Do Women Paddler Have Equal Boat Choices

-- Last Updated: May-19-09 10:40 AM EST --

Do the woman folks posting here feel there are as many boat, blade, and equipment choices for women paddlers as men.

If not, what might rectify any inequities in each category?

Guys can weigh in, but I am wondering straight from the women posters to the board having opinions here. It would be helpful to me when friends, students, etc. ask about this. : > )


– Last Updated: May-19-09 1:38 PM EST –

I think it's pretty clear that there are far more choices for men than there are for women. That is probably due to market forces more than anything else.

But then again, if you are not a small petite woman, there are lot's of boats to choose from.

Both Celia and Friendly Fire have chimed in on another thread and have given great advice.


It’s not a gender issue, it’s a size
thing. There are fewer performance boats for smaller people because there are fewer small paddlers looking for performance boats. That doesn’t mean they aren’t out there. It means a smaller paddler looking for performance needs to look harder and probably travel further to find the right boat. I paddle with a couple of fairly small men and they have exactly the same issues.

I’m a small woman and I’ve not found it difficult to find the right gear. I’ve just never been able to walk into a big box store that caters to the broadest common denominator to do it. It’s worth it to take time to find the right gear. It’s out there.

gender too
PFD is the best proof.

Small, petite woman have very, very few choices–if you’re under 5’1" and 120 pounds, most will tell you to “pad it out” which is a poor substitute for a good fitting boat. Even kits to build-your-own are made for larger bodies. Very frustrating. On the other end of the scale, very tall and large bodied (not obese)adults have difficulty finding a good fit. It is that the opposing ends of the marketable spectrum just are not accommodated because there isn’t a large enough market to design very much specifically for it. Very frustrating!

increasing choices

– Last Updated: May-19-09 12:35 PM EST –

not as many choices but much better than say 5 years ago and definitely 10 years ago.

Human sizing is a bell curve. Those at either end of the curve in size have fewer choices than those closer to the highest part of the curve. Boat manufacturers need to make a living so they tune a lot of boats for the middle. No surprise there. Me, I want them to do well so they can afford to do the niche boats that fit me!

As for boats, I think more choices are opening up for women because there is a solid segment of male paddlers who want a low volume kayak for daytrips and play. Just a guess on my part, but decreasing recreation time (it's been shown that people have been taking shorter vacations) and the still building wave more people coming to the sport makes it more likely that more people will choose to paddle a day or a weekend rather than a week or more. So different boat styles evolve in response to that. There is always evolution.

that said, extremely small females (say 5'1" or under and close to 100lbs) still have few options other than to buy a kids kayak, build one or have one built for them. Composite options are few, rotomoulds about zilch.

And there is a point where too many layers of padding out just doesn't cut it. For those very petite ladies the boat remains too wide, the cockpit too deep, the foredeck too high. For a long time it was like that for any woman who was average or below average in weight and size. Now more of our group has got options but certainly not everyone.

As for PFDs & paddlewear (from splashjackets to drysuits) there are specific designs for women that for the most part "get it". And by that I mean get it w. design features and not just something in pink. I like and wear pink in some of my clothing, but it ticks me off as a woman that someone thinks we will buy our paddling gear just bec. it is pink or that a boat for women has to have a pink color option.

Designs for paddlewear are not big expenditures compared to kayak designs so gear mfgrs. can make a more rapid response to the female market.

And they are. Judging by the popularity of women's PFDs like the Kokatat MsFit and MsFit tour, a lot of men w. a certain robust build like a women's cut as well. So maybe it's not just a women's cut anymore, but a successful one for a certain body type. Again, for the smallest of women, XS is not necessarily their size. They still have to make do w. bloated PFDs that get in the way or make some self rescues unnecessarily difficult.They are still an unaddressed market.

As for paddles, there is not much that is gender specific there. Certainly the lighter foam core paddles are appealing to women who like the lower
weight and lower swing weight (2 different things) because of differences in upper body strenth, but I've not run across a paddle from any major maker marketed solely as a women's paddle, unless it has some cutesy pattern they think that girls will like. Just a new paddle for anyone to try. Shorter lengths in paddles to go w. narrower boats have been a noted market trend for a few years, for both men and women. And Greenland paddles know no gender ;-)

Edit: I forgot about skirts! (or spraydecks to remove the gender connotation). There are a few
women specific models like the Flirt in WW and in the RiverTrek for Women touring skirt by Snapdragon. Overall it's kinda tough to find a neoprene skirt that will clear a typical woman's hips yet feel snug on the ribcage. But it's just as tough for anyone a notable belly, male or female. New stretchy but water resistant fabrics like Sympatex from Snapdragon might be the answer. Nylon skirts, or skirts w. a nylon tunnel can be an option if it's going to work for the waters the paddler is in.

There are more female instructors and more notable female paddlers in the sport than ever before. They too have an impact.

