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3 Great Best Beginner Kayaks

Updated on May 14, 2014
MagicMan007 profile image

Bill Watson has authored 3 books and many articles online and for print publications such as Sports Afield, Income Opportunties and more.

Here Are Your Best Beginner Kayaks. Buy One, You Won't Regret It!

Not long ago I went through what you are experiencing now: trying to locate the best beginner kayak: a decent beginner-level, recreational kayak that looks good, tracks well, and has exceptional stability. I narrowed down the many possibilities to three "under $500" beginner kayak models I'm absolutely positive you'll love and get years of enjoyment from! They would also make an exceptional Christmas or birthday gift!

Things to Think About...

These beginner kayaks are for recreational use and will be fine for paddling lakes and rivers. They'll also do well on Class I or Class II rapids. They are not designed for use on anything more difficult than that.

Kayaking in these boats is relatively safe but you should study a bit before tackling rapids and such. I don't want to scare you off because kayaking is a blast that will add much to your enjoyment of life! But be forewarned: there are situations you can get a kayak in that can mess with you.

For example, if you allow the current in a fast moving stream force you into a logjam at the bend of a creek, it can push the boat underneath the jam. By knowing this can happen you'll hopefully avoid that situation. But if it should occur, simply climb up on the jam, let your boat go under the jam, then retrieve it after it pops out, no big deal.

A second example: as the water temperatures drop in fall the water can get so cold that if you are immersed in it unexpectedly it can cause a reflex reaction you can't control, causing you to attempt to take a deep breath. Of course, instead of air, you'll suck in water. That means instant drowning! Cold water also quickly causes mental confusion and the inability to use your muscles properly. Be aware of the water temperatures and don't kayak when the water is too cold without wearing a tightly fitting wetsuit and taking other cold weather precautions.

My rule is to not kayak in spring until the surface water temperature is at least 70 degrees. On April 17th this year, I broke that rule. I knew the water temperture was only about 55 degrees but the weather was just so perfect I had to get in some kayaking time. I did choose a sheltered, no-wake cove and as always, wore my life jacket. It was a great paddle but that very same day, not a mile from where I launched, a man drowned. The news report said two men in a medium size fishing boat were knocked into the water by the wake from a passing houseboat. The houseboat captain saw both men in the water but by the time he turned around, only one man was visible and able to be saved. The report said lifejackets were on board and "handy" but neither man was wearing one. Apparently the jackets weren't quite handy enough.

I'm guessing the men in the smaller boat were facing shore as they fished standing up. Although foolish, it's a common practice around here. The houseboat passed behind them, then under a minute later, the strong wake rocked the fishing boat enough for the men to lose their balance and fall into the lake. The report cited the cold water temperature- once again, just 55 degrees- as well as the failure to actually wear the life jacket as contributing factors in the drowning. I wouldn't be surprised to discover the dead man considered himself to be a good swimmer. "Good swimmers" who keep a life jacket "handy" are always the first ones to drown. Wear it!

Provided you use common sense kayaking is a great activity you'll likely get addicted to. Go paddle on the lakes until your arms fall off (woops, another hazard best avoided, lol) but before you tackle rapids, deep water, night kayaking, heavily trafficked areas, etc. read up! When I have time I'll add some tips on those things, possibly in a separate Lens article, so bookmark now & check back!

These are the best beginner kayaks for the money:

SUNDOLPHIN Sun Dolphin Aruba Sit-in Kayak (Blue, 10-Feet)
SUNDOLPHIN Sun Dolphin Aruba Sit-in Kayak (Blue, 10-Feet)

The perfect first kayak. It's a big 10 footer- very stable and fast- the perfect beginner boat, and it's priced right to get you started!

It's in the $300 range and it's getting harder to find anything decent in a hard shell at that price point. You might want to trade up later on but if you want to get in the water as cheaply as you can, this is a great deal! I've seen people carry a ten footer on the roof of a mid-size car so don't let that aspect deter you.

Kayaks hold their value pretty well. Wanting a larger cockpit so I could try kayak fishing I sold mine on Craigslist in the off season, just before spring, and got only $10 less than I paid from the first person interested so I don't think you can go wrong.

Lifetime Payette Sit Inside Kayak, Orange, 9 Feet 8 Inch
Lifetime Payette Sit Inside Kayak, Orange, 9 Feet 8 Inch

I love this kayak and what a great price for a hard shell! 9.6 feet and the reviews cinfirn this light 44 pounder is the perfect boat to toss in the back of a pickup or onto a roof rack and hit the water for spontaneous fun!

Universal Adult Life Jacket Oversize 2XL/3XL - Blue
Universal Adult Life Jacket Oversize 2XL/3XL - Blue

By law you'll need this. I have this same one and bottom line: tipped once & took an unexpected swim- popped me right up & kept me afloat! Some people keep theirs in the boat but I'd HIGHLY recommend doing as I do- wear it always!

