The Best Kayaks for Beginners: Exploring the Waters in Style

Kayaking has a long and storied history, dating back thousands of years. Originally used by the Inuit for fishing and transportation, kayaking has evolved into a popular recreational activity enjoyed by many. It provides a unique way to get in touch with nature and experience the serene beauty of the water.

In recent years, the popularity of kayaking as a recreational activity has grown exponentially. This can be attributed to the numerous benefits and universal appeal of the sport. Kayaking offers a wonderful combination of physical exercise and the tranquility of being in harmony with the water.

Imagine a clear, calm morning as you quietly glide across the water’s surface, dipping and retracting your paddle in perfect harmony. The calmness and grace of the experience are simply breathtaking.

For beginners looking to purchase their first kayak and improve their skills, the kayak market can be daunting. With so many types and styles to choose from, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. However, fear not! We have selected the best kayaks in each category to help you find the perfect fit for your needs.

Best Sit-On-Top Kayak: Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105

wilderness systems tarpon 105

The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 105 ($1,119) is our top pick for the best sit-on-top kayak. This versatile recreational kayak is perfect for various activities, such as fishing, camping, exploring, bird-watching, and even surfing waves.

The Tarpon 105 is a beginner-friendly kayak that offers impressive stability and maneuverability. It is equipped with features specifically designed for on-the-water support, making it a versatile option for flatwater or flowing creeks and rivers.

If you’re a fishing enthusiast, the Tarpon 105 is compatible with fishing pole holders, GPS units, and fishfinder screens. It offers excellent stability and maneuverability, allowing you to navigate tight coves and sharp bends with ease.

While the Tarpon 105 may not be the fastest kayak on the market, it excels in stability and ease of use. It features Wilderness Systems’ exceptionally comfortable Phase 3 AirPro seating system, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable paddling experience.

With its waterproof storage wells, paddle holder, and dog-friendly deck, the Tarpon 105 is packed with thoughtful features. Although it comes at a slightly higher price point, its durability and feature-packed design make it a great investment for beginners.

Weight: 55 lbs.
Length: 10’6″


  • Comfortable seat
  • Maneuverable and stable
  • Suitable for various activities
  • Packed with thoughtful features


  • Not the fastest kayak
  • Higher price point

Check Price at UpStreamPaddle

Best Sit-In Kayak: Old Town Manitou Sport

old town manitou sport

The Old Town Manitou Sport sit-in kayak ($850) is a versatile and durable option for beginners and experienced paddlers alike. Originally designed by Necky Kayaks, the Manitou Sport offers stability and maneuverability above all else.

The Manitou Sport performs well on a variety of water bodies, including lakes, rivers, creeks, and bays. With its stable 26.5-inch hull and functional 10’11” length, it strikes a balance between smooth tracking and nimble maneuverability.

Further reading:  The Thrills and Benefits of Kayaking

This kayak is responsive to sharp turns and handles well in open water. It provides ample speed and excellent tracking, making it a great choice for paddling enthusiasts. The adjustable foot pedals and comfortable seating system ensure a comfortable paddling experience, even on long trips.

The Old Town Manitou Sport is an excellent value for the price, especially considering it comes with a Carlisle Magic Mystic paddle. Its user-friendly design and durability make it a top choice for beginners and experienced paddlers alike.

Weight: 44 lbs.
Length: 10’11”


  • Durable and lightweight
  • Good balance of tracking and maneuverability
  • Comfortable seating system
  • Good value for the price


  • Not ideal for open ocean or whitewater
  • Not suitable for fishing

Check Price at UpStreamPaddle

Best Budget Kayak: Intex Challenger K1

intex challenger k1

The Intex Challenger K1 inflatable kayak (on sale for $95) is our top pick for the best budget kayak in 2022. With its affordable price tag and reliable performance, it offers excellent value for paddlers on a budget.

The Challenger K1 handles impressively well on the water, especially considering its low cost. It provides stability and maneuverability, making it suitable for beginners and recreational paddlers. Its short, stubby profile allows for quick turns and easy steering.

