How to Choose a Lightweight Kayak

One of the least enjoyable things about kayaking is transporting or portaging your kayak. Sometimes it can even discourage you from going on your trip. But not all kayaks weigh 50+ pounds.

There are many awesome kayaks that aren’t heavy. They are perfect for people who like to go kayaking anytime without being limited. So, how do you choose the best lightweight kayak?

Lightweight Kayak Types

Kayaks come in many different shapes and designs. Take a look.

a. Sit-on-Top Kayaks

They are sometimes referred to as SOTs. With these kayak types, you sit on top of the boat, as you can guess from the name. The cockpit is open.

A sit-on-top kayak is more suited for warmer weather and recreational paddling. You don’t feel confined and you can always jump for a swim and reenter the boat.

It is also ideal for angling. That is why most fishing kayaks feature the SOT design. There is the freedom to move around and even stand. And you will be sitting higher than you would in a sit-in kayak, which is good for fishing.

SOTs usually have storage wells at the front and back for luggage. Some of them have small dry hatches for your valuables.

But sit-on-tops are not all perfect. First, most of them are not exactly performance boats. Performance here refers to things like touring and whitewater. These activities take place in open waters or fast-moving rivers and waterfalls.

In the case of whitewater kayaking, it is important for you to “wear” your kayak. It helps with maneuverability. This will be hard to do with a sit-on-top kayak. You can use thigh straps but it’s just not the same.

When it comes to touring, SOTs can’t match the speed of sit-ins in most cases. Because of their design, they have to be slightly wider and this means more windage and less speed.

b. Sit-In Kayaks

These are kayaks with an enclosed cockpit. Your lower body, from the waist down, goes inside the hull.

Sit-insides are great for cold weather kayaking. Once you get inside the kayak and put on a spray skirt, it will be hard to get wet.

Another thing, they make good performance kayaks.

Remember how we said that you can’t “wear” a SOT? Well, you can “wear” a sit-in. With your lower body in the cockpit, you have many contact points to help you steer the kayak. You have your feet, knees, thighs, and hips. This makes maneuverability easier and it is useful in extreme situations.

And if it comes to self-rescue, rolling a sit-in isn’t hard as long as you know what you are doing.

Sea kayaks need to have exceptional speed. It’s the reason why they are long and narrow. Sit-in touring kayaks can be made as narrow as 22 inches.

The main downside of sit-in kayaks is that you can feel trapped. You can’t exit and reenter as you wish. Fishing can also be a little bit complicated in a sit-in—but not undoable.

Lastly, sit-in kayaks don’t have scupper holes like sit-on-tops. If water fills the boat, emptying it is quite the task.

c. Which Is Lighter a Sit-In or a Sit-On-Top Kayak?

There is no straightforward answer to this. The weight of the boat will depend on its size, materials used to make it, and the design.

Longer kayaks will be heavier than shorter ones and harder to transport.

If you are looking for a lightweight kayak, you’ll want to stick to the smaller side.

But you also have to consider your body size and the performance of the boat.

Heavier kayakers have to get bigger yaks. What’s the use of having a light boat when you can barely fit in it? Make sure you can stretch your legs and effortlessly slide into and out of the cockpit.

Anglers can’t afford to get small boats just because they want something lightweight too. Where will you put all your gear? How about stability? 

Fortunately, size is not the only determinant of weight. A kayak’s construction matters as well. You can have a big kayak that isn’t heavy.

Let’s talk about construction.

d. Hardshell Kayaks

Hardshell kayaks are the traditional rigid ones. They are mostly made of plastic (polyethylene), fiberglass, wood, and carbon fiber.

Of all these, polyethylene is the heaviest. Carbon fiber is the lightest but also the most expensive. 

A fiberglass kayak falls somewhere in the middle. It is lightweight and not very expensive.

So if you want a lightweight hardshell kayak, get a fiberglass boat.

e. Inflatable Kayaks

You have probably heard a lot of stuff about inflatable kayaks. Some people say they are not reliable while others swear by them. 

Who do you believe?

Blow up boats are commonly made using PVC. They are extremely lightweight, usually below 30 pounds. Those with aluminum frames and are on the bigger side can weigh up to 50 pounds. That is still manageable, especially once deflated.

The thing about inflatable kayaks is that you can find a long and wide one that is lightweight. This is awesome news for anglers and heavier guys because they typically require bigger boats.

