Best Kayak for Beginners in 2022: Reviews and Buying Guide

In a hurry? Our pick as the best beginner kayak is Wilderness Systems Pungo 120

Kayaking is quickly becoming more popular worldwide, and for good reasons. It is one of the most inclusive sports that offers clear health benefits. It is also a lot of fun.

But if you’re just getting into it, buying your first kayak is a daunting task. There are so many great beginner kayaks on the market today, but which one is right for you? We understand how difficult it is to choose a kayak that best suits your needs, especially if you’re new to the sport.

We’ve put together this buying guide to help you choose your first kayak. We have also reviewed some popular models that we think are the best kayaks for beginners.

Note: don’t forget to also check our buying guides on PFDs and paddles.

As an affiliate of Amazon and other retailers, we may earn a small commission when you buy via our links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

Quick Answer: Best Kayaks for Beginners

Comparison Table: Top Rated Kayaks for First-time Paddlers

Model Specs Price
Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 thumbnail
Wilderness Systems
Pungo 120
LxW: 12’2″x 29″
Weight: 49 lb
Capacity: 325 lb
See on Amazon
Intex Challenger K1
Intex Challenger K1
LxW: 9’x30″
Weight: 28 lb
Capacity: 220 lb
See on Amazon
Intex Challenger K2
Intex Explorer K2
LxW: 10’3”x36”
Weight: 36.7 lb
Capacity: 400 lb
See on Amazon
Sevylor Quikpak K1
Sevylor Quikpak K1
Size: 8’7” x 3’
Weight: 18 lb
Capacity: 400 lb
See on Amazon
Perception Rambler 13.5
Perception Rambler 13.5
LxW: 13’6″x 34″
Weight: 78 lb
Capacity: 550 lb
See on Amazon
Sea Eagle 370
Sea Eagle 370
Size: 12’6” x 34″
Weight: 33 lb
Capacity: 650 lb
See on Amazon
Lifetime Tamarack Pro 103
Lifetime Tamarack Pro 103
Size: 12’3″ x 31″
Weight: 57.5 lb
Capacity: 300 lb
See on Amazon
Perception Drift
Perception Flash 9.5
LxW: 9’6″x 28.5″
Weight: 40 lb
Capacity: 300 lb
See on Amazon
Pelican Maxim 100X
Pelican Maxim 100X
LxW: 10″x 28″
Weight: 36 lb
Capacity: 275 lb
See on Amazon
Pelican Argo 100X
Pelican Argo 100X
LxW: 10″x 28″
Weight: 36 lb
Capacity: 275 lb
See on Amazon
Vibe Skipjack 90
Vibe Skipjack 90
LxW: 9″x 32″
Weight: 46 lb
Capacity: 300 lb
See on Amazon
Sun Dolphin Aruba 10
Sun Dolphin Aruba 10
LxW: 9’6″x 28.5″
Weight: 40 lb
Capacity: 300 lb
See on Amazon
FeelFree Moken 10
FeelFree Moken 10 V2
LxW: 9’6″x 28.5″
Weight: 40 lb
Capacity: 300 lb
See on Amazon
WHY TRUST US: Here at Paddlingspace.com, we spend more time on the water than we do in the office. We paddle, kayak fish, and camp as often as we can, so we know exactly what kayakers and kayak anglers need. Each year, we independently research, review, and rate the best kayaks, canoes, and paddling gear. Our experts analyze hundreds of products to find out key differences, pros, and cons of each product. We only make money from ads or if you purchase through our links. No sponsored posts or biased reviews here, period.

Our Top Beginner-Friendly Kayaks for 2022

Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 – Best Overall

Wilderness Systems Pungo 120

Weight: 49 lbs (22 kg)
Length: 12’2” (371 cm)
Capacity: 325 lbs (147 kg)
Type: Sit in

An absolute classic of a boat, the Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 is a long-time fan favorite among beginner and intermediate paddlers alike. In fact, it has been one of the best-selling recreational kayaks for nearly 25 years!

