Leg discomfort on longer paddles

I’m newer to more serious sea kayaking - I’ve got about two years of more regular, serious paddling experience now and have been exploring/updating my kayaks during this time.

One thing I’ve noticed with many of the kayaks I’ve had: I’m comfortable and snug when I’m in the kayak at first, but as I’m in the boat for longer, like a couple hours, I get some seriously crampy/numb/stiff leg issues. Sometimes, it seems like it might be a reaction to edging/paddling form, but other times, it just seems to sneak up on me. What I’m wondering is if this is something that’s a conditioning issue - kinda like when you are getting into cycling and your body aches from holding your riding position - or if I should expect a comfortable/appropriately fitting kayak to stay comfortable for a reasonably long time paddling?

So far, some of the kayaks I’ve had have fit comfortable (or so I thought) for paddles lasting around an hour or so, but on longer paddles all but a few have let me down.

I’m interested to find out if it’s just conditioning, or if I just haven’t found the right boat fit for me to wear.

2 things you may want t consider:

  1. stretching, especially of hamstrings, can make a big difference *guess this kind of falls under hamstrings)

  2. there are some adjustments an modifications you can make to the seat to help this. Check out issue #4 of California Kayaker Magazine for an article on this. Issue 5 has an article on footbeds by the same author that might also be worth a read, as improving footbeds so you can move your feet around cold also help.


Wow Peter…what a cool magazine!!!

I wish I’d have heard about it 3 years ago

If it’s the calf part of the legs, like the pain I get after a couple of hours, I get temporarily relief from hanging both legs out of the cockpit for a few minutes, even while paddling. Of course that means no skirt, or popping it off. But I’m also going to give the pre-paddle stretching a try.

Snug is good, but make sure you’re not too snug. A little wiggle room is good. It’s easier to make a slightly too large kayak fit by padding it out than it is to squish into a slightly too small one.

@Peter-CA definitely has some good points in his post. Stretching is definitely beneficial if needed. I took a couple of weeks off from paddling my usual boats and felt it a little when I got back into my Tiderace - my knees were complaining a bit after I got out of the boat.

More thigh support may be helpful. I found the Wilderness Systems seat to be comfortable for longer times in the cockpit. It has an adjustable front lip you can raise with a strap while seated. It helps to unweight your calves, and allow some relaxed lower leg movement and blood circulation. You may want tp play around with some foam thigh supports, but make sure everything can handle a wet exit.

@LakerScott, what boat are you using and is it the right size for your body dimensions.

Stretching really helps me, especially before early morning paddles. In addition to what others have said, I’ve found that temporarily moving the foot braces forward or back a bit and/or repositioning your feet on the braces can help. Even small changes can significantly impact weight distribution.
Most important is having a good fit to begin with and, as @brodie said, it’s way easier to make adjustments to a slightly too large kayak than it is to one that is too small.

@Jyak I’ve got a composite P&H Capella 169, I’m 5’10" and 180#, size 10 shoe. I have enough room in the cockpit, although sometimes it seems like I need a half space to have the pegs in the right/comfortable spot. I have them in a good spot now, at least for short paddles, as they’re comfortable. They’re the yakima pedals, so not easy to adjust on the water. Putting them a notch forward is definitely too far, but I don’t think I can put them any closer, either.


I have similar issues. I’m over six feet and long-legged. Stretching, sitting on your living room floor with your legs in ‘paddling’ position also helps. The video below** mentions “if you can’t sit like this for an hour on your floor, you’ll never be comfortable on a long paddle” or words to that effect.At around 6 minute mark.

I’ve found that my legs are much less crampy when I actively focus on using my torso and driving force through the foot pegs. You’re basically pumping the muscles and blood at regular intervals which is good, compared to just holding your legs in a frog position, static.

**trigger warning: the video is old. You might notice something that might be considered inappropriate in the current climate. Ignore that. The stretches work!



Paddlers are an inappropriate bunch anyway.

1 Like

You have to find a way to move your legs. Pedaling as part of your stroke is one, dropping out from the thigh braces periodically and just leaving your legs loose is another.


With me it’s the hips if I am inside the cockpit too long. I am good for several hours, but my “answer” is to get to shore and walk, stretch and so on.
2 times I simply bailed out and swam/floated for about 5 minutes.

But other then getting out, I know of no other answer.

1 Like

One more thing that might help is to switch from footpegs to a bulkhead foot rest. That can provide a lot more freedom of movement for your legs while you are paddling.


Hamstrings are probably tight. You can easily work on this (off kayak) with daily stretching.

On the water, stop and take short breaks to allow your body to get in slightly different positions. Maybe even time how many minutes or miles you will paddle and then you take that break whether or not you feel cramped. As you do the stretching routine, you might find that you need fewer breaks.

I used to paddle with someone who had the same kayak as you and was similar weight, about 6’. He liked the boat’s fit, but he did prefer a snug fit.

1 Like

Try rolling up a towel and wedging it under your thighs. It gives a little more support and can cut fatigue on the hip joints.

1 Like

I’m fairly close to your size, and have a P&H Virgo, so similar seat and what not. I also have comfort issues. I’m good for maybe 30-45 mins, but then my left left starts getting uncomfortable, and my left foot falls asleep. If I pull that leg up so my knee is bent and poking up from the cockpit, or stretch it out straight, it feels better. Then, I can paddle a bit more, but the discomfort creeps back.

Unfortunately, I think it’s just the seat/boat design. It may work fine for some body types, but not others. I also have a WS Tempest, and paddled a Tsunami before that. Those seats are just plain better and well designed. I can paddle my Tempest for a long time before I feel like I need to stretch, and even then, my foot isn’t falling asleep.

Good luck! I know someone who was having similar issues in another boat, and he put an inflatable paddle float under his thighs, which helped a bit.

1 Like

Why I gave up kayaks for long trips and went back to canoes.
Now a drift boat seems luxurious. I can get up and move around. I can bring lots of dogs.

1 Like

@E.T Thanks! Yeah, I had the same issues in the Tempest 170. The only one that was really comfortable was the Capella 160RM, with the performance seat. I suspect that’s close to what you have in your Virgo.

I have been working on some stretching and did a restorative yoga class last night. I suspect that the issue for me is overall lack of flexibility, so I’m going to work on that.

I thought about the paddle float or an inflatable camp pillow under my thighs, too, but I’m still a bit nervous to try that as it could impact my wet exits and I just had a scary one last time out.

1 Like