Kayaking with young kids and teens is a wonderful adventure whether you are going for an hour, a day or a week. Selecting the best youth kayaks for your family means your kids can easily maneuver and keep up with any adventure. There are many options for kids’ kayaks and you will want to consider what type of kayaking you’re planning, how you will get your kayaks to the water, and how old and confident your kids are in a kayak and how much you want to spend on a kayak.
This article will also be helpful if you are looking for the best kayak for beginners, as many of the same elements that make the perfect child kayak, also make good starter kayaks, especially if you can get them in a larger size.
If you are looking for more information on kayaking with your family read: A Complete Guide to Canoeing and Kayaking with Kids and Teens.
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Quick Look at the Best Youth Kayaks
Check Prices and View Product
Get starter kayak for kids under 130 lbs
An excellent sit on kayak for older kids and teens
A great deal and sit in kayak for older kids and teens
See image at REI
This is a great touring kayak that is slightly smaller than normal touring kayaks
This is an easy to use and inflate kayak
Teton Tandem Sit-On Fishing Kayak
This is a great tandem kayak and comes with paddles
Wilderness Systems Sit Inside Kayak
An easy to manage and fun recreation kayak
What to Consider When Buying Youth Kayaks
When you are getting ready to purchase a kid’s kayak, it’s important to do your research, as it’s likely your family will have the kayak for years to come. There are multiple things to consider and what makes the best youth kayak for one family may not work for another. Before you take a look at the kayaks below, make sure you have an idea of what is important when purchasing a kid’s kayak.
Types of Kayaks
Deciding on the best youth kayaks for your kids and teens depends on what type of kayaking you are hoping to do as a family. Most youth will want to start with a flat water kayak. Within this category, there are 5 specific types of kayaks: sit-on-top, recreational, touring, inflatable, and pedaling kayaks.
Sit on top kayaks have no cockpit and the hull is full of air. Since you are sitting on the top of the kayak, you will get wetter than a more traditional kayak but it is also relatively light and easy to maneuver. It is an excellent choice for a youth kayak due to its weight, price, and ease of maneuvering. Many people also consider it the best kayak for fishing. This is also best for short kayak trips of a day or just a few hours.
This is your standard or traditional kayak with a closed cockpit with a wide opening. This is a good option if you are looking to go kayaking with toddlers in the same kayak. These kayaks are usually less than 12 feet making them slightly easier to transport and rarely come in specific sizing for youth kayaks. They are not as fast as a longer touring kayak and can sometimes be a little tricky to navigate and turn. This is the best kayak for a few hours paddle when you don’t want to get wet with a sit-on kayak.
These kayaks are the best choice for longer trips and are the best kayak for ocean trips and also the best kayak for rivers. Touring kayaks are longer (more than 12 feet) and narrower than recreational kayaks. These kayaks have thigh braces so you can roll your kayak if it tips over, a rudder on the stern to help steer, and often a storage compartment. These are more expensive but are best if you are looking for a more serious kayak for longer trips and aren’t the best choice for beginners and can be difficult to transport. They aren’t usually considered youth kayaks but are a good option for older children.
These kayaks have one big positive and several negatives. Designed to be inflated when you use it, this kayak is easy to transport. Unfortunately, even the best inflatable kayak is difficult to steer and slow. We’ve used an inflatable kayak on a boat where we used it to get to and from shore. New kayakers may find using an inflatable kayak, even if they are designed as youth kayaks, challenging, but they are fun toys if they work for you and they are improving every year.
This final type of flat water kayak is great if you would rather use your legs to power your boat. This is not the best choice for a kayak for teens or kids since it is expensive and most youth don’t have back or shoulder problems (the main reason you would want to purchase a pedaling kayak
You may also be wondering about tandem kayaks. This just means that there is more than 1 seat in the kayak. This is an excellent option for young kids or if you have a reluctant paddler, or they can be fun youth kayaks for older kids who want to go with their friends. I have found as kids gain confidence and get older it’s nice for them to have a single kayak that gives them a better sense of accomplishment.
The second thing to consider when purchasing youth kayaks is how you will transport your kayak. Unless you live next to the water and plan to use your kayaks right where you live, you will need to move your kayaks from place to place. Smaller kayaks (such as inflatable, sit-on, and recreational kayaks) will be easier to transport and lighter to move around. You can purchase a kayak rack for the top of your car, purchase a pull-behind kayak trailer, or put your kayaks in a pick-up truck.
With a family of 5, it is difficult to move enough kayaks in a single trip for everyone to use. This has limited us when we want to go for a short paddle. To help solve this problem, one of our teens uses an inflatable paddleboard and we’ve also used a canoe or rowboat alongside our kayaks. When we do need to transport kayaks, we typically use roof-mounted kayak carriers. We bought these from Thule and we’ve had them for over 15 years and have found them the best kayak roof rack. Youth kayaks tend to be smaller but you can still only get 2 on the roof at a time.
Best Kayaks for Every Age and Confidence
This can be slightly subjective since a 5-year-old who is confident on the water may be able to use a kayak independently while an older child who has never been in a boat may lack the confidence to paddle. You need to consider both your child’s age and confidence. It’s also important to note that this assumes you are paddling in calm flat water. Putting a 5-year-old in a kayak for the first time with a current is completely different than putting a 5-year-old in a kayak for the first time in a pool to practice and then slowly building up to a pond or lake. Building confidence is incredibly important.
