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The 5 Best Kayaks For Kids – [2021 Reviews]

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When it’s time to take the kids out on the water with you, you’ll be faced with a plethora of options. In fact, the number of options for purchasing kids kayaks is nearly as broad and deep as adult kayaks.

Luckily, there are a few shortcuts we can take when it comes to buying the best kids kayaks.

My goal throughout this article is to help you decide on which features are the most important when buying a kids kayak. We’ll talk about the differences between kids kayaks and adult kayaks.

What makes a top rated kids kayak better than others? Don’t worry, we’ll cover all of that in the “how to choose” section.

I’m also going to help you get started by recommending a few of the most popular kids kayaks available today.

Best Kids Kayaks

 Lifetime Youth 6 Feet Wave KayakIntex Challenger K1 KayakPelican Solo Sit-on-top Youth Kayak
editors choice
Length:6 Feet9 Feet6 Feet
Max Weight:130 Pounds220 Pounds110 Pounds
Paddle Included:YesYesYes
Rating:4.7 / 5.04.3 / 5.04.6 / 5.0

For more of my kayak gear recommendations, have a look through these popular Outside Pursuits guide links: Life Jackets, Kayak Paddles, Kayak Roof Racks.

Quick Answer: The 5 Best Rated Kids Kayaks For 2021

  1. Lifetime Youth 6 Feet Wave Kayak
  2. Intex Challenger K1 Kayak
  3. Pelican Solo Sit-on-top Youth Kayak
  4. Perception Hi Five Sit on Top Kids Kayak
  5. Old Town Kayaks Heron Junior Kids Kayak

Our reviews of the top kids kayaks with our comparison table and buyers guide will help you choose the right kayak for your kids.


Kids Kayaks Reviews

Lifetime Youth 6 Feet Wave Kayak with Paddle

Lifetime Youth 6 Feet Wave Kayak at a Glance:

  • Weighs only 18 pounds
  • Durable molded design
  • Paddle included
  • Stable hull design

There’s little wonder why Amazon rates the Lifetime Youth Kayak as the top choice and our Editors Choice for the best kids kayak.

It’s affordable, simple, and effective.

That’s it.

And honestly, that’s what we’re looking for in a great kids kayak. One of the advantages of youth kayaks is that they’re easier to steer and maneuver thanks to their short length.

This also means that it can be difficult for kids to steer and paddle straight due to the agile nature of shorter kayaks. That’s why I really like that they build the kayak with a reverse chine for lateral stability when paddling.

Like most of the molded plastic kids kayaks in this class, the Wave kayak features an aggressive hull design meant to keep the boat stable. Underneath is a combination of reverse chines and the pontoon style hull design.

These all help to keep your kids safe and avoid unnecessary tips.

I do have to admit that I love the included paddle. Most children’s kayaks do include paddles simple because it’s hard to find kids sized paddles elsewhere.

One neat feature of the Wave kayak is the step up design on the back of the kayak. The boat slopes down to meet the waterline where kids can get back into the kayak easily if they happen to get out and swim, or fall in on accident.

Overall there are tons of features that make this kids kayak easy to use, friendly, and simple. The boat itself weighs just 18 pounds and supports up to 130 pounds.

Best For: Kids just learning to kayak and under 130 pounds.


Intex Challenger K1 Kayak

Intex Challenger K1 Kayak at a Glance:

  • Weights 27 pounds, 220 pound weight capacity
  • High pressure air pump
  • Paddle included
  • Tons of deck rigging

Inflatable kayaks offer tons of advantages that solid boats just can’t match.

That’s why our second choice is an inflatable kayak from Intex. Made for a single paddler, this boat comes with a high pressure hand pump to get it water ready every time!

One thing I think this boat brings to the table that other kids kayaks don’t is the deck rigging. Inflatable features aside, deck rigging is nice.

As kids get a bit older and go with you on longer trips, it’s nice to be able to let them carry some of their own gear. The deck rigging on the Challenger has space for some extra layers, some lunch, etc.

Inflatable boats are ideal for several major advantages. When stored the boats take up less room than traditional kayaks because they’re deflated.

That means if the kids only use their kayak once per year, you won’t have it taking up room in the garage.

This kayak is a little more on the full sized range, so expect to use it with kids who are a bit older and bigger. The boat can handle up to 220 pounds so even the adults can borrow it with ease from time to time.

Best For: The advantages of storing and transporting an inflatable kayak!


Pelican Solo Sit-on-top Youth Kayakat a Glance:

  • Weighs 19 pounds
  • Paddle included
  • Built in paddle holder
  • 100 – 110 pound range

If you want the kids to learn to paddle in a kayak that is easy to handle, the Pelican Solo would be a good option.

While you may not have heard of them, but they have a good lineup of recreational kayaks. Their Solo is an adaptation of a popular adult kayak that’s made to help kids learn to paddle.