Something that is lagging in the U.S. is the availability of the new female-friendly boats as demos. The thread on seakayaks for petite women cites difficulty in finding, say, an Avocet LV or a Necky Eliza in composite to demo. Where the breakdown is - in the shops or the makers - I do not know. But it is a self perpetuating cycle that a boat does not do well bec. no one can try it because it is not doing so well so no retailer invests in a demo....

That consideration aside IMO just about any female who is smaller than average (but not tiny) who really does her homework, asks questions, and tries before she buys can be pretty confident of finding a boat and gear that will work for her.

It will probably not be as easy as walking into a bigbox store, but supporting the local paddleshop who chooses to be female-friendly in their stock is never a bad thing. And in the absence of that kind of shop, online purchases can fill some of the gaps.

All in all I do think things are headed in the right direction.

A Woman can vote w. her wallet like any man, and if in a couple she can maybe vote with some of his, too. ;-)

Not yet but better

– Last Updated: May-19-09 12:21 PM EST –

A good point above - what hurts average and small women paddlers for choices also hurts the small guys.

Really, it's much better than several years ago. A woman of average size (5'4" and 125-140 pounds) has some choices now that I did not when we got my first composite full size expedition boat even just 6 or 7 years ago.

My choices for a decent cockpit fit then in a newer designed fuller length expedition boat, low deck and all were between something with not-reassuring stability for a newbie, the Foster Silhouette and the admittedly not-low volume Explorer LV that was nonetheless a good boat for getting comfortable. In the shorter range there was the P&H Vela, the Impex Mystic and the somewhat twitchy CD Slipstream and maybe the Romany LV but I forget the date on that. In all these cases your only choice was composite - in poly I was SOL.

UPDATE - It was pointed out below that I forgot QCC, Boreal Designs and Betsie Bay. Just to catch that now - the QCC boats were the older, wider designs at that point, and high decked. So I tend to forget them. This has improved since. Betsie Bay has always done a great job for us, I forgot them. As to Boreal Designs, I know that the Ellesmere could be padded out for someone my size but I don't recall that they had a small paddler's boat several years ago.

In the same groups now you have three new boats from CD, the Impex Force Cat 3, the Tempest 165, the Eliza, the Capella 161, the Avocet LV, the Rumour, [added] newer QCC boats, Betsie Bay with a new model or two, Boreal Designs small Epsilon, the Zephyr and the new kid on the block, the smaller Dagger Alchemy. There are other boats that I haven't tried, like the Scorpio LV, that may also be on the edge for my size. An average sized woman can now choose between boats that may scare the pants off of a newbie and boats that'll be very reassuring, as well as find something at plastic prices.

I think it is something to note that the Alchemys, the Force boats and the upgraded Tempests came out with a smaller boat as part of their normal release. The longer history has been what happened with the Avocet - get the boy's boat out then think about the womenfolk/small guys well after. CD has been the only company that has regularly made an effort to produce a boat for the actually smaller paddler as part of their regular new lines. For it's time, putting out the Squall as sister to the Storm was a pretty nice move.

Now - if you are less than 5'4" tall and weigh nothing, it's still much harder. And I find it amusing that 205 paddles are still called custom and hardly anyone stocks a good variety of them, since I have recently been told by a Werner rep that they are backed up on that length due to the flood of orders this spring.

But come complaints aside, I have to say that all the manufacturers are making a much, much better effort in this area than they were just several years ago. The bummer is that it'll take a while for all these boats to start coming up used so that women can get a cool boat as cheaply as men.

As to why? I keep seeing things that suggest the sudden drop-off of women at a given point has a lot to do with having women coaches and the like for new paddlers to model against. In areas where there is a good cohort of women who coach and pursue skills, there are more women in the photos of big trips. There are more women in the classes.

Here in the northeast, it's largely a guys' game once you start talking about a lot of wet work, playing in rocks etc. I was bowled over happy a couple of years ago when I got into a training at a symposium with four women out of 9 paddlers. That was huge! But as usual - the coaches for that class were all men, and I think there were four maybe five women coaches out of a much larger male group. Also, a lesser percentage of the men had come from a quite different part of the country.

I am hoping that as the guys who want to make paddling into a time trial age and the boomer women decide the house can get dirty, the paddling groups will get more mixed.

in looking at…
and testing several boats, PFDs and paddles, the only thing that I’ve found I am somewhat limited on would be a proper fitting PFD that does not rub uncomfortably when paddling. Keep in mind that I’m only 5’2", roughly 150 lbs, and have a decent chest size. I tried on probably about 20 different PFDs and the only one that fit me 100% comfortably is the ExtraSport Chica.

great point on used boats
gonna take awhile for the popular models now available to women to perk into the used market.

I’m not surprised that Werner is backed up on 205cm

paddle orders. In the general paddling group around here the local wisdom has been shorter ferrules for the last few years for men and women. Paddles showing up used at swapmeets and craigslist are invariably 220cm and up.

not much for children either
it is probably better to say (as others have) that there are not a lot of options for ‘smaller’ or ‘bigger’ people, as opposed to kayaks for women.

