In this Guide
Buying a kayak for the first time can be an intimidating experience. With so many different models that vary in size, weight, design and features, it’s hard to know where to begin your search.
Your first kayak purchase doesn’t have to be complicated, though! There are a lot of kayaks out there with an easy learning curve and entry-level price perfect for newcomers. Better yet, “beginner-friendly” kayaks don’t necessarily mean lower quality! Your first kayak can serve you well long after you’re no longer considered a beginner.
As your boating experts, we’ve collected and reviewed some of the models that are best suited for new kayakers. We’ve written our own in-depth reviews of each model, as well as a handy guide to choosing between them!
Keep reading to find the perfect one for your adventures!
Top Fishing Kayaks for Beginners
Best Recreational Kayak for Beginners
Top Tandem Kayak for Beginners
What makes a great first kayak?
We’ve put a lot of thought into the features and characteristics that make a vessel friendly to newcomers. We considered the boats that were easiest to use when we were starting out, and took a look at which models are most popular among rental companies and instructional institutions. Then, we started breaking down the things they all had in common:
The best kayaks for beginners are stable, forgiving, and rugged enough to handle the learning curve. They should be less streamlined than an expert vessel, and they should have reinforced hulls which can handle being knocked about.
Overall, stability and durability are two features we looked at closely in our analysis, in order to pin down which models were most forgiving of novice mistakes. We also looked at affordability and ease-of-use to determine which models truly deserve the label of “starter kayaks.” After all, accessibility is half the battle.
Of course, each new kayaker has different goals. Some want to go for long jaunts, while others want to paddle easily out to a picnic destination and take it easy.
The “best” starter kayak for you will depend on how you plan to use it. As such, we’ve organized our picks into corresponding categories: fishing, recreation and tandem.
Now that you’re thinking about what makes a good first boat, and keeping your goals in mind, let’s meet our favorites:
Our Guide to the Best Kayaks for Beginners
1. Perception Pescador 12
Quick take: A high-quality fishing kayak sold at an entry level price.
The Pescador is a great example of a beginner-friendly kayak that doesn’t skimp on quality. With a stable design, plenty of storage space, and an affordable price, this is a kayak beloved by both expert and novice anglers.
It’s actually a rebranded version of a older model—the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120—but the Pescador is sold at half the cost. The Pescador allows beginners to enjoy a higher level of quality without investing an arm and a leg.
There’s plenty of room to store your gear in the rear, center and front storage hatch areas. The Pescador 12 also comes with one Scotty mount, and one flush mount rod holder to hold your fishing rods.
The Pescador is 12 feet long and 28 inches wide with a multichine hull and tracking keel. The body shape of the Pescador is designed for good stability, maneuverability and tracking (“tracking” refers to how well the boat can travel in a straight line without veering off to one side).
As mentioned above, the Pescador allows beginners to experience the quality of a high-end kayak at an entry-level price. According to users, it’s also a very versatile kayak, allowing beginners to experience kayaking in a wide variety of environments. Buyers said it was a great model for building confidence, since it allows some room for error without becoming unstable. It’s easy to steer in choppier conditions as well as smooth waters. They found that it allowed them to practice and develop technique without ever feeling risky or unsafe.
The Pescador 12 stands out among other fishing kayaks in terms of tracking and maneuverability. It’s also very stable, and users say it allows beginners to get out on the water without fear of tipping. The Pescador’s hull shape delivers balanced performance—it’s stable without being slow, and easy to maneuver while still tracking well. Previous buyers said the smooth, steady ride was the most impressive aspect of the design. It allowed them to grow and develop safely in a variety of environments. That taught them how to deal with each variation in conditions.
Even though the Pescador 12 is smaller than most fishing kayaks, there’s plenty of room and cargo space included. There are hatches to store your gear in the bow, stern and center of the kayak, as well as a bungeed well in the front. There’s also ample legroom, according to some taller reviewers. Previous buyers over 6 feet in height said this was one of the best choices for tall people.
