What Size Kayak Do I Need?

Kayaking is a lovely sport, and I have always wanted to buy a kayak. When I was just starting out however, I was still hesitant because I’m a bit on the taller side and well built. I was always worried if I could get into and out of a kayak or not. 

So, I started to look around for a suitable kayak for my size. And I was happy that there are kayaks in so many types and sizes, no matter your body shape, there’s something for everyone. 

You just need to understand some basic information for choosing the right size. 

That’s because the longest or biggest kayak doesn’t have to be perfect, just perfect for you. There are so many other things to consider when selecting the right size. Most notable are the width, length, and volume. 

However, that again is not all you should know! Like me, if you have ever wondered what size kayak should you buy. This mini-guide I’ve compiled through my research would be very helpful for choosing the right kayak size.

As I mentioned earlier, length, width, or beam and volume are the vital kayak dimensions to consider.


kayak length chart
Source: Paddlecamp.com

Did you know that the kayak length plays an integral part in determining how much you will enjoy going kayaking? That’s because it’s the length that indicates your boat’s speed.

The more extended versions are faster because of their smaller bow-wave (the wave formed by the boat’s bow). Plus, the bow is further away in longer boats. The boat can thus quickly overtake its bow wave, and this is called hull speed.

A longer kayak is better for longer trips because of its better tracking features. It, in turn, means you need less energy to keep it going fast and straight.

Despite its many advantages, I learned that longer kayaks have a drawback when it comes to maneuverability and weight. They require more effort to turn because they are heavier than shorter Kayaks. The size also makes these kayaks a more expensive option than shorter kayaks.

Shorter kayaks, on the other hand, are designed for easy maneuverability, which is the reason why most recreational kayaks are on the shorter side.


The kayak’s width or beam affects its stability, where wider beams are stable enough for you to stand while paddling or fishing. However, too wide of a kayak can be cumbersome and unnatural to handle and have a lower speed. That’s because the larger surface area comes in contact with the water which increases drag.

Similarly, narrower kayak boats give a faster paddling performance. They easily cut through both calm and choppy water conditions.


The kayak volume is the boat’s total carrying capacity where longer kayaks have higher volumes and more carrying space.  However, this doesn’t mean that you can find the right kayak size based on your weight. You need to include your gear weight. Boats are broadly classified into:

High Volume Boat

Beginner and recreational kayaks are ‘high volume’ boats. They have higher beams giving a more reassuring feel to beginners. But though they are easier to use, they are less efficient and perform poorly in windy and choppy conditions.

Larger paddlers weighing more than 180 pounds, and who are taller than 5’10”, are comfortable in high volume kayaks. There’s even enough space to carry gear for multiple-day trips.

Medium Volume Kayaks

Medium volume kayaks are for average size paddlers weighing 140-180 pounds and around 5’7” to 5’10” tall. There’s enough space for overnight trips with the necessary gear.

Low Volume Boat


Low volume kayaks are long and sleek with minimal internal space, making them ideal touring and sea kayaks. They are high in efficiency and perform great for long water trips.

They are really good for paddlers weighing under 140 pounds, and less than 5’6”. Usually there’s enough space for the gear and essentials for day trips.

Choose based on your body.

A kayak’s volume numbers are listed in gallons or cubic feet and can be confusing. It does define the right size of the kayak. However, you can’t select solely based on these numbers because it’s relative to how big you are.

This means that low volume kayaks don’t have to be better for shorter kayakers and higher volume ones for taller people.

I learned that you should make your choice based on your body and weight. So, in short, make sure the kayak is good for YOUR BODY.

Weight Capacity

Weight capacity is the total weight the kayak can safely carry. So, it’s but natural that I thought that you should select a kayak that can take my body weight. However, this is a mistake I, and most people make.

It’s because it’s not just you who goes kayaking. You will be carrying some gear with you, even if you paddle solo. So it’s a general rule of thumb to buy a kayak that has a weight capacity that equals your body weight plus 150 lbs.

However, if you will be using your kayak only for pleasure, add 100 lbs to the kayak’s weight capacity.

I’ve noticed that most kayakers are gear junkies, and want everything new and fancy! However, it’s better to consider your kayak’s weight capacity before buying new gear. You don’t want to go overboard and end up with a kayak in the water!


It doesn’t matter if you are tall or short. I’ve now learned that your kayak should have enough legroom for a comfortable ride. Besides, it’s worth buying a kayak with enough legroom for adjustable footpegs.


Well, it lets you dial in the right distance, which in turn makes your legs comfortable. I’ve also found out that you need to consider the center console while buying a kayak. This is because there are pros and cons to center consoles.

While center console kayaks offer close and convenient storage, there’s not much freedom of leg movement to stand and sit.

Kayak Sizes: Typical Kayak Dimensions

One thing I learned early on about kayaks is that they come in so many types and sizes! Here are the typical kayak dimensions for different models.

Recreational Canoes

Recreational kayaks are easy to paddle on calm water because of their stability, comfortable speeds, and good efficiency. They are naturally cheaper than specialized kayaks and are also the most popular versions on the market.

Recreational kayaks are typically 9-12 ft long, making them smaller and lighter than a touring kayak. They are popular with beginners, mainly because they are lightweight and easily maneuverable.