While it may not have as much storage space as other kayaks, it offers practical gear storage options. The inflatable seat is adjustable and removable, providing added comfort during long paddling sessions. The included cargo net provides storage for essentials like water bottles and snacks.

The Challenger K1 is quick to set up and deflate, and it comes with all the necessary accessories, including an aluminum oar, a repair patch, a carrying duffel, and an inflation pump. Its portability and ease of use make it a great option for spontaneous paddling adventures.

Weight: 23.9 lbs.
Length: 9′


  • Affordable
  • Compact and easy to transport
  • Comes with a paddle and pump
  • Tracks and steers well


  • No drain plug
  • Not the most durable
  • Included pump inflates slowly

Check Price at UpStreamPaddle

Best Tandem Kayak: Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Convertible

advanced elements advanced frame convertible

The Advanced Elements Convertible Tandem Kayak ($980) is a high-performance inflatable kayak that can be paddled by one or two people. It offers versatility, comfort, and durability, making it an excellent choice for tandem paddlers.

This kayak features a 550-pound capacity and can be configured as either a tandem or single kayak. Its ample storage space, tie-down points, and integrated pockets make it suitable for day trips or overnight expeditions. The high-quality construction and multiple tracking fins provide excellent stability and tracking.

The Advanced Elements Convertible Tandem Kayak is easy to paddle and handles like a rigid-sided kayak. It offers supreme durability with three outer layers of ripstop material, ensuring it can withstand rugged adventures. Its comfortable seats and adjustable foot pedals allow for hours of paddling without discomfort.

While it may be heavier than other options, the Advanced Elements Convertible Tandem Kayak provides excellent performance on the water. Its versatility, durability, and ample storage space make it the top pick for tandem kayaks in 2022.

Further reading:  An Ultimate Guide to Different Types of Kayaking

Weight: 52 lbs.
Length: 15′


  • Durable and lightweight
  • Can be used as a single kayak or tandem
  • Tracks well and handles speed with ease
  • Ample storage space


  • Heavy to carry
  • More expensive than other options
  • Setup is difficult, especially with just one person

Check Price at UpStreamPaddle

Best Pedal Kayak: Hobie Mirage Passport 10.5 R

hobie mirage passport 10.5 R

The Hobie Mirage Passport 10.5 R ($1,799) is a top-of-the-line pedal kayak that offers hands-free paddling for ultimate convenience. With its advanced features and high-quality construction, it’s an excellent choice for those who want to prioritize fishing or leisurely paddling.

The Hobie Mirage Passport 10.5 R is designed with comfort in mind. It features a comfortable seat, waterproof gear storage, rod mounts, and various accessories to personalize your kayak. Its kick-up/retractable fins provide added safety, allowing you to navigate shallow waters and avoid obstacles.

This pedal kayak offers great tracking and stability, even with varying weight loads. Its compact size and lightweight construction make it easy to transport and store. The Hobie Mirage Passport 10.5 R comes with a two-piece aluminum paddle, providing a backup option in case you need it.

While it may be heavier compared to other kayaks, the Hobie Mirage Passport 10.5 R offers unparalleled convenience and versatility. Its high-tech construction and comfortable seat make it a top choice for pedal kayaks in 2022.

Weight: 65 lbs. (fitted hull weight), 75 lbs. (fully rigged weight)
Length: 10’5″


  • Very comfortable seat
  • Waterproof gear storage with hatch
  • Rod mounts and accessories to personalize your kayak
  • Kick-up/retractable fins
  • Good price
  • High-tech construction


  • Lots of individual components
  • Heavier than most other kayaks on this list

Check Price at UpStreamPaddle

Best Inflatable Kayak: Kokopelli Moki-Lite

kokopelli moki-lite

The Kokopelli Moki-Lite inflatable kayak ($699) is a portable and lightweight option for those seeking a straightforward recreational paddling experience. Its ease of setup and impressive durability make it an excellent choice for beginners and casual paddlers.

