Kayaks generally come in two basic styles. There are Sit-on-Top (SOT) kayaks and Sit-Inside kayaks; both are available in single or tandem models. Each can also come as hard shells or as inflatables. It’s hard to say what is a better choice for recreational paddlers: sit-on-top vs sit-in kayaks. Each type has its strengths and weaknesses. It is important to think about where, when and how you plan to use your kayak. This will help you focus on the type of kayak that is best for you.
Although there are some major differences between sit-inside and sit-on-top kayaks, they share many of the same parts. The top of the kayak is called the deck. The bottom is the hull. The front is the bow and the back is the stern. On top of the deck you'll often have deck lines or bungees.
At the stern of the kayak, you should find some grab loops and some kayaks have rudders. Rudders swivel side-to-side in the horizontal plane and are controlled by foot pedals. Skegs simply drop straight in the water and help the boat go straight. Both can have hatches for storing items, and padded seats for more comfort while paddling.
What Type of Paddling Do You Want to Do?
Answering this question is the first step in deciding whether to choose a sit-on-top or a sit-in kayak. What kind of kayaking do you want to do, and what type of water are you going to primary paddle?
Sit-on-top kayaks are an excellent choice for:
- Recreational kayakers who want stability over speed. You can even stand up in many sit-on-tops.
- Kayakers who prefer a boat that can be entered and exited easily, as opposed to getting inside and out of a sit-in kayak, which is a little trickier.
- Kayakers who like the peace of mind that they won’t swamp. If you capsize a sit-on-top, it’s fairly simple to flip it upright and climb back on with some practice.
- Kayak anglers
Sit-inside kayaks are the best choice for:
- Kayakers who value speed and performance
- Paddlers interested in multi-day kayak trips
- Oceans and big open water (sea kayaks)
- Rivers with whitewater (whitewater kayaks)
Sit-on-Top Pros & Cons
Sit-on-tops are the most user-friendly. They're very stable, easy to get in and out of and there is no feeling of confinement on them. They're also self-bailing, scupper holes built into the hull that allow the water to drain right through them.You can also slip on and off sit-on-tops as you please. All these features make the sit-on-top kayak a great choice for nervous paddlers, for warm environments and for paddling with kids who love to swim.
The downside to sit-on-top kayaks is that you're guaranteed to get wet while paddling, while sit-inside kayaks allow you to stay dry.
Sit-Inside Pros & Cons
Sit-insides shelter your lower body from the wind, which makes them much warmer. Sit-inside kayaks are great for paddlers who'll be on cooler water and who want to stay dry while paddling, and they consider the kayak more than a vehicle for travel than a toy.
One downside of the Sit-inside kayaks is that you don't have the same freedom to move in and out of the water. And if you do flip for some reason, recovery is a complicated process because your kayak will likely be filled with water.
Like sit-on-tops, recreational sit-inside kayaks are very stable, fun, and easy-to-use. They've got large cockpits so there's no reason to feel confined in them. Some even have waterproof compartments that are accessed through hatches in the deck.
Stability of Sit-on-tops vs Sit-in Kayaks
Sit-on-top kayaks are designed for stability in their width, and so are great for anglers and others who value stability over performance.
Sit-in kayaks have something called edge stability, which means you can roll them onto their edge and they’ll stay there. This is important for those who value performance paddling over stability.
There’s no debate here—sit-on-tops are more comfortable! You’re not confined inside the boat so you have more freedom of leg movement. You can even stand up for a change, which can make a big difference on a long day of paddling.
The seats of sit-on-tops can get, as Ken says, “downright luxurious.” Many sit-on-tops offer a height-adjustable seat, giving you even more seating options.
Sit-in kayaks have come a long way though. Kayaks like the Liquidlogic Saluda and the Hurricane Prima have frame seats similar to those found on a sit-on-top kayak, making them much more comfortable than other similar kayaks.
That said, the more economical recreational sit-in kayaks are also designed for stability. It’ll be hard to capsize one of those even if you try!
Should I buy a sit-in or sit-on kayak?
