What size kayak should I be looking for?

I am starting to look at kayaks. This will be my first one, so I am a novice. I am 5’11" 145lbs with a 32" inseam.

Living in Northern LP Michigan I will use the boat about 90% of the time on lakes and protected Lake Michigan bays. About 8% along the shore line on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Doubt we would stray too far away from the shore line unless conditions are perfect. About 2% would be used in slow moving rivers.

Once I have a size range nailed down, I can start looking at local retailers.



14-16’ . You have many,many choices.

Go rent, sign up for kayak tour, class. That will give you seat time, expose you to kayaks.

I am not sure where you live, but Sleeping Bear is nice destination.


With Many Choices in this size range
I would test paddle as many as I can from vendors/rental liveries near you to find a comfortable boat that fits you well and that you can grow into through practice on your protected waters. This site’s user reviews were very helpful to me. Enjoy! R

Old Town Vapor
Old Town Vapor was recommended to us for such use…We bought two and are very pleased with them…only 10 ft long and very stable…price was right too.

We are in Traverse City, so only about 30 minutes away from sleeping bear.


– Last Updated: Mar-31-09 9:37 AM EST –

Your weight puts you in the "smaller paddler" catagory, but your height might make fit an issue in some of those boats. You'll have to try a lot of boats on. Since you're fairly thin, you may also have to pad out the cockpit to get a good fit. For me the most important addition was hip pads to keep from sliding around in the cockpit.

Don't focus only on length. A boat that's too wide, too deep, or with too much volume for you will be harder to control.

A couple of MI events:

Can you explian…
Padding out the boat?

And what boats do you think I should be looking at for “smaller paddlers”? What kind of cockpit dimensions should I look at?


– Last Updated: Mar-31-09 10:37 AM EST –

"Outfitting" a kayak means customizing it to fit your body to improve comfort and boat control. It's usually done by gluing in high-density Minicel foam, but there are a variety of options. Some newer boats will have adjustable braces but many do not. I found these removeable hip pads to be very useful:

Some examples of nice foam work:

If you read the boat manufacturer's literature you'll see that some models are designed for smaller paddlers. The lengths are similar to the larger-paddler models, but the beam, deck height, cockpit dimensions, and overall volume is reduced. A good example would be the Wilderness Systems Tempest line -- the 165, 170, and 180 only differ in length by 1.5 feet, but there's a huge difference in how they fit and feel. I'm comfortable in the 165 but the 170 feels uncomfortably big to me.

If you're not regularly carrying camping gear, don't get a high-volume boat. Many beginners buy boats to fit their dreams of a week-long expedition when 95% of their paddling is weekend day trips and a couple of hours on the lake after work. If you want to paddle the big lakes you should have a boat that can do that safely, but it doesn't have to have the volume of a freighter.

It's very hard to judge boat fit just by looking at dimensions on paper. There is no industry standard for measurements. You really have to test-sit as many as possible.

You really need a live person who
knows what they are doing helping you.Those are not the people at many outfitters, although you could get lucky and find one.

We don’t plan on taking any long trips…
so a lower volume boat would be good. Could you recommend a few low volume boats for smaller paddlers so I can research them?


– Last Updated: Mar-31-09 11:54 AM EST –

Just for reference, I'm 5'9, 160, used to live in MI, and have paddled on Superior and Michigan.

Don't know what your budget is, so I'll stick to poly boats. Used boats are a great way to start. Used composite boats can often be found for the price of new plastic ones.

Boat preference is very personal -- I've been at demo days with folks who have had completely opposite opinions on the same boat. My opinion is worth what you're paying for it. That's one reason to take a class or two before you buy -- you'll be safer, and better prepared to make a good decision.

For the big lakes you really want a boat with front and rear bulkheads and full perimeter deck lines for safety.

The smaller version of many models is identified as "LV" for "low volume", but there's no standard. Some manufacturers use the same hull and just modify the deck, while others scale down the whole boat.

A few kayaks I'd happily take on the big lakes:
Valley Avocet RM (my first kayak)
WS Tempest 165
WS Tsunami 135
P&H Capella RM 160
Necky Eliza
Venture Easky 15LV

There are many more that would probably work for you.

And if you like to build things....

demos & lessons
seat time is more valuable than any internet advice when it comes to choosing a boat. Kayak fit and feel is unique to every person.

In northern MI there s/be demos starting up in May.

Call liveries, outfitters, etc.

Since you are near Traverse City, the WMCKA club’s symposium is an easy ride away near Muskegon.

