What Size Kayak Do I Need For My Height?

What size Kayak do I Need for My Height

I’ll admit it, I’m not a particularly tall guy. Because I’m average height, 5’9″, I can fit into most kayaks and most sit-inside kayak cockpits. I never considered how tough finding the right kayak could be for a tall person. So I did some online research to find out what size kayaks people need for their particular height.

What size kayak do I need for my height? Tall people, over 6′, should test a 12 foot recreational kayak or a 14 foot sea kayak. Depending on fit and leg length, they can adjust length from there. Three things determine the right size kayak for your height; tall people tend to have a higher center of gravity, longer legs, and bigger feet.

However, as it turns out, there’s a lot more to fitting a kayak for your height than I imagined. The good news is that most kayak brands offer kayaks that are suitable for taller paddlers.

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Kayaks for Tall People

Tall guys aren’t the only ones who have a tough time finding the right kayak for their height. Correct sizing is important for all tall paddlers. Because your height determines your center of gravity when you sit in your kayak. And that affects your stability.

But first, it’s no secret that tall people tend to have longer legs and maybe even a wider waist and/or hips. So here are the body measurements that are equally important to get a kayak that fits you if you’re tall.

  • Waist width
  • Thigh width
  • Leg length
  • Foot size
  • Overall height

The first four are actually more important than overall height, especially for tall guys that might be a little bigger in the waist, because those measurements determine how well your lower body fits inside your kayak.

Kayak Cockpit Dimensions

We’ll talk mostly about figuring out the right size sit-inside kayak for your height, because the fit is more precise and less forgiving than a sit-on-top kayak.

It’s worth noting that most kayak cockpit openings are oval-shaped—longer than they are wide.

Cockpit Opening Width and Length

Sit-inside kayaks have different size cockpits and cockpit openings. Tall people in particular need to get a kayak that has a cockpit opening that allows them to easily and comfortably get into and out of a kayak.

Kayak Height - Cockpit Width and Length

Cockpit Width

The correct cockpit opening width for tall paddlers will depend on hip and waist size. Ideally, you’ll want to slip down into your kayak without having to push your hips past the width of the opening.

If you have a wider waist and/or wider hips you’ll need a kayak cockpit with probably a 20 inch wide opening or more. Narrower hips will allow you to slip past a kayak cockpits less than 20 inches wide. Once again, if you have to wiggle yourself in, even a little bit, the cockpit opening is probably too small for you.

Cockpit Length

The correct cockpit opening will also depend on how long your legs are, not necessarily how tall you are. Because your overall height isn’t quite as important as how well your legs fit.

Most recreational cockpit openings are between 36 and roughly 56 inches long.

Ideally, whether you’re tall, average, or shorter all paddlers will want to be able to comfortably get in and out of their kayak without banging or scraping their knees on the front of the cockpit opening. But this one thing affects taller paddlers more than anyone, because they usually have longer legs.

Kayak Volume

Understanding Kayak Volume

In order to help customers figure out how much room they could expect inside any particular boat, kayak manufacturers started including volume sizing information.

There are four ways manufacturers describe volume:

  1. Low Volume – Typically made for paddlers under 140 pounds and less than 5’6″. And space enough for day trips with minimal gear.
  2. Medium Volume – Made for average-sized paddlers between 140-180 pounds from 5’7″ to around 5’10” tall. And space enough for overnight trips with necessary gear.
  3. High Volume – Larger paddlers weighing above 180 pounds and taller than 5’10”. And space enough for multiple day trips with essential gear.
  4. Gallons or Cubic Feet – Actual physical space inside the kayak

To everyday paddlers, volume labels and space numbers are the most confusing and misunderstood measurements on a kayak. “Low”, “medium”, and “high” volume labels and volume numbers are supposed to tell you how much room a kayak has. But how much room is relative to how big a paddler you are.

What makes things even more interesting is that some kayak manufacturers list volume in terms of Gallons and some use cubic feet.

Those measurements don’t tell you how that space is distributed inside the cockpit or around the rest of the kayak?

Regardless, kayak volume is simply how much your kayak will hold inside of it, including the important cockpit area.

Low Volume vs High Volume Kayaks

In general, it’s believed that low volume kayaks may be “better” for shorter kayakers and higher volume kayaks may be better for taller paddlers, but that’s not the entire story. Because one kayak’s medium volume may feel to you like another kayak’s low volume. And everyone’s body and their weight is shaped and distributed differently.

That’s why the only way to truly know if a kayak’s volume fits your height—more importantly, your leg length and trunk size—is to sit in it.

As simple as I can put it, if you comfortably fit inside a kayak, no matter what size “volume” label it has… And if all the gear you want to take with you fits and doesn’t hinder your cockpit comfort or your ability to paddle unrestricted, whatever volume that kayak happens to be, is the right size kayak for you.

Leg Length and Volume

Now, once you’re seated comfortably inside the cockpit, sit up in the seat and adjust the backrest so you’re upright at a 90 degree angle—you shouldn’t be leaning back. Pay close attention to your leg length. Resting on the internal foot pegs, your toes should be pointed outward and your heels should be pointed slightly inward.

