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Last updated: March 14, 2021
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Being out on the water with a kayak is an activity that brings endless hours of fun for children. If you are looking for the best kayak for kids to take your little ones away from screens and into the outdoors, it’s important to find a suitable kayak for their level of experience and age. Because there are so many options to consider when shopping for kids kayaks, you will soon notice that it takes just about as much research as it does for adult kayaks.
We have reviewed and compared eight of the best kayaks for kids available on the market, and we found the Sun Dolphin Camino SS to be the top performer across all the features we looked at. Whether your little one is a complete beginner and you would like to introduce them to the sport or if they already love kayaking and want to update their gear to take their technique to the next level, you need to consider the type of kayak, weight capacity, dimensions, and more before making a purchase.
We spent days looking at reviews for the best kayaks for kids from professionals and regular users alike and compressed all the information we gathered in the comparison table below, which is followed by detailed reviews for each of the eight kayaks that made it to the top. At the end you’ll also find the buying guide with everything there is to know when searching for the best kayak for kids. Now let’s have a look at the best youth kayaks available on the market.
A recreational kayak with a lightweight design, the Sun Dolphin Camino SS is our editor’s choice because it manages to take two vastly different designs and blend them into a single piece of equipment. This kayak has a rather peculiar appearance and size, but it manages to be small and lightweight enough to be handled by a single person, while offering a lot of stability on the water.
This kayak has a large and open cockpit and comes complete with a comfortable handle for easy transportation. Made from rugged UV-stabilized high-density polyethylene, the Sun Dolphin Camino SS is designed to be a recreational kayak, but its unique shape goes a long way to provide all the control and stability you need for long-term journeys. While it comes with a conventional kayak bow, the square stern looks rather odd when compared with the conventional oval shape of our regular kayaks. However, this triangular shape allows you to cut through water seamlessly and also maintain stability no matter the speed.
The Sun Dolphin Camino SS is smaller than the average kayak, but this translates into increased handling, which is very helpful for children who are only learning how to control their boat. This single-person kayak is available in three different colors, tangerine, plain red, and ocean, and it can support up to 225 lbs. It also has dedicated storage facilities and a padded, adjustable backrest for enhanced comfort.
The Lifetime Dash 66 Youth Kayak features a patented swim-up deck and multiple footrest positions to suit paddlers of different sizes, which makes it ideal for growing children. Recommended for ages 5 and up, this kayak is lightweight and very easy to transfer to and from water. Because the cockpit has an ergonomic design, the paddler benefits from increasing balance. Thanks to the molded paddle cradle, your kid gets a convenient location for storing their paddle.
The level of comfort of the Lifetime Dash 66 Youth Kayak is increased by the foam seat back that is adjustable to suit the paddler. Available in lime green and blue, this kayak comes with a paddle included and has a front T-handle for easy transport.
Many of the reviewers who tested this kayak were impressed by the ergonomic design of the cockpit, which provides lots of comfort and a good paddling position no matter how much time you spend on the water. The design is also helpful when it comes to developing balance and motor skills. The Lifetime Dash 66 Youth Kayak is an excellent choice for those looking for a sit-on-top kayak for kids that comes with small paddles and is easy to handle.
The Intex Explorer K2 Kayak is an affordable tandem kayak that is both stable and safe, being ideal for parents who want to teach their kids kayaking. With a weight capacity of 400 lbs., this kayak is inflatable, which makes it a suitable choice for those who don’t have a lot of storage space. It’s also easy to spot on the water thanks to its bright yellow color. The kayak is easy to inflate thanks to the Boston valves and it comes with a removable skeg for directional stability.
Users who tested the Intex Explorer K2 Kayak raved about how comfortable and spacious it is. This kayak is actually suitable for big and tall individuals too, as it offers plenty of space. It would work well for a parent and child as well.
The paddles of this kayak could be better, but they work well for beginners. While some reviewers mentioned that the kayak doesn’t perform very well in choppy waters, it is an excellent option for lakes and tranquil rivers. The two main benefits of choosing the Intex Explorer K2 Kayak over other models in the same price range are stability and durability.
The Sun Dolphin Aruba SS is one of the best choices out there if you are looking for a kayak for beginners. Sporting a lightweight build and a comfortable sit-in design, this kayak works well for just about anyone in the family. Because this kayak is very lightweight, it is very easy to transport. This doesn’t make it flimsy, as the Fortiflex high-density polyethylene construction ensures its durability. The UV-resistance feature protects your boat when you don’t have enough room out of the sun for prolonged periods of time.
The Sun Dolphin Aruba SS is suitable for people who only go kayaking recreationally, but it’s not suitable for those on the taller or heavier side, because it only has a weight capacity of 260 lbs. It works perfectly on flat water, and it won’t hold up very well if you decide to take it into the ocean.
This is a sit-in kayak, which means you will get enough protection from the wind and water and will also keep you warmer than other models. Moreover, kayaks with this type of construction are more stable than sit-on-top models. You can also use the inner walls to brace your knees for more efficient paddling. On the other hand, it’s much easier to flip the kayak.
