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What Size Kayak Do I Need?

Finding the right kayak may seem simple, but one of the most common questions people ask is, “What size kayak do I need?” If you are a beginner, it is easy to assume that all kayaks are the same; therefore, it should be an easy decision, but it can be complicated.

Choosing your perfect sized kayak is an essential step in having the most possible fun out on the water. And who doesn’t want to have fun, right?

Kayaks come in different sizes depending on factors such as:

  • The type of water the kayak will be used on
  • The activities the kayak will be used for (fishing, camping, leisurely paddling)
  • The height and weight of the paddler

Understanding the following necessary information on width, length, and kayak volume, while also keeping your own body type in mind, can lead you in the right direction.

Below is a simple but detailed guide to better understand everything you need to know in your search for the perfect kayak. This is a guideline, not a hard and fast rule since everyone has different needs. But this should help you get started.

What size kayak do I need?

When searching for the right size kayak, one of the first things you will consider is your weight and height, rightfully so, everybody is unique. When you are a beginner, looking for a kayak can be a little intimidating.

But your body type doesn’t necessarily dictate the size of kayak you will need to look for. People who have a taller or heavier build may worry that this could play a negative roll in finding the right kayak.

You can use the guidelines in this article to help, but ultimately the best way to find the appropriately sized kayak is to sit in it and see what feels the most comfortable. How you plan to use your kayak will also help in your search. Here are some examples of different kayak sizes.

Kayak sizes

Sea and Touring Kayaks

If you will be using your kayak to tour, travel swiftly from one point to another, or just explore leisurely, you will look for a longer shaped kayak with a slightly longer waterline. This design is created to ensure a straight line that enables sufficient tracking and speed when on the water.

This type of kayak is for more relaxed water settings and is perfect for the explorer looking for a great way to enjoy the scenery as they paddle along. This kayak works best on a bay or out at sea, as the name would suggest.

The extra length in these kayaks makes them great for long-distance traveling and multi-day trips. The hull typically measures from 12 to 20ft in length, and the beam width can vary from 18 to 28 inches. This means that while they may be more difficult to paddle, they make up for it in their ability to track swiftly.

The extended sized kayaks are faster because of the smaller bow-wave created at the bow of the kayak. The bow is farther away in these extended boats making it easier for the kayak to overtake the wave when it hits. This is referred to as the “hull speed.”

Recreational Kayaks

If you are interested in the more exciting side of kayaking, you may want to find a shorter and more compact kayak. The shorter kayaks are made for more sporty activities such as rafting, rough waters, and kayak surfing.

Your kayak’s length plays an essential role in your decision because it has a lot to do with the speed you are looking to travel in your kayak. Longer kayaks with longer water lines are more for relaxing and leisure, but also quicker speeds. Shorter kayaks are designed more for sport and, typically, rougher waters that a longer kayak would have more trouble maneuvering.

Many Recreational paddlers prefer a shorter kayak because they are easier to handle and maneuver in the water. They also tend to be cheaper.

A longer kayak is made for long-distance trips and takes significantly less energy to keep their speed going. Figuring out precisely what you plan to do with your kayak can make the most significant difference in what you ultimately decide to go with.

Kayak Volume

Kayak volume refers to the boat’s total carrying capacity.  This size information can be measured in cubic feet or gallons (super confusing) and was created to help paddlers better understand how much space they can expect to find in a particular kayak.

Example of a high volume kayakPin
Photo by Isaac Liljeholm on Unsplash

This article is not intended to get super technical, but there are a few guidelines to keep in mind. Low, medium, and high volume measurements help the paddler understand how much internal space the kayak has available. Your weight and height also play an essential role in kayak volume and finding the best size kayak.

It’s good to know that almost all kayak manufacturers have various sized kayaks to include people of different shapes and sizes. Volume, length, and width are all factors that you should consider when choosing the kayak’s right size. Most kayaks are made in high, medium, or low volumes to cover all options, whether sporty or relaxed touring.

High Volume Kayaks

A larger or taller paddler would be better matched with a kayak that has high volume. Larger paddlers weighing 180lbs or more and are 5’10” or taller will probably be most comfortable in the higher volume kayaks. These kayaks work well for larger paddlers because they have extra space to carry more gear! This can be perfect for longer distance paddling and day-long trips or longer outings.

Some examples of high volume kayaks would be the recreational and beginner sized kayaks. They are made with higher beams that are easier for newer paddlers to work with. However, something to consider is that these kayaks have a more challenging time functioning properly in choppy and windy weather.

Medium Volume Kayaks

Average sized paddlers tend to lean toward the medium volume kayaks. People weighing between 140 and 180lbs and are about 5’7″ to 5’10” tall are perfect for handling and maneuvering medium-sized volume kayaks. These sized kayaks have just enough space for long-distance trips and overnight stays.

Low Volume Kayaks

A smaller paddler may want to consider a kayak with a lower volume and a lower deck because it gives them better hip and thigh control. After all, the deck is lower. Smaller paddlers that weigh less than 140lbs and stand less than 5’6″ will want to try out the lower volume kayaks. 

They are long and have much less internal space. These low volume kayaks are great for touring and longer trips. They also have a high-efficiency level making them more comfortable for smaller paddlers to maneuver and control.

Finding the best kayak for a tall person

If you happen to be on the taller side, your best bet is to find a 10ft to 12ft long recreational kayak. Or if you’re interested in the sea and touring kayaks, a tall person may find the 14ft to 16ft paddlers more comfortable.

There can, of course, be exceptions to weight and height when looking for the right kayak. If you are tall and thin, you may have to compromise what you find comfortable. Your weight may put you in a low volume kayak, whereas your height may place you in a medium volume kayak. As well as if you happen to be shorter and a little heavier.

At that point, it’s all about finding what makes you the most comfortable. Weight can be added to your preferred kayak hatches to help it maneuver how you are most comfortable. So adjustments can be made to ensure the most comfortable ride in most cases.

What activities are you doing?

Different activities require different sizes of kayaks; it’s not all about your height and weight. For example, you don’t want to take a long sea or touring kayak down a raging whitewater river. Whitewater requires a smaller, much more agile boat.

Man going through whitewater in a kayakPin
Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash

Likewise, most medium-sized recreational, or day trip kayaks are not meant for touring on the ocean. For calmer bays and seas, you would want a longer boat that will be much faster and require less effort to cover distances.

Test out a kayak before you buy

If you have the opportunity to test a kayak before you buy, that is ideal.  You may want to rent a kayak and try different sizes before you take the plunge. 

You may have considered every little detail when trying to find the perfect kayak, but thinking and knowing can be two completely different things when finding the perfect size kayak. A more experienced paddler may know what they are looking for and jump in feet first.

But if you are just starting out, the best advice that I can give you is to seek out advice from more experienced paddlers around you or in your area. The last thing you want to do is make a purchase on a kayak that absolutely doesn’t suit you or your body type.


What size kayak do i need - multicolored kayak on the beachPin

Hopefully, you have a better understanding of what size kayak you need.  Unfortunately, the answer is both simple and a little complicated. Acknowledge your weight and height and consider the volume, width, and length of the kayak you are looking to purchase.

Knowing what you plan to use your kayak for is a huge help in making your decision and sitting in different models to see what feels most comfortable.

Remember to always be safe. Wear the proper protective gear and life vests, and always check your local weather before going out on the water. Another safety precaution is always having another paddler with you on the water. Have fun, and stay safe!

Steve, Founder of Paddle About
Steve is an avid kayaker and founder of Paddle About. When he is not on the water, Steve enjoys outdoor activities, including fishing, camping, and hiking with his family. Read more.