Kayaking is one of the most exciting and satisfying hobbies you can take up. Whether you want to do it for fishing, leisure, touring, spending relaxing weekends with friends and family out on the lake, or just getting your adrenaline pumping when braving whitewater rapids, we’re sure there is something for everyone.
The challenge that most people encounter is trying to figure out the best kayak size, more specifically, its length. If this is your problem as well, you’ve come to the right place to find the answers.
We’ve put together a guide to help you choose the optimal kayak size, along with other factors to help you determine which kayak to get for your activity.
Finding the perfect equipment can be quite challenging sometimes. If you want to have a good experience with the activity that you want to try, you need to have good equipment. When it comes to kayaking, you have two choices when it comes to the kayak that you want to ride. Whether you’re looking for the best inflatable kayak or the best hard-shell kayak, we’ve got you covered.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Kayak
When considering buying a kayak, the size is arguably the most important aspect to consider. This factor will play a crucial role in terms of the kayak’s capabilities and limitations regarding the activities you partake in. So, here’s what you need to think about.
1. What you intend to do
The first thing you need to determine is the type of activity you intend to do with the kayak. This will then lead to the type of kayak you should buy. The length of a kayak you plan to use on calm waters is different from what you need for navigating whitewater rapids.
For instance, when kayaking in the ocean, you’ll need a kayak that can offer high stability to prevent the waves from capsizing your vessel. Thus, larger and longer boats are more appropriate for this type of environment. Meanwhile, for navigating whitewater rapids, you’ll need a much shorter kayak so that it can complete fast turns, enhance agility, and increase the level of control, which are some things you can’t get with bulky kayaks.
2. What is the ideal length-to-weight ratio
Once you have determined the type of activity you want to use a kayak for, the next thing to do is choose the optimal kayak length-and-width ratio. This is the most critical factor in determining how stable your vessel will be.
You need to know how its length and width will affect the way the vessel sits on the water and how well it balances. You also need to understand how it can affect your vessel’s performance, especially in terms of maneuverability and speed.
As a rule of thumb, it is always better to avoid an extremely thin hull, especially if you haven’t learned the art of balancing yet. The extra efficiency and speed you get will mean nothing if you tip over sideways every couple of feet.
If you want to get the most out of your kayaking experience, you need sufficient legroom. This is another critical element you shouldn’t ignore when buying a kayak.
You want a snug fit, yet not so tight that it affects your ability to get in and out of the kayak, especially in case of an emergency. On the other hand, too much legroom will allow for less control over the kayak, which means it will not be easily maneuverable. Therefore, the ideal space is somewhere in between.
Length of a Kayak
The length of the kayak does not really play a significant role when evaluating a kayak’s performance potential. What you should consider is the dimensions of the cockpit rather than the actual physical length of the vessel.
In general, anyone less than 6 feet tall can fit in the cockpit of a conventional sit-in kayak. But, anyone taller than 6 feet should test a 12 to 14 feet kayak, just to get a feel of the seat’s height, overall fit, and legroom. That is because people who are taller than 6 feet tend to have a higher center of gravity, longer legs, and bigger feet, which can affect stability and comfort.
What size kayak do I need based on my height?
To figure out what size of kayak you need based on your height, see our chart below.
|High Volume Kayak
|5’10” and above
|180 lbs. and above
with a significant amount of gear
|Medium Volume Kayak
|5’7” to 5’10”
|150 to 180 lbs.
with a moderate amount of gear
|Low Volume Kayak
|5’6” and below
|140 lbs. and below
with a minimal amount of gear
Keep in mind that this chart is only meant to serve as a guide for a paddler. Its recommendations can be altered and are not permanent.
Kayaking is a good full-body workout and an excellent way to spend a day on the water. If you want to share this great experience with a friend or family member, it is better to choose a tandem kayak. But, where should the stronger paddler sit in a kayak? Read our article to find out.
Volume of a Kayak
A kayak’s volume can give you a better idea of how much space you can expect inside the kayak. Manufacturers use four terms to describe the volume:
- Low Volume
Designed for anyone under 5’6” tall and weighing less than 140 lbs.
- Medium Volume
For paddlers 5’7” to 5’10” tall and weighing 140 to 189 lbs.
- High Volume
For anyone over 5’10” tall and weighing more than 180 lbs.
- Gallons or Cubic Feet
The actual physical space inside the boat.
The best way to know if a kayak’s volume is ideal for your height is to sit inside. In this way, you’ll get a feel of how it fits your height and trunk size. However, you can always use the height chart for reference.