The most common criticism of the Pescador 12 was the weight of the kayak—some users found it difficult to manage alone. Smaller individuals may have to enlist the help of a friend to carry this kayak. That weight factor has a lot to do with the stability of the boat, but it can make portage a bit less convenient.
Reviews of the Perception 12 Pescador—from both beginners and experienced kayakers—were overwhelmingly positive. With great stability, speed, tracking and storage, the Pescador is a great fishing kayak for any level of experience.
As an inexpensive rebranded model of a high-end kayak, the Pescador 12 allows new kayakers to enjoy a higher level of quality while still paying entry-level prices.
2. Sun Dolphin Aruba 10
Quick take: An inexpensive sit-in kayak with a lot of bang for your buck.
Though all kayaks are fun to use, “recreational” kayaks occupy a special class of their own, and make up the largest group of kayaks sold. Recreational kayaks are generally designed for flatwater—either lakes or slow moving rivers.
Our top pick for beginning recreational kayakers is the Sun Dolphin Aruba 10. This inexpensive kayak is currently one of the most popular models among new paddlers, and earns high ratings across the Internet.
The Aruba 10 is a 10-foot kayak with a width of 30 inches. It weighs 40 pounds and has a carrying capacity of 250 pounds. The hull is made of a durable high-density polyethylene, and the shape is ideal both for tracking and maneuverability.
The cockpit of the Aruba is an open design for easy entrance and exit. There is a padded backrest, a water bottle holder, and a storage compartment.
The Aruba is immensely popular as a starter kayak. Although there are certainly kayaks that deliver better performance, the Aruba offers a whole lot of quality for a very low price. For novice kayakers eager to get out on the water, the Aruba is a solid model with a gentle learning curve. It has reliable tracking and a good balance. While it’s not as stable as the Pescador for rough conditions, it’s ideal for beginners learning on a smooth lake or relatively calm river. Overall, it’s one of the best casual recreational models out there.
The Aruba is also easy to transport, according to users. It’s lightweight enough that a single person can carry it, and compact enough to carry around in the bed of a truck or on the top of a small car. That’s a big advantage over the Pescador, which is more than 20 pounds heavier. Previous buyers said it fit easily in their pickups or SUV’s. That means you don’t have to buy an external rack or hauling system. You’ll save some extra money, and have a much more convenient experience overall.
The shape of the Aruba’s hull is a key part of its beginner-friendly nature. The wider body and flat bottom of the Aruba makes for a stable ride, while the short length makes it easy to control. The narrow bow and stern and light weight of the boat give it a solid tracking ability, and the durable hull material is more forgiving of beginner mistakes. Previous buyers said it was perfect for easy lake paddling in mild or slightly windy conditions. They said that they were especially impressed with the responsiveness of the design for something so inexpensive.
Users say the Aruba is a comfortable ride with an open cockpit and plenty of legroom, and the adjustable backrest is a nice feature for kayakers with back problems. That’s especially impressive given the compact design and the price class. We’ve seen far more expensive models with a less comfortable seating area. Previous buyers said they’d been in the water for hours at a time with no aches or pains.
The Aruba 10 is a great starter kayak, but dedicated kayakers may eventually want to upgrade. The design is best suited for lakes and slow rivers, and new kayakers may want to branch out to more challenging bodies of water once they have built up some confidence.
Another minor issue: the seat bottom is hard plastic. Most owners say they found the Aruba comfortable, but you may want to purchase an extra cushion alongside this kayak.
For the price, the Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 is one of the best recreational kayaks around. Though beginners may outgrow this kayak, it’s a great starter model for leisurely weekends on the lake or river.
The Aruba 10 delivers superior durability, control and tracking compared to other kayaks in this price bracket. If you’re looking for a great beginner recreational kayak, the Aruba 10 offers the best bang for your buck.
3. Ocean Kayak Malibu Two
Quick take: A best-selling all-around kayak built for two.
