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What Size Kayak Do I Need? Get Help from this Chart!

Written by Derrick Riley
Last Update: August 14, 2023

Kayaking is a truly pleasurable and rewarding sport to take up. Whether you do it competitively, for leisure, to fish, to tour, to get your adrenaline pumping on white water rapids, or for simple days out on the lake, there’s something in it for everyone. The challenge, however, can be finding the most suitable kayak for you with regards to how long, and how big it should be. If you’re looking for a kayak sizing guide, read on! By the end of this I hope to have given you a fairly clear idea on the parameters you should consider when buying your first kayak.

What Size Kayak Do I Need?

The aspects to consider

1. Purpose of kayaking

The single most important factor to consider that will set your parameters for your perfect kayak size is what you intend to do with it. The optimal length of boat on a calm lake surface is very different to the optimal boat length needed on rapids, or at sea. Where you plan to kayak and for what purpose needs to be the first question you answer to narrow things down.

What Size Kayak Do I Need - kayak size chart

You will need a bigger and longer kayak at sea for purposes of increased stability. You would need a much shorter kayak on the rapids for purposes of agility, control, and fast turns. Bigger kayak with more storage capacity you may need if you plan on taking long tours, so first ask yourself where exactly you intend to take the boat, and what you plan to do with it.

2. Types of kayaks

You need to consider the types of kayaks available to you in conjunction with what kind of kayaking you want to do. Just like canoes, there are many kinds of kayaks that serve their own specific purposes.

You get:

  • Sea kayaks
  • Fishing kayaks
  • White-water kayaks
  • Sit-on-top kayaks
  • Sit-inside kayaks
  • Recreational kayaks
  • Touring kayaks
  • Folding kayaks
  • Inflatable kayaks
  • Peddling kayaks

And the list goes on. Once you have decided what you want to do with your kayak, you need to get into the kayak category suited for the activity and make sure the range you are choosing from is specifically for this kind of activity. For example, don’t go shopping in the sea kayak section if you plan on smashing the rapids!

3. Kayak materials

Another major thing to think about is the material of the kayak. Kayaks come in various plastics, aluminium, fibre glass, and more. Cheaper plastics are used on non-serious kayak types intended for recreation. Whereas more expensive materials are used to make kayaks intended for more serious use. What you want to do also plays a role here because material decides kayak weight. If you plan to be touring for a while and may have to carry your kayak at some point you don’t want a kayak made of a dense and heavy material. So be sure to consider the structural make-up of the kayak and whether it suites your purposes.

4. Price

The sky is only the limit for those in the top 0.1 percent of the world, but for the rest of us who have to watch our pocket, cost is a real factor. You obviously need to stay within budget but do not let the price tag determine your kayak in the wrong way. You may want to try out sea kayaking for example. Now, a sea kayak is more expensive. This is no reason to find yourself browsing the cheapest recreational kayak on the other side of the shop. Choosing a kayak purely because it’s the cheapest could quite literally put you at risk if it isn’t suited to your intended use. If your budget is restricting you, try sourcing a well-kept second-hand kayak of good quality instead of just buying whatever is cheapest. If you think there is a 50/50 chance you won’t actually enjoy the sport for long, rent one instead.

5. Length

The length of a kayak within the category suited for you is also important as it will have a large bearing on your capabilities on the water and needs to suite your intentions and preferences. The longer the kayak, the faster and smoother the cruising speed will be. The shorter the kayak, the easier and faster the turns will be. So if you are looking for an agile kayak that turns very quickly and is easy to make drastic controlled movements with, you need a short kayak. If you want cruising speed, you need a long kayak.

6. Width

Width is the single most determining factor of kayak stability. How a kayak sits in the water and how easy it is to balance in or on it is all due to how narrow or wide the kayak is, especially in proportion to you. Wide kayaks are more stable and easier to balance in, whereas slim kayaks are faster. Wide models offer extra space for storing a kayak cooler, a backpack and other essentials.So again, your speed preferences and movability expectations will be the decider of your kayak width. As a general rule, avoid a kayak that is extremely thin while you have not mastered balancing. The extra speed will mean nothing to you if you’re constantly going out sideways!

7. Maximum weight capacity

Every kayak has a maximum weight limit it can safely carry. You need to ensure that the maximum weight limit is sufficient for your body weight plus all your gear and supplies. Preferably try not to get to close to that weight limit if you can avoid it, leave extra weight room to spare. All kayak weight limits are marked on the kayak or in the manual that goes with it.

8. Legroom

One of the biggest mistakes that can be made when purchasing a kayak is not considering your leg length and thickness when buying. Kayaking successfully and comfortably requires legroom. You also don’t want too much leg room. Optimally what you want is a snug fit that still allows room to adjust and get in and out comfortably. Get inside the kayak right there in the shop if you need to. It might look strange to a by-stander but it saves you discovering you can’t fit once it’s already purchased and on the water!

Kayak Length for Height Chart

Once you have narrowed down your needed kayak based on the above information, use the helpful charts below to determine the best kayak for you with the most ideal dimensions by type, length, and width, based on your height, body size, and intended use.

Kayak Length for Height Chart
Kayak Length for Height Chart 2

Additional Kayak Considerations

You also need to consider the seat of the kayak you want to buy. It needs to fit and hold you comfortably but not loosely.

Ask yourself what kind of rudder you want or whether you want to steer using just your paddle. This will have an impact on price and your overall enjoyment.

You also need to take into account the storage capacity of the kayak and compare that to the storage capacity you will potentially need. Don’t waste money and size on a kayak with a lot of storage capacity if you don’t intend to use it.

Another very important thing to consider is the paddle you buy. It needs to be the right height for you. Too long or too short will give you headaches instead of easy movement and you’ll be paddling nowhere slowly.

Keep in mind with all these things that you are likely to spend lengthy amounts of time in your kayak so it needs to be comfortable when you get in. If it is already uncomfortable at the start, it’s only downhill from there as the trip progresses.

Finding the right kayak is not rocket science but you definitely want to get it right the first time to save yourself the headache of the re-sell and re-buy scenario, as well as potential risk. I hope this guide has been of use to you, have fun!

About the author

Derrick Riley

I’m Derrick in my early 40s, but planning to bag from every saltwater source in America. In practice, I’ve explored over a dozen bodies of water that hosted almost all of the saltwater game fish. My personal favorites are brook trout and striped bass though. I don’t mind catching bluegill and white crappie either.

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