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Best Beginner Kayak

Updated On July 11, 2020

It’s easy to get confused when you’re looking to get into kayaking. There are a lot of factors you should be considering, and there’s definitely no shortage of kayaks that you’ll come across. If you aren’t well versed and don’t really know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to make a mistake, and with kayaks, that can be a costly one.

To make sure you don’t make one, below we’ve got a top 7 list that will have the best beginner kayak for a few different types of people. We’ll be looking at various options that suit different categories of kayaking, so there’s something for everyone.

To add to that, we’ll also discuss about the types of kayaks available, so you have a good idea of where your money should go, and what things aren’t really worth buying. Without wasting any more of your time, let’s take a look at our options first. 

Quick Summary: Top 7 - Best Beginner Kayaks


Our seasoned editors have picked and rated these products for each specific category and area of expertise to recommend you the best models and products we can. We receive commission from some of these affiliate links.
Best Overall: 1. Sun Dolphin Bali SS 10-foot Sit-on-top
This study kayak from SunDolphin is a great way to start off into the world of kayaking. It offers great stability and maneuverability for even beginner kayakers!
Most Versatile Option: 2. Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL 
This two person kayak is another great option if you plan on sharing your kayaking experience with someone. With plenty of storage and leg space, this is one of the most comfortable options on our list!
Best Budget Option: 3. Intex Explorer K2
Undercutting every kayak on our list, the Intex Explorer K2 is the one to for for any beginner kayaker on a budget. Handles incredibly well and has great build quality!
Best Compact Kayak: 4. Ocean Kayak Frenzy
Coming in at just 9 feet and 43 lbs, transporting the kayak is a breeze. At this size you'd think stability is compromised, but it certainly isn't!
Best Sit-in Option: 5. Sun Dolphin Aruba 10-foot
The sit-in option on our list comes from the well known kayak manufacturer Sun Dolphin. With paddle and rod holders, this kayak is built for multi purposes.
Best Fishing Option: 6. Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100
If you don't mind spending a little bit more for having great fishing features, this is certantly the kayak you are looking for!
Also Good: 7. Old Town Vapor 10
Start off your kayaking experience the right way with this comfortable kayak from Old Town.

Our Reviews


Best Overall
We’re kicking things off with the Sun Dolphin Bali SS. This is a single seating kayak that offers pretty much anything you’d expect from a good kayak, and yet doesn’t cost too much. It’s a single seat model, but does come with plenty of room and storage. 
Quick Specs
  • Weight: 44 lbs
  • Material: High Density Polyethylene
  • Lenght: 114.5 '
  • Capacity: 250 lbs
To begin with, this is a sit-on-top kayak, which means that you sit higher and you’re not closed down inside the kayak. While some might argue this is less stable, the Bali SS offers excellent stability, paired with the easy maneuverability and acceleration that you get with a sit-on-top. We have no complaints in that regard. As far as the kayaking performance goes, you won’t be disappointed.

This is a hard shell kayak built out of rugged, UV-stabilized high density polyethylene. This means that not only is it stiff and stable, but it’s also resistant to UV damage and you won’t be able to damage it beyond repair that easily. Even hitting it against a rock or two, which is inevitable while you’re learning, won’t do too much harm – not something that you can say for an inflatable kayak. As its name suggests, it’s 10 foot long, which makes it pretty much the perfect length for one person to maneuver it easily without it being short and unstable. (1)

Being a sit-on-top, you have a lot of legroom and place to put essentials such as your phone or your wallet, and they’ll be within reach. There’s also a few other smaller areas for storage, and you get a Portable Accessory Carrier to use as storage, too. At the back, right behind the seat, you have a closed dry storage compartment that has shock cord for larger items. Paired with shock cord storage at the front, this is an excellent kayak if you carry around a lot of things. 
  • Lightweight
  • Great build quality
  • Affordable price
  • Poor leg space
Most Versatile Option
If you think that you might be paddling with another person (or a pet), you want a larger kayak than the Bali we just spoke about. Ocean Kayak deliver with the Malibu Two XL, a tandem kayak that’s extremely comfortable and has quite a lot of versatility. 
Quick Specs
  • Weight: 61 lbs
  • Material: Single Layer Polyethylene
  • Lenght: 13".4'
  • Capacity: 450-500 lbs
Being an open-sit on top kayak, getting in and out of it is rather easy. There’s plenty of legroom, and you’re also looking at a couple of feet positions for each paddler, too, so you can rest assured things will be comfortable. While we’re discussing comfort, it’s worth mentioning that you get the Comfort Zone seats with the Malibu Two XL, which are some of the most comfortable seats in the industry. It also helps that you can adjust them and move them around. You could even remove one of them and make this a single person kayak with a lot of storage room.

