Updated on August 27, 2020

All kayaks are not created equal. There are many different types of kayaks that are engineered and manufactured for very different purposes. Kayaks are made for everything, from running big whitewater in a place like the Grand Canyon to enjoying a relaxing paddle on your local lake. If you’re just starting out, it’s important for you to identify the best kayaks for beginners so that you don’t buy a boat you don’t know how to handle.

Your ability to buy the right kayak as a beginner can make or break your early kayaking experience. Finding a kayak that’s easy to transport, easy to handle on the water, and simple to maintain is key. In this article, we’ll cover ten beginner kayaks that’ll get you on the water with minimal effort.

For more of our top kayaking gear recommendations, check out these popular articles: 

Lake Kayaks | Sea Kayaks | Touring Kayaks | Sit In Kayaks | Kayaks Under $500

Kayaks for Kids | Kayaks for Dogs | Sit-On-Top Kayaks | River Kayaks

Kayaks for Women | Canoes | Tandem Kayaks | Lightweight Kayaks

 

Quick Answer - The Best Kayaks for Beginners

     

    Comparison Table - The Best Beginners' Kayaks

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    PictureNameRatingPriceLengthWeightPaddlersStyle
    Want to learn more about a technical term? Check out our Features Explained section below.

    Need buying advice? Take a look at these Things to Consider.

    Reviews - Best Kayaks for Beginners

     

     

    THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING YOUR FIRST KAYAK

    PRIMARY PADDLE LOCATION

    The area where you’ll mostly be paddling will dictate the type of kayak you need. Coastal waterways or ocean kayaking requires more stability and splash protection than paddling on flatwater. Fast-moving water necessitates a kayak that can maneuver very quickly to help you avoid objects. Just to be clear, running large rivers isn’t the place to start as a beginning kayaker. But consider the waters you’ll primarily be paddling on before you settle on a kayak type.

     

    KAYAK STYLE

    While there are more than just two styles of kayaks, those that you should be most concerned about deciding between are sit on top and sit inside kayaks.

    Sit inside kayaks offer more protection from splashes, but they don’t drain at all if water does happen to get inside.

    Sit on top kayaks tend to get the paddler wet from the outset, but they naturally bail water from footwells by way of built-in scupper holes.

    While it might seem counterintuitive, sit on top kayaks are generally better for complete novices because they’re easier to right and climb back into if you do happen to flip. Here are some additional tips on how to choose a kayak that’s right for you.  

     

    WEIGHT

    Weight is mostly going to come into play when you’re transporting the kayak to and from wherever you like to paddle. Keep in mind that most of the damage that kayaks sustain actually happens when they aren’t in the water, so it’s important to choose a kayak that you can handle safely when it’s not in the water.

    While this is important to the longevity of your kayak, it’s also important to your long-term health. A lighter kayak makes transportation easier and, as a result, often makes kayakers more likely to get on the water. Here are some additional tips on how to transport a kayak

     

    DURABILITY

    While inflatable kayaks are the most compact and easy-to-transport option out there, they generally don’t offer the longevity and durability of kayaks made with polyethylene. This hard plastic is the predominant substance used to manufacture most of the best kayaks for beginners.

    Some kayaks are made from separate top- and bottom sections, whereas others are created as single structures. In general, kayaks that feature a single, fully-molded design, as opposed to separate top and bottom sections that are welded together, are going to be more durable and last longer.

     

    FEATURES EXPLAINED

    HULL

    The hull of a kayak is its bottom. This is the part of the kayak that sits underwater once you sit inside (or on top) of it. The design of a kayak’s hull plays a large role in how it tracks (stays straight) and how easy (or hard) it is to maneuver.

    BOW/STERN

    We BOW FORWARD and a STERN face is the one our mom gives us when we might want to go BACK and do something differently. This is how we remember the areas of our kayak that these terms refer to. The bow of your kayak is the front and the stern is the back.

    SKEGS/TRACKING FINS

    Not all kayaks have a skeg or tracking fin. But those that do are typically longer models that can have a more difficult time tracking straight in the water. Skegs or tracking fins attach to the hull (bottom) of a kayak to help it stay straight, at least until the paddlers get in rhythm and are able to correct the kayak’s course on their own.

    STORAGE HATCHES

    Kayak storage hatches give you a place to store extra gear for day-long or multi-day paddling trips. While they can seem like the perfect place to store dry goods, almost all experienced paddlers have a horror story about being let down by storage hatches that they really needed to keep their gear dry.

    While storage hatches give you a great place to take more gear with you, we always recommend purchasing dry bags or boxes to store sensitive gear in before placing it in your kayak storage hatches.

    SCUPPER HOLES

    No, your kayak isn’t broken! Those small, round holes are built-in for a very good reason. Scupper holes are located in the footwells of most sit on top kayaks. They serve to bail water from footwells instead of allowing it to pool in that area.

    Unlike with a sit inside kayak, with which you’ll need a hand-pump bailing system, scupper holes allow any water that comes over the gunwales (sides) of your kayak to drain out effortlessly.

    GUNWALES

    Gunwales are the sides of your kayak. When you’re sitting inside, they are the ‘rails’ located immediately to your left and right. Some kayaks have gunwales with molded handles, some feature gunwales with rubber handle straps, and others offer gunwale attachment systems that make it easy to secure fishing gear or additional items that don’t fit in the storage hatches.

    CHINE RAILS

    A kayak’s chine rails are the points at which the boat’s bottom meets its sides. They define the shape of a kayak’s hull as either being rounded or boxy. Kayaks typically come with either ‘hard chines’ or ‘soft chines’.

    Hard chines provide better edge control for improved maneuverability, but they also make a kayak more vulnerable to flipping if its harder edges get caught. Soft chines make for a more forgiving ride. While a kayak with soft chines might not be as quickly responsive, its action will be more predictable if the bottom strikes a shallow area.

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    For more of our top kayaking gear recommendations, check out these popular articles:

    About The Author

    Writer/Guide/Adventurer

    Tucker grew up in the mountains of Northern California. An avid traveler, he has since lived in San Diego, Fort Collins, Colorado, Maui, Austin, Texas, and Costa Rica. But he always circles back to his hometown of Truckee and will soon be based out of Santa Cruz, CA. He works as an outdoor guide during the summers, leading kayaking trips on Lake Tahoe and hiking/mountain biking excursions in the surrounding mountains. His favorite John Muir quote is, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

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