I know we’re biased here, but, in our opinion, kayaking is one of the greatest watersports around. It’s good for your body, good for your mind, and good for the environment too. But, most importantly, it’s also very accessible.
While kayaking is a genuine sport, it’s also something that almost anyone can do. You don’t need to be an athlete to enjoy all the benefits of kayaking, and it’s an activity that’s suitable for beginner and advanced paddlers alike. Unlike paddleboarding, which is our second favorite paddle sport, kayaking is all-but instant. Just get on your kayak and get going. You don’t even need great balance. It’s also suitable for all ages.
If you are sold on kayaking, you’re probably in the market to buy your own kayak. After all, if you’ve got your own kayak, you can get out on the water any time you like. Hiring a kayak is fine, but you’ll get so much more out of this watersport if you have your own boat. You’ll also be able to go out on the water more often, and that’s how you learn.
Of course, this raises the question, how do you go about choosing the right kayak? Don’t worry – we’re here to help!
Kayak basics: Sit-in and Sit-on Differences
There are two main types of kayak, sit-in and sit-on. Take a look at our more detailed comparison between the two types. It’s worth knowing a little about these two different types of watercraft so you can see why one may be better than the other for your wants and needs.
Sit-in kayaks have an enclosed cockpit. The hull wraps around your lower body so that just your torso and arms are outside of the boat. This puts you very low in the water, which is good for stability and speed, and sit-in kayaks tend to be very streamlined too.
However, while we have much love for sit-in kayaks, they aren’t without drawbacks, especially if you are a novice paddler.
Sit-in kayaks can be hard to get in and out of if you aren’t next to a dock or beach. In fact, getting into a kayak in deep water is almost impossible, and you’ll need to master the heel hook rescue or the paddle float re-entry if you fall out of your kayak and aren’t close to the shore.
Most expert kayakers can re-right their boats using a technique called an Eskimo roll, but that is far from easy. Your kayak will also need to be equipped with a spray deck to keep water out.
Sit-in kayaks are great. But, in most cases, they are best left to more experienced paddlers. You’ll need to learn how to use a sit-in kayak before venturing far on the water.
In contrast, sit-on kayaks are much easier to use. As the name implies, you sit on top of this type of watercraft. This sets you a little higher on the water, and your entire body is open to the elements. Paddling a sit-on kayak inevitably means getting wet!
But the good news is that, if you fall off a sit-on kayak, they are much easier to get back on to. They don’t fill with water, and you don’t need to use a spray deck either. In terms of enjoyment, they are quick and easy to master. Think of a sit-on kayak as an instant source of fun.
Sit-on kayaks are also usually cheaper and more rugged than sit-in kayaks, which are often made from light but easily damaged materials. Sit-on kayaks are generally tough enough to survive some rough handling. They should last many years without needing any repairs.
To the uninitiated, all sit-on kayaks look the same – albeit in a whole lot of different colors. The truth is there are some important things to consider before you buy your sit-on kayak because the last thing you want to do is buy a boat that isn’t suitable for your intended purpose.
The main things you need to consider are:
There is no need to break the bank buying a sit-on kayak. There are lots of different sit-on kayaks available, and they range from cheap to expensive. Decide on your budget before you begin your search, and remember that a more expensive kayak doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have a better paddling experience.
Sit-on-top Kayak Expected Use
sit-on kayaks are good all-rounders that can be used for a wide variety of water-based activities. That said, there are specialist sit-on kayaks that you should know about. For example, fishing kayaks are designed specifically for angling and have lots of features to make fishing as easy and enjoyable as possible. Make sure you match your kayak to your needs.
There are single-seat sit-on kayaks, tandems that can carry two people. Even larger models can accommodate two adults and your kids or pets too. If in doubt, bigger is better because it gives you the flexibility to add to your crew. You can’t do that with a single-seater.
we’re betting that, after your first few paddles, you are going to become a kayaking addict. That means spending hours at a time paddling your boat. Make sure your sit-on kayak is comfortable. It should have a well-shaped, molded seat plus an additional cushion and backrest. Some also allow you to swap out the standard seat and replace it with your own kayak seat for even more comfort.
Sit-on Kayak Shape
short, wide sit-on kayaks are stable but slow. They are ideal for leisurely paddling trips, cruising, and just relaxing on. Longer, narrower kayaks are faster and more efficient, but usually less stable. Out on the rough stuff, a narrower boat is more likely to dump you in the water. Start thinking about whether performance or stability are your main concerns.
Do you want to go out paddling for the day, carrying things like food, swimming gear, or changes of clothes with you? Or are you going to just play in the sea, never venturing far from your car? Make sure your kayak can carry anything you think you’ll want to take with you on your trip.
