When you're a beginner, trying to pick the PERFECT kayak may seem overwhelming. Well, it doesn't have to be. Keep reading to cut through all the BS and land on the best kayak for YOU.
How to choose the right kayak
When most people think of kayaking, they think about the small, narrow boats in whitewater rapids. There are many different types of kayaks, made for all kinds of water adventures.
The type of kayak that is right for you depends on many factors like your destination and your budget. Before setting out to choose a kayak, it is important to think about where you plan to paddle to, what type of water you plan to paddle in, how you plan to transport your kayak from your home to the water, and how much money you are prepared to spend on the perfect kayak.
Quick Top 5 Beginner Kayaks
Size, weight, and style of kayaks
Recreational kayaks tend to be heavier than other types of kayaks, have a large, accessible cockpit and are 10 to 12 feet long, and a wide beam that offers plenty of stability for the kayaker. Touring kayaks are light-weight but can be awkward and difficult to transport given their length and the shape of their hull. Touring kayaks are typically 12-17 inches long. If you are searching for the most portable kayak, inflatable kayaks are the ones to look for. Inflatable kayaks are usually 10 to 15 feet long, made of PVC-coated polyester, and are more buoyant than traditional kayaks due to being inflated with air.
Recreational vs. Touring kayaks
The most popular type of kayak is a recreational kayak. Recreational kayaks are generally budget friendly and easy to use for beginners and experienced kayakers alike. Recreational kayaks are best for low-intensity paddling causing them to be a popular choice among fishermen, huntsmen, and nature photographers. Recreational kayaks are well-suited for short day trips. Though expensive, touring kayaks are the best type of kayak for high-intensity kayaking. These types of kayaks are best equipped for traveling long distances in open water, and in harsh conditions. Most of them are built with plenty of storage space and bulkhead areas.
Inflatable vs. Non-inflatable kayaks
Although inflatable kayaks are often seen as a toy for the swimming pool, they are surprisingly stable and can be used for many different types of water activities. Inflatable kayaks are best for recreational use in ponds, lakes, or other small bodies of water with little current. This kind of kayak is inflatable by hand, foot, or electric pump. Once the kayaks are deflated, they are easily transportable in an overnight bag or folded in the trunk of your car. Inflatable kayaks are very convenient, but they are much slower and rugged than a non-inflatable kayak and take a good bit more effort to paddle.
The Intex Explorer K2 Kayak is a two-person, inflatable kayak. The kayak comes with a set of aluminum oars and a high-output air pump. The Intex Explorer is brightly colored, with sporty graphics for easy visibility and performs great in calm rivers and lakes.
This kayak is lightweight, compact, and very easy to assemble. The kayak is composed of rugged vinyl and features an inflatable l-beam floor for stability and extra comfort. The Intex Explorer also features a removable skeg on the bottom of the boat to help the kayak stay the course.
This kayak is also quick to inflate and deflate with a Boston valve on either side of the kayak, making the kayak extremely portable when deflated. The Intex Explorer also comes with a repair patch and a U.S. Coast Guard I.D.
- Very easy to use for kayakers of any skill level and easy to clean
- Very easy to use for kayakers of any skill level and easy to clean
- Provides a very smooth ride, once inflated.
- Sits high above the water.
- Easy to turn quickly in the water.
- Removable skeg provides great tracking and heading.
- Can take up to 40 minutes to inflate.
- Bullet Point 2
The Intex Challenger K1 Kayak is an inflatable, 1-person kayak and comes complete with 84-inch aluminum oars and high output air pump. This kayak is extremely nimble and durable for all types of weather conditions.
The kayak also features an extra-large cockpit for maximum comfort and accessibility, as well as an inflatable floor for extra stability. The Intex Challenger measures 30-inches, by 15-inches, by 105-inches, weighs 27.2 pounds, and has a weight capacity of 220 pounds.
The durable, welded material with bright colors and eye-catching graphics add safety whether on the lake or a slow moving river.
