How to Choose a Kayak for Beginners

choose kayak for beginners

The thought of becoming a kayaker is exciting. Just think of the fun you will have with your friends and family on the water. Not to mention the peace and health benefits that come with it. (Read here about how many calories you burn in one hour of kayaking.)

Before you actually get to it, you have to buy a kayak– obviously. This is not a decision that you can afford to rush through.

You need a kayak that feels like home; one that agrees with every part of you. The perfect kayak will make you look forward to every trip. It feels like it was made for you.

How do you get a kayak like this?

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Kayak for Beginners

There are two major things that will influence the type of kayak you should buy: type of water and purpose of kayak. For beginners, stability is also key. The other factors come after that. They help you narrow down to the kayak that suits you best

a. Stability of the Kayak

For many people, kayaking is easy. It won’t take you long to master all the basics. However, before you learn, you should expect to fall a few times. If you fail to choose a stable kayak, you will spend most of your time in the water. Gaining balance and being able to paddle without falling requires skill. For you to attain this skill faster, you will need a stable kayak.

The stability of a craft is determined by its length, width and hull type. The wider and shorter it is, the more stable it will be. This means that you will have to forego speed.

As for the hull type, a flatter hull means more stability. Like the length and width, there is something to be sacrificed with a flat hull—turning ability. (The hull type of a kayak will be discussed in detail below).

In summary, get a short, wide kayak with a flat hull if stability is your highest priority.

Note: you may also be interested in our article about determining what size kayak you need.

b. Purpose of the Kayak

Even as a beginner, you cannot become a kayaker for the sake of it. There must be something that caught your interest. It may be kayak racing, kayak fishing, recreation or any other variation. Although you can use any kayak for any activity, some are designed for a certain purpose.

In this respect, kayaks are divided into four categories as described here.

1. Sea/Touring Kayak

A sea kayak is super long; sometimes up to 19 feet. It also tends to be narrower compared to the other types. It barely has rocker and the ends are usually in the water. While it is not very wide, a touring kayak still has a lot of space for luggage storage. Most of them come equipped with enough bungee cords.

The length of a sea kayak means more speed. It is the best for racing. The speed and adequate storage space make it ideal for long tours too. It tracks well and is rarely hindered by currents.

This type of kayak is good for a kayaker who likes to take long trips. You should also know that it is the most expensive one.

2. Day Touring Kayak

If you love the whole touring idea but think that the touring kayak is too much, look into a day touring kayak. It is like a shorter and wider version of the sea kayak. It tracks well and is better for beginners because it is not difficult to control. Long kayaks can overpower you when the water is strong—more so if you are starting out.

The day touring kayak will suit you if you are a newbie interested in touring. It is more stable and easier to use. Understand that it does not have as much storage space as the sea kayak. Nonetheless, you can get it for short trips as you gather experience. It is also not as fast because it is shorter.

3. Whitewater Kayak

As the name implies, a whitewater kayak is made for whitewater paddling. It is wide and short, making it easy to control. Other than that, it has huge rocker and is quite buoyant. It may not be the best in terms of tracking, but that is something you sacrifice to get maneuverability. The bow and stern are almost always above the water which contributes to the ease of control.

A whitewater kayak is for the adventurous paddler. As a beginner, you may not be ready to tackle rapids yet. But if it is something you are interested in, get this kayak and use it in your learning process.

4. Recreational Kayak

This is the perfect kayak for any newbie. It is short and wide. Additionally, recreational sit-ins come with a larger cockpit. The width and length are limiting when it comes to speed. But as a beginner, speed may not be much of a priority.

This craft is suitable for all kinds of activities. People commonly use it for recreation. Nonetheless, it would work just as well for a simple fishing adventure (especially a sit-on recreational kayak). The stability and large cockpit are great for when you want to move around a little.

c. Type of Water

This factor overlaps with the purpose. You choose one of the above kayak types depending on where you will be paddling.

Small, calm lake or river: the environment is relaxed and peaceful. You don’t need a special kind of kayak to deal with the water. A recreational kayak will do. If you want to fish in calm waters, consider a recreational sit-on kayak.

Rough, wavy river: whitewater does not just refer to class 6 rapids. The water may be generally calm but with rough patches scattered in different areas. You will need a whitewater kayak for this. It is wise to buy a whitewater kayak if you expect any type of whitewater.

Ocean or large lake: given the features of a touring kayak, it would be ideal for oceans and lakes. It is long and narrow hence tracks better. You are likely to encounter strong winds and a fast craft that moves straight will help in such a condition.

To fin-tune your choice of a kayak type, assess the purpose of your kayak and where you want to paddle.

d. Hull Type of the Kayak

A kayak with a flat hull is good for beginners. It offers stability which makes it easier for newbies to learn. Even when paddling and moving your body it does not feel wobbly. Most recreational kayaks have this type of hull.

A rounded hull increases buoyancy and secondary stability. It is common in whitewater kayaks because it enhances maneuverability.

The other type of hull is mainly found in touring kayaks. It is the V-shaped hull. It knifes smoothly through water with speed. For a beginner, this V-shaped hull may feel unstable.

e. Sit-On-Top or Sit-In?

This will always be a huge debate. A sit-in kayak is one that has a carved cockpit that you get into. A sit on top kayak for beginners is one where you sit on top; that is, the chair is on top of the kayak. Sit-in kayaks are the oldest form of kayaks and the sit-on-tops became common not long ago.

A sit-in kayak is ideal for cold weather and water. If you have a spray skirt, you can keep water out. It is stable but not the best for beginners. If the craft capsizes, you need to be skilled to get out. Getting back in is also a challenge. The techniques are taught in kayak classes. It is safe to say that a sit-in kayak is more for intermediate and expert kayakers. It is also suited for whitewater paddling.

A sit-on-top kayak is often preferred by newbies and people who paddle in warm weather. It allows you to get in and out without much trouble. Because there is no cockpit to get into, the probability of getting wet is high. This is why they are great when it is warm. If you expect to engage in fishing, this is the most suitable kayak type.

f. Material of the Kayak

The material that a kayak is made of determines its durability, weight capacity and price.

There are three main type of materials used in making kayaks.

Composites: these are carbon-fiber and fiberglass kayaks. They are the most expensive and the best performers in water. Experts love them because they track well and are very light. They are also less likely to be affected by UV and other elements. Their main downside is that they can be damaged when they hit rocks and other sharp objects.

Polycarbonate: these kayaks are second to those made with composites when it comes to being lightweight. They are also not as costly and are more durable.

Polyethylene: kayaks made of this material are the cheapest and the heaviest. The main disadvantage is that these kayaks will lose color if left under the sun for a long period of time. Their strongest point is durability. Rocks can hardly put a dent in one of these polyethylene kayaks.

g. Tandems and Inflatable Kayaks

A tandem kayak is designed for two inseparable individuals. It could be you and your best friend or spouse. The design provides for two cockpits; one behind the other. The kayak is longer and difficult for one person to control.

An inflatable kayak is another category that you may want to consider as a newbie. They are portable (which you’ll appreciate when you have to portage your kayak) and you will not need much storage space. Besides, inflatable kayaks are remarkably safe and durable.


There are other factors that will influence your decision such as weight capacity.

However, first consider the above mentioned ones to narrow down your search. From there, you can focus on price or weight capacity to make a decision.

Start with the purpose of the kayak and move to the type of water. Next, consider stability to find beginner-friendly kayaks. Select material based on your budget and whether or not the weight of a kayak matters.

With these criteria, it won’t take you long to settle on one option.