Tandem kayaks—like tandem bicycles—are built for two (or more) people, and make for great bonding experiences with loved ones or close friends. If you’re shopping for a beginner-friendly tandem kayak, we recommend checking out the Ocean Malibu Two.
The Ocean Malibu Two is one of the most popular sit-on-top kayaks around, and reviewers praise its stability and versatility on the water. Sit-on-top kayaks refer to models without the top half of the kayak that covers the lower body.
The Malibu Two is 12 feet long and 34 inches wide, with a weight of 57 pounds and 375-425 lbs. maximum capacity. It features one seat at the stern, one in the middle, and even includes a small seat at the bow for a young child.
It comes with two “comfort plus” seating cushions for the adult-sized stern and center seats. It also features straps for attaching a small amount of gear.
Malibu bills this kayak as the most popular model in its class and area. We can’t speak to that, but we do know that this is a best-selling and highly-rated tandem kayak among recreational kayakers. It’s a durable, inexpensive, and stable model that many owners swear by.
Owners of the Malibu Two praise both its stability and versatility. Fans say it performs equally well in bays, lakes, and rivers without any threat of tipping over. Many reviewers said they enjoyed taking the Malibu Two out into the surf in the ocean.
It also can be piloted by a single person from the center seat if your kayaking buddy has to take a sick day. There’s lots of room for paddlers to stretch out, and reviewers say the seats are quite comfortable.
The body of this kayak is also very durable, and many owners state that they have owned the Malibu Two for many years. After years of scraping on sand, rocks and other hidden hazards, the hull of the Malibu has stayed intact.
The Malibu Two is a heavy kayak at nearly 60 pounds. It can be difficult for a single person to maneuver this tandem kayak onto the top of a car. Additionally, the Malibu Two’s weight makes it primarily a “family fun” kayak—it’s great for leisurely weekends, but this kayak will not be winning you any races.
As a sit-on-top kayak, the Malibu Two is better suited for warmer weather, since paddlers are going to get wet. If you’re looking for a kayak to use in colder climates, you should consider a sit-in model. In addition, the Malibu Two doesn’t provide much storage area, so it’s not well-suited for longer trips.
The highly popular and well-regarded Malibu is great beginner tandem model. It’s a versatile, durable, and stable kayak that can deliver years of fun out on the water.
Though it’s not the lightest kayak, the Ocean Malibu Two is perfect for recreational excursions in a wide variety of bodies of water. If you’re looking for a great way to bond out on a lake, river, or bay, we highly recommend the Malibu Two.
Best Beginner Kayaks for 2017 – Summary
|Perception Pescador 12||Best for Fishing||Sit-On-Top||1-Person||$$$$||5.0|
|Sun Dolphin Aruba 10||Best Recreational Kayak for Beginners||Sit-Inside||1-Person||$$||4.3|
|Ocean Kayak Malibu Two||Top Tandem Kayak for Beginners||Sit-On-Top||2-Person||$$$$||4.5|
Which Beginner Kayak is Perfect for You?
There are many great kayaks out there for beginners, and the best one for you depends on what you intend to use it for.
If you’re looking for a great fishing kayak for beginners, we strongly recommend the Perception Pescador 12. This less expensive rebrand of a high-end kayak allows novice paddlers to experience a higher degree of quality. With lots of cargo space, great tracking, stability and maneuverability, the Pescador is a top-grade kayak at a bargain price.
For solo recreational paddling, the best starter kayak is the Sun Dolphin Aruba 10. Fans of the Aruba 10 say this stable and maneuverable kayak is one of the best bargains around. If you’re eager to get out on the water as soon as possible, the Aruba 10 is worth a look.
Tandem paddlers should check out the Ocean Malibu Two, a versatile, sturdy and stable recreational sit-on-top kayak. Equally at home in rivers, lakes and ocean bays, the Malibu Two offers a world of adventure for you and a friend, at an entry-level price.
Still deciding which kayak is perfect for you? Check out the Amazon best sellers page to see additional popular kayaks or visit http://bestkayaks.reviews/