The Pungo 120 features Wilderness Systems’ proprietary hull design which blends a wide base with a V-shaped hull. It gives the kayak a playful character and solid secondary stability, although it may seem a little unstable at the beginning.

The Pungo features a pretty hard chine and a pronounced keel, so it maneuvers very well and tracks marvelously over longer distances.

Wilderness Systems made this kayak very comfortable by including their Phase 3 AirPro seating system. This ergonomic, adjustable, and well-padded seat is one of the best on the market.

The Pungo 120 also has a set of thigh pads on the cockpit rim, which is another comfort feature. Finally, the adjustable footrests ensure that every paddler will find the perfect position.

For gear storage, the Pungo 120 offers a huge rear bulkhead covered by a water-tight hatch.

This bulkhead is also an important safety feature. It creates a sealed compartment inside the hull and prevents the kayak from being flooded if you capsize.

There’s also some bungee rigging on the fore and aft decks for items you need access to while on the water.

Beginners will appreciate the built-in dashboard which provides plenty of storage space for snacks, water bottles, and other accessories. There’s even a storage spot for a lithium battery (sold separately) to keep your devices charged.

The 120 model has a weight limit of 325 lb (147 kg) which makes it appropriate for the majority of kayakers. If you’re a larger person, take a look at the Pungo 125 model which can carry up to 375 lbs. (170 kg). For small paddlers, there’s also the Pungo 105, which carries up to 300 lbs. (136 kg).

9Expert Score
Our Verdict: Wilderness Systems Pungo 120

Great stability, awesome performance, and the ultimate comfort make the Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 a perfect choice for beginners and intermediate paddlers alike.

Stability
9
Speed
9
Tracking
8
Comfort
10
Features
8
Portability
7
Pros
  • Very stable
  • Efficient hull
  • Adjustable seat with vented backrest
  • Superior overall comfort
  • Rear bulkhead for storage and safety
  • A cool dashboard
  • Adjustable footrests
  • Replaceable skid plate for dragging
Cons
  • No rod holders
  • May feel a little tippy initially

Intex Challenger K1- Best on a Budget

Intex Challenger K1

Length: 9 ft. / 274 cm
Width: 30 in. / 76 cm
Weight: 28 lbs. / 12.7 kg
Capacity: 220 lbs. / 100 kg

Intex Challenger K1 is one of the most portable and affordable inflatable kayaks on the market. The package it comes in measures 23 in. x 16 in. (58 cm x 40 cm) and includes the kayak, paddle, skeg, and pump. You’ll be hard pushed to find a package better suited to throwing in the trunk, or RV for a weekend of camping. The even better news is that the Challenger is useable by both adults and children.

Intex Challenger is made from lightweight vinyl, which is the reason this kayak packs down so small and lightweight compared with PVC alternatives. Though comparatively light, vinyl isn’t quite as durable, so if you plan to use this kayak on rivers, around rough banks, or near overhanging trees, you should take care not to end up deflated.

Once you reach the water, inflation is quick and easy. The Boston valves fitted in the floor and the sidewalls allow you to get both chambers of this kayak up to pressure before you set off on the water. The seat inflates separately and attaches to the kayak with a velcro strip and a series of D-rings that keep it securely in place so it won’t move while you paddle.

The inflatable seat itself is unusually supportive and comfortable for an inflatable system. Inside the kayak, there’s plenty of legroom for kayakers of most sizes.  

For a lightweight and low-budget inflatable kayak, the Challenger paddles surprisingly well. The skeg at the rear helps this kayak to track and, while we wouldn’t recommend getting caught out in strong winds, you will find it easy to go in a straight line on open water and gentle rivers. 

As a short and wide kayak, Intex Challenger isn’t going to break any records, but it’s not designed to. It will be really easy for the whole family to paddle though, with low sidewalls and accessible design. Often that’s more important.