I second the excellent suggestion above to go to that one. Memorial Day weekend. I’m member & have gone to the last 2 symposia as well as other club weekends.

You’ll get a ton of sales-free info from other paddlers - not just about kayaks, but related gear, clothing, techniques, water safety, transport, etc. You can demo a great variety of top kayak designs & feel the differences on the water, where it counts. Kayaking can be gear intensive, esp. in northern waters. You can avoid expensive mistakes learning the ropes from people who kayak where you will - and maybe find some paddling partners as well.

If you already have a kayak by then, bring it down - make sure it has floatation in both ends (club rules)

If you want to rent a kayak, that can be arranged beforehad via Riverside Kayak Connection who will be at the event.

It’s beginner friendly. Every water class has a beginner level (as well as intermediate and advanced tracks) There is even a class track for what are called recreational boats if that is your pick.

The quality of instruction is very high. A couple dozen of the people instructing there will be doing the same at the GLSKS symposium in Grand Marais in July. That one is a tremendous event, but can be a little bewildering for a brand new paddler, and seakayaks 15 feet and up predominate.

WMCKA’s event would be a great intro, and fun - it’s the 20th anniversary, well run and as relaxed or focused as you want to be. Good people & a multitude of ways to learn.

paddling plans
I started out thinking like you are and planning to do very little big water paddling or long trips. That changed after my first trip to the Apostle Islands just one month after I started kayaking. I love the challenges of wilderness paddling, especially on Lake Superior. Three weeks ago I did my longest trip yet the 300 mile Everglades Challenge. Start kayaking and expect to see what you like evolve.

If you are looking at…

– Last Updated: Mar-31-09 3:54 PM EST –

..The Capella 160 add the new Scorpio LV to the list. It's the "newer" poly (plastic) version and based on the composite Cetus and has gotten very good reviews.

I have the 160 and love it. I'm 5'2" and it fits me like a glove. If you find the 160 too confining the 166 is the higher volume version.

Paddle and check out as many boats as you can before deciding. For what you want to do I'd say 15-17' would be a good length and you'll have a ton of options. You can go shorter but if you go too short you'll be buying a new boat soon, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. What happens is you start out in smaller bodies of water and soon "graduate" to more challenging stuff. I started off with a 10' 5" rec boat that I now use in smaller streams, ponds and rivers and use my Capella for larger bodies of water. I find that having at least two kayaks is a good thing becaues one boat doesn't seem to do it all, at least not well.

want more?
at my size (smaller than you) I’m always on a quest for low volume boats. My list, w. just a couple exceptions, is generated by what I have actually demo’d, or paddled for a trip or class.

You are in the general fit range for all of these. Try them on & watch for them used. A used fg boat in good condition is often kinder to your wallet than brand new plastic. There are always a good supply of used glass kayaks circulating in Michigan (as well as rotomould plastic and even some thermoformed plastic))

Avocet LV by Valley Canoe Products (VCP)

This one was new in 2008, hard to find used

Avocet (standard size still small paddler friendly)

VCP Pintail

VCP Anas Acuta

those last 2 are classic designs. can be had w. ocean cockpits (the smallest openings)

Current Designs (CD) Suka

CD Rumour

CD Willow

CD Caribou (slightly bigger version of the Suka)

IIRC the Caribou S is the smallest version

CD Slipstream (out of production)

Impex Mystic (@ 14 feet the shortest of this lot)

Impex Montauk

Impex Cat Force 3

NDK Romany LV

NDK Silhouette

Kajaksport Viking

From the world of thermoformed kayaks:

Eddyline Nighthawk 16

Hurricane Aquasports Tracer 165

Delta Sport in 15.5 or 17

Something unique:

Up your way near Frankenmuth are the Betsy Bay Kayaks.

Handmade low volume Greenland style, wood & resin, beautiful, a little pricier than fiberglass. Used ones do turn up. At your size the Valkyrie would be nice. There is a 15 foot model, the Idun, as well.

A couple of new boats this year:

Perception Tribute 14


Dagger Alchemy 14.0S


The Outfitters in Harbor Springs
I know this is about an hour to an hour and a half North of Traverse City but they are a great outfitter with a nice selection of boats and know-how. I bought an Eddyline Nighthawk 16 and Merlin LT from them a few years ago. You can demo the boats before you buy and they do a good job making sure you get a boat that meets your needs.

WS Tempest 165
Move the seat back 2 inches or have a dealer do it.

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