By Libby Bliss

In a market that's always looking for ways to expand, sit-on-top kayaks continue to carve out their niche in the kayak spectrum. Flip through the latest travel brIn a market that's always looking for ways to expand, sit-on-top kayaks continue to carve out their niche in the kayak spectrum. Flip through the latest travel brochure selling azure waters and hula girls giving massages, and you're bound to see a sit-on-top in the background. Moose heads and antler racks aren't the only things decorating hook-and-bullet stores these days. Next time you go to one, I bet you'll see a sit-on-top or two. Without a doubt, SOTs are working their way into multiple outdoor activities.

The sit-on-tops in this review illustrate well the variety available. Some of the kayaks were sent to us very bare-bones and others with accoutrements. When you find a kayak you like, check with the manufacturer, as there are generally a number of add-ons and options. Oh, and do yourself a favor and invest in a kayak cart, for Pete's sake. You'll like your sit-on-top a lot better if you do. Single carries for most (not all) of these kayaks would be a back-breaking experience. I paddled the kayaks in calm water.

Caster 12.5 w/rudder
Length: 12′ 6″
Width: 29.75″
Weight: 59 lbs
Price: $829.99
Material: Plastic

Right off the bat, the Caster made me feel like I was on a cable TV fishing show. Plastic is heavy, yes, but easy to clean fish guts off and durable.

Carry handles on both sides, as well as at the bow and stern, kindly give a couple options for carrying, though the rudder is a bit in the way of the stern handle. Paddle rests are located on either side of the seat on the outer edge of the boat. The adjustable foot pegs operate the rudder. There are three hatches: the small day hatch behind the seat and another between one's calves each contain a mesh bag. A larger hatch is built into the bow.

The stern isn't decked but features a cavity to carry a cooler, tackle box, and extra gear secured by bungee cords over the top. Perception can customize the Caster for your fishing needs if you like. The hull is straight, the bottom flat and flaring as it forms the bow and stern ends. The rudder definitely eases the turning, which otherwise feels like a car without power steering.

Bottom Line: The wide and stable Caster 12.5 offers a great fishing platform or means by which to explore calm waters.

Length: 12′ 8″
Width: 25.25″
Weight: 32 lbs
Price: $1,495
Material: Composite

The only composite sit-on-top of the bunch, the Epic GP is extremely stable and at the same time built to move. The seat area is a deep well that inclines under the thighs, which guides the legs into individual troughs, with feet braced on adjustable foot braces. The back of the seat forms from the rear deck, which is indented for storage and covered by flush bungee cords. There isn't an added seat back, as it isn't needed, nor are there any storage hatches. Both the bow and stern have a bungee configuration as well as deck lines. The minimal hardware is recessed. Water-bottle holder, check. Though the boat can be easily carried over one's head, a six-inch-long piece has been screwed into the kayak to give a fingertip grip area for carrying it on its side.

The composite layup makes this an extremely light sit-on-top, easily carried by one person. The hull is a wide rounded V that flares at the ends. This boat has a racier, athletic look to it, reminiscent of sprint kayaks, not seen on your average sit-on-top. The Epic GP was effortless to turn. I found that what I needed to be there was, and what I didn't wasn't. Refreshing.

Bottom Line: If you're in the market for a light, single-carry sit-on-top, the performance-oriented Epic GP is it.

Mirage Sport
Length: 9′ 7″
Width: 34″
Weight: 57 lbs
Price: $1,299
Material: Plastic

This boat's most unusual aspect is its large pedaling mechanism (That's right, pedaling). Two rubber fins are connected to two foot pedals by a sturdy housing. Drop the fins through the cutout in the hull, lock it by turning a couple of pieces of hardware, and—voilà! The pedals are positioned for your feet as you sit. Think recumbent bike. You start pedaling, the fins start fanning, and off you go like a water bug. For you speed demons, a Pitot Tube (a.k.a., speedometer) rises vertically from the pedal housing, with a little ball that will move up the tube to measure your speed.

The rudder release is on the right side of the boat; the rudder control is on the left. Both are hand operated. The sitting well is deep. A seat with a high back band and a detachable fanny pack is included. Each outer side of the kayak has a paddle rest. There are carry toggles on both ends and one additional handle on the right side, as well as a tie-down cleat. Behind the seat, storage capacity is open-topped, with load-securing bungees. There is a small bagless hatch in the bow of the kayak with a screw-top lid. The Mirage Sport could benefit from having some perimeter deck lines to grab onto when maneuvering on land.

