Given the recent attention hogged by deckless, sit-on-top kayaks, maybe it’s time to take a fresh and focused look at the benefits of that most familiar of kayak models, the tried and true sit-inside style. Sit-in recreational kayaks feature decks and partially enclosed cockpits that provide shelter from wind, waves and UV rays.
While this is a huge advantage, especially on cool days and in cold-water locations, an even more important upshot of sit-in kayaks is in enabling the paddler to securely brace their bodies inside the kayak for greater comfort and performance. The broad sit-inside kayak subcategory often features the best performance of all recreational kayaks, with sleeker hulls for speed and design elements to allow them to handle small waves and chop and provide a dry, comfortable ride.
The best sit-in kayaks are both comfortable and responsive—and finding your ideal ride will take a bit of homework to settle on a shortlist of contenders. We’re here to help, by providing a vast rundown of sit-inside kayaks on our Paddling Buyer’s Guide website. This online resource is your one-stop-shop for detailed reviews and comparisons of countless recreational kayaks to help you shop with confidence.
Top picks: Best sit-in kayaks for 2024
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Fishing, single, tandem, pedal-drive or paddle-powered…the options for sit-inside recreational kayaks seem endless. We’ve got you covered while searching out the best sit-in kayak. Follow the links below to discover what’s best for you based on your paddling goals.
These will take you to our comprehensive Paddling Buyer’s Guide, where you’ll find a comprehensive overview of every kayak on the market, including specs, prices, reviews and retail outlets to find the best kayak for lake use.
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Best sit-in kayaks
Starting to narrow down your options? The following articles will help you zero in on the best recreational kayaks for your needs, including tandem sit-in kayaks, one-person sit-in kayaks, fishing kayaks and notable highlights from several reputable manufacturers.
Below you’ll find our articles about these more specific types of sit-in kayaks.
- Best Pelican Sit-In Kayaks For 2024
- Best Tandem Sit-In Kayaks For 2024
- Best Sit-Inside Fishing Kayaks For 2024
Shopping for a used sit-in kayak?
Finding a used sit-in kayak that’s solidly built and meets all your needs takes some homework, but there’s often plenty to choose from on websites like Craigslist, Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace. Your first step is to research the specific attributes of the make and model of kayak you’re considering; our Paddling Buyer’s Guide is the ideal place to start.
Once you’ve narrowed down your selection to a short list, heed the following advice to make a good purchase.
First impressions matter—especially in terms of the overall condition of the kayak. Take note of any fading due to excessive sun exposure and apply firm pressure to the bottom of the kayak to test for stiffness (it shouldn’t feel soft or noodley). Examine the deck and hull of the kayak for deep gouges (more than 1/8th of an inch or 3 mm deep); obvious abrasion (especially if the worn areas are a different color than the rest of the kayak); and deformities (which will make the kayak paddle less efficiently).
Plastic kayaks, the material of choice for most recreational kayaks, are extremely durable and able to withstand plenty of abuse; some damage is fine, so long as the the shape of the kayak remains intact.
Inside the cockpit
To get the most out of a sit-inside kayak, make sure all the components that help define this style of recreational kayak are intact and functioning properly. A supportive and padded seat is obvious; also test the condition of the kayak’s footrests (which often get jammed with sand and grit) and back support, both of which are essential for more efficient and ergonomic paddling.
Check to see if the kayak is equipped with a watertight bulkhead behind the seat (a critical feature for safety and seaworthiness that will keep a swamped kayak afloat) and make sure it’s solid and intact.
Outfitting is the critical connection between the paddler and kayak and includes the seat, back support, thigh rests and footrests. Examine each of these parts individually and consider how well they work together as a whole—the easiest way to achieve this is by sitting in the boat (and ideally paddling it) to make sure it feels comfortable. Outfitting often comes down to personal preference; there’s no one-size-fits-all. One of the drawbacks of a bargain-priced kayak is substandard outfitting.
Take a close look and consider investing in a more expensive kayak if you plan on more serious paddling. If you’re handy, outfitting is easily modified with some glue, foam and DIY time; consider any upgrades you could make to save a few bucks and get a custom fit. Accessories are often the distinguishing factor between fishing kayaks and general purpose recreational kayaks; if you want to do some kayak angling make sure you examine features like rod holders and live wells.
On the water
The only way to truly appreciate the comfort and performance of a kayak is to try it before committing to a purchase. Arrange a meeting place with the seller that allows you to take a few moments on the water. Bring your usual paddle and dress in what you plan to wear while paddling. With a sit-inside kayak be sure to assess how easy the boat is to enter and exit.
Make a deal
In general (that is, before Covid-19 put a premium on outdoor equipment) the typical starting point for a used kayak in moderate condition was about half its retail price. All that has changed in the wake of boat shortages brought on by the pandemic, but you can use it as a starting point while haggling for a price.
Add some accessories
Ask the seller if they’re willing to sweeten the deal with accessories like a paddle and sprayskirt. If you’re offered a PFD make sure it’s in good shape, fits properly and is Coast Guard approved for the location you’ll be paddling. Or, maybe you can save a few dollars and opt out of a package deal if you have your own paddling gear.
For more tips on what to look for when selecting a used kayak, read our article How To Buy A Used Kayak.
Sit-in kayak buying guide
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by questions when buying a sit-in kayak. The best way to narrow your search is to try as many different models as possible. Try out friends’ kayaks; not only will this allow you to get a sense of what’s available, on-the-water experience will allow you to appreciate how different design elements of sit-inside kayaks fit your body and perform on the water.
