Whether you’re new to kayaking or looking to upgrade your gear, the range of options is vast — from material style to different kayak dimensions.
But do you know how to go about choosing the correct size kayak for your trip?
How long does it have to be, and how wide? How many people do you need seating for — one, two, or three?
In this article, we’ll teach you how to go about selecting a kayak with the correct dimensions!
How To Choose the Right Size Kayak
The length and width of your kayak don’t depend exclusively on your height or weight.
In this regard, the purpose of the kayak is far more critical. With the right size kayak, you can glide optimally over any body of water.
For example, short and wide kayaks are better suited for small rivers. On the other hand, when kayaking on lakes, long and narrow kayaks are preferred because of the possible swell.
Basically, the rule of thumb is that a kayak should be at least 350 cm long and 60 cm wide.
However, depending on the number of people and the type of kayak (touring, racing, etc.), these values can vary greatly.
For example, recreational kayaks usually have a length of less than 400 cm, while touring kayaks are often up to 500 cm long.
Much shorter kayaks are best for whitewater kayaking because they provide you with the necessary agility. Their downside, though is that they have virtually no storage space.
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What Are Kayak Dimensions?
There are several fundamental kayak dimensions to consider:
The longer a boat is, the faster it is. However, “long” also means “not maneuverable”. Above all, the ratio of length (the waterline) to width is decisive. A long and narrow boat is fast, a short and wide one is slow. Long kayaks must also fit in the garage or on the roof of the car.
Recommended width: approx. 52-58 cm. More width makes you slower, so if you don’t want to exceed the usual touring speed of 4 knots (7.4 km/h), you can also choose a width of 62 cm.
Kayak deck height
This is the height of the boat directly in front of the cockpit. A high deck can hinder paddling if the user is not proportionally taller.
Kayak seat hatch size
Recommended diameter: approx. 65-80 cm. The size has an influence on the entry and exit, the seat hold, waterproofness. The same applies to the luggage hatches.
For a kayak with which you are planning multi-day trips, you need a significantly larger volume than for your day tourer, in which you do not carry any luggage.
Many manufacturers recommend a paddler weight and a total load weight. This describes the maximum weight of the combination of paddler and luggage in order to still have enough buoyancy with the respective kayak size. If you and your luggage are heavier than this allowable weight, your kayak may be so deep in the water that it spills over the rim into the cockpit.
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What Is Kayak Volume?
The shape and size of your kayak affect the handling and the cargo space — this is where kayak volume becomes essential.
Deeper hulls offer more room for long-legged kayakers and a bit more storage space. On the other hand, shallower hulls are less affected by the wind.
Moreover, wider hulls provide more initial stability, while narrower hulls can go faster.
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There are two measurement methods for determining the kayak volume:
- Interior measurement: load volume, consisting of the bow and stern compartments plus the seat hatch of a kayak, measured by flushing the interior with XY litres of water.
- Outer volume: water displacement volume, determined by analysis of the external kayak dimensions.
Kayak Dimensions Chart
Once you’ve figured out your destination, the next aspect of choosing the optimal kayak size is the proper length-to-width ratio. This critical factor determines how stable your kayak will be.
In general, the longer a kayak is in relation to its width, the speedier it will be. It”ll also glide better than a shorter, wider kayak.
However, for less experienced kayakers, a thinner hull will be harder to balance. The extra speed and efficiency will mean nothing if you are constantly tipping over sideways!
Only kayaks that are short and wide in shape are stable against tipping. They lie deeper in the water and react very quickly to changes in direction which makes them very maneuverable. On the other hand, they displace less water and are relatively slow.
Here’s a quick overview of different length-to-width ratios and the purposes they’re suitable for:
There is a rule of thumb to determine the minimum and maximum total weight of a kayak with a certain volume:
30% kayak volume (litres) < total transport weight (kg) < 60% kayak volume (litres).
Calculate the total weight in kilograms to be transported by a kayak like this:
Total weight = kayak weight + paddler(s) body weight + equipment weight + weight of luggage (food & drinks)
G should always be between 30% and 60% of the kayak volume measured in liters.
Example: Paddler weighs 55 kg, kayak weight 25 kg, equipment + luggage 10 kg. The total transport weight (G) is 90 kg, therefore the ideal kayak volume for comfortable touring would be between 150 and 300 litre.
Kayak Dimensions For Multiple Paddlers
The size of your kayak also depends on the number of people that it’ll transport. This is because, unlike many other water sports, you can sit in a kayak both alone and with several people. There’s a distinction between kayaks with 1 to 4 seats.
The 1-Person Kayak
Perfect if you like to paddle alone or don’t want to give up control of your boat. It’s also the optimal solution for kayaking beginners, as you have to progress independently — this is the ideal way to develop proper technique and paddling rhythm.
The 2-Person Kayak
A two-person kayak, also known as a tandem kayak, accommodates two motivated paddlers. Ideally, they’re a well-rehearsed team who can either paddle at the same time or give each other a breather every once in a while when only one kayaker paddles.
A 2-person kayak offers less storage space than a 1-person kayak. However, due to its length, it offers a faster and, above all, sportier ride.
The 3 Or 4-Person Kayak
Kayaks for more than two (up to four) people are the optimal solution for group sports. Whether we’re talking ambitious athletes or a relaxed family trip, the team plays the leading role here.
If you don’t want to go swimming with the boat, you should set up team rules beforehand. That’s the only way to keep the risk of tipping within limits.
Size is a word with many meanings when it comes to kayaks. You can’t simply split kayak dimensions into S, M, L, and XL and take an easy pick.
To answer the question “What size kayak is right for me?” you first need to decide where you’d like to go paddling — are you looking for a whitewater kayak, a touring kayak for rivers of any size, or a sea kayak for the coast and sea?
Then it depends on a few other factors described: length, width, weight, volume, and hatch.
Remember long means fast, short means maneuverable. Wide means stable, narrow means sporty. Larger volume gives a lot of buoyancy and cargo space, while little volume is lightweight and good for short trips. The hatch has to fit you and your sitting position in the kayak.
You should try out a kayak in terms of length, width and volume before buying it to know if it suits you. Only with the right kayak size will you feel comfortable on the water.