Are you looking for the best beginner kayak? Not sure what to be looking for and which ones are the any good? Well you’re in the right place. Choosing your first kayak can be difficult as there are so many options, and it can be hard to know what you features you need.
A lot of beginners get stuck with an uncomfortable or ill-fitting boat that they don’t enjoy using or it breaks after your second outing. This guide will help you avoid these problem by helping you choose the right boat for your needs.
To help, here at SeaKayakExplorer we’ve put together this guide to walk you through everything from how to evaluate different kayaks to choosing accessories all in a way that’s easy to understand and apply whether you’re buying online or at a local shop. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the best kayaks for beginners in 2021.
Quick Answer: The Best Beginner Kayaks
How to Choose A Beginner Kayak: A First Time Buyer’s Guide
Picking your first kayak is exciting, but there’s also a lot to learn and many factors to consider. It’s always best to paddle boats before purchasing to see how they fit you, but this isn’t always possible, so having a little background into the types of designs and some of the features available is a great help.
Types of Kayaks
There are many ways to classify kayaks. They are made of different materials, have different hull shapes, and are made for different purposes. But when you first start shopping, the biggest choice you’ll have to face is between sit-on-top kayaks or sit-in kayaks.
Sit On Top (SOT) vs. Sit Inside Kayaks
Sit on top kayaks have become the go-to choice, especially for beginners. They are more approachable for a beginner, and there’s nothing more involved than simply sitting down and paddling around. They are very stable, and they’re great for playing around at the beach. Most seaside resorts and eco-tours in warm areas have fleets of sit-on-top kayaks available to rent out. Anyone can do it, and it’s a fun new experience.
A few key features make these boats great for beginners. They are straightforward to get on and off of, even when away from shore. If the boat tips over, which is unlikely unless you are trying to get wet, the paddler simply falls off and goes for a swim. Most paddlers can pull themselves back aboard with a bit of effort.
Sit-on-top designs are also self-bailing. They have scupper holes in the bottom that allow any water that collects to drain out. So if a paddler does go for a swim, there’s no risk of the boat ever getting swamped.
A sit-on-top not only allows a swimmer to hop on and off of the kayak, but it also means there’s lots of accessible storage space. You can bring dry bags and packs with you and store them between your legs or on deck.
Sit-in kayaks on the other hand, are a traditional design that have been around for thousands of years. They are more common in colder climates, where the paddler can sit down inside the hull and keep out of the wind and spray.
Sit-in kayaks are more restrictive in a few ways. Some boats have very small cockpits that are difficult to get in and out of. When learning to paddle a sit-in kayak, some special training is a good idea. There are paddling tricks and techniques that can help you stay upright or flip back over quickly. Since these boats can fill up with water just like a canoe could, having a pump or sponge on board is a good idea.
Beyond these few facts, it’s hard to make any more generalizations about sit-on-top versus sit-in designs. Truthfully, there are good and bad ones of each type. Which you choose is mostly a factor of where you want to paddle and how warm the water and air will be. Warm and moderate climates lean towards sit-on-top models, and cold climates favor sit-in boats.
Inflatable vs. Hardshell
Inflatable kayaks have become more and more popular in recent years. There are lots of great options for beginners in the inflatable market. The most significant advantage to this boat design is portability. When you’re done paddling for the day, you can deflate the boat and throw it in your car’s trunk.
Inflatable boats range in quality, just like hardshell boats do. The best ones have decent hull shapes and look like kayaks. If the inflatable boat you’re eyeing looks more like a pool toy, it will likely paddle like a pool toy. If it looks like a sleek kayak capable of taking you anywhere, it probably can.
The only disadvantage an inflatable kayak has is durability. If you encounter sharp rocks or a dock with nails, your boat might be in big trouble. That being said, the best ones are made of thick PVC vinyl that can take quite a bit of abuse and ones like the Sea Eagle 380x are extremely tough as you can see in the video below.
Single vs Tandem Kayaks
The last major design factor you’ll need to decide is whether you want to paddle alone in a solo kayak or take a friend and use a tandem kayak. If you’re part of a paddling couple, it makes a lot of sense only to buy one boat. That one boat might be bigger and heavier, but that’s still smaller and less expensive than two completely separate boats.
Unfortunately, not everyone finds tandems as fun as you might think. They tend to be compromise boats for everyone involved. If each paddler goes out and picks a solo boat that they’re happy with, they will get something that suits them better than half of the tandem does. But there are undeniably situations when a tandem is fun.
