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August 24, 2022 12 min read

Tandem Kayak Buying Guide

Man tandem kayak with a dog

With so many tandem kayaks on the market, it’s hard to gauge which one would be the best for you. Especially if you’re clueless on the matter. And don’t worry, we get it! 

From sit-in to sit-ons and inflatables to hard shells, we’ve put together the ultimate tandem kayak buying guide so you can make the most informed decision before purchasing your next (or first!) tandem kayak.

What Are Tandem Kayaks?

Tandem kayak on a lake

Tandem kayaks are exactly as their name suggests, kayaks that are designed for two people. These kayaks are a great option for couples and for people who are paddling with kids, as they allow you to head out on the water together in one singular boat.

Tandem Kayaks VS Single Paddler Kayaks

If you’re stuck deciding on whether you should get a solo kayak or a tandem kayak, take these things into consideration. 

Solo kayaks have the upper hand if you only plan on paddling by yourself. They’re shorter than tandem kayaks, making it far easier to paddle and maneuver through the water. With that being said, however, solo kayaks are less versatile as they’re only suitable for a single paddler. 

Along with solo kayaks only being able to carry one passenger, they also have lower weight limits compared to tandems. If you don’t carry any gear on board with you, then this isn’t too much of an issue, but if you’re a kayak fisherman for example, then this lower weight limit can cause a problem.

Now, we know tandem kayaks are designed for two people, but many can be transformed to accommodate only a singular paddler. Tandems more often than not have seats that are adjustable, meaning you can remove the front seat, adjust the back seat to a center position, and paddle solo if you so wish. In some ways, with a tandem, you get the best of both worlds.

But, with all good things in life, tandem kayaks do have their downfalls, with one of them being their additional length. As two people need to fit in a tandem kayak, they need to be longer with a larger cockpit. Longer kayaks are not only harder to transport and store, but they’re also harder to carry as their increased length adds a few extra pounds to their weight. 

Whether a solo or two-person kayak is the right option for you will depend on a few factors. One is if you occasionally want to paddle with someone else and the second is your means of transporting and storing your ‘yak.

Types of Tandem Kayaks

Green inflatable tandem kayak

If you’ve decided that a tandem kayak would be the most suitable option for you, then you next need to think about what kind of tandem kayak you want. 

Sit-In Tandem Kayak

The first variation is a sit-in tandem kayak. Sit-in kayaks that have enclosed cockpits that cover your entire lower body to give you a closer to the water feeling. These kayaks are great for rough, choppy waters or whitewater paddling as they prevent you from getting wet. Well, your lower half anyway. 

Sit On Tandem Kayak

Sit on tandem kayaks are the polar opposite. These kayaks have an open hull, so the paddler can simply sit on top. This design makes it easier to get on and off the kayak, and it also gives you more freedom to move around mid-paddle.

A sit-on-top kayak will have a wider and flatter hull to give it more stability on the water, and they tend to be the kayak of choice for kayak anglers and for people paddling with children.  

Inflatable Tandem Kayak

Once you’ve decided on a sit-on or sit-in variation, you then need to think about whether you want an inflatable or a hard shell kayak. 

An inflatable kayak is a great option for people with limited storage space as it can be deflated and compacted into a small backpack or carry bag. This characteristic also makes them ideal for people who want to travel overseas or to remote locations that are inaccessible to vehicles.

Many people have the misconception that inflatable kayaks are flimsy and easy to damage. This couldn’t be any farther from the truth. Inflatable kayaks are made from extremely durable materials, and once they’re inflated, they can be just as sturdy as traditional kayaks.

Hardshell Tandem Kayak

Hardshell kayaks are typically made from polyethene which gives them the ability to cut through the water at faster speeds. These kayaks are sturdy, durable, and easy to maneuver, but they can be difficult to transport depending on their length.

Fishing Tandem Kayak

The final option is a fishing kayak, and although fishing kayaks are usually only used by anglers, they are actually a fantastic option for larger and heavier paddlers. Fishing kayaks tend to have wider decks that give their paddler more room to cast from. If you’re a larger paddler, this room makes all the difference.

And along with their deck width, fishing kayaks are also able to hold large amounts of weight. Again this is ideal for heavier paddlers, or for those who wish to take our large amounts of gear.

More Things to Think About When Choosing a Tandem Kayak

Man and a woman on a yellow sit-on top tandem kayak

Tandem kayaks are typically longer and wider than solo kayaks, but they aren’t a one-size fits. Tandems, just like solos, come in a range of lengths, widths, and weights to suit different paddling activities. 

Length

The kayak's length mainly plays a role in the type of paddling you’ll be doing. Longer kayaks are generally used as touring kayaks as they’re more streamlined in the water, meaning they can travel at faster speeds with little to no effort. 

