Kayaks for Big Guys: Ultimate Buying Guide

William Adams
 min read

Look through a kayak buying guide and you will be overwhelmed by thousands of different kayak designs and hundreds of kayak accessories. And in the niche of kayaks for big guys, there are also hundreds of options available.

kayaks for big guys ultimate buying guideThere are so many styles with subtle differences that it can be very confusing to make a choice.

But in reality it’s quite easy to limit the choices to a selection that is well suited to the recreational kayaker.

Below you can get inspired by our buying tips and the most important considerations when buying a high weight capacity kayak for big guys and plus-size individuals.

Kayaks in detail

Whitewater kayak

Whitewater kayaks are fairly small (10 – 12 feet) and relatively broad.

A whitewater kayak needs to enable you to make your way through waves and rapids. You should also need to be able to maneuver around obstacles easily.

Hence, the maneuverability of such a kayak is very important. Whitewater kayaks are a bit more rounded and also bulge a bit around the cockpit, making them more stable.

Sea kayak

On the other hand, sea kayaks are typically very narrow and much longer (15 – 18 feet) than whitewater kayaks.

The narrow hull of a sea kayak helps you to navigate in straighter lines and to cut through the waves more easily.

Sea kayaks are also characterized by a very angular profile.

For your information:

  • The bottom of a kayak is called the hull and this determines the tracking and turning capabilities of the vessel.
  • The top of a kayak is called the deck and it keeps the water out and helps overcoming large waves.

Parts of a kayak

Let’s delve deeper into some of a kayak’s parts.

Bow and stern

Beginning at the boat’s ends, you have the bow (front) and the stern (back). You will come across ‘grab loops’, which are particularly useful on fast flowing streams.

A grab loop gives you a solid connection to the kayak under challenging circumstances. For example, if you’re pulling someone to shore, you’re in a strong downstream, or if you’ve capsized.

The cockpit rim is on the deck, around the seating area. The flexible cord of the spray skirt fits around the edge and the skirt tapers to fit around your waist to keep the water out.

You’ll discover just how useful this is if you’re on strong, fast rapids or huge swells.

A foam pillar runs inside the length of the kayak, adding tightness to the deck, helping flotation. Bags filled with air fit on either side of the foam wall to offer additional flotation if you capsize.

Most kayaks have a storage area so you can bring lunch and a throw rope for rescues, amongst other things such as gear.

A sea kayak (also known as a touring kayak) is frequently rigged with different devices and allows the kayaker to bring equipment on longer trips.

Because the sea kayak is more often used as a touring boat, it has hatches that give you easy access to a lunch pack or spare clothes. These leak-proof and airtight compartments double up as flotation devices in case the kayak flips over.

The deck is adorned with flexible ropes to tie your rescue gadgets, navigation charts and other useful objects. Paddlers typically set up a deck-mounted compass for longer trips.

Sea and whitewater kayaks both sport a molded seat that should be firm with no independent movement, placed near the hull for stability and to maximize comfort.

Backrest, knee pads and foot braces

Some kayaks have a backrest to minimize back strain and ensure that the kayaker maintains the correct seated position. They also have thigh hooks or knee pads and foot braces (often called footpegs) that are usually adjustable.

Before setting off, make sure that everything is set to fit well so as to maintain good control and be as comfortable as possible for your trip.

Foam can easily be glued to the seat and thigh hooks to boost your fit and comfort.

Foot-operated rudders

A sea kayak usually has foot-operated rudders to help maneuver, particularly useful when going onshore or over weeds or logs. Rudders make it possible for a sea kayak to make huge, broad turns.

For your information: A sea kayak has about twice the turning radius of a vehicle.

On the other hand, whitewater kayaks do not require rudders because they are shorter and can turn more quickly and a single stroke can spin them in a circle!

What material is a kayak made of?

You may not have thought it matters, but the material that a kayak is made out of is another consideration to make.

Today, there are two raw materials to choose from: Composite and Plastic.

Plastic kayaks

Plastic used to manufacture kayaks is generally rotomolded plastic. This type of plastic is comparable to the big plastic trash cans in front of your home or the Tupperware containers in your freezer.

High temperatures are used to melt polyethylene powder in a rotating metal mold, which produces a complete hull and deck simultaneously.

Plastic kayaks are thick and scratch easily, but more importantly: They are practically indestructible.

