Sit-On-Top vs. Sit-inside Kayaks (2023): Which One Is Better for You?

By Mitch Rice

When it comes to kayaking, one of the first decisions you need to make is whether to choose a sit-on-top or a sit-inside kayak.

Both options offer unique advantages and considerations, catering to different preferences and water activities.

In this article, we will explore the characteristics, pros, and cons of sit-on-top and sit-inside kayaks, helping you make an informed choice for your next adventure on the water.

No time to read? In a nutshell:

  • Sit-on-top kayaks are more stable and recommended for recreational purposes
  • Sit-in kayaks protect you from the elements and are faster, they’re recommended if you want to become a proper paddler.

That said, there are more nuances to this debate, so let’s see all that in detail.

What are Sit-On-Top Kayaks?

Sit-on-top kayaks are designed with an open cockpit, allowing paddlers to sit on the top of the kayak rather than inside a closed hull. These kayaks are generally wider and more stable, making them a popular choice for recreational paddling, fishing, and even surfing in mild waves.

The Advantages of Sit-On-Top Kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks offer several advantages, including:

Easy Accessibility and Exit

Sit-on-top kayaks are highly accessible, making them suitable for beginners and individuals with limited mobility. You can easily get on and off the kayak without feeling trapped or confined.


Due to their wider design, sit-on-top kayaks provide excellent stability. This makes them a preferred choice for activities that require constant movement or fishing where you may need to stand up.


Sit-on-top kayaks have scupper holes or self-bailing systems that allow water to drain off the deck. This feature ensures that the kayak remains buoyant and prevents water accumulation during wet conditions or if you capsize.

Considerations for Sit-On-Top Kayaks

While sit-on-top kayaks offer many benefits, there are a few considerations to keep in mind:

Exposure to Elements

As sit-on-top kayaks have an open cockpit, you are more exposed to the elements. This means you may get wet from splashes or in rough weather conditions. However, this can also be an advantage during hot summer days.

Less Storage Space

Compared to sit-inside kayaks, sit-on-top kayaks have limited storage space. This may be a consideration if you plan to carry a lot of gear or embark on longer expeditions.

What are Sit-Inside Kayaks?

Sit-inside kayaks, as the name suggests, feature an enclosed cockpit where you sit inside the kayak’s hull. These kayaks are narrower and offer a more traditional paddling experience. They are commonly used for touring, whitewater kayaking, and kayaking in colder conditions.

The Advantages of Sit-Inside Kayaks

Sit-inside kayaks provide unique advantages that may suit specific needs:

Protection from Elements

With a sit-inside kayak, you have protection from wind, waves, and spray. This makes them ideal for colder climates or when kayaking in rougher conditions.

Increased Efficiency

The narrow design of sit-inside kayaks allows for increased efficiency in paddling. These kayaks glide through the water with less resistance, enabling longer trips and faster speeds.

Better Gear Storage

Sit-inside kayaks typically have more storage space, thanks to their enclosed hull design. This makes them suitable for extended expeditions or carrying additional equipment.

Considerations for Sit-Inside Kayaks

While sit-inside kayaks have their advantages, there are a few considerations to take into account:

Difficulty in Re-entry

If you capsize a sit-inside kayak, re-entering it can be more challenging compared to a sit-on-top kayak. This requires practiced skills and the ability to perform a self-rescue technique.

Limited Accessibility

Getting in and out of a sit-inside kayak can be more cumbersome, especially for individuals with limited mobility or those who struggle with flexibility. It’s important to consider your physical abilities when choosing this type of kayak.

Key Differences between Sit-On-Top and Sit-Inside Kayaks

Now that we’ve explored the characteristics of both types of kayaks, let’s highlight the key differences:

  1. Design: Sit-on-top kayaks have an open cockpit, while sit-inside kayaks feature an enclosed cockpit.
  2. Stability: Sit-on-top kayaks are generally more stable due to their wider design, while sit-inside kayaks offer better maneuverability.
  3. Accessibility: Sit-on-top kayaks are easier to enter and exit, making them suitable for beginners and individuals with limited mobility. Sit-inside kayaks require more effort to get in and out.
  4. Storage: Sit-inside kayaks provide more storage space, making them a better choice for longer trips or carrying extra gear.
  5. Protection: Sit-inside kayaks offer better protection from the elements, while sit-on-top kayaks provide a cooler and more refreshing experience during warm weather.