- Cargo net for extra storage
- Affordable price point
- Inflating is simple, takes between 10 and 15 minutes
- Inflatable floor for comfort and stability
- Grab line on both ends of kayak
- Inflatable seat with backrest
- Easy to maneuver
- Roomy cockpit is perfect for fishing
- Tracking is non-existent for this type of kayak
- May be too small for kayakers any taller than 6 feet
- Takes on water easily, hard to drain
- This kayak is only recommended for calm water, not durable enough for waters with high currents like whitewater rapids or oceans
The Sun Dolphin Aruba Kayak is designed to gracefully and effortlessly glide through all types of rivers and lakes. The Sun Dolphin Aruba Kayak is crafted from rugged UV-resistant polyethylene plastic. This particular kayak is perfect for short or long trips. The cockpit of the kayak is extremely roomy and non-confining so kayakers of any size will feel comfortable in this boat. The Sun Dolphin Kayak features a high-quality adjustable backrest and adjustable foot pegs, which makes it accessible for couples or families to share,
just adjust the backrest and foot pegs to meet individual needs. This kayak features roomy storage compartments for extra gear, extra snacks, and beverages. The maximum weight capacity for this kayak is 250 pounds.
- Affordable price point for all budgets
- Kayak is light weight and easy to transport
- Very comfortable with roomy interior
- Kayak is very stable, and high walls keep water out of the boat
- High weight limit makes kayak accessible for a variety of kayakers
- Excellent kayak for paddlers of all skill levels
- Material can dent or bend very easily
- Taller kayakers may not have enough leg room
The Sun Dolphin Bali SS Sit On Top Kayak is made from rugged UV stabilized high-density polyethylene. This kayak features a large, comfortable seating area with adjustable foot braces and protective thigh pads for comfort and versatility.
The kayak is very lightweight and easy to carry, making for incredibly easy to transport between home and the water. The Sun Dolphin Kayak also tracks and paddles with extreme ease and offers maximum stability. This kayak also includes a portable accessory carrier that can be used for extra storage or a tow behind, if needed.
- Paddle holder
- Shock cord deck rigging
- Storage compartment
- Open cockpit for easy accessibility
- Great for lakes and rivers
- Affordable price point
- May be too short for some kayakers, not enough leg room
- Not many handles, making for a difficult load and unload into and out of transport vehicle
- If kayaker is any taller than 5’10’’, the foot pegs can feel as though they are awkwardly placed.
The Sevylor Fiji 2-Person Kayak is an inflatable boat with the feel of a full-size kayak. The two person kayak comes with a fixed seat in the back and a removable seat in the middle, allowing the kayak to be modified for a single rider.
This kayak is constructed of 22-gauge PVC, allowing the kayak to stand up to multiple seasons on the water as has an airtight system to prevent any water leaks. Should the kayak snag, it is equipped with multiple air chambers that will help you get back to shore.
- This kayak is certified to hold up to 400 pounds, making it ideal for solo trips with extra gear, or fit for a day trip with two paddlers.
- Spray skirt blocks splashes to help keep water out of kayak and keep paddlers dry
- Valves feature two locking points for easy inflation and deflation.
- Multiple air chambers allow kayak to stay inflated should one air chamber get punctured.
- Low walls allow this kayak to take on water if paddling in area with slight current
- Very little stability and easily spins in the water and loses direction
The Vapor 10 Recreational Kayak is very versatile. This kayak is great for fishermen, hunters, nature photographers, and recreational kayakers. While this kayak appears compact on the outside, it is surprisingly voluminous and roomy on the inside.
The single layer polyethylene makes for an incredibly efficient and stable paddle. The open, 48-inch cockpit features a comfort flex seat allows the paddler to comfortably travel long distances without having to take a break to re-adjust.
This kayak offers plenty of storage space for holding onto snacks and drinks or extra gear needed for a long trip. This boat is light weight and has built in carry handles making it easy to transport by yourself or with a group.
- Seat adjustment makes for a very comfortable kayak ride.
- The front of the kayak features cup holders and trays for snacks.
- Storage compartments are easily accessible from all areas of the kayak.
