Good stable hull and plenty of space make for an excellent leisure or angling boat. Adjustable backrest and leg padding add comfort. Plenty of storage and space for accessories.
Would be nice to have a paddle holder.
Large open cockpit. Padded seat provides extra comfort. High-density polyethylene construction ensures the kayak will maintain its appearance for years to come. Sold in multiple vibrant colors.
Can be tough for tall kayakers to get in and out of the kayak.
A truly remarkable idea. Not inflatable; it’s a solid hulled boat that packs into its own wheeled bag. Assembles in under 5 minutes. Comes with 2 watertight hatches. Does not leak.
Expensive. Even folded, it’s still quite bulky.
Weighs only 48 pounds. Includes a stern hatch, bungee lashes, and lots of storage. Roomy cockpit with comfortable seat. Adjustable foot braces. Easy to handle. Steadiness and width make it great for beginners.
Can be a bit tippy at first.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Don’t stand your kayak upright on its end when storing; weight should be spread evenly. Racks or supportive harnesses are best.
Paddle choice can vary depending on the kayak, the type of activity, and the user, so they often aren’t included. Check when ordering.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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