Backband question

Can someone explain what the back band is for and how it is properly adjusted?

I read that they are wonderful. I read that backbands are torture devices. I read things that say to paddle without one. I read I shouldn’t lean on it. I read that backbands are great. But I have had no luck finding out how one is properly adjusted to the person in the kayak.

Have you gotten forward stroke help?
I am not trying to introduce a non-sequitor. The lower support of the back band allows for more torso rotation and a more erect paddling position. If you understand this position and rotation required for a good forward stroke, it answers the back band question. If you are leaning back and arm paddling, the back band isn’t going to be much of a factor no matter how it is fitted in.

to keep from moving backward in seat
For me, the backband is something to keep you from sliding back in your seat. Having something to keep you from sliding backward lets you press against foot pegs and thigh braces to lock you in the boat, allowing you to better use the power from legs and core and to better control the boat (edging, etc.).

Presumably the comparison point is seats with high backs. Seat backs are comfort features used to offset our general lack of core strength. Your core muscles start getting tired, so you lean back. Downside is that this leaning back causes any torso rotation to go away (but your tired core probably also caused the torso rotation to go away anyway). Downside is that seat backs can become a crutch, never allowing you to really get a stronger core, so not benefiting from torso rotation and such.

In more advanced paddling, these high back seats get in the way of things like lay back rolls and even recoveries where you come in off of the back deck (paddle float, T, scramble, etc.).

Have not
gotten any direct help on forward stroke. What I have “learned” so far and practice doing when I’m paddling, is to sit erect with maybe a slight lean forward. For the paddle stroke I reach forward and plant the paddle in the water beside the kayak about even with my foot. The shoulder on the stroke side is forward through rotation of the torso from the hips up to the shoulder. To make the stroke the rotation of the torso unwinds and ultimately extends the opposite shoulder for the stroke on the other side of the kayak. I also know that the leg on the stroke side should be used to add to the power of the stroke but I’m not really good at that part yet.

I’m wondering what is the back band, or backbrace as my owners manual calls it, really supporting during the stroke movement in light of reading that backbands interfere with torso rotation?

first paragraph indicates that the backband is something that helps connect the paddler to the structure of the kayak i.e becoming one with the kayak.

From your second paragaph it sounds like I want the backband to be low to quite low on my back, say closer to hip level. The backband is not supposed to be used as a lumbar, or higher, support for the back.

Am I understanding you correctly?

well, depends

– Last Updated: Jun-26-12 4:37 PM EST –

This all depends on what your goals are. For some people, those high back seats are perfectly appropriate. If you are not racing, not going huge distances, not looking to build up paddling-specific fitness, etc., a high back seat may be preferable.

If going fast or far is a goal, then a lower back band is generally better. If you look at surf skis (the boats used by racers), they don't have back bands, but instead the seat kind of cups the buttocks. That would be the most efficient. But not necessarily the most comfortable. Each of us needs to choose the right balance of comfort and performance.

A standard back band on a touring kayak with a relatively low back deck (so a standard British style kayak) likely won't interfere much, if at all, with torso rotation. And the back band does also do some work in protecting you from pushing your back against potentially hard or sharp combing, so it may not be best to be so low that you are just supporting your buttocks. Higher volume boats (some of the Necky Looksha boats come to mind) may have higher back decks, so the back band gets a bit higher, and may start being an issue with torso rotation.

Watch for the next issue of California Kayaker Magazine. It has a skills article on forward stroke in it. Should be online (at by this weekend. Free to read online - you don't even have to enter an email or anything to get access.

I have
that magazine bookmarked. I liked the article on the seat and preventing leg numbeness from the fall or winter of 2010 issue. I will definitely read the forward stroke article.

Well, it depends…
Backband use depends on what you are trying to do. For performance kayaking, if you use a backband, you usually want it to fit low, at hip-level, and not project above the cockpit rim as this would interfere with laybacks (either from rolling or from getting flattened to the aft deck from misjudging the surf zone).

