Tandem VS Single Kayak: How To Pick The Best Option For You

by Jason | Last Updated:   October 7th, 2022
Tandem VS Single Kayak: How To Pick The Best Option For You
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If you’ve been on the hunt for a new kayak, you’re probably wondering whether you should go for a tandem vs single kayak.

And it can be a decision that plays on people’s minds for months before making a purchase. 

You see:

It’s not a simple case of asking yourself whether you’re going to be paddling with one or two people. So, in this article, I’m going to be explaining all the pros and cons of both tandem and single kayaks.

So, if this is what you’ve been looking for, don’t go anywhere!

What Is A Tandem Kayak?

Tandem VS Single Kayak: What is a tandem kayak?

In essence, a tandem kayak is a boat that can hold two to three people inside the cockpit. This usually makes them heavier, longer, and harder to transport.

They come in many different options, including sit-on-top or sit-inside kayaks, pedal-powered, varying hull shapes, and much more.

And the good thing about having all these options is that it makes it easier for you to find a tandem kayak that works for you.

One of the great things about using a tandem kayak is that you get to explore varying water bodies in close proximity to your friends and family. 

With all that being said, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of tandem kayaks:

Pros And Cons Of Tandem Kayaks

If you’re struggling to understand the pros and cons of tandem kayaks, then you’re in the right place. In this section, I’m going to be breaking down all the advantages tandem kayaks offer you; we’ll also be talking about their annoying aspects:

Pros Of Paddling A Two-Person kayak

When it comes to tandem kayaks, there are quite a few benefits that come with them, and we’re going to be talking about them here:

Comes With More Storage Options

One of the advantages you’ll find with tandem kayaks (take a look at the best tandem kayaks here) is that they offer you more storage space than a single kayak. And this means you’ll be able to take more equipment on your journey than usual. 

Perfect For Beginners 

In some ways, paddling for the first time in a tandem kayak can give you a lot more confidence than paddling alone. And this factor can make your time paddling a lot more enjoyable because it reduces the fear.

Another great thing about using a tandem kayak is that it holds its course very well, and this means you don’t have to make as many adjustments. 

But, as you’ll find out later, there is one factor that doesn’t make it great for beginner paddlers.

You Get To Paddle In Good Company 

One of the biggest benefits of paddling in a tandem kayak is that you get to spend some quality time with people you care about. Working efficiently together to propel your kayak forwards can be a great bonding experience.

Many people actually enjoy the company of other people in their kayak more than paddling solo.

Excellent For The Family

Having a tandem kayak means you’ll be able to go out paddling with your children and know that they’ll be safe with you. It makes it a lot easier to keep an eye on your child, so you know what they’re doing.

Even if you don’t have children, using a tandem kayak means you have enough space to bring your fur baby with you.

Easier To Store Away (Hear Me Out)

Okay, when you first think about it, you’ll probably think I’m crazy saying it’s easier to store the larger kayak, but it will make sense.

Here’s the thing:

If you’re going to be paddling with two people, it’s going to be easier to store one kayak than two, even with the extra size of the tandem kayak. 

You’ll only need to find the space for one kayak instead of having to find the space for two, and that makes storing the tandem kayak away a lot easier.

Extra Stability & Potentially More Speed

If you’re new to kayaking, you’ll have the extra stability that comes with the tandem. They’re usually wider than the average solo kayak, and this means there’s more stability.

And if you are both in sync with your paddling, you can generate a lot more power, which means you’ll end up moving faster.

The downside is that your turning speed is going to be a lot slower than when you’re in a solo kayak, but we’ll be talking about that more a bit later on.

Cons Of Paddling A Two-Person kayak

Although there are quite a few benefits that come with paddling a tandem kayak, there are also a few disadvantages. And that’s what we’re going to be talking about in this section:

You Don’t Have Much Freedom

There are a few times when you might feel like you don’t get as much freedom with a tandem kayak as you do with a solo kayak. Let’s say that your friend or family doesn’t want to come with you one day.

That means you’ll be stuck with the task of paddling a huge tandem kayak by yourself, and that’s no easy feat.

If you’re a beginner kayaker, you might find it too difficult to paddle the tandem kayak by yourself, so you might want to opt for a solo kayak.

