Best Sit-Inside Kayaks

Updated September 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

25 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
440 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Shopping guide for best sit-inside kayaks

Last Updated September 2019

Sit-inside kayaks have been around for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years — though modern versions have come a long way from those original hide-covered frames. They range from small crafts for waterborne fun to longer boats for fishing and touring.

In general, these have greater storage capacity than sit-on-top versions, plus you can stay warmer and dryer when the weather’s not so nice so they extend the paddling season.

Not surprisingly, there’s plenty of variety on offer, and if you’re new to the sport it can be difficult to choose the right model. We’ve put together a comprehensive buying guide that looks at the important features plus some of the accessories that can add to your enjoyment.

Our top picks shown above offer a good overview of the performance and price options available to you. The following gives a more detailed look at styles and specifications.

All kayaks have a maximum weight capacity. It usually far surpasses that of the paddler, but you should never take it for granted. Always find out before you buy.

Key considerations

Type of kayak

There are two major elements that have the biggest impact on your choice: your skill level and the kind of kayaking you want to do.

  • For anyone new to paddling

If you’re a beginner, a wide kayak of modest length offers the most stability and is safest to learn with. Most kayaks of this kind are very affordable and ideal for fun paddling on relatively calm water.

  • For intermediate paddlers

As your confidence and skill level increase, you might want to take on rougher waters or longer distances. White-water kayaks remain fairly short but are narrower and more nimble than leisure craft. Touring kayaks, also called sea kayaks, are longer and sleeker, built to travel fast but with plenty of storage space. Fishing kayaks are often similar (though can be broader, again for stability) and will have angling-specific features like rod holders.

  • For those who want to paddle together

The other option is a tandem kayak, and these come in several styles. There are open boats, similar to traditional native craft, that allow you to carry a lot of gear and perhaps a child or pet. There are semi-open models that have interchangeable seats (you can use them solo or tandem), and there are fully enclosed tandems where each paddler has their own cockpit. These are for the more experienced paddlers looking for rapid, long-distance travel.

Materials

You’ll want to consider the material your kayak is made from when thinking about the type of paddling you’ll be using it for.

  • Polyethylene (or HDPE, High Density Polyethylene), often just called “plastic,” is by far the most common material, though it is a little heavy. Kayaks made from this are the cheapest hardshell models and are pretty durable.

  • Polythene is used for inflatable kayaks — though most are sit-on, rather than sit-inside. Very low cost and lightweight, these are okay for occasional fun but not for serious paddling. There are one or two exceptions to this, though, like high-quality hybrids that have aluminum spars for strength and shape with inflatable sections for compact transportation. These are an interesting alternative and similar in price to mid-range hard shells.

  • ABS is a tough plastic also used for things like crash helmets. These kayaks are still relatively light and tough, and they’re mid-range as far as price.

  • Fiberglass / graphite / kevlar composite kayaks are light, responsive craft popular with experienced paddlers. They’re very strong but at the upper end of price ranges.

  • There are wooden models available, but while they are beautiful examples of fine craftsmanship, they’re very expensive and need to be looked after carefully.

Adventure Awaits

At 11 feet long and rated for 325 pounds, this kayak blends the potential for fast travel with enough carrying capacity to haul gear for fishing or camping trips. Storage includes a handy stern locker plus additional deck bungees. Plenty of thought has gone into ergonomics, with good cockpit space and adjustable foot braces. The Dagger is a very capable boat — the only question is how far you want to go.

Features

Length

Length is important not just in terms of kayak performance but also when considering the size of the occupant. If you’re tall, you might struggle to fit in a low-cost 8-foot boat. However, it’s not unusual to find a 10-foot version of the same model is available.

Comfort

If you’re paddling any distance, you’ll want your kayak to be comfortable. Some seats are very basic, but most are padded and many offer adjustability. Padding might also be added inside the kayak for knees and thighs, and adjustable footrests are another benefit for comfort.

Storage

Storage can range from a small area in the stern to both fore and aft compartments. Shock cords or bungees are often added so you can strap gear to the outside of the kayak as well. Some makers claim compartments are waterproof, which might be true, but we recommend you pack things in dry bags just to be sure. A few kayaks have forward platforms for phones or GPS devices.

Maneuvering

Paddle holders are a common feature on many kayaks. Carry handles and storage hooks are also useful. Sea and touring kayaks might have a rudder and/or fin (called a skeg) for additional maneuverability and stability to help combat wind and waves.

