"Fitness" paddling with 3-4 year old.

I started to research and test kayaks before my sons were born. Now that they’re 3 and 4 years old I’m ready to start again.

I’d like to start paddling in evenings with one son at a time. Get me off the treadmill and give my wife a break from both of them at once.

I thought about a Pungo 120/140 but even with the oversized cockpit it appears there just isn’t enough room in front of me for both myself and a child to be comfortable. Hoping to rent one to find out for sure but I’m doubtful.

I’m a certified WSI but don’t believe I’d ever take them out at the same time. Not unless my wife was out in a second boat.

So I’m considering something like the WS Pamlico 135t, a Perception Prodigy II 14.5 tandem or a Liquid Logic Marvel 14.5 tandem. Any other recommendations are welcome.

I’ve tried canoes but I found the paddling position uncomfortable for my back. Tried a lower seating position with a kayak paddle but didn’t care for it. Not sure the paddle was the proper length but I just don’t think it will work.

Problem is I can’t find any tandem kayak rentals under 16’ to try out. So all I can do is rent singles and see what I like/dislike.

I suspect something like the Marvel will offer a decent combination of glide and stability. Not sure I’d like the flatter bottom of the Pamlica 135t but I’m willing to listen to opinions. I’ve tried a fair number of different boats but never a tandem.


I’m 5’9" with short legs so I don’t need a ton of room.

I have three nearby local lakes in the 10 to 25 acre size that are very calm. There is a closer 400 acre lake that does have motorized boat traffic but I’d hug the shoreline if going there. And probably not until later this summer when my experience increases.

I’ve taken courses on self-rescue, etc. It’s been a while but I have taken them.

I’m a pretty strong guy but weight is a concern. I’ll be loading and unloading off of a tall SUV by myself until I decided on a trailer set up. There is a 16’ Old Town Loon for sale about three hours from here but am not sure I want to deal with the length or weight.

Oh tried a sit on top but want a sit inside.

Most recommend against paddling
3-4 year olds. Just put them in the corner for a while.

Have you considered a canoe? With a kayak (especially a sit inside) you don’t get much cockpit space. And if weight is a concern, then you really can’t get anything very long.

A SOT gives you a lot more flexibility of putting the child way down by your feet or possibly behind you.

A canoe gives the child a proper place to sit, and the weight can be less than a kayak.

The 135 T is good…
I’ve also seen a Cobra Tandem that looks like it would do pretty well. I had a Bic Scappa that had a pad in front where a wee one could sit facing back towards you.

Another idea is to have them ride in the tanks well of a sit on top. You might want to try a WS ride for that.

More on canoes.

– Last Updated: Jun-02-12 4:14 PM EST –

You said "I've tried canoes but I found the paddling position uncomfortable for my back." That statement alone tells me you really haven't checked out canoes, because a variety of paddling positions are possible. I'm a big proponent of kneeling in a canoe, because for those people with the physical ability to do it, a very common comment is that it's much easier on the back than sitting, whether in a kayak or canoe.

That said, there's no denying the fact that one reason kayaks are so popular with beginning paddlers is that you can get in the boat and go. It takes a good solid year of practice to do as well in a solo canoe as a beginner in a rec kayak does on the very first day (that's assuming single-blade use in the canoe instead of a double-blade), and there's a lot to be said for the quick and easy approach. However, tandem kayaks typically are slugs (and heavy), and a canoe will allow you to take a child passenger for a lot more years (as the kid grows) than a solo kayak. Then there's the price aspect too. Basic plastic kayaks are a lot cheaper.

Just some things to think about.

My son is 4
and we have been paddling together since he was around 3. The trick is to take short trips. Our first ones were maybe 10 minutes max, sometimes we went to the launch and played there without ever going on the water.

He loves canoeing and he is good for 3-4 hour trips now. Keep it fun, build up to it, and realize that taking your child paddling is about having fun with your child - not time on the water or distance travelled.

