Top 10 Kayaks for Beginners

By Andrew Iidal Head Writer & Resident EMT

You've probably noticed that there are a lot of different kinds of kayaks,

with a huge range of designs, features, and prices. When you're purchasing your first kayak, you probably don’t want to go for an expensive luxury model with tons of extra features, but you don’t want to buy the cheapest option and watch it fall apart after the first time on the water. We know it gets complicated, so we’ve put together a list of our recommendations for best beginner kayaks that find a balance between price and quality. Scroll down past the table for an in-depth explanation of the different types of kayaks.

You've probably noticed that there are a lot of different kinds of kayaks,

with a huge range of designs, features, and prices. When you're purchasing your first kayak, you probably don’t want to go for an expensive luxury model with tons of extra features, but you don’t want to buy the cheapest option and watch it fall apart after the first time on the water. We know it gets complicated, so we’ve put together a list of our recommendations for best beginner kayaks that find a balance between price and quality. Scroll down past the table for an in-depth explanation of the different types of kayaks.

Kayak model Type Why we like it How it could improve

Sun Dolphin Aruba 10

Best Sit-in Recreational

For short trips on flat, calm water

  • The price is just right for a beginner kayak
  • It's wide and stable—perfect for a first kayak
  • The hull shape helps it track better than you would expect for a kayak this stable
  • The large cockpit has plenty of room for larger kayakers
  • Small storage compartment behind cockpit
  • The seat isn't very comfortable, so a lot of people will need a seat cushion for longer trips.
  • The Aruba doesn't have any bulkheads, and with a large cockpit, you'll need to be careful about taking on water. Stick to calm, flat water, and you'll have a great experience.
  • The storage compartment isn't watertight, so you might want to buy a dry bag.

Ocean Kayak Frenzy

Best Sit-on-top Recreational

For moderate-length trips on calm water, with occasional ocean or river kayaking

  • It’s wide, so it has great stability
  • You might not expect a kayak this wide to track so well, but the Frenzy’s long keel keeps it remarkably straight
  • It works best on calm water, but it is versatile for a recreational kayak, and can perform well in small surf
  • One of the most comfortable seats around

The seat is a little narrow. While it’s incredibly comfortable if you can fit in it, it’s not the best kayak for larger, taller kayakers.

Ocean Kayak Malibu Two

Best Tandem Recreational

For couples with a small child or dog who want a relaxing day on the water

  • It’s huge and wide, which makes it one of the most stable kayaks on the list
  • It can comfortably fit two adults and a small child or pet
  • Easy to reconfigure for a single rider
  • Comes with the option to add 3 hatches for storage

Because of its size, don’t expect to go too fast or far without burning a lot of energy. It’s a perfect kayak for a family day on a lake, but it’s not going to be winning any races.

Perception Carolina 12
Best Touring
For long-distance and overnight kayaking

  • The Carolina 12 is shorter and wider than many touring kayaks, so it gives you the additional stability that beginner kayakers need.
  • With lots of storage space in the bow and stern hatches, the Carolina is ideal for overnight trips.

The cockpit is on the small side, so even though it has a maximum capacity of 300 lbs, it will probably feel very snug for anyone over 200 lbs.

Eddyline Whisper CL

Best Tandem Touring

For long-distance kayaking with a friend

  • This is the highest-quality, highest-performing, most comfortable kayak on the list.
  • The cockpits are close together, which makes it easy to communicate with the other person.
  • It’s stable enough for a beginner kayaker
  • Comes with fully-adjustable seats and foot pegs
  • Bow and stern hatches plus deck lines give you plenty of storage space

For quality and features, the Whisper CL is everything you want it to be. The only downside is the price tag—at $3,000, it’s not going to be most people’s first choice for an entry-level kayak.

