Kayak size

I’m looking to purchase a touring kayak. I’m female, 5’5 and weigh 118 pounds. I’ll be kayaking on Lake Tahoe as well as ocean kayaking. Is a 17 ft. kayak too long for me? Any suggestions as to what size I should be looking for? Thanks!

It isn’t the length
Size in a kayak is about volume, width, cockpit height and general configuration of the thigh braces, foot position and back band. There are 17 ft long boats that are too big for you in these characteristics and 17 ft long boats that are a perfect fit.

It doesn’t sound like you have spent much time actually sitting in a kayak or getting a sense of how it should fit. Or am I wrong? It might be a better first stop to ask for advice on where there is a good outfitter around you that can go through this stuff with you.

At your height and weight
I would think that any thing 16 or 17 feet would be good.

My wife who is 5’-2" paddles a 15’-3" kayak. She used to paddle a 16’-9" one, but likes the shorter one better. The longer one had too big a cockpit, so that is something to consider

On the other hand my daughter who is 4’-11" paddles a Epic 18X.

My wife who is looking over my shoulder says a 17 footer should be fine for you

You didn’t give much info, but it would be a good idea to try some out before you get one.

Jack L

As the others have said
the most important thing is that the cockpit is a good snug, but not tight, fit. The length is not nearly so important. Think about whether you are doing mostly day paddling and weekends v. long multiday trips. That affects the choice too. If you are doing mostly day and weekend trips you don’t need a ton of cargo carrying capacity and a slightly smaller more lively boat will be a lot of fun and help you develop skills more quickly. At least that is the way I would look at it.

Where do you plan on ocean paddling?
Your expectations of paddling on the Ocean will have a lot more to do with the kind of boat that you need. A few folks that post here paddle Lake Tahoe often. Tsunami Chuck lived in the area quite a while, I think he is working on the coast now, but he could tell you where to find boats in the area. You might want to look into taking some coastal kayaking classes from someplace like Seatrek in Saucilito or Kayak Connection in Santa Cruz or Moss Landing .

http://www.seatrek.com/pages/classes/scrollpage.htm After you take a couple of classes you might have a better idea what kind of boat you want.


– Last Updated: May-06-12 9:39 PM EST –

As Celia said, length is not the most important factor. There are some 17' boats that might be a good fit and many others that would be a poor choice.

First of all, your weight puts you firmly in the "smaller paddler" category. Unless you're planning on carrying 50+ pounds of gear, a kayak for an average-to large paddler will be too big for you. A boat that's too big will be harder to handle in wind and waves, and will be more difficult to paddle efficiently.

What's your experience? What boats have you paddled that you did or didn't like? Do you see yourself doing mostly day trips, or loading up with camping gear and chasing horizons?

You should consider overall volume/designed load range, width, deck, height, and cockpit fit. A kayak for ocean or big lake paddling should have the appropriate safety features.

Most sea kayaks for your weight will be in the 15-17' range. At normal touring speeds other factors will be more important than length.

I'd agree that taking classes and/or renting a would be wise. You'll be better prepared to make a good decision.

Demo day season is coming. Try to test-paddle or at least test-sit as many boats as you can.

The right 17’ sea kayak can work.
There are 17’ sea kayaks you will fit into well. There are also 17’ boats you will not fit into efficiently. If you are mostly paddling day trips but on occasion want to go on camping trips, you still want / need the capacity / 16 - 17’ sea kayak if you only have one boat.

There are some “LV” or “S” sea kayaks which are similar to regular sea kayaks but have a low volume or small alteration. Some that come to mind are NDK Explorer LV (which may be difficult to find since they are now special order I believe / the Pilgrim which doesn’t get great reviews may have replaced it), Valley has a few options, Tiderace has the Xplore S and other “S” models etc. and many more from other companies. Some LV’s and S’s will still seem too large or perhaps too small. There are also some 15’ boats which may have lots of volume for camping but be too wide (and high) and might feel like a slow barge. And there might be 15’ers that are perfect. (A low back deck is good)

Then some boats come in different layups which may even drop the weight of a boat. Keep an eye on weight. A boat under 50 lbs may be / will be helpful / important. The Tiderace comes in Regular layup, Hardcore and Hardcore Pro, which cost more but weighs less. I’m not a big person and a strong boat with lower weight is good. A perfect fitting boat doesn’t have to be light if you are always with someone to help load and unload all the time. You may lose interest if your kayak is 63 lbs and you are solo.

Consider joining a club -strongly. Some clubs offer classes and instruction which can save money and help meet people which may allow you to paddle more often also. You may also be able to talk with other people in a club about your same size and try their boats. Getting together with other people to practice rescue tech etc is another reason to join a club.

