Facebook Pixel Code
 

Best Sit-On-Top Kayaks

Updated September 2018
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.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
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.
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
How we decided

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

  • 50 Models Considered
  • 8 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 200 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.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    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.

    Shopping guide for best sit-on-top kayaks

    Last Updated September 2018

    Whether you go on long kayaking adventures or you merely want a simple vessel for a bit of fun on the water, a sit-on-top kayak will serve you well.

    But not all sit-on-top kayaks are the same. Some are designed for serious touring, and others are better suited for light recreational outings, and you don’t want to use the wrong one. Choosing the best sit-on-top kayak to fit your needs can be challenging, especially if you're a first-time buyer and not well versed in all things kayak.

    We at BestReviews can help take the confusion out of shopping. We’ve done the research so you don't have to. Below you'll find our full shopping guide to sit-on-top kayaks, which will tell you all you need to know to find the right one for you. When you're ready to buy, scroll up to the product matrix to see our top five sit-on-top kayaks.

    Your legs are out in the open in a sit-on-top kayak, which is great for warm water or warm weather use but less appealing during colder weather.

    Benefits of sit-on-top kayaks

    Sit-on-top kayaks (also known as SOTs) are less traditional than sit-inside kayaks, so you might be wondering if an SOT is right for you. Of course, the choice is yours, but here are some of the benefits of sit-on-top kayaks over sit-inside kayaks.

    • Wider and more stable

    • Easier to get in and out of for hiking or exploring

    • Easier to get into from the water for swimming, snorkeling, or scuba diving

    • Safer for newbies

    • More appealing to nervous kayakers

    • Don’t need bailing (scupper holes for draining any water in the hull)

    Strong and stable

    This durable SOT is suitable for one or two people and strong enough to last for years to come. Fairly short and wide, this extremely stable kayak is great for all kinds of recreational activities.

    Types of sit-on-top kayaks

    Surf

    Designed for riding the ocean surf, these SOTs are short and wide for stability and have a lot of curve the the hull, or rocker. Though these kayaks are great at what they're designed for, they're slow on flat water.

    Recreational

    Made for general use (but nothing too ambitious), recreational SOTs tend to be good all-rounders, but they don't necessarily excel at any one thing. These have some storage, but not as much as touring models, and they tend to be more suited to flat water rather than surf.

    Touring

    Touring SOTs are designed for longer trips. They have enough storage space for supplies to last a day or two. They tend to be fairly long and track well (move straight through the water).

    Scuba

    SOTs made for scuba divers are stable enough to stand up to waves and slightly choppy water. These don't need a vast amount of storage space but should have a tank well big enough to carry your diving tank.

    FOR YOUR SAFETY

    U.S. law states a personal flotation device, such as a life vest, should be on you or within reach at all times when using your kayak. We'd recommend wearing a life vest while paddling.

    Sit-on-top kayak features to consider

    Length

    Make sure to choose a sit-on-top kayak of an appropriate length for your needs and abilities.

    • Longer kayaks are faster and have more room for storage, but these can be tricky to steer through obstacles.

    • Shorter kayaks are more maneuverable and often feel more stable, plus they're easier to transport with a smaller car. These also tend to be lighter, which is good news if you have to carry one a fair distance to the water.

    Width

    • Narrow: If you're looking for the fastest sit-on-top kayak out there, you'll want a narrow one. While this increases your speed, it will make your kayak less stable and easier to capsize. The narrowest SOTs aren't good for children, complete beginners, or nervous kayakers.

    • Wide: Wider kayaks feel much more stable and won't capsize easily. These SOTs can accommodate larger-bodied people, but they do move through the water more slowly. These are good for novices and children.

    Material

    The vast majority of SOTs are made from two types of hard, molded polyethylene plastic.

    • Single-layer or linear polyethylene is the standard variety found on basic SOTs. It's tough and offers good performance overall, but it’s heavier and doesn't stand up to UV light as well as high-density polyethylene.

    • Super-linear or high-density polyethylene is stronger and lighter than single-layer polyethylene. It's also more UV resistant, so it won't fade or degrade as easily over time.