I would be the first to admit I haven’t fully checked out canoes. I’ve tried sitting normally & that was really uncomfortable for my back. My back had improved significantly since them but like a lot of people with back injuries I’m always scared of hurting it again.

I’ve had two knee operations & didn’t care to kneel.

I also set up a small folding chair so that the seating position was just a bit lower than the canoe seat. Tried this with a double paddle & liked it the best but felt it was far from being dialed in. If you or anyone else has any suggestions I would really appreciate hearing them.

For many, but perhaps not most, the
kneeling position in a canoe takes stress off the lower back. The question is, will your knees and ankles be happy.

Careful, progressive stretching of the chain of muscles crossing the back of the hips, knees, and ankles will probably allow you to sit in a canoe for part of the time, as relief from kneeling. It will help if your feet are “located” on foot blocks or a foot bar, and the sides of the canoe are padded, perhaps even with somewhat hooked pads like the thigh braces on kayaks. Your knees will then be splayed somewhat to the side rather than waving from side to side in front of you. The positive support of the feet and thighs will help your pelvis and back relax rather than fishing around and getting sore.

Pamlico 135 Tandem
We have a Pungo 120 & a Pamlico 135tandem, + 2 kids. Older is 9 & went with me in the Pam135, while the 3 year old went in the Pungo with mom, with a soft, folding camping chair as a sort of “seat”. It was okay when she was 2, but at 3- she couldn’t fit well while my wife paddled. Got the older one a kid’s kayak, moved 3 year old to Navigator position in the Pam135.

I highly recommend the Pamlico 135. My only issue with it is the weight. If you have to get that sucker onto an SUV- good luck!

Thanks. That’s good information and what I was afraid of. I might also consider the Perception Prodigy 13.5. I was told it paddles a bit better than the Pamlico 135t. Unfortunately I have to do mail order to get either of these.

one suggestion
Unfortunately, there are few handy dealers to test them out, but Pakboat folding kayaks might be a good choice for you. Look at the Puffin Saranac (in fact the manufacturer’s page even shows one with a dad and child.)


It’s only 28 lbs (yup, that’s right) so it’s a piece of cake to load. The black line you see in the photo is velcro which is used to seal on the removeable deck that gives it a more conventional kayak look. Look at the gallery shots for that:


We have its big brother, the Pakboat XT-15, and it’s a very well made, tough and comfortable boat. The integrated inflatable sponsons make it very stable while the ladder like frame gives it rigidity. The seats are inflatable also and extremely comfortable. My boyfriend has lower back troubles with most canoes and kayaks but loves the Pakboat seat. You can set up the Saranac for solo paddling as well as tandem with the child in front. The soft boat will minumize bumps and bruises, too. Unlike many soft inflatables, Pakboats also paddle really well, in fact being easier to propel than your typical wide recreational hard plastic boat. There are numerous YOuTube videos of people assembling and paddling Pakboats if you want to check them out.

Prices range from $800 to $1000 for one. Because they pack down to a duffel bag and are light, they can be mail ordered.

If I was going to paddle with small kids, that would be my first choice.

Pam 135
We also have a Pamlico 135T that my wife paddles with partners at times. My observations of the boat is that it’s pretty heavy to carry around but I do load it on my Tahoe by myself. It also seems track very well (too well for moving water) and it’s pretty fast. The seat positions are adjustable, so you can move them around to get the boat to trim.

The key to loading boats is having the right racks.

Wilderness used to make a Pamlico Pro - that weighed 63lbs. If you are lucky enough to find one used before Mike McCrea jumps on it, that might be a real good way to go.


The Chesapeake shown on that page wouldn’t work with more than a toddler up front (I have one).

You might also consider the Pamlico 145T (65lbs), or the Pelican Persuit 140T (60lbs). And then there’s the inflatables…


But I think you should also look more into what’s possible with canoes. There is a world of range between sitting and kneeling in a canoe. Add a foot bar or blocks and a back-band, and the seating can be similar in feel to kayak seating. Seats can be flat or dished - or even bucket. You can get seats that are adjustable in height. You can change the angle of the seat. You are not locked into one position, so you can change it up…kneel, sit, one leg forward, one leg under, etc…

Any decent canoe can be set up all of these ways, and if you have the money you can get a tandem canoe in the ~50lb and under range - much better on your back.


