Lightweight kayak for beginner

What’s the best lightweight kayak for a beginner? I am 5’3" 130lbs. I’ve demo’d several boats (14’) felt best but most are too heavy. I won’t be kayaking alone but I want to be able to maneuver it on and off my small truck by myself if necessary.


– Last Updated: Apr-28-12 1:08 PM EST –

My partner observed I'm stronger not from paddling but from loading and unloading my kayak on and off the roof of the car!

Like you, I only need to put it on the rack at home and take it off when I'm done. At the launch, there're always others who can. Look into some sort of loading aid (towel or rollers to hydrolic Hullevator) so you can paddle what you like rather than paddle what you can lift.

Use wheels and other devices
Before you discard a boat based on weight, look around at the devices out there to help load. You don’t lift a kayak except for WW boats because they are so short, you slide it.

Swift Kiwassa, Saranac
Swift Canoe & Kayak makes ultralight kayaks that are well-designed, stable & maneuverable enough for beginners, but have enough performance that you won’t outgrow them as your skills improve.

They come in glass, kevlar and carbon layups. They used to make them in thermoplastic, and there are plenty still around. Thermoplastic is heaviest, Carbon is lightest.

I’ve used them as student boats, and the thermoplastic versions are great for surfing and rock-hopping.

The Kiwassa comes in two lengths, 12’6" and 13’2". Saranac is 14’ All are available with skegs. Kiwassas range from 30 to 40 lbs; Saranacs range from 30 to 42 lbs.

The Kiwassa and Saranac have high & low volume models. All of these kayaks are outfitted for sea kayaking: front & rear watertight bulkheads, perimeter decklines and elastic decklines.

What kind of waters are you planning to paddle? And what is your maximum budget? What boats have you checked out so far and what is the maximum weight you are hoping to find?

The lightest boats for the least amount of money are folding kayaks and non-folding skin on frame boats, also home built wooden kayaks. You can get one of these for between about $900 and $2000. There are higher end folding kayaks and kevlar, carbon fiber and other specialty material kayaks that will run you from $2500 to $4000 or more. These will all be your only options if you want a kayak less than 40 lbs. Some makers of very light folding kayaks are Pakboat and Feathercraft. Another advantage of these kayaks is you can collapse them into a duffel bag and take them on a plane or stash them in a car trunk or closet.

If you can deal with a slightly heavier boat, I am a little bigger than you (5’ 5" and 155 lbs) and I love my 15’ Venture Easky 15LV, a low volume kayak for small to medium paddlers that is only 45 lbs. I picked mine up on sale for $730 but I think the regular list is around $1000. I am able to lift it onto the rack of my fairly tall Hyundai Santa Fe with not too much effort.

You know, you can go to the “Kayak Buyers Guide” under the “Gear Guide” tab up above this post and run a search for listings of specific length and cost range kayaks – it will show weights and prices for each model. The only drawback is that not all makers are represented in the list.

If you have the patience, time and basic manual skills you can take a class to build a classic skin on frame kayak (or pay someone to make one for you.) These are incredibly light – have an 18’ long one that only weighs 32 lbs. A good place to learn about these remarkable boats is this blog by one of the leading designers and builders of them (who runs classes where he helps people build their own):

Two to try
If you are comfortable in the Current Designs Vision 140 it could be the first and only kayak you ever need to buy. if it seems a little confining and tippy then try the Kestral 140 with a bigger cockpit and two inches more width.

Both are about 43 pounds and both are just over $2000 so they are cheap and light as far as composite light boats for beginners go.

How much do you have to spend?
Light weight usually means more expensive.

Light weight
I think light weight is the most important attribute after hull design. I can’t stand dealing with wheels, sliding, dragging, etc. Putting a 30 pound boat on your shoulder, walking to the water, getting in and just going is an addictive feeling.

The Swift kayaks mentioned above are a good idea. I also agree with the idea of a CD Vision 140. If you’re anywhere near Maine, Lincoln Canoe & Kayak makes some very light kayaks in the 14’ range.

You might also consider a Cape Falcon F-1 skinboat (made in a class), which is a really great boat and would be fine for a beginner. Not everyone has time to build their own, of course.

eddyline is an option
Thermoformed plastic is lighter than rotomolded plastic (not quite as light as other materials, but a bit less expensive generally). Eddyline is a company with a great reputation that makes thermoformed kayaks.

What boats have you demoed that you liked?

As other folks have said, light weight is usually expensive unless you build it yourself or buy used.

Yostwerks has a catalog of skin-on-frame designs.

Pygmy sells the Arctic Tern 14 kit, which makes a fine small person’s boat.

Hull shape? Handling?
What is the hull shape of the Swifts, and what are the handling characteristics of that shape?

Used fiberglass
For weight and price a used fiberglass kayak is what you’ll be looking for. My first two suggestions are an

Impex Mystic or a P&H Vela. I’ve seen newer Mystics with the VCP hatches for $1200 used.

One option
The Hurricane Tracer 165 was a good first boat for me and may be good for you too. Under 50lbs. It’s also relatively affordable, maneuverable, fairly stable, large enough for a week of camping, nice to look at, etc. Paddling Net reviews have more info.

Nothing Wrong with Light

Walrus Griffin LT (sport layup) – 36 lbs., 13’11"

NC 15 Excursion LT – 39 lbs., 15’8"

Temptation is perfect for lake kayaking, which is ten feet long and lightweight.