Looking to introduce your kids to the wonderful world of paddling? A kids’ kayak just might be what you need.
Although young children can often come along for the ride in your kayak when you head out on adventures, at some point, they’ll want a kayak for themselves. When that happens, it’s important that you find a suitable kayak to accompany your young paddler on the water.
However, finding the right kayak isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. Even though there are many similarities between adults’ and kids’ kayaks, there are some significant differences, too.
To help you foster your child’s love for paddling, we’ve created this ultimate guide on the best kayaks for kids of all ages.
Our Top Picks
If you’re in a hurry, here are our top picks. Or continue scrolling to see our full list with in-depth reviews.
- Kayaks for 4 to 8-Year-Olds: Pelican Solo Youth Kayak and Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak
- Kayaks for 8 to 12-Year-Olds: Perception Hi Five Kids Kayak and Old Town Heron Junior Kayak
- Kayaks for 12 Years and Older: Pelican Sentinel 100X and Pelican Maxim 100X
- Inflatable Kayaks for Kids: Intex Challenger K1 and AIRE Tributary Spud
Kayaks for 4 to 8-Year-Olds
Best Overall: Pelican Solo Youth Kayak
Length: 6′ | Width: 24″ | Weight: 19 lbs | Capacity: 100 lbs
Streamlined, straightforward, and oh-so-fun to paddle, the Pelican Solo Youth Kayak is a fan-favorite option for a child’s first kayak.
This 6’ long kayak is perfectly poised to help the youngest paddlers enjoy their time on the water. It weighs just 19 lbs, so it’s easy enough to transport, and it has a 100 lbs weight capacity. At the same time, the Pelican Solo has a 24 inch width, which provides it with a nice mix of stability and responsiveness as your child paddles.
For extra stability, Pelican crafted this kayak with a twin tunnel hull design. As such, it has more surface area than normal for a kayak of this length. This makes it easier for young children to get in and out of the kayak without sacrificing its playfulness on small lakes and streams.
Additionally, the Pelican Solo is made out of the company’s patented Ram-X material. This material is engineered specifically for durability and high-impact resistance, so it’s strong enough to withstand years of use by adventurous kids.
Overall, the Pelican Solo is one of the best affordable kayaks for young kids on the market today. However, keep in mind that this kayak has a low weight limit. Therefore, your child will only get a few years of use out of it. But if functionality and quality are concerns for your child’s kayaks, the Pelican Solo is well worth considering.
Best Value: Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak
Length: 6′ | Width: 24″ | Weight: 18 lbs | Capacity: 130 lbs
Blending affordability and versatility into one neat package, the Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak is a budget-friendly option for your young paddler.
Since it’s designed with the youngest kayakers in mind, the Lifetime Youth Wave features a 6’ length and a 24″ width. However, unlike many kayaks of its size, this boat also has an impressive 130 lbs weight capacity, so it can provide a few more years of kayaking for growing paddlers.
Other key features of this kayak include its twin fin hull and reverse chine. The twin fin hull improves the kayak’s tracking performance, while the reverse chine offers extra stability as your child paddles.
Additionally, the Lifetime Youth Wave comes with multiple footrest positions to accommodate your child as they grow. It also has a unique swim-up deck design that helps paddlers get back in the kayak if they capsize.
However, despite its excellent value-driven features, keep in mind that the Youth Wave is a simple kayak without any extra bells and whistles. Its molded seat offers minimal padding or lumbar support, so it’s not ideal for longer adventures. Nevertheless, if your kids just want to enjoy short, fun paddles on your local lake, the Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak is an excellent choice.
Kayaks for 8 to 12-Year-Olds
Best Sit-on-Top: Perception Hi Five Kids Kayak
Length: 6′ | Width: 24″ | Weight: 21 lbs | Capacity: 120 lbs
One of the most versatile kayaks in our review, the Perception Hi Five Kids Kayak is a fun-focused option for aspiring paddlers.
Perception crafted this kayak using the design of their uber-popular Hi Life 11.0 boat. As such, this kayak features a 6’ length that tracks decently well without limiting responsiveness in the water for your kid. The kayak also has a set of Solo Mount accessory recesses, so you can outfit your child’s kayak with a GoPro mount without drilling any holes.
Additionally, this boat is designed to be both a kayak and a SUP. It features a super stable and wide hull with a large open deck area that kids can sit or stand up in. For kayaking, the boat also comes with a set of molded foot pedals to accommodate your child as they grow.
The Hi Five Kids Kayak also comes with a rear swim-up deck to make it easier for young paddlers to re-enter the kayak if they capsize. Plus, this kayak includes a built-in tether point, so it’s easy for you to tow the kayak back to shore at the end of a long day of paddling.
