11 Best Kayaks for Kids To Get Them Out on the Water at a Young Age

best kayak for kids

Short on time? Our pick for the best kayak for kids is the Water Bear Youth Kayak.

We’ve rounded up the best kayaks for kids, no matter their age or skill level.

If I’d had a children’s kayak as a kid, I’m pretty sure I would have spent all my time in it.

Kayaking is a lot of fun and many kids love the water, so it makes sense to get them out as soon as possible. 

Even though as an adult I spend a lot of time on the water, it’s still always surprising to find so many children’s kayaks on the market. 

There are tons of little kayaks, which is both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, you have many options. On the other, which kids’ kayak is the best for your child’s needs?

After doing a ton of research on this topic and reading approximately one billion kids’ kayak reviews, I’ve written up a list of the best kayaks for kids of every age or skill level (no matter your budget). 

And if you’re new to kayaking, I have a jargon buster at the end of the article so you can confidently navigate the sales pitches. 

Keep reading to find the best kayaks to get your youngster on the water pronto!

Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.

Kayaks for kids

Here’s a Quick Look at Our Recommendations

#1 Driftsun Rover

Best Kayak for a Toddler

Best kayak for a toddler

Our rating: 4.8/5
Solo or tandem: Solo
Weight: 22 lbs
Length: 8.5’
Weight limit: 300 lbs

Y’all–toddlers can’t kayak. A qualified adult should always accompany them. With that said, if you want to get your toddler used to kayaking, you should first try rowing with them as a lap child. 

The Driftsun Rover is my choice of the best kayak for a parent and child. This adult kayak has many features that make it suitable for a tandem row with a young paddler. 

This is an inflatable kayak (read: doesn’t take up a ton of space in your car or garage) with a drop-stitch floor, which is as sturdy as a hard-sided kayak. 

The Driftsun Rover kayak is also quite wide (36’’), making it very stable. Plus, the sides of the kayak are high enough to deter slipping over but still easier to bail out of than a sit-inside kayak.

PROS

  • Inflatable kayak (which takes up less space)
  • Lightweight
  • Wide and stable
  • Sufficient for the weight of an adult and toddler
  • Suitable for Class III and IV kayaking

CONS

  • Expensive

#2 Lifetime Youth Kayak

Best Kayak for a 5-Year-Old

Lifetime youth kayak

Our rating: 4.9/5
Solo or tandem: Solo
Weight: 18 lbs
Length: 6 ft
Weight limit: 130 lbs

The Lifetime Youth Kayak is one of the best kayaks for kids five and up because it’s super lightweight and has a swim-up deck. 

The swim-up deck is one of my favorite safety features on youth kayaks. It’s a lowered platform that allows kids to gain an easier purchase on the back of the kayak when (not if!) they fall over. 

There are also molded finger holds on either side of this small kids’ kayak for easier grasping. And the bottom of the boat has a reverse chine, which helps direct spray away from the boat. 

The Lifetime Youth is also a nice, narrow boat (24’’), which will prevent your little one from knocking their knuckles on the sides.

Looking for more lightweight options? Read our guide to the best lightweight kayaks.

PROS

  • Ideal for the youngest paddlers
  • Lightweight
  • Paddle included

CONS

  • It doesn’t come with a seat

#3 Emotion Sparky Kayak Kids’

Best Kayak for a 10-Year Old

Emotion sparky kayak kids

Our rating: 4.9/5
Solo or tandem: Solo
Weight: 22 lbs
Length: 6 ft
Weight limit: 140 lbs

Check out the Emotion Sparky Youth Kayak if you’ve got young, adventurous kids. This six-foot-long, polyethylene kids kayak is great for young paddlers up to ten.

Its narrow width (24’’) allows small bodies to paddle without hitting their knuckles on the sides. 

Most kids’ kayaks, including this one, are also shorter in length compared to adult kayaks–this helps kids move the boat with their own power. 

The Emotion Sparky Youth Kayak weighs just 22 pounds and has molded finger handles on the sides so that little fingers can grasp it. 