On the topic of storage, unfortunately there’s no closed dry storage, but you do get two shock cord sections at both the front and the rear, and you can actually carry quite a lot of things there. To add to this, you could also store a couple of things behind the front seat, as there’s plenty of room.

The entire kayak is made of polyethylene, so you’re looking at a hard shell kayak that’s durable, fairly resistant to UV light, and beginner-friendly in terms of damage tolerance. It has a maximum load of 450 to 500 pounds, which is quite a bit. You could even go out with your partner and a small kid or a pet, and there will be plenty of room.

If you’re looking at versatility in a large kayak, the Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL is definitely the one to go for. 
  • Great stability
  • Lots of space
  • Great price
  • Lacks performance for comfort
Best Budget Option
The Intex Explorer is an interesting choice. It’s the only inflatable kayak on our list, and it’s also the cheapest one, by far. It comes in at a fraction of the price of some of the other options, but for a person who’s jut getting into kayaking and isn’t quite sure how much they’d invest, it’s a great pick. 
Quick Specs
  • Weight: 37 lbs
  • Material: Rugged vinyl construction
  • Lenght: 10".3'
  • Capacity: 400 lbs
To begin with, this is a tandem inflatable kayak that comes with two inflatable seats. They’re rather comfortable, and do offer some adjustment so you can set them up just right for you. There’s even the option to remove one of the seats if you’d rather use the Explorer as a solo kayak, it’s all up to your personal preference.

Even though this is an inflatable kayak, it is a rather nice one, made of quality materials that won’t deteriorate within the first few months. However, it’s one that you shouldn’t be pushing too hard, as it’s made for smaller bodies of water, such as lakes or mild rivers. It’s not a kayak that you should be taking on your next ocean expedition.

With the Explorer, you’ll get two rather nice paddles, as well as a pump that will inflate the kayak pretty quickly. You’re pretty much all set, and all you need to do is get yourself to water and enjoy it. There’s also a removable skeg that will help quite a lot when it comes to stability and tracking.

Find out why you should go for inflatable kayaks and see what are the best models available today. 

If you’re looking to get your feet wet in the world of kayaking, but aren’t really sure how much you want to spend hundreds of dollars, the Intex Explorer K2 is a great option. And the fact that you can deflate it and store it when it’s not in use is an added bonus! 
  • Excellent built quality
  • Lightweight
  • Great Paddles
  • Poor quality valves
Best Compact Model
Even though some people don’t really have a lot of space, or don’t need too much storage space, they may simply prefer getting a hard shell kayak over an inflatable one. For those people, the Frenzy by Ocean Kayak is a great option that’s rather compact at around 9 feet, is lightweight, and still covers all the basics for a good kayak pretty well. 
Quick Specs
  • Weight: 43 lbs
  • Material: Single Layer Polyethylene
  • Lenght: 9"
  • Capacity: 325 lbs
To begin with, this is a very playful kayak if you know what you’re doing. You can maneuver it rather easily, which is one of its main benefits, but if you’re an inexperienced paddler who’s just starting out, it’s actually extremely stable on flat water. It makes use of Ocean Kayak’s Tri-Form hull which combines both primary and secondary stability, and it will keep you going straight pretty easily. What we can conclude is that whether you’re just getting into kayaking, or you’ve been doing it for a while, it’s a great compact option for both categories.

The seat that comes with the Frenzy is actually pretty comfortable. It has a nice padded backrest, and you can adjust it to fit you just how you like it. Paired with the multiple leg positions, you can rest assured knowing that you’ve got plenty of versatility when it comes to setting up your seating position.

