What size kayak do I need?
Apr 26, 2021
If you're looking to invest in your own kayak, one of the key questions to ask yourself is "what size kayak do I need?"
The size is largely determined by the type of kayaking you will be doing. This blog post takes you through some of the main aspects that determine your right kayak size and finding the right kayak for you. You'll be out for your paddle in no time!
Does my height or weight affect kayak size?
Many people believe that your height and weight capacity determine the size kayak you require. However, you might be surprised to know this doesn't have as much of a bearing on finding the right size kayak as you may think.
Height and weight will be a more important factor when choosing your paddle length.
Nevertheless, height and weight can be important for the volume of your kayak, and ensuring it's long enough to comfortably fit your legs. We explore this in more detail in the following.
Kayak size and dimensions
The three primary elements in determining kayak dimensions are length and width, and volume.
There are also other size factors, including weight capacity, cockpit size, and weight.
Each dimension affects parts of the usability, including maneuverability, speed and comfort. You need to consider each aspect to find the kayak that's just right for you.
There's a wide range of lengths for kayaks - generally speaking, the longer the kayak, the faster it travels. This is why you'll see that boats for rapids are shorter than recreational ones.
However, the average kayak is normally around 3 metres. From shortest to longest, let's take a look at the various different types of kayaks and how long they are as standard:
- Recreational kayaks - recreational kayaks normally start around 3 metres, with some exceptions for boats for youths and those for performing tricks. They often go up to about 3.7 metres in length. Generally speaking, the shorter kayaks will be slower but more easy to maneuver. These kayaks are shorter because stability is the priority, rather than storage - they tend to be wider rather than longer.
- Fishing kayaks - fishing kayaks are designed to offer lateral stability for casting fishing lines. These kayaks tend to be longer than recreational ones, measuring between 3-4 metres
- Tandem kayaks - a tandem kayak comes between 3-4 metres, but tends to be around 3.5 metres long.
- Sea kayaks - a sea kayak, or touring kayak, is even longer, at around 3.5-5 metres. They can also be used for long journeys on rivers, as well as on the sea.
- Performance kayaks - finally, performance kayaks are the longest of all, as they are built for speed. They are anywhere between 4.5-5.5 metres.
Kayaks have a wide range of widths depending on their purpose.
Narrow boats are normally faster, but wider boats offer greater stability for activities such as fishing.
It's worth noting that, if a kayak has a cockpit (sit in kayaks), the width can determine its comfort and fit - this is less important for a sit on top kayak.
For sit in kayaks, the width can determine its comfort and fit
You can also think about kayak volume - the boat's interior capacity - for determining a boat's overall size.
This is a useful measurement for space to store your gear and for people, but it also affects the ride. Kayaks are available in high and low volume, as well as medium volume.
For beginners, a high-volume kayak will be easier and more stable, however the ride can be slower and not as smooth as a low-volume alternative. This is also where the weight of the kayaker comes into play - volume tends to be relative to the weight of the kayaker. Different people will need different sizes of boat, with the largest paddlers requiring a high volume kayak, and the smallest needing low volume kayaks.
Here's a rough guide for appropriate volume to help find the best kayak for you:
- Low volume kayaks - generally for paddlers under 170cm tall, and weighing less than 64 kgs. These boats are long with minimal internal storage space.
- Medium volume kayaks - for paddlers between 170-180cm tall, and weighing between 64-86 kgs.
- High volume kayaks - for paddlers over 180cm tall, weighing more than 82 kgs.
How much weight do you need your kayak to carry? When working this out, don't forget to include the weight of the paddlers as well as the weight of the gear. Will you be taking overnight trips that require more gear? Then storage space as well as weight capacity come into play.
Kayaks that can carry a lot of weight will often prioritise stability over speed and maneuverability.
How far do you need to carry your kayak, and will you be transporting it alone to the water? These are important questions to consider when selecting your kayak.
Kayak weight varies significantly, but generally falls within a 16-32 kg range. Think about how you will be launching your kayak, and whether you need to be able to lift it on top of your car.
For taller people, legroom can become a key determining factor in choosing a kayak - they may choose longer kayaks simply for this reason.
This is particularly important for sit-in kayaks, where you need enough room to easily get in and out, while still maintaining contact between the boat and your legs and thighs. This enables you to have greater control of the vessel.
You don't need to worry about height of the paddler as much for sit-on-top kayaks, as you have more space by sitting on the top of the boat.
When it comes to determining the cockpit size, paddler height should trump paddler weight, as your legs need to fit comfortably inside for a sit in kayak. This is why taller paddlers may decide on longer boats to make space for their long legs, or sit on top kayaks.
As well as height, you should consider the area around your waist. Some people opt for fishing or touring kayaks because they offer more spacious cockpits, or a sit-on-top kayak as they don't have a traditional cockpit.
Consider the space around you in the cockpit - you don't want to be squeezing in and out of your kayak
Bear in mind, you don't want to be squeezing in and out of your kayak. This is a safety issue if your boat overturns. You also want to be able to join the experience, and a large part of that is related to comfort.
Kayak size and water type
The type of water you will be paddling on is of key importance when choosing your kayak size for the kayak's performance.
For rivers, you'll typically want a recreational kayak, enabling you to follow the river flow rather than focusing on speed. Stability and maneuverability will be important features.
Look at boats between 2.4-4 metres and that are wide enough to help you with handling it.
Of course, this will differ if you plan to tackle rapids.
A recreational kayak, like the ones for rivers, will normally be sufficient for lake paddling. However, if you're paddling in lakes with bigger waves, you may prefer a touring kayak.
You may also want a fishing kayak if that's your purpose for taking to the water, with more space to carry your gear and rod holders.
Ocean kayaking can mean stronger water conditions, with heavier winds, tides and waves than rivers or lakes.
Touring or sea kayaks are long, helping you to more easily cover greater distances. If you're new to kayaking, you may prefer a shorter length to learn on, as these are more stable.
Storage and transportation
Finally, understanding where you will store your kayak, and how you will transport it, may be a decisive factor in choosing your kayak length and weight.
Whilst the other factors we've discussed will likely determine your kayak size, don't forget that you need to check if you have space to store it!
Is there space for a kayak over 2.5 metres in your garage?
If not, you may wish to consider an inflatable kayak as an option. Inflatable kayaks are both easier to transport and store - they can often be deflated to the size of a backpack.
How does the kayak transport from your house to your car, and then from your car to the water? Does it fit on your vehicle, and can you carry and lift it?
You will want to consider how much weight you can comfortably carry alone, and whether your can handle the length when maneuvering it.
Remember: the easier it is to get on the water, the more likely you are to use your new kayak.
Ready to take to the water?
Now that you've answered the question "what size kayak do I need", consider the following additional resources: