Everything you need to know to get your kid started in kayaking
How much does a kayak for a child cost?
A kid-sized kayak for the youngest child ranges in price from as low as $80 up to about $130 for a sit-on-top kayak and usually includes a paddle.
For a sit-inside kayak for small children, the price starts at about $350 for something like the Old Town Heron Junior, and can be as high as $900 for a high-end brand such as Riot, Jackson or Dagger.
How much is a kayak for youth, such as kids 12 and up?
Kayaks for youth 12 and older can cost as low as $70 for an inflatable kayak, $260 for a small 8-foot sit-on-top kayak, and as little as $180 for an 8-foot sit-inside kayak up to a Prices tend to vary quite a bit from year to year and seasonally so check current prices on my kayak reviews tab.
How much should I spend on my kid's first kayak?
Everyone I've talked to across the board says the same thing: don't worry about buying a fancy kayak for your kid, especially in the beginning. Think of it like their first bike, which was probably a tricycle! The most important thing is to get them on their first "bike" and get them "peddling" . . . So get them on a simple and right-sized kayak and get them paddling and don't wait until you can afford something fancy or perfect!
You can do this for as little as a couple of hundred bucks and sometimes less, depending on their age! As their skills advance and their legs and arms get longer and stronger, it will be exciting to buy kayaks with more technical features. In the beginning, getting started and keeping it simple is the best route for most families.
What are the most important features to look for when purchasing a kayak for kids?
More important than price or quality is SIZE.
Everything needs to be sized down for kids to have a pleasant experience kayaking. The kayak needs to be shorter and not too wide, or they will have a hard time paddling without hitting their hands on the sides of the kayak (if it is a sit-inside style). The paddle needs to be scaled down as well, including the diameter of the shaft where they hold the paddle in their hands, to the size of the paddle blade. The sized-down blade will make paddling easier than a too-large blade size, which is very heavy for little arms. Paddles need to be the right length for your child's size. Read my article about choosing a paddle for your child here.
Another consideration is ease of use. Which KAYAK STYLE you choose will make a big difference in how easy this kayak is going to be for your kid to use. For some kids, an easy-sit-on-top style is a MUCH BETTER choice than a sit-inside, while others will love learning the skills of paddling a sit-inside kayak in more challenging water over time.
Pay attention to whether the kayak you are shopping for COMES WITH A PADDLE OR NOT, as this varies between youth kayaks. Interestingly, the cheaper kayaks seem to come with paddles, while the more expensive ones do not.
If you are ordering online, does it come with FREE SHIPPING? I am amazed at how many places online you can order a kayak with free shipping. I have ordered all of my kayaks online and never paid shipping costs for any of them. I may be lazy or just really enjoy the thrill of a kayak being delivered to my front door. The excitement of my kids when they come home from school and it is leaning against the front door is priceless.
SPECIAL FEATURES such as tow hooks, foot pedals, carrying handles, storage hatches, and upgraded seats and seat backs are things that are nice to have but not always deal-breakers.
The TOW HOOKS would be helpful if you have a child that may become tired and refuse to paddle back. I have never had this happen with my kids and have never needed to tow them. Tow hooks are available on the Old Town Heron Junior.
FOOT PEDALS can give added stability and increased steering efficiency when paddling a sit-inside kayak and are a nice feature to have, but are not a critical feature for beginners. Once you have a kayak with this feature, it will be hard to be satisfied without them afterward, as with most upgrades! Kids will never complain about not having this feature as beginners, but as they become better paddlers and get older, you may consider a more technical kayak with foot pedals for added comfort, stability, leverage, and efficiency when paddling.
CARRYING HANDLES are more important on sit-on-top kayaks because without them there is just nowhere to grab onto to carry the kayak as there is inherently with a sit-inside kayak.
STORAGE COMPARTMENTS become more important to paddlers as they being to tour longer distances and want to take things with them. On our family's water outings with our kids, we usually use a dry bag to keep our things dry and simply bring them in the kayak even though we don't have special storage compartments. Our trips are short (less than a mile) because our kids are very young. We usually paddle to a nearby park area and have a picnic, so we don't need as many supplies as those who are paddling all day or camping. For most child and youth kayaks, you really don't need to worry too much about storage.
Almost six years ago we moved into a little New England house with a river in the backyard and quickly discovered the joy of kayaking kids.