EXPERT TIP

Don’t stand your kayak upright on its end when storing; weight should be spread evenly. Racks or supportive harnesses are best.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Paddle choice can vary depending on the kayak, the type of activity, and the user, so they often aren’t included. Check when ordering.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

All plastics are prone to attack by the sun’s UV rays to some extent. Although kayaks are built with good resistance, it’s still best to keep them under wraps or in a garage when not in use.


Staff  | BestReviews

Kayak accessories

Kayaking Shoes: If you want secure footing and comfort in and around the water, you need proper kayaking shoes. A thick sole can give your feet more protection from hidden rocks and debris you can't see while walking in murky water. The best shoes for kayaking resist water/sun damage, dry quickly, and hug your feet while allowing them to breathe on hot days.

Kayak Roof Rack: Unfortunately for most of us, kayaking paradise is rarely just outside the back door. That means you have to pack up and drive somewhere, but trying to put a kayak on an ordinary roof rack is awkward and likely to lead to damage. Kayak roof racks are specially designed to hold kayaks firmly in place, and some can even help make the loading and unloading process a little easier.

Floating cooler: A towable floating cooler saves space in your kayak and lets you keep food and drinks cold for the duration of your paddling trip. These are best used in calmer water conditions and are great for a relaxing float with friends.

Sit-inside kayak prices

Inexpensive: While you might expect the cheapest sit-in kayaks to be exclusively inflatables, this isn’t the case. There are several hard-shell models in the $300 range, many of which are ideal for beginners.

Mid-range: Better quality kayaks — the sort you’d be comfortable taking on the sea or for touring and fishing — run from around $500 to $1,000. Hybrids also fall into this bracket. Most paddlers will find what they want at this price point.

Expensive: Those few sit-in kayaks that exceed $1,000 are usually folding hard-shells or long-distance touring tandems. Top models can even reach as much as $3,000.

Affordable Fun

With a tough HDPE skin, adjustable padded seat, and lots of storage this is much more than just a cheap kayak for beginners. There are nice touches like a water bottle holder, carrying handles, and shock cords for extra gear.  At 10 feet and with a 250-pound. weight rating, it’s a terrific go-anywhere craft for the paddler on a modest budget.

Tips

  • Always think safety first. Paddle with a buddy whenever possible; otherwise, let someone know when you’re going and your estimated arrival time.

  • Proper posture and technique make a huge difference in your kayaking experience as well as the amount of time you can comfortably spend on the water. It’s highly recommended that you take a few lessons or learn from an experienced kayaker when starting out.

  • While you’re new to kayaking, stay close enough to the shore that you could swim back if necessary.

  • Be patient. Your kayak may be equipped for white water rafting, but at the beginning, you definitely aren’t. Learn to control your boat with confidence before taking on bigger challenges.

Other products we considered

The Advanced Elements Kayak is one of a new breed of hybrid kayaks — part rigid, part inflatable. Aluminum spars give it solid structure so it behaves much like a hard shell on the water, but it stores in a compact, easily portable bag. That clever design goes a step further in the Advanced Elements Convertible Kayak, which shares the same structural strength and three-layer skin for puncture resistance but has three seat positions so it can be used solo or tandem. The Perception Cove Sit Inside Tandem Kayak is a spacious leisure craft that’s easy to carry, has the comfort you need for all-day paddling, and includes enough storage for an overnight stop.

Always be aware of water temperature and dress accordingly. For example, even on a warm, sunny day, a lake fed by snowmelt will still be near freezing. A dip could be very uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.

FAQ

Q. Do I need a life jacket for a sit-inside kayak?

A. The law varies from state to state. In most, minors are required to wear a personal flotation device but often adults are not. Our advice would be to wear one regardless of what the law demands. There are jackets made specifically to give you the freedom you need to paddle, and in the event of an accident, they could save your life.

Q: Do kayaks need any maintenance?

A: Very little. If you’ve been in the sea, you should rinse off the saltwater, as it’s corrosive and abrasive and can cause damage if left. Other than that, just check fixtures, fittings, and hull integrity before each use. Store it in a garage or shed if possible or cover it with a tarp.

Q: What is a spray deck?

A: Also called a spray skirt, it’s a cover that fits around your torso and extends over the kayak’s opening to keep out any water. They’re not so popular when the weather is warm because they can make you uncomfortably hot, but they will keep you nice and snug once it turns cooler.

The team that worked on this review
  • Bob
    Bob
    Writer
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Sarah
    Sarah
    Editorial Assistant

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