woman dropping into a river in one of the best kayaks
Lots of good kayaks are very affordable. Once you decide the sport is really for you, then go ahead and spend the big bucks. (Photo: Zachary Collier)
Gear Guy

What Are the Best Kayaks for Beginners?

I'm ready to start paddling more seriously. What boat should I buy?

There's no skiing in summer, but there's a place to use your ski gear (like kayaking).
Doug Gantenbein

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Buying one’s first kayak is a bit tricky. You haven’t boated much, so you don’t know exactly what you want. You’re afraid of making the wrong decision and getting a boat that’s not right. And you don’t want to spend too much.

There are several ways to manage these issues. The main thing to do is rent some boats. Most kayak rental places have several styles, sizes, and even brands of boat. So try several and see what features or designs seem to suit you best. After several hours of boating, you’ll get a sense of what works. Talk to people as well, and get their opinions.

Then when you do buy, don’t gold-plate it. Lots of good boats are very affordable. Once you decide this is really for you, then go ahead and spend the big bucks.

Whitewater Kayaks for Beginners

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This is a fun boat: the Dagger’s Mamba 8.1 ($1,050). It’s designed to be stable and easy to drive for newbies, but with the performance that will let you use your increasing experience to tackle tougher water. At just over eight feet long it’s short enough for great maneuverability, and its chine (the shape of the bottom hull) aids stability.

Features include easy-to-grab handles at the bow and cockpit, molded-in foam that adds rigidity, and an adjustable foot brace.

Another solid boat is the Wave Sport Diesel 70 ($1,000). It’s another all-purpose boat, good for learning but also good for showing off new skills, on fast water or spinning green waves. Lots of adjustments for comfort, rugged construction, easy rolling.

Flatwater Kayaks for Beginners

On relatively still water, sit-on-top kayaks are immensely popular. They’re easy to manage, comfortable, and fun.

A great example of this type of boat is the Perception Triumph 13.0 ($700). This is a lot of boat for the money. It’s based on a touring hull, so it tracks well and has lots of stability. Then it adds comfortable padded seats, a handy drink holder, bow and day hatches to store the stuff you need for a day-long excursion. And bow and stern handles make it easy to handle.

Sit-on-top kayaking is made for sociability, so take a look as well at the Ocean Kayak Malibu 2 ($890). It seats a pair for comfortable cruising on lakes, moderate swells, slow rivers. You can even fit in a child or a Golden Retriever. And it’s designed for easy paddling, good tracking, and reassuring stability.

Sea Kayaks for Beginners

The long-distance cruisers of kayaks

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Sea kayaks are designed long for easy tracking, and have capacious hulls for multiple days of gear. They’re not real fast or maneuverable, but they can get you through long trips on open water.

A classic example is the Current Designs Squall GTS ($1,550). At close to 16 feet, it has the perfect profile for good cruising speed and easy tracking. It sits low to the water to resist wind, and has good stability in surf and swells. For better control, you can deploy a rudder from the cockpit. The Squall has a comfortable padded seat for long days, and its bow and stern hatches offer enough room for overnight gear.

Or, check out the Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 ($1,600). It’s a touch longer than the Squall at 17 feet, and its combination of initial stability (when you first sit in the boat) and secondary stability (when it starts to roll) makes it a great choice for stormier open waters. Its seat is fully adjustable, and if you need it you can drop down a skeg. Three hatches offer room for a week’s worth of gear.

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Lead Photo: Zachary Collier

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