"But I think you should also look more into what’s possible with canoes. There is a world of range between sitting and kneeling in a canoe. Add a foot bar or blocks and a back-band, and the seating can be similar in feel to kayak seating. Seats can be flat or dished - or even bucket. You can get seats that are adjustable in height."

I’m off to Google after reading this but can you give me some websites that will all me to compare some of these different types of seating positions? I assume you mean these are all after market options?

I agree that a canoe solves a lot of problems for us. If I could get a seating position similar to what it appears the Old Town Pack Angler has I think that would be great.

Look to Ed’s for seats
So many good seats. Such nice folks.


could consider a hybrid
I take dogs or kids in my commander all the time…they sit quite comfortably in the captains perch while i am in the kayak seat, or vice versa.

The down side is you may get more fitness than you bargain for…it plows water more than it glides. I am a sucker for a good challenge so it hardly bothers me but your mileage may vary.

Other than that I think the canoe recommendations are pretty great.

I took a Commander 120 for a short paddle. I really liked the Captain’s seat and the stability was shockingly good for someone who has never been in a boat like that.

But it has less open area than a Native Ultimate and at the same weight as the Commander 120 I could have a Native Basic 14.5 tandem which is easily converted for solo paddling. At least I think that’s what the listed weights were.

Make Sure the Kids Can Swim?
And no matter which tamdem craft you select, always sit in the back and be ready to rescue. If the 2, 3 and 4 year olds can’t swim, I forced them to wear self righting Mustang Li’ll Legends PFD’s, so I can easily fish them out of the water by grabbing hold of their collar handle strap as the canoe floated up to them. A double outrigger canoe, at around 40 pounds was my favorite workout vehicle with kids. As they got older, at 7 and 9, the older kids sat back to back up front and took turns paddling, while the 3 year old sat back to back with me in the rear, for a grand total of 3 kids and one adult or 4 occupants. The double outrigger is very fast and even with the 7 year old paddling, no plastic fantastic SOT could catch us.

I rock the canoe with my 6 and 2 year old. I kneel and I can cancel out any movement that my little ones make. My 2 year old likes to hang over the side and play with the water the whole time. Short flat water trips are a perfect start. Same way I started my 6 year old, now she can be with me for 4-5 hours.

Interesting thread
Nice little discussion going on here. I’m a canoe guy and I think a canoe would do two things for you. First, canoes are so incredibly versatile and by far the best paddlecraft for kids. The kids can move around. They help out with the paddling, or not. You can haul plenty of stuff. Even enough to camp if you want. North America was explored and settled in canoes. They are just awesome.

Then there’s the issue of comfort, and canoes have it over kayaks hands down. Kneeling is SO much more ergonomic for your back, its not funny. Your back stays nice and arched and upright, not scrunched up unnaturally like when sitting a kayak. Be sure to get a good kneeling pad, and maybe some toe blocks if you want. And, of course, you don’t have to stay kneeling. Move around; sit back when it suits you. Go ahead and stand up if you want. Strech out those legs. You can do it in a canoe.

The last thing, though, is the “fitness” part. I confess that I’ve never really felt like a got a “workout” in a canoe. Sure, it’ll wear you out, like walking or hiking. But you don’t get that hurts-so-good cadrio burn like after a good run or bike ride. Kayaking maybe does that better because you don’t really recover between strokes. Even hit n switching with a single blade doesn’t quite get the heart rate up as much as doubleblading, in my experience. Hit n switching gets rather tedious. Then again, I find doubleblading kayaks rather tedious. But I suppose it is a better “work out.” Anyway, canoes are probably better paddled for the joy of paddling, not for any particular “fitness” program. Good luck!