As you start shopping around for your first kayak, or even to upgrade from your current boat, you'll have more options than ever before. There are so many different types, styles, and features to consider along your buying journey.
But without a doubt, the most important question you should ask yourself is - what size kayak do I need for my height and weight? And, are there other factors that affect the ideal kayak size for me?
Sizing a kayak isn't as difficult as it sounds - but this is not something you should take lightly. You can buy the best, most expensive kayak on the market. But if it isn't sized properly for your height and weight, your kayaking style, experience level, and the type of water you paddle in - you'll be fighting an uphill battle.
No need to play the guessing game - we're here to provide you with a definitive answer on which size kayak is best for you. We'll cover sizing based on height/weight, experience level, kayaking style (the type of water you paddle in), and more. By the end of this article, you'll know exactly what kayak size you need. Let's get things started by discussing the different kayak dimensions.
Start By Understanding Kayak Dimensions
Before we can answer the question what size kayak do I need for my height and weight, we must explain the different kayak dimensions. Having an in-depth understanding of these different aspects will make the process easier.
This one is pretty simple - the kayak length is the figure from bow to stern. Most kayaks fall somewhere around 10' long - but as you can imagine, there are much shorter and much longer options as well. You can find kayaks anywhere from as short as 6' all the way up to 16'. And it should go without saying that the taller you are, the longer kayak you should go with.
But it's not quite that simple - you may be on the shorter end and still opt for a longer kayak because they are generally faster. On the other hand, if you're tall but want to kayak in whitewater rapids or river currents, you'll want a shorter kayak to accommodate your style.
The width of your kayak is measured from the widest part of your boat. Generally speaking, the wider a kayak the more stable it is. The narrower a kayak is, the faster it is. This is the tradeoff you get with width. That's why you'll see that most fishing kayaks are pretty wide - to help you cast your line out and move around the cockpit without wobbling. Hardshell kayaks, on the other hand, are much narrower and built for speed - but they sacrifice stability.
Many new kayakers shopping for a boat will just factor in kayak length and width. But, kayak volume is another important spec to look at when you're shopping for your new boat. In fact, we use this as the primary determinant in what size kayak you need based on height and weight. More on that later.
Kayak volume speaks to how much space the kayak takes up. It's measured by looking at the total interior capacity of the boat. This specification also gives kayakers an idea of how much gear they can bring on the boat along with them, too. High-volume kayaks are an excellent choice for beginners because they're more stable. But, just like with a wider kayak - you sacrifice speed with higher volume.
Kayak Weight & Weight Capacity
When it comes to weight, you need to consider the weight of your kayak in relationship to your weight - as each boat has a weight capacity. Inflatable kayaks are pretty light - but hardshell tandem kayaks can get pretty heavy. They range anywhere from 20 pounds on the lighter end to as heavy as 100 pounds on the heavier end of the spectrum. The average kayak will fall somewhere between 35-70 pounds. When sizing your kayak, you want to factor in how much it weighs because this will deem how difficult it is to load and unload the boat during transportation.
Along with considering how much your kayak weighs, you need to consider how much weight it can hold. Weight capacity specs will affect your ideal kayak size - as you need one that can not only hold your body weight but any additional gear you bring on. Those who plan on doing overnight trips in their kayak will need to pay particular attention to this. For example - fishing kayaks tend to sacrifice speed and maneuverability to offer greater weight capacity and stability.
Kayak Cockpit Size
Because your cockpit is where you'll be sitting, you'll want to carefully consider the ideal cockpit size. Those with a bigger frame will want a bigger cockpit that can accommodate their hips, thighs, and waist. Touring kayaks and fishing kayaks have some of the biggest cockpits. You could also consider a sit-on-top kayak, which doesn't have a cockpit at all - giving you all the mobility you could ever need.
We know many kayakers end up going with a boat with a smaller than ideal cockpit because they don't want to sacrifice speed and maneuverability. We advise against this as it can get pretty dangerous. Say you flip over - getting out of a tight cockpit isn't going to be easy. Plus - you want to enjoy the water, and if you feel like you're stuck in a small cockpit that's going to be tough.
Finally, you'll want to consider legroom when sizing your kayak. Those with longer legs will want more legroom - obviously. But be sure you actually need that legroom. If you're over 6' tall but have shorter legs and a longer torso, you may not need as much legroom as you initially suspected.
So - What Size Kayak Do I Need For My Height and Weight?