Tandems are great ways to expose kids to paddling. They also hold a lot of gear. The best advice is to go out and rent some kayaks before deciding to purchase one. Couples should rent two solo boats one day and then one tandem boat the next and decide which path they want to take.
Kayak Materials Durability
Inflatable kayaks are made from durable vinyl that ranges in quality from the thin stuff used for children’s pool toys to the military-grade stuff used on Zodiac inflatable powerboats. In the world of inflatable boats, you really do get what you pay for.
Rigid kayaks are usually made out of either plastic or composite material. For beginners, plastic is by far the most common material. The most common plastic used is rotomolded polyethylene, which can be colored in various ways and shaped into almost any boat shape. Like with inflatable boats, quality can quickly be determined by the thickness of the material. Better boats are sturdy and can take quite a beating. Cheap boats can have thin, easily cracked hulls.
Composite kayals are generally made of fiberglass, but very high-performance models may be made with carbon fiber or Kevlar. These boats are usually beautiful but frighteningly expensive. If treated well, they’ll last a lifetime. They can be scratched and cracked easier than nice plastic boats, but they can also be more easily repaired. They are generally lightweight and suited for performance-minded experienced paddlers.
Of course, kayaks are made out of all sorts of other things too. There are skin-on-frame designs that break down small for transport. There are traditional all-wood designs that you can build yourself. These are specialty options that aren’t really for beginners–they are for experienced paddlers looking to add to their experience.
Kayak Length, Width, and Depth
A kayak’s performance is determined by its design, namely, its length, width, and depth. Its wetted surface area determines the load and weight capacity of a kayak. If you need your kayak to support 400 pounds, it must displace 400 pounds of water. To do that, it must have a specific wet surface area, and that can be any combination of length, width, or depth.
To put that another way, you can have a short and wide kayak, or you can have a long and skinny kayak, but you can’t have a short and skinny kayak.
Each of these components in a design affects the performance as well. A longer kayak will track better than a shorter one, but a shorter one will require less effort to turn. A wide kayak will be more stable, but a skinny kayak might provide a much more satisfying paddling experience. The depth of a kayak provides room for you to sit and room for your stuff.
Many factors determine the stability of a kayak. The two most obvious are the kayak’s width and the amount of weight loaded onto it. A wide kayak tends to be more stable, and a lighter kayak tends to be more unstable.
To ensure you get the most stable kayak you can, you should do two things. First, you should make sure that you’re getting a kayak that is the right size for you. Don’t look just at the weight capacity of the boat because this can be misleading. Make sure the boat is long enough to support your weight. Large paddlers (250 pounds or more) are best advised to stick with boats 12 feet or longer. The closer the load comes to the boat’s rated capacity, the less stable it will seem.
Another key factor for your first kayak is that it should be comfortable and fun. Some kayaks are like shoes, they don’t fit quite right. Most models you find will have adjustable backrests and multiple positions for the footrests. Look for the most comfortable-looking adjustable seat you can find.
It also helps to look for reviews about what similar-sized paddlers say about the kayak and how it works for them. While a kayak might safely carry either a 150-pound paddler or a 250-pound paddler, those two people will have very different experiences paddling the same vessel.
Special Purpose Kayaks
If your interests branch into particular areas of paddling, look for boats that are popular in your area of interest. Fishing kayaks often have lots of accessories, storage, and add-ons. If you want a peddle-drive kayak, look into ones that will fit the system you want.
Portability and Storage
Portability has always been the barrier to entry for many would-be paddlers. A hardshell boat is big, even if you pick a smaller model. You need to get a roof rack to carry it on your car or truck. It takes up space in your garage or apartment. It’s a big, bulky item that takes up a lot of space, no matter what you do. You can store kayaks outside, but it’s better for them to be stored out of the sun and away from the sun’s damaging UV rays.
If you need to move your kayak around, look into inflatable or folding kayaks. If you don’t have an easy way to transport and store your kayak, you won’t enjoy it.
Of course, everyone has a budget for their first kayak. There are so many brands making great kayaks now that it’s pretty straightforward to find a great one that suits every budget.
Best Rated Beginner Kayak Reviews
Now that we’ve covered some of the questions you might have had it’s time to look at some beginner kayak reviews.
