Sit On Top VS Sit In Kayak: Which Is The Right One For You?


If you’re a kayaking enthusiast, investing in your own kayak will give you more freedom and opportunities to paddle. Since kayaks don’t come cheap, careful consideration is essential to ensuring the kayak you choose will be the perfect fit for your needs. When looking to purchase a new kayak, one of the most important decisions to make is whether to get a sit-in vs to sit on kayak.

The choice between a sit-in or sit-on kayak comes down to four factors: the kind of conditions you kayak in, your style of kayaking, the kind of gear you bring along, and of course your personal preference. To help you decide between sit on top sit-in kayaks, let’s take a look at the differences between sit-in and sit-on-top kayaks and the pros and cons of each type of kayak.

Sit on vs Sit in Kayaks: The Differences

The major differences between sit-in kayaks and sit on top kayaks is that sit-inside kayaks are enclosed and have a cockpit where you will slip into while paddling and a spray skirt for preventing water from getting inside the cockpit. A sit-on-top (SOT) kayak, on the other hand, features a completely sealed compartment that the kayaker sits on top of.

A sit-inside kayak seats you at the waterline with the frame covering your legs partly. This means that your lower body is shielded from the cold water and wind. Because sit on top kayaks seat you above the waterline and have a high center of gravity, they boast exceptional buoyancy and don’t take on water. As for the water that collects on top, they have self-bailing drainage openings that let the water right out. 

Factors To Consider When Deciding Between A Sit-In Or Sit On Kayak

1. Your Kayaking Destination and The Conditions You Will Be Paddling In

The choice between a sit on or sit in kayak mainly comes down to where you will be kayaking and the conditions you will be paddling in. If you will be paddling in cold conditions and frigid waters, a sit-inside kayak is the right choice because it will protect you from the cold water. It’s also the best option for long paddling sessions in temperate conditions.

With a sit on top kayak, you’re definitely going to get wet. Even when you’re paddling on flat water, drips and splashes from your paddle will get you wet. In winter-like conditions, these drops of water are enough to cause hypothermia. Because of this, sit on top kayaks are ideal when paddling in warm conditions such as in the summer or tropical kayaking destinations.

2. Your Favorite Kayaking Adventures 

Kayak_FishingThe second factor to consider when choosing between a sit on top kayak vs a sit-in kayak is the kind of kayaking adventures you like. Is your idea of kayaking cruising around a lake and fishing or are you after the thrill of sea kayaking or tackling whitewater rapids? Do you want a fast kayak for touring or is stability your main concern? 

If you will be covering a lot of distance in your kayak, a sit-inside is the best option. In general, sit-in kayaks have narrow profiles. Compared to the wide bodies of sit on top kayaks, the streamlined design of sit-in kayaks allows them to travel over water faster. Also, due to their significantly lower center of gravity, sit-in kayaks are easier to paddle and much faster than sit on top kayaks. 

A sit on top is not ideal for long-distance kayaking because it places you above the waterline, which makes your paddle stroke less efficient and the kayak slow-gliding. 

If you’re a recreational kayaker or a kayak angler, you will probably find a sit on top to be more comfortable than a sit-in. The sit-in cockpit can feel restrictive especially if you have a large frame or need freedom for casting and retrieving. If you like diving into the water for a swim in between paddling sessions, a sit on a top kayak will be easier to dive from and re-enter than a sit-inside kayak.

3. The Kind of Gear You Will Bring Along

Finally, the kind of gear you will be hauling will determine whether a sit-in or a sit on top kayak is right for you. Sit inside kayaks win hands down when it comes to dry storage. They have a sealed bulkhead and a semi-waterproof section at the rear so you will have plenty of space to keep your belongings dry. This makes a sit in the best option for kayak camping trips. 

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Sit on top kayaks, on the other hand, have a spacious open cargo area for the gear you don’t necessarily want to be kept dry. If you’re going fishing or scuba diving, a sit on top is a more convenient option for storing and retrieving fishing and scuba diving equipment. In fact, it’s a more comfortable platform for fishing or diving from than a sit in kayak. 

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After taking the pros and cons of sit in vs sit on kayaks into consideration, it’s clear that sit on top kayaks are ideal for warm water kayaking, recreational kayakers, kayak anglers, and scuba divers.

Sit inside kayaks, on the other hand, are great for touring and kayak camping trips and paddling in frigid conditions. When you take the three factors we’ve outlined above into consideration, it’ll be easy to see whether a sit-in or sit-on kayak will suit your needs best. Beyond this, the decision also comes down to personal preference.

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