Of course, if you will never be camping, why get a 17’er? There really is a lot to consider and a lot of different opinions. Keep inquiring, try boats and you will become a happy paddler. It’s fun.

Don’t forget the shorter boats
There are lots of good boats in the 14 to 16 foot range as well. To get the advantage of a faster boat you actually have to put the power in to make it go faster. In addition many 17 foot boats have a water line of less than 15 feet. That is why a person in a 14 foot Current designs Kestral or a Dagger Alchemy can easily keep up with others in a group.

That sail some 17 to 18 foot boats make it very easy to go straight and fast like the Current Designs Solstice GTS which is a great boat for smaller paddlers.

I’m 5’6" at 145 and…
have a RockPool that’s slightly over 17 feet. But it fits nicely because of the 21 inch beam and low deck. The rear deck is especially low and that helps greatly. I have the seat set forward and hip pads in place to dial in the fit.

This boat fits much better than my last fifteen and a half foot boat, due mostly to the lower profile. This also makes the boat pretty easy to control in strong winds.

The P&H Cetus LV might work for you and then there’s Sterling’s Kayaks (Washington State). I don’t know much about Sterlng built kayaks but they taylor the deck height to the size of the owner.

But as mentioned by another poster, check out the low volume TideRace kayaks as they seem to be very well liked and they are just so sexy :slight_smile:

Assuming you find one that fits, any of these should provide enough volume for some camping and enable you to develope your skills.

I suggest you contact Headwaters in Lodi. Headwaters is hosting a large Tahoe camp out trip this summer when there will be 100+ sea kayakers with their boats. You’d be able to see lots of sea kayaks. Headwaters is also a pro shop that has a demo program to try out different boats.

Ask about the Sterling Ice Cap. My wife paddles one.

Hope this helps.

Length is not as important as internal…
cockpit dimensions. 17 feet is not too long, but could easily be too big internally. I have seen people in shorter boats that have more efficient designs that are 16 feet easily keep up with 17 foot boats. Actually, in some cases, you will find that if the boat is just too big cannot keep up with a more suitable boat for the paddlers’ specs. I would take a look at the Valley Avocet LV as a great choice. My wife is almost exactly the same size and she absolutely loves that boat.



NDK Explorer LV
is not a low volume hull. They just messed with the cockpit fit and deck height. It is not really a smaller paddler’s boat. So while it was the only game in town for people my size early on in its release, there are better fitting alternatives now including the Pilgrim boats.

I know someone who got the Pilgrim and has been pretty happy with it, found that it was much easier to paddle than their prior Explorer LV.

All that said, the newer boats that are really short sea kayaks could be very nice fits depending on cargo and tripping needs. They tend to not be as fast but are more fun in terms of playfulness. Some of these have been put out in a smaller paddler size.

budget suggestion
I agree with virtually all the excellent advice above, especially checking out a variety of boats through an outfitter demo program.

Some of the recommended models are fairly costly though (an Avocet is over $3,700 new). If your budget is more modest, I am very fond of the Venture Easky 15LV, a 15’ British made and very seaworthy plastic touring boat with nice features and designed for the smaller paddler but which you can pick up for $1,000 or less. At 45 lbs it is lighter than most, tracks wonderfully and with easy forward speed yet handles strong waves very well. I’ve had one for 2 years and had it out in a lot of conditions, including on big windy lakes like Tahoe. For the money it is a really nice versatile kayak.

Eddyline Fathom LV
I just got a used Eddyline Fathom LV and I love it! It’s 5 1/2 feet long, and weighs 46 pounds. It’s a thermoform plastic, so price-wise a new one is in between the poly boats and fiberglass. I’m 5’2" and 125 pounds.

The Fathom LV is 21 inches wide and 13 inches deep, so nice for smaller paddlers.

Probably not

– Last Updated: May-07-12 2:29 PM EST –

17' is a nice sea kayak length, but that is only one dimension. In addition to the variables of width, deck height, cockpit dimensions and shape, your own intentions are going to play a big role in answering your question.

At your size, I doubt very much it is too long a boat for you, assuming you are or will become reasonably fit, and that those other dimensions fit you also.

However, if you are not going to paddle frequently, 17' is more boat to propel than a shorter version, all other things being equal (which they rarely are). The other big questions are (1) Do you want something highly maneuverable? shorter would work better for that; and (2) Do you intend to take camping trips?

Demo and rent as much as you can.