Shorter kayaks are easier to maneuver, which makes them ideal whitewater kayaks. With that being said, however, their shorter size makes them far less stable meaning you run the risk of capsizing in calm flat waters.

And then, somewhere in the middle, you have recreational kayaks, which are the most popular type on the market. Recreational kayaks may not excel in either speed or maneuverability, but they are incredibly stable, which is perfect for leisurely paddles on your favorite waterway. 

Width

The width of the kayak will also help determine its stability. As a general rule, the wider the kayak, the more stable it will be. This is why most recreational and fishing kayaks have much wider decks.

When fishing, you’re consistently casting lines which can result in movement of the kayak. If you were to fish from a narrow touring kayak, this movement will more than likely end with you in the water. 

And the same goes for recreational kayaks. Beginner or inexperienced paddlers haven’t yet mastered their kayak balance, so having a wider deck prevents them from capsizing into the water. 

If you’re new to tandem kayaking, then we suggest opting for a kayak in the wider variety. But if you’re experienced and have your balance down to a T, then you could probably get away with a narrower kayak. 

Weight

The longer and wider the kayak, the more it’ll weigh. And although there are now kayak carts that allow you to drag your kayak to the water, the additional weight of a longer or wider kayak can cause issues if you aren’t blessed in the muscle department. 

Weight Capacity

As tandem kayaks are designed with two people in mind, they usually have large weight capacities to accommodate both paddlers and additional gear. As you may switch out your paddling partner, or you may pack more things in future trips, it’s a good idea to allow 10 - 20 lbs of leeway between your total weight and the kayak’s weight capacity.

When choosing a kayak, add up your weight, your paddling partner's weight, and any gear you may have on board with you. Then, once you have your total number, compare it to kayaks and ensure you’re under their total weight limit. 

Transportation

Getting a long kayak that will slice through the water at rapid speeds is great and all, but do you have the means to transport it? 

Hardshell tandem kayaks are already a few feet longer than solo kayaks, which makes them more difficult to transport on your standard kayak roof rack system. If you opt for a tandem kayak in the hardshell variety, you may need to purchase an additional kayak trailer to get your kayak from A to B.

Storage

As well as transportation, you’ll also need to think about storing a longer kayak. Recreational tandem kayaks sit around 13 feet in length, and if you don’t have a big enough garage, where are you going to store it? 

If you’re strapped for space, this is where inflatable tandem kayaks come in. As we mentioned before, they can conveniently be packed away into a small bag which you can then store under your bed or in a cupboard. 

Legroom

Tandem kayaks usually have enough legroom for both you and your paddling partner, but as you don’t want to be cramped during long days on the water, it’s best to get a kayak with slightly more legroom than you’d need. Remember, your gear will also be packed in there with you, which will lessen the space even further. 

Tandem Kayak Features

Man and a woman tandem pedal kayak

As well as the kayak's length, width, weight, and weight capacity, it is also beneficial to pay attention to the kayak’s materials and accessories. 

Materials

The materials your kayak is made from will factor into its overall durability. As you’re more than likely paying a large sum of money for your ‘yak, you at least want it to stand the test of time. 

Some of the best tandem kayaks are made from polyethene. Polyethene is cost-efficient and durable, meaning you’ll have your kayak in your collection for many years to come. 

Other options include composite materials like fiberglass or carbon fiber. Although these kayaks are the fastest, lightest, and easiest to maneuver, they’re also the most expensive of the bunch.

Wood is even occasionally used to create tandem kayaks, and surprisingly, it is actually very lightweight and durable.

And finally, you have PVC, which is the most common type of material used for inflatable kayaks. PVC can be reinforced to make it even more tear-resistant than usual. This fabric is lightweight, cheap, and easy to fix if you happen to puncture your kayak at any point.

Seats

Before we explained that you can paddle a tandem kayak solo, you need to pay attention to the seat configuration. 

If you don’t have anyone to head out paddling with you, then most two-person kayaks can be paddled with just a singular paddler. You can usually even do this from the back seat as long as you weigh down the front end of the kayak. 

Alternatively, many sit-on-top kayaks are easy to adapt as you can move them back seat into the center of the kayak and remove the front seat entirely. If you think at times you’ll be paddling solo, this feature will come in super handy. 

Paddles

The accessories that come with tandem kayaks are also worth looking at, with the most important being the paddles. 

If your tandem kayak doesn’t come with paddles, then you will need to purchase these separately. And although this isn’t a huge deal, the price of your kayak will then add up, so in our opinion, it is something to keep in mind while purchasing. 

Aluminum paddles are the cheapest type of paddle, and even though they’re durable and can take a beating, they’re relatively heavy, which isn’t ideal when paddling over long distances.

A step up from an aluminum paddle is a fiberglass paddle. Fiberglass paddles are lighter than aluminum paddles which helps them perform better in the water. 