7Expert Score
Our Verdict: Intex Challenger K1

An (almost) complete package for beginners at an awesome price, the Intex Challenger K1 can be your first step into kayaking. Just remember to paddle on calm waters only and stay close to shore.

Stability
7
Speed
6
Tracking
5
Comfort
7
Features
6
Portability
8
Pros
  • Lightweight and affordable
  • Super-easy to store and transport
  • Comes with pump and paddle
  • Reasonably stable on flat water
Cons
  • Non-reinforced vinyl is not durable
  • No secondary stability
  • Limited space and capacity
  • Gets blown around by the wind

Intex Explorer K2 – Best Buy

Intex Explorer K2 kayak

Length: 10’3” (312 cm)
Width: 36” (91 cm)
Weight: 30.6 lb (13.9 kg)
Capacity: 400 lb (180 kg)

This budget 2-person kayak is 10’3” (312 cm) long and 36” (91 cm) wide. It has an open, canoe-like design with small decks on the bow and the stern.

Tipping the scales at 30.6 lb (13.9 kg), the Explorer K2 is rated for up to 400 lb (180 kg). 400 lb is not that much for two people, so it’s best suited for smaller paddlers.

The boat is made from vinyl and includes 3 main inflatable chambers (2 sides and the floor). The two inflatable seats are attached with velcro strips on the bottom and side straps that provide back support.

HappyRider Reviews

Features include a removable skeg that helps with tracking as well as grab lines and carrying handles on the bow and the stern. The kayak comes with two aluminum-shaft paddles, a hand pump, a repair kit, and a carry bag.

Intex Explorer K2 is best used for short recreational paddles on small, calm bodies of water. Its compact size, lightweight construction, and low price make it an easy first step into kayaking. Whatever you do, do not go far from the shore in it, and always wear your PFDs.

For longer trips, look for models made from reinforced PVC, which is much more durable and puncture-resistant. Also bear in mind that this kayak is pretty short for a tandem, so it provides limited legroom, storage space, and capacity.

7Expert Score
Our Verdict: Intex Explorer K2

Intex Explorer K2 is a lightweight and spacious inflatable sit-on-top, great for small lakes and gentle rivers. Having inflatable seats, split paddles, and a pump in the package, this kayak can extend your camping trip to take to the water or help introduce your family to kayaking.

Stability
8
Speed
7
Tracking
6
Comfort
7
Features
6
Portability
7
Pros
  • Quick to inflate and deflate
  • All-in-one package
  • Stable and easy to paddle
  • Moveable rear seat and adjustable seat-backs
Cons
  • High sides make it hard for smaller paddlers to reach the water
  • Struggles in the wind
  • Limited onboard storage
  • PVC not suited to rocky launches and landings

Sevylor Quikpak K1 – Most Lightweight

Sevylor Quikpak K1 kayak

Length: 8’7” (262 cm)
Width: 3’ (91 cm)
Weight: 18 lb (8 kg)
Capacity: 400 lb (181 kg)

Sevylor Quikpak K1 promises a five-minute setup, a backpack that turns into the seat, a durable PVC construction with a puncture-protected floor, multiple air chambers for safety, and even integrated, inflatable footrests.

This small sit-on-top boat is 8’7” (262 cm) long and 3’ (91 cm) wide. Weighing only 18 lb (8 kg), it is light enough to carry for about any adult. The capacity of 400 lb (181 kg) is more than impressive for such a small vessel. The kayak features 5 inflatable chambers if you count the backrest and two inflatable footrests, so it will let you get to the shore even if you puncture one of the chambers. Still, the vinyl hull is not as durable as PVC used on higher-priced boats, so we would not recommend going far from the shore in it.

Sevylor Quikpak K1 inflatable kayak
Eat Sleep RV Repeat

The kayak comes with a hand pump and a cheaply made collapsible paddle which you’d better replace immediately (see some quality budget options). Other features include a bungee net on the bow, a small flat storage platform behind the seat, a paddle holder, and two carrying handles.

The kayak’s sit-on-top design and generous capacity mean that even larger people will have enough legroom and feel safe while paddling.