Choose the kayak that best fits your goals and aspirations as a paddler. If you want to take to the open water for multi-day trips, look hard at touring or sea kayak designs that have storage and floatation. If you’re into fishing, you’ll probably want to consider a sit-on-top fishing design. Recreational paddlers who stick close to shore and want to keep dry will prefer a sit-inside recreational kayak. Those who wish to venture farther from shore but don’t need the specialized performance of a touring kayak should select a recreational sit-on-top.
The Liquidlogic Saluda
The Liquidlogic Saluda is a sit inside recreational kayak that will be very forgiving for entry level paddlers and a ton of fun for experienced paddlers as well. It comes in two sizes, an 11 foot model and a 12 foot model. Paddlers will instantly feel the stability, comfort and tracking of this kayak on the water. The Saluda features all-day comfortable frame seating that is hand sewn in Fletcher, NC USA and a super convenient Gearstash console.
The Hurricane Prima
Looking for a recreational sit-inside with a removable frame seat in a performance package that paddles like a dream? The Hurricane Prima family features our 1st Class Frame Seat, a roomy Sport cockpit for easy entry and exit, a large versatile rear hatch with tons of room for gear, and a multi-chined hull for a superior paddling experience. The ABS plastic hull sets this kayak apart. It’s more durable than the usual HDPE hull, and significantly lighter - weighing in at 40lbs for a 12 foot kayak (the 11 foot model weighs 36 lbs).
The Feelfree Adventura 110
The all new Aventura V2 has all the performance features of the original version including a large accessible cockpit, padded comfort seat and adjustable high backrest along with some updates to improve your paddling experience.
The implementation of a new lighter weight / super-linear plastic powder has reduced the weight for easier transportation. The lighter weight also provides added glide on the water, this will improve efficiency on those long paddles.
The Feelfree Moken 10 V2
The Moken 10 is one of Feelfree's most popular kayaks designed for those who want the comfort, stability and features of larger fishing kayaks in a smaller yet fully capable package - now better than ever!
The Feelfree Moken 10 V2 is ready for whatever adventure you have in mind. Stable, maneuverable and easy to transport thanks to the Wheel in the Keel, this is a kayak that everyone will appreciate, from the experienced angler to the novice paddler. The Moken 10 comes with molded-in carry handles, fishing rod holders, a stern crate and gear recess and a bow storage area for convenient gear accessibility. Regardless of activity the Moken 10 V2 is the perfect for fishing, paddling, or exploring for any kayaker.
Liquidlogic Coupe XP
Versatility is the name of the game these days. When it comes to getting your money's worth , the Coupe offers it up in large doses. This one-of-a-kind hybrid design is fun, stable, easy to paddle and is as comfortable on rivers and lakes as it is riding your favorite ocean break.
The Coupe’s hull is whitewater ready with soft edges for easy control and the bow is upswept allowing the Coupe to ride up and over river features as well as staying high and dry when taken in the surf zone. On quiet waters such as lakes and bays the Coupe transforms to a touring sit-on-top with a flick of the lever deploying its spring loaded skeg; a feature not found on any other sit-on-top kayak.
The Hurricane Skimmer 116 First Class
By pairing their lightest sit-on-top with Native’s industry-leading First Class frame seat, Hurricane has created a super stable, super comfy platform for cruising, fishing, bird watching, and simply having a blast on the water. It also features a 10-inch bow hinge hatch for easy access to the hull for storing items like a dry bag or fishing rod. At 37 lbs with the seat removed, this is one of the lightest sit-on-top kayaks on the market, making it perfect if kayak weight is a concern.
The Feelfree Juntos
The Feelfree Juntos packs utility and performance into one package. Equipped with a "Jump Seat" for a child or pet, this kayak is perfect for the paddler who wants to bring along a partner every now and then. It’s also a great solo kayak and includes our Wheel in the Keel for easy transport on your own as well as a pair of rod holders for those times when you just want to sneak off to a fishing spot by yourself.
Pick the boat that’s right for the conditions you plan to encounter most of the time, with a little bit of thought toward that ultimate trip you hope to take in the future. Head to your local kayak shop, like Festive Water, to check out the options and get advice. Arrange for a demo paddle when you have your choices narrowed down to a couple boats. There’s a kayak out there for every paddler, and with a little homework and some advice from friends and professionals, you’ll be able to find the right boat to get you on the water.