The boat is only 19 pounds overall so you’ll be able to handle it quite easily.

There is plenty of seating area but there is no padded seat bottom. If you plan on longer kayaking adventures I would add a padded seat.

Nothing is worse than getting sore after only a few minutes when you know the trip is going to take so much longer. Kids feel the same way, so a padded comfy seat is nothing to scoff at.

Being a sit on top it’s easy to learn how to get in and out to build their confidence. That way when they’re older, it’s an easy transition to larger kayaks.

Best For: Teaching kids to handle a kayak and one of the best kayaks for kids available!


Perception Hi Five Sit on Top Kids Kayak

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perception Hi Five Sit on Top Kids Kayak at a Glance:

  • Weighs 21 pounds
  • Single piece molded design
  • Tag along tow system
  • Paddle Included

Somewhere between a sit on top and a traditional SUP, the Hi Five has tons of features and makes a great kayak for kids.

I like that this boat takes a hybrid approach so kids will be ready to try paddle boarding! This kayak can used as a traditional sit on top kayak but also as a paddle board!

This gives you a great dual use kayak that gives them an idea if paddle boarding is for them as well.

I like that this boat still has the integrated towing system. Even though the boat design might be more advanced, the kids can still get tired.

They made this kayak with tons of storage area that could also be used to bring the family dog along. That should encourage them to want to go kayaking!

While it’s a minor feature, I appreciate the addition of a cup holder.

Kids like to be treated as equals and of course, they’ll get thirsty as the paddle. It’s nice to see comfort features on kids kayaks sometimes.

Best For: Kids who may want to try paddle boarding as well.


Old Town Heron Junior Recreational Kayak

Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Heron Junior Kids Kayak at a Glance:

  • Weighs 27 pounds
  • Tag along tow system
  • Padded, contoured seat
  • Molded cockpit design

Last but not least on our list of kids kayaks is the Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Heron Junior. Unlike the other polyethylene kayaks on our list, the Heron Junior is a sit inside kayak.

This gives it extra maneuverability that a sit on top can’t match. The molded skeg gives it good tracking and stability.

The Heron has front and rear carry handles for easy transport to and from the water.

It was designed for a child’s body and comes with a padded and contoured seat for comfortable all day paddling .

In the event your child gets too tired for paddling, the Heron comes with Old Town’s Tag Along Tow System that makes it easy to tow the kayak behind yours.

The only knock is that it does not come with a paddle.

Best For: A budget sit inside kayak to get the kids on the water and learning to paddle.


Kid’s Kayak Comparison Table

Kids KayakTypeLengthWeightPaddle IncludedWeight CapacityRating
Lifetime Youth Wave KayakSit on Top6 Feet18 lbsYes130 lbs4.5 / 5.0
Intex Challenger K1 KayakInflatable9 Feet24 lbsYes220 lbs3.5 / 5.0
Pelican Solo Sit-on-top Youth KayakSit on Top6 Feet189 lbsYes100 lbs4.8 / 5.0
Perception Hi Five Sit on Top Kids KayakSit on Top6 Feet21 lbsYes120 lbs4.7 / 5.0
Old Town Heron Junior Kids KayakSit Inside7.5 Feet26 lbsNo115 lbs4.8 / 5.0

How to Choose the Best Kids Kayak

Best Kayaks For Kids

Length

Unlike adult kayaks, kids kayaks tend to be quite short. When we talk about kids kayaks most use will be on gentle, slow rivers and flat open water. There’s no need to worry about specialized boat lengths or types.

For that reason, short kayaks tend to be the easiest for kids. They turn better than longer boats. They’re lighter and easier to carry and transport. Most kids kayaks won’t even have a length option – they’re just premade to be able the right size for most kids.

To make sure the boat is correct for your child, you’ll probably rely on weight ratings. Some kayaks may have a height rating to help with sizing for children as well.

Weight Ratings

Most kids kayaks are sized by child weight. Manufacturers will provide a weight range of acceptable users and that’s all you have to go by.

If your child is lighter than the recommended weight rating they may need to grow a bit to fit the boat properly. If they are heavier than the recommended maximum weight rating, you’ll need to look for a larger kids kayak.

Of course, at some point you’ll find that your child has outgrown all the kids kayaks. This will become an issue when there aren’t any kids kayaks with weight ratings appropriate for your child.

At this point it becomes time to find an appropriate full size kayak for them. They’re ready to upgrade!

Sit on Top Kayaks

This style of kayak is a little different from the traditional adult kayak where paddlers sit inside the cockpit. Sit on top kayaks are simple, durable, and perfect for kids kayaks.

Why?

They’re made from a single piece of molded plastic where the seat is on top of the deck. It’s dead simple to get on and off the boat and they tend to be made quite stable so kids won’t roll and flip into the water on accident.

