Kayaks come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Finding the right one is no easy task since there are multitudes of brands out there. There are many kayak types too – sit on top, sit inside, recreational, touring, fishing, ocean kayaks and more.
But don’t worry. This guide will help you select the right one, within a few minutes.
Here are the things you should keep in mind when selecting a kayak size.
A Quick Rundown of Most Common Kayak Sizes
Kayaks, at their shortest, are around 8 feet long, unless you are considering a kayak for kids. The benefit of a short kayak is that they are easier to maneuver – you can turn on a dime and don’t need a lot of paddling experience to handle them. This makes them good for beginners. However, since they are short, they don’t work for tall paddlers.
White water kayaks, those that paddlers use to rip through rapids, also tend to be shorter than regular kayaks. They provide a lot of maneuverability which is exactly what you need when maneuvering through rapids or white water.
Another benefit of having an 8-foot kayak is that you can easily transport it in the back of your SUV or in the bed of your pickup truck with ease. Longer kayaks require you to install a dedicated kayak rack on your car.
10-foot to 11-foot
This length range is for paddlers who want a kayak that is stable and easy to maneuver. Kayaks this long also accommodate taller paddlers. They are perfect for beginners.
You can also choose between a recreational kayak or a fishing kayak when choosing kayaks in this range. However, be mindful of the weight capacity. Choose a higher weight capacity if you are tall and want to bring camping or fishing gear on board too.
12-foot to 13-foot
If you have the “need for speed”, it is better to go for longer kayaks. Kayaks in this range usually strike the right balance between speed and stability. Their length gives them speed and width imparts stability.
A lot of the kayaks in this segment come with features such as fishing rod holders and gear tracks.
If you would like to go on multi-day kayaking trips, you should check out touring kayaks that come with lots of dedicated storage and allow you to cover long distances relatively fast.
You will also find kayaks meant for lakes or for the ocean. Both often have different designed hulls, so choose based on the type of waters on which you want to paddle.
If you want speed and space, 14-foot kayaks are for you. They are long which helps them move fast and track well. As an added benefit, they come with many storage options including storage hatches, tank wells and bungee rigging on the deck. This added storage makes them suitable for touring and camping.
You can also find kayaks with wider hulls at 14 ft. that are perfect for fishing because of their stability. You can customize them with fishing mounts and accessories and enjoy fishing for long hours on the water.
Tandem kayaks are also available in 14-foot length or longer. They allow you to bring a paddle friend along and have a memorable, shared experience.
How Do You Pick the Right Kayak Size
There are many important factors to consider when picking the right kayak size.
Of course, the length is the most basic measure of a kayak size. It is important to consider your height when choosing the length of your kayak. Apart from comfort, you should also consider performance.
Longer and shorter kayaks perform differently. Shorter kayaks are easy to maneuver and turn on a dime. They are also easy to carry on your shoulders and transport in your cars.
Longer kayaks are usually faster and track better than shorter kayaks. So if you want to cover long distances, a longer kayak will probably work better for you.
The width of the kayak determines how stable it is. Those who want to use the kayak for recreational use or fishing may want a wide kayak. Although you get the stability the tradeoff is performance and power. Wider kayaks are usually slower than narrower kayaks. Narrower kayaks also offer better tracking, but you can use a rudder or skeg to compensate for this factor.
Bigger kayaks are usually able to support more weight and haul more gear. A good thumb rule to select a kayak that has about a 50 lbs. more capacity than your own body weight.
This applies for recreational kayaks. If you are going to buy a fishing kayak, we recommend buying a kayak with capacity 150 lbs. more than your body weight to factor in weight of adding accessories and storing fish crates and other gear.
Whether you are buying a recreational kayak or a fishing kayak, you need sufficient legroom to stay comfortable while paddling for long hours. Sometimes kayaks have less leg room because they have a center console for storage. The center console can allow you to store things like smartphones or sunglasses. But not everyone wants a center console, some paddlers would rather prefer freedom of movement. So choose wisely.
Pay attention to the volume inside the kayak. Lower volume doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t good. In fact, for smaller paddlers and women in general, lower volume inside the kayak can be better for having a better posture while paddling.
How do I check the volume of a kayak?
Sit-inside kayaks have a volume rating in their specifications. So make sure to check the specifications online. We also recommend checking the size in person if you have a store nearby. Kayaks are big, voluminous purchases that are hard to return in case you get the wrong size. But most manufacturers provide all the info you need on their product pages online.
Smaller paddlers can fit in smaller volume kayaks better, which improves the grip between their hips, thighs and feet, and the boat. This allows them to maneuver the kayak more easily. This maneuverability is especially useful when you are paddling in rough waters or rapids. If you are less than 5’6” tall and weigh less than or equal to 140 lbs, low volume kayaks are for you.
A medium volume kayak is good for average sized paddlers. What does average size mean? If you are 5’7” to 5’10” in height and weigh less than 200 lbs, you fall in this category. Medium volume kayaks are perfect for being comfortable as well as bringing some gear on board.
If you want to paddle in white water or rapids, you should go for either low volume or medium volume kayaks, depending on your height. Having a compact fit such that the kayak becomes an extension of your body while paddling allows white water kayakers to have more control over the boat.
If you are big and tall and want a spacious kayak, go for a high volume kayak. Taller paddlers, 5’10” or taller, having long legs and weighing over 200 lbs. would find higher volume kayaks better and more comfortable.
Be mindful of your height when buying a high volume kayak though. Smaller paddlers will struggle to control high volume kayaks and the whole kayaking experience can be daunting.
Sit on top kayaks come with no cockpit, so there is no volume marker for these kayaks. This makes it a bit difficult to decide on their sizing. When buying a sit on top kayak, you need to focus on the length and the width of the boat.
Choose the length based on how tall you are, how much space you need and whether you prioritize speed over stability. Choose the width on how much stability you want.
Your height as a paddler directly influences the kayak size that would best work for you. So if you are 6’ or taller, you would certainly need a bigger kayak. But bigger doesn’t always mean better. There is a reason why.
For taller and bigger people, it is not just the kayak length that matters, it is also the kayak’s volume. So a 12 foot kayak can often have a larger volume than a 14 foot kayak, because of the difference in design.
Kayaks come in all shapes and sizes.
The right size depends on your height, your inseam and the type of kayak you want. Do you prefer speed over stability? Choose a long and narrow kayak.
Do you want stability since you mostly kayak with family? Choose a wider kayak.
But don’t forget to check for other things mentioned in this guide.