So you want to start kayaking.
Kayaking is a fantastic hobby that keeps you fit, gets you out into nature, and takes away all the stress of day-to-day life. However, it can be daunting to know where to start when you're entering the sport as a beginner.
With all the different types of kayaks out there, it can be a struggle to know exactly which type is best to start with. If you're a beginner, you're probably looking for a straight answer to the question: what's the best kayak for a beginner?
Unfortunately, there is no straight answer and the best kayak for you as a beginner will differ from another. One person may want to start kayaking for one reason and another may have completely different ambitions. However, if you're looking for a quick answer, a recreational kayak is the best option for the beginner.
Either an open-top or sit-in recreational kayak will suit the beginner. However, which one you choose will ultimately depend on what you want to do with your kayak.
In this article, we'll be looking at the best kayak options for beginners of all types. Stay tuned for this one if you're confused about where to begin your kayaking journey…
The Difference Between Sit-In and Sit-On-Top Kayaks?
First, let's start with the differences between the sit-in and sit-on-top (open-top) kayaks. Both types are suitable for the beginner but one is easier to learn with and the other is a bit more tricky to master but far more versatile.
Which option is best for you will depend on what style of kayaking you desire to learn. Let's take a look at the differences between the two and assess which style suits you better.
What Are Sit-In Kayaks?
Sit-in kayaks are the more traditional type of vessel that you'll probably associate with the sport. This style of kayak features a small cockpit and an enclosed body. You sit in the cockpit with your legs stretched out in front of you under the cover of the hard shell.
Sit-in kayaks are incredibly versatile and can be used in a range of different environments. They're also more stable than open-top kayaks because the majority of the kayaker's weight is situated low down. They're less likely to capsize and you can stay relatively dry inside regardless of the chop on the water or the weather conditions — providing you have a spray skirt.
Sit-in vessels aren't without their problems for the beginner, however.
Sit-in kayaks are much harder to get in and out of. Kayaks are easy vessels to learn how to navigate with. In fact, once you're inside the kayak it will all come to you relatively easily. It's getting in, that's the hard bit.
Learning how to mount and dismount a traditional kayak is a steep learning curve, especially if you don't have a beach to launch from. As a beginner, you're probably going to get a bit wet from time to time when you start kayaking seriously.
Sit-in kayaks, although more stable, are much scarier if you do capsize.
Correcting a capsize can be easy once you know the technique, but at first, flipping the vessel and being stuck inside can be extremely frightening. It's important that sit-in kayak beginners know how to handle a capsize. It's unlikely to happen if you're navigating calm waters, but you must know how to correct the vessel if the worst happens.
What Are Sit-On-Top Kayaks?
Sit-on-top kayaks, as the name suggests, have an open top and a cockpit that you sit on while exposed to the elements. These kayaks are much easier to get on and off of because you don't need to slip into a tiny cockpit.
Sit-on kayaks provide you with much more freedom of movement. They are fantastic kayaks for the angler that wants to fish from their kayak as they provide 360 degrees of casting potential and plenty of space for tackle storage, rod holders, and a landing net.
They’re relatively versatile but due to the raised nature of the vessel and the exposure to the elements, you’re much more likely to get wet during your paddle. Due to the fact that most of your weight is above the water line, you’re also more at risk of capsizing. However, if you do capsize you have much more freedom compared to a sit-in vessel — this makes it easier and less scary to recover.
Sit-on kayaks aren’t ideal for rougher conditions and although they can handle light rapids and choppy waters, they shouldn’t be used in extreme conditions.
So What's the Best Type of Kayak for Beginners?
As I've mentioned, the best beginner kayak for you will depend on what you want to use it for. In this section, we'll look at a few different types of kayak and what situations they are best used in. By the time you've read to the end of this section, you should know exactly which kayak is best for you to start with.
1. The Recreational Kayak
Recreational kayaks are versatile vessels that are fit for a range of activities. They come in both open-top and sit-in designs. However, sit-in versions are far more practical in a range of environments.
Recreational crafts are easy to learn with and they’re able to cope in most of the waters a beginner would be looking to navigate. They’re good for slow to medium-flowing rivers, gentle rapids, inland waterways, estuaries, and light coastal use. They’re stable and easy to learn the basic strokes with.
2. The Touring Kayak
Touring kayaks are longer narrower vessels that are built with efficiency in mind. They’re for the kayaker that wants to do multi-day tours and go camping with their kayak. Recreational kayaks can also be used for touring, but you’ll make much better time in a kayak designed for the job.
They are always designed as sit-in vessels, as this is the most versatile and comfortable way to travel long distances. You can use touring kayaks for travelling in still waters, slow to medium-flowing rivers, and estuary navigation.
3. The Fishing Kayak
Fishing kayaks are open-top kayaks designed specifically for the angler that wants to fish from a small self-propelled vessel. They often have handy design features such as rod holders, foot-controlled rudders, and storage for tackle.
You’ll also find fishing kayaks that have “pedals” that can be controlled with the feet to propel the kayak forwards and backward. This allows you to control the kayak and keep moving while you have both hands on the rod.
This type of kayak is specifically designed for fishing but can be used for recreational paddling too. You’ll be able to use a fishing kayak in lakes, slow-flowing rivers, and light coastal work — depending on the conditions.
4. The Sea Kayak
Sea kayaks, as the name suggests, are designed for ocean use. They are built for efficiency in salt water where the kayaker is battling against choppy water, the tide, and strong currents. They are most often sit-in vessels but they also come in sit-on-top designs for casual recreational paddling in calm conditions.
Sea kayaks are incredibly long compared to freshwater vessels. They can only be used on the coast as they are far too cumbersome and difficult to turn on small rivers and inland waterways.
5. The Inflatable Kayak
Inflatable kayaks, unlike the other four, are made from a PVC material that can be folded up. Before launch, inflatable kayaks are filled with air to provide shape and buoyancy.
The tracking of an inflatable kayak is nowhere near as good as a hard shell kayak. However, they’re fantastic for those of you that don’t have a storage solution for a hardshell or lack a car or the roof space to transport a hardshell.
A decent inflatable kayak is relatively versatile in terms of where you can use it but you’ll need to be cautious of underwater obstacles and sharp objects.
What Else Do You Need to Start Kayaking?
Apart from the obvious — the kayak itself — there are a few other pieces of essential equipment you'll need to start kayaking. There are also a few other bits of kit that aren't exactly essential, but they are very useful to have.
In this section, we'll be looking at the kit that you'll need to start kayaking as a beginner as well as a few other items that'll make your life on the water both easier and more enjoyable.