Unfortunately, this being a compact kayak, you don’t have a lot of storage. The only room is the shock cord section at the front, and the one behind the seat, but none of them are closed. If you have things that shouldn’t get wet, you’ll want a dry bag with this one. If, however, you don’t mind this, the Frenzy is an excellent compact kayak for those who want a hard shell. 
  • Compact and easy to carry
  • Great Stability
  • Narrow cockpit area
Best Sit-in Option
The one thing all of the aforementioned kayaks on our list have in common is that they’re all sit-on-top models. However, some people prefer to be in a bit more protected model, especially if you’re going to be using it in colder weather. If this is the case, the Aruba by Sun Dolphin is an excellent sit-in model. 
Quick Specs
  • Weight: 40 lbs
  • Material: High Density Polyethylene
  • Lenght: 9"6'
  • Capacity: 250 lbs
At 10 feet, this is the perfect length for a single seat kayak, both in terms of kayaking performance, and storage options. The first is pretty much excellent – the kayak tracks very well, and maneuverability is absolutely not a problem in just about any condition. Whether you’re getting your first kayak, or you’re a seasoned paddler, you won’t find it lacking.

When it comes to storage, you’ve got a dry compartment at the back, right behind the seat. This can keep essentials dry and out of harm’s way, and there’s also shock cord rigging as well, so you can get a backpack or a dry bag there, too. You will also get a shock cord rigged section at the front, but it’s really small and not exactly useful for anything more than a water bottle, for example.

The foot braces inside and the seat make the Aruba a very comfortable kayak. However, taller users might find it a bit tight inside, as this is a closed off kayak. However, if you don’t mind that, this is a great model that will keep you warm when paddling in less-than-ideal conditions.

Last but not least, the entire kayak is made of Fortiflex, which is basically UV-stabilized, rugged high density polyethylene. We already spoke about it, but it’s probably the best choice of material for a kayak at this price range. You won’t regret getting it. 
  • Sturdy build quality
  • Adjustable seat
  • Lightweight
  • Lacks performance
  • Known for common leakage
Best Fishing Option
If there’s one type of kayaking where it’s worth getting a specific kayak, it’s fishing. Fishing does require a few pretty purpose-built accessories and decisions to be made when making a kayak, so if you’re going to get the best beginner kayak for fishing, the Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 is the one to go for. It checks all the boxes, yet keeps the price somewhat reasonable. 
Quick Specs
  • Weight: 52 lbs
  • Material: High Density Polyethylene
  • Lenght: 10"
  • Capacity: 275 lbs
To begin with, this is a single seat sit-on-top kayak. The seat has fairly thin padding, but is still pretty comfortable, and you get a couple of feet positions so you can get things just right for you and make it comfortable. There are two small storage hatches that close down, so any essential items that need to remain dry and clean can go there. To add to this, there are two shock cord sections at both the front and the back, so you can add additional items. (2)

In terms of fishing, you’ve got two flush mounted holders for a fishing rod and one top mount fishing rod holder. There’s also a place to store your paddle while fishing, and the entire kayak has a weight capacity of 275 lbs. This means that it checks all the boxes when it comes to a fishing kayak, as you can carry your own weight, and quite a lot of gear, too.

Interested in more fishing kayaks? Check out what we think are the best fishing kayaks out there! 

The entire kayak is made of high density polyethylene, and has a fairly interesting design. The bow is sharp for acceleration and tracking, while the hull has a flat bottom to add a bit of extra stability – something that’s always appreciated when you’re fishing. Overall, if you’re looking for the best beginner kayak for fishing, the Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 is the one to go for. 
  • Great leg room
  • Great Stability
  • Lots of storage
  • Known to have packaging issues
Also Good
Sometimes all you need is a compact, simple one-seat kayak, but you want it to be able to carry a bit more weight. If that’s the case, Old Town Kayaks’ Vapor 10 is a great option. As its name suggests, it’s a 10 foot kayak that’s made of polyethylene and comes with a 325 pound maximum capacity. When you consider that most of the competition tops out at 250 or 275, that’s quite a difference. 
Quick Specs
  • Weight: 47 lbs
  • Material: Single Layer Polyethylene
  • Lenght: 10"3'
  • Capacity: 325 lbs
To begin with, the Vapor is excellent in terms of performance. The hull is made in a way that makes it perform great in just about any environment. It tracks very well, it’s easy to maneuver, and it’s pretty stable as well. At 10 feet, it’s a pretty perfect length for smaller bodies of water.

The cockpit is semi-closed, somewhere between a sit-in and a sit-on-top kayak. This means that you’re shielded from the sides, but there’s a pretty large opening that makes getting in and out of the kayak pretty easy. It also means you can easily fit a larger dry bag inside if you need one. Considering the kayak doesn’t have any closed storage or shock cords, this might be necessary.

