It’s natural to be drawn to water. And the numbers back it up with participation in kayaking increasing by 17 percent from 2012 to 2015. Nearly 10 million people take to the water whether it’s for fishing, sea touring, or just padding around for enjoyment.
While your other gear like water shoes and a personal floatation device (PFD) are essential, your kayak is your most important purchase. Kayaks vary in their styles, designs and purposes. Differences will affect their weight, maneuverability and speed on the water. Let’s review some of our picks for the best beginner kayaks.
Quick Answer: What are the best kayaks for beginners in 2018?
- Pelican Premium Unison 136T Kayak
- Intex Explorer K2 Kayak, 2-Person Inflatable Kayak Set
- Sun Dolphin Aruba 10-Foot Sit-in Kayak
- Perception Sound 9.5 Kayak
- Vibe Kayaks Skipjack 90 9-foot Angler Sit On Top Fishing Kayak
- Old Town Vapor 10 Recreational Kayak
- Our Favorite Beginner Kayaks (2017 – 2018)
- Type of Kayaking
- What to Look for in a Beginner Kayak
- Types of Kayaks
Our Favorite Beginner Kayaks (2017 – 2018)
We looked at a variety of kayaks to come up with the ones we preferred. We included a few different types to cover the bases for a beginner to the sport. Here’s our round-up of the pros and cons of each one.
Pelican Premium Unison 136T Kayak Review
The Pelican Premium Unison 136T Kayak is a 2-person, flat-bottom kayak comes in at 13 feet, 6 inches with a width of 31.75 inches. The length gives it a great gliding distance. It’s an upgrade from standard plastic models with its multilayer polyethylene construction that balances durability and weight. It has a lot of legroom for both passengers.
- It is truly a comfortable kayak with its Ergofit seating system and adjustable footrests that would make longer trips pleasant.
- It has a generous amount of storage space for gear.
- The width gives the kayak welcome stability.
- It does not have a rudder for tracking despite its size.
- While you can use it on your own, it’s not as easy to handle as when there are two onboard.
- It doesn’t come with a spray skirt which we’d still like even in a kayak meant for flatwater.
Where to buy:
While the Pelican isn’t the cheapest one we reviewed, it had plenty of features and great handling that make it worth a look for the beginner who is serious about the sport. Overall, we think that this is the best beginner kayak for the money right now.
Intex Explorer K2 Kayak, 2-Person Inflatable Kayak Set Review
The Intex Explorer K2 Kayak, 2-Person Inflatable Kayak Set with Aluminum Oars and High Output Air Pump is the only inflatable on our list. Its feature set is pretty impressive. It includes a paddle and pump. Technically, paddle is the correct word if it’s not attached to the craft. Like the Pelican, it is a tandem model. It is 10 feet, 3 inches long with a 400-pound weight capacity.
You can move the seats to fit each passenger’s size. Despite its size, it is easy to get in and out of it on the water. The skeg is removable so that you can match the maneuverability with the conditions. For an inflatable, it handles well even if there a breeze.
- It includes 86-inch aluminum oars and a pump to make it a complete package.
- The high-back seats make for a comfortable ride.
- The upturned nose on the bow of the craft helps you stay dry.
- The paddles are not the highest quality.
- Users need to be careful about over-inflating it.
- It takes longer than we expected to inflate and deflate.
Where to Buy:
The Intex Explorer is a decent option if you want to try kayaking but don’t want to lay out a lot of cash.
Sun Dolphin Aruba 10-Foot Sit-in Kayak Review
The Sun Dolphin Aruba 10-Foot Sit-in Kayak is a solo model with a 10-foot length and a generous 30-inch width. There are a lot of little features that you’ll come to appreciate such as the thigh pads, paddle holder and the adjustable foot braces. And it comes in seven different colors. It has a 250-pound weight capacity.
This kayak is also meant for flatwater only. It’s not something you’d want to take out on rough water. It doesn’t have a spray skirt, but you could certainly add one if you wanted. Overall, it has a stable ride with great maneuverability. It’s a good value for the beginner who is still testing the waters of the sport.
