Are you thinking of taking to the water in a stand-up paddle board (SUP) or kayak but can’t quite decide which vessel best suits your vibe?
Both are excellent watercraft that unlock opportunities and fun activities that you can enjoy while outdoors. One requires you to paddle standing up while the other supports sitting down to paddle.
But is that all there is to them? How do you decide which option will serve you better in the event that you can’t afford to buy or try both?
In this guide, we’re going to analyze and compare in detail the pros, cons, and core features of paddle boards vs kayaks.
By the end, you will have a thorough understanding of what both have to offer and you will be able to identify which one is ideal for you and your upcoming paddling adventures.
- Are Paddle Boards Safer Than Kayaks?
- Which Is Faster: Paddle Board or Kayak?
- What Burns More Calories: Kayak or Paddle Board?
- Which Gives You Greater Freedom of Movement: Paddle Board or Kayak?
- Which Is Easier to Get Back On Kayak or Paddle Board?
- Which Watercraft Offers More Fun on the Water: Kayak or Paddle Board?
- Paddle Board vs Kayak: Factors to Consider When Deciding What to Buy?
- Paddle Board vs Kayak – Final Verdict
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Safety in this case is relative and depends on your conception of “safe”. If safety, to you, means enjoying maximum stability and being protected when you encounter choppy waters or windy terrain, a kayak is a more reliable watercraft.
However, if you’re wondering how quickly and easy it would be to capsize the vessel or right it after it flips over, then you’ll have a better time with a paddle board.
Both kayaks and paddle boards are not prone to capsizing under normal circumstances. But if this happens, getting back on a SUP is a breezy and uncomplicated affair compared to kayaks.
The average recreational kayak can cover about 5.5 miles an hour, while a regular paddle board can do around 4 miles an hour. Naturally, the water and weather conditions, the type of SUP or kayak, and the paddler’s skill level can influence speed.
But given the same circumstances, recreational kayaks will always outpace a paddle board. So if you’re trying to get from point A to point B in less time, you’re better off with a kayak, especially if you’re paddling long distances.
Also, paddle boards are at the mercy of large waves, harsh winds, and heavy currents to a greater extent than kayaks because you’re standing up to paddle.
Another element that affects paddle board speed is the one-bladed paddle that the watercraft uses. You have to move the whole paddle from one side of your board to the other which takes longer and uses more effort than a kayak’s double-bladed paddles.
Photo by Brett Sayles
The amount of calories you burn kayaking or paddle boarding will depend on your pace, and weather and water conditions. You will burn around 340 to 350 calories an hour on average while kayaking recreationally.
However, you will burn more calories if you engage in more intense paddling activities like whitewater kayaking or touring long distances.
Since paddle boarding requires you to stand up and utilize the muscles in your entire body rather than your core and upper body alone, it uses up more energy. You can burn between 350 to 450 calories an hour on a leisurely paddle with a SUP.
If you’re paddleboarding in heavy surf and fast-moving currents or adding activities like yoga, racing, or touring to your session, you can easily burn up 1130 calories an hour.
Winner: Paddle board
Most kayaks are typically designed for one position: sitting. You are limited to remaining seated in your cockpit throughout your trip so there’s not much movement possible beyond paddling.
Also, kayaks can only accommodate up to three people at a time depending on whether you opt for a solo or tandem configuration. However, there are no such restrictions with a paddle board.
Photo by Roman Pohorecki
You can stand, kneel, sit, walk around, and even lay down on your SUP if you wish. Paddle boards do not have fixed seating positions for a specific number of riders. This means that you can bring as many friends and family friends with you as your vessel can take.
You just have to make sure that the weight of all the riders doesn’t exceed your SUP’s load capacity.
Winner: Paddle board
There’s a possibility that you might end up in the water while paddling so you need to know how easy it will be to get back on your watercraft if this happens.
With a paddle board, it’s very easy to reboard your vessel because they’re completely flat and there’s no cockpit to wriggle into.
You simply have to pull your SUP closer to you, jump back on, return to standing position, and get back to enjoying your time outdoors. Kayaks, on the other hand, are a bit more complicated because they have cockpits.
Photo by Howard Herdi
If your kayak flips over, you’ll need to right it before climbing back into it and accomplishing this requires a precise technique. Re-entering your kayak after flipping it will also take some work, especially with sit-in kayaks that have closed cockpits.
You will need to learn and practice how to right your kayak and climb back into it while in the water a few times before you can pull off these maneuvers easily.
Winner: Paddle board
The truth is that regardless of which watercraft you use, you’re going to have a splendid time on the water. It just depends on the activities you choose and where you go paddling.
Kayaks will allow you to conveniently explore a broader variety of water bodies, navigate whitewater rapids, and explore nature. On the other hand, paddle boards have an air of coolness around them, so you automatically score extra cool points for riding one.
