The 9 Best Kayaks for Kids Reviewed 2020 for Adventures with Your Family
Right, you’ve got no excuses.
It’s time to drag those kids off their video games, smartphones and tablets and into the great outdoors.
Namely – to get involved with what will soon become their new favorite hobby.
Because the best kayaks for kids are very affordable these days, safe, portable and user-friendly.
Even if your little treasures kick up a stink at first – you know they’re going to love it.
Help them get fit and healthy, develop a desire for adventure, exploration, and achievement, while simultaneously educating them about the natural world and delivering a mood-enhancing the dose of vitamin D.
And what child doesn’t love splashing about until their heart’s content, anyway?!
Check out my run-down of the best kayaks for kids in 2020, with a buyer’s guide and FAQ section to follow.
Get those little rascals out on the water, now!
- TOP 9 Best Kayaks for Kids 2020
- Intex Challenger K1 1-Person Inflatable Kayak
- Intex Explorer K2 2-Person Inflatable Kayak
- Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak
- Best Choice Products 6ft Kids Kayak
- SunDolphin Bali Sit-On-Top Kayak
- SunDolphin Aruba SS Sit-In Kayak
- Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Heron Junior Kids Kayak
- Ocean Kayak Banzai Kids Kayak
- Ocean Kayak Malibu Two Tandem Sit-On-Top Kayak
- How to Choose the Best Kayak for Kids
TOP 9 Best Kayaks for Kids 2020
Intex Challenger K1 1-Person Inflatable Kayak
Review: The value for money that his first entry offers is borderline breathtaking. Basically, if you or your kids are just starting out with the hobby and are looking to see if it’s for you – then you might as well just buy this.
Inflatable craft at this end of the scale is always good for kids – and this comes with everything you need to get out on the water in double quick time.
Its rugged vinyl construction and two separate air chambers ensure safety first when in use, while the large comfortable cockpit can take a maximum weight of 220lbs for your peace of mind.
A light, aluminum paddle, and high-pressure pump are included. You really should check out the best inflatable kayaks for a seriously affordable entry-point into kayaking.
- Outstanding value.
- Cargo net and grab lines.
- Bright, eye-catching color for added safety.
- Not suitable for younger children.
Intex Explorer K2 2-Person Inflatable Kayak
Review: Next up is another inflatable – this time a 2-person tandem kayak. It includes adjustable seats and backrests to ensure it will fit even the smaller humans among us, while it has a maximum weight capacity of 400 lbs.
It’s perfect for smaller, quieter bodies of water and again, the bright colors help with safety and visibility.
It’s made from a heavy duty puncture resistant vinyl and there’s a removable skeg to help with tracking.
Like the single seater – it also inflates with two separate air chambers, so you and/or your child/children can safely get back to shore if one just happens to be accidentally damaged. Two aluminum paddles and a high-pressure pump are included.
- Removable, adjustable seats.
- Highly visible in any waters.
- Great price.
- Again, not suitable for smaller children paddling alone – you’d need to partner up.
Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak
Review: Lifetime make some seriously tried and trusted kayaks, so you know you’re getting a quality and safe product for your child with one of their models.
This is specially designed for children aged five and up, with a maximum weight capacity of 130lbs.
It’s therefore ideal for the smaller among your brood. It’s packed with safe and easy-to-use features, including molded finger handles and footrests, a paddle cradle, and self-bailing holes to drain the craft of water.
It’s sloped at the stern with a swim-up step to make it easier to enter from the water. And for the price, it could well be the best kayak for a child on the market.
- Loads of safety features.
- Child’s paddle included.
- Large choice of bright colors.
- Not the most comfortable seating position.
Best Choice Products 6ft Kids Kayak
Review: If you’re after something a little more advanced for your child than the Lifetime offering, check out this Best Choice Products version. It packs in a few more features that will significantly improve the user experience.
Its sit-on-top design comes with a seat and fold-down backrest – which means your child will likely want to be out there for longer.
It is made from a tough and durable UV-resistant plastic, so it maintains its bright color for many years.
The weight capacity is up to 121lbs, and it even comes with a water bottle holder, and stern and bow storage sections with shock-cord webbing. It’s an adult sit-in kayak made for kids – ideal for anyone looking to step up a notch with their kayaking experience.
- Practical features.
- Paddle included.
- You’ll want to replace the paddle.
SunDolphin Bali Sit-On-Top Kayak
Review: Sundolphin make outstanding quality kayaks and you should check out the best recreational kayaks on the market to see why they are one of the leaders in the sport.
As such, you know you’re getting a quality product here – even though you’re starting to pay a little more for it. This kid’s sit-on-top kayak is a six-footer, offering great tracking and paddling experience while being super-stable at the same time.
The weight capacity is 140lbs and its large cockpit area offers ease-of-access to any user.
