When it comes to a youngster’s newfound love of paddling, the best kayak for kids is not only one that’s safe, stable and affordable — it’s also the one your child will love.
There are lots of great reasons to encourage your children’s kayak adventures. Besides getting them off the couch and into the great outdoors, kayaking with your kids is a terrific way to build lifelong family memories.
While very young tikes should ride in the boat with Mom or Dad, older children might love playing and splashing around in their own boat. Kids kayaks come in many different sizes and shapes, from sit-on-tops to covered, sit-inside recreational boats, fishing kayaks for kids and even whitewater creekboats for older children. Which one is best for your child depends largely on their age, size and experience.
Below, you’ll find American Paddler’s guide to the best kids kayaks, broken down by age group. While age is less important than your child’s size when it comes to choosing the right kayak, the ranges below will give you a good starting point.
- Kayaks for 4-8 Year Olds: Lifetime Youth Wave kayak and Emotion Sparky Youth kayak
- Kayaks for 8-12 Year Olds: Sun Dolphin Bali SS 8, Sun Dolphin Aruba SS 8 and Old Town Heron Junior
- Kayaks for 12 Year Olds and Up: Pelican Summit 100X and Malibu Mini X
- Inflatable Kayak for Kids: Intex Challenger K1
Reviews of the Best Kayaks for Kids
A QUICK RUNDOWN: THE 9 BEST KIDS KAYAKS OF 2018 (COMPARISON CHART)
|KAYAK||WEIGHT||LENGTH||RECOMMENDED AGES*||PRICE||AP RATING|
|Lifetime Youth Wave||18 lbs||6 feet||4-8 year olds||$|
|Best Choice Sports||18 lbs||6 feet||4-8 year olds||$|
|Emotion Sparky Youth||22 lbs||6 feet||4-8 year olds||$|
|Sun Dolphin Bali SS 8||30 lbs||8 feet||8-12 year olds||$$|
|Sun Dolphin Aruba SS 8||27 lbs||8 feet||8-12 year olds||$$|
|Old Town Heron Junior||26 lbs||7.5 feet||8-12 year olds||$$|
|Pelican Summit 100X||35 lbs||10 feet||12 years and up||$$|
|Malibu Mini X||40 lbs||9 feet||12 years and up||$$$|
|Intex Challenger K1||27 lbs||9 feet||12 years and up||$|
Kayaks for 4-8 Year Olds
Lifetime Youth Wave
While it goes without saying that the youngest of paddlers should never be left unsupervised and should always wear an appropriately sized lifejacket, the Lifetime Wave Youth 6-foot kayak is a great starter kayak for little ones.
Rated for kids 5 and up, this kayak is super stable and inviting for youngsters who are a little unsure of themselves on the water. A great sit-on-top kids kayak weighing just 18 pounds, it’s easily portable in the back of an SUV or truck, and molded finger handles mean it’s easy for parents to pick up and carry.
For kids who love to swim, the Lifetime Wave also features a rear “swim-up step” so paddlers can climb aboard from the water. And self-draining scupper holes mean your child doesn’t have to fear the kayak filling up with water.
Younger paddlers will also find the Wave Youth kayak easy to maneuver and paddle, thanks to its “twin fin” design. Multiple molded-in footrests mean it’s a kayak that can grow with your child, too.
The Lifetime Wave Youth 6-footer is also one of the best cheap kayaks for kids, a priority for parents on a budget. It comes with a paddle included.
Lifetime Wave Youth kayak features
- Weighs 18 pounds (130 lb capacity)
- Paddle included
- Rear “swim up step” for easy entry from the water
- “Twin fin” hull for great stability and steering for learning paddlers
- Comes in blue, green, orange or pink colors
Best Choice Sports
If you take the Lifetime Youth Wave kayak and add a padded seat and backrest and convenient carrying handles, you’ll get the Best Choice Sports 6’ kids kayak.
Before you shrug that off, consider this: an uncomfortable kid is a cranky kid, and a kayak for a 7-year-old is probably not the most comfortable thing to begin with. For Mom and Dad’s sake, the backrest could be a gift from the heavens.
Apart from the seat, Best Choice Sports also has added a similar “swim-up step” feature that allows little Johnny to climb into the kayak from the water — which is great for kids with short attention spans who like to swim, kayak and splash their sister all at the same time.
This kayak’s 26-inch beam means it’s very stable for notoriously wobbly kids, with three different foot positions for growing boys and girls. And with a UV-resistant polyethylene construction, you can leave the kayak outside when you’re not using it and not have to worry about sun damage.
The Best Choice Sports kids kayak comes in blue or yellow, and both models come with a double-sided 50-inch paddle.
Best Choice Sports 6’ kids kayak features
- Padded seat and backrest for “no-cranky” paddling
- Weighs 18 pounds, carries up to 130 lbs
- Comes in blue or yellow, with 50-inch paddle
- Rear “swim-up step” for entry from the water
- Wide, stable beam for kids with limited motor skills
Emotion Sparky Youth
When you’re 6 years old, the most important feature your kayak can have is enough space for your favorite action figure or stuffed animal.