Sevylor Quikpak K1 is a short and wide boat with a flat bottom (other than two tiny skegs that don’t do much), so you can’t expect to get any speed or tracking out of it. It also tends to be blown around by the wind quite a bit. In terms of stability, you should be OK on flat water, but this boat is not suitable for waves, wind, or current.

Overall, Sevylor Quikpak K1 can be recommended if you just want to try kayaking and see if you like it, or if you live in a small apartment with very limited storage space. It also makes a great beach toy. Its portability and low weight let you throw it in the trunk and leave it there just in case you need it.


Perception Rambler 13.5 – Best Tandem for Beginners

Perception Rambler 13.5

Weight: 78 lbs (35 kg)
Length: 13’6” (412 cm)
Capacity: 500 lbs (249 kg)
Type: Sit on top

A beginner-focused tandem for duos that like to take to the water together, the Perception Rambler 13.5 is one of the most affordable 2 person kayaks on the market.

Featuring a wide, mostly rounded hull that offers impeccable stability in calm conditions, the Rambler 13.5 is a solid choice for paddlers that enjoy sticking to sheltered waters. Its spacious deck area and high maximum weight capacity are able to accomodate 2 adult paddlers, plus a child or dog, making it a nice option for adventurous families.

Although the Rambler 13.5 is a bit heavier than many other similarly sized tandems on the market at 78 lbs (35 kg), since you’ll always paddle this boat with a partner, it’s still easy enough to load onto a vehicle.

Perception Rambler 13.5
Life180 #floridacouple

However, as Perception designed this boat to be affordable and beginner-friendly, it doesn’t come jam-packed with features. But, it does have a small rear tankwell that can hold a cooler with refreshments for a day on the water, as well as 2 padded seats for improved comfort while paddling.

Key Features

  • Spacious deck area
  • Stern tankwell for gear storage
  • Adjustable, padded seats
7Expert Score
Our Verdict: Perception Rambler 13.5

Incredibly durable and stable, Perception Rambler Tandem 13.5 is one of the most affordable tandem kayaks on the market. It has spacious deck area, stern tankwell, and can even accommodate your child or dog.

Stability
8.5
Speed
7
Tracking
7
Comfort
8
Features
6
Portability
6
Pros
  • Wide, mostly rounded hull for stability
  • Affordable for a tandem kayak
  • Space for a child or dog
  • High maximum weight capacity
Cons
  • Fairly heavy, even for a tandem

Sea Eagle 370 – Best Inflatable Tandem

Sea Eagle 370

Length: 12’6” (381 cm)
Width: 34″ (86.4 cm)
Weight: 33 lbs. (15 kg)
Capacity: 650 lbs. (295 kg)

Sea Eagle 370 is marketed as a 3-person kayak, but in reality, it offers just enough space for 2 adults to sit comfortably.

Sea Eagle 370 is made from the K80 PVC (Polykrylar) material and features three separate inflatable chambers. Two plastic skegs on the bottom help the kayak track better.

A one-way valve
A blue plastic skeg
Road Gear Reviews

The kayak comes in several configurations, including the Pro package with better inflatable seats and two paddles, the Solo Fishing package with one seat and a multi-purpose storage box, and even a QuikSail package with a small sail.

Sea Eagle 370’s larger interior and extra capacity make it possible to load the boat with gear. If you don’t need all that space, there is also a shorter (and slightly lighter) model, the Sea Eagle 330.

8Expert Score
Our Verdict: Sea Eagle 370

If you are tight on storage space, the lightweight Sea Eagle 370 can fit in even the smallest car trunk. Besides the storage, its key benefits are increased load capacity and all the stability you would expect from an inflatable 3-person kayak.

