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What Size Kayak Do I Need? Length to Paddler Height Explained

Mark Armstrong
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Do I get a short kayak? A longer kayak? Am I too short or too tall for the kayak I like?

So many questions….but we do have enough time!

With all the different lengths of kayaks out there, finding the right one for you can be difficult. But it doesn’t have to be. Kayaks come in various lengths because they’re designed for different purposes, preferences and activities.

Once you’ve decided on the type of paddling you’d like to do and the activities you might want to try out, finding the right length of kayak may become a little easier. So we’ve put together this handy guide to help you choose the right one for you.

What Length Of Kayak Do I Need?

Diagram showing Kayak Lengths and CharacteristicsPin

8-9 Foot

Generally, the shorter the kayak, the more easy it is to maneuver on the water. An 8 or 9 foot yak could be a good choice for kids or beginners for recreational use. If you’re tall or large you may find you’re not comfortable.

Another reason why an 8 or 9 foot yak may come in handy is because it can turn quickly it can work well on narrower rivers and streams and can also offer good stability because of its shorter length.

Whitewater kayaks can also tend to fall into this length category because of the ease of maneuverability in small spaces. However, they can also be even shorter than this.

A yak in this category should also be easy to transport and should fit easily in the back of a pickup or even a minivan or SUV.

Video: Will A 8 Foot Kayak Fit Inside A Jeep Patriot?

10-11 Foot

In this category, the extra 2 feet can offer more room for you as a paddler and often a little more storage space. A 10 or 11 foot kayak will generally be built for stability over speed and can still be easy to maneuver and ideal for beginners.

You may find that at this length there are yaks that are built for specific activities, such as fishing, and are equipped with features such as rod holders. It can be an ideal size for recreational use where you don’t require speed to cover large bodies of water.

Their compact size can also make them easy to transport, with many of them able to fit in the back of full size truck beds.

What kayak length?Pin

12-13 Foot

A 12 to 13 foot vessel can offer you the best of both worlds, with many combining the speed and efficiency of a longer yak with the stability of a shorter one. You will also find there is more space for gear or fishing features.

At this length you can find both touring and recreational yaks, so you could have more choice when it comes to finding one with the specific features you need for your activity.

As well as offering you more space, a 12 or 13 foot hull can be designed for a range of water conditions, from oceans to lakes and rivers.

Guide to buying river fishing kayaks

Video: Is There A Perfect Length Fishing Yak?

14 Foot

Yaks with a 14 foot hull will tend to track straighter than a shorter hulled vessel. You may find that they are also narrower in order to be speedier and more efficient on the water.

They will often have plenty of storage options for day touring and camping. A 14 foot yak can be a good choice for covering distances if it’s narrow and built for speed. But you’ll also find wider hulls at this length that can offer you stability for fishing.

Additionally, at the 14 foot length and longer, you can have the choice of finding tandem kayaks, offering space for two paddlers, that can either be designed for recreation or touring. Although, touring tandem yaks can often be longer in length to maximize efficiency on the water.

What Size Kayak Do I Need For My Height?

Generally, the longer or larger the kayak, the more room there is for you and your gear. So if you’re taller, you can often feel more comfortable in a longer kayak, as there is generally more leg room.

However, this is not always the case. Some kayaks come in different volume sizes. This can be a better indicator of the size you might need for your height. The volume of a kayak usually refers to how much space is inside the cockpit. Low volume, for example, has less space than a medium or high volume boat.

The volume rating will also usually be used to refer to the total volume of the boat in gallons or cubic feet, which can sometimes be misleading, as this can include the storage space within the hull.

> Guide to kayak weight limits

Low Volume

A low volume boat can be a better choice for women, as well as shorter or smaller paddlers. This is because the smaller cockpit and a lower deck can let you better position your hips, thighs and feet within the boat, which can give you more control over your vessel.

Low volume kayaks can be generally suitable for a paddler up to around 5 foot 6 inches tall and weighing up to 140 pounds.

You may find a low volume boat is easier to maneuver because of the greater control you have over it. This can be useful in rougher waters, where you might want or need to edge your boat.

Video: Edging Your Kayak

Medium Volume

A medium volume kayak is usually designed for average sized men – paddlers who are between 5 foot 7 and 5 foot 10 inches tall with weights up to around 190 pounds.

This size of vessel can be a good all-rounder and will usually suit most heights of paddlers comfortably and will usually also have enough space for gear for a couple of days away.

High Volume

A high volume kayak will generally have a roomier cockpit. This size of kayak is generally built for larger and taller paddlers, over 5 foot 10 in height and weighing over 190 pounds.

High volume kayaks may be more difficult to control if you’re smaller or lighter, and you may find you have to bulk it out to compensate for your reduced weight. However, if you have long legs or large feet, you might find that you prefer the fit of a high volume kayak for comfort.

Sit-On-Top Kayaks

A sit-on-top kayak can be a little different when it comes to sizing because they will tend not to have volume labels. This is because there is no cockpit, which can make sizing the yak a bit easier.

When it comes to sit-on-top kayaks, the amount of space you have will usually depend on the length and width of the boat. So the larger the boat, the more room you will have.

If you’re particularly tall, a longer vessel with a wider deck might be more suitable than a smaller or more compact yak. Most sit-on-tops will have either adjustable foot braces or molded foot rests, giving you a chance to tailor your seating position for comfort, whether your legs are short or long.

If you have a longer torso, you may find a wider yak or a lower deck is preferable for added stability as this can help to lower your center of gravity for better balance.


Hopefully by now you’ll have decided what length of kayak will suit you best. Remember to consider what you will primarily use the craft for and where you’re likely to paddle.

If you’ve found this useful, feel free to share it to help out others who might be wondering what length of yak to buy. And don’t forget to leave us a comment with your own experiences.

> View our Guide To Kayaks to learn more

Kayak Paddle Length - What Size Do I Need - PinterestPin

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