The Perception Hi Five Kids Kayak offers an excellent array of features. But keep in mind that this kayak is made from blow-molded plastic, which is less durable in the long term. However, it’s still a solid kayak for any young paddler.
Best Sit-Inside: Old Town Heron Junior Kayak
Length: 7′5″ | Width: 25″ | Weight: 26 lbs | Capacity: 115 lbs
Engineered specifically for the performance-focused young paddler, the Old Town Heron Junior Kayak is a fun and maneuverable boat for adventurous kids.
As one of the few sit-in kayaks for kids, the Heron Junior is an excellent option for young paddlers looking to test their skills in a broader range of paddling environments. This kayak is also reasonably long at 7’5” in length, so it naturally offers enhanced tracking capabilities on the water.
Additionally, the Heron Junior has a large cockpit opening to make it easier for your child to get in and out of the kayak. It also has a padded seat for additional comfort and lumbar support during your kid’s paddles.
Old Town even built the Heron Junior with a Tag Along tow system. This system allows you to quickly attach your child’s kayaks to your own for a seamless and efficient towing experience back to shore whenever necessary.
Do note, though, that the Heron Junior is relatively expensive for a kid’s kayak. It also doesn’t have any foot rests, limiting your young kayaker’s control in choppy conditions. Nevertheless, if you want a durable sit-in kayak for your kid to use on flat water, the Old Town Heron Junior should be at the top of your list.
Kayaks for 12 Years and Older
Best Sit-on-Top: Pelican Sentinel 100X
Length: 10′ | Width: 30″ | Weight: 40 lbs | Capacity: 300 lbs
Perfect for teens looking to take their kayaking to the next level, the Pelican Sentinel 100X is a fun and durable kayak for up-and-coming paddlers.
Technically speaking, the Pelican Sentinel 100X is a traditional sit-on-top recreational kayak that can accommodate a wide range of paddlers—not just children. It has an impressive 300 lbs weight limit, so it’s suitable for most adults, too. However, what makes this kayak unique is that it has a fantastic kid-friendly construction that’s appropriate for younger paddlers.
In particular, the Pelican Sentinel 100X has an excellent width-to-length ratio that provides good stability and tracking on the water without overpowering young kayakers. Its sit-on-top design and open deck plan also help ensure that teens with shorter arms can still comfortably reach the water with their paddle.
Additionally, the Sentinel 100X comes with a comfortable and adjustable ERGOFORM padded seat, a feature that’s hard to come by on kids’ kayaks. The kayak also has molded footrests to give your child added control on the water. Better yet, this kayak has a rear tankwell for gear storage so you can head out on longer adventures with your kids.
One potential drawback to this kayak, however, is its heavy weight. Tipping the scales at 40 lbs, the Sentinel 100X is one of the heaviest options in our review. But for stronger, more experienced teen paddlers, it’s a versatile sit-on-top kayak to have on the water.
Best Sit-Inside: Pelican Maxim 100X
Length: 10′ | Width: 28″ | Weight: 36 lbs | Capacity: 275 lbs
The fully-featured Pelican Maxim 100X is an ideal kid-sized kayak for young paddlers looking to improve their skills on the water.
Pelican crafted the Maxim 100X of its proprietary Ram-X plastic, providing it with additional ruggedness on the water. This kayak also has an impressive 275 lbs maximum weight capacity, so it’s suitable for a growing paddler and all of their gear.
As far as performance on the water goes, this sit-in kayak is no slouch. It includes a Shallow V Chine hull for added stability and improved maneuverability in tricky waters. The kayak also has an adjustable ERGOFORM backrest for added comfort as your child paddles.
What makes the Maximum 100X unique is that it comes with a handful of in-cockpit features that you can’t get with most other kids’ kayaks. This includes a cockpit table that comes complete with a cup holder, as well as an adjustable foot brace system. Plus, this kayak has a front hatch and a rear tankwell for plentiful gear storage.
Notable drawbacks to the Pelican Maxim 100X include the kayak’s relatively high price tag and its heavy weight. It’s also a bit wider than many kids’ kayaks, so it’s best for taller teens. However, if your child wants to master their paddling skills, this is one kayak that’s tough to beat.
Inflatable Kayaks for Kids
Best Overall: Intex Challenger K1
Length: 9′ | Width: 30″ | Weight: 24 lbs | Capacity: 220 lbs
Sporty and versatile, the Intex Challenger K1 is a do-anything inflatable kayak that’s perfect for the up-and-coming paddlesport enthusiasts.
Engineered for flatwater use, the Challenger K1 is a 9’ long kayak that can accommodate young paddlers up to 220 lbs in weight. It has a low-profile design and a flat hull that makes it easy to paddle on flat water. The kayak also has a removable skeg for improved tracking in windy conditions.
