If you’re new to the world of kayaking, you might be overwhelmed with the sheer number of kayaks there are available on the market. On top of that, you might not even know what to look for in a kayak.
To get you started on finding the option that’s best for you, we’ve researched and reviewed the best kayaks for beginners.
We waded through 25 different kayaks, testing stability, space and usability. After hours of testing and more dips in the water than we’d like to admit, we landed on the Ocean Kayak Scrambler 11 as the best kayak for beginners for 2018. This boat offers comfortable seating and greater stability so you feel confident on the water.
Out of all the hobbies you can choose to fill your free time, kayaking has become one of the more popular options. It gives you an opportunity to reconnect with nature and meet new people. Choosing the right kayak to fit your needs and budget is important to get the most out of this fulfilling activity.
Check out our list of the other top kayaks below, as well as our kayak buying guide for beginners, which outlines some of the most critical features you should consider when making your choice.
- The Top Beginners Kayaks
- Beginners Kayak Buyer’s Guide
- Top Beginners Kayak Questions Answered
The Best Kayaks for Beginners of 2018
#1 Ocean Kayak Scrambler 11 – Best Overall Kayak for Beginners
- Extra-stable design makes it easy to use in the water
- Included dry storage gives you room to store gear
- Included seat is both comfortable and adjustable
- Durable construction
- Heavier than other kayaks
- Slower than other kayaks
- No accessories included
The Ocean Kayak Scrambler 11 is a great choice for recreationalists and beginners alike. While it doesn’t offer features for the pros, it provides everything you need to get started on a new kayaking hobby. It features an extra-stable design that gives beginners more room to make mistakes without the consequences. This added stability in the bow and stern also makes it easier for you to get back into the kayak when you inevitably tip over in the water as you are learning.
Learn More: Canoe vs Kayak Fishing
Unfortunately, this option sacrifices speed for that added stability, meaning you definitely won’t be the fastest kayaker on the water. However, if you’re just starting out, that might be for the best until you get more comfortable paddling.
This boat also includes a variety of convenience features that make it better to use while you’re out on the water. There’s a 6-inch dry storage compartment in the center console, along with webbing on either end of the kayak for more storage. It also features a cup holder molded directly into the hole right in front of the seat so you can bring your water bottle or other drinks with you out on the water.
The Scrambler 11 doesn’t include any accessories other than the adjustable seat, which is very comfortable in its own right. If you don’t have a kayak paddle, you’ll need to purchase one before hitting the lake.
#2 Sun Dolphin Aruba – Best Value Kayak for Beginners
- More stability for higher ease of use
- Cockpit is large and comfortable
- Adjustable foot braces give you greater control
- Seat doesn’t adjust to your preferences
- Seat bottom is not padded
- Water tends to get in the cockpit on rough water
The Sun Dolphin Aruba offers high stability and ease of use for a low price. This is the perfect choice for beginners who don’t want to spend a ton on a new kayak, especially if they aren’t 100% sure paddling is the hobby for them.
One of the biggest selling points for this option is the comfort that it offers. With an extra-large cockpit, kayakers of all shapes and sizes will feel comfortable while paddling. This is also helpful for those who don’t want to feel trapped in a sit-in kayak. The molded seat is comfortable, as well, with padding on the back of the seat and around the rim of the cockpit. While it doesn’t include padding on the bottom of the seat, the Aruba offers adjustable foot braces that give you more customizability and control.
When it comes to learning how to kayak, it’s important that you get a boat that is easy to control. This is another area where the Sun Dolphin Aruba excels. Its hull design adds extra stability to the overall experience. While you do sacrifice some speed to get that extra stability, it’s well worth it for new users.
#3 Ocean Kayak Malibu Two – Best Tandem Kayak for Beginners
- Tandem style gives you room for two adults and a child
- Can use solo if desired
- Overlapping foot braces give you more comfort and control
- Longer length means heavier kayak
- Minimal storage options
- No included paddles
The Ocean Kayak Malibu Two is a tandem kayak that gives you more flexibility in the way get out on the water and enjoy the sport. While kayaking is traditionally a solo sport, it can be especially fun for beginners to paddle with friends and loved ones. This boat includes two seats, three different seating configurations and a 425 lb. weight capacity for a more versatile experience.
Learn More: Best Place to Buy A Kayak
If you’re using this kayak to its full seating capacity, you might find that you don’t have much room to store your gear. While there are two dry storage compartments on board, they can be harder to access with two people paddling, and there isn’t any webbing to store gear on top of the kayak with you. However, if you’re paddling solo, you’ll likely find that you have an abundance of space for your gear. You’ll just need to find a way to secure it.
