What Size Kayak Do I Need For My Height and Weight?

March 23, 2022

Family kayaking on the river in lifejackets

As you start shopping for your first kayak or upgrade from your current boat, you'll have more options than ever—many different types, styles, and features to consider along your buying journey.

But the most critical question you should ask yourself is: What size kayak do I need for my height and weight? Are there other factors that affect the ideal kayak size for me?

Sizing a kayak is easier than it sounds, but you should take this seriously. You can buy the best, most expensive kayak on the market. Still, it must be appropriately sized for your height and weight, kayaking style, experience level, and the type of water you paddle in. Otherwise, you'll be fighting an uphill battle.

There is no need to play the guessing game - we're here to provide 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), and more. By the end of this article, you'll know precisely what kayak size you need. Let's get things started by discussing the different kayak dimensions.

Understanding Kayak Dimensions

Before we can answer the question of what size kayak I need for my height and weight, we must explain the different kayak dimensions. Having an in-depth understanding of these various aspects will make the process easier.

Kayak Length

This one is simple—kayak length is the figure from bow to stern. The average size of a kayak is usually around 10' long. Still, as you can imagine, there are much shorter and much longer options. You can find kayaks for sale anywhere from as short as 6' up to 16'. The best kayak for a tall person will be unsuitable for a shorter person. 

But it could be more complex - 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.

Kayak Width

The width of your kayak is measured from the widest part of your boat. Generally speaking, the more comprehensive a kayak is, 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 broad—to help you cast your line out and move around the cockpit without wobbling. Hardshell kayaks are much narrower and built for speed but sacrifice stability.

Kayak Volume

Many new kayakers shopping for a boat will factor in kayak length and width. However, kayak volume is another important spec when shopping for a new boat. We use this as the primary determinant of what size kayak you need based on height and weight. More on that later.

Kayak volume refers to the amount of 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. High-volume kayaks are an excellent choice for beginners because they're more stable. But, just like with a broader 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 relative to your weight - as each boat has a weight capacity. For example, inflatable kayaks are light - but hardshell tandem kayaks can get heavy. They range from 20 pounds on the lighter end to as heavy as 100 pounds on the heavier end. The average kayak will fall somewhere between 35-70 pounds. When sizing your kayak, you want to factor in how much it weighs. This will determine how difficult it is to load and unload the boat during transportation, whether onto a kayak trailer or roof rack.

For further consideration, check out our guides on transporting your kayak and tying it to a J rack.

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—you need one to accommodate your body weight and any additional gear you bring. Those who plan on doing overnight trips in their kayak will need to pay particular attention to this. For example, fishing kayaks sacrifice speed and maneuverability for greater weight capacity and stability.

Kayak Cockpit Size

Because your cockpit is where you'll be sitting, you'll want to consider the ideal cockpit size carefully. Those with a larger frame will enjoy a larger cockpit that can accommodate their hips, thighs, and waist. Touring kayaks and fishing kayaks have some of the most oversized cockpits. Consider a sit-on-top kayak, which doesn't have a cockpit - giving you all the mobility you need.

Many kayakers use a boat with a smaller-than-ideal cockpit to maintain 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 easy. Plus - you want to enjoy the water, and if you feel stuck in a small cockpit, that will be tough.

Kayak Legroom

Finally, consider legroom when sizing your kayak. Those with longer legs will want more legroom. But be sure you 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.

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? For example, height and weight are significant when choosing a kayak paddle. 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. 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 that these are just general guidelines. As you'll learn in the next section, other factors should affect your sizing.

And, if you fall outside of 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 Should I Get Based on Water Type?

Plan on doing a specific type of kayaking in a particular water. You may have an ideal kayak size that doesn't fit your height/weight recommendations. It would be best if you considered these, too. For example - the perfect kayak size for floating down rivers differs from the ideal kayak size for ocean kayaking. Let's take a look at some examples below.


When we talk about kayaking in a river, we are not talking about whitewater rapids. If you want to tackle whitewater rapids, check out whitewater rafts or catarafts instead.

That said, floating down rivers will generally require a longer kayak. All rivers have some degree of flow, so that that speed won't be your primary concern—you'll want stability and maneuverability. The ideal kayak type for this water is known as the "recreational kayak." Regarding sizing, you should look for kayak lengths between 8' and 13'.  


Lakes and ponds are unique because various kayak types and sizes work here. It depends on your kayaking goals. Do you want to go lake fishing? You'll enjoy a fishing kayak that's 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 kayaking, 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 also work great on the ocean. Look for a boat that's at least 12' long.

Other Factors That Affect Proper Kayak Sizing

The two main factors affecting your ideal kayak size are your height/weight and how you'll use your kayak. But other factors affect proper kayak sizing. As such, we've compiled additional information below to help you make the right decision.


Consider how you will store your kayak when it isn't being used. 

This will be fine if you have ample garage or shed space. But if you live in an apartment or only have a 1-2 car garage, consider a smaller kayak that can easily be stored. Consider an inflatable kayak that can be broken down between uses. Folding kayaks work great for this, too.


Also, consider how you'll get your kayak to and from your destinations. There are all sorts of ways you can go about this - from using kayak trailers to roof racks and even stowing the boat in your truck bed. Considering transportation before buying a kayak will save you a headache later on.

Trust us - you want your first day taking the kayak out to be spent on something other than getting a large kayak onto your small hatchback roof. Our guide on transporting a kayak is an excellent resource for this.

Tandem Kayaking

You may start your kayak journey solo - but if you still need to, 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 of up to 800 lbs., whereas others are capped at around 300- 400 lbs.

But if you only use your kayaks for day use - you can sacrifice some volume for speed. Recreational kayaks are narrower but offer more performance.

What Is Your Experience Level?

If you're starting and this is your first kayak, you should steer towards the shorter and smaller end of the spectrum. Learning in a small kayak is far easier than learning in a large kayak. You can always upgrade a few years down the road and sell your smaller one - but you want to stay manageable on your first kayak and end up hating the activity because you need the proper boat.

How to Size a Kayak

We've answered the question, what size kayak do I need for my height and weight? We've also described what else you should consider - the type of water and kayaking style you prefer, your experience level, and much more.

As you can see, sizing a kayak is challenging. There is a lot to consider. We hope this guide helped simplify this somewhat overwhelming process. But if you want to know which size and style of kayak best suits you, we're here to help.

Head to OutdoorPlay and contact 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!

Frequently Asked Questions

What size kayak should I get?

The kayak size you should get depends on your height, weight, and the paddling you plan to do. Generally, a longer kayak offers better speed and tracking. A wider kayak provides more stability and is suited for beginners or recreational use.

How long is a kayak?

Kayaks vary in length, typically ranging from about 6 feet (1.8 meters) for whitewater models to over 12 feet (3.7 meters) for sea or touring models. The choice of kayak length depends on the intended use, with shorter kayaks being more maneuverable and longer ones offering better speed and tracking.

How long is a kayak paddle?

Kayak paddle lengths typically range from 82 to 102 inches (210 to 260 centimeters), depending on the paddler's height, the width of the kayak, and the paddling style. The right size paddle will enable you to comfortably reach the water without straining, helping you paddle smoother & more efficiently. 

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Stacey JohnsonCustomer Experience ManagerStacey has been with Outdoorplay for over 17 years, sharing wisdom from her years of experience and passion for all kinds of kayaking (whitewater, recreational, and touring), stand-up paddle boarding, and rafting. When she's not out on the water, Stacey also enjoys camping with her family and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the Cascade mountains.