The best kayaks for beginners

If you’re new to kayaking and eager to dip your toes into the world of paddling, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll guide you through the maze of kayaks to find the perfect fit for beginners. Whether you’re craving tranquil lake excursions or thrilling river adventures, we’ve got you covered. Get ready to embark on your kayaking journey with confidence, as we reveal the top kayaks that are user-friendly, stable, and designed to help you navigate the waters with ease.

Types of Kayaks

When it comes to choosing a kayak, it’s important to consider the different types available and decide which one suits your needs the best. Here are four popular types of kayaks:

See the The best kayaks for beginners in detail.

Sit-on-top Kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks are perhaps the most user-friendly option, making them a great choice for beginners. As the name suggests, you sit on top of the kayak rather than being enclosed inside a cockpit. This design offers easy entry and exit, making it perfect for those who may feel claustrophobic or uncomfortable in a traditional sit-in kayak. Sit-on-top kayaks are also self-bailing, meaning any water that enters the kayak will drain out through small holes. While these kayaks are great for warmer climates and provide a fantastic paddling experience, they do come with limited storage space compared to other types.

Recreational Kayaks

Recreational kayaks are versatile and designed for calm waters such as lakes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers. These kayaks prioritize stability, making them ideal for beginners who want a confident and balanced paddling experience. Recreational kayaks usually have a wider hull, which contributes to their stability but may affect their maneuverability. These kayaks provide ample storage space for your belongings, making them suitable for day trips or short camping adventures. However, due to their wider design, they may not handle rough conditions as well as other types of kayaks.

Inflatable Kayaks

If portability and convenience are your top priorities, inflatable kayaks may be the perfect choice for you. These kayaks are made from durable materials that can withstand punctures, and they are surprisingly stable on the water. Inflatable kayaks are easy to store and transport, as they can be deflated and folded into a compact size. They are also more affordable compared to their hardshell counterparts. However, it’s worth noting that inflatable kayaks tend to be less durable and may have limited speed compared to other types.

Touring Kayaks

Touring kayaks are designed for long-distance paddling and are well-suited for more experienced kayakers. These kayaks have a longer and sleeker design, allowing for excellent speed and tracking. They also offer ample storage space for camping gear, making them perfect for multi-day trips. However, touring kayaks require more skill and experience to maneuver effectively, so they may not be the best choice for beginners.

Factors to Consider

When selecting a kayak, it’s essential to consider several factors that will affect your overall kayaking experience.


For beginners, stability is crucial. Look for a kayak that offers excellent primary stability, ensuring that you feel balanced and confident on the water. Primary stability refers to the initial stability of the kayak when it is sitting still in calm waters. A kayak with good stability will be less likely to tip over, which is especially important for beginners who are still learning how to maintain proper balance.


Maneuverability is another essential factor to consider. A kayak with good maneuverability will respond quickly to your paddle strokes, making it easier to navigate through tight spots and obstacles. Kayaks with a shorter length and wider hull tend to be more maneuverable, which can be useful for beginners who may need to make quick turns or adjustments.


The weight of the kayak is not only important while paddling but also when it comes to transportation and storage. Consider how you plan to transport and store your kayak and choose a weight that you will feel comfortable managing. Keep in mind that lighter kayaks are generally easier to lift on and off a car roof rack or carry to the water’s edge.

Storage Space

Think about the items you plan to bring along on your kayaking adventures. If you plan to go on day trips or short camping expeditions, having ample storage space is vital. Look for kayaks with built-in storage compartments or bungee cords that allow you to secure your gear securely.

Price Range

Kayaks can vary significantly in price, so it’s important to determine your budget beforehand. Consider how often you plan to use your kayak and the features that are important to you. While it’s essential to find a kayak that fits your budget, remember that quality and durability are equally important factors to consider.

Top Kayak Brands

Now that you have a better understanding of the different types of kayaks and factors to consider, let’s take a look at some of the top kayak brands that consistently deliver quality products:

The best kayaks for beginners

Perception Kayaks

Perception Kayaks is a renowned brand known for their innovative designs and durability. They offer a wide range of kayaks suitable for various skill levels, including a comprehensive selection of kayaks specifically designed for beginners. Perception Kayaks are highly regarded for their stability, comfort, and overall performance on the water.

Ocean Kayak

Ocean Kayak is another well-established brand that produces high-quality kayaks. They are known for their sit-on-top models, which are particularly popular among beginners. Ocean Kayak offers a diverse range of kayaks designed for different purposes, including recreational kayaking, fishing, and touring. Their kayaks are built to be durable, stable, and comfortable, ensuring a great experience for paddlers of all levels.