#1. Sea Eagle SE370 Beginner Kayak
This inflatable kayak is durable enough to hold three people (or 650 lbs) yet lightweight enough to carry around and travel with. It features removable, inflatable front and back seats that keep you supported and comfortable while you paddle, a self-bailing drain valve, lashed-down inflatable spray skirts, and sturdy rope grab lines on the bow and stern.
High-quality welded seams give this kayak its solid design, and two molded skegs help it pick up speed over the water. This kayak inflates in as little as eight minutes and comes with two paddles, a carry bag, and a foot pump for easy setup. It can accommodate all your gear and even hold your dog while still being strong enough to resist sharp claws.
This is the best kayak for beginners because it is so easy to use and comes at an incredible value for its price.
#2. Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Kayak For Beginners
This is one of the best kayaks for beginners because it combines the portability of other inflatable kayaks with the structure of a sturdy hard shell, high-performance kayak. It has just enough room for one person and features plenty of on-board storage for all your gear.
It is easy to maneuver with the built-in aluminum ribs on the bow and stern, and welded-on landing plates keep it protected when you beach it. This inflatable kayak is durably designed with three layers of puncture-resistant vinyl. This kayak is also made with a padded seat and a breathable foam mesh back support for added comfort.
It is 10 ½ feet long, 32 inches wide, and has a 300 lb weight limit. Two air chambers keep this kayak safe against leakage and keep you protected while out on the water. This is a great beginner kayak at a reasonable price.
#3. Pelican Maxim 100X Sit-In Recreational Kayak
- Lightweight and easy to carry with Front and Rear T-Handles for Easy Transport this Sit-In kayak has a maximum capacity of 275 lb....
- Includes a Storage hatch with bungee cord and a Storage Platform with a Mesh Deck Cover to store all your gear for your trip on...
- The Shallow V Chine hull Design provides good stability and maneuverability while providing very good performance.Do not use...
The Pelican Maxim 100X kayak is a perfect kayak for beginners. This kayak holds up to one person and has a maximum weight capacity of 275 lbs with a length of 10 feet long. This sit-in kayak has molded foot braces that are both comfortable and secure when in use.
This recreational kayak makes it easy to choose the best, especially because it’s easy to transport. Its 39 lb weight makes it one of the best beginner kayaks for kayaking solo. The Pelican Maxim 100X is a lightweight kayak with great stability and an easy to maneuver structure.
The padded seat is incredibly comfortable and includes an adjustable backrest that gives your back and bottom support no matter how long you use your kayak. If you want to go solo kayaking in an easy-to-use beginner kayak, the Pelican Maxim 100X may be the best choice for you.
#4. Perception Joyride 10 Beginner Kayak
This sit-inside kayak features a large open cockpit, a two-way adjustable seat with ergonomic back support, and adjustable footpegs to keep paddlers of all sizes comfortable. The Perception Joyride 10 is 10 feet long and 29 ½ inches wide and the perfect size for adults and kids as long as they don’t exceed the 275 lb weight capacity.
There’s extra storage space beneath the hatch, as well as a place for you to slot your phone to take pictures of the beautiful scenery around you. This is one of those recreational kayaks that is great for calm waters like ponds, lakes, or even the open ocean.
The thick, ventilated padded seats are great when you’re in the kayak, and it comes with thigh pads to make it easier for you to paddle and maneuver across the water. The Perception Joyride has also been UV-stabilized in addition to having wear-proof color.
#5. Sun Dolphin Aruba 10-Foot Beginner Kayak
- Equipped with a unique and removable P.A.C. (Portable Accessory Carrier)
- Comfortable seating
- Electronics console
Another sit-in kayak, the Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 foot, is a fantastic choice in beginner kayaks. It comes with a removable portable accessory carrier as well as an electronics console. This kayak has thigh pads for extra comfort during use in addition to adjustable foot braces that allow for increased comfort and versatility.
It also comes with shock cord rigging that makes an excellent spot for you to put your paddle instead of constantly holding it. Despite its ample storage containers, the seating is significantly less padded than other kayaks on this list. It’s built soundly, though, with UV-stabilized materials and is great for a day out on the lake or river.
The Sun Dolphin is also lightweight for easy transport and even has retractable carrying handles. While the Sun Dolphin may not be the highest on the list, it’s still got some great qualities if you’re looking for your first kayak.