Fitness and yoga enthusiasts can add more excitement to the SUP experience by using their watercraft as an exercise board on the water.
You can also split your time between swimming, snorkeling, and stand-up paddle boarding, or just bring people along with you so you can play games.
Photo by Kampus Production
Here are some other important things that you need to think about and weigh the choice of getting a paddle board or kayak against before you make a final decision:
While a paddle board gives you a vantage point to take in the sights and allows you to move about freely, standing up can be more strenuous on the body. And the longer the distance you plan to cover, the more exhausted you’re going to be paddle boarding.
Also, you’re going to suffer greater exposure to the elements when paddling your boat in cold weather, windy conditions, or turbulent waters. Kayaks, however, have cockpits that help protect you against the elements.
Even though kayaks don’t support a lot of movements, the fact that you get to sit down makes the paddling experience more comfortable. You get padded seats, thigh pads, and foot braces that ensure your back and lower body are adequately supported throughout your journey.
Both paddle boards and kayaks offer a relatively stable platform so novices in either sport should have no trouble finding and maintaining their balance with a little practice.
However, because you have to sit down in a kayak, your center of gravity is lowered compared to when you’re standing up. As a result, you get to enjoy greater stability even when paddling in choppy waters.
Photo by Myian Prieto
Another factor that contributes to the increased stability of kayaks is their hydrodynamic hulls which enables them to track better or move in a straight line.
Opt for a wide recreational kayak with great primary stability if you’re a beginner and you want a boat that won’t tip over easily. Or if you’re planning to explore flat waters and slow-moving rivers.
Kayaks with a slimmer profile and high secondary stability are best suited for rough waters and long-distance expeditions.
To ensure your paddle board is as stable as possible, make sure the length exceeds the width. This means your board should be longer than it is wide. But if you want a board that feels more comfortable, a wider board would be the better option.
Paddle boards and kayaks are available in a variety of shapes, sizes, and types, which influence how maneuverable they are.
The nimbleness of each watercraft changes depending on its dimensions and model so there’s no way to conclusively decide which option is better in this regard.
Photo by Manik Mandal
Generally speaking, shorter kayaks and paddle boards are more agile than their longer counterparts but for tracking and speed, longer models will outperform the shorter ones.
Paddle boards and kayaks can withstand abrasion, and resist tears, punctures, and other damages that may arise from contact with sand, rocks, tree branches, and other hard objects.
However, their ability to tolerate impact, resist getting damaged, and remain in good shape for several years will depend on the materials they’re made with and how they are constructed.
Plastic kayaks are tougher and more likely to last longer than kayaks made with carbon, fiberglass, kevlar, and other breakable materials. However, hardshell kayaks and boards in general are more durable than inflatable models and can last you a lifetime with proper care.
But if you invest in a quality inflatable paddle board or yak, you can get 5 to 10 years of consistent use out of it before it starts coming apart at the seams.
How much weight can a paddle board carry compared to a kayak? The answer is not as much.
Paddle boards typically have weight limits of 200 to 300 lbs for hardshell versions so you’ll be able to bring along some essential gear like food, water, and change of clothing for an overnight trip.
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Or you can skip the gear and take your partner, child, or dog with you instead. If you want a higher load capacity, there are inflatable boards that meet this need.
In contrast, hardshell kayaks can handle around 250 to 600 lbs, while some inflatable kayaks can support up to 1000 lbs. So if you want to go on multi-day kayak camping trips and you need room for a lot more gear, a kayak is the better choice for your needs.
Paddle boards are flat platforms with no hatches or compartments. The only option for storing your gear is to pack them into dry bags and secure them to your board using D-rings, tie downs, or bungee cords.
Since you’re standing and your legs don’t have to go anywhere, you will technically have more space on your board for your gear. You just have to make peace with the possibility of your items getting wet because they’re out in the open air.
Photo by Styves Exantus
The advantage of kayaks is that they offer diverse wet and dry storage options for your belongings such as bungee rigging and waterproof hatches to safeguard your valuables.
Depending on the model you buy, you may find additional storage amenities such as cup holders, mesh pockets, and small compartments in the cockpit and around the deck for items you want within reach.
If you have no experience kayaking or paddle boarding, you need to factor in the ease of picking up either sport when deciding which watercraft is best for you.
Learning to paddle a kayak is not something that happens overnight. This is because there are techniques and skills like self-rescue, the wet exit, and Eskimo roll that you need to acquire and practice before you can go kayaking without endangering yourself.
If you’re determined and willing to incur significant body pains, you can pick up the basics of kayaking in a day or two and improve your skills by practicing regularly and trying more advanced moves.