Suitable for children up to 130 lbs., the Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak with Paddle is 6 feet in length and only weighs around 18 lbs., which makes it ideal for pre-teens to carry it around with ease. The kayak has multiple footrests, so you don’t have to worry about having to buy another one too soon as your kids are growing.
The stability of this kayak has received a lot of praise from reviewers, which means it’s an excellent piece of equipment for children because you won’t have to worry about them flipping over. The UV-protected material helps protect the kayak against fading, cracking and splitting.
Even though some reviewers mentioned that the kayak might be a little bulky, it is still one of the best options out there for children who want to learn in a stable kayak and parents who don’t want to have to replace their kid’s boat in six months’ time.
The kayak comes complete with paddle and features molded finger handles for extra safety, as well as a molded paddle cradle. The ergonomic cockpit provides the user with lots of comfort even for prolonged outings on water while enhancing balance and motor skills.
The contoured design and two-tone color will certainly make your kids noticed on the water when they paddle in the Old Town Heron Junior Kids Kayak. This well-constructed boat has a weight capacity of 115 lbs. and comes with a lifetime warranty, which is not something you can often find in the world of kayaks for children. Its stability is exceptional for a boat of this width, and the kayak only weighs 29 pounds, so it is easy to transport around.
The colors of the kayak make it very attractive for children, and you can choose from blue or orange color palettes. This kayak is made from single-layer roto-molded plastic and is an ideal choice for cottage and recreational kayaking. The stow-away tow system allows you to attach this kayak to an adult mothership, perfect for those moments your little one’s arms become tired.
The Old Town Heron Junior Kids Kayak is made in the USA and most of the users who tested it raved about the quality of the constructions that keeps the boat going for years. This means that you can use the kayak to teach multiple children to paddle as they grow up.
Our budget pick is the Intex Challenger K1 Kayak, a sit-inside inflatable kayak that is the best choice around for those who are looking for a quality kayak at a budget friendly price. Suitable for a single person of up to 220 lbs., this kayak is designed for mild water, such as slow-moving rivers for example. The paddle that is included is in three sections, so you can transport it easily.
A removable skeg of the Intex Challenger K1 Kayak and a hand/foot pump are also included in the box, so you can inflate and handle the kayak easily. The kayak also comes with an inflatable seat and a separate inflatable foot rest that will help you with paddling while providing more buoyancy.
Users who reviewed the Intex Challenger K1 Kayak were overall impressed with the way it performs on the water, mentioning that the kayak cuts through waters in a way a real one does, something that is not always true with inflatable models. It doesn’t have a spray deck so you can seal your little one in the kayak, but the advantage is your kid can easily slip out if the kayak tipped over. The kayak does have a cargo mesh, though, to protect your belongings.
This eye-catching kayak for youth is an ideal for paddlers of all abilities and can support kids and teens up to 140 lbs. Made from high-density polyethylene that is blow molded, the Emotion Sparky Youth Kayak has side handles with finger grips on each side so you can transport it easily. The hull design limits rocking and provides your little one with excellent stability, which is essential as they learn how to paddle correctly.
A feature that we liked are the scupper holes that help to drain the excess water from the cockpit. According to many users, the Emotion Sparky Youth Kayak remains stable even when the waters are not completely calm. Its size and shape make the kayak suitable for most cars, and they even fit inside most SUVs, something that doesn’t usually work with similar models.
One thing that users noticed is that even though the manufacturer recommends it for weights of up to 140 lbs., it becomes rather unstable when a limit of 110-120 lbs. is reached. The company also offers kids’ seats that you can add to the kayak for increased comfort. You need to be careful to waterproof any screw holes that you may decide to put in the boat to install a seat.
What we liked:
Fits in most cars
What could be better:
Weight limit is lower than advertised
Things to Consider
Outdoor enthusiasts who want to teach their children to paddle on water so that they can enjoy kayaking as a family need to purchase a quality kayak for children to help them learn and improve their technique quickly. Kayaking is an excellent sport to practice with the entire family not only because it gets everyone on the water to burn off some energy, but also because it is a lot of fun. Below you will find all the details you need in order to make an informed choice when buying a kayak for children.
Why get a kids’ kayak?
There are multiple reasons to try and place your kid in a kayak, but perhaps the most important one is the tons of fun you will have as a family. Moreover, learning how to use a kayak creates physical awareness for children, as well as awareness of the natural world. It also contributes to enhancing the kids’ ability to solve problems under pressure and teaches them a lot about persistence.
How to choose the best kayak for your kids
In order to be able to choose the best kayak for kids, you first need to determine what kind of waters you will be kayaking in, as well as the type of kayak you want and its weight capacity. Other factors that you should take into account include the dimensions of the boat to determine whether it fits in your vehicle.
Type of kayak: sit-on-top vs. sit-in
The two main types of kayaks are sit-on-top and sit-inside kayaks, and while both of them are great options, it’s important to consider the way your little one will be using the kayak. Sit-on-top kayaks are generally more popular and perfect for children because they are usually made from a single place of molded plastic, which makes it very easy to get on and off. Moreover, these kayaks often come with self-draining holes in case they flip over. Sit-in kayaks, on the other hand, offer paddlers the possibility to sit inside a cockpit, where they are a bit more protected against the wind and splashing water.