Contrary to popular belief, blow up kayaks don’t easily get punctured like a simple pool toy. Most of them are impressively rugged and can take more abuse than many hardshell boats.

If you don’t want to compromise on size and quality but you still want a lightweight kayak, I recommend an inflatable. Even a kayak as big as the Sevylor Big Basin 3-person kayak is still under 40 pounds.

The material used to make them is also comfortable. They are solid but not as hard as rigid kayaks.

Inflatables are the easiest to transport and store. Once deflated and stored in a bag, you can carry it on your back or throw it onto the back seat of your car.

The main downside of inflatable kayaks is performance. They are not as good as the hardshell canoes. This, however, is a general statement. They have come a long way and some of them will surprise you. 

The other issue is that not everyone will enjoy deflating and inflating a kayak. Some people like to get their boats from the car and straight to the water.

So while rigid kayaks aren’t lightweight and easy to transport, at least they don’t need inflation/deflation.

But what if I told you that you can get the best of both worlds?

Check out the next type.

f. Folding Kayaks

As you can guess, these are kayaks that you can fold and unfold. They have the portability of an inflatable, the convenience of a rigid boat (you don’t need to inflate) and they perform well. You get a little bit of everything.

Folding kayaks can either be made of waterproof canvas and supporting wood/plastic/aluminum frames or just foldable plastic like polypropylene.

They can fit in small spaces when folded and are easy to carry. Oru folding kayaks, for instance, fold into boxes that you can carry on your shoulder. The kayaks are also lightweight, usually under 40 pounds.

Foldable kayaks are pretty sturdy and glide smoothly with speed. There are folding boats designed for speed like the Oru Coast XT.

However, folding kayaks are not the most durable. They are not like inflatable canoes. 

On top of that, you don’t have many options when it comes to foldable kayaks. With blow-ups and hard shells, you can get models designed specifically for whitewater, angling, etc.

Hopefully, we’ll see more options as people start warming up to the idea of folding kayaks.

Best Lightweight Kayak for Ease of Use: Oru Inlet

The Oru Inlet is a foldable recreational kayak that only weighs 20 pounds. The assembly and disassembly process won’t take more than 5 minutes. It folds into a 42” x 18” x 10” box. It’s perfect for the paddler who is always on the move.

Best Lightweight Kayak for Performance: Delta 12S

Fast kayaks don’t have to be ridiculously heavy. The Delta 12S only weighs 38 pounds. It is intended for touring and it glides remarkably on water.

Best Lightweight Kayak for Durability: Driftsun Rover 220 Inflatable Kayak

The Driftsun Rover is a tandem inflatable kayak made using 1000D reinforced layered PVC tubes. It has a heavy-duty PVC tarpaulin bottom. The kayak is exceptionally durable and is even rated for up to class IV rapids. It can take a lot of abuse.

It only weighs 28 pounds.

Lightweight Kayaks Q&A

Q: Is an 8’ Kayak Too Small?

A: No, it is not. But it depends on your size, experience, and what you plan on doing. For a kid or adult on the smaller side, an 8-foot kayak is ideal. It is maneuverable and stable (as long as it is not too narrow).

Larger kayakers may want to find something longer.

Q: Is a Shorter Kayak More Stable?

A: Generally, shorter kayaks are more stable because of their length-to-weight ratio. However, this is not always the case. The stability of a kayak depends on its width too. If it is wider, it will be more stable. So a short and narrow yak won’t be very stable.

Q: Which Is Better: A Shorter or Longer Kayak?

A: As already mentioned, this depends on your size and the activity you want to do. For smaller paddlers, whitewater kayakers, and people who want a super lightweight boat, shorter is better. It is more maneuverable and easier to transport.

But if you want speed and great tracking, go with a longer kayak. It may be bulkier but it will hold bigger paddlers and their gear.

Q: Do I Need a PFD in a Lightweight Kayak?

A: Definitely! Anytime you are kayaking, regardless of the type of kayak, you have to wear your kayak PFD. It could save your life. Don’t take any chances.


Kayaking is amazing; but the process of transporting a kayak, not so much. Dealing with an 80-pound boat, especially when alone, does burn quite a few calories, but is hardly enjoyable. Thankfully, there are many lightweight kayaks around. They are available as sit-on-tops, sit-ins, inflatables, foldable, and hard shells.

Do you have any questions about lightweight kayaks? Feel free to ask us below. Happy kayaking!

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