The Emotion Sparky Youth kayak is one of the few 6-foot kayaks with a rear storage well and built-in cupholder for anything a young paddler wants to bring in tow.
Like most Emotion kayaks, the Sparky is built with sturdy, high-quality UV-resistant polyethylene, meaning it can stand up to abuse from rocks, driveways, docks or anything else your child might throw at it.
The Sparky’s 24-inch wide beam is more than stable enough for any child to feel comfortable and confident while paddling for the first time, and self-bailing scupper holes prevent the kayak from filling with water should a few splashes come his or her way.
With four footrests and a 140-pound capacity, the Emotion Sparky is designed to accommodate a child’s growing years and can be a great kayak for many summer seasons.
When it’s time to pack up and go home, the Emotion Sparky features some perks for parents, too, with front and rear toggle handles and a very manageable 22-pound lightweight design.
Emotion Sparky Youth kayak features
- Rear stern well for toys, games and action figure friends
- Four molded foot wells to accommodate growth
- Wide, high-quality deck for excellent stability
- Designed for children 5 and up
- 140 lb capacity, 22 pound kayak weight
Kayaks for 8-12 Year Olds
Sun Dolphin Bali SS 8
Kids who are a little older (and bigger) will enjoy a kayak like the Sun Dolphin Bali SS 8. An 8-foot kayak supporting up to 200 pounds, the Bali is a great intermediate boat for the growing paddler with a budding love of the sport.
Another sit-on-top kids kayak, the Bali features a deck that’s a little deeper than the traditional flat-hull boat, which can be a confidence-booster for kids worried about waves or rough surf.
Best paddled by children between 4’4” and 5’5” tall, the Bali features a wide-open cockpit and recessed seat with backrest for added comfort and easy paddling. Graduated foot wells mean most children (or even a smaller adult) will fit comfortably with ample room to stretch out.
For kids who like to bring their toys or snacks along, the Bali SS 8 features both open and sealed dry storage compartments, as well as a cupholder in front of the seat. For young anglers, the Bali SS 8 can also be a great first-time kids fishing kayak.
Despite its high-quality polyethylene construction, the Bali SS 8 is remarkably lightweight at just 30 pounds, with front and rear carry handles for easy transport.
Sun Dolphin Bali SS 8 features
- Confidence-boosting deep deck with recessed seat
- Dry and wet storage wells for bringing toys or snacks
- High-quality damage-resistant polyethylene hull
- Stable, smooth and easy to paddle on the water
- Lightweight and durable at just 30 pounds (197 lb capacity)
Sun Dolphin Aruba SS 8
Another great intermediate kayak for kids, the Sun Dolphin Aruba SS 8 is similar in a lot of ways to the Bali SS 8. The key difference is that while the Bali is a sit-on-top kayak, the Aruba features a traditional covered, sit-inside deck.
Another 8-foot children’s kayak, the Aruba SS 8 is able to accommodate 260 pounds — more than enough for the budding paddler to feel safe and secure on the water. As a sit-inside kayak, the Aruba 8 SS is a great choice for youngsters who prefer not to get wet, or those who just like the feeling of being “in” a kayak. For even greater protection from the elements, a spray skirt can easily be added.
While kids whitewater kayaks are a little more difficult to find, more experienced children could take the Aruba SS 8 down some milder rivers and be fine.
Like the Bali, the Aruba SS 8 features a dry storage compartment behind the cockpit as well as bungee shock-cord strapping for wet storage. And an adjustable, padded seat offers a comfortable ride.
Available in red, blue or orange, the Aruba would look great with a big bow around it, and the smile on your kid’s face when you show them makes this an excellent choice.
Sun Dolphin Aruba SS 8 features
- Sit-inside design great for kids who don’t like to be splashed
- Wide, 28-inch beam offers great stability
- Perfect for kids between 4’6” and 5’5” tall
- Wet and dry storage compartments
- Drink and paddle holders, and carry handles
Old Town Heron Junior
One of the few sit-inside kayaks for kids, Old Town’s iconic Heron Junior is a lively, spry beginner kayak for young paddlers with lots of energy.
At 7.5 feet long and just 26 pounds, the Heron Junior is the perfect vessel for kids who like to burn off steam splashing around with the family. It’s maneuverable enough to get out of sticky situations — such as a wrong turn down that creek bend — and a fast and efficient hull makes paddling a breeze for kids whose technique isn’t always perfect.
This boat is among the best kayaks for kids who like to make waves. Wide and incredibly stable, the Heron Junior can take a lot of playful splashing and horsing around. This boat is tough to capsize, but just in case, the Heron Junior’s internal foam billets mean you don’t have to worry about retrieving it from the bottom of the lake if it does.
When your child’s energy is finally spent, the Heron Junior’s “tag along” tow system allows the kayak to be hooked to another boat, so you don’t have to worry about stranding your tuckered-out child’s kayak in the middle of the lake.