I use them in my whitewater, surf and touring kayaks. They give you a more secure fit in the cockpit, prevent you from getting displaced, and help you retain good posture and comfort (as has been pointed out in other posts). The downside is that they do affect torso rotation somewhat, even when fitted properly.

I don’t use them in my racing kayaks. A K1 has no backband at all. You sit tall using your core muscles, and get maximum leg drive and torso rotation, but sitting this way gets tiring after awhile.

In my go-fast kayaks (e.g 18X), I may or may not use a backband. For some examples, for a 10 mile race/training I would adjust the backband so that I don’t touch it at all. For a multi-day race, I would adjust the backband to contact it lightly to keep good posture and help to brace my core (at the expense of some torso rotation lost).

Regarding the forward stroke, leg drive and your kayak seat, if you have a good torso rotation, and your footpegs are adjusted correctly, when you push with the stroke-side leg, this should enable your opposite hip to move forward in the seat to help drive your torso rotation. In other words your butt swivels in the seat like it is on a turntable. Torso rotation starts at your sit bones.

Please note that pushing with the stroke-side leg and rotating your hip is much different than simply pushing your butt back into the backband or off the back of the seat edge. Although this is common, it does nothing good for your stroke and can cause pain.

Greg Stamer

Greg for the finer detail description of the leg push and resultant correct hip movement. That helps a lot in understanding what is supposed to be happening.

Good comments so far
I would add as clarification, that in a sea kayak, if you are paddling forward you should not feel the back band (essentially the same as not having one). If you lean back you should feel it but it should not interfere with laying back as much as your cockpit allows. A rough rule of thumb is that you can put your hand between your thighs and the side of the seat and between your back and the back band. You will have to adjust that somewhat depending on your boat. In a whitewater boat you will probably need a firmer fit, especially if you want to play while river running. It is more important in whitewater to have the boat respond to your movements than to have an efficient forward stroke in which you butt moves around.

I adjust mine fairly low, across the
top of my pelvis. I tighten it so that, if my pelvis is properly upright, the backband is gently supporting but not propping up my pelvis. If I slouch and let my pelvis tip backward, the backband pushes back and reminds me to sit up.

I have one kayak set up without a backband. Instead there is a sloping piece of minicell glued to the rear wall. During normal paddling, my pelvis and back are erect. During some maneuvers, I have to throw myself back against the minicell wedge, and it provides positional feedback. If I am just lazing down the river, I can lean back and rest against the wedge. This works because my hip pads, my thigh hooks, and my foot braces are carefully adjusted so that I am firmly located in the boat. I don’t need a backband to help keep me in place, for instance when rolling.

I suspect that some kayakers are relying on their backbands to help keep them in the boat when rolling. That’s not the purpose of the backband. The seat, the thigh braces, and the footbraces should work together to keep you in the boat. Another reason for a backband to be low, no higher than the top of the pelvis, is that if higher, it can interfere with torso rotation, and with entry and exit from the boat. If the backband is dow where it belongs, a modern cockpit sloping down toward the stern will allow the paddler to pop out of the thigh braces, push back, and have the pelvis pivot and exit above the backband.

I think
I have the back band pretty much adjusted as all of you have talked about. This evening I focused on keeping good erect posture and not leaning on the back band. Also worked on the advice about the leg drive and torso rotation and noticed some improvement is stroke power and resultant boat speed. I was actually kind of amazed at the speed when I got the stroke technique correct.

summer issue is up
The summer issue is up, so you can read that article on forward stroke now.

I know I need a backband/seatback that provides a little support in the lumbar area. I don’t lean back while paddling, but if there isn’t a little pressure on my lumbar I will be in pain after an hour or two. I don’t find that a low rise seatback interferes with my torso rotation.

I like the comments on how the backband is used and adjusted. I do like a backrest, especially for trips over 4 hours; however, I do find myself leaning forward to intensify torso rotation. The drawback of a high seat back is getting in the boat, and if the boat rolls . . . I’m glad I haven’t had to figure that out.