Dagger Katana 10.4

Best Sit-in Crossover

For kayaking in a wide variety of waters and conditions

  • As a crossover should, it handles extremely well in many different conditions. You'll have just as much fun in the ocean as on a calm lake.
  • Sit-insides can be a bit less stable than sit-on-top kayaks, but the Katana is very beginner-friendly
  • Comes with a skeg
  • With a waterproof storage hatch and a removable bulkhead, you have all the storage space you'll ever need
  • At 56 lbs and 10'4", it's not the smallest or lightest single kayak around
  • Some reviews report minor leaking into the cockpit, but never enough that it becomes a real problem

Dagger Roam 9.5

Best Sit-on-top Crossover
Our Top Choice for Solo Kayaking

For kayaking in a wide variety of waters and conditions

  • Like the Dagger Katana, the Roam is incredibly versatile and beginner-friendly. It can handle class 3 rivers just as well as flat lakes.
  • The Roam comes with adjustable seats and foot pegs, a skeg, and a storage area in the stern with a removable mesh bag
  • It’s the same weight as the Dagger Katana, so it’s on the heavier side of single kayaks
  • The hatches in the stern and bow are not watertight

Hobie Kona

Best Tandem Crossover
Our Top Choice for Tandem Kayaking

For kayaking solo or tandem wherever there's water

  • This is the kayak we use on our tours.
  • With over 65,000 guests per year, we know that the Kona is extremely durable.
  • People who have never even seen the ocean have no trouble using this model
  • We've seen beginners take 3 foot waves sideways, and keep the Kona upright with no difficulty

It doesn't track quite as well as a touring kayak that costs three times as much, but it makes up for that in its versatility

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Sport

Best Portable Kayak

For an easy to store and transport kayak that works in a variety of conditions

  • The Advanced Frame Sport has an aluminum folding frame and an inflatable hull, which gives it the performance of a folding kayak at a more affordable price.
  • Setup is quick and easy
  • This versatile kayak performs great on a lake, river, or a calm ocean.
  • Folds into a 30" x 17" x 8" package
  • Durable, 3-layer hull material

You'll probably want to purchase an additional attachment called a "backbone", which dramatically increases the performance of the kayak. It's an extra $75, but it's well worth it.

Intex Challenger K1

Best Budget Kayak Under $100

For leisurely kayaking on flat, calm water, at the best price you'll ever find

  • At this price, anyone can own a kayak. We've seen kayak rental prices higher than the MSRP
  • The quality is way better than you would expect for the price. This isn't a pool toy—it's a kayak.
  • It's wide and stable, so you'll have no trouble even with no experience
  • 2 separate air chambers mean that if one is punctured, it will stay afloat
  • Quick setup. It goes from a carry-bag to water-ready in about 5 minutes.
  • It comes with a skeg, but they're not the best quality, and there are reports of them falling off
  • It's far from the fastest kayak, so don't start any races
  • Even with the puncture-resistant vinyl, you'll need to be careful in shallow water because it will tear if you go over rocks or debris

Swipe for next kayak model

Sun Dolphin Aruba 10

Best Sit-in Recreational

For short trips on flat, calm water

Why we like it

  • The price is just right for a beginner kayak
  • It's wide and stable—perfect for a first kayak
  • The hull shape helps it track better than you would expect for a kayak this stable
  • The large cockpit has plenty of room for larger kayakers
  • Includes a small storage compartment behind cockpit

How it could improve

  • The seat isn't very comfortable, so a lot of people will need a seat cushion for longer trips.
  • The Aruba doesn't have any bulkheads, and with a large cockpit, you'll need to be careful about taking on water. Stick to calm, flat water, and you'll have a great experience.
  • The storage compartment isn't watertight, so you might want to buy a dry bag.

Ocean Kayak Frenzy

Best Sit-on-top Recreational

For moderate-length trips on calm water, with occasional ocean or river kayaking

Why we like it

  • It’s wide, so it has great stability
  • You might not expect a kayak this wide to track so well, but the Frenzy’s long keel keeps it remarkably straight
  • It works best on calm water, but it is versatile for a recreational kayak, and can perform well in small surf
  • One of the most comfortable seats around

How it could improve

The seat is a little narrow. While it’s incredibly comfortable if you can fit in it, it’s not the best kayak for larger, taller kayakers.