- The materials have a higher UV resistance than just plastic.
- We loved the water bottle holder for those leisurely trips on the lake.
- It includes carrying handles to make it easy to portage.
- While it’s adjustable, the hard plastic seat isn’t comfortable for long stretches.
- There are some quality control issues with the manufacturer.
- Some seams might be sharp.
Where to Buy:
The Sun Dolphin doesn’t try to pretend to be something it’s not. It’s a decent value for the price, making it worth considering.
Vibe Kayaks Skipjack 90 9-foot Angler Sit On Top Fishing Kayak Review
The Vibe Kayaks Skipjack 90 Sit-On-Top Fishing Kayak is the only fishing model on our list. It is a bit shorter at 9 feet which gives it greater maneuverability in shallow waters. It includes a paddle which we like to see in a beginner kayak. It has a weight capacity of 300 pounds. Its width is 32 inches that’ll give you plenty of room to cast.
Though it’s meant for flatwater, the width provides some extra stability if the wind kicks up suddenly. It also some good sized storage space and four flush mount rod holders too. It stood out as the best sit-on-top kayak for beginners who like to fish.
- It has comfortable, high-back seat for those longer fishing trips.
- The greater width gives it a stable ride.
- It comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
- Tracking is a bit off at times.
- The straps on the seat are a little flimsy.
- Some may find it too expensive an investment for a beginner model.
Where to Buy:
The Vibe Kayaks Skipjack ticks off the boxes for a comfortable fishing kayak with the added features that speak of a quality product. Right now, we think that this is the best beginner kayak for fishing.
Old Town Vapor 10 Recreational Kayak Review
The Old Town Vapor 10 Recreational Kayak has a lot of the bells and whistles we’d expect in a company that’s been in business since 1898. While known for its legendary canoes, its kayak business has taken off with sales outselling its other products. The sit-in kayak measures just over 10 feet long and is 28.5 inches wide.
The weight capacity is 325 pounds, though there is no lashing to haul additional gear on top of the kayak. It’s an entry-level model, suitable for flatwater conditions. It has an adjustable seat and footrests along with padding for your knees and thighs.
- It is durable and can take a lot of punishment.
- It has a roomy cockpit.
- It has great tracking compared to kayaks of comparable size.
- It does not come with a paddle.
- It isn’t suitable for rough water because of the large size of its cockpit.
- There isn’t any lashing in the storage area to protect your gear.
Where to Buy:
The Old Town has everything we’d expect from the manufacturer in a kayak that is built to last.
Type of Kayaking
The first thing you need to decide is what type of kayaking you plan to do. That will affect which one you should choose to serve your needs best. The kayak you use for recreational paddling will differ from the one you’ll use to shoot the rapids. Things to consider include:
- Places you’ll go
- Other activities like swimming or fishing
- Trip length
- Number of kayakers
If you’re rafting around a calm lake, a recreational model will work fine to give you the durability and maneuverability that you need. On the other hand, moving water like streams or near coastlines presents additional challenges where you must have more control over steering than just a paddle.
What to Look for in a Beginner Kayak
The average price for a kayak is about $540 for a decent ride. But you can pay anywhere from under $100 to over $2,000, depending on the features. For a beginner, it makes sense to invest in something that will give you the stability you need for the kayaking you’re going to do. Remember, there are risks even if you’re paddling at the family’s lake cabin.
Sit-In or Sit-On-Top That Is the Question
A sit-in or sit-on-top kayak is just like it implies. The former is probably what you first think of when thinking about a kayak. Your entire lower body is inside the craft. That differs from the latter where you’re exposed to the elements.
The difference comes into play when you’re getting in and out of it. As you may expect, it’s easier with a sit-on-top rather than a sit-in. If you’re new to the sport, the former is an excellent choice for a recreational model. On the downside, storage place is limited which may not be a dealbreaker. But, it’s also heavier.
The sit-in is a better choice on several scores. It gives you better control, making it a smart option for kayaking in rougher waters. They have more room to store things. You’re also more protected inside of it in case of cool weather. And they’re lighter.
