On a hot summer day, with the dog days just around the corner, nothing sounds better than taking a kayak out on the water for some fishing or easy paddling with your friends and family.
Unfortunately, buying a kayak can be more complicated that it appears as a lot of specs and jargon seem to differentiate less expensive kayaks from the pricier ones, making it difficult to choose However, in general, kayaks can be grouped into two basic classes: sit-inside and sit-on-top.
What exactly is the difference between the two?
In a sit-inside kayak your legs will be underneath the material of the kayak while your torso will be surrounded by the kayak’s body. In a sit-on-top kayak, your legs are free and exposed, and seats are built on top of the kayak material. Kayak Fishing Supplies offers a good visualization of the distinction:
The main thing that sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks offer is increased mobility, which is crucial if you want to wade out into the water to fish or explore. We’ll focus on sit-on-top kayaks here because they’re the more versatile of the two varieties – if there’s a water-based outdoor activity, there’s probably a sit-on-top kayak designed for it.
A few characteristics to keep in mind when picking out your next sit-on-top kayak:
Dimensions will play a big role in your vessel’s pace, handling/maneuverability, and stability. In general, the longer the kayak, the faster it goes; the shorter the kayak, the better the handling; and the wider the kayak, the more stability it provides.
Do you want to go scuba diving? Camping? Fishing? Tour guiding? Each of these activities will require a different variety of kayak, in terms of speed, storage room/capacity. Furthermore, are you and your kayak venturing into white-water?
Into the surf zone? Performance and design will come into play here, as the best sit-on-top kayak will be able to thrive in whatever water in which you paddle.
Without further ado, here are the best sit-on-top kayaks of the last couple of years, grouped by price range:
NOTE: If you’re fishing, check out our breakdown on the best tandem fishing kayaks.
Best Sit On Top Kayak Under $300
Coleman Quikpak K1 1 Person Kayak
Dimensions: 103” x 36”
The Lowdown: As the name would imply, the engineers at Coleman streamlined the Quikpak as much as possible. It takes less than 5 minutes to inflate and set up the kayak, and the backpack that the Quikpak folds into actually becomes the seat itself.
Surprisingly rugged PVC and tarpaulin constructions make the Quikpak more durable than you expect, and the Airtight System provides a no-leak guarantee. In terms of convenience, its one of the best sit-on-top kayaks out there.
The fold-up backpack/seat system makes the Quikpak perhaps the most portable kayak in the industry. It’s also a great entry point for people trying out kayaking for the first time – it’s affordable, convenient, and even has a cup holder. Reviewers even say that they were surprised by its maneuverability and handling.
While you shouldn’t expect premium, peak performance from the Quikpak, it’s definitely one if the best sit-on-top kayaks to try it out and to gauge your interest in the hobby.
Rave Sea Rebel Inflatable Kayak
Dimensions: 103” x 35”
The Lowdown: A very popular kayak on Amazon, the Sea Rebel offers all of the convenience of inflatability, much like the Coleman Quikpak. It handles up to 200 pounds of weight (180 comfortably), and the PVC tarp bottom helps it glide smoothly across all types of water. However, in shallow and rocky areas, you’ll likely need to pick it up and carry it, as reviewers have raised questions about the Sea Rebel’s durability.
That said, for the price, the Sea Rebel represents an excellent option. It’s not the most durable kayak, but it’s convenient, portable, and comes with bag and beverage holders. If you’re a recreational kayaker and the Quikpak seems like a bit too much of a novelty to you, then the Sea Rebel is everything you need in a convenient little bundle.
Best Sit on Top Kayak Under $500
Sun Dolphin Bali SS 10-Foot Sit-on-Top Kayak
Dimensions: 10’ x 30”
The Lowdown: Coming in a variety of loud hues – including lime, pink, ocean blue, and tangerine – Sun Dolphin definitely designed the Bali SS with appearance in mind. Indeed, its sleek design includes a narrow 30” width making the kayak a bit unstable and tricky for newer paddlers, though it handles extremely well and its stability generally belies its narrowness. The open cockpit is designed for comfort, with thigh pads, foot cushions, and holders for your paddles.