Comfort is excellent, thanks to the Comfort Flex seat that’s adjustable, and the Glide Track foot brace system. You can set both of them up just the way you like them, which means you’re looking at a pretty versatile kayak for just about any user.

As far as convenience goes, you’ve got a cockpit tray that has a cup holder, as well as a storage compartment at the back and a molded-in paddle rest. There’s no paddle with it, so that’s an additional expense, but this is overall an excellent kayak for any beginner, really. 
  • Great price
  • Comfortable
  • Known for plug and valve issues

Buyers' Guide

With the options out of the way, let’s take a look at a few of the key aspects of buying a kayak. 


Inflatable vs hard shell 

The first thing you’ll come across when you’re shopping for a new kayak is the choice between an inflatable kayak, and a hard shell model. Now, even though you’ll find people that push you towards one or the other, both are actually rather good options, but they’re different in a few key regards.

First, there’s the stiffness. Getting a kayak up to speed is all about transferring the force of you paddling to the water. With a hard shell kayak, most, if not all of your force goes to the water, making acceleration and maneuvering rather easy. On the other hand, if you opt for an inflatable kayak, some force will undoubtedly get lost, which means you’ll get a bit more tired when paddling. This is even worse if your kayak isn’t inflated properly.

However, you’ve also got the storage and portability. A hard shell kayak is as big as it is – you’ll have to find a way to transport it, and you’ll have to find a way to store it. If you don’t have a larger car and plenty of room in your home or garage, it’s going to be a problem. Inflatables are a lot easier in this regard, because you can just deflate it and store it away until you need it again. You can get a budget electric pump that uses your car’s outlet and inflate it when you get to the water, which saves you a bit of effort. 

Single seating, double seating, or both? 

This is a decision that you’ll have to make based on how you intend to use the kayak. Single seating kayaks can accommodate one paddler, double seat models can accommodate two, and there are some versatile options (usually inflatable kayaks), that allow you to either have two seats, or one that’s moved more forward or backward, depending on your preferred position.

The thing is, a two-seat kayak isn’t only useful when you have two people paddling. Such kayaks are usually larger, and come with a lot more storage area. Therefore, if you’re going to be out in the water for extended periods of time, and you think you’ll need to carry a few extra things with you, this might be a good thing. You can use the extra storage room for the things you’ll be taking with you, and you could even use the second seat for a backpack, or even better, a pet friend!

Touring kayak, whitewater kayak, fishing kayak … which one? 

Among all the options, you’ll also find kayaks that are labeled for some specific purpose. Which type you go for usually depends on the type of activities you want your kayak for. While some activities will allow for some leeway, some are pretty restrictive, and choosing the wrong type of kayak can cause you problems.

For example, getting a fishing kayak for touring isn’t a problem. You still have quite a lot of room for storage, and to add to this, you’ll get a few nifty fishing-specific accessories that might come in handy. On the other hand, getting a fishing kayak for whitewater is a problem – you’re not protected, the kayak is large and difficult to maneuver, and you’ll be in trouble before you know it.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to be honest with yourself about what you’ll be using your kayak for, and choose the one that fits that category best. If you aren’t sure, get a general-use kayak, they tend to be pretty versatile, even though they won’t really excel at anything in particular. 


Your budget is important

Last but certainly not least, you should set a budget before you go shopping for a kayak. This is something that can easily cost you thousand of dollars, so make sure you know what you’re getting into, and set a reasonable limit for yourself. With that said, happy shopping!

Our Top Pick
Best Overall
We’re kicking things off with the Sun Dolphin Bali SS. This is a single seating kayak that offers pretty much anything you’d expect from a good kayak, and yet doesn’t cost too much. It’s a single seat model, but does come with plenty of room and storage. 
References
(1) galvanized iron - https://www.gsa.gov/real-estate/historic-preservation/historic-preservation-policy-tools/preservation-tools-resources/technical-documents?Form_Load=88553%3FbypassAkamaiCache%3D1507917842
(2) stainless steel - https://www.thermofisher.com/blog/metals/what-is-stainless-steel-part-i/

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About the author 

Andrew Bell

Andrew is a seasoned kayaker with 15 years of experience under his belt. He began kayaking as a way to reduce work stress but quickly became an avid kayak fisher and lure expert. He currently enjoys both lake and ocean kayaking and loves to write and share his experiences.


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