You’re here, which already tells me two things:
One, your kids fell in love with kayaking as much as you did. And two, they might be ready to upgrade from your family-friendly tandem to their very own kids kayak.
You want them to have a blast paddling solo for the first time – but you want to make sure they’re safe, too.
I’m a parent; I get it.
I’ll be buying a ‘yak for my son soon enough, and I want one of the best, so I figured we could go through this search for the best kayak for kids together!
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In A Rush? The Winner After 42 Hours Of Research:
Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak
Why is it better?
- Sit-on-top kayak designed for youngsters ages five and up with a 130-pound weight rating
- Pontoon-style hull with a reverse chine and wider beam makes for a stable paddling platform
- Self-bailing design with scupper holes
- Durable, high-density polyethylene construction
- Weighs only 18 pounds and is one of the lightest kayaks for kids
- Features a rear swim-up deck for easier re-entry from the water
- Adjustable footrests accommodate growing paddlers
- Molded carry handles for easy transport
- Comes with a children-sized paddle
- Offers hard-to-beat value for money
Choosing The Best Kayak For Kids: Buying Guide For Paddling Parents
Yes, there are some noticeable differences between kids kayaks and those designed for adults – but we’re not talking about two different breeds here.
Factors such as durability, storage space, portability, adjustability, and price apply to both child and adult kayaks.
Plus, the best kayaks for kids have a lot more in common with beginner kayaks than you think. Both “groups” are still in the early stages of their kayaking journey and have fairly similar needs.
So, take your previous kayak shopping experiences and shrink them down to a more kid-friendly size – and that’s pretty much it when looking for kayaks for kids
Length: A Shorter Hull Makes For A Better Kids-Friendly Kayak
One thing that’s going to make your choice a lot easier is that, with kids’ kayaks, specialized hull length and type generally aren’t a deciding factor.
It’s not like you’ll be buying a full-sized touring or racing kayak for your 10-year-old.
Hull’s length is still something to consider, though:
A kayak for kids needs to be long enough that it doesn’t compromise on-the-water performance but short enough that it’s portable and easily maneuverable – both in and out of water.
Although there are some exceptions, a shorter hull of around 6 to 8 feet long is ideal for most kids.
Weight (And Sometimes Height) Ratings
One thing you’ll notice as you start browsing for the best kayaks for kids is that they’re typically categorized based on weight ratings. Some might even have height ratings, too.
That probably sounds confusing as heck, but it makes your decision a lot easier – at least in theory, anyway:
You can narrow things down based on appropriate sizing, focus on kayaks that fit your child’s weight and height, and go from there.
That said, be sure to factor in growth. Your little one won’t stay little for long – and may outgrow the kayak faster than you think. Leave some wiggle room in terms of maximum capacity.
On that note, if you can’t seem to find one that matches your child’s weight, it’s safe to assume that they’re ready to upgrade to a full-sized “grown-up” kayak.
Kayak Width & Other Stability Features
Let’s be real for a second:
If this is your child’s first time paddling alone and they don’t have much – if any – previous kayaking experience, some beginner’s mistakes are to be expected. Plus, their balance will likely be all over the place.
And if they’re going to build up their confidence, they need a kayak that won’t capsize every time they make a wrong move.
On that note, the three key factors that impact a kayak’s stability are:
- A wider hull, which tends to make the kayak more stable, easier to balance, and ultimately less prone to capsizing
- Flat-bottom or pontoon-style hull shapes, which are considered the most stable type of hull design
- Reverse chines, or fin-shaped extensions on the kayak’s hull, which add lateral stability and improve tracking
Granted, a wider kayak with a relatively flat bottom will be less efficient – but efficiency and speed shouldn’t be a top priority for kids’ kayaks, anyway.
Here is extra some information on how to increase the stability of a kayak.
A word of warning; on paper whitewater kayaks may appear to be a good option for youngsters since their dimensions satisfy the above requirements. However, they can be very tippy and difficult to keep stable – so are not suggested for younger children interested in recreational paddling.
3+ Tips For Kayaking With Kids: Where Fun Meets Safety
There’s more to it than picking the best kayak for kids. Careful planning and additional considerations are every bit as important.
Tip #1: Never – Ever – Skimp Out On Safety
I’ll start with the single most important thing – on-the-water safety. I said this many times before, and I don’t mind repeating it a thousand times more:
Never skimp out on safety – ever.
Life jackets are already mandatory for all recreational boaters by law. But when you’re kayaking with kids – whether they’re paddling solo or with you in a tandem – wearing a PFD becomes even more crucial.
So, wear your life jacket – and make sure your child wears one, too.
You’re setting an example here.
Bonus Tip: Get Them Used To PFDs
Explain to your child why wearing a life jacket is so important – without scaring them – and get them used to wear one whenever they’re on or near the water.