Think of it like this: A wastebasket you’ve backed over in the driveway generally bounces back into shape. It’s the same for plastic kayaks.

Your very first kayak will probably be plastic, given that prices are reasonable and the boat is resilient. A perfect choice if you are looking for suitable kayaks for big guys.

Composite kayaks

When it comes to sea kayaking, about half the boats readily available are composite. They are more suited to hitting rocks without being damaged.

Composite boats are developed with several layers of material such as fiberglass, Kevlar, or carbon fiber material.

These composite kayaks are generically called fiberglass, or glass boats, regardless of which product is used.

Composite building and construction allow the manufacturer to mold vessels in more refined lines while resisting abrasions and having a stiffer hull than their plastic counterparts.

Composite kayaks made with resins take more time to produce than plastic ones, and considering that they are handcrafted, they can be double the price.

Yet, you can feel the difference in rigidity and stiffness during use! A composite kayak appears to glide faster and with far more ease, especially appealing to sea kayakers.

If you’re aiming for the best, you’ll probably find yourself choosing a kayak made of composite material.

Selecting a kayak to fit you

The most standard variables in boat and kayak style are length and width.

All things being equal, a longer, narrower kayak will be faster than its shorter and broader counterpart while the latter will turn more easily.

Examine the design characteristics

Remember that whitewater playboats are wider and shorter and have a blunt entry point at the water line.

At the same time, sea kayaks are typically longer and have a more refined entry point. The sea and the whitewater kayaks represent two extremes of the design spectrum.

Using this as a standard measure, 2 different sea kayaks or 2 different whitewater ones can be compared by checking the length-to-width ratio.

Look at the entry point at the water line at the extreme front of the boat. Is it sharp and knifelike? Or is the entry point at the water line blunt like a spoon?

The entry point at the water line indicates which kayak will be swifter and which will turn faster.

When examining boats and kayaks, stability is crucial. A kayak with the same width at all points will offer more stability than one that isn’t.

Given that the boat’s width at the waterline is a crucial variable, it’s rather difficult to judge.

A boat whose width is above the waterline has better stability than a boat with a lot of width below the waterline.

Stability of a kayak: Initial VS Secondary stability

The two terms describing the stability of a kayak are initial stability and secondary stability.

Initial stability of a kayak

Initial stability means that you feel safe when you rock the boat from side to side as if seated on a stable platform.

Kayaks with a lot of initial stability generally have a very hard chine or sharp corner on the hull if seen in cross-section.

Kayaks with hard chines have a great deal of preliminary stability and typically little secondary stability.

As you lean, the kayak is only stable up to a point, and it will unexpectedly pass the threshold of stability and tip over.

Secondary stability of a kayak

Kayaks with strong secondary stability tend to have a rounded hull.

These boats are not as stable when you board them but are less prone to tipping over, even when rolled far up on their sides.

You’ll usually look for additional stability if you’re aiming for basic recreation and particular usage, such as photography, fishing or if you are overweight!

For racing and other sporting kinds of kayaking, you’ll be better suited to a narrower kayak, which is more responsive but less steady.

Another thing to consider is the curvature from the bow to the stern (like a banana, also known as the rocker).

A kayak with a limited rocker will travel efficiently and faster but will be more difficult to maneuver and won’t turn as quickly. Hence, this is not something you want in rough weather or rapids.

Kayak use

Your choice will ultimately be influenced by the type of water and activity you’re looking for.

If you want to travel on whitewater, then you’ll want a whitewater kayak. If you’re looking for a flatwater experience, then you’re in the market for a sea kayak.

Tip: You can read more about the differences between the two disciplines in our article that deals with whitewater versus sea kayaking.

In turn, the 2 main categories mentioned will turn you to more choices:

Sea kayaks for big guys

Sea kayaking has a variety of specialized boats. The majority are a little more challenging to use if compared to whitewater kayaks.

Surf kayaks, typically called wave skis, are a cross between a surfboard and a kayak.

This is a pretty specialized kind of kayaking. Still, depending upon where you live and the sort of kayaking you’ll be doing, it might be just what you need.

A friendly warning: Surfers can be pretty territorial, so be tactful in unknown waters. Some regions offer spaces for newbies.

Sit-on-top kayaks are rapidly gaining popularity by amateurs for use on lakes and flatwater shorelines.

These kayaks have the wonderful advantage of stability. If you capsize, you don’t have to do a roll as you can just climb back on top.