Ocean Kayak Malibu Two

Best Tandem Recreational

For couples with a small child or dog who want a relaxing day on the water

Why we like it

  • It’s huge and wide, which makes it one of the most stable kayaks on the list
  • It can comfortably fit two adults and a small child or pet
  • Easy to reconfigure for a single rider
  • Comes with the option to add 3 hatches for storage

How it could improve

Because of its size, don’t expect to go too fast or far without burning a lot of energy. It’s a perfect kayak for a family day on a lake, but it’s not going to be winning any races.

Perception Carolina 12
Best Touring
For long-distance and overnight kayaking

Why we like it

  • The Carolina 12 is shorter and wider than many touring kayaks, so it gives you the additional stability that beginner kayakers need.
  • With lots of storage space in the bow and stern hatches, the Caroliais ideal for overnight trips.

How it could improve

The cockpit is on the small side, so even though it has a maximum capacity of 300 lbs, it will probably feel very snug for anyone over 200 lbs.

Eddyline Whisper CL

Best Tandem Touring

For long-distance kayaking with a friend

Why we like it

  • This is the highest-quality, highest-performing, most comfortable kayak on the list.
  • The cockpits are close together, which makes it easy to communicate with the other person.
  • It’s stable enough for a beginner kayaker
  • Comes with fully-adjustable seats and foot pegs
  • Bow and stern hatches plus deck lines give you plenty of storage space

How it could improve

For quality and features, the Whisper CL is everything you want it to be. The only downside is the price tag—at $3,000, it’s not going to be most people’s first choice for an entry-level kayak.

Dagger Katana 10.4

Best Sit-in Crossover

For kayaking in a wide variety of waters and conditions

Why we like it

  • As a crossover should, it handles extremely well in many different conditions. You'll have just as much fun in the ocean as on a calm lake.
  • Sit-insides can be a bit less stable than sit-on-top kayaks, but the Katana is very beginner-friendly
  • Comes with a skeg
  • With a waterproof storage hatch and a removable bulkhead, you have all the storage space you'll ever need

How it could improve

  • At 56 lbs and 10'4", it's not the smallest or lightest single kayak around
  • Some reviews report minor leaking into the cockpit, but never enough that it becomes a real problem

Dagger Roam 9.5

Best Sit-on-top Crossover
Our Top Choice for Solo Kayaking

For kayaking in a wide variety of waters and conditions

Why we like it

  • Like the Dagger Katana, the Roam is incredibly versatile. It can handle class 3 rivers just as well as flat lakes.
  • Tracks exceptionally well.
  • It's very beginner friendly, but with the durable construction and great performance, you might not ever want to upgrade.
  • The Roam comes with adjustable seats and foot pegs, a skeg, and a storage area in the stern with a removable mesh bag

How it could improve

  • It’s the same weight as the Dagger Katana, so it’s on the heavier side of single kayaks
  • The hatches in the stern and bow are not watertight, so you might want a dry bag.

Hobie Kona

Best Tandem Crossover
Our Top Choice for Tandem Kayaking

For kayaking solo or tandem wherever there's water

Why we like it

  • This is the kayak we use on our tours.
  • With over 65,000 guests per year, we know that the Kona is extremely durable.
  • People who have never even seen the ocean have no trouble using this model
  • We've seen beginners take 3 foot waves sideways, and keep the Kona upright with no difficulty
  • Easy to reconfigure for a single rider, and the molded center seat means it works great as a single kayak

How it could improve

Because the hull is designed to be able to handle rough conditions and waves, it's not the fastest boat around. If you're only going to be kayaking in flat, still water, there are better options.

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Sport

Best Portable Kayak

For an easy to store and transport kayak that works in a variety of conditions

Why we like it

  • The Advanced Frame Sport has an aluminum folding frame and an inflatable hull, which gives it the performance of a folding kayak at a more affordable price.
  • Setup is quick and easy
  • This versatile kayak performs great on a lake, river, or a calm ocean.
  • Folds into a 30" x 17" x 8" package
  • Durable, 3-layer hull material

How it could improve

You'll probably want to purchase an additional attachment called a "backbone", which dramatically increases the performance of the kayak. It's an extra $75, but it's well worth it.

