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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 when shopping for a great 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 2019. 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. When it comes to boating and water sports, you want only the best.
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. Aside from the lack of accessories, this is still a good choice as its the best beginner kayak overall on this list.
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. Kayaking with the Aruba is a pleasant experience on calm waters, though it’s noted that water tends to wind up in the cockpit on choppier, rough waters. You can avoid this by investing in a spray skirt for your kayak.
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. You may also like our camping and hiking gear section.
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.
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. Check out the best tents for the weekend kayaking getaway.
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. If the kids want to have fun, read about the best kayak for kids.
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. If you prefer an inflatable kayak, read about the best inflatable kayak and learn more.
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, cupholder, and flush mounted rod holders.
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. Don’t forget to pack the best sleeping bags for weekend kayaking fun.
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. Touring kayaks, typically used for wildlife viewing and other touring trips, are also well-suited for advanced kayakers looking for better tracking and speed.
√ 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. Also, if you know you’ll be kayaking on rough, choppy waters or if the weather might be on the colder side during your trip, it’d be a good idea to purchase or bring along a spray skirt.
√ 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!
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.