Since it’s 12 feet long, the Malibu Two is naturally more stable, and its overlapping foot wells help you gain more control over steering and overall movement. Just be aware that adding an extra person to the mix can cause more instability, especially if that person is brand new to kayaking.
#4 Intex Challenger K1 – Best Inflatable Kayak for Beginners
- Deflates for easier storage and transport
- Super durable construction
- Necessary accessories included (air pump, paddle, carrying bag)
- Included air pump is manual, not electric
- No dry storage
- Not as smooth or fast as hard kayaks
In an industry traditionally dominated by hardshell kayaks, the inflatable Intex Challenger K1 stands out. Inflatable kayaks are relatively new to the scene, but they offer an excellent starting point for beginners. This is one of the highest-rated inflatable kayaks on the market today. It’s affordable and easy to use, which makes it a great choice for those new to the paddling scene.
One of the biggest draws about inflatable kayaks for beginners is the added convenience they offer. Being able to deflate your kayak and store it while only using a minimal amount of space means you don’t have to spend a ton of money on extra accessories like car roof racks. This kayak also includes all the necessary accessories to get you on the water, like the paddle, air pump and carrying bag. Unfortunately, the air pump is hand-operated, which can be tiring, so we recommend you look at purchase an electric pump that runs off batteries or a cigarette lighter.
When you’re out on the water, you might find that the Intex Challenger K1 isn’t as smooth a ride as hard kayaks, but it’s stable and easy to use, which is most important to consider for beginners.
#5 Emotion Spitfire – Best Sit-on-Top Kayak for Beginners
- Built-in seat is extra comfortable and durable
- Foot wells molded into the hull offer more comfort and control
- Hull is designed for higher stability and better tracking
- Seat isn’t adjustable
- No cup holder
- Slower than other kayaks
The Emotion Spitfire was designed specifically for greater stability and tracking in the water, even though it means you lose some speed, which might be a good thing for beginners. The hull itself is also designed to be extra durable, so you don’t have to worry about ruining the boat if and when you run into things.
This kayak excels when it comes to overall design. The built-in seat is comfortable and durable. While it doesn’t adjust as much as other kayak seats, it still provides a good amount of comfort while you’re out in the water. The boat also includes molded foot wells at different intervals, which gives you more choices when it comes to your comfort.
Storage is no problem on the Emotion Spitfire. With both cargo-net storage and dry storage, you should be able to store all your gear with ease. The only thing missing here is a cup holder. If you want to bring a drink with you, plan on holding it or putting it on the floor of the kayak, which isn’t advisable unless you want to watch your drink go overboard.
#6 Lifetime Rush 90 – Best Sit-In Kayak for Beginners
- Cockpit is comfortable and large
- Seatback is adjustable
- Hull is designed for added stability
- Onboard storage is lacking
- No accessories included
- Doesn’t do well on rough water
The Lifetime Rush 90 is great for young and old alike, with enough stability for younger paddlers and plenty of room for adults. Its hull is designed to give you more stability out on the water, especially as you get in and out of the boat. It also includes extra foam blocks built in for greater flotation. This can provide you more comfort and confidence while you’re kayaking.
The cockpit itself is comfortable, even though the only padded part of the seat is the seat back, which is adjustable to your liking. If you find the seat bottom too hard, you can add your own seat, if desired.
The Rush 90 performs best on calm lakes or slow-moving rivers. While it doesn’t take on much water during rough conditions, it has a hard time tracking and staying straight when it comes up against any kind of resistance. Beginners are probably best left to calmer waters, anyway, but if you start feeling more confident in your skills on rougher water, you might want to use a different kayak.
#7 Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Vapor 10 Angler – Best Fishing Kayak for Beginners
- Loaded with tons of cockpit features
- Plenty of storage space
- Incredible stability
- No included accessories
- Drain hole not placed wellability
- No dry storage
The Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Vapor 10 Angler is a fisher’s dream. It gets you closer to the fish without the high expenses that come with owning a full-sized boat. This kayak shines when it comes to all the added convenience it offers through the cockpit features. The cockpit itself is extra roomy, with tons of leg room and floor space for gear storage. It also includes a tray and cupholder.
Storage is another area where this kayak shines. Directly behind the seat is a storage well. While it isn’t covered to provide dry storage, it’s easy enough to purchase a cover to protect your gear that can’t get wet. The kayak also includes webbing for storage directly on the hull. And if you’re worried about your fishing rods, you can place them in a rod holder on either side of your seat.
When it comes to using the kayak, you won’t be unstable on the Vapor 10 Angler. Its hull provides added stability and tracking so you can maneuver easily through the water, even in rougher conditions. This is especially helpful for fishers when they need to move to a different area to follow where the fish are.