Stability
9
Speed
7
Tracking
7
Comfort
8
Features
8
Portability
8
Pros
  • Really stable and easy to launch
  • Easy to transport and store
  • Durable design
Cons
  • High sides make it hard to paddle efficiently
  • Can get caught by the wind

Lifetime Tamarack Pro 103 – Best for Fishing

Lifetime Tamarack Pro 103

Type: Hard-shell sit-on
Material: High-density, UV-protected polyethylene
Size: 12′ 3″ (312.42 cm) x 31″ (78.7 cm)
Weight: 57.5 lb (26 kg)
Capacity: 300 lb (136 kg)

The Lifetime Tamarack Angler is an great kayak for those who want to try kayak fishing. This boat has just the right amount of fishing-specific features and comfort at a price that’s hard to beat. 

The Tamarack Angler is relatively lightweight at just 51 lbs (23 kg), meaning it will be easy to load on a roof rack or into your truck. There isn’t an abundance of storage space, but this model does offer two dry storage hatches—one in front of the seat and one behind. 

Lifetime Tamarack Pro 103
G-Wolf Outdoors

Crafted from UV-protected high-density polyethylene, the Tamarack Angler is designed to be a rigid, durable kayak that performs well on the water. Many users report that the kayak offers enough stability to allow them to stand while fishing. At just 10’ (304.8 cm) in length, the Tamarack Angler is a great throw-and-go boat that will shine on smaller lakes or calm rivers.

8Expert Score
Our Verdict: Lifetime Tamarack Pro 103

Lifetime Tamarack Pro 103 may not be a boat for professional kayak anglers, but as a first boat for beginner anglers it is a perfect and affordable choice. And in terms of fishing this kayak has a surprising amount of features.

Stability
8
Speed
7
Tracking
8
Comfort
8
Features
9
Portability
7
Pros
  • Affordable price point
  • Great maneuverability
  • Stable and comfortable
  • Lots of features
Cons
  • Little standing room
  • Limited capacity
  • Seat lacks padding

Pelican Argo 100X

Pelican Argo 100X

Length: 10’ (305 cm)
Width: 28″ (71 cm)
Weight: 36 lbs. (16.3 kg)
Capacity: 275 lbs. (125 kg)

Pelican Argo 100X is an insanely popular beginner-level kayak, mainly due to its wide availability and great pricing. At 36 lbs (16.3 kg), it is also a very lightweight boat that you can literally grab one-handed and carry around.

At 10’ (305 cm), it is a little shorter than the AdvancedFrame above but still offers enough room for an average-sized adult. The Argo’s maximum capacity is 275 lbs (125 kg) – not much if you include your clothes, PFD, paddle, and all of your gear. For better performance, it’s a good idea to stay within 80 percent of the kayak’s capacity, which brings the available capacity down to 220 lbs or 100 kg.

Pelican Argo 100X
ISLAND OF TREES

Like most Pelican models, Pelican Argo 100X is made of RAM-X material using thermoforming technology. RAM-X is a three-layer sheet of high-density polyethylene. A sheet of RAM-X is heated up and stretched over a mold using a vacuum. Two parts of the hull are then melted together, creating a strong bond.

Thermoformed kayaks are lighter than rotomolded ones but are considered less durable.


Vibe Skipjack 90

Vibe Skipjack 90

Length: 9’ (274 cm)
Width: 
32” (81 cm)
Weight: 
46 lb (21 kg)
Capacity: 
300 lb (136 kg)

Whether it’s exploration or fishing you’re after, the Skipjack 90 might just be the perfect way to introduce new kayakers to the sport. The short, stable platform is versatile and highly portable, lightweight enough that you can just grab and go with the molded side handles. 

For recreational exploring, the Skipjack’s defined waterline and easy maneuverability makes taking to the water as easy as possible, while the waterproof, breathable seat pad and supportive back rest system mean you can stay out paddling all day. 

Vibe Skipjack 90
HydraYak Outdoors

You will appreciate the large amounts of storage at either end of the kayak, as well as the central tackle toss recess and base accessory mounting point. There are also four recessed rod holders on the Skipjack, which can double as GoPro mounts if filming is important to you. 

