What Size Kayak Do I Need? | Kayak Size Guide – 2021

When getting into kayaking, one of your first questions may be, “what size kayak should I get?”. This is a good question. It’s vital that you get the correct size kayak in order to maximize your enjoyment out on the water.

Your body size will give you a starting point, but that’s just the tip of the ice-berg. In this post, we’ll explain several factors that will provide you with a concrete understanding of kayak sizes and which size suits your outdoor needs.

Before you start worrying about what to wear when kayaking, let’s dive into a break-down of the dimensions of a kayak, the three broad kayak classes, and questions you should ask yourself before deciding on a kayak. This will give you the knowledge to decide which kayak size and type are for you!

Kayak Dimensions


Different size kayaks on racks


A kayak’s paddle speed, maneuverability and comfort are determined by its length, width, volume, weight, weight capacity and cockpit size.

An appropriate kayak size allows you to be comfortable on the water, and its performance will align with the conditions you plan on kayaking. Ultimately, you’ll make the most out of your kayaking adventures if you choose a kayak size that’s right for you.

Kayak Length


Length plays a crucial role because it determines how fast and agile you want to be in your kayak. A shorter kayak lets you maneuver easily, but it will be slower and require more effort to paddle longer distances.

Longer kayaks, on the other hand, are great for speed and tracking. These kayaks require less energy to paddle and are better for paddling longer distances. However, longer kayaks are less nimble and will require more effort to maneuver.

Remember to take your height into account. It’s vital to ensure that you have enough legroom, which largely determines whether you are comfortable in your kayak.

For example, a person who is 6 feet tall and weighs around 230 pounds will find a kayak of 12 feet in length better suited to their body size than a kayak of 10 feet in length. However, adjustable footrests can help taller people fit into smaller kayaks, and shorter people manage longer kayaks.

Kayak Width


People paddling kayaks of different widths


The wider the kayak, the more stability it will have. Wide kayaks are not very fast and have poor tracking capabilities. A rudder helps wider kayaks track better but also makes the kayak harder to use.

On the other end of the spectrum, narrow kayaks slice through water like a hot knife through butter. These kayaks are fast and better in choppy conditions but are less stable.

The kayak’s width affects the comfort and fit within the cockpit, but sit-on-top kayaks don’t have a cockpit and are suitable for people of many different body sizes. If you’re new to kayaking, starting with a wider kayak will be easier as opposed to a narrower kayak.

Tip: Read our guide on sit in vs sit on kayaks for an essential breakdown of these two types.


Kayak Volume


By now, you have a better understanding of how length and width play a role in kayak sizing. The next dimension that will get you one step closer to determining your kayak’s size is the kayak’s volume.

Volume is a measurement of the kayak’s size and capacity, informing you how much space it takes up. There are three ways to describe a kayak’s volume: low volume, medium volume and high volume. Each tier dictates the overall size of the kayak:

  1. Low volume kayaks are made for people that weigh less than 140 pounds and are shorter than 5’6″. These kayaks have enough storage space for day trips with minimal gear.
  2. Medium volume kayaks are made for people that weigh between 140 and 180 pounds and are between 5’7″ and 5’10”. These kayaks have enough space for overnight trips with gear.
  3. High volume kayaks are made for larger people that weigh above 180 pounds and are taller than 5’10”. They’re a good choice for beginners because of the added stability. These kayaks often have enough space for multiple-day trips with the necessary gear.


Kayak Weight (and Weight Capacity)


A man carrying a kayak to the water


The weight of various kayaks differs significantly. Most kayaks are between 35 and 70 pounds. However, you can get kayaks that weigh as little as 20 pounds and other kayaks that weigh over 100 pounds. The weight of the kayak depends on what you want out of it.

Weight is an important factor to consider because you will end up having to carry it to the water or lift it to stow on top of your car.

Tip: If you’re looking for a kayak that’s easy to store and transport, consider an inflatable kayak.

If you plan on kayaking with gear, we recommend incorporating your gear’s weight when deciding on a kayak. Each kayak has a weight capacity that is represented by a number on the kayak. This number indicates the weight of gear and equipment the kayak is capable of supporting.

If you want to use your kayak to go fishing or make longer trips, you should add 150 pounds to your body weight to determine the appropriate weight capacity of a touring or fishing kayak.

For recreational kayaking, you don’t have to worry too much about this, but we think you should play it safe by adding 100 pounds to your body weight. Doing this will ensure that you get a kayak that has the right capacity for you.

Kayak Cockpit Size


The cockpit is where you’ll sit in the kayak. It’s essential to understand the dimensions of a cockpit as you have to make sure that your waist and hips fit. If you have a larger body type, consider a fishing or light-touring kayak – they usually have a more spacious cockpit.