Unlike many other inflatable kayaks of this size, the Challenger K1 comes with a mesh deck net at the bow of the kayak for gear storage. It also includes an adjustable backrest to ensure that your child is comfortable on the water.
Another key benefit of this kayak is its quick-inflate system. It comes with a set of Boston valves and an Intex high-output pump that makes the inflation process as easy as can be.
Nevertheless, we should point out that this kayak is reasonably wide for a child’s kayak, so it’s best for taller kids. But if affordability and comfort are top priorities, the Intex Challenger is a sure bet.
Best for Whitewater: AIRE Tributary Spud
Length: 7′2″ | Width: 35.5″ | Weight: 22 lbs | Capacity: 220 lbs
When it comes to whitewater kayaking with your kids, there are few better boats on the market than the AIRE Tributary Spud.
This purpose-built kids’ kayak is designed to be lightweight and exceptionally stable, making it easier to introduce your child to the world of whitewater. It has a fully inflatable thwart seat, too, for improved lumbar support. Plus, this seat is fully adjustable, so you can place it wherever it best fits your child.
The Tributary Spud also comes with a self-bailing floor to help quickly drain water as your child paddles. It even boasts a set of handles at the bow and stern to make transporting the kayak to and from launch as easy as can be.
Additionally, the Tributary Spud comes with AIRE’s proprietary Summit II valves for easy inflation and deflation. The kayak also has thermal welded seams for increased durability and multiple cargo loops for secure gear storage.
However, although the Tributary Spud is a fan-favorite among whitewater paddlers, it does come with a hefty price tag. In addition, its shorter length and wider width also limit its tracking ability on flat water. But if you’re willing to pay a bit more for quality, the AIRE Tributary Spud inflatable whitewater kayak is worth considering.
Kids’ Kayak Buying Guide
Buying a kayak for your child is a significant investment. Therefore, it’s essential that you know what you’re getting yourself into before you make the purchase. To help you out, here are some key things you ought to know about kids’ kayaks and paddling with children.
- At What Age Can a Child Kayak Alone?
- Kids vs. Adult Kayaks: What’s the Difference?
- Kayak Type
- Length & Width
- Kayak Weight
- Weight Capacity
- Additional Features
At What Age Can a Child Kayak Alone?
Technically speaking, there’s no minimum age requirement for kayaking. So long as your child can hold a paddle and comfortably propel themselves forward in the water, they can likely kayak on their own.
However, just because a child can kayak on their own, it doesn’t mean that they should. Every child is different, and every child matures at a different pace.
While some kids might be ready to be in their own kayak at the age of 3 or 4, others might not be ready until they turn 10 or 11. As a general rule, you can expect a child that’s about 8 years old to be able to paddle on their own. But, again, this depends on your kid’s abilities and comfort level on the water.
Therefore, what’s most important is that you take the time to assess your child’s readiness for solo kayaking before you invest in a kayak. If your child isn’t ready to be alone on the water, consider investing in a tandem kayak first until they gain more independence. Remember that safety is always the most important thing on the water.
Kids vs. Adult Kayaks: What’s the Difference?
Oftentimes, the people shopping for kids’ kayaks are experienced paddlers looking to introduce their children to the world of kayaking. Parents and caregivers in the market for a children’s kayak often feel comfortable around boats, and they usually know the basics of what to look for in a kayak.
However, it’s important to remember that there are fundamental differences between kid and adult kayaks. While these boats have many similarities, kids’ kayaks aren’t simply smaller versions of adult models.
Instead, the best kids’ kayaks are usually designed specifically with young paddlers in mind. They tend to have narrower width to length ratios than adult kayaks so that a child can still reach the water with their paddle. Most kids’ kayaks are also reasonably short because most children aren’t strong enough to overcome the drag that you get with a longer boat.
Additionally, children’s kayaks need to be lightweight and agile to not overpower young paddlers. To achieve a light weight, many kids’ kayaks have few, if any, additional features. This can come as a surprise to adults who are more accustomed to feature-rich kayaks.
Ultimately, any previous experience you have with shopping for adult kayaks will serve you well as you research children’s models. But it’s important to keep in mind that a kid’s kayak is a distinct type of boat with its own unique design. As such, you must focus more on comfort, safety, and maneuverability.
As a general rule, most kids’ kayaks are recreational boats. Although there are some whitewater and touring kayaks out there for kids, the vast majority are recreational kayaks crafted for short, fun paddles on flat water.
With that in mind, you generally have two decisions to make when shopping for a kid’s kayak.
First, you need to decide if you want an inflatable or a hard-shell kayak. Inflatables are often more affordable and more portable. However, they require more assembly at the put-in, which can be a hassle if you have multiple kids and kayaks to manage.
If you decide that you want a hard-sided kayak for your kid, you have to choose between a sit-on-top or a sit-inside model.