The paddle park, drinks holder and a waterproof hatch, ideal for small items such as cameras and phones, can be invaluable for any paddler. 

Key Features

  • Molded carry handles
  • Bow and stern tank wells with bungees
  • Quarter-turn day hatch
  • Flush-mounted rod holders
7Expert Score
Our Verdict: Vibe Skipjack 90

If you’re looking for a shorter entry-level kayak, easy to transport and store but also stable enough for stress-free fishing, Vibe Skipjack 90 is a great option. It’s not the fastest boat around, nor does it track perfectly, but it is lightweight and maneuverable.<br>

Stability
8
Speed
6
Tracking
6
Comfort
8
Features
7
Portability
8
Pros
  • Very Stable
  • Easy to store and transport
  • Padded, adjustable seat
Cons
  • Not very fast
  • Somewhat limited capacity for a fishing kayak

Sun Dolphin Aruba 10

Sun Dolphin Aruba 10

Length: 9′ 7″ / 292 cm
Width: 29″ / 74 cm
Weight: 40 lbs. / 18 kg
Capacity: 250 lbs. / 113 kg

No-frills, yet functional as can be, the Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 is an über-popular kayak for beginners and intermediate paddlers, alike.

Made with a thick layer of UV-stabilized Fortiflex high-density polyethylene, the Aruba 10 is meant to last throughout years of use by the whole family. It has a spacious cockpit for easier entry, plus a well-padded, fully-adjustable seat and thigh pads for improved comfort on the water.

Sun Dolphin Aruba 10
JohnVHRC

With this boat you get a set of adjustable foot braces, which are hard to come by at this price point. As a result, you can start to get a feel for maneuvering your kayak through tricky terrain, which will help you improve your technique over time.

Moreover, the Aruba 10 has a rear storage compartment and a cockpit water bottle holder for convenience on longer paddles. Finally, although the boat isn’t the lightest on the market, its 2 handles make it fairly simple to lift and transport at the end of your paddling day with the help of a friend.

Key Features

  • Fully adjustable seat
  • Large rear storage hatch
  • Adjustable foot braces
7Expert Score
Our Verdict: Sun Dolphin Aruba 10

Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 is a functional sit-in kayak for beginners that can be used for years by the whole family. It's not the lightest on the market, but its spacious cockpit, fully adjustable seat and thigh pads, as well as adjustable foot braces make it comfortable on the water.

Stability
7
Speed
7
Tracking
7
Comfort
8
Features
8
Portability
6
Pros
  • Durable Fortiflex hull
  • Spacious cockpit
  • Padded seat and integrated thigh pads
Cons
  • Low maximum weight capacity

FeelFree Moken 10 V2

FeelFree Moken 10 V2

Weight: 68 kg (30.8 kg)
Length: 10’ (305 cm)
Capacity: 440 lbs (199.6 kg)
Type: Sit on top

When casting lines and snagging your next catch while paddling along calm waters is your ideal way to spend a weekend, the FeelFree Moken 10 V2 might just be what you need. This angler-friendly sit on top kayak packs a whole lot of comfort and functionality into one compact boat. 

As far as performance goes, this fishing kayak has a wide, rounded hull for maximum stability in the water. In fact, it’s designed to be so stable in calm conditions that it has a reinforced, non-slip standing platform for casting lines.

FeelFree Moken 10 V2
Hooked Up Fishing

Moreover, when it comes to comfort, this kayak doesn’t disappoint. It has an EZ Rider height-adjustable seat with an ergonomic backrest for longer days on the water. The Moken 10 V2 also comes stock with 2 flush mounted rod holders, and multiple Uni-Tracks which are ideal for attaching various fishing-specific accessories to enhance your time on the water.

RELATED: FeelFree Kayaks in 2022: Full Model Lineup and Reviews

Oh, and the Moken 10 V2 has one of the largest maximum weight capacities on the market for a solo kayak, with the ability to accommodate up to 440 lbs (199.6 kg) of weight. Since it also comes with bow and stern tankwells, plus multiple storage areas for your gear, this boat is ideal for anglers that expect to reel in an impressive catch at the end of the day.