After working with kids on the water for over 2 decades, I tend to think that kids benefit from spending safe time on the water from a young age. This means that I often recommend younger ages for kids to get into a kayak but you may need to adjust based on your own child’s comfort level. Purchasing kayaks for children will provide an excellent opportunity to build self-confidence on the water.
If you are looking for the best youth kayaks for teens, you can generally get any kayak an adult would use. You will probably want to get the best quality since this may be the kayak that stays with them for a long time.
The following are general guidelines:
- 0-5 year olds – best to put them in a recreational or sit-on kayak with an adult. Double sit-on kayaks can be fun and they can try paddling too.
- 5-7 year olds – choose a small youth sit-on kayak that is easy to maneuver.
- 7-12 year olds – the best youth kayaks for this age include sit-on kayaks and recreational kayaks
- 13 + year olds – the best teen kayaks are the same as adult kayaks, choose sit-on kayaks, recreational kayaks, or touring kayaks
Cost of the Best Kayaks for Kids
No matter your budget, it’s always important to find the best youth kayaks for the money. It is possible to find good youth kayaks for under $500, but if you are looking for something specific or a touring kayak, it will likely cost a lot more. The cheapest kayak may be an inflatable kayak (although there are pricier options), followed by sit-on kayaks (usually $100-$500). When you start to look at recreational kayaks you will likely spend $300-$1000, and touring and pedal kayaks typically start around $800.
If you are looking at tandem kayaks, these are usually more expensive than single youth kayaks, but not usually double the price.
How to Size Youth Kayaks and Paddles
It’s important to get the right size kayak for kids or they will have difficulty steering and paddling the vessel. This may mean that you need to purchase a kids or junior kayak for their younger years, and another kayak when they are entering their teenage years. You can generally find specific sizing information based on the brand, but you will want to look for youth kayaks and then find the best paddle to go with the kayak.
Kayak paddles are based on height and the kayak width, so the best youth kayak paddle will depend on several things. Here is a basic kayak sizing chart to get started and is based on just the height of the youth:
Best Youth Kayaks
This is the best sit-on kayak for kids and it comes at a low price tag. When I worked running on-the-water programs for youth, this was the kayak we purchased for our young campers. It is relatively sturdy and comes with a paddle. It does well up to 130 pounds, but anyone over 100 pounds will cause more water to come into the boat. It also comes in many different colors and is a great choice when selecting the perfect youth kayaks.
If you are purchasing a sit-on kayak for an older kid or teenager, you will need a kayak that is bigger and can handle more weight. This sit-on kayak is well priced and a breeze to get around in. This is a good kayak for teens, and you can also put a young child on the back of the kayak or between your legs in the front.
If you are looking for a slightly larger kayak the Pelican recreation kayak is an excellent choice. As a recreation style, your youth can sit inside the cockpit, but since it is shorter it is more easily managed. This kayak is the best choice for kids over 8 who have the arm span and confidence to use a sit-inside kayak.
This is almost the same kayak we took on a multi-week sailing trip and used to get to and from shore. It is very easy to inflate and carry around. It states you can use it up to 220 pounds but for consistent use you may want to look at something else if the person using it is over 200 pounds. If you’re looking for an easy-to-transport kayak, that is also easy to use, this is the best kayak (inflatable).
This is an excellent and high quality sit on kayak that is an excellent choice to padding with a younger family member. Teens will love to paddle with their friends and less confident kids will appreciate the comfort of having an adult in the same boat. This also makes one of the best kid fishing kayaks.
This is a solid high-quality kayak that will last. Since it’s 10.5 feet it is small enough for most kids to manage, but also big enough to grow with them. This is my favorite kayak for youth over 8 since they will be able to use this boat for years to come. Also comes with an adjustable skeg and is very stable on the water.
Best Kayak Accessories
There are several other accessories you will need to go along with any youth kayaks you purchase. Some of the youth kayaks listed above come with paddles, but you may need to purchase a paddle for your kayak. You will also need a good kayaking lifejacket.
Paddles are sized based on the paddler’s height and the width of the kayak. You can see a basic sizing chart above. They also come in many different materials of different weights. The 3 options below are the best kayak paddles at different price ranges:
Purchasing a good quality kayaking lifejacket is important. If you will only be using a sit-on kayak, you can purchase a regular lifejacket, but if you will be using a sit-inside kayak, the best kayak life jacket will start higher in the torso, otherwise, the lifejacket will simply ride up and be uncomfortable. Below are 2 lifejacket options for you to choose the best kayak life jacket, but if you are looking for a great youth life jacket specifically for kayaking, check out this one from REI.
Other Kayaking Accessories
There are many other kayak accessories to consider while you are purchasing youth kayaks. There aren’t necessary, but are helpful items, especially if you are planning a longer trip.
Should you Rent a Kayak Instead of Buying?
The quick answer is that is always best to rent a few times before you buy a kayak. Youth kayaks can be expensive and you should make sure your child enjoys kayaking. Once you know that your kid likes to kayak, it will probably be easier and more cost effecting to purchase a kayak of your own.
Purchasing youth kayaks for your family is the start of a wonderful adventure!