Best Kayaks for Beginners – Which Type is Best?

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Best kayaks for beginners is our topic today.

During a lunchtime chat the other day, a coworker had patiently listened to me drone on about my love of kayaking. Having piqued his interest he asked,

“What is the best type of kayak for a beginner?”

However, there are two major categories of kayaks on the market today that could be considered based on environment and skill.

These are “flat water” kayaks and whitewater kayaks.

Flat Water Kayaks

These are the vessels best utilized in normal water conditions. Lakes that are fairly smooth and devoid of major rapids.

Rivers that have average flow rates and stay fairly constant without a tumultuous current.

best kayaks for beginners

Anybody of water that enjoys shelter from strong wind and has few large waves.

You can find these at most major sporting goods stores and can range from $300 – $1500+.

Dick’s Sporting Goods is just one of the local stores near me that offer different models to choose from.

They also carry all the accessories that go along with the activity like paddles, flotation devices, and waterproof protection.

Whitewater Kayaks

This type of kayak is better suited for the advanced class of use as whitewater can be very intense.

It usually requires considerable concentration, advanced skill and a solid command of your presence in the water.

best kayaks for beginners

When choosing your first kayak, focus more on the flat water type until you enter the ranks of a skilled boatman.

These types of kayaks are not quite as readily carried in some stores. Walmart, which usually carries flatwater kayaks doesn’t usually carry whitewater versions.

They also can require gear that is a bit more custom and more expensive.

Since our focus here is on the novice, let’s discuss the types of recreational flatwater kayaks.

Sit-in or “open cockpit” kayaks

Sit-in *(left) & Sit-on (right)

This is your traditional kayak model similar to the common canoe. The cockpit design is open allowing the paddler to sit comfortably inside the kayak.

In my opinion, this allows for much better stabilization while in use as it allows you to evenly distribute your body weight deeper into the vessel.

You can store all of your gear inside the cockpit and most have closed off sections for waterproofing. Length is typically ten feet or less.

Sit-on-top or “closed cockpit” Kayaks

This type has a closed cockpit and requires you to sit literally on top of the kayak. Good balance is required and can make a novice paddler a bit more nervous if not careful.

All gear storage is on top of the kayak and must be secured appropriately. There is little protection against getting wet on board this ride but these typically cost less than other models.

These also tend to be less than ten feet in length and easy to take traveling.

Touring Kayaks

If your intent is to travel long distances as you begin to learn how to kayak, this model will serve you well.

It tends to have less drag in the water which allows you an easier glide and less fatigue from paddling.

They tend to be longer and more narrow which helps to cut through the water with less energy spent paddling but can be difficult to transport.

They can extend longer than ten feet in length.

The best touring kayak for beginners is the Perception Conduit 13′ kayak.

Pedaling Kayaks

These are great for people who have physical trouble with paddling or moving their arms and shoulders.

They are also easier to go long distances because your larger leg muscles typically last longer than smaller shoulder and arm muscles.

The biggest difference here, aside from design, is the high price of the acquisition.

These kayaks typically are much more expensive and there are only a few models that I am aware of at the time of this post.

The best pedaling kayak for beginners is made by the Brooklyn Kayak Company.

Inflatable Kayaks

This version can be great when storage space is limited but be prepared to blow it up. Don’t even think about manual inflation.

Spend a few dollars and get a pump that plugs into your cigarette lighter. These also tend to be a bit tippy and carry the risk of puncture.

While there is a market for these, I would steer clear unless you come across a smoking deal…. like free.

The best inflatable kayak for beginners is the Intex Challenger K2.

My Personal Kayak

My Swifty Perception kayak

Last summer is when we decided to buy our first set of kayaks. We were prompted by a 4th of July sale at our local Dick’s Sporting Goods.

They were carrying very appealing Swifty Perception models and their price was dropped to $250 each.

I can’t even buy a good starter bicycle for this price so I felt it was a good opportunity for my family to try a new hobby

Kayaking is a hobby that provides good exercise, I might add.

These Swiftys were 9.5 feet long and had a pretty large cabin opening in my opinion. I say that because I’m 6’3″ and 270 pounds.

Nobody thinks twice about customers placing the kayaks on the storeroom floor and getting inside. In fact, I recommend it for sizing.

My whole family got in and out a few times to see what it was like. The varied color schemes were fantastic and eye-catching.

Life jackets for new kayakers

Along with the kayaks, we purchased life jackets. These flotation devices are a must and are required by most water regulating bodies. Unbeknownst to me, a safety whistle is also a requirement.

Next came the purchase of paddles. These are varied in length and shape. The store employee helped us choose based on our personal heights.

Kids obviously use shorter paddles while adults can wield a much longer version.

Last came our purchase of a few watertight phone cases (affiliate link). I mean, you can’t go anywhere without a cell phone these days, right?

For me, it was to be able to take pictures of the outing and was easy enough to carry in a pouch around my neck.

Don’t forget the local licenses!

Oh, and we had to purchase Endangered Species licenses from our local sporting goods store.

These must be displayed on the front, the left side of the kayak or you could get a ticket from Fish and Game folks.

They only cost us seven dollars per kayak and last for one year.


So those are my kayak boats for beginners. I recommend the open cockpit style as they seemed super easy to balance to me. Swifty Perception are the best kayaks for beginners and we still love them.

Don’t forget these essential kayaking items for any trip you take.

We bought a sit on top for our fourth grader and she did well with it. That was a good choice for her because it is much lighter than the other models.

Our Swiftys are forty pounds and a perfect length for recreational kayaking. One adult should be able to easily carry it solo.

You will notice a tendency to drift side to side in Swiftys (and probably most recreational kayaks).

These models are easy to steer due to somewhat shorter lengths but that also makes them a bit squirrely.

Touring kayaks have a nice rudder system that keeps them floating straight. But this was not something that bothered me.

A quick dip of the paddle can easily straighten you out.

I hope that’s helpful and welcome you to leave your comments below.

Let me know about your experience with kayaks: where you go, what kind you used, etc. I would love to hear it.

Until next time…keep paddling!

4 thoughts on “Best Kayaks for Beginners – Which Type is Best?”

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