This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

Which sit-on-top kayaks are best?

Sit-on-top kayaks are an excellent choice for the occasional paddler or for those who prefer to sit higher in the seat and not feel confined in a traditional sit-inside kayak. They offer ease of entry, superior stability, and most have scupper holes that let the water drain out if any gets inside. If you are looking for a high-quality sit-on-top kayak suitable for all experience levels, the Perception Zip 9.5 Sit on Top Kayak is the top choice. 

What to know before you buy a sit-on-top kayak

Speed is determined by length

The longer a is, the faster it goes. If you’re just getting started kayaking, a shorter kayak is easier to control and more manageable. Shorter kayaks also tend to be lighter and therefore easier to transport. If you’re experienced, opt for a longer kayak for a more thrilling ride, but be ready to hoist the extra poundage.

Don’t overlook stowage

It’s easy to focus on length and width, but don’t overlook how much you can fit inside your kayak. If you’d like to pack a picnic, carry a speaker or otherwise lug things for your adventure, find a kayak with the right amount of stowage. Bungee cords can affix your items to the top of the kayak, but watertight compartments offer more stability and security.

The seat matters

Some kayaks simply have a molded seat, while others offer padding. If yours doesn’t come with a padded seat, you may want to consider adding one, especially if you expect to be on the water for an hour or more. The seatback height matters as well, as a taller back can feel more stable but can restrict your range of motion as you twist your torso to paddle. If you expect to cover some distance, opt for a shorter seatback. 

What to look for in a quality sit-on-top kayak

The material

Most sit-on-top kayaks manufactured today are made from some form of polyethylene. However, a variety of polys are used in kayaks, and knowing what kind of kayaking you expect to do will help you choose the right kind. High-density linear polyethylene offers the most rugged, sturdy kayak, but is also the most expensive. This is ideal for kayaks that will be exposed to saltwater or whitewater rapids. Low-density linear polyethylene is less expensive, suitable for a casual weekend kayak that will be used mainly on calm water. 

The right beam

Beam is the width of the kayak at its widest point. The wider the beam, the more stable your kayak will be. There is a limit to how wide the beam can be, since if a kayak had too wide a beam it would make paddling awkward. If you are wider-framed or are concerned about your kayak’s stability, seek out one with a wider beam. The average range of the beam on a recreational kayak is between 28 and 34 inches.

A natural-feeling footwell

Most sit-on-top kayaks have a molded footwell, and its position relative to your body size and comfort is important. The footwell gives you purchase from which to find stability as you paddle, so you want one that feels like it’s in the right position for you. 

How much you can expect to spend on a sit-on-top kayak

Starter recreational sit-on-top kayaks can cost in the $300-$600 range, while higher-quality versions made of tougher materials will cost upward of $1,000.

Sit-on-top kayak FAQ

What are the benefits of a sit-on-top kayak vs. a sit-inside kayak?

A. The higher seat of a sit-on-top kayak can feel freer and easier to access, particularly if you don’t like the feel of being enclosed by the kayak’s hull. Sit-on-top kayaks are easier to climb back onto if you happen to fall out (although if you choose a wide-beam kayak, falling out is unlikely). They are also much less prone to filling with water. Both types of kayaks have their uses, but sit-on-top kayaks are a simple way to start kayaking and lend themselves to an easy recreational experience.

How do I choose the weight rating for my kayak?

A. Every kayak has a rating as to the maximum weight it can carry. A good rule of thumb is to choose one rated for about 130 to 150 pounds heavier than your body weight. This gives you plenty of capacity to stow whatever you need to carry while also giving you extra buoyancy.

What’s the best sit-on-top kayak to buy?

Top sit-on-top kayak

Perception Zip 9.5 Sit On Top Kayak

Perception Zip 9.5 Sit-On-Top Kayak

What you need to know: The 9.5-foot length of this kayak makes it easy to carry, put on top of your vehicle and store. 

What you’ll love: Its 32-inch-wide beam makes this a stable choice great for calmer waters. It has many well-thought-out features, such as molded side-carry handles and a drink holder. 

What you should consider: Watertight storage is available but is extra. The basic model only offers a bungee-enclosed area. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top sit-on-top kayak for the money

Lifetime Lotus Sit On Top Kayak With Paddle

Lifetime Lotus Sit-On-Top Kayak With Paddle

What you need to know: A sturdy starter kayak, this affordable option gets you out on the water with a minimum of fuss. 

What you’ll love: At only 38 pounds and 8 feet long, this is easy to transport and manage. 

What you should consider: There are a variety of footwells so you can find the right purchase for you, but they are not deeply molded and can cause you to slip, particularly during heavy paddling.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Muskie Angler Kayak With Padded Back And Paddle

Muskie Angler Kayak With Padded Back And Paddle

What you need to know: The stable flat bottom and ample beam make this a great kayak when you want stability on the water. 

What you’ll love: It’s made of high-density polyethylene, for a durable kayak that will hold up under ultraviolet light and any impacts with underwater obstacles. 

What you should consider: This comes with a padded seat, but it is rudimentary and some users say it’s not the most comfortable on the market. 

Where to buy: Sold by Home Depot

Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals. 

Maria E. Andreu writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

Copyright 2022 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.