Also, keep an eye on the PFD’s quality and sizing:
A life jacket that feels itchy and uncomfortable won’t be of much use – and might even put your little ones off wearing a PFD altogether.
Tip #2: Is Your Child Old Enough To Paddle Solo?
This one’s more of a question than an actionable tip, but that doesn’t make it any less important:
When you’re buying a kayak for kids, you have to factor in your children’s age and – more importantly – whether they’re old enough to paddle solo.
Purchasing a separate kayak – even if it’s a kid-friendly one – doesn’t make much sense for kids under the age of 8. For instance, most 4- and 5-year-old children will be perfectly happy having their paddle and actively participating in paddling your large, family-friendly tandem kayak.
That mostly depends on your child’s skills and experience – which brings me to my next point.
Tip #3: Be Realistic About Your Child’s Paddling Skills & Stamina
There are a few additional questions paddling parents should ask themselves before letting their little one kayak alone for the first time.
Here are a few examples:
- How confident are you in your little one’s swimming skills?
- Does your child know what to do if the kayak capsizes?
- Do they know the proper rescue and re-entry techniques?
- Are they strong enough to roll the kayak back up or pull it to the shore if needed?
You get the idea.
Beyond paddling skills, experience, and technique, stamina is another thing that shouldn’t be overlooked:
You and I know how much strength and endurance paddling a kayak requires – but your child probably doesn’t. It’s up to you to determine whether they’re ready for such an intense physical activity.
And please, be realistic about it.
Stick with a tandem kayak or stay near the shore until you’re certain your child is physically and mentally prepared for longer paddling trips.
Bonus Tip: Add A Tow Rope
This one’s as simple as tying 20 feet of rope to the front of your kid’s kayak – but you’d be surprised how useful a towing system can be.
You head out for an 8-mile paddling trip, but your kid decides to have a melt-down – or gets bored with the whole thing – before you even hit the second mile.
Whatever the reason may be, if they suddenly decide to stop paddling, a towing system will allow you to pull your kid’s kayak along. So with this in mind, ensure any kids kayak you buy has a front towing point, such as a carry handle or d-ring.
Best Kayaks For Kids – Top 8 Kid-Friendly’ Yaks Reviewed & Rated
Overall Best Kayak for Kids
Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak with Paddle
Easy to use, affordable, and efficient – that’s the Lifetime Youth Wave Kids Kayak for you.
A sit-on-top kayak built for children age group 5 years old and over. The Wave Youth has a wide, pontoon-like hull with a reverse chine, 6-foot length, 130-pound weight capacity, ergonomically-molded open cockpit design, swim-up deck, and adjustable footrests; it’s pretty much the definition of the best kids’ kayak.
Plus, it’s as lightweight as hard-shells go, clocking in at only 18 pounds. And, coupled with the molded finger handles, makes it super easy for mom or dad to lift in and out of the water.
The hull design ensures exceptional stability and makes the Lifetime Youth Wave hard to capsize – a priority in kids’ kayaks – although tracking could be better.
And while I don’t think many youngsters would miss it, a padded seat would’ve been a nice touch.
However, the greatest advantage of purchasing a Lifetime Kayak is that they can be easily upgraded; you’ll find the finest Lifetime Kayak accessories here.
- High-density polyethylene construction
- 6 x 2 feet
- Weighs 18 pounds
- 130-pound capacity
- Pontoon-like hull design with a reverse chine for stability
- Ergonomically-molded cockpit with a swim-up deck
- Incredibly lightweight for a hard-shell
- Molded finger handles make lifting in and out of the water easy.
- Includes a kids-sized paddle
- Somewhat basic-looking and stripped of any extras
- Doesn’t come with a padded seat
- Tracking could be better, even with the twin-fin design
Stable, durable, focused on kids-friendly functionality, and fun; there aren’t many kayaks for children that can compete with the Lifetime Youth Wave at this – or higher – price point. And, this is way it is our best kids kayaks winner!
Best Youth Kayak – Intermediate
Old Town Heron Junior Kids Kayak
You won’t find many sit-inside kayaks in this category – but the Old Town Heron Junior is one of them.
The Heron Junior is a 7.5-foot long kids kayak with single-layer polyethylene construction that clocks in at 26 pounds. Despite the lightweight and simplistic design, it will likely last you years – or until your child reaches the 115-pound weight capacity and upgrades to a full-sized ‘yak.
Heron Junior feels maneuverable and efficient for its size – and utilizes foam billets for added stability. Also, the Tag Along tow system makes it possible to tow whenever your kid gets tired of paddling.
I would’ve liked to see Old Town include a paddle at this price point, though.