Intex is a brand that specializes in inflatable kayaks, making them a go-to choice for those looking for easy storage and portability. Intex kayaks are constructed with durable materials and designed to withstand punctures, ensuring a safe and reliable experience on the water. They offer a range of inflatable kayaks suitable for beginners, providing an affordable and convenient option for recreational paddling.


Sevylor is another top brand known for its inflatable kayaks. They offer a variety of models that cater to different experience levels and purposes. Sevylor kayaks are designed with stability and comfort in mind, ensuring an enjoyable and safe paddling experience. Their inflatable kayaks are user-friendly, providing beginners with an easy entry into the world of kayaking.

Sit-on-top Kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks are incredibly popular, especially among beginners. These kayaks are known for their ease of use and user-friendly design. Here are some of the key features and benefits of sit-on-top kayaks:

Easy to use

One of the biggest advantages of sit-on-top kayaks is their user-friendly design. Getting in and out of the kayak is a breeze since you don’t have to squeeze into a cockpit like you would with a sit-in kayak. This accessibility makes sit-on-top kayaks a great choice for beginners who may feel uncomfortable or claustrophobic in an enclosed space.

Great for beginners

Sit-on-top kayaks are widely regarded as an excellent option for beginners. Their stability and wide hull design provide a confident and balanced paddling experience, even for those new to kayaking. Beginners can focus on learning basic paddling techniques without worrying about staying upright or feeling wobbly on the water.


Sit-on-top kayaks are self-bailing, meaning any water that enters the kayak will drain out through small holes or scupper plugs. This feature is especially useful if you’re paddling in rougher conditions or if you accidentally dip your paddle and splash water into the kayak. The self-bailing design allows you to stay dry and comfortable, even with some water in the kayak.

Suitable for warmer climates

Sit-on-top kayaks are particularly suitable for warmer climates or areas where you’re more likely to get wet. Since you’re sitting on top of the kayak rather than inside a cockpit, you won’t be confined in a space that can become hot and stuffy. The open design allows for better airflow, keeping you cooler and more comfortable while paddling.

Limited storage

One potential drawback of sit-on-top kayaks is the limited storage space compared to other types. Due to the open design, there is less room for gear and belongings. However, many sit-on-top kayaks come equipped with bungee cords or storage compartments to help secure smaller items. If you’re planning on longer trips or need to bring more gear with you, consider a kayak with additional storage options.

Recreational Kayaks

Recreational kayaks are a popular choice among beginners looking for a versatile and stable kayak. Here are some key features and benefits of recreational kayaks:

The best kayaks for beginners

Good stability

Recreational kayaks prioritize stability, making them an excellent option for beginners. Their wider hull design and flat bottom provide increased primary stability, ensuring that you feel balanced and in control while paddling. This stability gives beginners the confidence to learn and develop their paddling skills without the fear of tipping over.


Recreational kayaks are designed to be versatile and suitable for a variety of paddling conditions. They are at home on calm waters such as lakes, slow-flowing rivers, and ponds. This versatility allows beginners to explore different environments and gain experience in various conditions. Recreational kayaks can also be easily maneuvered, making them suitable for recreational activities like fishing and photography.

Ample storage space

One of the major advantages of recreational kayaks is their ample storage space. These kayaks often come equipped with storage compartments or bungee cords to secure your gear and belongings. This feature is especially useful if you plan on going on day trips or short camping expeditions and need to carry supplies with you. Having enough storage space ensures that you can bring along everything you need for a comfortable and enjoyable outing.

Ideal for calm waters

Recreational kayaks are specifically designed for calmer waters, so they may not perform as well in rougher conditions or strong currents. If you’re planning on paddling in areas with significant waves or fast-moving water, a different type of kayak might be more suitable. However, for beginners looking to enjoy peaceful outings on lakes and calm rivers, a recreational kayak is an excellent choice.

Not suitable for rough conditions

While recreational kayaks offer stability and ease of use, they may not handle rough conditions as well as other types of kayaks. The wide hull design that provides primary stability can make them less maneuverable in choppy waters. If you’re planning to paddle in environments with strong currents, large waves, or windy conditions, consider opting for a kayak specifically designed for rougher conditions, such as a touring kayak.

Inflatable Kayaks

If portability, convenience, and ease of storage are your top priorities, inflatable kayaks may be the perfect choice for you. Here are some key features and benefits of inflatable kayaks:

Portable and compact

One of the biggest advantages of inflatable kayaks is their portability. When deflated, they can be packed down to a fraction of their inflated size, allowing you to transport and store them with ease. This portability makes them perfect for those who don’t have access to a roof rack or a lot of storage space. You can easily fit an inflatable kayak in the trunk of your car or even take it on a plane for your next adventure.