Photo by PNW Production
On the contrary, it will probably only take you a few hours to get comfortable with being on a paddle board. There aren’t many essential skills that you need to pick up when it comes to paddle boarding; if you fall off your board, you can easily climb back on.
You just need to know how to get on, get off, stand, and balance on your SUP and you’ll be ready to take your craft out for a spin.
Winner: Paddle board
Where and when you plan to go paddling should be taken into consideration when choosing between a paddle board and a kayak.
For slow rivers and calm waters, both watercraft work perfectly. But for exploring whitewater, the open sea, or long distances, kayaks offer better security and comfort than paddle boards.
Although there are special paddle boards designed for long-distance trips, they’re still not ideal because standing and paddling for an extended period can be very intense and exhausting.
If you only plan to go paddling when the weather is warm, paddle boards can provide a nicer experience because you’re not stuck in a cockpit.
Photo by Ali Kazal
You can move about, sunbathe on your board, jump off and take a swim, or bask in the feel of the summer breeze ransacking your hair and the water splashing on your feet.
When the weather starts to get cold, a kayak’s cockpit will provide warmth and shield you from the icy cold water and wind.
Kayaks are also better for paddling in windy conditions because the seated position increases your resistance to high winds and the lower center of gravity will help you stay balanced even if the water gets rough.
Although both kayaks and paddle boards can serve as fishing vessels, kayaks are more convenient for this purpose.
For starters, kayaks, especially ones specifically designed for fishing, are equipped with a bunch of features that can improve the angling experience such as rod holders, fish finders, and trolling motors.
Kayaks also have more room to store your favorite fishing gear, tackle box, and whatever you manage to catch while on the water.
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh
With a kayak, you’ll be able to venture into rougher and bigger terrain to find the type of fish you’re hoping for without increasing the risk of capsizing your watercraft.
Moreover, you’re going to have an easier time fighting a fish that’s pulling hard and trying to get away from a kayak.
Fighting a fish on a paddle board is almost guaranteed to be a disaster that at best results in you losing your balance and capsizing your board. And at worst, in serious bodily injury.
That said, a paddle board will give you a better view of the surrounding waters, allowing you to identify choice spots to cast your line.
And since you’re standing, you’ll have a full range of movement, which could raise your chances of casting the perfect line and reeling in something good.
When it comes to how easy they are to transport to the water and back, paddle boards have the obvious advantage because they’re usually inflatable while most kayaks are typically hardshell.
This is not to say that there aren’t hardshell paddle boards or inflatable kayaks. But even the average hardshell board weighs between 15 to 30 lbs while the average recreational hardshell kayak weighs around 40 lbs or more.
What’s more, paddle boards have a flat and simple design while kayaks are larger and longer.
You’ll have no trouble hauling your paddle board on your own but depending on the type of kayak you get, you may need to enlist help in loading it in your car and carrying it to the water.
Photo by Katie Cerami
Alternatively, you can invest in a lift-assist kayak rack to load and unload heavier kayaks on your car’s roof by yourself and a cart to help with portaging.
Also, hardshell paddle boards take up less storage space so you can easily house it in your garage or a corner of your room without it getting in the way.
Hardshell kayaks, however, are not so considerate and require more room so owning one can be tricky when you don’t have a lot of space to spare.
Of course, none of these challenges will arise when dealing with an inflatable kayak or paddle board because they’re easy to transport and store.
Winner: Paddle board
There are lots of variables that determine the price of a kayak or paddle board. They include the type, manufacturer, construction style, material used, weight capacity, extra features it comes with, and where you’re buying from.
If you’re shopping from major online retailers or big-box department stores, you may notice that they often sell paddle boards at a markedly higher price point than kayaks. This is because they mostly carry cheap, entry-level fishing and recreational kayaks.
Photo by Arina Dmitrieva
But when shopping from sporting goods stores or specialty retailers of paddlesports and hardware goods, the cost of a premium quality kayak may exceed the price of a paddle board of similar quality.
You can get an entry-level recreational yak or paddle board for around $300 to $500. Some inflatable models are even sold for cheaper. Decent hardshell models can cost you between $500 and $1000.
For a high-performance fishing or touring kayak, you can expect to spend anywhere between $1500 to $4000. Similarly, a top-grade paddle board goes for around 2000.
As you can see, the battle for which is better between a kayak and a paddle board is a closely contested race.
Each has its own advantages and shortfalls. The one that’s better for you will finally come down to the features that you prioritize.
Based on the features, and capabilities discussed here, the kayak emerges as the winner for us. It also holds up better in cold weather, rough waters, and windy conditions.
Kayaks are also safer, faster, and more stable. They are comfortable and can be relied upon without worrying, especially if you plan to embark on fishing trips, long-distance excursions, or multi-day expeditions.