Intex Challenger K1

Best Budget Kayak Under $100

For leisurely kayaking on flat, calm water, at the best price you'll ever find

Why we like it

  • At this price, anyone can own a kayak. We've seen kayak rental prices higher than the MSRP
  • The quality is way better than you would expect for the price. This isn't a pool toy—it's a kayak.
  • It's wide and stable, so you'll have no trouble even with no experience
  • 2 separate air chambers mean that if one is punctured, it will stay afloat
  • Quick setup. It goes from a carry-bag to water-ready in about 5 minutes.

How it could improve

  • It comes with a skeg, but they're not the best quality, and there are reports of them falling off
  • It's far from the fastest kayak, so don't start any races
  • Even with the puncture-resistant vinyl, you'll need to be careful in shallow water because it will tear if you go over rocks or debris (Fortunately, it does include a repair kit)

Glossary of Kayaking Terminology

  • Bow: The forward end of the kayak
  • Stern: The rear end of the kayak
  • Port: The right side of the kayak
  • Starboard: The left side of the kayak
  • Cockpit: An opening in a sit-inside kayak where the operator sits
  • Deck: The top surface of a kayak
  • Rudder: A turnable fin attached to the stern, which aids in steering and tracking
  • Skeg: A fin attached to the keel, which aids in tracking
  • Keel: The ridge in the middle of the hull
  • Hull: The bottom of the kayak. The shape of the hull is the main difference in kayak types
  • Hatch: Storage compartment
  • Deck lines/Deck rigging: Straps on the deck of the kayak that can be used as handles or for securing objects to the boat
  • Foot Braces: Pegs to press your feet against. They can be adjustable or molded into the kayak.
  • Scupper holes: Holes in a sit-on-top kayak that allow water to drain. Sit-inside kayaks do not have scupper holes, so you need to pump or bail water that gets inside.
  • Bulkhead: Airtight compartments in the bow and/or stern of sit-inside kayaks that keep the boat afloat even when water enters the cockpit. Sit-on-top kayaks do not need bulkheads.
  • Spray skirt: A skirt that attaches to the cockpit of a sit-inside kayak and fits snugly around the torso, which prevents water from entering the cockpit.
  • Tracking: Staying on a straight line when kayaking. Long, thin touring kayaks track exceptionally well, which saves a lot of energy over long distances.

Glossary of Kayaking Terminology

  • Bow: The forward end of the kayak
  • Stern: The rear end of the kayak
  • Port: The right side of the kayak
  • Starboard: The left side of the kayak
  • Cockpit: An opening in a sit-inside kayak where the operator sits
  • Deck: The top surface of a kayak
  • Rudder: A turnable fin attached to the stern, which aids in steering and tracking
  • Skeg: A fin attached to the keel, which aids in tracking
  • Keel: The ridge in the middle of the hull
  • Hull: The bottom of the kayak. The shape of the hull is the main difference in kayak types
  • Hatch: Storage compartment
  • Deck lines/Deck rigging: Straps on the deck of the kayak that can be used as handles or for securing objects to the boat
  • Foot Braces: Pegs to press your feet against. They can be adjustable or molded into the kayak.
  • Scupper holes: Holes in a sit-on-top kayak that allow water to drain. Sit-inside kayaks do not have scupper holes, so you need to pump or bail water that gets inside.
  • Bulkhead: Airtight compartments in the bow and/or stern of sit-inside kayaks that keep the boat afloat even when water enters the cockpit. Sit-on-top kayaks do not need bulkheads.
  • Spray skirt: A skirt that attaches to the cockpit of a sit-inside kayak and fits snugly around the torso, which prevents water from entering the cockpit.
  • Tracking: Staying on a straight line when kayaking. Long, thin touring kayaks track exceptionally well, which saves a lot of energy over long distances.