You Need To Navigate As A Team

One of the biggest problems people face in tandem kayaks is being able to navigate the kayak in sync. You need to spend time on the water together, so you get an understanding of how each other works.

In fact, many people call a tandem kayak the divorce kayak. And this is because people spend more time arguing with each other than paddling.

They Come At A Cost

It might surprise you, but buying a quality tandem kayak can actually cost you more than two decent solo kayaks.

A quality tandem kayak will come with extra features like rudders, extra paddles, and decent kayak seats. And this can all add to the price of your tandem kayak.

The Learning Process Is Harder Than A Solo Kayak

If there’s one thing for sure, you’re going to find it a lot more challenging to learn to paddle in a tandem kayak over a solo kayak. And that’s because controlling the direction of the larger kayak and making tandem kayaks hard to adjust.

And this is increased further when you’re a beginner kayaker. So, if you’re looking to learn quickly, a single kayak might be best for you.

The Weight Can Be An Issue

One thing that you’ll undoubtedly notice with a tandem kayak is the increased weight. And because of this, it will likely take two people to carry the kayak to the river unless you are using a kayak cart.

To make things worse:

If you ever have to go paddling by yourself or you’re going with your furry friend, the weight can cause issues getting to the lake.

Can One Person Use A Two-Person Kayak?

One question many people ask is whether one person can paddle a two-person kayak. And all though I’ve kind of answered the question above, I wanted to give you a bit more information about it.

Now, the answer really depends on what type of kayak you’re going to be using. If you’re looking at a sit-on-top tandem kayak with adjustable seats, you shouldn’t have any issues. 

But with other styles of a tandem kayak, you might find it a little bit harder. With that being said, it’s not impossible to paddle a sit-inside tandem kayak.

You just need to work out whether you prefer sitting in the back or the front. If you sit in the back, the front of the kayak will lift up, making it less efficient.

If you sit in the front, the nose will dive down and make it difficult to steer, and if you hit waves, the nose will go under.

And that’s why paddling a sit-on-top tandem kayak feels slightly easier. With removable seats, you can easily make some adjustments to find your best paddling position.

Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of paddling a tandem kayak by yourself:

Advantages of Paddling a Two-Person Kayak By Yourself

Paddling a tandem kayak by yourself isn’t an easy task at all, but it does come with a few advantages I’d like to point out:

You’ll Get More Leg Room

If there’s one thing tall paddlers always have trouble with in kayaks, it has to be the lack of legroom. We often find ourselves with our knees scrunched up and in some seriously uncomfortable positions.

And that’s why some taller paddlers might find it more comfortable to convert their tandem kayak into a solo kayak. 

You’ll Have More Stability 

Every kayak has a weight capacity, and when you start hitting the limit, the kayak can start feeling a little bit less stable. And with only one person inside the kayak, you’re not going to have any issues over the weight limit.

Having Storage Space Is Always Nice

If you like to go kayak camping, you’re going to need a lot of storage space. And having two people inside the kayak certainly does reduce the amount of space you have.

And taking one of the people out of your tandem kayak will free up a lot of extra space that you can use for your camping equipment.

Disadvantages of Paddling a Two-Person Kayak By Yourself

As with anything in life, when there are advantages, there are also some disadvantages. And for full disclosure, I’m going to be pointing some of them out to you:

You’re Not Going To Keep A Decent Speed

If you’re paddling in a tandem kayak by yourself and other people are in a solo kayak, you’re going to find it extremely difficult to keep up with everyone.

And this is because tandem kayaks were designed to be powered by two people due to the locations of the cockpit. 

Not only that, but you have to contend with the extra weight of the kayak, which can be extremely difficult if you’re not a keen paddler. 

It’s Very Heavy To Transport Yourself

One of the big drawbacks of recreationally paddling a tandem kayak by yourself is the transportation situation. You’re going to find it pretty difficult to lift the kayak on and off your kayak roof rack by yourself due to the extra weight.

You’re Going To Have Trouble With Maneuvering 

And last of all, thanks to the oversized nature of the tandem kayak, you’re going to find it pretty tricky to maneuver. And this means you’re going to find it tricky to make quick turns and minor adjustments without coming to a stop.