Shop at paddling and outdoor specialty stores, which offer far more expertise (and a better selection of high-quality kayaks) than impersonal big box outlets. Lastly, favor retailers that provide the option of test paddling recreational kayaks before you buy. Here are expert answers to some of the most common questions from sit-in kayak buyers.
What is a sit-in kayak?
Sit-in kayaks have top decks that create a partially enclosed cockpit in which the paddler sits. This provides shelter from the environment—a huge advantage for paddling on cool days and in cold-water locations. Another important upshot of sit-in kayaks is that the cockpit allows paddlers to securely brace their bodies against the inside walls of the kayak for greater comfort and better performance.
The broad sit-inside kayak subcategory often features the best performance of all recreational kayaks, with sleeker hulls for speed and design elements that allow them to handle small waves and provide a dry, comfortable ride compared to open-deck sit-on-top kayaks. However, some paddlers may feel claustrophobic in the confined cockpits of sit-in kayaks. Make sure you’re comfortable with entering and exiting the kayak. Be sure to try before you buy!
Sit-in vs sit-on kayaks
The critical difference between a sit-in and a sit-on kayak is that a sit-in kayak has a deck and partially enclosed cockpit area in which the paddler sits. This affords shelter from the environment.
Benefits of sit-in kayaks
The benefits of sit-in kayaks include protection from the environment (wind, waves, UV rays); more ability for paddlers to brace their legs against the kayak’s inside to manipulate the boat; and often more advanced outfitting features, such as adjustable foot rests and back supports.
Sit-on-top vs sit-in kayak stability
The stability of sit-on-top and sit-in kayaks is somewhat comparable, though stability is an individual characteristic of each boat. In general, sit-on-top kayaks tend to have wider, flatter hulls which make them more stable.
Sit-in kayak modifications
With a bit of contact adhesive, closed-cell foam and modest DIY skills it’s easy to customize the fit of your sit-in kayak. Even easier is to purchase after-market accessories like seat upgrades and fishing accessories such as rod holders.
Sit-in kayak weight limit
Sit-in kayak weight limits vary with design attributes, such as length and width. In general, a typical sit-in kayak will have an upper weight limit of 250 to 300 pounds.
The dimensions of sit-in kayaks vary based on design features. Lengths range from eight to 12 feet for one-person sit-in kayaks and 12 to 14 feet for two-person sit-in kayaks. Widths of sit-in kayaks will vary between 26 and 34 inches.
Depths vary, but most recreational sit-in kayaks will accommodate even the largest feet. However, it’s wise to try before you buy—and make sure you test out the footwear you intend to use while paddling.
Are sit-in kayaks dangerous?
Because sit in kayaks feature decks and partially enclosed cockpits some new paddlers have concerns about safety. Sit in kayaks are not dangerous, especially when used without a sprayskirt (a fabric torso tunnel that attaches to the cockpit and creates a more secure connection between the paddler and the kayak). Without a sprayskirt, the paddler can easily enter and exit the kayak in the event of a capsize.
A sprayskirt may feel more confining but the advantage is greater comfort and a drier ride in adverse weather conditions. However, it’s important to practice releasing the skirt to exit the kayak in a capsize (a fundamental technique known as a “wet exit”). It’s a great idea to take a basic instructional course to learn this and other essential paddling and rescue skills.
Can you fish from a sit-in kayak?
You can fish from a sit-in kayak, though you may find you have less access to rods and tackle compared to fishing from an open-deck, sit-on-top kayak. Sit-in kayaks are most often designed for paddling first and foremost, whereas sit-on-top kayaks are more versatile. However, if you’re looking for a crossover kayak that works well for both paddling and angling, a sit-in kayak is an excellent choice.
Do sit-in kayaks sink?
Sit-in kayaks won’t sink in normal conditions, and most are designed to remain buoyant even when the boat capsizes and is swamped with water. However, some sit-in kayaks will float better than others—and this is an essential safety feature that should be tested before you take to the water.
Some kayaks have built-in foam floatation elements to keep the boat from sinking and others have bulkheads, which separate the inside of the kayak and ensure that water does not flood the entire interior of the boat.
Where to buy sit-in kayaks
There are many places to buy a sit-in kayak, ranging from paddling specialty stores to general outdoor retailers, big box stores and online outlets. Expect to receive better service, more expert advice and higher quality sit-in kayaks at paddling specialty stores.
You’ll find the cheapest prices at big box retailers—but price and quality are often related and you get what you pay for. Sit-in kayaks are often abundant on the used market, so look at places like Craigslist, Kijiji and Facebook to find a used kayak.
Sit-in kayak reviews
Do you have any more questions? As you begin your search for the perfect sit-in kayak for you, refer to our expert reviews to provide insight into the model’s comfort, performance, accessories and more.
- Kayak Review: Sun Dolphin Excursion 10
- Sea Kayak Review: Melker Rödlöga HV
- Whitewater Kayak Review: Pyranha Scorch
- Whitewater Kayak Review: Zet Chili
- Recreational Kayak Review: Wilderness Systems Pungo 120
- Recreational Kayak Review: Perception Swifty Deluxe 9.5
- Fishing Kayak Review: Ascend FS10
- Whitewater Kayak Review: Jackson Antix 2.0
- Folding Kayak Review: Oru Bay ST
- Recreational Kayak Review: Pelican Trailblazer 100 NXT