Beginners Kayaks Buying Guide
Buying a kayak is hard enough even for the professionals. There are so many different factors that majorly affect the way you use, store and maintain your boats. As you can imagine, buying a kayak can be exponentially harder for those new to the sport. Unfortunately, this learning curve can be steep enough to prevent people from getting out on the water, even if they’re really interested in it.
To get you started on the right track, we’ve compiled some key features that you should consider most when it comes to purchasing your first kayak, and why they’re so important. Once you’re finished here, don’t forget to keep reading to find the answers to some of the biggest questions about kayaking for beginners.
√ Stability – As a beginner, the last thing you want happening is to get capsized in the middle of the lake or river. Of course, this will likely happen to you at some point during your kayaking career, but it can be scary if it happens on your first run. As such, it’s especially important that you purchase a boat that is designed specifically for stability.
Keep in mind that by gaining more stability, you often sacrifice speed and maneuverability. This isn’t as important if you are planning on paddling recreationally, and it’s better to gain your confidence before zipping around everyone else in the water.
√ Type of Kayak – As you might have seen in the list of kayaks above, there are a wide variety of different types of boats to consider. Each type of kayak has its pros and cons, but they mostly cater to the different uses. As a beginner, you should start by looking at sit-on-top kayaks. These recreational kayaks often provide more stability and comfort than others. Then, as you grow more experienced, look for a kayak that fits your specific needs, like a fishing or whitewater model.
√ Hull Design and Gear Storage – The way your kayak’s hull is designed can have a big impact on your overall comfort and easy of use. Look for products that are designed to give you greater convenience. These features often come in the form of cupholders, foot wells, adjustable foot braces and adjustable, padded seats. Not every option will offer these features, but they can make or break your experience out on the water.
Gear storage is also an important feature to consider. If you’re planning on exploring at all, you’ll want to pack your gear with you. The best kayaks for beginners offer both dry storage compartments and webbing on the hull’s exterior. This way, you can store your most important gear without fear of it getting wet.
√ Budget – Finally, consider how much money you want to spend on your kayak. It can be an expensive hobby, and as a beginner, you might not want to drop a huge chunk of change into it. While there are budget kayaks out there, they’re often produced poorly and don’t perform as well in the water. If you want a fairly reliable beginners kayak, you’re likely going to spend around $500-$1,000.
Set your budget early, and be sure to stick to it. This can help you avoid buyer’s remorse, especially while you’re paddling around. You don’t want to tip while thinking you spent too much money on your boat!
Top Questions About Beginners Kayaks Answered
When you’re boarding from a dock or land, first make sure your kayak is steady and not going to escape by ensuring it is parallel with the dock or shore. Hold onto the cockpit with your hand and line yourself up so you’re facing the right direction. You don’t want to get in the kayak just to find out you’re facing the wrong way. Put one foot in first, make sure you’re stable, and then place your other foot into the kayak. Then, lower yourself slowly into the seat. Once you’re comfortable, shove off and get paddling!
Getting out of your boat is similar to getting in. Line yourself up to the dock or shore, and make sure you’re steady. You can steady yourself with your paddle or hand. Once you’re certain you aren’t going anywhere, place both arms on the dock and lift yourself out, one foot at a time. Only apply weight with your arms! Don’t try to push with your legs because that will effectively push your kayak out from under you and send you swimming.
Once you’re in your kayak and ready to go, you’ll want to be sure you’re holding your paddle correctly. First, get the blades facing the same way. If they aren’t both in the same orientation, you’ll only be fighting yourself.
Next, place your hands on the paddle shaft so your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Use a relaxed, but firm grip on the paddle. Using a relaxed grip prevents your arms from getting fatigued.
Finally, choose what stroke you want to use. Forward stroke propels you forward. Reverse stroke helps you come to a stop and go backward. You can use a sweep stroke to turn your boat. The draw stroke can help you draw closer to another boat or dock.
Both canoes and kayaks are usually lightweight and can be used in shallow and deep water. They both use paddles for forward and backward movement. Kayaks use double-bladed paddles, while canoes use single-bladed paddles.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference between these boats is in their appearance. Canoes are taller than kayaks, and they are often roomier for their paddlers. Kayaks sit low on the water, and their paddlers often have their legs fully extended instead of bent. Kayaks also often include foot braces to give you greater control over their movement. Some kayaks even fully enclose your lower body in a cockpit.
When it comes to speed and maneuverability, kayaks win most often, which is one of the draws of kayaking over canoeing. However, canoes tend to be more comfortable and leisurely in the long run, especially if you’re spending a lot of time on the water.