Key Features

  • EZ Rider height-adjustable seat
  • 2 flush mounted rod holders
  • Multiple Uni-Tracks for accessories
8Expert Score
Our Verdict: FeelFree Moken 10 V2

FeelFree Moken 10 V2 is a compact and stable beginner fishing boat. With its great weight capacity, plenty of storage space, height adjustable seat, 2 rod holders and multiple accessory tracks it packs a whole lot of comfort and angler functionality on the water.

Stability
8.5
Speed
7.5
Tracking
7.5
Comfort
8
Features
8
Portability
9
Pros
  • Stable
  • Impressive weight capacity
  • Plenty of gear storage space
  • Easy to transport
Cons
  • Fairly slow in the water
  • Tracking could be better

How to Choose Your First Kayak: Factors to Consider

Buying a kayak for beginners isn’t always as easy as it might seem. That’s because you want to be sure that you get a boat that’s stable and comfortable enough for your first few years of adventures on the water.

A woman sitting in an orange kayak holding a paddle on the water

To help ensure that you get the best beginner kayak for your needs, here are some of the most important features and design points that you should consider when shopping around.

Tandem vs. Solo

Perhaps the first major decision you need to make when buying your new kayak is whether you’d like a solo or a tandem model. In reality, this is very much so a personal decision as it depends on whether or not you can reasonably expect to have a willing and excited padding buddy available for your adventures.

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that there are some advantages and disadvantages of choosing a single or a tandem kayak as a newer paddler.

A couple in a sit-on-top kayak

For example, tandem kayaks tend to be more stable and better at tracking, partially because they are usually longer and wider than their solo counterparts. However, this extra width and length comes at the expense of portability.

Moreover, tandem boats can be both frustrating and fun to paddle if you’re just starting your kayaking career. While having a buddy in the boat with you can be calming if you’re feeling a little nervous, it can also be frustrating to feel like you’re only going in circles because your paddling timing is out of sync.

At the same time, a solo kayak is often better from a skills progression point of view because you’ll need to develop proper technique on your own without relying on anyone else to make corrections for you. 

Two female kayakers on a lake

What does this mean for you?

Well, if your main goal for kayaking is to just enjoy yourself on the water with your friends and family, or you’re only interested in purchasing 1 boat for 2 people, a tandem might be the best option. Alternatively, if you’d like to really hone your paddling technique, a solo kayak is going to give you the best opportunity to do so on the water.

Sit on Top vs. Sit In

After you decide whether you’d like a tandem or solo kayak, your next big decision is whether you’d prefer a sit on top or a sit in kayak. Here’s what you need to know about the advantages and disadvantages of each type of boat.

Sit on Top Kayaks

Sit on top kayaks are perhaps the more popular option for beginner kayak because they offer easy entry and exit and plenty of space to sit back and relax. The open deck of a sit on top kayak is also ideal for larger paddlers or anyone that often feels claustrophobic inside a sit in kayak.

Sit-on-top tandem kayak

Moreover, from a beginner paddler’s perspective, sit on top kayaks are quite user friendly. If you do happen to capsize, you don’t have to worry about trying to slide out of a cockpit while you’re underwater. Plus, most sit on top boats are self-bailing, which is nice if you do end up going for a swim.

That being said, sit on top boats aren’t a great choice if you don’t like to get wet while paddling. They’re also less ideal in choppy conditions, though, to be fair, most beginner kayaks aren’t designed for harsh weather, anyway.

Sit In Kayaks

Sit in kayaks are the more traditional choice as they have a cockpit area that encloses most of your lower body. While expedition and touring-style sit in kayaks tend to have very narrow cockpits, however, most beginner-friendly models have fairly wide cockpit openings.

