Best Youth Kayaks

Updated October 2019
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

19 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
212 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best youth kayaks

Last Updated October 2019

Kayaking is a fun and fulfilling water sport that can be a great hobby for young people as long as they have the right gear. A youth kayak is a smaller boat designed for young people to paddle. These kayaks often have some other key differences, such as being lighter than full-size kayaks and being wide enough to offer effective stability. Finding the best youth kayak for your child might mark the start of a lifelong interest in kayaking, or it may just lead to some occasional fun on the water, which is great, too!

When picking out a youth kayak, both the length and width of the boat are important. It's also wise to learn more about the different types of youth kayaks available to figure out which is appropriate for the young person in your life. Stick with this guide and you'll find out all you need to know about youth kayaks. You can also check out our list of the best youth kayaks available right now.

If your child is not an experienced kayaker, choose a model with towing hooks so you can tow the kayak until they get the hang of it.

Key considerations

Types of youth kayaks

Youth kayaks are available in a range of styles. Some of the most common options include sit-on-top, touring, sea, and inflatable kayaks.

Sit-on-top kayaks: These have an open top rather than an enclosed cockpit. They're great for young people since they're easy to get into and out of, and there's far less danger if the kayak capsizes. The kayaks are self-bailing, with scupper holes built into the hull, but this does mean the user will get wet while kayaking. 

Touring kayaks: These have a pointed bow (front) and stern (rear) and are designed to give a smooth, stable ride and great tracking over long distances. They're generally decent all-rounders suitable for both novice and experienced kayakers.

Sea kayaks: This type isn’t as widely produced for children as for adults, since it's best to avoid kayaking in the ocean with younger children. However, you can find models suited to older kids, including teens. These kayaks are longer than touring models and designed to remain stable in choppier water.

Inflatable kayaks: These have an inflatable rather than a solid hull. Although they're not as durable as solid-hulled kayaks, they're ideal if you don't have much storage space or you want to take your kayak with you on your next vacation.

Length

Youth kayaks measure somewhere between 6.0 and 9.5 feet long, as opposed to full-size kayaks, which usually measure between 10 and 14 feet long. In general, shorter kayaks are better for children, while longer ones are suited to older kids. A 6-foot kayak, for instance, is best for children between five and ten years old, whereas a 9-foot kayak is better suited to teenagers.

Double trouble

If you're buying for more than one child, this two-pack of sit-on-top kayaks is a great choice. At eight feet long, these kayaks are perfect for older children, including teens. The 250-pound weight limit means that they're even suitable for adults to use, though they won't perform the same as a full-length kayak. The hull’s design allows for great tracking through the water.

Width

It's important to find a happy medium regarding the width of a youth kayak. Wider kayaks are more stable, which is important for those just starting in the activity. However, if the kayak is too wide, the child won't be able to paddle effectively and will keep hitting their elbows on the hull.

Weight

In theory, it's great to opt for a youth kayak that your child can handle and carry alone, but this might not be possible for younger kids. Although extremely lightweight kayaks are easier for young people to handle and propel through the water, they're also more easily buffeted around by currents and waves, especially if the child inside the kayak doesn't weigh much.

EXPERT TIP

Your child should always wear sunscreen while kayaking, even if the sky is overcast.


Staff  | BestReviews

Youth kayak features

Footrests: Kayakers brace their feet against footrests in order to paddle. A youth kayak should have adjustable footrests that can fit kayakers of different heights. If the kayak has foot wells instead of footrests, these should be graduated to allow for height differences.

Paddle: The vast majority of youth kayaks come with a paddle. When buying for a younger child in particular, the paddle should be extremely lightweight, and the shaft should have a small enough diameter to be held comfortably by little hands.

Compartments: Some youth kayaks have storage compartments for holding belongings, but these aren’t as common on kayaks designed for kids as they are on full-size kayaks.

EXPERT TIP

If you'll be traveling with your youth kayak, make sure you have an appropriate way to transport it or choose an inflatable model.


Staff  | BestReviews

Youth kayak prices

Inexpensive: Basic kayaks that cost from $50 to $150 are usually inflatable or made of hard plastic. They're great for occasional use or for young kids just starting out.

Mid-range: These youth kayaks cost roughly $150 to $300. They’re perfect for teens or more experienced children who need a larger or more advanced model.

Expensive: High-end youth kayaks are priced between $300 and $550. These have all the bells and whistles and are much like full-size kayaks but shorter (up to ten feet long). 

EXPERT TIP

Watch out for any sharp edges or rough patches on a youth kayak that could get hurt someone, especially if you’re buying for a young child.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • Choose a youth kayak that's stable in the water. Stability is a more important factor in a youth kayak than maneuverability and tracking, especially if you're buying for an inexperienced young person.
  • Take safety precautions. Children should always wear life jackets when kayaking. Also make sure they know and practice how to get back into the kayak if it capsizes.
  • Consider your child's fitness level. Kayaking long distances requires some upper body strength and plenty of stamina, so it might be best to stick to shorter sessions for younger kids. You should have the right gear available to tow your child's kayak if necessary.
  • Think about how often the child will use the kayak. Is your child a keen kayaker who will go out on the water a few times a week or just interested in occasional paddling on holidays? Don't spend a fortune on a kayak that will probably only be used a handful of times.

Small but mighty

Measuring just six feet long, the Lifetime Wave is the perfect first kayak for kids age five and up. The maximum weight limit is 130 pounds, but teens will do best with a slightly larger kayak even if they fall below the weight limit. The rugged plastic construction can take some dings, so it's no problem if your child hits a few obstacles at first. Weighing just 18 pounds, it's light enough for most kids to handle alone.

Other products we considered

Youth kayaks aren't as numerous as adult kayaks, but you can still find some great options beyond those models listed in our top five. The Sun Dolphin Bali is a six-foot sit-on-top kayak that's perfect for the younger generation. It has a large seating area with graduated foot wells to accommodate kids of different sizes. The paddle holder lets kids put the paddle down for a time without losing it. Measuring just over eight feet long, the Advanced Elements Lagoon 1 Kayak is a suitable choice for tweens and teens, though not specifically sold as a youth model. Thanks to its inflatable design, it's ideal for use by vacationers or anyone who's short on storage space. We love its rigid bow and stern panels that greatly improve tracking.

Appearance isn't everything, but you can find youth kayaks in a range of colors and a few with graphic prints on them.

FAQ

Q. How can I teach my child to kayak safely?
A.
You can't just push your child out into open water in a new kayak and hope for the best. There are some techniques and safety measures any kayaker should know before heading out into the water. Some swimming pools and stores that sell outdoor gear offer kayaking sessions, which is a safe way to practice solo kayaking for the first time. You can also teach kids the basics in a tandem kayak, though it's not quite the same as going it alone.

Q. Do youth kayaks have a maximum weight limit?
A.
Yes. Depending on the size and design of the kayak, the limit can be anywhere between 100 and 250 pounds. However, just because a young person is within the weight limit, it doesn't mean the kayak is definitely large enough to fit them comfortably, so it's not the only factor to consider.

Q. Does my child need to be a strong swimmer to go kayaking?
A.
We'd highly recommend waiting until your child is at least a competent swimmer before taking them kayaking. A child should be able to swim to shore with the aid of a life jacket, should the worst happen. Of course, the distance to shore will depend on whether you plan to kayak in rivers, lakes, or the ocean.

The team that worked on this review
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Lauren
    Lauren
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

BestReviews wants to be better. Please take our 3-minute survey,
and give us feedback about your visit today.

Take Survey