Inflatable vs. hard shell kayaks
Inflatable kayaks are generally more stable than their hard-shell counterparts, which is due to the fact that they have quite flat bottoms and are wider than regular models. They are also almost impossible to flip thanks to their pontoon-like sides. Unless you are in heavy whitewater rapids, you shouldn’t experience flipping at all in an inflatable kayak. These kayaks are also easier to store when not in use and usually come with all the accessories you need to inflate them quickly.
On the other hand, hard shell kayaks are more durable and they may last for years, with many parents using them to teach all their children to paddle in them over the years.
They may be heavier than inflatable models, and you need to make sure they fit in or on your vehicle.
The weight capacity of a kayak for children is extremely important, because if you use a model that is below the correct capacity, the boat may quickly become unstable. Some models, such as the Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak only have a capacity of up to 130 lbs., whereas others, such as the Intex Explorer K2 Kayak are suitable for total weights of up to 400 lbs. Some middle-range models are suitable for both children and teenagers, and may even accommodate an average-sized adult.
Kayaks for children are rather short, which makes them easier for kids to handle and carry around. Unlike in the case of kayaks for adults, models for children don’t usually come in multiple lengths for the same model. To choose the correct dimensions for your kid’s kayak, it’s important to base your option on the weight ratings provided by the manufacturer.
The weight of the kayak determines not only its stability, but also how easy it will be for your little one or yourself to carry and transport the equipment. On average, kayaks for children weigh between 15 and 30 lbs.
Does it come with a paddle?
The paddle is one of the most important parts of a kayak because it is what you use to actually use the boat. Most of the kayaks for kids on the market come with a paddle included. If that is not the case or if you are interested in a paddle of better quality, there are multiple options available to buy paddles separately. Just make sure you choose it in the correct length, taking into account the height of the paddler.
Material(s), stability, and overall construction
The material a kayak for children is made of usually affects its stability and overall maneuverability. Multiple factors impact the stability of a kayak, and it’s always a good idea to choose a model that is highly stable, so the boat doesn’t tip over easily.
Wider kayaks made from inflatable materials are the most stable option available, as they are less prone to tipping. The hull design is also important, and you should look for a model that has a rounded bottom, because this is the most stable design of all.
Other elements that add to the stability of a kids’ kayak are skegs, chines and fins, which all help the boat gain stability and tracking.
Some of the kayaks for children we reviewed come with various accessories and features, such as foot placements for different heights, handgrips, padded backrests for increased comfort, paddle holders and more. It is very important to look for a kayak that has a T-handle or loop so you can attach the kids’ kayak to a tow rope. This is particularly important if you have small children who may get tired or upset while paddling and you need to have a way to speed up the paddling trip. It is always a good idea to tie a 20ft rope to the front of the kids’ kayak so you can tow them as quickly as possible when necessary.
Tips for Teaching Kids to Use a Kayak
Teaching kids to use a kayak takes a bit of patience, but it’s a rewarding endeavor given the many benefits this activity brings into your little one’s life.
It is very important to teach your kid safety first when kayaking, by dressing them appropriately, including an inflatable PFD if the child is small or doesn’t know how to swim well, regardless of their age. The PFD should be secured correctly. Water shoes and sunblock are two other things that should not be missing from your little one’s kayaking arsenal.
Learning how to handle a kayak takes time, so it’s critical to be patient and allow your kid to develop confidence. Let them paddle on their own as soon as possible, as this will build their confidence, but don’t forget to be there for them at all times should they run into trouble.
Finally, allow your kids to explore and enjoy everything around them for a fun experience they will want to repeat as many times as possible.
Children as young as 2 can go into a kayak boat, but only if an adult is in the same boat. Kids over the age of 5 can start learning the ropes of kayaking on their own, but the ideal age for a child to be kayaking in their own boat is 7 to 10 years old.
It is technically possible to use a tandem kayak solo, as many models offer the possibility to rearrange the seats. Whenever possible, you should try to sit in the middle of the kayak, as paddling there will allow you to get the best possible performance.
Inflatable kayaks are indeed slower than regular models, and they also have more side-to-side yaw movement, as they are often wider than regular ones. However, the difference in speed, while it exists, is not very noticeable, especially if you are a beginner.
Finding a quality kayak that your children can use to learn the joys of paddling can be difficult because there are so many things to take into account to make sure it fits your kid’s needs. Our editor’s choice, the Sun Dolphin Camino SS meets the requirements of parents who are looking for a stable kayak that is also durable and easy to transport. If you are looking for the best kayak out there for children aged 5 and up, look no further than the Lifetime Dash 66 Youth Kayak, which offers a good level of stability while being a dream to maneuver. Finally, those looking for a tandem kayak for two children may like the Intex Explorer K2 Kayak, an inflatable kayak that is surprisingly stable for its construction and design. No matter what type of kayak you decide to purchase for your children, remember to check the recommended weight limits.