And finally, you have carbon fiber paddles which are the lightest of them all. These paddles really make a difference to your paddling technique and stamina, but they do come with a considerable price tag.

For more information on kayak paddles, check out our articles 10 of the Best Kayak Paddles to Enhance Your Paddling Trips and The Top 8 Carbon Fiber Kayak Paddles to Enhance Your Next Kayak Trip.

Additional Accessories

If your hardshell kayak comes with accessories, then it will usually end at the paddle. But, inflatable kayaks need a few extra things to get them up and running. 

Inflatable kayaks also require a carry bag, a pump, and a repair kit. So, if you’re considering buying an inflatable, then make sure you have everything you need to get your kayak inflated and on the water. 

Tandem Kayak Pricing

Blue tandem kayak

Luckily tandem kayaks come in a range of prices, from affordable inflatable kayaks under $200 to more expensive high-end kayaks. The price you wish to pay for your kayak really comes down to your and your specific budget, but just know that there are cheap high-quality options out there!

Our Top Tips for Paddling a Tandem Kayak

If you’ve never paddled a tandem kayak before, then the technique can take some getting used to. 

One of the most important tips is to paddle in unison. If you’re paddling at different speeds, then you run the risk of clashing paddles when really you want your paddles to enter the water at the exact same time.

Another great tandem paddling tip is for the stronger paddler to sit at the back of the kayak. This helps to allow the front weaker and slower paddler to set the pace of the paddle to avoid paddle clashes.

And our final tip is to communicate with one another and take breaks as needed. Paddling over long distances can be tiring, and you may need to take breaks from time to time. The break can also help you reassess your paddling technique and what works best for the pair of you.

Tandem Kayak Options

If you’re on the hunt for the perfect tandem kayak then check out our article The 12 Best Tandem Kayaks for 2022 to give you more of an idea of what’s out there.

FAQ’S

🏆 Are tandem kayaks hard to use?

If you’re used to paddling solo, then switching to a tandem kayak can have its difficulties. The biggest difficulty most paddlers face is synchronizing their paddle strokes with their paddling partners.

When paddling solo, you have free reign of how fast or how slow you go. With a partner, you need to communicate to ensure you’re both paddling at the exact same time to avoid paddle clashes. 

With that being said, however, once you’ve got the hang of paddling as a pair, then the paddling aspect of kayaking gets a whole lot easier. Instead of having one person powering the boat, you now have two, meaning you can travel over long distances and at faster speeds.


👍 Are tandem kayaks more stable?

Generally, tandem kayaks are more stable than solo kayaks because they’re longer and have wider hulls. The wider the kayak, the more stable it will be, which is why a recreational or a tandem fishing kayak would have a wide hull.


🏝️ Are inflatable or hard shell tandem kayaks better?

Both inflatable and hard shell kayaks have their advantages and disadvantages. Hardshells are typically more expensive than inflatables, but they’re able to slice through the water at faster speeds. If you’re just after a recreational kayak, then speed isn’t much of an issue, but for touring or racing purposes, it really makes a difference.

Inflatable kayaks, on the other hand, can be extremely affordable while also being easy to transport and store. If you don’t have much storage space in your home, then an inflatable kayak is a great option as it can be packed down into a small duffel bag. 


❓ What should I look out for when purchasing a tandem kayak?

When you’re looking for the best tandem kayak, there are a few things you need to consider. 

  • Length - The length of the kayak plays a role in the type of activities it’ll perform well. Whitewater tandem kayaks are the shortest type of kayak as their length helps them maneuver quickly in the water. Recreational kayaks come in a mid-range length as speed and maneuverability isn’t a necessity on flat calm waters. And finally, the longest type of tandem kayak is the touring or racing kayak. A touring kayak's length helps it cut through the water at faster speeds which is great when traveling over long distances. 
  • Width - Width is the next thing to look out for, as the wider the kayak, the more stable it will be. If you’re new to kayaking and you haven't yet found your balance, then a wider kayak would be better suited to you. More experienced paddlers can then upgrade to a narrower kayak which lowers the boat’s stability but improves its speed out on the water. 
  • Weight - Sure, you’ll have two people carrying the kayak to the water, but even then, it can be a struggle. Pay close attention to the kayak’s weight. Ideally, you want the kayak to be light enough so you can carry it by yourself. 
  • Weight capacity - If the weight inside your kayak is more than the kayak’s weight capacity, it will cause the boat to sink slightly in the water, making it difficult to paddle and maneuver. Combine both paddler's weights along with any gear you’ll take on board and compare it to the maximum weight capacity of your chosen kayak. 

Accessories - Kayaks on their own can be expensive, and you don’t want to have the hassle of having to source additional accessories separately. Try and purchase a kayak that at least comes with your paddles so you can get out on the water as soon as your package arrives.

Jay Regan
Jay Regan


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