Sit-on kayaks are made from a wide range of materials. The type of material used will affect things like rigidity, toughness, weight, and price. Popular materials used for making kayaks for fishing include:
• Single-layer polyethylene: durable, light, and cheap, this is a good choice for budget kayaks.
• Double and triple-layer polyethylene: heavier, thicker, and more expensive than single-layer polyethylene, but more robust and likely to last longer.
• Fiberglass: light and rigid, but also prone to damage if you hit a rock, coral, or anything else hard. Fiberglass can be repaired, but repairs can be expensive. Fiberglass kayaks usually cost more than those made from polyethylene.
• Kevlar carbon: the lightest material for making kayaks, it’s stronger than fiberglass, but it’s usually more expensive.
Remember that, once you’ve bought your sit-on kayak, you’ll need to get it to and from the water. That means you’ll need a suitable roof rack or maybe even a trailer. Light kayaks are easier to lift and carry but don’t tend to be as robust or rigid. Carrying handles make picking up your kayak a whole lot easier.
Storage Space in a Sit-on Kayak
You’ll also need somewhere to store your kayak at home. Even compact kayaks can be hard to pass through doorways and carry upstairs. A garage, barn, or storage shed are a must. If you don’t like the idea of any of those options, you may want to consider a folding or inflatable kayak.
Tested & Reviewed: The 5 Best Sit on Top Kayaks!
With all this information at your fingertips, you should have no problem creating a wish list of features for your new sit-on kayak. Just look for kayaks that match your criteria. Still not sure where to start your search? Looking for some reliable, neutral reviews for guidance? We’ve got you covered! Here are our top five sit-on kayak recommendations:
1. Sevylor Quikpak K1 1-Person Kayak
If sit-on kayaks have a weakness, it is that they can be hard to transport and store. You are limited to paddling on water that you can reach by road. The Sevylor Quikpak K1 1-Person Kayak is inflatable, so you can store and transport it easily and carry it to otherwise inaccessible bodies of water.
• 21-gauge puncture and abrasion-resistant PVC construction
• Multi air chamber design
• Double lock valves to prevent accidental deflation
• Supplied with a pump, backpack, and double-bladed paddle
While this sit-on kayak is not the most stable or rugged kayak on review, it’s easily the most portable. If you are an apartment dweller who wants a kayak that is easy to carry and store, the Sevylor Quikpak K1 1-Person Kayak is definitely worth considering, especially for occasional use on calm waters.
• Light and easy to transport
• Fast set-up time
• Supplied with everything you need to get out on the water
• Perfect for smaller, lighter paddlers
• Very budget-friendly
• Not suitable for use on rougher water
• Could puncture on rocks
• Not very robust
• Not as stable as rigid sit-on kayaks
Despite being a low-priced inflatable, this sit-on kayak will still provide hours of enjoyment. It comes with everything you need to start your paddling journey, including a handy backpack so you can carry your kayak anywhere you want to go. You could even take it on a plane. But, if you’re going to take your kayak out in rougher waters or venture far from base, this is not the best choice.
2. Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 Kayak
The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 Kayak is a brilliant compact kayak that is strong enough to handle surf, whitewater, and long-haul paddling excursions. This single-seater offers lots of space and plenty of features to keep even the most adventurous paddler happy.
• Streamlined but stable body shape
• Twin waterproof storage areas
• Adjustable footrests
• Rear storage area with security bungees
• Four carrying handles
• Molded and padded seat with removable backrest and cushion
• Six scupper/drainage plugs
• Available in four colorways
While the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 Kayak maybe a little too small for overnight camping trips, it’s certainly capable of carrying enough gear for a full day out paddling. The multiple drainage plugs also mean it will be at home on rough water. The pointed nose and wide-body design mean that it’s both fast and stable. This kayak is made for fun!
• Very rugged design
• Lots of handy features
• Built to last
• Suitable for tall/heavy paddlers
• A little on the heavy side
• Not supplied with paddles
This versatile sit-on kayak can be used for anything from riding surf to fishing to exploring slow-moving rivers. Easy to paddle, maneuverable, and very stable, this is a good boat for beginners, intermediate, and advanced kayakers.
3. Eddyline Caribbean 12 Sit-On-Top Kayak
Sit-on kayaks are often quite short – 9-10 feet being very common. While this makes them maneuverable and easy to handle, it does mean they are hard to paddle in a straight line. At 12-feet long, the Eddyline Caribbean 12 Sit-On-Top Kayak is a longer than average, which means it’s faster, more efficient, and easier to paddle over longer distances. It’s probably one of the best SOT kayaks you can get (check the price though…)
• V-shaped hull for less water resistance
• Built-in skeg for straighter tracking
• Two waterproof storage areas
• Large rear storage area with security bungees
• Four carrying handles, two molded and two straps
• Accessory rail for GPS, action camera, Bluetooth speaker, etc.