Shorter kayaks give you greater maneuverability. That’s an important feature if you plan on paddling in streams. It also makes sense for smaller individuals and children to have a craft in line with their size.
However, longer kayaks have several points in their favor. The greater length means more contact with the water and, thus, a more stable ride. You can go farther distances with easier paddling to boot. Then, there’s the obvious benefit of more room to store your gear. But, the larger size may make transporting them an issue.
Width is a double-edged sword. While a wider kayak can make the ride more stable, it’ll also make it more difficult to maneuver. The other end of the spectrum has similar tradeoffs in rough water.
You’ll see figures for the weight capacity of a kayak along with its other specs like dimensions. Of course, you want one that is appropriate for your size. But don’t forget to take into account your gear too if you’re planning on extended trips on the water.
Hull Construction and Materials
The type of kayaking you do will affect the importance of these factors. A flat-bottom kayak gives you added stability on the water versus a rounded one that is easier to handle. Some models designed for speed have a narrow V-shape to the hull which helps them cut through the water quickly.
The question of materials directly impacts weight. Kayaks are not unlike bicycles in that lighter ones are easier and faster to ride. But it comes at a price—literally. Kayaks are the same. On the low end of the spectrum is plastic. It’s inexpensive but heavier than other materials. It’s durable and can take some punishment. However, you have to keep it out of direct sunlight.
The next step up is ABS plastic. You’ll do better on the weight and UV resistance, but it’ll set you back a bit more. On the high side are the composites. You’ll see carbon fiber, kevlar and fiberglass models. While they’re superior when it comes to performance, they can’t match the durability of plastic.
It’s not a slight when we talk about the best beginner kayaks that are made of plastic. Until you can handle it like a pro, you’re better off with a material that can handle a brush with rocks or a dock.
Cockpit and Seat Type
The size of the cockpit and the seat type both involve comfort. That means how much you can move around in the kayak and how your backside will feel after several hours on the water. It’s wise to invest a bit more in these features to make your kayaking more enjoyable.
These accessories help you stay on course and add to the maneuverability of a kayak. They’re more important if you’re paddling in variable conditions like rivers and coastlines. There are two basic types, skegs and rudders. The former is a fixed piece not unlike what you’d see on a sailboat or surfboard. Some come in one height whereas others are adjustable.
Rudders differ from skegs in that you can move them to match the waters using foot pedals inside the kayak. They are the ultimate in control.
Types of Kayaks
As you may expect, there are a variety of kayaks to match the kind of experience you’re after on the water. That’s where you’ll see some tweaks in the features we’ve discussed to account for those little details that make a big difference.
Recreational kayaks are on the lower end of the price range. They’re not meant for technical challenges of whitewater or coastlines. They are the models you’ll use at the lake to paddle around for the afternoon. You’ll find them both in sit-on-top and sit-in models.
This is a step-up from the recreational type as a sit-in kayak for longer trips on the water. Their design gives you better control along with some extra storage space for gear. They run a bit more because of these added features.
This is the one you want for this type of kayaking because it’ll handle better in rough conditions. The term, sea, is a misnomer because you can use them in freshwater too. It speaks more to the style which is often longer with more room for gear. They’re not the best choice for a beginner unless you’re certain that you’ll stick with the sport for the long haul.
You’ll also see specialty models which could work well for a beginner. Inflatable and foldable models have a clear advantage with space both for storing at home and taking on the road. They’re not as durable as the others we’ve considered, but you may find them a good value if you’re just getting started.
You’ll also find kayaks made for fishing. The advantage is that you can get to the quieter waters that may not see a lot of anglers. Some may even have pedal propulsion systems. The design is more open on top to give you the room to cast from any side.
The key to finding the best beginner kayaks is matching your gear with the type of outing. As you can see, there is a lot of specialization in the kayak market whether you want to float down the river or go fishing for the day.
You’ll find that some features are more important than others. Our advice is to get your feet wet and improve your technique so that you can better appreciate what higher quality kayaks have to offer. It all begins when that paddle hits the water.
top image credit: gstockstudio/Deposit Photos