Choosing the Perfect Kayak: Sit-on-Top or Sit-Inside?

Choosing the Perfect Kayak: Sit-on-Top or Sit-Inside?

Posted by Pascal Smyth on 2024 Jan 31st

When first researching what kayak will be a good fit for you, the choices can be overwhelming. Folding or inflatable kayaks have the advantage of ease of transport, though there are always some performance tradeoffs when on the water. Assuming you have the storage space for a hardshell kayak, as well as the means to transport it then a hardshell kayak is an excellent choice.


With that selection made, we then need to consider what form that might take. One of the first things to consider is whether that kayak will be a sit-inside or a sit-on-top, so let’s take a quick look at the benefits of each, as well as some other considerations.

Sit-Inside Kayaks

A sit-inside kayak offers a generally dryer experience. Most paddle drips and splashes will naturally stay out of the paddler’s lap. With a spray skirt fitted, it will be an almost completely dry experience.

Another benefit of a sit-inside kayak is that they’re generally lighter than a similar length sit-on-top made from the same material. The large cockpit opening removes lots of material which would otherwise be used in the deck of a sit-on-top. The structure also needs much less reinforcement if it doesn’t have to support a paddler’s weight overtop of an empty space. A sit-inside allows the weight on the paddler to be spread out across the hull much more evenly.

There are some things to consider that may make a sit-inside less appealing. Depending on the design, the cockpit opening can be fairly small. For people with flexibility or mobility issues, this can make entry a bit challenging. This is especially true when doing a re-entry in deeper water.

Sit-on-Top Kayaks

A sit-on-top kayak offers a great benefit in terms of buoyancy. The entire hull is essentially a compartment of trapped air, providing a tremendous amount of flotation. In the event of a capsize, the seal nature of the hull keeps it floating high on the water, eliminating the need to pump out the cockpit upon entry.

Because of the open nature of the kayak, re-entering the kayak is as straightforward as climbing back aboard. Though this requires a bit of strength, it requires much less finesse than re-entering a sit-inside.

With the open seating arrangement of a sit-on-top kayak the legs are much less constrained. You can straighten your legs, wiggle them around, maybe even hang them over the side of the kayak. For those who dislike feeling cramped this can make a huge difference in comfort.

The downside to being in such an open seat is that you’ll be significantly more exposed to wind, waves, and rain. In cold conditions the comfort gained from the freedom of a sit-on-top kayak can be overruled by the discomfort caused by exposure to the elements.

Personal Comfort and Confidence

Ultimately it’s a personal choice as to what is best for you. For some people the idea of being confined or trapped in a kayak can cause significant stress. Though the actual risk of being trapped in a capsized kayak is low, it may weigh heavily on your mind. If that is the case, it may be the case that a sit-on-top kayak will allow you to enjoy your time on the water without feeling such distress. Ultimately paddling is an activity you should enjoy; there’s no sense being stressed out!

There's No Wrong Choice

The ultimate goal of kayaking is enjoying the time on the water in a comfortable manner, however that looks to you. Whether you choose a sit-inside or a sit-on-top kayak as long as you’re enjoying your time paddling, you’re doing it right! Consider your personal preferences, physical capabilities, and the type of kayaking experiences you wish to have. Remember, the best kayak is the one that suits your individual needs and brings joy to your adventures.