I own both an Explorer LV (17.5' x 21.5") and a Pilgrim Expedition (17' x 19.68"). I wanted an all-around sea kayak for both daytripping and camping, lakes and sea, including surf. Although they definitely feel like they came from the same family, the skinnier PEX is easier to edge and accelerate (I'm just under 5'3" 105 lbs). I am selling the LV since these boats serve pretty much the same purpose and I do not need or want its higher primary stability.

However, I have owned or demo'ed kayaks both shorter and longer, lower and taller, skinnier and wider, than either of these. Given a choice between the Explorer LV and a high-decked, wide 16-footer, I would STILL choose the LV. Tall decks and wide beams feel like sitting in a barrel and do not provide good body contact for edging. While you can tighten fit with some minicell and other outfitting tweaks, some boats are WAY too tall to start with. 15" or 16" foredecks?!?--try 'em out and see for yourself.

Speedwise, the PEX (skinny but sort of long) is faster than the 16-ish but wider boats, in my experience. But this isn't a major factor; paddling techniques and application thereof make the biggest difference of all. Also, I agree with the suggestion to possibly buy a less-expensive kayak as your first one--there are some good rotomold sea kayaks to try that would fit.

second the Fathom LV to try

– Last Updated: May-07-12 3:32 PM EST –

It is Fifteen and half long. My wife loves hers -- she's about your size, a little heavier. Just saying keep it mind while you are trying boats out. It doesn't have expedition size storage, not sure what you have in mind that way.

Edited: there is some interesting discussion of length here:

some other boats
I have several small female paddler friends and this what they paddle

SKUK Pilgrim

Tiderace Xcite-s

Tiderace Xplore-s for more of a touring boat

Sterling Icekap great for day trips and rolling but not for camping


– Last Updated: May-08-12 8:32 AM EST –

Just as an example, there are two boats on valley's composite page that could work for you -- the Avocet LV and the Aquanaut LV. A mere 14" difference in length, but a huge difference in how they fit and feel.

You'd be on the light end of the Aquanaut's range, so you could load it up with gear. It'd feel stable and track straight. In the Avocet, you'd be on the heavy end of th range, and it'd feel like a small sports car by comparison. But it's not the length that makes the difference.

Current Designs Suka is definitely
a small paddler’s boat http://www.cdkayak.com/products/template/product_detail.php?IID=153. I’m 5’6" and 160 lbs and can barely get my thighs (which aren’t very thick) under the thigh braces in that boat.

The CD Willow fits me very nicely, so would probably be a bit loose on you, as would the Hurricane Tampico 140 S or Tracer.

A used kevlar Perception Shadow 14.5 or 16.5 would also likely fit you pretty well and both are relatively easy to keep moving along at a cruising pace and track nicely as well as maneuver nicely. They’re no longer made and not easy to find used. My wife is a beginner kayaker at 5’2" and lighter than me with size 5.5 shoes and she handles the kevlar Shadow 16.5 pretty well and it fits her pretty well, though she’s a bit stiff and needs help getting in and out of it because of the relatively low deck snug cockpit. Sadly, the kevlar Shadow 16.5 doesn’t have enough foot room for me to fit comfortably. http://www.perceptionkayaks.com/content/perceptionkayaks.com/assets/page/2003/shadow.jpg http://www.perceptionkayaks.com/content/perceptionkayaks.com/assets/page/2003/shadow2.jpg

Waterline length makes more of a difference than overall length of the kayak when it comes to effort to keep it moving. My Epic Touring Cruiser 16 is 16’ long overal with most of that being waterline length and it seems to require a bit more effort to keep going at a moderate pace than my kevlar Perception Eclipse 17/Sea Lion, which is a little over 17’ overall length, but has a waterline length of closer to 15’. Less skin friction to overcome.

Other boats to consider if you find one used at a good price are the composite Necky Eliza, QCC 600X or 10X.

I do like the fit and handling of the Eddyline Fathom LV that others have already mentioned. Very stable, quick and fun to paddle.

I hope you find a boat that works well for you. I’m still searching for a boat 45 lbs or less that both fits me well and handles the way I want. The CD Willow is one that I want to test paddle next. I tried one on for fit at Canoecopia and really liked the combination of snug cockpit fit and plenty of foot room for my size 8.5 feet in reasonably substantial paddling boots. I really like the handling of my kevlar Perception Eclipse 17/Sea Lion and Shadow 16.5, but the Eclipse 17 is much higher volume than I need and the Shadow 16.5 doesn’t have the foot room that I prefer. I’m trending towards shorter touring kayaks in the 14’ to 16’ range. I only day trip and don’t camp, so I don’t need much cargo capacity and don’t benefit from the extra skin friction of the longer boats or the unwieldy nature of picking up and carrying longer boats.

Enjoy the search.