Easy to store and transport

Inflatable kayaks require minimal storage space compared to their hardshell counterparts. When deflated, they can be neatly packed away in a bag or backpack, allowing you to keep them in small spaces such as closets or garages. The ease of storage also means that you don’t have to worry about potential damage from being exposed to the elements or taking up valuable storage space.


Inflatable kayaks are generally more affordable compared to traditional hardshell kayaks. This affordability can make them an attractive option, especially for beginners who want to try kayaking without breaking the bank. However, it’s important to note that different models and brands may vary in price, so it’s essential to do your research and choose an option that fits your budget.

Less durability

While inflatable kayaks are designed to be durable and puncture-resistant, they are generally less durable than hardshell kayaks. While they can handle common obstacles like rocks and branches, they are more prone to punctures from sharp objects. That being said, most modern inflatable kayaks are made from tough materials that can withstand normal wear and tear. It’s important to use caution and avoid dragging the kayak on rough surfaces or exposing it to sharp objects.

The best kayaks for beginners

Limited speed

Inflatable kayaks tend to have limited speed compared to hardshell kayaks. Their design and construction can create more drag in the water, making it more challenging to achieve high speeds. However, inflatable kayaks are not typically designed for speed but rather for portability and ease of use. If you’re primarily interested in leisurely paddling and exploring calm waters, the reduced speed will not significantly impact your experience.

Touring Kayaks

If you have some experience under your belt and are looking to take your kayaking adventures to the next level, touring kayaks might be the perfect fit. Here are some key features and benefits of touring kayaks:

Long and sleek design

Touring kayaks are known for their long and sleek design. This design allows them to cut through the water with minimal resistance, providing excellent speed and efficiency. The longer length also contributes to better tracking, which refers to the kayak’s ability to maintain a straight line when paddling. The increased speed and tracking make touring kayaks a great choice for longer trips and expeditions.

Excellent speed and tracking

One of the main advantages of touring kayaks is their excellent speed and tracking. Their long and narrow shape allows them to glide effortlessly through the water, making them the fastest type of kayak. This speed and efficiency are particularly useful if you plan on covering long distances or participating in races. In addition, their superior tracking ensures that you can maintain a straight course without constantly correcting your paddling technique.

Ample storage for camping gear

Touring kayaks are built with extended trips in mind, so they offer plenty of storage space for camping gear and supplies. They often come equipped with multiple storage compartments and watertight hatches, allowing you to pack everything you need for multi-day adventures without compromising on space. The ample storage capacity ensures that you can bring along essential camping equipment, including tents, sleeping bags, and cooking gear.

Require more skill and experience

While touring kayaks offer numerous advantages, they do require more skill and experience to paddle effectively. Their longer length and narrower profile can make them less stable and more challenging to maneuver, especially for beginners. It’s important to have a solid foundation in basic paddling techniques and feel comfortable with the stability and maneuverability of a kayak before transitioning to a touring kayak. Building up your skills gradually will ensure a safe and enjoyable paddling experience.

Sit-in vs. Sit-on-top

One of the decisions you may need to make when choosing a kayak is whether to go with a sit-in or a sit-on-top design. Both options have their pros and cons, and it’s essential to consider your preferences and intended use before making a decision.

Sit-in kayaks

Sit-in kayaks refer to the traditional design where you sit inside a cockpit with your legs enclosed. Here are some pros and cons of sit-in kayaks:


  • Greater protection from the elements: The enclosed cockpit design provides more protection from wind, waves, and splashing water, keeping you drier and warmer, especially in colder weather.

  • Enhanced maneuverability: Sit-in kayaks generally have a lower center of gravity, making them more maneuverable and easier to control, especially in rougher waters.

  • More suitable for colder climates: The enclosed cockpit design helps to retain body heat, making sit-in kayaks ideal for paddling in colder climates or during colder seasons.


  • Potential feeling of confinement: Some people may feel claustrophobic or restricted in a sit-in kayak due to the enclosed cockpit. This feeling can be exacerbated if you’re not comfortable with the idea of being enclosed in a kayak.

  • Difficult to re-enter if capsized: In the event of a capsize, sit-in kayaks can be more challenging to re-enter and rescue compared to sit-on-top kayaks. This is because you have to first exit the cockpit and then perform a re-entry technique.

Sit-on-top kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks, as mentioned earlier, feature an open design where you sit on top of the kayak. Here are some pros and cons of sit-on-top kayaks:


  • Easy entry and exit: Getting on and off a sit-on-top kayak is as simple as stepping on or off. This ease of entry and exit is great for beginners or those who may find it challenging to squeeze into a cockpit.