Choosing the Right Kayak for Your Needs

When selecting between a sit-on-top and a sit-inside kayak, consider the following factors:

  • Intended Use: Determine the primary activities you plan to engage in, such as recreational paddling, fishing, touring, or whitewater kayaking.
  • Water Conditions: Consider the types of water you will be navigating, whether it’s calm lakes, rivers, coastal areas, or rougher open waters.
  • Comfort: Think about your personal comfort level and any specific requirements you may have, such as legroom, back support, or the need for extra stability.
  • Storage Needs: Assess how much gear you plan to carry and the storage capacity required for your intended trips.

By considering these factors, you can narrow down your options and choose the kayak that best aligns with your preferences and needs.

Maintenance and Storage

Regardless of the type of kayak you choose, proper maintenance and storage are essential for its longevity. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Rinse your kayak with fresh water after each use to remove salt, sand, or debris.
  2. Store your kayak in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
  3. Check and tighten any loose fittings, such as hatches or deck lines.
  4. Regularly inspect your kayak for any signs of wear, such as cracks or leaks, and address them promptly.

Safety Considerations

Safety should always be a top priority when kayaking. Here are some safety considerations to keep in mind:

  • Wear a properly fitted personal flotation device (PFD) at all times.
  • Familiarize yourself with the local regulations and rules for kayaking in your area.
  • Learn and practice self-rescue techniques, including how to re-enter your kayak after capsizing.
  • Check the weather conditions before heading out and avoid kayaking in severe weather or rough waters.
  • Inform someone about your kayaking plans, including your intended route and estimated time of return.
  • Carry essential safety equipment, such as a whistle, signaling devices, and a first aid kit.

By following these safety guidelines, you can ensure a safer and more enjoyable kayaking experience.

Popular Sit-On-Top Kayak Models

If you’re considering a sit-on-top kayak, here are some popular models to explore:

  1. Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL
  2. Perception Pescador Pro 12
  3. Hobie Mirage Outback
  4. Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100
  5. Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100

These kayaks are known for their stability, versatility, and durability, making them suitable for various water activities.

Popular Sit-Inside Kayak Models

For those interested in sit-inside kayaks, here are a few well-regarded models:

  1. Dagger Stratos 14.5
  2. Riot Kayaks Brittany 16.5
  3. Necky Looksha 17
  4. Old Town Dirigo 106
  5. Wilderness Systems Tsunami 145

These kayaks excel in performance, tracking, and efficiency, making them ideal for longer trips and different water conditions.

Expert Tips for Kayaking Beginners

If you’re new to kayaking, here are some expert tips to get started:

  • Take a kayaking course or receive proper instruction to learn the fundamentals and safety techniques.
  • Start in calm and protected waters to build your confidence and skills before venturing into more challenging conditions.
  • Practice your paddling technique to ensure efficiency and prevent strain or fatigue.
  • Dress appropriately for the weather and water temperature, considering layers and protective gear.
  • Explore local kayaking communities or join group outings to learn from experienced paddlers and discover new destinations.

Remember, kayaking is a skill that improves with practice, so enjoy the process of learning and exploring the beautiful waterways.

Sit-In Vs. Sit-On-Top Kayaks – Wrapping Up

Choosing between a sit-on-top and a sit-inside kayak depends on various factors, including your preferences, intended use, and the type of water you plan to navigate. Both options offer unique advantages and considerations.

Sit-on-top kayaks provide easy accessibility, stability, and a refreshing experience, while sit-inside kayaks offer protection from the elements and increased efficiency.

By considering your needs and the information provided in this article, you can make an informed decision and select the kayak that suits your style of adventure.

Sit-On-Top Vs. Sit-In Kayaks: Frequently Asked Questions

Are sit-on-top kayaks suitable for beginners?

Yes, sit-on-top kayaks are a popular choice for beginners due to their stability and easy accessibility.

Can I fish from a sit-inside kayak?

Yes, sit-inside kayaks are commonly used for fishing, especially in calmer waters.

Which kayak is better for rough waters?

Sit-inside kayaks provide better protection from rough waters, but it ultimately depends on your skill level and comfort.

Can I use a sit-on-top kayak for touring?

While sit-on-top kayaks can be used for shorter tours, sit-inside kayaks are generally preferred for longer expeditions.

How do I transport and store my kayak?

You can use specialized kayak racks or trailers to transport your kayak, and it’s best to store it in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

Data and information are provided for informational purposes only, and are not intended for investment or other purposes.