Now that you know all the different aspects of sizing a kayak, it's time to get into the meat and potatoes of today's discussion: what size kayak do I need for my height and weight? Similar to learning how to choose a kayak paddle, your height and weight play a huge role here. While height and weight are a great starting point, these are just two factors that will affect your ideal kayak size - as you'll learn later on. For now, let's look at some recommendations based on height/weight:
- Under 5'6" & 140lbs: go with a low volume kayak
- 5''7"-5'10" & 140lbs-190lbs: go with a medium volume kayak
- Over 5'10" and over 180lbs: go with a high volume kayak
Keep in mind - these are just general guidelines. As you'll learn in the next section, there are other factors that should factor into your sizing.
And, if you don't fall perfectly into one of the three categories above because your height and weight vary - stick with the height recommendation. We've seen that height trumps weight when it comes to perfect sizing. If you're 6' tall but only 150 pounds, we recommend sticking with a high-volume kayak rather than a medium-volume kayak. This will accommodate your long legs.
What Size Kayak Do I Need Based On Water Type?
Now, if you are planning on doing a very specific type of kayaking in certain water, you may have an ideal kayak size that doesn't quite fit your height/weight recommendations. You should take these into consideration too. For example - the ideal kayak size for floating down rivers isn't the same ideal kayak size for ocean kayaking. Let's take a look at some examples below.
When we talk about kayaking in a river, we're not really talking about whitewater rapids. If your goal is to take on whitewater rapids, we'd encourage you to check out whitewater rafts or whitewater catarafts instead.
With that said, floating down rivers will generally require a longer kayak. All rivers have some degree of flow, so speed won't be your primary concern - you'll want stability and maneuverability. The ideal kayak type of this water is known as the "recreational kayak". In terms of sizing, you should look for a kayak length around 8'-13'.
Lakes/ponds are a unique situation in that a variety of kayak types and sizes work here. It sort of depends on what your kayaking goals are. Do you want to go lake fishing? You'll want a fishing kayak. These are a bit shorter and wider. Do you want to explore and race around with friends? A recreational kayak or even a touring kayak will work great. These tend to be around 13' in length.
While we don't recommend it for those learning how to kayak - ocean and sea kayaking is an incredible adventure. In this type of water, you're facing huge waves. As such, you need to be far more focused on kayak sizes that are stable and maneuverable, similar to river kayaks. there are actual sea kayaks meant just for this type of water. But, touring kayaks work great on the ocean as well. Look for a boat that's at least 12' long.
Other Factors That Affect Proper Kayak Sizing
The two main factors that will affect your ideal kayak size are your height/weight and how you'll use your kayak. But, there are other factors that affect proper kayak sizing. As such, we've compiled some additional information below to help you make the right decision.
You should consider how you're going to store your kayak when it isn't being used. If you have ample garage space or shed space, this won't be an issue. But if you're living in an apartment or only have a 1-2 car garage, you will want to consider a smaller kayak that can easily be stored. You may even consider an inflatable kayak that can be broken down between uses. Folding kayaks work great for this, too.
Also, consider how you're going to get your kayak to and from your destinations. There are all sorts of ways you can go about this - from trailers to roof racks and even stowing the boat in your truck bed. Considering transportation prior to buying a kayak will save you the headache later on.
Trust us - you don't want your first day taking the kayak out to be spent figuring out how to get a large kayak onto your small hatchback roof. Our guide on how to transport a kayak is a great resource for this.
Maybe you are starting your kayak journey solo - but if not, you'll want to look into tandem kayaks. These are, of course, much longer than a traditional kayak. Many of these can be converted between solo and tandem seating. So consider these when sizing and choosing your kayak.
Will You Take Overnight Trips In Your Kayak?
If you want to use your kayak to find cool camping spots along the lake or river, you need a higher volume kayak. This will allow you to bring overnight gear with ease. Some kayaks have a weight capacity up to 800lbs - whereas others are capped around 300-400lbs.
But, if you only use your kayaks for day use - you can sacrifice some volume for speed. Recreational kayaks are a bit narrower but offer more performance.
What Is Your Experience Level?
If you're just getting started and this is your first kayak, you may want to steer towards the shorter and smaller end of the spectrum. It's far easier to learn in a small kayak vs a large kayak. You can always upgrade a few years down the road and sell your smaller one - but you don't want to go too big on your first kayak and end up hating the activity because you don't have the proper boat.
What Size Kayak Do I Need For My Height and Weight? Final Thoughts
We've answered the question, what size kayak do I need for my height and weight. We've also described what else you should take into consideration - the type of water and kayaking style you prefer, your experience level, and much, much more.
As you can see, sizing a kayak is no easy task. There is a lot to consider. We hope this guide helped simplify this somewhat overwhelming process. But if you want to know for sure which size and style of kayak best suit you, we're here to help.
Head over to OutdoorPlay and reach out to our experts via phone, email, or live chat. We're lifelong paddlers ourselves and eager to help you make the right decision so you can enjoy the great outdoors as they were intended. Don't be shy - we're happy to help!