March 08, 2017

When purchasing gear, you should definitely spend the time on the front end doing your research to be sure you are getting the proper fit, type etc for your activity. There are many disciplines in kayak paddling and Dan Caldewell gives us his expert advice on properly sizing a kayak.

Like A Glove: How To Perfectly Fit A Kayak

by Dan Caldwell on

I don’t try clothes on before I buy them. If the waist and length measurements of a pair of jeans is in the ballpark with what I usually wear, I assume things will be fine. While sometimes this strategy works out, it’s also left me with catastrophic seam failure. Much to my wife’s annoyance, I don’t really care about clothes. When it comes to sizing a kayak however, I pay attention. Ensuring a paddler falls inside the manufacturer’s weight recommendations simply isn’t enough. After outfitting hundreds of kayak school students and 10 years of testing boats for Rapid, here is what I've learned you really need to know. 


When sizing a new kayak, the manufacturer’s optimal paddler weight ranges are a good place to start, but few paddlers will fall right in the middle of this optimal range. I often have to choose between being on the heavy end of a medium size or the light end of a large size. It comes down to this: a smaller boat will be lighter, have less volume and sit lower in the water. For play this means easier vertical moves like cartwheels and squirts and an overall sense of being easy to throw around. The trade-off is that running rapids and sticking wave moves is trickier because more water grabs your boat. In river runners, a larger boat might give you more confidence by keeping you upright but a lower volume boat is sometimes nice—like when trying to get out of a sticky hole. Keep in mind that your weight will fluctuate based on layers, and the gear carried. Test paddle river running and creek boats with water bottles, throw bags, pin and first aid kits, and your lunch. It makes a difference. 

Leg Room

At six feet tall with a 30-inch inseam (yes, I have a long back) I know a few things about issues with leg room. Often, I can’t move the seat far enough forward to trim the boat for best performance. Be sure to loosen and fiddle with thigh brace positions. Moving your knees even a little bit up or out can provide additional room at your feet. If you have really long legs the decision is often made for you—you have to opt for a larger size you can fit in. 

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