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Which youth kayak is best?

Water sports are among the best activities for hot summer days. Unlike canoeing, kayaking lets your child take full control of their fun. Children come in all shapes and sizes and so do youth kayaks, but be careful — there are also several kinds of kayaks to match the type of water you’ll be floating on.

The best youth kayak is the Emotion Youth Recruit Kayak And Paddle. It’s lightweight with a reasonable weight capacity and includes a paddle. It also has a rear swim-up deck for easy remounting in the water.

What to know before you buy a youth kayak

Youth kayak types

There are four types of youth kayaks.

  • Sit-on-top kayaks are the most common and the most basic. They’re completely flat and usually square-ish with no enclosed spaces. They’re best for paddling around in one spot.
  • Touring kayaks are more pointed at the front and back so they can glide through the water. They’re best for taking river trips, but they can easily be used to have fun in one spot.
  • Sea kayaks for kids are hard to find as most children aren’t ready to face the open ocean. That said, older teens may be ready. Sea kayaks look like touring kayaks, but they’re longer and have design elements to help them stay stable on rough waters.
  • Inflatable kayaks are surprisingly durable, especially the better models — and they also tend to be the most affordable. Grab one if you don’t kayak often or have limited transportation and storage space.


Youth kayaks are typically 6-9.5 feet long, with certain lengths being better for certain age ranges.

  • Kayaks 6-7 feet long are typically best for kids younger than 8.
  • Kayaks 7-8 feet long are typically best for kids roughly 8-12 years old.
  • Kayaks 8-9.5 feet long are typically best for teenagers.

This is compared to standard kayak lengths of 10-14 feet.


Youth kayaks are typically narrower than full-sized kayaks so kids can comfortably reach the water with their paddles. Most are 20-24 inches wide compared to full-sized kayaks that are 26-30 inches wide.

What to look for in a quality youth kayak


Most youth kayaks include a paddle, but the best include youth-specific paddles which have smaller blades and shafts to be lighter and easier to hold.


The best youth kayaks are lightweight, usually no more than about 20 pounds. This lets your child drag it to and from the water on their own so they can feel in charge of their fun.

How much you can expect to spend on a youth kayak

Starter kayaks and those meant for the youngest kids start around $50 and shouldn’t cost more than $150. Better kayaks for the experienced and the older cost roughly $150-$300. The best kayaks start around $300 and shouldn’t be more than $600.

Youth kayak FAQ

What safety precautions should I take before letting my child kayak?

A. There are several precautions one must take to ensure a fun and safe kayaking experience.

  • First, never let your child kayak without a life jacket.
  • Secondly, your child needs to know how to swim. They don’t need to be a strong swimmer, they just need to be able to swim to shore while wearing their life jacket.
  • Thirdly, you should make sure your child knows the basics of kayaking if they’ll be out on their own. This includes how to control it as well as how to bail out and get back in while still in the water. You can teach them in a canoe or take them to lessons.

What is the weight limit of a youth kayak?

A. Most youth kayaks have weight limits between 100-150 pounds, but some of the better kayaks go up to 200 pounds. A few kayaks have weight limits up to 250 pounds, but these are typically meant to hold teenagers or two young children.

What’s the best youth kayak to buy?

Top youth kayak 

Emotion Youth Recruit Kayak And Paddle

Emotion Youth Recruit Kayak And Paddle

What you need to know: This is the perfect kayak for a lazy summer day.

What you’ll love: It has a carry weight of 21 pounds and a weight limit of 130 pounds — perfect for pre-teens. The sit-on-top style makes it easy to dive into the water and the rear swim-up deck makes it easy to get back in.

What you should consider: It has no back support so long kayaking sessions may get uncomfortable. A few consumers reported it to feel unstable on the water.

Where to buy: Sold by Dick’s Sporting Goods

Top youth kayak for the money

Intex Challenger Kayak Inflatable Set

Intex Challenger Kayak Inflatable Set

What you need to know: This inflatable option is surprisingly sturdy and best suits older kids.

What you’ll love: It comes in single- and dual-person capacities with weight limits of 220 and 400 pounds, respectively. Its rugged vinyl construction is tough enough to handle scrapes and scratches from underwater hazards. It includes a paddle or two, a repair patch and a hand pump.

What you should consider: It has a backrest but the support is minimal. Bailing out water is tricky, especially when deflated, and the oldest kids and adults may feel cramped.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Worth checking out

Perception Hi-Five 6.5 Youth Kayak

Perception Hi-Five 6.5 Youth Kayak

What you need to know: This kayak doubles as a paddle board for multiple kinds of fun.

What you’ll love: This kayak weighs 21 pounds and has a weight limit of 120 pounds, plus the included paddle has smaller blades and a narrower shaft for younger hands. The rear deck has hand holds so kids can pull themselves back in.

What you should consider: The colors are more muted than the pictures suggest. It’s expensive and won’t fit kids older than 14 at best — an upgrade is required sooner than you think.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods


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Jordan Woika writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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