It’s really easy to store and transport and the choice of bright colors keep safety in mind when out on the water.
- Quality construction.
- Large cockpit.
- Paddle included.
- No backrest/comfortable seat.
- The paddle isn’t the best quality.
SunDolphin Aruba SS Sit-In Kayak
Review: Another entry from SunDolphin (told you they were good) sees a step-up in both kayak quality and the user’s skill.
This is the first of only two sit-in kayaks in my review, and as such is designed for a slightly more experienced user.
Still, this is ideal for older children who are really getting into the pastime as it offers a bit more of a challenge than simply splashy-splashy play-time.
It’s lightweight with an adjustable padded seat rest, stern storage compartment and shock-cord webbing and recessed drink holder.
The weight capacity is 250lbs with a choice of bright colors available.
- Quality construction.
- Name you can trust.
- Large cockpit.
- Not the best at tracking.
Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Heron Junior Kids Kayak
Review: Old Town, based out of Old Town, Maine, are one of the oldest and most premier manufacturers of kayaks in the world today. They make some of the most advanced (if not the most advanced) recreational kayaks on the market – so you know your child is getting something special here.
This is their kiddie version, an ultra-lightweight and maneuverable craft that is specifically targeted at smaller paddlers.
With a contoured, padded seat and cockpit built to fit a child’s body, the Heron is extremely stable and easy to handle, while it incorporates a tow-system should your child get tired and need a helping hand to get to shore.
The max capacity is 115lbs and this is easily one of the best kayaks for kids around.
- World-class construction.
- Loads of safety features.
- Super lightweight and portable.
- Paddle not included.
- Expensive for first-timers.
Ocean Kayak Banzai Kids Kayak
Review: Ocean Kayaks are the world’s largest manufacturer of sit-on-top vessels, so you’d expect them to know a thing or two about making them.
This Banzai model is perfect for children who are looking for a little bit more of an advanced sit-on-top kayak. It has a contoured seating area, a lower deck profile and a weight capacity of 230lbs.
This kayak also incorporates a tow system should it be required. It’s really easy to transport with molded side handles and toggles at the bow and stern.
- Quality, durable build.
- Highly maneuverable.
- Molded cup holder.
- No drainage holes.
- Paddle sold separately.
Ocean Kayak Malibu Two Tandem Sit-On-Top Kayak
Review: It’s Ocean Kayak again that brings my list to a close with this two-person kayak that is built with the beginner in mind. It has molded footrests and adjustable seating and backrest, with a large, spacious cockpit suitable for adults and kids of all shapes and sizes.
It’s probably the best tandem kayak for kids out there – and is a great option if an adult wants to join in as well. It’s compact and lightweight and is designed for versatile use on both calm and choppier waters alike.
It has a weight capacity of 425lbs and comes in a choice of two color designs.
I would say it’s also a great option for angling, so don’t miss these top-tips for fishing with your kids for ideas on how the whole family can enjoy a day on the water.
- Amazing build quality from a name you can trust.
- Gear straps for storage.
- Can fit two adults and a small child – but always adhere to weight capacity.
- Not really suitable for younger children unless accompanied by an adult.
How to Choose the Best Kayak for Kids
To a mother or father – it might seem pretty obvious what is right for your kid(s), but when it comes to kayaking – whether new to the activity or not – it doesn’t hurt to provide a handy guide on what to look out for when making your purchase.
An FAQ section will follow to cover all the bases.
Without a doubt, the first thing you’re going to want to check is the kayak’s safety features. Here are a few things to consider.
Grab Handles and Lifelines
If your child does fall out, how easy will it be for them to hold on?
Larger cockpits are much easier to get in and out of. This can make a big difference in certain situations and with your child’s overall confidence.
Stability on the Water
Sit-on-top kayaks tend to be much more stable than sit-in versions.
They will nearly all have a wider hull. However – they’re more likely to tip or flip in choppier waters.
If your child gets tired, you’ll be thankful for the ability to tow them to shore. And so will they! Check to see if the kayak has a tow system. If it doesn’t – consider securing a strong rope to the craft for emergency use.
Don’t overlook this important feature – the bright colors aren’t just there to look pretty – they could well save a life if they’re highly visible.
Size and Weight
Although considerations with any kayak purchase, size and weight also play an important part with child-friendly models, too.
Anything too heavy will be hard for them to maneuver in the water – not to mention difficult for you to store and transport.
A child has to feel like they have control of the craft, so if they’re lost in the cockpit then they’re not going to have the confidence or ability to pilot the vessel well.
Make sure you opt for a kayak that is suitable for the size of your child. Children’s kayaks tend to be shorter and often wider than adult models.
And if the child can carry it themselves – then that’s a huge bonus for you!