Types of kayaks

Sit-inside
As the name implies, you’ll be sitting inside of this kayak. Sit-in kayaks have a cockpit that you slide your legs into.
Benefits: Your legs will have more contact with the kayak, giving you better control. Because your legs aren’t exposed, sit-in kayaks can keep you warmer and drier, especially if you use a spray skirt.
Drawbacks: It’s more difficult to deal with a capsized sit-in kayak than a sit-on kayak. You’ll need to extricate yourself from the spray skirt and cockpit while you’re underwater before righting the kayak and climbing back inside. Sit-in kayaks don’t have scupper holes, so you’ll need to bail or pump out any water that gets inside the cockpit


Sit-on-top
Unlike sit-in kayaks, sit-on-top models do not have a cockpit, so your legs will be exposed to the air.
Benefits: It is much easier and safer to deal with a capsized sit-on-top kayak, and they are generally more stable than sit-in models.
Drawbacks: You’ll have slightly less control and maneuverability. Your legs will be exposed, so you’ll be exposed to more sun and cold water than if you used a sit-in kayak.

 

Recreational
These kayaks are wider and shorter than other models, which gives them exceptional stability and maneuverability. They are designed to be used in calm waters such as lakes and slow-moving rivers. Recreational kayaks can come in sit-in or sit-on-top models.
Benefits: 
Easy to control and hard to capsize, these kayaks are perfect for beginners. The extra width also makes them ideal for people who need extra stability, such as photographers.

Drawbacks:Because they’re shorter, they’re harder to track (keep in a straight line). This means some of the energy from paddling is wasted, so you’ll get tired faster. They’re also designed for calm waters, so if you’re going to be kayaking somewhere with waves or strong currents, you’ll struggle in a recreational kayak.

 

Touring
These kayaks are long and thin, and are designed for long kayaking trips. Touring kayaks typically only come in sit-in models.
Benefits: Touring kayaks are very efficient, so you’ll be able to go farther and faster than on a recreational kayak. They’re also great for sea kayaking.
Drawbacks: The length of these kayaks make them a little more difficult to turn, so they aren’t ideal for kayaking where you need to make many sharp turns. Their length also makes them more difficult to store and transport. They are often much more expensive than recreational kayaks, so they’re usually seen as an upgrade from a beginner kayak, not an entry-level boat.

Crossover
Combining elements from different types of kayaks, crossovers are the most versatile kayaks around.Crossovers are our top recommendation for a first kayak.
Benefits: They can work well in many different types of water. A crossover that combines attributes of recreational and whitewater kayaks can perform just as well on a calm lake as it does in a rough ocean. If you plan on taking your kayak to different locations like lakes, rivers, and the ocean, a crossover will save you the trouble of having to buy multiple different kayaks.

Drawbacks: Because they are not designed for a specific use, they don’t perform as well as other kayaks. If you know that you’re only going to be kayaking on a flat lake, you might want a recreational kayak instead.

Portable kayaks

Designed to be easy to carry and transport, many portable kayaks can fit into a medium-sized backpack when not in use. Portable kayaks are usually either inflatable or foldable.
Benefits: For those of us without a truck or trailer, and who don’t have the space to store a 10+ foot boat at home, portable kayaks can be the best option. Inflatable kayaks are also the cheapest option available for kayaking, so they make great entry-level boats for someone who isn’t sure if they want to make the investment in something more expensive.

Drawbacks: They’re less durable than regular kayaks, often have less features, and don’t perform as well. However, in the last decade, portable kayak technology has made huge improvements, so more and more serious kayakers are buying portable boats.

Specialty kayaks

There are also kayaks that were designed to be used for a very specific purpose. If you know that you’re going to be using the kayak primarily for fishing, you might want to invest in a fishing kayak that has built-in rod holders and pedals. There are also specialty kayaks for different types of whitewater kayaking, kayak surfing, and SCUBA diving from a kayak. They excel at one specific activity, but are generally less versatile.

