Best Youth Kayaks

Updated November 2021
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Buying guide for best youth kayaks

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.

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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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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). 


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


Q. How can I teach my child to kayak safely?
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?
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?
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.

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