Maximum Weight Capacity
Another factor that should always be considered while shopping for any kayak, but it’s still worth mentioning here – particularly if you’re going to be enjoying tandem kayaking with your child.
Take into consideration the weight of everyone who will be aboard the craft, whether that be an adult, child, family pet or possibly all three.
And don’t forget to factor in the weight of any equipment or gear you might be carrying.
Make sure you buy a kayak that is well within the maximum weight limit you’ll be subjecting it to.
We don’t want any TITANIC mistakes.
Child Competence and Confidence
Surprisingly, this is often overlooked in a mad dash to get out on the water in the latest, flashy, head-turning kayak.
But you need to seriously consider both how confident your child will be out there – and how competent they are.
If you’re totally new to this (and therefore so is your child) then I would strongly recommend either purchasing a budget inflatable kayak or taking some local kayaking day courses to get a feel for things first.
Much like adult beginners, purchasing a kayak that is way beyond their skill set and experience level is a very irresponsible idea.
Know and understand your limitations – and know and understand your child’s, too.
Again, just to reiterate what I said above – make sure you don’t overspend if you or your child are not ready for that kind of investment.
Kayaks are available at wildly different prices. Always buy the best you can afford – but always make a sensible purchase when it comes to your hard-earned cash depending on skill, interest and experience.
Start small and affordable and go from there.
Are Kayaks Safe for Kids?
In short – yes, they most certainly are. Kayaking – done correctly and with a little bit of forward planning and care – is an incredibly safe activity.
However, as mentioned above – you need to make sure you get the right kayak for your child.
Buying a five-year-old a top-of-the-range sea touring kayak from Wilderness Systems will most definitely not be safe for kids.
At What Age Can a Child Start Kayaking?
Many of the hard-plastic, sit-on-top kayaks featured in this review have been specifically designed for children aged five and above.
It’s from that age they should be able to paddle their own 6-foot children’s kayak – with a responsible and experienced adult present.
With children younger than five, I would err on the side of caution – but certainly, they can sit close to a parent on a tandem kayak – or a kayak with a cockpit that would take an adult, small child or family pet.
The older a child gets, the more likely they are to be able to handle larger kayaks (8-10 feet) either as a front paddler in a tandem style – or as a solo pilot.
From the ages of 14 upwards, they should be capable of handling medium to large sized kayaks by themselves.
Can You Take a Toddler on a Kayak?
Use common sense – but if you’re in any way inexperienced on the water yourself – do not ever attempt to take a baby or toddler out with you.
Murphy’s law – what can go wrong – will go wrong. Never was it more true than when you introduce kids to the water.
But, if you are able and willing to do that – I would recommend that you only venture out on a tandem kayak with a capable paddler in the stern seating position.
With babies and toddlers, you always need to have eyes in the back of your head – and if you need to free your arms up for whatever reason, then you need a dependable co-pilot that is able to safely maneuver the craft.
And remember – anyone on or in any kind of recreational kayak or otherwise – MUST wear a life jacket. You’ll find more information on this below.
Safety first, people!
Which is Safer: a Canoe or a Kayak?
This comes down to personal preference, experience, and ability. The two styles are really quite different.
In a traditional canoe, you’re higher up over the water sitting in an open craft – there’s no decking. It’s almost like a rowing boat – except with a thinner hull.
You can propel the craft by either sitting on a raised seat – or kneeling with the “high knee” position.
With a canoe, you don’t use a double paddle either – it’s just a single.
So, if you’re canoeing solo, you have to alternate your strokes on each side by yourself. However, if you’re canoeing in tandem, one pilot can paddle to starboard and the other can paddle to port.
With a kayak, however, you’re always using a double paddle.
You’re also lower in the water, either with a sit-on-top kayak or a sit-in kayak – which will have a deck.
But when it comes to safety, again – it’ll be what you feel comfortable with.
When choosing which activity to do with kids in mind (the point of the whole article) I’d say canoeing is better for younger children (4-7 years) and kayaking is better for older children (7 years +).
They’re both very safe activities done correctly, but if push came to shove, I’d say…
Kayaking is safer.
I don’t know. You get the idea.
Do You Need a Life Jacket in a Kayak?
YES! Never ever get out onto the water without one.
I don’t care if you’re Michael Phelps – a life preserver or PFD (personal floatation device) should be worn by anyone and everyone who is taking to the water.
And this includes Fido and Puss Puss – pets should have PFDs, too.
It is an essential part of kayaking and canoeing and corners should not be cut.
And remember – a child’s PFD is different from an adult one. Never attempt to use the wrong sized PFD on a child – it could be fatal.
Hopefully, my little review and buying guide will point you in the direction of the best kayak for kids – and you can keep your little tearaways happy when school’s out.
Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below – and share your experiences of kayaking or canoeing with children. It can be one of the most rewarding, educational and entertaining activities they will ever enjoy.