While this kids’ kayak doesn’t come with a skeg, which means tracking won’t be great, this doesn’t seem to bother most kids (heck, they have more than enough energy to keep the boat straight).

PROS

  • Suitable for paddlers under ten years old
  • Lightweight
  • Molded finger handles
  • Narrow width

CONS

  • No skeg (but this doesn’t bother most kids anyway)
  • Won’t be suitable for heavier, taller kids

#4 Airhead Montana

Best Kayak for Teenagers

Airhead montana

Our rating: 4.8/5
Solo or tandem: Solo
Weight: 27 lbs
Length: 9’
Weight limit: 300 lbs

The Airhead Montana is a great inflatable kayak for both kids and adults. This solo inflatable kayak works great as a kids’ kayak because it’s short (9’) and weighs just 27 pounds. 

This portable kayak is also very durable thanks to an 840-denier nylon construction. 

One nice thing about this kids’ kayak is that it’s big enough to act as an adult kayak and will last a kid well into their teen and adult years. 

Not to mention–Airhead makes affordable kayaks, and the Montana is no exception. 

One thing to note–while most people have no issues with their Montana, I’ve seen some manufacturing issues where the seams around the inflation valves are misaligned, thus putting strain on the material.

PROS

  • Lightweight
  • Affordable
  • Perfect length for young teens up to adults
  • Durable 840-denier fabric

CONS

  • Potential manufacturing issues with the seams

#5 Perception Hi-Five Youth Kayak

Best Sit-On-Top Youth Kayak

Perception hi-five youth kayak

Our rating: 4.9/5
Solo or tandem: Solo
Weight: 21 lbs
Length: 6’
Weight limit: 120 lbs

I’ve included Perception High-Five before in previous kayak review articles because it’s so awesome! And their Youth Kayak is an ideal option if you’re shopping for a good kayak that’s built for kids.

This six-foot, brightly-colored kids’ kayak has a swim-up step that can double as gear storage. It also includes kid-sized paddles, and you can upgrade to get a padded seat, tether system, and paddle holder.  

Another bonus is that young paddlers can sit or stand in the Perception High-Five kids’ kayak while paddling. 

Just note that due to this boat’s weight capacity, it probably won’t seat most kids older than 15.

PROS

  • Swim-up step
  • Fun colors
  • Paddles included
  • Lightweight

CONS

  • Pads, paddle holders, and tether system are sold separately
  • Not suitable for most kids over 15

#6 Water Bear Youth Kayak

Best Premium Youth Kayak

Water bear youth kayak

Our rating: 5/5
Solo or tandem: Solo
Weight: 30 lbs
Length: 6’6’’
Weight limit: 130 lbs

The Water Bear Youth Kayak is one of the best premium kayaks for kids because this bad boy has *all* the features. 

The swim-up deck on the back has multiple handholds for better purchase. It has carry handles on both the fronts and the sides, plus a storage bay in the front with bungee netting over the top. 

There’s also a holder for a paddle and a non-slip seat pad with a little lip that acts as a back support (lots of sit-on-top kids’ kayaks don’t have any support). 

And perhaps most appealingly on a kayak for a child, there’s a *treasure tray* in the middle of the kayak to keep, well, treasures. 

One knock on this child’s kayak is that you have to buy the paddle separately.

PROS

  • Feature-rich design
  • Swim-up deck with hand holds
  • Paddle holder built-in
  • Treasure tray

CONS

  • Paddle sold separately
  • Expensive

#7 Goplus 6ft Youth Kayak

Best Youth Fishing Kayak

Goplus 6ft youth kayak

Our rating: 4.6/5
Solo or tandem: Tandem
Weight: 22 lbs
Length: 6’
Weight limit: 120 lbs

The GoPlus 6ft Youth Kayak is a kids’ fishing kayak. 

This youth kayak comes with a padded backrest, unlike most other models of kayaks for kids. However, the seat portion has no padding. 

So, if your kid is sitting for an extended period, they may need to bring their own seat cushion. 

This kayak for kids comes with a single fishing rod holder in the middle of the boat. This is an okay design, but your child will have to manage the line with their legs, which may be tiresome. 

