Kayak length

I’m looking at a kayak for mainly river use. Sometimes a lake that has motor boats. And most likely a few overnight trips. Keep in mind I’m a bit of a beginner still…maybe two summers using a kayak on a lake. Is there going to be much of a difference between a 9’ 6" kayak compared to a 11’ one? Oh, they would be the same model/series? I just want a kayak that tracks well and can turn fairly easy. From what I understand longer kayaks paddle faster. Will that extra foot and a half really matter?

If it helps, I’m about 5’6" and 120 lbs.


Demo a few kayaks
Try out a few different kayaks from a local

kayak shop to see the difference for yourself.

Technique matters, and stroke mechanics need

to be learned from a paddling instructor.

Yes, there is a big difference
The 9’6 kayak will turn with every stroke, while the 11 footer will track much straighter.

You would do even better to look at a 14 footer.

jack L

River Use ?
You might want to describe where you paddle on rivers. Most people that post advice here are flat water paddlers and assume you want a long boat.

Class II or higher, narrow twisty, shallow rocky, the short boat might be better or worse. It depends on the type of boat.

Its flat water. Maybe class 1 rapids.

Length, design and fit

– Last Updated: May-27-12 8:10 AM EST –

In general, the longer boats start having more safety features such as two bulkheads and deck rigging, and hulls designed to do things like track and handle waves a little better. At 14 ft you get into a fairly rich array for this, at 12 to 14 feet the pack is on the thin side for these features and by 10 and 11 feet you are talking a boat that lacks these characteristics and is not intended to be a good fit for long paddles or camping use.

You have one other part - at 5'6" and 120 pounds you are a small paddler. Unless you love knocking your knuckles and getting pushed around by wind, you need a small person's boat. That will be a boat that is designed to behave properly with less than a 180 pound 5'9" guy in it and that will be a bit narrower. Around 14 ft you have some quite decent choices, below that you are looking mostly at boats that will be pretty barge-like for you.

Second seadart's point - at class 1 you will have minor control issues with a longer, trackier boat because the boat's hull speed is actually faster than the hull design for a true WW boat. But if you find the green line and run down it there is little issue. At class 2, things get a lot trickier without a proper WW boat. So I am assuming that your reply in on target, that you would not have this boat in class 2.

Sounds like you need a smaller person’s kayak but you also need some volume for camping gear. “tracks well and can turn fairly easy” are somewhat of a tradeoff as well – some hulls track very straight but may be harder to turn, and some turn better at a slight expense on tracking. Just about anything 10’ and under won’t be in the “tracks well” category though. Going a little longer will offer you more choices for a narrower boat that will fit your frame better, be faster and travel more miles, and give you some decent volume to pack some gear & food in for a night or two. Also consider whether you’ll ever go upriver and back; wider shorter boats don’t attain upstream well.

Besides rapids, another thing to consider and gain experience with when paddling rivers, is how your boat handles in currents when loaded with gear. Coming around a tight river bend when fully loaded will feel quite different than when empty.

There are dozens of kayaks available in the 11-14’ range that would meet your needs; borrow, rent or demo several to see what you really like before buying.

Try before you buy

– Last Updated: May-27-12 12:02 PM EST –

You can always learn, train, evolve into a great boat
- but if you purchase a barge, it will stay a barge.

Unless your butt is in the cockpit, personally,
to make that brain/muscle connection, it won't matter.

Get 2 dozen kayakers around a campfire and each one
will have different perspective on what's awesome
since we all have different physical measurements and ability.

a model suggestion
Although you might have trouble finding one to test (depending on where you live), based on what you say you are looking for I would recommend a kayak that is one of my personal faves (I am 5’ 5" but 30 lbs heavier), the Venture Easky 15LV. It’s a low volume kayak great for smaller people, 15’ long by 22.5" wide, has two decent size hatches for carrying gear for camping and for safety (the bulkheads prevent swamping). It is also somewhat lighter than most other kayaks in the size range (44 lbs) and it tracks wonderfully while still handling well. The clincher is that it handles power boat wakes extremely well. Most shorter “rec” boats have to be wider and flatter hulled to give you the displacement volume a boat needs (longer thinner boats have the same volume as short fat ones). But this means they behave really badly in rough water and can even be capsized by waves and boat wakes. I have fun surfing boat wakes in my Easky.

I think it’s a great beginner boat that you can learn good skills in and not quickly outgrow. It’s a terrific river and lake boat, paddles straight and fast. Also nicely outfitted with thigh hooks, easily adjustable foot pegs and a really comfortable seat that doesn’t interfere with good paddling form. And at around $1000 (plus or minus $200 depending on the deal) it is in the same range as kayaks like the Wilderness Tsunamis and Necky Manitous (which I have tried and don’t find as versatile or responsive.)

Go long!
When I was looking for my first kayak, I was sure I wanted a short kayak. But as I demoed different models, I kept liking the longer ones better and ended up with a full size touring kayak. I’m taller than you but, yes a foot or so makes a big difference. Once you learn to edge your kayak, then the difference in manoeuvrability becomes minor. So I’d look for a small person’s touring kayak that fit’s well. Maybe a Necky Eliza or similar.