Best Kayak for Beginners of 2018 & Buying Guide
Kayaking is one of the most popular watersports and recreational activities available, with over 8 million active participants hitting the water every year. There are even more when you consider casual kayakers, who fish or paddle on their craft a few times a year.
Kayaking can be done on just about any body of water, and serves as exercise, relaxation, a way to fish, or just plain fun! Beginners to the sport might be overwhelmed, though, at the myriad of choices and designs when they begin their search for a boat. Our buyer’s guide will analyze five popular kayaks for beginners, in a range of affordable prices to turn your newest curiosity into a lifelong hobby—or even passion.
Tips on Getting in a Kayak in Water
How did kayaking get its start?
Kayaking has deep roots. The Inuits invented the first known boats of this size and general shape, crafted from driftwood, animal bones (whalebone was the most commonly used), and animal hides. Sealskins were popular choices, because the pelts had natural water-repellent properties.
These vessels helped hunters fish, but also allowed them to spear prey on the shores without being detected. In fact, “kayak” translates to “hunter’s boat,” which is certainly fitting: groups throughout the Antarctic continued using these designs, modifying them as needed, to hunt prey for thousands of years. These crafts were unique in their ability to reach high speeds or maintain slow drifting, stay upright even in rough waters, and be turned back over in the event they tipped.
European settlers and explorers took note of these watercrafts, and began making their own with wood and fabric. By the early 1900s, the boats were being used for sport throughout Europe, and became an official Olympic event, called flatwater racing, in 1936.
Fiberglass kayaks were introduced in the 1950s; plastic, the 1980s. As designs grew more durable and advanced, so did the sport. Today, kayaks are used for fishing, light paddling on flat water, tearing through some river rapids, and anything in between that a user can think of! Best of all, the sport has such a wide range of intensities and purposes, as well as a low barrier for entry—which means virtually anyone can get started.
Should I get a sit-on or sit-in kayak?
Do you plan on fishing in your kayak more than anything else? Cruising along a quiet lake? Paddling the ocean when waves are a little high, or maybe hitting the river for some adrenaline-inducing rapids?
Depending on what you’ll use your kayak for the most, one style or material might work much better than the other. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of a kayak’s design style, first.
1. Sit-On Styles
- Most user-friendly option; great for beginners just learning to kayak.
- No feeling trapped or confined.
- More comfortable for people of larger sizes.
- Easy to get on and off, even when re-entering from the water vs. land or a dock.
- Expose you to the water; best for kayaking in warmer weather/water.
- Possible to use in rough conditions, such as white water kayaking, but can be more difficult to control/brace yourself when paddling.
2. Sit-In Styles
- Shelter you from the wind and water; ideal for cold weather or unpleasant conditions.
- Can include dry storage to keep gear from getting wet.
- Easier to control in rougher waters, because you can brace your weight against the inner hull (many options have footrests).
- Difficult to get in and out of.
- Harder to bail out/tip back up if you turn over.
Next, you’ll have to consider material. Most kayaks are made of high-strength PVC and tarpaulin (inflatable), or polyethylene (hard shell plastic). Keep in mind that hard shells are best for rougher waters, but some inflatable models can handle them, too. Inflatable models are easier to store and transport, but require inflating and deflating, and possible repairs. Lastly, there’s the matter of price: generally, hard shell models are more expensive—but not always. Weigh these pros and cons carefully before you begin shopping.
1. Sevylor Coleman Colorado 2-Person Fishing Kayak
For beginners looking to take their friend or partner along on their trips, this two-person kayak from Sevylor is ideal. It’s also durable, which is great for people just starting out, who might not be familiar with how to properly steer or gauge their speed (in other words: if you crash, the boat will probably be fine). This kayak also features fishing rod holders and a trolling motor, for kayakers who like the option of a multi-use boat.
- Rugged construction makes this item more durable than most; 18-gauge PVC and 1000D tarpaulin bottom, as well as 840D nylon cover.
- Seating for two individuals. Maximum weight: 470 combined, including gear.
- Puncture resistance is high.
- Multiple air chambers; entire structure will not deflate or sink if one section sustains puncture.
- Leak-free guarantee (against manufacturer defects).
- Includes paddle holders and fishing rod holders; adjustable.
- Trolling motor for easier lake fishing; very quiet.
- Affordable for a 2-person kayak.
- Lightweight; about 40 lbs.
- Paddles and air pump are sold separately.
There are a couple downsides to the Sevylor Coleman. It doesn’t include paddles or an air pump, so you might have to purchase these if you don’t already have any. Thankfully, they aren’t too expensive, which makes this two-person boat a great value nonetheless. Unless you plan to use the fishing feature at least occasionally, you might find the rod holders annoying; they can get in the way when attempting to paddle. On the other hand, the option of using the trolling motor when your arms get tired—even though you aren’t patrolling for fish—will appeal to many buyers.
2. Sevylor Quickpak K1 1-Person Kayak
Another option from Sevylor, the Quikpak K1 is meant for one passenger, rather than two. It sets up in just five minutes, boasts similarly strong construction to the Coleman, and weighs just 18 lbs.—meaning this model is sturdy and portable, perfect for kayakers of any skill level who want to take their boat on camping trips or hikes.