These kayaks usually have a wide beam measuring 28-34 inches for added stability and come in sit-on-top and sit-in variants.  The sit-in kayaks however, usually have larger cockpit openings, making it easy to enter and get out of the boat, even in water.

Touring and Sea Canoes

As the name suggests, the long and sleek sea or touring kayaks are good for use in oceans and bays. They are perfect for long-distance or prolonged rides. I found out that they also track quickly and offer more speed and efficiency in water over maneuverability.

A sea kayak has a hull measuring 12-20 ft long in solo boats and may reach up to 26 feet in tandem kayaks.

Thanks to the added length, there’s enough space to store gear in the hull for long-distance trips. The beam width on these kayaks will typically vary between 18-28 inches. This means that these kayaks are less stable to paddle, but compensate through their increased tracking ability.

Fishing Canoes

Fishing kayaks are the widest of the lot, designed to stay steady when you stand to cast off. They are similar to recreational kayaks, but are known for their stable fishing platforms.

Fishing kayaks have a length of 10-16 ft and are anywhere between 30-42 inches wide. It’s the design that makes these kayaks offer more stability than speed and maneuverability. Plus, they’re durable enough that you can attach trolling motors to them.

Whitewater Canoes

 I was fascinated by the fact that whitewater kayaks come in so many designs and dimensions!

Short Play Kayaks

The short and maneuverable play kayaks are really good for paddling and surfing. They are, in fact, the most concise, measuring about 6 feet long. So it’s not surprising that they are the most maneuverable and let you quickly perform flips, rolls, and aerial tricks.

Creak Boats

The long and speedy creek kayaks are best for charging over rapids. These creek kayaks have a length of 7-9 ft with a high internal volume that keeps you near the water surface even if you get pulled down under.

River Runners

River runners make the third variant, with a bit of both styles. These kayaks measure about 7-9 feet long and have less internal volume than creek kayaks. They, however, compensate by offering more maneuverability when you paddle.


In a nutshell, ‘What size kayak to buy?’ well, the answer’s simple.

There’s no best-sized kayak!

You have to select one based on your height and weight, and why you need it. in my opinion, the best-sized kayak may generally be:

  • Easy to get in and out of
  • Have enough legroom
  • Be strong enough to carry both your weight and your gear weight
  • Easy to maneuver and track
  • Perfect for long trips
  • Stable enough to stand on

In short, as long as you are comfortable in it with all your gear, any sized kayak will be right for you. Hopefully, you won’t face any problems with choosing the right size kayak after reading this information. But if you still need help with finding the right kayak size, you can leave your comments below.

Survival Pocket Knife FAQs

Yes, your body size indeed determines the best-sized kayak for yourself. However, that’s not the one factor to consider.

There are four more elements to consider, which are length, width, weight capacity, and legroom.

Well, the most important thing to remember here is not to buy your kayak solely based on your weight.  

It’s because you will be going kayaking with some gear, and so have to include this while considering the right capacity vessel.  

There are two general rules of thumb to follow here. 

The first is that the kayak should have a maximum capacity rating of about 125 pounds more than your body weight.  

The second rule is to reduce the manufacturer’s maximum capacity rating by 30-35%. 

You may wonder why you should reduce, and not increase weight while calculating.  

Well, you know the kayak is the ideal one if your total body weight and gear are less than the vessel’s reduced weight limit. 

Besides, the kayak’s performance or applicable weight limit in water is about 30% less than the manufacturer’s maximum weight capacity.  

Remember, the maximum weight capacity indicates how much weight the boat will hold if fully loaded. However, it’s not advisable to load kayaks to its maximum weight capacity. There’s a risk of the vessel riding very low in the water if this happens. 

 When it comes to kayak weights, they are broadly classified into: 

300 lb weight limit

 This is the weight of standard boats with about 180 pounds of usable performance kayak weight. So if you consider your body and gear weight, this is the one for a person weighing about 155 pounds with 25 pounds of gear.  

400 lb weight limit

These vessels give you 240 pounds of performance kayak weight capacity. So it’s suitable for a 215-pound person with 25lb of gear.  

500 lb weight limit

 With 300 lbs of performance weight, 500 lb kayaks can accommodate a 275 lbs person with 25 lb gear. 

 Tandem kayak weight capacity 

Tandem yaks have to transport two people and are thus heavier than solo kayaks. They usually weigh between 450-700 lbs. So you have to consider the weight of both passengers, and your personal and shared gear, to find the right one. 

Yes, the kayak length determines how well you can paddle, and enjoy yourself on the water.  

However, when it comes to which between a long and short kayak is better, it all depends on what you want.  

It’s because they have their pros and cons. 

 The shorter boats are more comfortable to turn, which is why they are predominantly recreational boats. 

 The longer ones track better, making them a better choice for long-distance paddling. They easily keep going straight and fast.  

As I have said from the start, it all depends on your size and why you need a kayak.A 10ft kayak may be big enough for a small-sized person for recreational reasons.  

However, if you are big-sized, or go on longer distances or fishing with lots of gear, then a 10ft kayak won’t be big enough. 

But while larger kayaks track better, someone who frequently changes spots may like a 10 ft kayak for its portability. 

And once again, smaller kayaks track poorly, making it challenging to ride in crosswinds. If you are thinking of buying a 10ft kayak for its lower price, remember it’s poor paddling experience, reduced speed, and less space.  

In short, whether or not a 10ft kayak is big enough depends on your size and your requirements. 

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