The 5 Best Beginner Kayaks and How to Choose

Updated on November 28, 2012
Beginner Kayaks
Beginner Kayaks

I took up sea-kayaking in my teens, without supervision and without much idea of what I was doing. This is not recommended! Especially on vacation in a strange country (Ireland) with no sense of the local weather or tidal conditions.

I survived, and that trip was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. It set me right for (far safer) adventures later, with serious whitewater river trips providing the thrills.

You don't need whitewater to enjoy kayaks, though. The craft on this page are designed for beginners. If you have a slow moving river, placid lake or pond in your area these are the kinds of craft to get to use without a steep learning curve..

They are ideal for kids and senior citizens but will also allow fit adults to get one helluva lot fitter if they put the strokes in.

If you want to move onto shooting the rapids or sea kayaking, I would strongly recommend you learn with a pro!


A surprisingly capable one person inflatable like the Intex K1 (see below) can be found for around a hundred dollars online.

A genuinely rugged (and pretty fast but stable) ten feet, rigid kayak is going to cost upwards of three hundred dollars.

Kayaks compared. The lower model is not for beginners.
Kayaks compared. The lower model is not for beginners.

How to Choose

  • One-seater or two-seater?
  • Hard-shell or Inflatable?
  • More stability or more speed and maneuverability?
  • Sit on or sit in?

Two person kayaks are an especially good choice if you have young children but are also fun for less competitive adults.

Inflatable kayaks are easy to store and transport but are harder to paddle and have lower performance. They still make great vacation equipment. More expensive models with rigid panels can cut the water efficiently.

Stability increases with extra width and length. Speed decreases. Fast, narrow kayaks can flip over easily and casual users should avoid them.

Some sit on kayaks mean your legs trail in the water. These are great for warm sea or lake use but no fun in cold water! Most are unsinkable, enclosed shells with seats on top,

Best Inflatables

Inflatables are inexpensive but have lower performance than hard-shells, especially if they lack reinforcement to keep them rigid. Paddling against a current is a tough ask with a soft bow and broad beam!

Fun inflatable from Intex.
Fun inflatable from Intex.

Single Seat Intex Challenger

For the absolute beginner this is a great little boat. It is perfect for one person, handles okay and is pretty fast if you want it to be. Don't expect perfect trajectory or inch perfect maneuvering, though. This is a fun boat.

Small inflatables are always easy to take on trips and this one fits into a two feet by two feet bag.Inflated it is a little over 8 feet long and will carry 220 pounds.

It shouldn't take more than 5 minutes to inflate with the foot pump supplied.

Overall, the small outlay is an ideal way to see if you are one of the people who get hooked on water.

Sea Eagle 330 Two Seat

The Sea Eagle appeals to the kid in everyone and is perfect for families.

It is tough enough to give years of good service as long as you avoid sharp stones and rocks.

The interior is spacious and it can carry up to 500 pounds. Packed away in the supplied bag it can be carried easily with a weight of only 26 pounds.

The kit comes with everything you need including paddles and foot pump.

A very capable reinforced inflatable
A very capable reinforced inflatable

Rigid panel, reinforced Inflatables

Inflatable does not always mean slow. Advanced Elements Lagoon Kayaks incorporate rigid panels and this stiffening means this model will slice through the water and handle pretty well. At the same time, it is easy to store and transport with the tandem version weighing only 35 pounds.

I reckon this is a nice compromise for anyone looking for a capable tandem that will not take up too much space in a trunk or garage.

You can expect to pay over four hundred dollars, however.

A single person version costs around $300.

Hard-shell Kayaks

These are easier to handle than inflatables and you will raise a lot less sweat paddling against a current. They take up more space. though. and you might need a rack for your car.

Old Town kayaks have been made in Maine for over a hundred years.
Old Town kayaks have been made in Maine for over a hundred years.
Wide and stable
Wide and stable

Old Town Vapor Kayak

Old Town have been making kayaks for over a hundred years. Their latest recreational models, like the Vapor, focus as much on comfortable seating and dry storage for cameras, iPads, smartphones or food as they do on performance and stability.

This attention to detail makes them a pleasure to use for beginners.

Don't be fooled by the luxuries though, this is a serious kayak based on designs going back to the days when kayaks were river and estuary transports and fisher boats.

The foot rest and thigh pads give great purchase for paddling fast as well as leisurely cruises.

At around $400 this is a very comfortable and capable kayak for one person.

Two Person Kayaks from Old Town

You might also want to look out for the Dirigo Tandem Plus, a fifteen feet model with two seats, selling for around $900.

Sit on top tandem
Sit on top tandem

Sit on top, Lifetime Manta 10 feet Tandem

This is a fun family kayak seating two or three in a rigid plastic construction. It is easy enough for two people to lift at around 65 pounds and will carry a very impressive 600 pounds.

There are two seats and foot wells to give you the grip you need for paddling.

This is not a high performance vessel but kids will love it and adults with a relaxed attitude can explore at their leisure.

Safety Equipment

Life vests are always worth using. Helmets are a good option if you have any doubts about a river.


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    • Gordon Hamilton profile image

      Gordon Hamilton 

      7 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

      Kayaking is something I have always wanted to try Will but for some reason I have simply never got round to doing it. I often see people out on kayaks on inshore waters when I'm fishing from a boat and occasionally they are fishing from the kayak. The problem I would have there would be accommodating all the excess tackle I tend to take along with me but you have definitely re-inspired me to at least give it a try.

    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 

      7 years ago from The High Seas

      Good article. Buying a kayak is definitely the way to go because rental prices quickly add up to more than a new one costs and if you live near water, you are going to want to kayak very often.


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