The Mirage Sport is very stable and is at its fastest when being pedaled. It likes to go straight and turns fine with rudder control, but it's not as responsive with traditional kayak strokes. The Mirage Sport can accept sail and fishing rod add-ons.

Bottom Line: The Mirage Sport is the multi-tasker of sit-on-tops.

Length: 11′ 2″
Width: 30″
Weight: 43 lbs
Price: $499
Material: Plastic

The Exhilarator has bow and stern carry toggles and handles on both sides. The only hatch is the one between the legs. Opening it exposes the whole length of the inside of the boat. As with many SOTs, anything you put down there could end up sliding hither and yon, not a bad thing necessarily, but it's something to consider.

Though there is hardware present to hold a seat/seat back, none was sent. Sitting on molded-out plastic was comfortable. Lack of seat cushion or back rest probably wouldn't matter if you're in and out of the boat a lot. There is also hardware to strap on thigh braces, but those weren't sent either. Four foot-rest options, stacked like little stairs on their sides, are molded into the kayak. The bow deck has bungee cords. The stern storage well has bungees over the top for securing purposes.

The Exhilarator was responsive to edging, though I had to lean pretty far, and was more immediately responsive to sweep strokes. Not the fastest of the bunch, or the slowest. The Exhilarator is a high-volume sit-on-top, and its tri-hull design makes it very stable. It has no perimeter deck lines.

Bottom Line: The Exhilarator is a well-priced sit-on-top aimed at the rec paddler.

Ocean Kayak
Length: 12′ 4″
Width: 32″
Weight: 53 lbs
Price: $569
Material: Plastic

The Sidekick reminded me of a long cedar log. If there's a log in a semi-warm, calm bay here in the Pacific Northwest, kids are usually monkeying around on it and having a whale of a time. The Sidekick offers the same opportunity for good times. It's intended for one and a half folks (a.k.a., an adult and child) and can handle all the frolic you want to throw at it.

There are necessary carry toggles on the bow and stern, as well as handles on both sides. The only storage hatch is between the legs. Unscrew it to find a four-inch-deep stow spot, perfect for sunscreen, keys, and Cracker Jack. A molded fanny divot came with the seat/back rest for the main paddler, and an extra seat/back rest for the half-pint. The kid's seat can be positioned to face, sit in front of, or behind the main paddler. There are five molded foot-rest options for the main paddler.

Paddle-lock mechanisms for each paddler are on the side of the kayak. The bungee cords on the test boat, however, weren't long enough to pull over the shaft of the paddle. The Sidekick has a stern storage well with bungees over the top but lacks perimeter deck lines. A water-bottle holder is included. The pontoon-like tri-shaped hull means stability is rock solid. The bow is upswept and the stern low to the water.

Bottom Line: Looking for a fun way to spend some time with the kids? Throw out the XBox and get a Sidekick.

Length: 9′ 10″
Width: 30″
Weight: 44 lbs
Price: $649
Material: Plastic

There are some notable differences in the Nomad. Deep wells or grooves are absent in this kayak, the only exception being the storage well behind the seat. Otherwise, there isn't much depth to the seat area, and the bow deck is flat. Evidently, water is meant to run right over this boat, not gather.

The Nomad comes with a low-profile seat and back rest that clips into pad-eyes. The back rest has a pocket. Super-comfortable thigh straps are clipped into each side of the kayak and provide excellent purchase and thus more boat control. The Nomad turned easily while both edging and sweeping. The deck is wider at the stern and narrows toward the bow. Carry handles are molded out of the kayak at both ends. I really liked this integrated and comfortable feature, as opposed to having dangling toggles. There are small front/rear hatches with flush twist-and-lock lids. Openings reveal a mesh bag. A painter line runs along the outer sides of the kayak, starting and stopping roughly two feet from the bow and stern. Two wide locking straps run across the stern storage well, secured by hardware drilled through the strap ends into the plastic. The straps then come over the top of the hardware. There were wear spots on the straps from rubbing over the hardware.

A water bottle can be secured in the molded holder between the legs. Alas, time didn't allow taking the Nomad into surf conditions, where I think it would be a blast. A skeg accessory is available.

Bottom Line: The Nomad is suitable for flatwater and surf conditions.

Length: 14″
Width: 31″
Weight: 65 lbs
Price: $679
Material: Plastic

For those who want to feel stable, stable, stable, the Marquesa is calling.

