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What size kayak do I need?

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When you’re on the hunt for your first kayak or looking to upgrade your existing one, the myriad of choices available can seem overwhelming. Different models, designs, and features all play a crucial role in your selection process.

The primary factor to consider in this decision is the appropriate size of the kayak based on your height and weight. Additionally, it’s vital to contemplate other variables that might influence the most suitable kayak size for you.

Selecting the right kayak size isn’t a complicated task, but it’s crucial not to underestimate its importance. Even the most high-end kayak will be less effective if it doesn’t align well with your physical dimensions, your experience in kayaking, your paddling style, and the water conditions you plan to navigate.

To help demystify the process, we’re here to guide you through determining the optimal kayak size for your needs. We’ll delve into factors such as your height and weight, your experience level, and your preferred kayaking style, among others. By the end of this guide, you’ll have a clear understanding of the right kayak size for you. Let’s start by examining the various dimensions of kayaks.

Understanding the Dimensions of Kayaks

Before we delve into how your height and weight determine the kayak size you need, it’s essential to understand the different dimensions of kayaks.

Kayak Length

Kayak length, measured from the front (bow) to the back (stern), typically varies around 10 feet. However, you can find kayaks ranging from 6 feet to 16 feet. While taller individuals generally need longer kayaks, other factors like speed preferences and paddling environment (e.g., whitewater or calm rivers) also influence the choice of length.

Kayak Width

The width of a kayak is measured at its broadest point. A wider kayak tends to be more stable, while a narrower one is usually faster. This is a crucial tradeoff to consider, especially when choosing between specialized kayaks like fishing kayaks (wider for stability) and hardshell kayaks (narrower for speed).

Kayak Volume

Often overlooked by beginners, the volume of a kayak is a key specification. It indicates the total internal capacity of the kayak, influencing not just the fit for your body type but also the amount of gear you can carry. High-volume kayaks are recommended for beginners due to their increased stability, though they tend to be slower.

Kayak Weight and Weight Capacity

The weight of the kayak and its weight capacity are significant factors in your selection. Kayaks can range from a lightweight 20 pounds to a hefty 100 pounds. The weight impacts the ease of transporting the kayak. The weight capacity of the kayak should accommodate not only your body weight but any additional gear, especially for activities like overnight trips.

Kayak Cockpit Size

The cockpit size matters for comfort and safety. Larger individuals need a bigger cockpit. While smaller cockpits enhance speed and maneuverability, they can pose safety risks and comfort issues.

Kayak Legroom

Especially for taller individuals, adequate legroom is essential. However, your legroom needs might differ from what you expect based on your height, depending on the proportion of your legs to your torso.

Determining the Right Kayak Size for Your Height and Weight

Your height and weight are starting points in choosing the right kayak size. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Under 5’6″ & under 140lbs: Opt for a low-volume kayak.
  • 5’7″ to 5’10” & 140lbs to 190lbs: Choose a medium-volume kayak.
  • Over 5’10” & over 180lbs: A high-volume kayak is preferable.

Remember, these are just basic guidelines. Other factors, like your paddling environment and style, also play a crucial role.

Choosing the Right Kayak Based on Water Type

The type of water you plan to kayak in can dictate a different ideal kayak size. For instance, river kayaking typically requires a longer kayak for stability and maneuverability, while ocean kayaking demands a focus on stability and might call for a sea or touring kayak.

Additional Factors Influencing Kayak Sizing

Other considerations include storage and transportation logistics, whether you’ll be kayaking solo or tandem, and the type of trips you plan (day trips vs. overnight adventures). Your experience level also plays a role; beginners might prefer smaller, more manageable kayaks.

Choosing a Sit-on-top kayak size

Picking out a sit-on-top kayak is a bit simpler than selecting a sit-in kayak. With a sit-on-top kayak, you don’t have to worry as much about fitting into a cockpit or feeling cramped. Most of these kayaks are good for people of various sizes. However, if you’re taller than average, it’s a good idea to steer clear of very short kayaks. The most crucial thing to look at is the kayak’s weight capacity.

As mentioned before, staying within the kayak’s weight limit is essential. There are videos out there that show how the weight you put in your kayak affects how it moves in the water.

So, how do you decide what size kayak you need?

Well, it really depends on what you plan to do with it. If you’re into touring, you’ll want a kayak that’s longer and narrower because they’re built for speed. If you’re more into casual kayaking, a medium-sized kayak, also known as a recreational kayak, is a good choice. And if you’re interested in navigating whitewater, you’ll need a shorter kayak.

Your height and weight are also important factors to consider. You’ll want enough room to stretch your legs comfortably. It’s a good idea to check the length and width of the kayak’s cockpit opening to make sure you can get in and out easily, without having to wiggle around or bump your knees.


Selecting the right kayak size involves balancing various factors, including your physical dimensions, kayaking style, and the conditions you’ll be paddling in. While this guide offers a comprehensive overview, personal preferences and specific needs will ultimately guide your final choice. If you need more tailored advice on selecting the ideal kayak, feel free to reach out for further assistance.