- Single-layer polyethylene construction
- 7.4 x 2.1 feet
- Weighs 26 pounds
- 115-pound capacity
- Open cockpit design, molded to fit a child’s body
- Nimble, maneuverable, and efficient for its size
- Bow and stern carry handles for easy transportation
- Features the Tag Along tow system
- Utilizes foam billets for improved stability
- It should’ve included a paddle at this price point
- Not the best choice for kids with no previous experience
- Some may find it pricey
The Old Town Heron Junior is an outstanding intermediate-level transitional kayak for children who already enjoy kayaking but aren’t old enough for an adult ‘yak but what their own boat.
Best Budget Kayak For Kids
Pelican Solo 6 Feet Sit-on-top Youth Kayak
Next up is the Pelican Solo youth kayak – a highly-functional sit-on-top kayak that’s been scaled down to a kids-friendly size of 6 feet long and an ultra-lightweight 19 pounds.
It’s constructed out of RAM-XS impact-resistant material – with self bailing scupper holes built into the hull – has a spacious, 2-feet-wide deck with a rear swim-up area – inbuilt paddle holder – but unfortunately, no seat. That, along with the 100-pound rating, makes it a suitable choice for smaller paddlers and shorter trips.
What stands out here is the so-called Twin Tunnel hull that adds superior stability, virtually eliminating any capsizing chances. Here’s my favorite part, though:
It comes with a kids-sized paddle and a safety flag.
- Single-layer polyethylene construction
- 6 x 2 feet
- Weighs 19 pounds
- 100-pound capacity
- Ultra-lightweight and easy to handle
- Twin Tunnel hull design maximizes stability
- Wide deck with a rear swim-up step
- Safety flag and kids-sized paddle included
- A padded seat bottom has to be purchased separately
- Not the best choice for longer paddling trips
- You’ll likely have to replace the paddle
If you want the absolute best value-for-money kids kayak – complete with paddle and safety flag – Pelican Solo youth kayak is hands down the way to go.
Best Kids’ Kayak For Shorter Trips
GoPlus 6FT Youth Kayak
Another reasonably priced kids kayak is GoPlus’ Wave – a 6.1-foot SOT constructed out of high-density polyethylene.
Given that it features adjustable footrests and 121-pound capacity, the GoPlus kids kayak can accommodate growing paddlers – up to five-foot-three, to be exact. The beam width of just over 2 feet ensures a higher level of stability – and makes for a roomy deck, too. It even has a built-in cup holder.
It weighs only 22 pounds, so it’s super easy to transport. On that note, the rear wheel – and the front handle that can be used for towing – is an excellent addition.
But for whatever reason, I feel like it doesn’t quite measure up to other similarly-priced kids kayaks.
- Polyethylene construction
- 6.1 x 2.1 feet
- Weighs 22 pounds
- 121-pound capacity
- The short and wide design ensures primary stability
- Adjustable footrests for growing children
- Front handle for towing
- A rear wheel for transportation
- Front and rear storage areas
- Doesn’t quite measure up to other similarly-priced kayaks
- There’s no bottom seat padding
- Might not be as comfortable for longer paddling sessions
GoPlus’ performance will be more than satisfactory for most child paddlers – but if I’m completely honest, there are some better kids kayak deals at this price point.
Best Beginner Kayak For Kids
Sevylor Quikpak K1 Kayak
Sevylor Quikpak K1 isn’t designed as a kids kayak – but it’s an excellent choice for beginners. That alone makes it worth considering if your teen is interested in giving kayaking a try.
This 8.6-foot inflatable sit-on-top kayak features a 3-foot, extra-wide beam – a pretty good indicator of stability – and a three-chamber, 21-gauge PVC construction. And while it’s a one-person kayak, it has an impressive 400-pound weight capacity.
The coolest part, however, is that it uniquely combines portability and convenience:
Quikpak K1 transforms into an easy-to-carry 18-pound backpack, which makes it one of the best kayaks for kids if your family is always on the go.
- 21-gauge PVC construction
- 8.6 x 3 feet
- Weighs 18 pounds
- 400-pound capacity
- Lightweight, portable, and easy to set up kids kayak
- Packs up into an easy-to-carry backpack
- Complete kayak kit with hand pump and paddle included
- Extra-wide hull for stability
- You might have to replace the paddle included in the kit
- It’s not known for its tracking capabilities
- The fins are way too small to do anything
Quikpak folds into an 18-pound backpack – paddle and all. An excellent child kayak choice – I’m sure your kid will be blown away by this oh-so-cool design. I know I am!
Best Kids Sit-In Kayak
Perception Prodigy XS Kids Kayak
For as long as I can remember, the Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 used to be the go-to sit-in kayak for kids, but since its discontinuation a few years ago there has been a gap in the market. In step the Precision Prodigy XS – all hail the new king!
This junior kayak is a standout example of what the best kayaks for kids should look like. The 150-pound capacity aside, Prodigy XS looks and feels like a smaller version of a proper sit-on-top adult kayak. Nothing about it screams “made for kids,” which will make your little one feel like a real pro.
Perception’s 10-footer boasts rotomolded polyethylene construction and is relatively lightweight at 26 pounds. More importantly, it’s focused on stability, performance, and comfort – three things that will boost your kid’s confidence and encourage them to work on their paddling skills.
Front and rear built-in buoyancy foam, quick-adjust footrests that grow with your child, comfort-oriented features; it’s beyond impressive.
This thing’s fast, though – possibly too fast for kids without previous kayaking experience.
- Rotomolded polyethylene construction
- 10 x 1.9 feet
- Weighs 26 pounds
- 150-pound capacity
- Agile and maneuverable with confidence-boosting stability
- Sit-inside design protects against the elements
- Front and rear built-in buoyancy
- Quick-adjust footrests adapt to growth spurts
- Younger paddlers may find the sit-inside less accessible
- Not for kids without any kayaking experience
- A bit too fast for a kids’ kayak
Prodigy XS feels more sophisticated than your average kids kayak. If you’re raising a little kayaking prodigy – pun intended – this is the perfect kayak to get! – great starter boat.
Best Inflatable Kayak For Kids
Intex Challenger K1 Kids Kayak
At 9-foot the Intex Challenger K1 is slightly longer than your average childs’ kayak, but with a 220-pound weight limit, they’ll likely be using it for years to come.
You could take it out for a paddle every once in a while, too!
The intex challenger K1 is a very popular kayak and features numerous times in our roundup reviews; best budget kayak, best lightweight kayak, best inflatable, best beginner kayak – just to name a few. With that pedigree it’s easy to see why it could be one of the best child kayaks as well,
This sit-in kayak is constructed out of puncture-resistant vinyl, with two separate air chambers as “back-up” in case one pops. The I-beam floor and 2.5-foot beam width give it a stable and secure on-the-water feel – a huge plus for young beginner paddlers.
It weighs only 27.2 pounds; older kids shouldn’t have a problem carrying it by themselves. It’s a sit-inside inflatable kayak, though, which might make entering and exiting harder.
- Vinyl construction
- 9 x 2.5 feet
- Weighs 27.2 pounds
- 220-pound capacity
- Complete beginner’s kit with a paddle, hand pump and carry bag
- Rigid I-beam floor and relatively wide beam add stability
- Storage compartment at the bow, secured by a bungee net, to stow any loose items
- Lightweight but puncture-resistant construction
- The included paddle feels a bit flimsy
- Vinyl can get uncomfortably warm on sunny days
- Sit-inside design might be harder to enter and exit
Best Kayak/SUP Hybrid For Kids
Perception Hi Five Sit on Top Kids Kayak
The tried-and-true Perception Hi Life – the 6-foot, kids-sized version, that is – deserves mention, too. Out of all the kayaks for kids I talked about, this one seems to be the most advanced:
The 21-pound polyethylene hull is designed in a way that allows for a unique approach to kayaking. It’s a kayak by default – but the open cockpit with spacious front deck area makes stand-up paddleboarding an option, too.
It’s the best of both worlds!
What’s more, it has a rear swim-up step – which further boosts the fun factor – and a built-in towing system for when the little ones get tired. Oh, and it can support weights of up to 120 pounds.
To top it all off, the molded side handles, in the bow and center of the kayak, make easy work of transporting the kayak to and from the water. The center carry handle also doubles, no triples, as both a self bailing scupper hole and a means to secure your kayak with a cable lock.
- Polyethylene construction
- 6 x 2 feet
- Weighs 21 pounds
- 120-pound capacity
- A kayak/SUP hybrid designed for kids
- Comes with a kids-sized paddle
- Molded foot braces with multiple footrest positions
- Features a swim-up deck and a spacious standing area
- Built-in towing system
- Might be too advanced for beginners and very young paddlers
- Non-slip deck pads have to purchased separately
- Doesn’t come with a padded padded seat
If you’re looking to introduce the kids to kayaking and paddle boarding, Perception Hi Five kayak/SUP hybrid is the best way to do it, period.
Final Verdict: What’s The Best Kayak For Kids?
Kayaking with kids can be so much fun – especially when you’re sharing a tandem and making lifelong memories as a family. But now they’re ready to take up paddling solo – under your watchful eye, of course – and they need the best kayak for kids.
You can’t go wrong with any of the youth kayaks on my list – and you know your child better than anyone, after all.
My vote still goes to the Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak with Paddle, though.
Sure, some more advanced options make Lifetime’s kids kayak look somewhat basic in comparison, but hear me out:
You won’t find this much functionality, safety, and fun, packed in a light, easy-to-use package anywhere else – especially not at this price point.