For the most part, kids’ kayaks have sit-on-top designs. This is because sit-on-top kayaks are easier for children to get in and out of if they happen to capsize during their paddles. Many kids also have reasonably short arms, so having a sit-on-top kayak can make it easier for them to reach the water with their paddle.
However, some sit-inside kids’ kayaks out there are worth considering for certain young paddlers. For example, the Old Town Heron Junior is a solid sit-inside boat that offers improved maneuverability and control for keen paddlers. But, sit-inside kayaks like this one are often better for young paddlers with some prior experience on the water.
Length & Width
A kayak’s length and width are important considerations, and kids’ kayaks are no exception.
As you can imagine, most children’s kayaks are relatively short, especially compared to adult models. That’s because smaller paddlers simply don’t have the muscle to maneuver a longer kayak with more drag.
With that in mind, you’ll generally find that kids under the age of 12 need a kayak that’s no more than about 8 feet long.
Additionally, most kids’ kayaks are narrower than you’d expect. While a 24” width might seem impossibly narrow for an adult kayak, a width of this size won’t feel tippy to a child. In fact, a kayak that size will usually feel comfortable and stable to a kid.
Getting a kayak that’s too wide, on the other hand, can make it more difficult for a child to paddle.
When we talk about the weight of a kayak, we often do so with portability in mind. Although this is the case for children’s kayaks, too, it’s not our only concern.
Instead, the weight of a kid’s kayak is an important thing to consider because it will have an outsized impact on your child’s experience on the water. While most adults can overcome the drag of a heavy boat, smaller children will struggle to paddle a heavy kayak, even in calm conditions.
Therefore, weight savings are particularly critical for kids. This is especially true for paddlers under the age of 12. For these children, boats under about 25 lbs are ideal. Anything more than that might hold them back on the water.
In addition to the weight of the kayak itself, you also have to pay close attention to the weight capacity of a children’s kayak.
The weight capacity of a kayak tells you what size paddler it’s suitable for. For example, many kayaks designed for young children have maximum weight capacities of around 120 lbs.
As such, it’s vital that you check the maximum weight capacity of any kayak that you buy for your child. Doing so is essential for ensuring that the kayak is suitable and safe for someone of their weight.
However, kids grow very quickly, so their weight in a few months might be drastically different from what it is now. As a result, you’ll want to look for a kayak with a maximum weight capacity that’s at least 20 to 30 lbs heavier than their current weight. This will help ensure that your child can safely enjoy their new kayak for at least a few years before they grow out of it.
Kids are known for being rough on their gear, so it should come as no surprise that durability is a concern when shopping for children’s kayaks.
Thankfully, most kayaks for kids are designed with durability in mind. This means that they’re made from rugged plastic compounds that can withstand years of scraping against rocks at the put-in.
If durability is a particularly important feature for you, you may also want to take a closer look at the overall design of a kayak before you buy. Kayaks with simpler designs tend to be more durable in the long term than ones with lots of added features.
For example, kayaks with molded footrests and molded seats tend to be more durable than those with adjustable plastic footrests and padded foam seats. So if you’re hoping that your kid’s kayak will last for years, these small design choices can have a significant impact on the kayak’s overall durability.
When you shop for an adult kayak, a boat’s additional features are often a major part of the buying process. Many adult paddlers want a range of extra features, like rod holders, gear storage hatches, and deck mounts for their various accessories.
However, while these additional features are nice, they’re not always a top concern when buying a kids’ kayak. Therefore, it’s often best not to look for a kayak with additional features when shopping for a kayak for your child.
The reason for this is two-fold. First, additional features usually come with an increased price tag. If your kid is going to out-grow their kayak in a few years anyway, the extra cost of these features may not be worth it. Second, additional features often add weight to a kayak, which isn’t ideal for young paddlers.
Of course, if you have a young kayaker that’s excited to go fishing with you, then it might be worth investing in a kid’s kayak with fishing-specific features. However, keep in mind that most kids’ kayaks are purposefully simple boats, and sometimes, less is more.
Purchasing a kids’ kayak unlocks a world of adventure and opportunity for your family. However, buying a kayak is a big investment, so it’s imperative that you get the right boat for your child.
Although there are dozens of excellent kayaks for kids on the market today, there are a few models that stand out among the pack.
In particular, the Pelican Solo Youth Kayak is an affordable and stable option for the youngest of paddlers. At the same time, the Intex Challenger K1 is a fun and versatile inflatable kayak that’s suitable for a range of young paddlers. Alternatively, the Pelican Maxim 100X provides superb additional features for young paddlers that want to further develop their skills.
Ultimately, what’s important is that you get the right kayak for your child, and we hope that this article helped you learn more about the best kayaks for kids. See you on the water!