- Made of 21-gauge PVC and tarpaulin bottom; good for resisting punctures.
- Multiple air chambers to prevent sinkage if kayak sustains a puncture.
- Like the Coleman, this features a leak-free guarantee.
- Dual-lock valve system allows for easier and faster inflation/deflation.
- Maximum occupancy: 1 person. Maximum weight: 400 lbs.
- Lightweight at only 18 lbs., and very easy to set up.
- Includes double-ended paddle, air pump, and a padded seat that doubles as the kayak’s carrying system, which can be worn as a backpack.
- Very affordable.
- Some users have reported the included paddle to be of poor quality and needing frequent tightening; might require upgrading.
Aside from the less-than-stellar paddle included with purchase, the Sevylor Quikpak K1 is an excellent beginner’s kayak. Its price is very low, which is great for people just getting started who can’t or don’t want to spend a lot until they’re more experienced. Its sit-on style (sitting on the kayak, rather than inside it) makes it easier to get on and off, and provides a more comfortable experience for larger riders who aren’t happy sitting in the confines of most sit-in styles.
3. Sun Dolphin Aruba 10-Foot Sit-In Kayak
If you’d rather have a sit-in style, consider the Aruba from Sun Dolphin. This one-person kayak has a pointed hull for easier steering, and is made of plastic, instead of being inflatable—so you won’t have to worry about punctures or air pumps. Adjustable footholds inside the hull allow you to brace your legs and easily shift your weight, which makes navigation easier, too.
- Sit-in style (rather than on top of kayak) is better for rougher waters, more efficient paddling, and allow less water in hull (when used with a skirt).
- Hull is designed for more precise turns.
- Storage behind seat for gear.
- Maximum weight capacity: 250 lbs.
- Foot braces on inside of hull; adjustable.
- Hard shell; made of polyethylene (plastic). More durable than inflated models, but heavier and harder to transport.
- Kayak weight: 39 lbs.
- Available in blue, lime green, Ocean (light blue), red, and tangerine. Also available in standard stern or square stern.
- Paddle not included.
While the price is certainly fair for a kayak, it might be a tad high for beginners looking for the most basic model available. Other than that (and the fact you’ll have to buy a paddle separately), the Aruba is definitely worth consideration. It’s equipped with storage, foot braces, and an efficient hull design that will serve you well in your early days, and as you gain skill and become more advanced.
4. Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
The Frenzy—touted by Ocean as “the kayak people keep for a lifetime”—just might live up to the claim. This hard-shell model combines the stability and sunken seating of a sit-in kayak, but the open design (and easier entry from the water) of other sit-on styles. It’s available in three fun color choices, too, and comes at a fair price overall.
- Sit-on kayak with a sunken hull design to make it easier to maneuver and stabilize.
- Wells in front and rear with removable bungee cords.
- Carrying handles on bow and stern, as well as on each side for easy all-angle loading and unloading.
- Hard-shell (polyethylene plastic); molded foot wells for better bracing when steering.
- Kayak weight: 42 lbs. Maximum weight capacity: 325 lbs.
- Padded seat with 4 positions.
- Cup holder.
- Available in Envy (green), Sunrise (orange gradient), or yellow.
- No dry storage; storage areas are exposed, with gear secured under bungees.
The Frenzy is a unique kayak, with a design built for superior steering and tracking—which makes it perfect for beginners and experts alike. The sit-on design lets you enter more easily from the water than a sit-in model, so capsizing—or mid-trip swims—won’t be a problem. We recommend this to kayakers in warmer climates, however: the open design exposes you to the elements, so cold-water paddlers will probably prefer a sit-in model with skirting.
5. Lifetime Emotion Glide Sport Kayak
The Emotion Glide from Lifetime looks sporty, but can it handle well? The hull and stern taper at sharp, small angles, which should deliver both impressive speed and maneuverability, while the plastic is stronger than typical polyethylene, for greater durability. In short: it seems the Glide will deliver on the many promises the manufacturer makes, and hold up quite well through calm lakes or rough seas.
- Sit-in design; made of UV-protected, high-density polyethylene (plastic) for high durability.
- 5-year limited warranty from manufacturer.
- Hull is designed for excellent speed and tracking, as well as easier steering, in all water conditions; great for beginners and experts.
- Comfortable seat folds down for easier transport, and features a cup holder.
- Exterior bow and stern rigging (bungee cords) to secure gear.
- Adjustable foot braces are heavy-duty for reliable bracing; makes steering easier.
- Kayak weight: 40 lbs.
- Maximum weight capacity: 275 lbs.
- Taller riders (over 6’0”) might be uncomfortable with the foot braces, even at the highest adjustment setting.
As a mid-range option (compared to the others in this buyer’s guide), the Glide is affordable, yet also high-quality, and can suit kayakers of all skillsets and sporting needs. Whether you prefer quiet paddling on a gentle lake, or navigating some rough rapids down the river, you’ll experience excellent tracking and navigation every leg of the journey.
Kayaking is a fun way to exercise, and a highly versatile sport: you can paddle on still waters, traverse roaring rapids, or troll and fish, sometimes all on the same watercraft! Beginners will likely want a lightweight, ultra-comfortable model, at a price that’s not too steep—and with a little research, they can find a kayak that meets all these needs and more.