Ideal for lakes and rivers, it occasionally has problems with tracking and steering, but a little water weight in the boat usually helps resolve these minor issues. Despite the price tag, the Bali SS is a single kayak, which comes with the inherent pros and cons – it’s extremely light and portable, but can’t support too much weight and you can’t share it with anyone else.
Coleman Colorado 2-Person Fishing Kayak
Dimensions: 10’9” x 39”
The Lowdown: This tough, rugged inflatable kayak is constructed from reinforced PVC that can take bumps and bruises on any variety of water surface. Its wide base gives it great stability, and its Airtight System insures that it won’t spring any leaks, lest its dinghy-like appearance turn off some consumers. When you’re searching for an inflatable option, this is one of the best sit-on-top kayaks for your needs.
Multiple reviewers have described the Colorado as “handy” and “easy,” and those are this kayak’s two main selling points. It’s a snap to inflate and deflate so that it’s ready to go and ready to leave in a matter of minutes. Its multiple air chambers also insure that leakage is never a problem. If you’re looking for something to get the job done – nothing more, nothing less – without a lot of bells and whistles, then the Colorado is the perfect pick.
Best Sit on Top Kayak Under $600
Perception Tribe 9.5
Dimensions: 9’5” x 31.25”
The Lowdown: The Tribe is another somewhat image-focused vessel, boasting five vibrant, tie-dye color schemes – Sunset, Sea Spray, Starburst, Roxie, and Red Tiger Camo. Honestly, all five are absolutely beautiful and – for lack of a better word – really cool. This one will surely garner plenty of compliments.
More importantly, the Tribe is just about the best you can do if you’re buying a kayak on a budget. Equally at home in (light) surf as well as flat water and rivers, the Tribe’s unique Rotomolded Plastic design allows it to resist the sun, rocks, and other dangers. It’s also ethically produced and easy to recycle, and features handles on all sides, making it easy to transport for a non-inflatable kayak. It’s also one of best sit-on-top kayaks in terms of durability – able to support up to 300 pounds – and boasts
It’s also ethically produced and easy to recycle, and features handles on all sides, making it easy to transport for a non-inflatable kayak. It’s also one of best sit-on-top kayaks in terms of durability – able to support up to 300 pounds – and boasts scupper holes that will handle any excess water. Throw in a cushioned, adjustable seat, and the Tribe is an all-around excellent kayak made by a great manufacturer.
Throw in a cushioned, adjustable seat, and the Tribe is an all-around excellent kayak made by a great manufacturer.
Lifetime 10-Foot Manta Tandem Kayak
Dimensions: 102” x 36”
The Lowdown: A streamlined design capable of holding up to 3 people (if that third person is a pet or a small child), the Manta’s central features are comfort and safety, making it one of the best sit-on-top kayaks on the market. It offers multiple foot positions to make sure that you’re comfortable throughout the day and the seat backs are extremely pleasant. Furthermore, the “high and dry” seating makes sure that you’re staying out of the surf as much as possible, and tunnel hull feature means that you’d almost have to be trying to capsize this kayak to make it tip over.
It offers multiple foot positions to make sure that you’re comfortable throughout the day and the seat backs are extremely pleasant. Furthermore, the “high and dry” seating makes sure that you’re staying out of the surf as much as possible, and tunnel hull feature means that you’d almost have to be trying to capsize this kayak to make it tip over.
All of this combines to make the Manta the ultimate “family friendly” tandem kayak. Its versatility – it’s great for tandem riding or solo riding – only adds to its functionality. Though it’s not the sleekest model and you won’t be maneuvering or handling it with the greatest of ease, it’s a safe, solid, dependable option – the steak and potatoes of tandem kayaks.
Conclusion: Which are the best sit-on-top kayaks?
Ultimately you need to identify what you are looking for in your kayak. Whether it’s durability, stability, convenience, price, or mobility, there’s a kayak out there for your needs. We’ve covered some of the best sit-on-top kayaks on the market based on these specifications, so now it’s up to you to get out there and start paddling.