    Seats

    Some sit-on-top kayaks come with seats and others don't.

    • No seats: SOTs that don't have seats usually have a dipped or indented area for you to sit in. The manufacturer may sell seats as an optional extra.

    • Seats: SOTs can have high-backed or low-backed seats. Note that while high-backed seats offer more support, they can infringe on your paddling motion because you're less able to twist your torso. Low-backed seats don’t offer as much support but allow for a better range of motion. We'd recommend low-backed seats for longer excursions or if you have a need for speed. High-backed seats are more comfortable for leisurely cruising.
    EXPERT TIP

    When choosing a paddle for your kayak, remember that you'll need a longer paddle for a kayak with a wider hull and for taller paddlers. Lightweight paddles help reduce fatigue.


    Staff  | BestReviews
    EXPERT TIP

    If you want a kayak with a seat, padding will give you a more comfortable ride.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Sit-on-top kayak prices

    You can expect to pay between $200 and $1,500 for a sit-on-top kayak.

    Basic SOT kayaks

    These sit-on-top kayaks cost roughly between $200 and $400. Don't expect to get any bells and whistles at this price point, just a simple single-person vessel.

    Mid-range SOT kayaks

    These sit-on-top kayaks cost between $400 and $700. In this price range, you'll find kayaks of various lengths and widths, suitable for many purposes, as well as some basic two-seater options.

    High-end SOT kayaks

    These sit-on-top kayaks cost between $700 and $1,500. You can find some excellent one- and two-person kayaks for this price, with lots of extra features, such as comfortable seats, paddles, and ample storage.

    Simple yet sturdy

    Anyone looking for a basic one-person model that won't break the bank should consider the Lifetime Lotus SOT. It might be simple, but it gets the job done. Ample tank well storage makes it suitable for scuba diving outings, too.

    Tips

    Check the positioning of the footwells. SOTs tend to have footwells positioned at a set distance from the seat, which means they may not be comfortable for people of every height. If the footwell positioning isn't right for you, try another model or look for an option with adjustable foot braces.

    Think about how much storage you need. Will you be going on overnight kayaking trips or do you just need enough space to store your phone, keys, and wallet? We'd recommend a kayak with at least a few dry storage spaces for valuables.

    Consider how many people you want to fit in your kayak. Do you want to kayak solo or do you want to paddle with your child or partner? Some people even take their pets kayaking.

    Choose the SOT that's appropriate for how you'll use it. You shouldn't head out on rough waves in a kayak designed for use on calm water. Think about how and where you'll use your kayak and select accordingly.

    Although you might think the stability of your kayak is of prime importance, most adult kayakers quickly learn to balance even in less stable models.

    FAQ

    Q. I've heard the term "rocker" when looking at kayaks. What does it mean?

    A. A kayak's rocker refers to the curve of the hull from front to back. A sit-on-top kayak with a lot of rocker has a banana-shaped hull, while a model with very little rocker has a straighter hull. Kayaks with a lot of rocker are highly maneuverable and ideal for navigating narrow waterways with obstacles or whitewater use but not so good at going straight. Kayaks with little rocker track extremely well through the water but don't maneuver easily. For general use, choose a kayak with medium rocker.

    Q. Do sit-on-top kayaks have a maximum weight capacity?

    A. Yes, all SOTs have a maximum weight capacity. It's often close to 250 pounds, but it can be slightly more or less, so always check before using. Bear in mind that this weight capacity includes you, any other passengers, and any gear you have on board.

    Q. How do I transport my kayak?

    A. Unless you're lucky enough to live right by the water, you'll probably have to transport your sit-on-top kayak from place to place by car. The good news is that you don't need a large vehicle to transport your kayak. Even a regular sedan will do the job, but you will need an appropriate roof rack.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Bronwyn
      Bronwyn
      Editor
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Enid
      Enid
      Editor
    • Lauren
      Lauren
      Writer
    • Melinda
      Melinda
      Web Producer
    • Rich
      Rich
      Writer

    BestReviews wants to be better. Please take our 3-minute survey,
    and give us feedback about your visit today.

    Take Survey