32"
  • Number of paddlers 1-person
  • Material Polyethylene plastic
  • Storage Front covered hatch, rear storage well
Product Badge The Best Kayaks for Beginners in 2024

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
Best Budget Kayak

Intex Challenger K1

Specs

  • Weight 28 lbs., 4.4 oz.
  • Length 9'
  • Width 30"
  • Number of paddlers 1-person
  • Material Vinyl
  • Storage Front cargo net
The Best Kayaks for Beginners in 2024

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
Best Tandem Kayak

Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Convertible

Specs

  • Weight 52 lbs.
  • Length 15'
  • Width 32"
  • Number of paddlers 1 or 2-person
  • Material Polyester and PVC tarpaulin
  • Storage Bow and stern wells, bungee cord on bow
The Best Kayaks for Beginners in 2024

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
Best Pedal Kayak

Hobie Mirage Passport 10.5 R

Specs

  • Weight 65 lbs. (fitted hull weight), 75 lbs. (fully rigged weight)
  • Length 10'5"
  • Width 34"
  • Number of paddlers 1-person
  • Material Polyethylene plastic
  • Storage 8" hatch and bow/stern wells with bungee cord
The Best Kayaks for Beginners in 2024

Pros

  • Very comfortable seat
  • Waterproof gear storage with hatch
  • Rod mounts and accessories to personalize your kayak
  • Kick-up/retractable fins
  • Good price
  • High-tech rotomolded construction

Cons

  • Lots of individual components
  • Heavier than most other kayaks on this list
Best Inflatable Kayak

Kokopelli Platte Inflatable Kayak

Specs

  • Weight 24 lbs.
  • Length 10'3"
  • Width 34"
  • Number of paddlers 1-person
  • Material 1000D reinforced PVC
  • Storage Bow and stern wells + bungee cord deck systems
The Best Kayaks for Beginners in 2024

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • High-quality 1,000D outer material
  • Good tracking with 9" and 5" fins attached
  • Easy to set up and pack down

Cons

  • Not a lot of cargo space
  • Lower rails
Best Folding Kayak

Oru Kayak Inlet

Specs

  • Weight 20 lbs.
  • Length 9'8"
  • Width 31"
  • Number of paddlers 1-person
  • Material Corrugated polypropylene
  • Storage Open bow and stern areas
The Best Kayaks for Beginners in 2024

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
Best Kayak for Kids

Perception Hi Five

Specs

  • Weight 21 lbs.
  • Length 6'
  • Width 24"
  • Number of paddlers 1-person
  • Material Polyethylene
  • Storage N/A
The Best Kayaks for Beginners in 2024

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

Beginner Kayak Comparison Chart

KayakPriceWeightLengthNumber of PaddlersStorage
Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105
$1,11955 lbs.10’6″1-personFront covered hatch, rear storage well
Intex Challenger K1
$13528 lbs.9′1-personFront cargo net
Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Convertible
$98052 lbs15′1 or 2-personBow and stern wells, bungee cord on bow
Hobie Mirage Passport 10.5 R
$1,79975 lbs. 10’5″1-person8″ hatch and bow/stern wells with bungee cord
Kokopelli Platte Inflatable Kayak
$89924 lbs.10’3″1-personBow and stern wells + bungee cord deck systems
Oru Kayak Inlet$89920 lbs.9’8″1-personOpen bow and stern areas
Perception Hi Five$29921 lbs.6′1-personN/A

How We Tested Beginner Kayaks

We compiled this list of kayaks with beginner paddlers in mind. The GearJunkie team has plentiful paddling experience, and we’re also keenly familiar with the kayak market. The boats on this list are user-friendly, approachable, and progression-focused.

Not all beginners will need the same kind of kayak, so we carefully considered dozens of boats and highlighted the best options in several categories. In every category, our recommended kayak had to beat out several other models to earn its place.

To identify our top picks, we considered overall value, usability, build quality, durability, and much more. We examined materials, studied brands, and compared pricetags down to the last detail.

As new kayaks hit the market, we’ll be sure to test them in consideration for this list. At any given time, our roundup will include the best of the best.

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Beginner Kayak

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, and most brands offer options for a wide range of paddling pursuits. 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/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/REI)

Recreational Kayaks

When a kayak is labeled “recreational,” that means it’s 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 are almost always sit-in kayaks, with a short length and minimal storage space. Most whitewater kayaks utilize a spray skirt to keep water out of the cockpit.

Material vs. Weight

Most kayaks on the 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/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 of inflatables.

Price

It’s 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’s 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 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, 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 there’s enough legroom and your hips fit comfortably in the seat and cockpit. Many kayaks have multiple or adjustable footrests to accommodate paddlers with shorter or longer legs.

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 the paddle you’ll 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’s about 220 cm in length. Folks between 5’5” and 5’11” should use a paddle that’s about 240 cm in length. Paddlers over 5’11” should use a paddle that’s 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.

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