Your legs should be bent up and out to brace on the thigh braces or the inner edges of the cockpit in a recreational sit-inside kayak.

No matter what style kayak you’re in, you’ll want to be able to comfortably spread your legs wider than straight forward, especially in a touring kayak that you’ll be in for potentially hours on end.

Foot Size and Volume

Up to about a size 11 or 12 US shoe size, tall people or people who just have bigger feet, should be able to comfortably rest their feet on the internal foot pegs of most recreational, touring, and sea kayaks. Beyond size 12 feet, and especially if you have long legs, some kayakers complain that their feet are pinched by the limited space between the hull and the deck at the front of many touring and sea kayaks.

Once you’ve verified your shoe size fits, you can check overall legroom.

Take your feet off the foot pegs and straighten your legs all the way forward. Being able to straighten your legs out is how you’ll enjoy a small stretch inside your kayak without having to get out of the cockpit in the middle of a lake or the ocean.

Your Height vs Deck Height

Tall people have a higher center of gravity than shorter people and this is where overall height does matter. The higher your center of gravity, the less stable you’ll feel in a kayak.

If you’re tall and have a higher center of gravity, you can counteract that by finding a kayak with a lower deck height, a deeper seat area, or both. Both of these will lower your center of gravity and make you feel more stable.

Your Height and Your Comfort Level

Kayaking is one of the few sports where you’ll be sitting down for long periods of time. So being comfortable in a sitting position is critical to your enjoyment of the sport. Here are some things we talked about that can increase your comfort in a kayak, especially if you’re tall:

  • A higher backrest can help taller paddlers maintain an upright paddle position
  • If you can adjust the seat up or down to lower your center of gravity
  • As we discussed, cockpit size is critical to comfort

The Right Sit-on-top for Your Height

As long as the sit-on-top kayak you get is wide enough for you to comfortably sit on it, and there’s a foot peg or position that allows you to have your legs bent, the worries of cockpit sizing go away. You’ll still need the right size kayak for your weight. And as a taller paddler, you may need a longer kayak to help stabilize you.

But all things being equal, sit-on-top kayaks are much more forgiving for taller paddlers.

Recreational Kayaks for Tall People

Recreational Kayak Cockpit Size

Recreational kayak cockpits are pretty forgiving, averaging 20 inches or more wide and around 36 inches long. If you’re tall, most recreational kayaks 10 feet long or more should allow you to get into and out of the kayak pretty easily.

For instance, I bought two Perception Swifty 9.5 recreational kayaks for my family. Mainly because the cockpit size was big enough for us all to learn how to get in a kayak without too much trouble, but more importantly, how to safely get out of a capsized kayak.

I weigh 245 lbs and have 30″ inseam leg length and fit easily. My wife has 32″ inseam legs is 140 lbs and she had more than enough length for her legs. I’d assume that a 34″ inseam “height” person wouldn’t have any trouble either.

Beyond that, is why I’d recommend a longer leg length/taller person look at an 11 or 12 foot recreational kayak.

Touring/ocean Kayak Cockpit Size

In touring and ocean kayaks, the cockpit size falls in the 18 to 24 inches wide range. That’s because ocean kayaks are designed to cut through waves, be easier to paddle long distances, and track straighter.

An overall cockpit size that’s too small for you will be hard to get into at best, and at worst may be difficult to get out of if you capsize. On the other hand, a cockpit that’s too big will be sloppy when you sit inside and paddle it, and will leave you feeling disconnected from your kayak.

The length and width of your kayak’s cockpit opening matter for a couple of reasons:

  • The cockpit opening is the area that can allow water to splash inside your kayak and get you wet or worse, swamp your boat.
  • The opening is what affects how easy it is to get into and out of your kayak.

Related Searches

Best Kayak for a Tall Person

The best kayak for a tall person is a 10 to 12 foot long recreational kayak or a 14 to 16 foot ocean touring kayak. But whether you’re a tall man or just have long legs, there are several great choices for tall paddlers:


As you can see with cockpit lengths in the 40 to 50 inch range, those 12′ kayaks can accommodate a much taller person with much longer legs.

Ocean / Touring

Best Kayak for a Short Person

I know we didn’t talk at all about kayaks for short paddlers, but that’s largely because there are so many good options for average to shorter size kayakers. Most recreational kayaks between 8 and 10 feet long are great for people shorter than 5’6″.

Both of my daughters, 5’4″ and 5’1″, love the 2 Perception Swifty 9.5’s that we have. And one of them has long legs the other a bit shorter, but both found a foot peg position that worked well for them, and away they paddled!

The Swifty has been discontinued, but I can barely tell the difference between it and the new Joyride 10 below.

And Pelican Kayaks has so many 10 foot length kayaks it would be silly to list them all (again).


Ocean / Touring


I'm Steve, the research and technology workhorse behind Paddle Camp. I do tons of research on all our family's paddling gear before I buy or recommend anything. I grew up canoeing with my dad and brother. A few years ago I bought paddle boards for my daughters, myself, and my wife. Ever since then, we plan most of our vacations around kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding.

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