- Storage compartments are not waterproof.
- The paddle holder is inconveniently placed if traveling with more than one person in the kayak.
- Inconvenient drain hole placement for if the boat takes on water.
The Ocean Malibu Sit on Top Recreational kayak is thought to be one of the most popular sit on top kayaks in the world. This kayak features three molded-in seat wells, with two comfort plus seat backs.
The kayak can seat two adults, plus a small child or pet, however, this kayak can also be modified to paddle solo from the middle seat if desired. The Ocean Malibu sit on top kayak is versatile, and well situated for paddling on the calmest of lakes or rivers with medium current.
This kayak features gear straps to secure any supplies necessary to transport, bow and stern paddle holders, and overlapping foot wells.
- Multiple foot positions and adjustable seat cushions make for a very comfortable ride.
- Stable, comfortable, and easy to maneuver
- Kayak tracks well, is easy to maneuver, and has plenty of room to move around.
- This kayak is great for family paddling, solo lake fishing, or to use as a diving point for swimming.
- Lack of storage space if traveling with more than one paddler.
- The outer edge of the kayak is too thin for paddle holders.
The Sun Dolphin Bali Sit on Top Kayak is made from rugged, flexible high-density polyethylene plastic and is UV-stabilized to protect against sun exposure. This kayak is well-reviewed for its stability and easy to use tracking.
The Sun Dolphin Kayak is equipped with a large, comfortable cockpit, protective thigh, and leg padding, and adjustable foot pegs, making the kayak fully customizable for maximum comfort.
This kayak measures in at 12-feet and has a weight capacity of 395 pounds, making it perfect for paddlers of any shape or size. The Sun Dolphin kayak is best for water with light to medium current and is easiest to board from a dock or a shoreline.
- Equipped with plenty of storage space for extra gear and snacks
- Lightweight, easy to carry solo or with a partner, easy to transport
- Made with cup holders and rod holders for fishing
- Excellent tracking and durable material to hold up to all lengths of trips in all kinds of conditions
- No seat pad on the bottom of seat
- No built-in drain holes. If kayak takes on water, the boat must be manually drained.
The Sun Dolphin Excursion Sit-In Fishing Kayak includes two flush mount fishing rod holders, as well as one center-mounted swivel holders for hands-free fishing while you paddle.
This kayak is made from rugged, polyethylene plastic that can glide over rocks and logs without getting so much as a scratch. The Sun Dolphin Kayak features a comfortable, high back seat for added support while you paddle, a water bottle holder so you stay hydrated, a spray deflector to keep you dry, and adjustable footrests so riders of all heights can be comfortable.
At only 40 pounds, this kayak is lightweight enough to transport solo and easy to lift onto a rack thanks to built-in, easy carry handles. This kayak is durable enough for river exploring, but also simple enough to use for beginners just starting to paddle a nearby pond.
- Easy to handle, good speed for recreational use
- Durable shock cords keep kayaking supplies in place, even if boat capsizes
- Enough storage space for multi-day trip
- Plenty of room for fishing
- Material kayak is composed of can feel flimsy to some paddlers
- Difficult to lift when wet
The Sea Eagle SE370K Inflatable kayak is made of inflatable PVC material and weighs in at 32 pounds, fully inflated. The pro package includes two inflatable seats, a foot pump for easy inflation, two paddles, a repair kit for any damage the kayak may sustain, a carrying bag for easy transport, and a skeg for easy navigation.
The weight capacity of this kayak is 650 pounds making it great for kayaking with friends or pets, or multi-day trips with lots of gear. This kayak is recommended for waters with low to medium current and is suitable for kayakers of any skill level.
- Great deal for the price. The pro package includes everything needed for a kayaking trip.
- Inflatable PVC material is well made and durable for all weather conditions.
- Drain plug at the boat stern and tow point on the bow are convenient and make the boat easy to transport
- Many kayakers say this kayak is sturdier than other inflatable kayaks.
- Can take up to 40 minutes to inflate with foot pump, electric pumps do not work
- Can take a lot of effort to paddle if traveling solo
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