What size kayak do I need for my weight?
The right-sized kayak for your weight should have a maximum capacity rating of 125 lbs. over your body weight or reduce 30 to 35% from the manufacturer’s maximum capacity weight.
It is also important to understand that buying a kayak based solely on your weight is not advisable as you will be filling the kayak with gear, and so, have to include this weight while considering the right size for the kayak.
A maximum capacity of about 125 lbs. over your weight and/or a 30-35% deduction in the manufacturer’s capacity rating are two general rules for calculating the right size for your weight.
The maximum capacity refers to how much weight the boat can hold. However, it is not recommended to load kayaks to their max weight capacity as they can ride very low in the water.
Kayak Weight Capacity
- 300 lb. weight limit
This is the weight of standard boats with about 180 lbs. usable performance kayak weight. So, considering one’s body and gear weight, this is best for anyone weighing about 155 lbs. and transporting about 25 lbs. of gear.
- 400 lb. weight limit
Vessels with this limit will give you 240 lbs. performance kayak weight capacity. They are best for anyone weighing 215 lbs. and transporting about 25 lbs. of gear.
- 500 lb. weight limit
These 500 lbs. kayaks can accommodate anyone who weighs around 275 lbs. and is transporting about 25 lbs. gear.
- Tandem kayak weight capacity
These kayaks can transport two people, and thus, are heavier than solo kayaks. They can carry between 450 and 700 lbs. So, consider the weight of both passengers, along with your personal plus shared gear, to find the right-sized kayak.
Where do you prefer to paddle?
Your kayaking location of choice is also a factor to consider when choosing which kayak to get. Different locations require different equipment which is why it’s important to determine this factor first before getting a kayak.
Choose a sit-on-top or recreational sit-in boat if the weather is fair and if the lake is located nearby.
Choose a sit-in touring kayak if you plan to go to the coast where you will encounter wind, waves, currents, and tide. However, a sit-on-top kayak can still be a good choice for those planning on kayak surfing.
You should choose a short, sturdy, and stable sit-in or sit-on-top kayak, or even a day-touring sit-in kayak if you plan on floating on a river.
Rivers and Lakes
If you plan on kayaking on flowing and still waters, you should opt for a short recreational sit-in or sit-on-top kayak. Kayaks used for rivers and lakes usually feature a skeg to help you responsively turn and track efficiently.
Getting in and out of your kayak without getting wet is a skill that most people want to acquire. It seems impossible because a kayak is unstable and can tip over if you step into or out of it the wrong way but it’s not impossible at all. Check out our 10 tips for getting into a kayak without getting wet to learn this skill.
Types of Kayak
There are multiple kinds of kayaks that you can choose from. After considering all the factors that we mentioned, it’s time to pick your kayak.
These are recreational kayaks made for lakes and calm flowing rivers. They are easy to get in and out of, comfortable when the air and water are warm, and provide ample deck storage areas, hard-to-access cargo space, and rod holders for some models. These kayaks are typically heavier than sit-in kayaks.
Sit-in kayaks come in recreational and touring models. They are comfortable when the air and water are cool, move fast, and track straight. They feature covered compartments and a spray skirt and are more efficient to paddle than sit-on-top kayaks.
- Recreational kayaks (sit-ins and sit-on-tops)
These kayaks are more affordable, stable, simple to turn with, and easy to get in and out of. They are best for flatwater, winding rivers, but not for longer trips, powerful waves, or whitewater rapids.
- Day touring kayaks (sit-in)
These are versatile, sleeker kayaks that move more efficiently than recreational kayaks. However, they are often more expensive. These kayaks can track straighter and give you more control in rough water. They are also shorter than sea kayaks and easier to handle and transport.
- Touring kayaks (sit-in sea kayaks)
These kayaks are long, robust, and super efficient over distances. They track well and have a rudder or skeg that deals with wind and currents. They also feature ample cargo space and are a good choice for long-distance trips and coastal kayaking
- Folding Kayak
If you just need minimum storage space and plan to travel or hike to a remote location, a folding kayak might be a good choice. However, these are not as tough as hard-shell kayaks, but still offer comparable handling and enough storage to many touring kayaks.
- Inflatable Kayak
These are sturdy and versatile vessels and are good choices to save storage space. The purely recreational models are best for close-to-shore play, while wide, rugged inflatables are good for flowing rivers because they can bounce off of obstacles. A few inflatables are also designed for serious touring.