#6. Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 Beginner Sit on Top Kayak
This Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 is a fantastic choice if you’re looking for a fishing kayak. It’s made of UV-stabilized materials, so you can stay out fishing without worrying about your kayak getting any sun damage. There are shock cord straps in both the back and front of the kayak, so you can place your paddle in either area without it disrupting your fishing.
There’s a mount for your fishing pole, so you don’t have to hold it the whole time or worry about balancing it. There are also two storage compartments, so you don’t have to worry about if this kayak can hold all your tackle gear. While the footrests aren’t adjustable, there are multiple ones at different positions that you can choose from.
This kayak isn’t the best choice for everyone, but if you’re looking for a fishing kayak, this is sure to impress.
#7. Ocean Malibu Two Beginner Kayak
- Enjoy sun and surf with a friend or a furry companion with the kayak's three seating positions, which support solo, tandem, or...
- A pair of Comfort Plus seats provide four-way adjustability, generating a custom fit and greater slip prevention over molded...
- Patented overlapping foot wells allow center-seated paddlers to settle in and brace their feet comfortably. Hatches - None
This tandem, two-seater sit-on-top kayak is great if you like kayaking recreationally. You can fit one, two, or two people and a child on this Ocean Malibu 2 kayak without worrying about exceeding the 375 to 425 lb weight limit. Or, if you don’t have kids, you can also go kayaking with a partner and your four-legged friend.
This kayak can handle solo and tandem kayaking thanks to its convenient storage straps and comfortable seats. The footrests aren’t adjustable, but there are tons of options to pick from, so no matter how long your legs are, you can find a comfortable position.
The deck’s design and hull make on-shore stacking easy, though this isn’t something to be considered if you’re not buying them in bulk. The seats aren’t padded, so buyers should be wary of that, but you can’t beat this tandem kayak’s price and construction.
#8. Intex Explorer K2 Starter Kayak
- Comfortable for anyone: Kayak includes an adjustable inflatable seat with backrest; Cockpit designed for comfort and space
- Dimensions: Inflated size 10 feet 3 x 3 feet x 1 feet 8 inch; Maximum weight capacity: 400 pounds
- Directional stability: Removable SKEG for directional stability
This inflatable kayak is great for two people. This 10-foot long kayak has a weight capacity of 400 lbs, which is incredibly impressive. Other kayaks typically can’t hold that much, and they’re made out of non-inflatable material. Even though this model is inflatable, the seats are still adjustable or removable if necessary.
Plus, it comes with its own pump and repair kit, so inflation is a breeze, and if it needs any repairs, you’re prepared. Despite its inflatable nature, it’s still incredibly stable and easy to maneuver in gentle waters. You can make it more stable by removing its SKEG for added directional stability.
This kayak is not meant for rougher waters, so if that’s what you’re looking for, this kayak isn’t for you. However, if you’re looking for a convenient, lightweight two-seater that navigates small bodies of water like lakes or gentle rivers easily, you’re in luck.
#9. Lifetime Youth Wave Novice Kayak
If you’re looking for a beginner kayak for your child, this Lifetime Youth Wave kayak is the way to go. It’s specially designed for children, so you don’t have to worry about the safety of your child in a full-size kayak. The ergonomic cockpit design will help your child remain comfortable while honing their motor skills and sense of balance.
What’s more, it has multiple footrest options, so your child can always find a comfortable position for their feet and legs. This kayak is easily portable, only weighing about 18 lbs with a weight capacity of up to 130 lbs. It’s important to note that children under five should not use this kayak, and even then, you should always make sure it’s used with adult supervision.
The hull has a flip-resistant design, so you don’t have to worry about your child’s safety. Moreover, the Lifetime Youth Wave features scupper holes to drain water out of the cockpit with ease.
Conclusion: Which One Should You Buy?
We’ve given you some great kayak options to choose from, but there’s only one that we love beyond a shadow of a doubt — the Sea Eagle SE370. This inflatable kayak really has it all, holding up to three people with a 650 lb weight capacity. It’s also equipped for all water types, meaning you can use it virtually anywhere with no issues.
This kayak is truly the best kayak for beginners because it’s easy to assemble and use and easy to pack away. It’s durable enough to hold your dog without you having to worry about their claws tearing the material. The Sea Eagle SE370 has a self-bailing drain valve and tons of storage, so you can bring whatever you need along with you on your journey.
For the price and quality at hand, the Sea Eagle SE370 just can’t be beaten as a beginner kayak.