A female kayaker in a sit-inside kayak

The primary advantage to a sit in kayak is that you’re better able to brace your knees on the side of the kayak for improved maneuverability and more efficient paddling in choppier waters. You also tend to get less wet in a sit in kayak because your lower body is mostly protected by the cockpit.

Of course, this added protection comes at the expense of ease of entry and comfort. Unless you purposefully buy a sit in kayak with a wide cockpit opening (which is common on most beginner models), it can be trickier to get in and out of the boat.

Hull Shape & Design

The vast majority of beginner-friendly kayaks come with a mostly rounded hull. This is not a coincidence as wide, rounded hulls tend to be best from a stability point of view.

For new kayakers, feeling comfortable and confident in your boat is a top priority. Therefore, most manufacturers opt for rounded hull designs which offer the most in terms of stability.

Multi-color kayaks stored on a rack near the water

Keep in mind, however, that this rounded hull design, while nice from a stability and maneuverability point of view in calm water, is less ideal for tracking over long distances. 

Moreover, boats with rounded hulls, while stable in mostly flat water (called primary stability), have minimal secondary stability. This means that they’re quite tippy in choppy water as the boat rolls up onto its side.

Does this mean you shouldn’t buy a boat with a rounded hull? 

Not at all. Rather, it means that it’s important to understand the limitations of your boat’s hull construction. Therefore, most beginner kayaks are best used in sheltered areas in mostly calm conditions.

Kayak Size & Weight

A kayak’s size and weight is mostly a concern when it comes to portability, though the length of your boat can also have an impact on it’s natural tracking ability.

For example, shorter, lighter boats are highly portable, which is ideal if you have to frequently carry your kayak to and from a put-in. However, this portability comes at the expense of your boat’s tracking ability, which means that it’s often harder to paddle in a straight line.

A kayak on top of a car

Smaller boats also have smaller gear storage capacity, which may be a concern if you’re looking to spend long periods of time on the water.

A longer boat can offer more in terms of gear storage and natural tracking ability. However, these kayaks are heavier and may be harder to cartop. You may even need a kayak trailer and a kayak cart to handle it.

Therefore, the size and weight of your kayak is a trade-off between portability, gear storage, and tracking ability.

Maximum Weight Capacity

Every kayak comes with a stated maximum weight capacity, which is an important factor to keep in mind as you shop. For maximum performance in your new boat, it’s best not to load it beyond 80% of the manufacturer’s listed weight capacity.

When deciding which kayak is best for you, be sure to account for your weight and the weight of your gear when determining if a given model is suitable for your paddling needs. Additionally, if you’re looking to buy a tandem boat, you’ll need to factor in the weight of your paddling partner to ensure you get a model that’s appropriate for both of you.

Comfort

Comfort is key for new kayakers as you want to feel calm and collected when on the water. Indeed, no one wants to go kayaking if they know that they’ll be uncomfortable the whole time, so getting a boat that feels nice to paddle is ideal.

With kayaks, comfort is a function of both legroom and seat padding. Sit on top kayaks tend to be best for maximizing legroom, due to their open decks, though there are plenty of beginner-focused sit in kayaks that have spacious cockpits for you to enjoy.

A man standing among kayaks of various sizes and colors on the beach

You’ll also want to consider a boat that has a well-padded foam seat for longer days on the water. An adjustable seat is also advantageous if you want to fine-tune your boat to best meet your needs while paddling.

Gear Storage Options

Depending on what you plan to use your kayak for, you may find that gear storage is an important feature in your new boat. For folks that like to fish or go on longer paddles, having a bit of gear storage space is a must in a kayak.

Most kayak gear storage comes in the form of an open tankwell or a closed hatch. Tank wells are best for people looking to pack bulky gear, like coolers, while hatches are best for protecting or storing smaller bits of gear. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll often pay extra for gear storage space on your kayak, especially if you want covered dry hatches.

Alex Buchnev avatar

Alex loves kayaking, fishing, and all things outdoors. When he's not out there in the wild, he's probably typing away at his laptop or trying to be the world's best father for his two lovely daughters.

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