What Is A Single Kayak?

Tandem Vs Single Kayak: Best Sit On Top Kayak

As I’m sure you can imagine, a single kayak is designed to be paddled with one person. They also come in many different shapes and sizes and with many different features.

One of the best things about using a single kayak is the freedom it provides when you’re in the water. Not only that, but you don’t have to rely on other people coming with you to have a great time.

And that’s not the only benefits you’ll find with a single kayak, so in this section, we’re going to break everything down so you know what to expect:

Pros And Cons Of Single Kayaks

Understanding the pros and cons of what you’re getting into in regards to single kayaks is very important if you’re trying to pick between a tandem and a single kayak.

So, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons:

Pros Of Paddling A Single kayak

When looking at the pros of a single kayak, you’re going to find that most of the benefits are the complete opposite of the cons of double kayaks.

But let’s take a closer look anyway:

They Are Very Easy To Transport

If you’re not used to carrying heavy weights, then using a solo kayak could be very beneficial to you. The majority of the time, single kayaks are a lot lighter than tandem kayaks, you do have your expectations, but on average, they are lighter.

And this makes it a lot easier to lift your kayak on and off your roof rack, so you won’t be left struggling at the lake.

You Can Maneuver The Kayak With Ease

One of the best things about kayaking solo is how easy the kayaks are to maneuver. And this makes it a lot easier for beginners getting into kayaking. You only have to make a few minor adjustments with your paddle strokes to get yourself back on track.

Easier To Learn

Again, another key benefit of using a solo kayak is that you’ll find it a lot easier to learn. And this comes down to you not having to rely on your partner to help you turn. And I think a lot of this comes down to single kayaks being easy to maneuver.

Cheaper Than Tandem Kayaks

If you’re looking for the cheapest option, then you can’t go wrong with a single kayak. Because they are smaller, you can usually find them at a great price. Even if you have to buy an extra one for your partner, it can still be cheaper than a tandem kayak, unless you’re looking at inflatable tandem kayaks.

You Have More Freedom

For me, one of the best things about having a solo kayak is the freedom it provides. You get to choose when and where you want to go, and you don’t have to worry if someone else doesn’t want to go there.

Cons Of Paddling A Single kayak

Although there are plenty of benefits, you still have some cons that we have to discuss, so you get the full picture.

They Can Feel Lonely

If you don’t like spending time by yourself, you can find solo kayaks feel a little bit more lonely when compared to a double kayak. While you do have a good amount of freedom, you can feel intimidated by the feeling of loneliness, especially if you’re a beginner. 

A Lot Less Stable

A solo sit-inside kayak tends not to be as wide as tandem kayaks, and this can mean you can feel less stable in the boat. So, if you’re nervous about the feeling of being unstable in your kayak, you might find life easier in a tandem kayak.

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

When it comes down to tandem vs single kayaks, it’s hard to pick between them, and that’s because it’s so personal.

But, by analyzing the pros and cons of both a tandem vs a single kayak, you can make your decision a lot easier.

To help you out, here’s what I think:

If you like spending time with your family, and you like feeling more stable in your kayak, then I’d go for a tandem kayak.

And if you want to learn to paddle and don’t mind spending time by yourself, or you’re thinking about taking on whitewater, then I’d choose a single kayak.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where Should The Heavier Person Sit In A Kayak?

In general, the heavier person should always sit at the back of the kayak. It’s always better to have the bow of the boat slightly raised above the waterline than to have it pointing into the waterline. This will give you more control and the ability to pick up the speed a lot easier.

How To Steer A Tandem Kayak

When you have two people trying to control the direction of the kayak, you’re going to have a bad time. Honestly, it just doesn’t work unless you’re trying to turn 180°. So, this is why the person at the back should be steering your tandem kayak; they’ll have the most control of the kayak.

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Hey, my name's Jason, and before I was a writer, I worked as an outdoor activity instructor where I took groups kayaking and camping. Now I use my personal experiences to share tips and tricks I've learned over the years. For as long as I can remember, I've been passionate about the outdoors, and now I want to share that passion with my readers.