The Moki-Lite transitions from fully deflated to water-ready in less than 10 minutes, making it one of the easiest kayaks to set up. Its 1,000-denier reinforced PVC drop-stitch floor provides stability and rigidity, ensuring a reliable paddling experience.

This inflatable kayak tracks well and offers good maneuverability with its 9-inch removable tracking fin attached. It has a compact 10-foot length and weighs only 17 lbs., making it easy to transport and store.

The Kokopelli Moki-Lite comes with a four-piece alpine lake paddle, a carry bag, a Nano Barrel pump, a tracking fin, and a repair kit. Its lightweight construction and ease of setup make it a top choice for those seeking a portable and user-friendly inflatable kayak.

Weight: 17 lbs., 3.2 oz.
Length: 10′


  • Lightweight and easily portable
  • High-quality 1,000D outer material
  • Good tracking with 9″ fin attached
  • Easy setup and pack-down


  • Not a lot of cargo space

Check Price at UpStreamPaddle

Best Folding Kayak: Oru Inlet

oru inlet

The Oru Inlet folding kayak ($999) is the ideal choice for paddlers seeking portability and easy storage. Its innovative origami-like folding assembly allows for quick setup and effortless transportation, making it perfect for those with limited storage space.

The Oru Inlet can be set up in just three minutes, thanks to its simple clip system. When folded up, it weighs only 20 pounds and can be carried with a simple shoulder strap. Its 5mm double-layered polypropylene exterior ensures durability and longevity.

Further reading:  Kayaking for All Shapes and Sizes: A Guide to Water Adventure

This kayak offers a comfortable padded seat and an open cockpit that is easy to enter and exit. It provides a user-friendly experience for beginners and casual paddlers, although it may not track as well as more rigid kayaks.

The Oru Inlet is a niche kayak designed for simplicity and ease of use. Its lightweight construction and compact size make it a great choice for those who value portability and easy storage.

Weight: 20 lbs.
Length: 10′


  • Super light
  • Easy to set up and fold down
  • When folded, can be carried with a simple shoulder strap
  • Padded seat
  • Beginner-friendly


  • Maximum weight capacity of 275 lbs.
  • Expensive
  • Does not track especially well

Check Price at UpStreamPaddle

Best Kayak for Kids: Perception Hi Five

perception hi five

If you have kids who are eager to join in on the paddling fun, the Perception Hi Five ($299) is the perfect kayak for them. This stand-up paddleboard and kayak hybrid offers loads of fun on the water and is specifically designed for kids up to 120 pounds.

The Hi Five is compact and lightweight, making it easy to transport and store. Its durable, one-piece molded plastic construction ensures it can withstand rough handling. The swim-up deck at the stern allows for easy swimming access, and the ergonomic grab handles provide added safety and stability.

This kayak is progression-focused and designed to grow with your child. As they develop their paddling skills, they can continue to enjoy the Hi Five for years to come. Its lightweight design and ease of use make it an excellent choice for kids who want to explore the water and have fun with their family.

Weight: 21 lbs.
Length: 6′


  • Good value for the price
  • Durable and lightweight
  • Progression-focused
  • Lightweight and easy to transport


  • Not the most comfortable seat

Check Price at UpStreamPaddle


Choosing the right kayak is crucial for a successful and enjoyable paddling experience. Whether you prefer sit-on-top or sit-in kayaks, inflatable or solid construction, we have provided a range of options suitable for beginners and seasoned paddlers alike.

Consider your personal preferences, budget, storage space, and intended use when selecting the perfect kayak for your needs. Remember to prioritize comfort, stability, and durability to ensure the best possible experience on the water.

As you embark on your kayaking adventures, always prioritize safety and respect for the environment. Practice proper paddling techniques, wear a personal flotation device, and follow local regulations to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

Now that you have all the information you need, get out there and start paddling! Explore new waterways, connect with nature, and make lifelong memories on the water with your new kayak.

Check out UpStreamPaddle for the best selection of kayaks and paddling gear. Happy kayaking!

Disclaimer: Prices may vary. Please check the retailer’s website for the most up-to-date pricing information.