Keep dehydration at bay! There's a nook for your water bottle. The Marquesa has a sizable front hatch and cover. The commonly seen molded fanny divot can also take a seat/back rest. The foot pegs are adjustable; just slide them to the appropriate slot. The deck just behind the seat has a crisscrossed bungee for a paddle float or storage, as is normally seen on decked kayaks but is less common on sit-on-tops. That deck area then drops down to the stern storage well. Carry toggles are on the bow and stern, and there are handles on both sides of the seat. Carry options are always welcome on a bigger boat.

Speedwise, the Marquesa isn't going to beat the turtle or the hare. But, you know, it doesn't have to. Try as I might, there was no edging to be edged on the Marquesa. "Straight!" it said, so straight I went. Sweep strokes were a little more successful in directing the Marquesa. The hull is as straight as an arrow under the bow and stern and then flares out.

Bottom line: A stable, high-volume sit-on-top, the Marquesa is great for the lazy, hazy days of summer and nature watching.

Length: 11′ 3″
Width: 31″
Weight: 40 lbs
Price: $536
Material: Plastic

The Cobra sent for review didn't have a lot of bells and whistles. There was the usual rounded-out fanny divot, and my legs stretched comfortably to rest on any of the molded-in foot-rests. The Cobra came complete with two storage spaces, a center hatch between the legs with a twist-and-lock lid and the more sizable front hatch. Oddly, the front hatch lid had eight twist-and-lock mechanisms (this is a sit-on-top, not my grandmother's safe).

On the left outer side was a paddle lock. This was composed of two plastic molded pieces screwed into the side hull a few inches apart, which could be flipped out to hold the paddle or lie flush against the side of the boat when not in use. Nice touch.

The rear storage well was lined with pad-eyes but didn't have any bungee cords. No water-bottle holder or deck lines, either, but the Cobra did come equipped with both bow and stern carry toggles and side carry handles. This is another very stable tri-hull design. The turning wasn't precise while edging, but the Escape was easily responsive to sweep strokes.

Bottom Line: No mess, no muss, but it can be the means to the end of providing you with a fun watercraft.

Pro Explorer
Length: 12′ 6″
Width: 31″
Weight: 52 lbs
Price: $699
Material: Plastic

The Pro Explorer is an option for the outdoorsperson in your life. At the bow you'll find a sizable front hatch that opens into the bowels of the kayak for storage. This hatch can be removed and refitted with the Gator Hatch, a nifty accessory that serves as a seat for kids, complete with rod holders and bungees, too.

The center of the kayak has a molded-out seat for an adult, four molded foot-rest options, a cup holder, and a large square center hatch with a flush twist-and-lock lid. The stern storage well has a bait-bucket mold that can also hold diving tanks and other gear. There are bungee cords for strapping gear down. Two flush-mounted rod holders are just in front of the rear storage well, one on each side. Carry handles are placed at the bow and stern. There were no side handles or perimeter deck lines.

The Pro Explorer is a stable high-volume kayak. The hull is straight, and you'll notice a little rise of the bow and stern ends out of the water. This kayak tracked well and was otherwise maneuverable with multiple sweep strokes.

Bottom Line: The Malibu Pro Explorer is a sportsman's kayak, with the target audience being fishermen and divers.

Length: 14′
Width: 26′
Weight: 46 lbs
Price: $599
Material: Thermoform Plastic

Bic. I'm sure most folks' first thought is "Don't they make lighters and pens?" Yes, they do. They also make kayaks under the title of Bic Sport. The Scapa moved surprisingly fast. Its best feature was going straight and tracking. It was also very stable. Turning was more of a secondary aspect with sweep strokes more effective than edging. The seat area has a no-slip pad and is molded with a slight decline backward toward a molded lower back rest. This allows the legs to stretch out, and the feet rest comfortably on any of the molded foot rests.

There wasn't a hatch in the Scapa I tested. There is room to store gear, however, in a rear storage well and under a small, triangular webbing on the bow. The rear storage well has a nicely sloped curve near the stern, where water can easily drain. D-rings are placed along both sides of the Scapa, through which to run perimeter deck lines and straps over the rear storage well. There are handles on both sides of the seat. The carry toggles located on the bow and stern are molded into the kayak. This handle configuration blends well with the overall lines of the Scapa. It's comfortably and easily carried by two. There's a drink holder between the legs.

Of the many accessories available, a cool one is a snap-on removable hard deck and spray skirt. These were not included with the reviewed Scapa.