Modeled after Old Town’s best-selling Heron kayaks for adults, the Heron Junior accommodates up to 115 pounds and weighs just 26 pounds, perfect for easy transport and storage.
Old Town Heron Junior kayak features
- Fast, maneuverable hull easy for beginning paddlers to handle
- Lightweight and durable
- “Tag along” tow system to hook up to adult’s kayak or boat
- Comfortable, child-sized seat
- Front and rear carry handles
Kayaks for 12 Years Old and Up
Pelican Summit 100X
A great cheap sit-inside kayak for older children and young teenagers, the Pelican Summit 100X doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but definitely performs where it counts.
Stable and short enough to maneuver easily, yet long enough to slip smoothly through the wind and waves, the 100X offers great value for the bottom-basement price. It’s a great boat for those who want to get the “real deal” kayaking experience without spending an arm and a leg.
With an adjustable backrest and foot pegs, your young man or woman will find paddling the 100X a fun, enjoyable experience. At 10 feet long with a 275 lb capacity, the Pelican is perfectly suitable for adults, too, so when Junior is grown, it’s a kayak he can still enjoy for many years to come.
Should your child (or even you) want to use the Pelican for a little pond fishing, the Pelican 100X features a durable polyethylene construction that can be easily modified and rigged with fishing gear or other add-ons. The Pelican doesn’t feature an abundance of storage, but its rear stern hatch and front and rear bungees provide plenty of options for gear. A cupholder on the front of the cockpit is a nice feature, too.
All in all, a great kayak for teenagers, older kids and adults that doesn’t have to break the bank.
Pelican Summit 100X features
- Solid inexpensive kayak for young teens and adults
- Lightweight (35 lbs) and easy to transport
- Stable and maneuverable while providing good speed
- Adjustable seat and foot pegs
- Durable polyethylene construction can be modified and rigged with fishing gear
Malibu Mini X
Possibly the best sit on top kids kayak on the market, the Malibu Mini X is a quality, durable and well-built boat that will last for generations.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Malibu Mini X, like most of Malibu’s sit-on-top kayaks, is its incredible stability. Children and teens — and even adults — can easily stand aboard the 33-inch-wide beam to cast a fishing line, prepare for a dive or simply see what’s over the horizon. In fact, it’s designed for just that purpose, with standing platforms to either side of the seat.
The Malibu Mini X measures 9 feet long, a perfect length for growing teens to feel comfortable, while short enough not to overwhelm first-time kayakers. The shorter length also makes maneuvering the Mini X a breeze in any water conditions.
Perfect for taller or shorter kids, the Mini X features sliding adjustable foot rests to accommodate literally any size paddler. Has your kid grown a foot in the last year? Simply adjust the pegs and get back out there!
With deep foot wells, a cupholder in the middle of the seat and tie-down rear bungee storage, this kayak is deceptively roomy for a 9-footer. It’s also deceptively lightweight, weighing just 40 lbs while able accommodate up to 375 lbs with paddler and cargo combined. Combine that with four easy-grab handles, and the Mini X is about as painless and portable as they come.
The Mini X is among the best kayaks for kids who like to fish in shallow lakes and ponds, or simply for a leisurely paddle on slow rivers or backyard creeks.
Malibu Mini X features
- 33-inch wide beam and standing platform perfect for a kids fishing kayak
- Sliding adjustable foot braces to accommodate any size child
- Incredibly lightweight for a 9-foot kayak (40 lbs)
- Four easy-grab carry handles
- Generous rear bungee storage area
Best Inflatable Kids Kayak
Intex Challenger K1
For various reasons, an inflatable kayak might be a good starter boat for your child. Perhaps you’re not sure whether he’ll take to the sport and don’t want to spend a lot of money. Maybe you’re worried about storage in the winter. Or you just want something to throw in the back of the minivan as your family heads to the beach.
Whatever the reason, the Intex Challenger K1 presents a nice solution. Cheap and affordable, yet durable and stable, the Challenger is a great inflatable kayak to splash around in on calm lakes, rivers and byways.
At just 9 feet long fully inflated, the Challenger easily handled by older kids and adults with minimal kayaking experience. Kids will love the cool green-and-black color scheme and blow-up chair, and adults will appreciate the carrying capacity of the cargo net on the boat’s bow.
The Challenger tracks surprisingly well for a budget kayak, too, with its removable skeg, which allows the kayak to be used for longer family river trips.
If you’re worried about stability, the Challenger’s large cockpit and strong, I-beam floor should put any doubts to rest. Rated to carry 220 lbs and certified by the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the Challenger isn’t going to flip or puncture easily. And if it does spring a leak, no worries: a repair kit is included, along with a hand pump and aluminum paddle.
Intex Challenger K1 features
- Highly durable and stable for a cheap kids kayak
- 9 feet long, with 220 lb capacity (NMMA certified)
- Strong I-beam floor for added stability
- Comes with hand pump, aluminum paddle and repair patch
- Inflatable seat with supportive backrest
Need more help finding the best kayaks for kids? Has this article helped you in any way? Please let us know your feedback so we can make our recommendations even better. Paddle on, young paddlers!