Kayak Guidance logo

Selecting Your First Kayak: Tips and Types For Dummies

Best Options and Reviews

Published March 1, 2018 | Updated April 18, 2022

Be it for your vacation by the beach or a fun game with the family by the lake, knowing what is the best kayak for a beginner will level up your paddling experience. Every kayak is different from the other and therefore serves a unique purpose. Knowing a thing or two about the choices you can consider will make you an even wiser buyer. However, for newbies, it might be a difficult task especially if he hasn’t tried riding on a kayak before.

Here, I listed some tips on purchasing and the usual types that you can choose from. Check each one out.

Selecting Your First Kayak: Tips And Types For Dummies


Depending on the kind of kayaking you’re doing, which you’ll learn more about later on, there is a specific kayak that will suit you. Getting the right type is a crucial step to achieve comfort and the expected outcome once you’re on the water. So before you scan for commercial options, here are some common types to check out.

-Sit on top

The sit on top kayak type has a molded cavity so you no longer have to slip yourself inside like the other type that I’ll also discuss shortly. This type is suited for snorkeling, fishing, scuba diving, surfing, and other activities that will require you to move in and out of the kayak. The advantageous aspect of getting a sit on top kayak is easy self-rescue whenever you capsize as there’s less chance of you getting stuck inside.

Newbie paddlers prefer this one as there’s no need to do Eskimo rolls, which as we know, requires a high level of physical strength and paddling technique.

-Sit inside

So what’s the purpose of getting a sit inside kayak? This type is best for long paddling tours as it can cut through the water. This also gives your lower extremities a shield against the chilly weather if ever you’re planning to paddle through the cold months. The sit inside kayak is seen to be a travel vehicle and less of a recreational equipment as it will prevent the chances of getting splashed. If you’re thinking about what is the best kayak for a beginner, the sit inside type might not be it.

sitting inside kayak

However, the problem surfaces when you capsize. It would be hard to get off the kayak and the vessel will surely be filled with water. You also have less room to move if ever you’re planning to fish or dive. Nevertheless, this is stable as the sit on top type.

-Touring kayak

A touring kayak could be a sit inside or other type depending on what kind of paddling you’re going to do. Most of the time, this one is best for people who are using kayaking for a workout or those who want to record a longer distance. Touring kayaks are expected to be comfortable for hours of continuous paddling. Some could even have extra space for a picnic or for a tent if someone is going for an all-nighter on the sea.

Touring kayaks are also faster in navigation and could come in either single or tandem build. It could also be longer than the usual kayaks since it can be as much as five meters long.

-Inflatable kayak

If you’re traveling with a cramped up van with no space for a long kayak, the inflatable type is the best choice. This is no longer just a pool toy as advanced technologies have made some types as reliable as a hard shell kayak. It’s lightweight and can fit in a backpack when not inflated. Some massive types could hold two or three paddlers that make it a perfect choice for a family kayaking weekend. So what is the best kayak for a beginner? It might be the inflatable one!

Never underestimate an inflatable kayak as some models even have hulls that cushion the bumps and scrapes that may cause punctures on the material. In case there are holes in the kayak, you can simply patch it up and let it sit for a day before hitting the water again.

Inflatable kayaks could either be a sit inside or sit on top.

-Tandem kayak

Tandem kayaks are usually sit on top types where two paddlers can comfortably ride for either touring, fishing, diving, or any activities that will require a lot of movement on the kayak. It’s also the best choice if you want to save money from buying two separate kayaks. This will also be a good option if you’re planning to paddle alone or with somebody.

However, the downside here is when the other person decides to paddle in a different direction. The freedom to navigate is a bit limiting except if you and your partner have a set destination. If you’re planning to use this during solo paddling, it’s likely that you’ll experience balance issues and difficulty controlling the entire kayak. Just be careful as this might not be what is the best kayak for a beginner

-Fishing kayak

One thing that sets a fishing kayak from the usual types is it has storage spaces for the fishing rods, fishfinder, bait, rudder, anchor trolley, and other fishing equipment. A typical kayak won’t be able to house these things especially a sit inside structure. A longer kayak would be a good choice as it gives more stability. If you want to have something that cuts through water, a slimmer option is available but you’ll have to use additional equipment like pontoons.