• Adjustable footrests
• Molded, padded, high-backed seat
• Built-in paddle holders
If you want to take your sit-on kayak far and fast, and stick mainly to calm waters, the Eddyline Caribbean 12 Sit-On-Top Kayak is an excellent choice. The long body and relatively narrow beam mean it will cut through the water with ease. However, it’s not as stable as shorter, wider kayaks, so it’s not suitable for use on rough or fast-moving water. Think of this kayak are a tourer. You could even use it for multi-day camping trips.
• Fast and efficient for longer paddling excursions
• Lots of space for carrying equipment
• Light despite being a longer kayak
• Made from hardwearing Carbonlite ABS plastic
• Less stable than wider, shorter kayaks
• Best suited to calm and slow-moving water
• At 12-feet long, transporting and storing this kayak may be difficult
If covering large distances is your idea of kayaking fun, the Eddyline Caribbean 12 Sit-On-Top Kayak would be a good purchase. This is not a high adrenaline kayak, but for spending time on the water and getting plenty of miles under your belt, this boat is ideal.
4. Perception Access 9.5 Sit-On-Top Kayak
Sit-on kayaks don’t come much more compact than the Perception Access 9.5 Sit-On-Top Kayak. At a little over nine feet long, this small boat is made for fun. Its simple molded design means it’s sturdy and can stand up to a fair bit of abuse, but, it’s well-priced and won’t break the bank. If you want a kayak you can quickly load onto your roof rack and carry down to the water, this one is for you!
• Molded, padded high-backed seat
• Twin open storage areas with security bungees
• Molded, multi-position footrests
• Four built-in carry handles
• Replaceable skid plate on the bottom of the hull for increased durability
• Supplied with a two-piece aluminum paddle
With very few bolt-on parts, there is nothing much to break on this boat. Nor is there anything to shake loose if you venture out into the waves or whitewater. It doesn’t have much in the way of luxuries, but that’s not what the Perception Access 9.5 Sit-On-Top Kayak is about. This is not a touring kayak, and it’s not really big enough for long-distance cruising. But, for no-frills fun, this boat is a winner.
• Stable and easy to paddle
• Built to last
• Very low maintenance
• Tracks well despite the shorter length
• No sealed storage areas
• No way to add a replacement seat
This boat is designed for solo paddlers who just want to have fun on the water – whether it’s flat or rough. Its simple design means there is very little to go wrong with this kayak. The Perception Access 9.5 Sit-On-Top Kayak should provide many years of trouble-free aquatic enjoyment.
5. Emotion Kayaks Spitfire 9 Sit-On-Top Kayak
A lot of people think that to get a well-equipped, high-performance kayak, you need to spend a lot of money. The Emotion Kayaks Spitfire 9 Sit-On-Top Kayak proves that this simply isn’t true. This small but speedy boat packs a lot of features into a compact space, and at a price, even your bank manager will love.
• Molded, full padded seat cushion and back
• Flip down seat back for convenience
• Light, tough, high-density polyethylene construction
• Two open storage areas with security bungee
• Single large waterproof storage hatch with screw-down lid
• Molded footrests
• Two molded side carry handles
• Carry straps forward and aft
• Built-in paddle holders
• Molded skeg for straighter tracking
• Five-year warranty
The Emotion Kayaks Spitfire 9 Sit-On-Top Kayak is built to please. It’s light, sturdy, and well-equipped, and a breeze to paddle. It’s streamlined design and skeg means it tracks straight and fast but is also highly maneuverable. At home on flat water or out on the waves, this sit-on kayak is fun with a capital F.
• Light and easy to transport
• Lots of features usually only found on more expensive kayaks
• Built to last and backed with a very extended, comprehensive warranty
• Lots of fun for beginner, intermediate, and advanced paddlers alike
• No paddle supplied
• Bland color/design
This kayak packs a lot of features into its compact, lightweight body. Despite the very competitive price, there is no compromise on quality or performance. You might not want to use this kayak for multi-day camping trips, but for a few hours of fun on the water, it really is an excellent, budget-friendly option.
Wrappin’ up on Sit-On Yaks
Whatever your budget and whatever your paddling needs may be, there is a sit-on kayak for you. Long, narrow kayaks are made for long-distance paddling and traveling over flatwater at speed. Shorter, wider boats are more maneuverable and are at home on flat water and out on the rough stuff too.
All types of sit-on kayak are easy to paddle, and you don’t have to learn how to Eskimo roll either. If you fall off, just drag yourself back on board and try again!
If you want a watercraft that is fun, easy to use, and won’t break the bank, get yourself a sit-on kayak. You won’t be disappointed.