How to Choose the Right Kayak Length

Two men carrying kayak, outdoors, portrait
Two men carry a kayak outdoors. (Image: moodboard/moodboard/Getty Images)

A kayak is a small, narrow boat traditionally propelled with the use of a double-bladed paddle. As with other pieces of boating equipment, determining the ideal length of a kayak can sometimes be a challenging process. Those who want to find the best vessel should keep speed, maneuverability, size and transportation considerations in mind. Consulting with an experienced outdoorsman who has used kayaks can be useful when it comes to determining the ideal kayak length.

Consider Speed Preferences

When choosing a kayak, speed preferences play an important role. Ocean Kayak reports that a long, thin vessel that's roughly 17 feet in length is best for those who are focusing on speed during kayaking trips. Conversely, those interested in a more leisurely outing will be better off with shorter, nine-feet kayaks. Individuals who are new to kayaking should start with a shorter, slower model; faster options should be considered as ability and skill improves.

Consider Maneuverability Preferences

In addition to speed, the maneuverability of a kayak is an important consideration when it comes to selecting a specific length. According to Ocean Kayak, a 9-foot kayak can be easily maneuvered around twists and turns, and may be ideal for use on rivers or other narrow waterways. Individuals who are not concerned about the ability to change the direction of their kayak can generally do well with 17-foot vessels. In most cases, these longer kayaks are used on open rivers and lakes where positional confinement is not an issue.

Individual Size Considerations

As with other pieces of sporting equipment, the size of the individual using the item also plays a role in identifying appropriate kayak length. Shorter kayaks are generally best for children and shorter adults, notes REI. In contrast, kayakers should consider the use of a longer vessel, so as to allow for greater comfort and mobility. Kayaks that are too short for the user may restrict movement, and can be dangerous in the event of a capsize.

Storage and Transportation Considerations

The ability to store and transport a kayak may also play a part when it comes to deciding what length is ideal. Those with a car rack may be able to simply secure the vessel to the top of their car, thus eliminating many transportation concerns. In contrast, kayakers who do not own this piece of equipment may be limited by the amount of transportation space in their vehicle. Finally, determining where the kayak will be kept when not in use may be an important consideration when choosing vessel size.

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