Keep in mind that using a tandem kayak for fishing might pose inconvenience and danger. You might end up hooking the other person or the balance of the kayak might be compromised if both of you are fishing.  If you’re wondering about what is the best kayak for a beginner, you should be careful about this one.

standing kayaking while fishing


The hull of the kayak will play a big role in either the speed and stability of your paddling. Those with hard chines and greater flare will be the best choice for those looking for stability. But if you’re into speed, kayaks with a V-shape like hull and bow would be the good option as it can cut through water but may pose stability issues. Aside from that, here are some points you should consider when checking the hull of your potential kayak:


Volume is the space inside the kayak that is measured by gallons. If you want more legroom or storage space, those with bigger volume will be best.


The rocker of the kayak is the leveling of the bow and stern from the water. Those with little rocker have higher resistance against the impeding tendency of the waves and can track well even under windy conditions. Kayaks with a high rocker are suited for pivoting motions but it won’t track as well as the latter type.


Symmetrical kayaks are easier to maneuver during turns or performing an Eskimo roll so this is best for streams or whitewater. If you’re thinking about what is the best kayak for a beginner, this might be the best option. The asymmetrical type, on the other hand, is made to have easier passage through water by means of improving the directional control. But when it comes to turning or maneuvering, it will be a little hard to use.

Keep in mind that there are two types of asymmetrical hulls: Swedeform and fishform. The Swedform has more volume behind the midpoint while the fishform is the other way around.

Flare and chines

Kayaks could either have soft and hard chines and it’s best to choose the latter if you’re into getting more stability. The flare, on the other hand, is the angling of the side of the kayaks. Choosing one with more flare is stable but harder to roll.


The usual weight of a kayak depends on the type. For tandem kayaks, the weight limit is 600 pounds while it’s cut by half for single kayaks with the paddlers on. This is to ensure balance and safety when you’re on the water.

When it comes to length, the rule of thumb is the longer and narrower, the faster it could cut through the water. If you’re buying a sit on top kayak, this might be more of a freighter as it can carry a heavier load but with a slower speed. Overall kayaks range from 12 to 15 feet and will vary if you’re thinking about what is the best kayak for a beginner.


The comfort of riding a kayak lies on the padded seat you’re going to get. If you’re buying a touring kayak, you should check the seats very well. This is the same thing when you’re investing on a sit inside type as the waistline might be too small for you.


tandem fishing kayak with paddles
1. Consider buying during off-season

Buying during off-season means discounts and lower prices. It’s also a good time to place a purchase at the end of the season as the sellers tend to cut the prices on leftover boats and kayaks. In case you’re reading this during the peak season, you should buy directly from a manufacturer as the prices stay the same throughout the year.

2. Invest in quality

Regardless what type of kayaking you’re doing, always put your money on quality. You might buy a kayak just for the summer but you’ll never know when the urge to hit the water will come. Also, it would be a good weekend equipment for a family getaway.

One thing about quality that you shouldn’t trade for anything is the level of safety.

3. Do some research first

Don’t settle on the first boat you’ll see in the store as it might not be what is the best kayak for a beginner. Do your assignment of researching first about the type and build of kayak that suits you. There are kayaking forums online that will be your voice of reason when you’re thinking of placing a purchase. Also, there are many commercial options that you’ll find online that might be better than your first choice in terms of price and structure.

4. Try renting a kayak to get a feel of it

If this is your first time to buy and use a kayak, I suggest that you rent one of your prospective types before buying one. That way, you’ll have firsthand experience on how to maneuver and handle it. This will reduce the risk of getting the wrong kayak.

5. Don’t forget about the paddles

The paddles are one of the most overlooked parts of purchasing a kayak. These tools will affect the navigation of the boat as well as the ease of maneuvering it. There are different types of paddles that you’ll learn about in a separate post here.

The paddles serve as the propeller blades. The lighter, the better. You should know by now that a paddler with a cramping arm might likely end up capsizing or thrown by the waves.

What is the best kayak for a beginner? These tips and your personal choice will determine this. Be meticulous in choosing your new boat so you can achieve the paddling experience you want. Each type is made different to suit every time of adventurer. Do you have something to add? Ping me below!

Jay Schwartz author of Kayak Guidance

About the Author - Jay Schwartz:

Hey there kayak lovers! I’m Jay Schwartz, the author here at Kayak Guidance! You know water sports – you know me! My life is all about it. Kayaking, Paddleboarding, Fishing, Snorkeling and so much more. I love to share my passion and knowledge with all of you. 

More to Learn About Kayaks!