- Tandem Kayak
To save money, you can choose to buy one tandem boat instead of two solo kayaks. These are usually more stable than one-person kayaks and are a great choice if you plan to take your friends, family members, or dog with you.
- Pedal-powered Kayak
These kayaks utilize bike-like or push-pedals to power a pair of fins. You may steer using a rudder that you can operate manually and that allows you to sit higher and have room for pedaling.
Inflatable kayaks are becoming more and more popular because they are lighter and they are really easy to transport compared to non-inflatable ones. If you just bought a brand new kayak, it is important that you know how it works to save time when you arrive at the launch site. Read our article to know how to properly inflate a kayak.
- Polyethylene plastic
This material is inexpensive and abrasion-resistant, but is the heaviest option and can degrade after extended exposure to the sun.
- ABS plastic
Although it is a slightly more expensive material than polyethylene, it offers the same durability. Its higher price will provide a slightly lower weight than polyethylene material and some more UV resistance. Thermoformed ABS kayaks are constructed by bonding the hull and deck, which are made separately. This process causes its two-tone design.
Kayaks can also be made using lightweight fiberglass and ultralight carbon fiber to increase their performances and prices. With composites, UV rays are not a big issue, although rocks can be.
Deeper hulls can provide more room for those with longer legs. They can also offer some more storage, while shallower hulls can be less affected by the wind.
Wider hulls can offer more stability, while narrower hulls can go a lot faster.
A quality seat can add more to the kayak’s price, but, come to think of it, you will be spending a large amount of time seated. Thus, having one that provides comfort, adjustability, and is more padded and ergonomically ideal for you will be worth it.
Hatches give you access to a kayak’s interior storage areas. The bigger touring kayaks will have two, while day-touring kayaks and a few of those recreational kayaks will only have one.
This is a simple dropdown fin that helps prevent a side wind from blowing your kayak off of its course.
- Tracking Fin
This feature helps prevent side wind from blowing your kayak off of its course but cannot be retracted while paddling. However, you may still remove it before paddling if you want to be better able to turn quickly. This feature is commonly found on inflatable kayaks.
Refers to a fin that flips down from the back of a kayak. It does the same thing as a regular fin but is not fixed in one position. Its angle can be readjusted using the foot pedals to make it more responsive to changing conditions.
- Weight Capacity
This refers to the load limit of the kayak, including your gear and body weight. This factor is especially important to consider if you plan to take your equipment for a multi-day tour. As mentioned above, if your kayak is overloaded, it will sit too low in the water, which will limit your paddling efficiency.
Longer kayaks can cruise more efficiently and provide adequate storage space, especially for overnight touring gear, while shorter hulls can turn more quickly. A few inches in the kayak’s length won’t affect it significantly, but two feet or more can be noticeable.
- Cockpit Size
A small and snug cockpit will allow for more control and protection in rough conditions, while a large cockpit will allow for easier entry and exit.
What is the standard size of a kayak?
The standard or average size of a kayak is 10 feet long. However, there is a wide range of possible lengths, and kayaks can be anywhere from 6 to 16 feet long.
In general, longer kayaks are faster, short kayaks are for rapids, and many of the shorter ones are designed for speed.
- Recreational Kayaks
Those are typically 9 to 12 feet long, making them lighter and smaller than touring kayaks. They usually have a wide beam that measures around 28 to 34 inches and adds to the stability. These are popular among beginners because they are easily maneuverable and lightweight.
- Tandem Kayaks
Tandem kayaks’ length ranges from 10 to 14 feet, although they tend to be around 12-13 feet.
- Touring or Sea Kayaks
These are 12 to 20 feet long for solo kayaks and up to 26 feet for touring tandem kayaks. The length allows for enough storage space for long-distance trips and is good for oceans and bays.
- Fishing Kayaks
These kayaks’ length ranges from 10 to 16 feet and their width ranges from 30 to 42 inches. They offer more stability than maneuverability and speed and are durable enough to have trolling motors attached.
- Performance Kayaks
These performance kayaks are designed for speed and can be around 15 to 18 feet long.
Having the correct equipment for any kind of activity makes everything easier and more convenient, especially for beginners. Choosing the correct gear is often the first thing that you have to deal with when you’re participating in a new activity. This can be intimidating but as long as you do your research, you’ll be fine.
As you have seen above, there are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to getting a kayak. Knowing all these factors can affect your overall kayaking experience. Therefore, it is best to understand and have proper knowledge of these aspects to find the best kayak for you. If you are ready, you can take a look at our list of the best hard-shell kayaks and best inflatable kayaks to help you get started.