If you use a sit-on-top kayak, you won’t need to consider the cockpit size, and your kayak will be more accommodating to a variety of body types.

A red flag is a kayak that has a cockpit too small for you. Avoid this at all costs! For starters, it’s dangerous if you can’t quickly exit the kayak if it overturns. You also want to enjoy your time on the water, and a cockpit that is too small will be uncomfortable. So always make sure the kayak feels right for your body type.


An Easy Kayak Size Guide



When considering the dimensions of kayaks, we can divide kayak designs into three basic categories: recreational kayaks, light-touring kayaks, and touring kayaks.


Recreational Kayaks


These kayaks are generally less than 12 feet in length and wider than 24 inches. Weighing less than 50 pounds, they are slow and stable, making them perfect for beginners and those that don’t wish to paddle long distances.


Light-touring Kayaks


These kayaks’ lengths range between 12 and 16 feet and are between 22 and 25 inches wide. The added size makes them better at paddling longer distances but still relatively stable—a happy medium for amateur kayakers that like to kayak for sport and leisure.


Touring Kayaks


Longer than 16 feet in length and less than 22 inches in width, these kayaks are for more experienced kayakers. Touring kayaks are excellent for large bodies of water that don’t require sudden changes in direction.

The longer and narrower nature of touring kayaks make them good at paddling long distances and navigating choppy conditions. These kayaks also have more storage space that allows for longer excursions.


Your Kayak’s Purpose


A man paddling a touring kayak in the ocean


The next step in your quest for a kayak is identifying what type of kayaking you want to do. This will largely determine the size of the kayak you’ll end up using.

Different types of kayaks are designed for specific bodies of water. Think of kayaks as being similar to cars. You wouldn’t buy a sports car to drive off-road. The same rule applies to kayaks.

As an example, kayaking in the open ocean will be very different from kayaking in a river. The design of these kayaks reflects this. Larger and longer kayaks are more stable and better at handling choppy open-ocean waters. On the other hand, kayaking on turbulent river rapids requires a shorter, nimble whitewater kayak that gives you more control.

You should ask yourself the following questions to get a broad idea of what type of waters you plan on kayaking and what sort of activities you want to achieve with your kayak.

How Important is Kayak Speed To Me?


Do you want to paddle long distances or stay in the same area? If distance is what you’re after, then a touring kayak with a longer length and narrower width will be faster and better at traveling long distances.

Conversely, if you don’t want to paddle long distances, then speed is not a concern. In this case, you’d like a smaller recreational kayak to leisurely cruise around a fixed area. The same applies if you plan on fishing in an area because you’d need a shorter, wider, and more stable kayak.


How Important is Kayak Maneuverability?


A kayak’s agility is another factor you must consider when choosing a kayak size. Open rivers, lakes and the ocean that don’t require you to make sharp changes in direction are better suited to larger kayaks.

Tight, turbulent and turning rivers require smaller, more agile kayaks. A short recreational kayak that allows you to control its positioning easily is a good option for moving through narrow waterways with many obstacles.


What Water Type Will You Kayak On?


Recreational kayaks perform well in calm rivers or other calm bodies of water. For these conditions, you’re going to want a stable and easy-to-maneuver kayak more than you want speed. A recreational kayak with a length of between 8 and 12 feet will do well in these conditions.

Lakes are generally suitable for recreational kayaks, but a light-touring kayak is better when conditions get rough or if you want to paddle longer distances. The choppy conditions of a lake can be navigated nicely using a light-touring kayak. If fishing is your goal, a wide and stable kayak with ample storage space is the right choice.

Kayaking in the ocean requires dealing with stronger water conditions. You’ll have to navigate winds, currents and waves, so a longer touring kayak of at least 12 feet is good at cutting through the chop. We recommend learning on a smaller recreational kayak before using a touring kayak because they are less stable and less agile.


How Does Body Size Compare To Kayak Size?


No matter the purpose you have in mind for your kayak, safety is the most crucial consideration. As mentioned previously, in each kayak class, there are different volumes and sizes so that people can find a suitable size within their desired kayak class.

Your height is the most important factor, followed by your weight. So, depending on the type of kayak you want, you must choose a comfortable volume so that you don’t lessen your kayaking experiences. The kayak’s cockpit shouldn’t be too restrictive because this increases the difficulty of exiting the kayak in emergency situations.


A group of people kayaking in the sea


Final Thoughts on Kayak Sizes


So there you have it. You’re ready to choose your kayak’s size! The most critical elements in selecting the correct size are your height and weight, followed by skill level and the kayak’s intended use.

Taking these essential steps will mean you can narrow down your selection of kayaks best suited to your needs and avoid wasting money. This will ensure you choose the appropriate size kayak that will be comfortable on the water, perform as intended and maximize the fun you have out there.