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What Size Kayak Do I Need?

Kayaking ranks high on the list of the most satisfying and enjoyable leisure activities around.

It’s highly addictive, whether you’re doing it for fun, touring or fishing, spending relaxed weekends on the lake with family and friends, or getting your adrenaline pumping by beating whitewater rapids.

Owning your kayak can be a thrilling thought. However, there are so many options that it can be confusing.

The most challenging part for most people is determining the right kayak size to go for, especially in terms of weight.

If you’re in this situation right now, you’ve come to the right place to get the answers you need.

We’ve compiled an excellent guide to help you choose the optimal kayak size to match your needs.

Factors to Consider When Choosing the Perfect Kayak Size

man in kayak

It’s undeniable that the kayak size is one of the most important factors to consider when purchasing one.

Kayak size would significantly impact your skills and limitations in terms of the events you will participate in.

Here are the factors you might consider:

Your Reason for Kayaking

You need to determine what you want to do with the kayak you are buying because this plays a vital role in helping you identify the size of kayak you need.

The ideal kayak lengths for a boat you want to use on still, clear waters of a lake are significantly different from what you’ll need to easily and safely negotiate whitewater rapids.

For instance, kayaking in an ocean or sea necessitates having a kayak with a high degree of stability to avoid the vessel being capsized by the strong waves.

In such situations, larger and longer vessels are ideal.

However, this would not be suitable for negotiating rapids. To make quick turns, increase endurance, and improve control, you’d need a much shorter kayak – something you can’t get with large boats.

Ideal Length to Width Ratio

After deciding where you want to kayak, the next step is to determine the length to width ratio of the vessel since it is the single most important factor that decides the kayak’s stability.

It will help if you understand how the hull’s length and breadth influence how the vessel floats on the water and how well it balances.

You should also know how this ratio impacts the kayak’s speed and maneuverability.

If you haven’t learned the art of balance, it’s best to stay away from a kayak with an incredibly thin hull. If you’re continually flipping over sideways every couple of steps, the extra speed and efficiency you gain are useless!


You’ll need plenty of legroom to enjoy your kayaking adventure fully.

The biggest mistake people make is to overlook this crucial aspect of the kayak buying process.

Getting a kayak that fits perfectly is essential, but you should be careful not to choose one that will be difficult to get in and out of, especially in case of an emergency.

It would help if you also avoid too much legroom as it may cause you to lose control of your boat.

You won’t be able to maneuver it as quickly as before.

The ideal kayak length is somewhere in the middle.

Sit-In vs. Sit-On-Top Kayaks

Kayaks are categorized into two types: sit-in and sit-on-top.

The first step in narrowing your options down is to decide which of these will work best for you.

Sit-in kayaks have a cockpit and are more “traditional.”

  • They offer some protection from wind and rain. Adding a spray skirt will provide additional shielding. A spray skirt is a waterproof, adjustable cover with a waist hole that can help keep water out of your kayak while you paddle.
  • They’re more likely to have more storage space.
  • Foot braces are commonly used on sit-in kayaks.
  • Sit-in kayaks are pretty roomy, unlike what some think. So, you shouldn’t worry about being cramped in a small space.
  • Because of its lower center of gravity, a sit-in kayak can be more efficient to paddle than a sit-on-top kayak.

Sit-on-top kayaks are easy to use and are ideal for a relaxing day on the water or fishing.

  • They’re adaptable and normally a decent choice for first-time kayakers.
  • Sit-on-top kayaks are simple to get on and off while still enjoying excellent stability.
  • Kayaks have their self-bailing system. They have scupper holes in them that cause water to drain freely.

Another option is the inflatable kayak. This type of kayak is compact, easy to transport, and durable.

When you’re finished with your day on the water, deflate the kayak so that it sits in your vehicle’s trunk.

For newcomers looking for their first kayak, inflatable kayaks may be a decent option.

If you’ve decided whether a sit-in or sit-on-top kayak is best for you, you can go on to the different styles of kayaks available.

Solo vs. Tandem

Do you want to kayak alone? Or do you plan to do it with a partner?

If you usually enjoy spending time outdoors with your child, friend, or spouse, a tandem kayak may be a fun way to spend time with them.

Some tandem kayaks also allow you to switch the seats so that you can chat more easily while cruising.

Regardless of what you’re doing, you can choose a two-person kayak.

You can increase your recreational kayaks, fishing kayaks, and performance kayak’s length to accommodate an extra person.

Does the Kayak’s Length Matter?

Contrary to popular belief, the kayak’s length does not significantly determine its performance potential.

The size of the cockpit, rather than the boat’s physical length, is what you should be concerned with.

People less than six feet tall can sit comfortably in traditional sit-in kayak cockpits.

For those with more height, it’s smarter to try out a 12-foot to 14-foot kayak to get a sense of the fit, legroom, and seat height available.

This is because taller people are more likely to have longer legs, a higher center of gravity, and larger feet (particularly for men).

When sitting in your kayak, having a higher center of gravity can affect your stability.

Longer legs may indicate a broader waist and hips.

Hence, you should pay more attention to the cockpit opening length and width.

The cockpit opening length and width indicate if you’ll be able to get in and out of the kayak safely and easily without scratching your knees.

It’s a good sign that the opening is too tight for you if you have to struggle to get in.

What Does Kayak Volume Mean?

It’s essential to know if the manufacturer’s recommended kayak volume is appropriate for you.

You’ll get a clearer sense of how much room your boat has.

Kayak makers traditionally define kayak volume in four terms:

  • Low Volume: are for paddlers that are less than 5 feet 6 inches tall and weigh less than 140 pounds.
  • Medium Volume: These are built for paddlers who stand between 5 feet 7 inches and 5 feet 10 inches tall and weigh between 140 and 189 pounds.
  • High Volume: These are designed for paddlers over 5 feet 10 inches tall and weigh more than 180 pounds.
  • Cubic feet or gallons: This measurement is used for the total physical space within the vessel.

The only way to tell if a kayak’s volume is right for you is to sit in it.

You’ll get a better sense of how it suits your length and trunk size this way.

Kayak Size and Water Type

Water type also affects your choice of a kayak in terms of size.

Here’s how:


You’ll ideally need a recreational kayak when floating a river unless you’re riding rapids.

For a kayaker riding on rivers, following the flow of the water is more important than speed.

When buying a kayak to use on the river,  select one that is safe and easy to steer.

Anything between 8 and 13 feet long should suffice.

Make sure it’s big enough to give you the maneuverability you’ll need.

Ocean or Seas

Kayaking in the oceans or seas may require you to deal with stronger water conditions.

Winds, waves, and tides on seas and oceans may be rougher than those seen in smaller water bodies.

A touring kayak, or a sea kayak, is longer and sleeker and is designed to travel long distances with ease.

They are typically at least 12 feet in length.

A touring kayak can be more difficult to learn with than a recreational kayak, so if you’re a newbie at kayaking, I’ll suggest you start with something smaller.


In most lakes, a recreational kayak similar to one designed for rivers can suffice.

A touring kayak, on the other hand, could be preferable for larger lakes with larger waves.

If you’re on the lake for fishing, you should consider using a fishing kayak to transport your gear and tackle.


Hopefully, by this point, you’ve settled on the length of kayak that will better serve your needs.

Don’t forget to consider what you’ll be using the boat for and where you’ll be paddling too.

Good luck!