There’s also a bottle holder molded into the bottom of the boat and it has gear storage with bungee lacing on the front, which is excellent for snacks during a fishing excursion. 

Finally, this bright orange kayak will stand out and be easy to spot.

PROS

  • Padded backrest
  • Paddle included
  • Comes in safety orange
  • Gear storage with bungee lacing

CONS

  • No padded seat rest
  • The fishing rod holder isn’t always the most effective

#8 Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak

Best Budget Youth Kayak

Lifetime youth wave kayak

Our rating: 4.6/5
Solo or tandem: Solo
Weight: 18 lbs
Length: 6’
Weight limit: 130 lbs

Ok, who *isn’t* on a budget right now?? Don’t let this economy prevent you from enjoying life outdoors. 

The Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak is one of the top kayaks on my list at an affordable price. 

The Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak is a simple, no-frills, sit-on-top kayak for children under 130 lbs. 

Despite its affordable price, this kayak for kids uses the same material as higher-end models (high-density polyethylene), so you’re still getting a safe and durable product. 

The Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak has a swim-up deck and a molded seat with three molded footrest options. It also comes with a paddle so your kid can get on the water immediately.

If the whole family is on a budget, check out my recommendations for the best budget kayaks so everyone can paddle together affordably.

PROS

  • All the safety features of higher-end models
  • Affordable
  • Lightweight
  • Made of the same material as more expensive kids’ kayaks
  • Paddles included

CONS

  • No padding on the seat

#9 Perception Prodigy XS

Best Kids Ocean Kayak

Perception prodigy xs

Our rating: 4.8/5
Solo or tandem: Solo
Weight: 26 lbs
Length: 10’
Weight limit: 150lbs

If you’re looking for an ocean kayak for kids, you’ll want a long, narrow, sit-in boat; essentially, a small touring kayak.

The Perception Prodigy XS is one of the top kayaks for kids on the ocean because it checks all of the above boxes! 

This youth sit-in kayak is 10 feet long (a little short for an adult ocean kayak) and 23’’ wide. This narrow width may cause the kayak to feel tippy for inexperienced paddlers, so I wouldn’t put anyone under 10 in this boat. 

This kid’s kayak does leave room for growth, however. It has an adjustable padded seat and adjustable footrests. 

The sit-in kayak design is critical for the ocean because keeping the ocean spray off is nice. That said, there isn’t a skirt available for the Prodigy XS, which is a bummer.

PROS

  • Long, narrow, efficient design
  • Adjustable backrest and footrests
  • Sit-in design helps keep you dry
  • Lightweight

CONS

  • No spray skirt available

#10 Sea Eagle SE330

Best Kayak for Bigger Teens

Sea eagle se330

Our rating: 4.8/5
Solo or tandem: Tandem
Weight: 26.46
Length: 11’2’’
Weight limit: 500 lbs

I’ve previously included the Sea Eagle SE330 in my best inflatable kayaks article because it’s a great product at a great price. 

This adult boat is the best inflatable kayak for teens and bigger kids because it has a 500-pound capacity–there’s plenty of room for them to grow into it and keep using it as an adult. 

Your teen can paddle this kayak solo or tandem and handle whitewater kayaking up to Class III. Plus, this kayak features a super fast setup time–just six minutes to inflate! 

One minor ding on this junior kayak is that there aren’t many D-rings for attachment points. 

And while this inflatable kayak packs down into a duffel bag, it would be more convenient if it could pack into a backpack.

PROS

  • One of the best kayaks for bigger kids
  • Fast setup time
  • Suitable for whitewater kayaking up to Class III
  • 500-pound capacity

CONS

  • It would be easier to carry if it came packed into a backpack
  • Not very many attachment points

#11 Sevylor Big Basin 3-Person Kayak

Best Kayak for Multiple Kids

Sevylor big basin 3-person kayak

Our rating: 4.7/5
Solo or tandem: Tandem (3 seats)
Weight: 44.31 lbs
Length: 12’3’’
Weight limit: 490lbs

If you’re a paddling family with multiple kids, you should check out a boat with three seats. 