 

Types of kayaks

Sit-in
As the name implies, you’ll be sitting inside of this kayak. Sit-in kayaks have a cockpit that you slide your legs into.
Benefits: Your legs will have more contact with the kayak, giving you better control. Because your legs aren’t exposed, sit-in kayaks can keep you warmer and drier, especially if you use a spray skirt.
Drawbacks: It’s more difficult to deal with a capsized sit-in kayak than a sit-on kayak. You’ll need to extricate yourself from the spray skirt and cockpit while you’re underwater before righting the kayak and climbing back inside. Sit-in kayaks don’t have scupper holes, so you’ll need to bail or pump out any water that gets inside the cockpit


Sit-on-top
Unlike sit-in kayaks, sit-on-top models do not have a cockpit, so your legs will be exposed to the air.
Benefits: It is much easier and safer to deal with a capsized sit-on-top kayak, and they are generally more stable than sit-in models.
Drawbacks: You’ll have slightly less control and maneuverability. Your legs will be exposed, so you’ll be exposed to more sun and cold water than if you used a sit-in kayak.

 

Recreational
These kayaks are wider and shorter than other models, which gives them exceptional stability and maneuverability. They are designed to be used in calm waters such as lakes and slow-moving rivers. Recreational kayaks can come in sit-in or sit-on-top models.
Benefits: 
Easy to control and hard to capsize, these kayaks are perfect for beginners. The extra width also makes them ideal for people who need extra stability, such as photographers.

Drawbacks:Because they’re shorter, they’re harder to track (keep in a straight line). This means some of the energy from paddling is wasted, so you’ll get tired faster. They’re also designed for calm waters, so if you’re going to be kayaking somewhere with waves or strong currents, you’ll struggle in a recreational kayak.

 

Touring
These kayaks are long and thin, and are designed for long kayaking trips. Touring kayaks typically only come in sit-in models.
Benefits: Touring kayaks are very efficient, so you’ll be able to go farther and faster than on a recreational kayak. They’re also great for sea kayaking.
Drawbacks: The length of these kayaks make them a little more difficult to turn, so they aren’t ideal for kayaking where you need to make many sharp turns. Their length also makes them more difficult to store and transport. They are often much more expensive than recreational kayaks, so they’re usually seen as an upgrade from a beginner kayak, not an entry-level boat.

Crossover
Combining elements from different types of kayaks, crossovers are the most versatile kayaks around.Crossovers are our top recommendation for a first kayak.
Benefits: They can work well in many different types of water. A crossover that combines attributes of recreational and whitewater kayaks can perform just as well on a calm lake as it does in a rough ocean. If you plan on taking your kayak to different locations like lakes, rivers, and the ocean, a crossover will save you the trouble of having to buy multiple different kayaks.

Drawbacks: Because they are not designed for a specific use, they don’t perform as well as other kayaks. If you know that you’re only going to be kayaking on a flat lake, you might want a recreational kayak instead.

Portable kayaks
Designed to be easy to carry and transport, many portable kayaks can fit into a medium-sized backpack when not in use. Portable kayaks are usually either inflatable or foldable.
Benefits: For those of us without a truck or trailer, and who don’t have the space to store a 10+ foot boat at home, portable kayaks can be the best option. Inflatable kayaks are also the cheapest option available for kayaking, so they make great entry-level boats for someone who isn’t sure if they want to make the investment in something more expensive.

Drawbacks: They’re less durable than regular kayaks, often have less features, and don’t perform as well. However, in the last decade, portable kayak technology has made huge improvements, so more and more serious kayakers are buying portable boats.

Specialty kayaks

There are also kayaks that were designed to be used for a very specific purpose. If you know that you’re going to be using the kayak primarily for fishing, you might want to invest in a fishing kayak that has built-in rod holders and pedals. There are also specialty kayaks for different types of whitewater kayaking, kayak surfing, and SCUBA diving from a kayak. They excel at one specific activity, but are generally less versatile.

 

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