The magic of kayaking is that rather than being a single water sport, there are kayaks optimized for (almost) every kind of waterway and every sort of aquatic interest. There are kayaks built to ply the open ocean, for braving river rapids and for fishing. There are sit-on-top kayaks, inflatable kayaks, folding kayaks and more. And more importantly for our purposes here, there are also models designed specifically to be the best kayaks for beginners (like the awesome Wilderness Systems Pungo 120, our choice for the best kayak for beginners overall), so you can jump right in and start paddling even if you have minimal experience.
You’re probably not here to learn about kayaks for advanced paddlers—if that’s your jam, check out our roundup of the best kayaks with models like the Wilderness Systems Aspire 105, our pick for the best kayak overall. But if you’re looking for a ‘yak that will be safe, easy and fun to use the very first time you get out on the water, you’ve come to the right place. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up our choices for the best kayaks for beginners.
- Best Kayak For Beginners Overall: Wilderness Systems Pungo 120
- Best Sit-On-Top Kayak For Beginners: Pelican Mist 100 XP Angler
- Best Pedal Kayak For Beginners: Ocean Kayak Malibu Pedal
- Best Inflatable Kayak For Beginners: Intex Excursion Pro K1
- Best Fishing Kayak For Beginners: Vibe Sea Ghost 110 Angler
- Best Touring Kayak For Beginners: Old Town Castine 135
- Best River Kayak For Beginners: Wilderness Systems Aspire 105
- Best Tandem Kayak For Beginners: Perception Rambler 13.5
- Best Folding Kayak For Beginners: Oru Inlet
How We Chose The Best Kayaks For Beginners
I own two kayaks—one pedal kayak and one touring—as well as a canoe and two stand-up paddle boards. Before I sold a canoe last summer, I lived in a six human-powered watercraft household. That’s a bit overkill considering we’re a family of four with two pretty young kids, but I love outdoor gear too much to not hoard. With much of my time spent in those vessels combined with years of experience paddling in other craft, I’ve got the experience to recommend the best kayaks for beginners.
Beyond the kayaks that I either own or have used when traveling and testing gear, I researched the yaks in this article in exactly the same way I would were I choosing yet another watercraft to add to my own lineup—that included reading user reviews and ratings, as well as cross-referencing claims that brands make against actual customer experiences. In addition, I watched how-to videos, read the specs and evaluated other products offered by the same companies in order to establish those companies’ overall commitment to quality of design and materials.
And if I ever had any doubt about a ‘yak, I did just what I would have had I been looking to buy: I moved on.
Essential Kayak Gear You Should Always Bring With You
There are a few things you may want to always travel with when you go kayaking, but consider the first item on this list absolutely essential—never get in the water without it.
- A lifejacket. Don’t. Paddle. Without One. Period.
- An inexpensive compressed-air airhorn. I am almost always paddling in waters shared by lots of boats—many of them sizable yachts owned by private citizens who probably spend more time swapping stocks than they do practicing safe boating skills. My little airhorn can produce a 115 decibel blast that it’s hard to miss even over engine noise and cranking tunes, so I’m confident I could alert an oncoming boat well before it rammed my yak.
- A lightweight floating knife. You never know what a mess of bowlines, fishing line, netting and more you may find afloat out there. I’m not overly concerned that I’ll need a knife to cut myself free, but if I see discarded netting or lines tangled around buoys, I try cut it free and haul it in to shore so it doesn’t end up getting tangled around wildlife.
- A waterproof jacket and a packable towel. Depending on the weather and temperature, I usually bring these items. Even though they stay stowed most of the time, I like to know I can dry myself off a bit and keep my core at least somewhat warm and dry even with water splashing in or raining down.
- A bright headlamp. And if there’s any chance I’ll be on the water as sunset approaches, I make sure I bring a headlamp—one that throws off plenty of lumens.
- Water. Finally, it’s a good idea to have plenty of water with you, because you can’t drink the stuff you’re paddling on unless you’re atop a remarkably clean stream somewhere lovely. So bring a good water bottle (or several) along.
More Kayaking Stories To Shop
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