Kwik Tek Kayak Paddle 2 Section Curveblade, 84 inches
Kwik Tek Kayak Paddle 2 Section Curveblade, 84 inches

I recommend this paddle as it breaks down into two pieces, which is much better for transport. In the vehicle I use to transport my kayak, it would be uncomfortable with a one piece extending back seat into the front (it would never fit across the backseat). This one is easy to break down & toss on the floor in the back.

Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable Kayak with Deluxe Package
Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable Kayak with Deluxe Package

There are a great many kayakers who swear by inflatables.

They're relatively inexpensive, easy to transport and get great reviews. If you go this route please bookmark and report back on how it works out!


And here's a great starter kayak for kids ages 5 and up!

Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak (Paddle Included), Blue, 6'
Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak (Paddle Included), Blue, 6'

I bought this very one, in blue no less, for my daughter as a Christmas gift. It's extremely stable and because it's a sit-on-top you don't have to worry about little legs getting trapped in a rollover situation.

It's proven to be a great little boat for lakes and small creeks. But keep an eye on your little one at ALL times. It only takes a second for a disaster to occur when least expected.


For A Little More Money: The Old Town Vapor Kayak

I wanted to recommend the second kayak I purchased but they apparently no longer make that model. This The Old Town Vapor Kayak has about the same specs and coloration. I've used mine for two entire seasons now and I love it! It moves swiftly and is extremely stable. It's wider in the middle so it feels even more stable than my first kayak did, that one always felt a tad "tippy" although I'm sure it was more perception than reality.

If you weigh in the 200 range or over be aware that "weight capacity" includes your paddle weight and other gear. I'm a bit over 200 lbs. and this one handles 325 lbs. it's so nice to have the extra head room without having to weigh each item or worry about exceeding the limit.

Old Town Canoes and Kayaks 10 Vapor Recreational Kayak, Sunrise
Old Town Canoes and Kayaks 10 Vapor Recreational Kayak, Sunrise

I've caught catfish and largemouth bass from this one and I've never flipped it, something I can't say about my first boat. A very comfortable kayak.


Reader Feedback - Comments or questions on kayaking, youth kayaking, safety, etc. are welcomed!

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    • DawnRae64 profile image


      4 years ago from Maryland, USA

      I just bought a Future Beach spirit 120, sit-on-top from Dick's on deep discount. (the only way I can afford items like this). I took it out once so far and LOVE it. Some reviews say it is hard to turn. But so far it is easier than the only other two kayaks I've ever been in. Maybe more experienced people think it turns harder, but I'm loving it. (it looks a lot like your Payette, sit-in that you have listed)

    • Wingersiow LM profile image

      Wingersiow LM 

      5 years ago

      Good article. Just out of interest I bought a sit-on-top Frenzy from Ocean Kayak (in the UK) which I use in the sea around the south coast of England - it is remarkably stable and perfect for a beginner (which is exactly what I was).

    • Joan Haines profile image

      Joan Haines 

      5 years ago

      Thanks for the info for this wannabe kayaker. I especially appreciate your emphasis on safety! No life jacket= dumb!

    • tilitbleeds profile image


      6 years ago

      enjoyed the little blog article, many people looking to begin something need something basic about where to start

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Much appreciate the time and efforts Always great to read from you as SME.

    • WalkOnWater LM profile image

      WalkOnWater LM 

      6 years ago

      Very great guide for beginners to the sport, especially the importance of a life jacket. Love the recommendations for kayaking equipment for little kids! Thanks

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great information for beginners. Good job especially on taking the time to remind everyone about the sometimes forgotten basic safety tips.

    • AcornOakForest profile image

      Monica Lobenstein 

      6 years ago from Western Wisconsin

      I'm interested in kayaking. Good information! Thanks

    • Kathryn Beach profile image

      Kathryn Wallace 

      6 years ago from Greenbank, WA, USA

      I haven't kayaked in a while, on the must-do list, now that I live near water again. Thanks for the great ideas.

    • savateuse profile image


      6 years ago

      Interesting, thanks!

    • gardennorm profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks for this very good info

    • relish interiors profile image

      relish interiors 

      6 years ago

      very informative, thank you.

    • checkyourvibe profile image

      Cathy Slaght 

      7 years ago from St. Petersburg, Fl

      I want to try this. Thanks for the great advice!

    • xbumper profile image


      7 years ago

      I did not realize the kids kayaks were so affordable. I should get a couple for my nieces and nephews when they come to visit.

    • Michelle77 LM profile image

      Michelle77 LM 

      7 years ago

      I just went Kayaking for the first time this summer & LOVED it....great info. & lens! .....I hope to get my own Kayak in the near future :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Recreational kayaks are a great way to spend time out on the water. They are highly affordable and many people are not aware that they are much more stable and easier to handle than most canoes. Nice lens!

    • RawBill1 profile image


      7 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      I love kayaking and thankfully where I am in Australia means that the water is warm enough to kayak all year round. Gotta love that! Great safety advice you have added here. Well done.


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