Rather than getting each kid their own kayak, you can solve three problems at once with the Sevylor Big-Basin 3-Person Kayak

The Sevylor is one of the few inflatable kayaks that can seat three people and would be ideal for two parents and a small kid working on their kayaking skills. 

This kayak is PVC with an added tarp on the bottom to prevent punctures. This boat also has adjustable seats (key for reducing sibling squabbling) and is NMMA–certified.

PROS

  • Seats three
  • NMMA-certified
  • Durable construction materials
  • Adjustable seats

CONS

  • Kayak weight is high

Best Life Vests for Kids

Even the best kayak for kids won’t come with a life vest, but the law usually requires these for anyone–kid or not–onboard a vessel. Plus, it’s just good sense to have your kids wear one. 

Any kayak purchase for kids should also prompt you to buy the proper safety gear. These are my two picks for a good life jacket for kids, depending on their weight.

Buying Guide: How to Choose the Best Kayak for Kids

Buying guide how to choose the best kayak for kids

What to Look for in Kids’ Kayaks

Weight Capacity

One of the most crucial considerations for a kid’s kayak is the weight limit. 

Most kids’ kayaks have a 120-pound capacity, and it’s essential not to exceed that with the combined weight of the child and their gear.

Packed Size and Weight

Traditional hard-sided kayaks are what they are, and if you buy one, you’ll need to invest in a roof rack and a place to store the boat at home when not in use. 

Remember that most kids’ kayaks are shorter than adult kayaks and may fit on top of smaller vehicles. 

However, if you pick an inflatable kayak, you’ll have some different packed size and weight options. 

Kids’ kayaks come in a variety of sizes and weights. If you expect your youngster to carry their boat, ensure it’s a good fit for them.

Width

Wider boats will be stabler and less prone to tipping than narrow boats. That said, many kids’ kayaks are much narrower than the narrowest adult boats simply because they’re so much smaller.

Tow System

Some youth kayaks come with a leash towing system that you can attach to an adult kayak. A tow system is a nice feature if your kid gets tired halfway through your float.

Swim Up Deck

There are child kayak models with a low deck you can swim up to on the back, which can be great for young kids who want to swim as much as they paddle. A bonus for the deck is if it has hand holds.

Tracking

Tracking is a boat’s ability to stay in a straight line. Though probably not a priority for most kids, tracking matters if you’re paddling as a family with a destination in mind. 

Inflatable kayaks don’t have good tracking, as a rule, but if they come with a removable skeg (fin) on the bottom, that will make a huge difference.

NMMA Certification

The National Marine Manufacturers Association provides a safety credential for kayak makers who meet specific safety criteria. It’s always good to look for this on kids’ kayaks.

Types of Kayaks for Kids

Kids’ kayaks are not that different from adult kayaks. Here are the different kinds you might come across.

Types of kayaks for kids

Inflatable vs. Hard-Sided

Inflatable kayaks are great for paddling families because they pack down to about the size of a duffel bag and are easier to maneuver than traditional hard-sided kayaks. 

Hard-sided kayaks still have their benefits, though! Traditional kayaks tend to have better tracking, making it easier to keep them straight in the water, and they also tend to be faster and more stable.

Solo vs. Tandem

This distinction speaks for itself. A solo kayak fits one person, while a tandem kayak can fit two (or sometimes three) people.

Sit On Top

A sit-on-top kayak doesn’t have an enclosed cockpit and is an excellent design for younger paddlers. In my opinion, the best kids’ kayaks are sit-on-tops. 

The reason is that enclosed cockpits require the user to learn fancy bailing moves if they flip over. A sit-on-top kayak is more like a floating platform that is easier to get on and off. 

Sit-on-top kayaks tend to be more stable than sit-inside kayaks because they have flatter hulls (bottoms).

Sit Inside

Sit-in kayaks have an enclosed cockpit and are better for older kids or kids with strong paddling skills. 

Sit-inside kayaks are trickier to get in and out of and their hulls are often more v-shaped, making them feel “tippy.”