One of my good paddling buddies is 5’4" for a long time he paddled kayaks that were too big because those were the only options.

Why such a restricted list?
What happened to QCC, Boreal Designs, Betsie Bay, and others?

You’re right
See above - updated

tricky part there…
is that children grow so fast…hard enough to keep them in shoes and jeans let alone a CD Raven or Tsunami SP.

the common wisdom is that we wear a kayak. So it’s pretty hard to keep pace w. a growing child thru

their mid adolescence. Once they can get into the adult boat sizes it gets easier. And as a bonus Mom or Dad might get a sporty boat they can enjoy as well :wink:

Happily there are more kids paddle choices from Aquabound and Werner, for example, that maybe will suit very small adult paddlers as well.

My thoughts
Ten years ago, they didn’t, but now they do, (speaking kayaks) and gear.

There are now boats made specifically for smaller paddlers and women.

There are now PFDs made specifically for women.

Once they came out with the adjustable length paddles, that solved the problem of shorter length paddles for women.

There is as much paddle sport clothes on the market now for women as there is for men.

If you are talking about low end gear, none of that fits women or men properly.



Regarding boats and boat fit, I agree that it is a size issue as opposed to gender issue. Cheers to the sea kayak manufacturers (except Johnson Outdoors for marketing that horrible poly Eliza as a great boat for women) for recognizing the need for boats for smaller people.

Whitewater is a whole different story. Yes there are the Jackson Fun’s but what about those who want a friendly river runner. I am looking forward to trying out the Dagger Axiom and Wavesport Diesel as they look to have made improvements on their sizing. Hopefully the other whitewater manufacturers will follow suit.


They do and they don’t
I think average sized women have a number of choices that have better hulls for their size and better fit / ergonomics.

In years past decks were just dropped to make an LV version of a given hull that was still not optimized for the smaller paddler / engine.

Some of these models sold poorly because, while they did fit really petite women great, “most” women aren’t “that” petite in the lower area, so the fit was too snug.

So, if we’re all in P-net kayak company and we want to make a kayak that fits the largest percentage of female bodies under say 150 lbs. we end up with a fit that still may be too big for the truly petite woman.

If I had my own kayak company I would make such a petite boat just because I think it should happen. But in business you have to develop products that will appeal and sell well. That usually leaves the non-typical sized people with fewer choices.

I think that Avocet LV is an excellent choice for really petite women!

Shot at JOI, why?

– Last Updated: May-19-09 1:39 PM EST –

There's a lot about JOI I don't care for and some of that may be changing. But to refer to any boat as horrible is a bit biased. Clearly not your choice, and would not be mine either, but it's an extremely well performing model for Necky. It was crafted with a lot of female input and thought, and unlike yourself many women do really enjoy the boat.

Please understand that I respect your views as they pertain to you. I would recommend the poly version Eliza (as one option) to the beginner / intermediate touring customer looking for an efficient, stable, ruddered kayak. It is all of those things, assuming it feels good to them. I would NOT recommend it for the more advance ocean play paddler. The composite is that boat...assuming it fits. No boat can fit everyone.

The composite model is entirely different and was the original design. Marketing chose to detune that in the poly version and add a rudder. The better women paddlers didn't like that, yet the mass market did. It outsells the composite by far. Horribly good!

There are many kayaks I do not enjoy at all, but that doesn't make them horrible.

I hope you take this the right way. I'm not dissing your personal view for "you", just offering another perspective. Blog looks cool.

I have connections with JOI but do not work for them. I do test boats for them on occassion.

the average woman
salty, you are on to something there. The average woman in the U.S.A and UK is quite a bit heftier (bigboned, robust, whatever term, none meant in offense)than the petite woman paddler we’ve discussed recently.

in the UK (per Dept of Trade & Industry):

5’3.8" (~162 cm) and 147 lbs or 66.7 kg

in the US (per Dept. of Health & Human Service):

5’3.7" (~162 cm) and 152 lbs (69 kg)

Now I am 5’3" and weigh 117 lbs pretty constantly. (lose a few pounds in paddling season) On my small frame 152 lbs would be decidely overweight. But it would put me into a different category of boat, and ironically give me more choices. Not that those circumstances would make me happy inside or outside my kayak!

That said, there are other women my height who could carry more weight, and many do, esp. in their hips & posterior, which goes to the point you made about boat dimensions.In terms of clothing, some of them could fit into men’s sizing.But for a petite paddler that usually not the case: the proportions are all wrong.

Small female paddlers are but a segment of all female paddlers. Maybe we are just more vocal about correct sizing in our boats!

Lots of boats for smaller persons in WW
Have been for a long time. Not as small as the Fun series for kids but fine for smaller adults. Just to name a few older boats: Wave Sport Siren, Inazone 212, Dagger Blast and replacement models, Liquid Logic Trigger. All are fine for running rivers. And there are a number of current models for smaller persons.

Big Feet!
Not enough boat choices for people with huge feet either!