If they do flip these sit on top kayaks feature self draining holes and there’s no place for water to build up. All you need to do is right the boat and you’re good to go. No draining is needed.

Because of their reliability, simplicity, and durability sit on top kayaks make the perfect choice for kids kayaks.

However, if you prefer a traditional cockpit style boat you’ll still be able to find a few of them. There are a small handful of kids kayaks being made in this style, but they’re far less common than the sit on top boats.

best kayak for kids

Adding a Tow Rope

Some kids kayaks come with these or a similar feature already attached. I know, this is a dead simple topic but it’s important and you’ll thank me later.

Imagine that you’re 1 mile into a 6 mile paddling trip and Timmy decides to throw a fit and stop paddling. Now imagine you have no way of helping to rescue or speed up the child who is sore, tired, upset, or throwing a fit.

Make sure to permanently tie a 20ft length of rop to the front of your kids’ kayak so that you can pull them out of the brush, pull them off the river bank, or tow them along when they’re tired and half asleep.

Trust me, you’ll find 1001 uses for a good length of rope attached to the kids’ kayak.

Kayak Width

There are several major factors that impact kayak stability. One of the most direct is the width of the boat overall. Wider kayaks tend to be more stable and less prone to flipping.

For kids boats this is ideal. A wider kayak is technically less efficient, but efficiency is not a top priority for kids kayaks. We want them to stay safe and learn to have fun paddling in an easy way.

Along with width is hull design. Most kayaks you’re used to have a rounded bottom. There are several different hull shapes but the most stable is the pontoon hull or double hull.

Double hulls are relatively common on sit on top kayaks but they’re very rare elsewhere. These hulls are by far the most stable of all kayak hull designs

Other Stability Features

Along with the width of your boat, there are several other features that will help stabilize kids kayaks.

Chines are features on the boat hull that stabilize the kayak. Kids kayaks may have what are called reverse chines. These are essentially fins that jut out and help stabilize the boat both laterally and in tracking straight as the kids paddle.

Anytime fins, chines, or skegs are added boats gain stability and tracking.

Often you’ll find that kids kayak makers have combined the pontoon hull shape with the skeg and chine concept to form an overall more stable shape that falls somewhere between all of these things.

Paddle Holders

This one gets overlooked quite easily. Paddle holders are usually just depressions in the plastic that have a shock cord lashing to go over the paddle. They’re really simple but they come in handy.

If you do have to tow the kids for a while, they probably won’t want to hang on to the paddle the whole time. With sit on top boats there’s also nowhere to stash the paddle without it rolling off into the drink!

If you can find a kayak with a paddle holder, I think it’s worth it every time.

Conclusion

There are tons of options on our list for kids kayaks that will fit your needs at any age or stage of development. From the Wave and Bali kayaks that are best for younger kids just starting all the way to the Banzia and Heron models.

Remember that you’ll want to consider your child’s age and interest in kayaking when you purchase. Younger kids just starting need dead simple, easy to use boats. Older kids may need something more advanced and feature-rich.

Just like all those pairs of sneakers in the closet, it’s inevitable that you’ll eventually have to upgrade. So don’t be surprise when it’s time to hand the old kayak down and search for a new one that fits the ever-changing needs of your kids.

How We Researched

To come up with the top kayaks for kids we researched a variety of sources for reviews such as REI, Dicks Sporting Goods, Cabelas and Backcountry along with our own personal experience.

We also consulted online magazines for product research and reviews to get as much unbiased information as we could. To help weed out fake reviews we used Fakespot.com to make sure we only looked at genuine reviews.

With so much quality gear available, we had to narrow it down based on what we felt were the best options for the price. The author, Casey Fiedler has been an avid kayaker and leads kayak camping trips during the summer months in his native state of Michigan.

To help narrow down the selection he used his personal experience along with recommendations from kayak tour guides and rental shops.

After extensive research, we came up with our list to help you choose the right one for you.

Sources


I hope this guide was helpful for finding a good kids kayak to fit your needs. If you want to comment or recommend a kayak I didn’t include, please use my contact form to get in touch.

Notice:

OutsidePursuits.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. OutsidePursuits.com earns fees from products sold through qualifying purchases by linking to Amazon.com. Amazon offers a commission on products sold through their affiliate links.

Casey Fiedler

Casey is a qualified ski instructor, naturalist educator, hunter, and avid outdoorsman based in Mason, Michigan. He spends much of his time in the wilderness where he tests outdoor gear supplied to him by companies such as Patagonia, Smith Optics, and Wolverine. Casey has guided backpackers, kayakers, and skiers on backcountry trips all around the US. He taught Alpine skiing at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah for several seasons before transitioning into freelance writing. When he is not working, Casey enjoys fishing and participating in adventure and orienteering races.

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