Touring vs. Recreational

Recreational kayaks are any type of “just for fun” kayak. 

These kayaks can take multiple shapes, but their main distinction from touring kayaks is that they’re shorter with flatter hulls. These are great kayaks for calm river and lake paddling.

Touring kayaks are longer and thinner than recreational kayaks and can move efficiently over long distances. Typically, you wouldn’t purchase a traditional touring kayak for a kid unless they were an older teen.

White Water vs. Ocean Kayaks

Whitewater kayaks are typically short, with a flat, shallow-v chine hull, allowing them to maneuver and turn more quickly than longer kayaks. 

Kids’ whitewater kayaks will be smaller and lighter than the adult versions.

While short, flat-hulled kayaks are generally great for kids because they’re stable on the water, a true whitewater kayak rates for a specific whitewater class. 

Ocean kayaks are essentially touring kayaks. Since you won’t have a river current to move you forward on the ocean, you must rely on your body strength. That means you need a long kayak with a v-shaped hull to move you efficiently through the water.

Folding Kayaks

Folding kayaks generally don’t take up a significant share of the market space, but they’re out there. 

One significant benefit to a folding kayak is that they don’t take up as much space as a traditional kayak. However, this is also true of inflatable kayaks.

FAQs About Kids’ Kayaks

Kids kayaks faqs

What type of kayak is best for kids?

The best kayaks for kids are short, sit-on-top kayaks that are specifically designed for kids.

Is kayaking good for kids?

Kayaking is a great hobby for kids, especially kids who already know how to swim. Kayaking is an active pursuit that gets kids outside and is an activity that the whole family can do together.

Can a 10-year-old kayak?

Yes, most 10-year-olds are capable of kayaking in their own boat, and they can undoubtedly accompany an adult in a tandem kayak.

How old should kids be before kayaking?

As long as an adult is on board, children of any age can kayak. That said, some kayak rental companies require children to be two years old or older before they can accompany family members in a kayak. 

Additionally, you may want to consider how long your child can sit still and whether they can swim.

How do I start kayaking with my child?

A tandem kayak is a great way to start kayaking with your child because it will familiarize them with being on the water, and you’ll get a sense of whether they like it.

Can you put a child in a single kayak with you?

You can put a child in a single kayak as long as the child fits in the kayak and your combined weights don’t exceed the weight capacity for the kayak. 

Even then, I would leave a buffer of at least 50 lbs between your combined weights and the max weight limit.

How do you make kayaking fun for kids?

Kids have to feel safe and comfortable around water to have fun kayaking. You can start by making sure your kids know how to swim and that they’re comfortable putting their heads underwater. 

Check out this video for more tips on making kayaking fun for kids.

Conclusion: Our Pick for the Best Kids’ Kayak

Our pick for the best kids kayak

Getting your kids out on the water at a young age is a great way to build their confidence outdoors, exercise, and spend time as a family. 

My choice for the best kayak for kids is the Water Bear Youth Kayak. Most kayaks for kids don’t have many extra features, but the Water Bear is loaded. 

This sit-on-top kayak features a no-slip seat pad, a tow system, gear storage with bungee lacing, and a treasure tray. 

And one distinguishing feature from other kayaks is that the swim-up step has hand holds.  

The Water Bear is a premium kayak for kids, so while you may spend more upfront, you’re unlikely to need to upgrade soon. 

Additionally, this kayak will likely retain its resale value–because, let’s be honest–kids are famous for outgrowing things.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

author bio - Meredith Dennis

Meredith Dennis

Meredith is a biologist and writer based in California’s Sierra Nevada. She has lived in 6 states as a biologist, so her intel on hiking and camping is chef’s kiss next level. One of her earliest camping memories was being too scared to find a bathroom at night on a family camping trip. Thankfully, she’s come a long way since then and she can help you get there too!


Looking for more gear recommendations? Check out these related articles below!

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Best Gifts for Kayakers and Canoeists

Best Waterproof Duffel Bags 

Best Outdoor Watches for Active People

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11 Best Kayaks for Kids To Get Them Out on the Water at a Young Age

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