  • Self-bailing: Sit-on-top kayaks are designed with scupper holes or drain plugs, allowing any water that enters the kayak to drain out. This self-bailing feature keeps you dry and comfortable while paddling.

  • More suitable for warmer climates: The open design of sit-on-top kayaks allows for better airflow and ventilation, making them a popular choice for paddling in warmer climates.


  • Limited protection from the elements: Sit-on-top kayaks don’t provide as much protection from wind, waves, or splashing water compared to sit-in kayaks. This means you may get wetter while paddling, especially in rougher conditions or colder weather.

  • Limited storage space: Due to their open design, sit-on-top kayaks typically offer less storage space compared to sit-in kayaks. This can be a factor to consider if you plan on bringing along a lot of gear or supplies.

Ultimately, the choice between a sit-in and a sit-on-top kayak depends on personal preference, intended use, and the environmental conditions in which you plan to paddle. If you have the opportunity, it’s worth trying out both types of kayaks to see which one feels more comfortable and suits your needs best.

Safety Tips for Beginners

When venturing out on the water, safety should always be a top priority. Here are some essential safety tips for beginners to ensure a safe and enjoyable kayaking experience:

Wear a personal flotation device

Wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) is crucial for your safety while kayaking, regardless of your skill level. A PFD will keep you afloat in case of an accident or capsize and may potentially save your life. Make sure to choose a PFD specifically designed for kayaking, as they are designed to allow freedom of movement and provide extra support for your upper body.

Learn basic paddling techniques

Before setting off on your kayaking adventure, take the time to learn and practice basic paddling techniques. This includes learning how to properly hold the paddle, execute efficient paddle strokes, and maneuver your kayak effectively. Knowing how to paddle correctly will not only make your paddling experience more enjoyable but also contribute to your safety on the water.

Avoid rough weather conditions

As a beginner, it’s best to avoid paddling in rough weather conditions, such as high winds or storms. These conditions can make the water unpredictable and increase the risk of accidents or capsizing. Check the weather forecast before heading out and prioritize calm and clear days for your kayaking trips.

Be aware of your surroundings

Always be aware of your surroundings while kayaking. Pay attention to other boats, watercraft, or hazards in the area, such as rocks, submerged branches, or strong currents. Maintaining situational awareness will help you avoid collisions, navigate obstacles, and paddle safely.

Never kayak alone

It’s always safer to kayak with a companion, especially as a beginner. Having someone with you provides an extra layer of safety and support in case of an emergency. Additionally, paddling with a partner can be more enjoyable and provides an opportunity for shared experiences and memories.

Recommended Kayaks for Beginners

If you’re a beginner looking for the best kayaks to get started with, here are four highly recommended options:

Perception Tribe 9.5

The Perception Tribe 9.5 is a sit-on-top kayak that offers stability, comfort, and ease of use, making it an excellent choice for beginners. It provides ample storage space and features a seating area designed for optimal comfort during long paddling trips. The Tribe 9.5 is suitable for both recreational paddling and introductory kayaking adventures.

Ocean Kayak Frenzy

The Ocean Kayak Frenzy is another fantastic option for beginners. This sit-on-top kayak is known for its durability, stability, and versatility, making it a popular choice for those just starting their kayaking journey. The Frenzy is lightweight and easy to maneuver, ensuring a fun and enjoyable experience on the water.

Intex Explorer K2

For those looking for an inflatable kayak, the Intex Explorer K2 is highly recommended. This two-person kayak is designed with durability, stability, and comfort in mind. The Explorer K2 is perfect for beginners due to its ease of use and excellent maneuverability. It also offers ample storage space for gear, making it a great option for day trips or short camping adventures.

Sevylor Quikpak K1

The Sevylor Quikpak K1 is another popular inflatable kayak choice for beginners. This kayak offers exceptional portability and convenience, as it can be easily inflated and deflated within minutes. The Quikpak K1 incorporates stability, comfort, and durability, ensuring a safe and enjoyable paddling experience. It also features a backpack-like carrying case, allowing for easy transport and storage.

Choosing the right kayak as a beginner is essential to ensure a positive and enjoyable paddling experience. Consider your preferences, intended use, and skill level when selecting a kayak. Investing in a kayak that suits your needs and provides the necessary stability, maneuverability, and safety features will set you on the right path to becoming a confident and skilled kayaker. Remember to prioritize safety at all times, practice basic paddling techniques, and enjoy exploring the beautiful world of kayaking!

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