You can find some sit-on-top models with on-deck storage designed for scuba and/or fishing gear. They’re ideal for some flatwater uses.

The downside is that they leave you more exposed to the elements.

Foldboats are collapsible kayaks that are easy to store and transport when folded into their duffel storage bags. They are slower and less resilient than other types, but if you’re tight on storage or traveling by plane or bus, then that’s your best bet.

Most sea kayaks are meant for day trips and weekends, with just an adequate storage area for light gear. Some kayaks are developed to allow more and heavier equipment for more extended trips.

Tandem kayaks

Tandem kayaks are available if you want to take someone with you. Less common are kayaks intended for three people but are still available.

A growing segment of the sea kayaking world enjoys the historical aspect of boat development and style.

The two significant design traditions are Aleut (Alaska) and Inuit (Greenland).

These wooden boats are lovely to look at as well as to use. Many craftsmen take pleasure in exchanging style and design plans and developing their own craft.

Whitewater kayaks for big guys

There are a variety of specially developed kayaks for whitewater, namely creek boats and polo boats.

Creek boats are constructed for running steep waterfalls and creeks. It might be unexpected, but creek boats are generally perfect beginner whitewater boats since they are steady, round, and somewhat forgiving.

Kayak polo boats share the very same blunt appearance as creek boats. These are the kayaker’s version of water polo, played in swimming pools and lakes.

Inflatable kayaks are a hybrid between river rafts and kayaks.

With such a forgiving and stable boat, a relatively inexperienced kayaker can quickly enjoy easy rapids. This is certainly an option if you are looking for stable kayaks for big guys.

When rafters seek little additional challenge, rafting companies often use them when water levels are lower than usual. Little storage area is needed for inflatable kayaks, which is a huge advantage.

Squirt boats are skinny kayaks with limited legroom. These relatively short (+/- 8 feet) vessels are developed for stunts such as airborne cartwheels or secret underwater moves under the water, such as being immersed several feet for as long as 30 seconds!

Racing kayaks are relatively specialized. The whitewater slalom boat is 13 feet long, relatively thin with smooth lines, and often made from fiberglass or Kevlar product.

They are meant to sustain a combination of speed and maneuverability, with a low profile that allows the kayak to sneak under slalom poles.

Downriver racing is done on whitewater with a decked-over kayak, constructed for maximum speed over a 4 to 5 mile river area. The goal is to find the straightest, fastest path through waves and boulder-laced rapids.

What sort of kayak do you need if you are plus-size?

Sea kayaks for big guys($850 – $2,700)

  • Expedition boat for longer journeys
  • Day trip exploring kayak
  • Sit-on-top kayak in warm climates
  • Tandem boat if paddling with kids or other people
  • Folding kayak if storage and transport are key
  • Aleut or Inuit style if you’re interested in history
  • Perfect if you are planning to kayak in the sea

Whitewater kayaks for big guys ($650 – $1,650)

  • Beginner’s playboat for everyday use
  • Slalom kayak or downriver kayak for competitions
  • Squirt boat for fringe maneuvers
  • Creek boat for going over waterfalls
  • Inflatable kayak if storage and transportation are important
  • Polo boat for primary use in pool or ponds

Ensure you select the correct size when looking for kayaks for big guys

When you’ve decided which kayak you want, you’ll need to consider how well a fit it is for you.

Luckily, kayaks can be found in numerous sizes.

In the sport’s earlier days, kayaks were typically developed for huge, muscular guys and weren’t always a good fit. Today, the ergonomics of the kayak equipment have improved considerably.

Now there are kayaks especially created for smaller people and children. And also kayaks for big guys are available.

The container seat of most kayaks is fitted to size, most notably somebody’s bottom. While that bottom probably isn’t the same shape as yours!

If the seat has a sufficient forward angle, it should encourage you to maintain an upright position rather than allowing you to slouch. To discover your perfect fit, find a comfy position on the floor.

You should also pay attention to the size of your paddle! Read all the details in our article on how to pick a quality paddle.

Which posture should you adopt when kayaking?

The kayak sitting position is not natural for most of us, but you can try out the following tips in order to adopt a better posture:

  • Wear a comfy, loose set of trousers, sit on the floor with your feet right out in front of you.
  • Lift your knees up and out, about a foot and a half (18 inches) apart, and with your heels touching and your big toes a foot apart.
  • Place your hand on your lower back and ensure that your back is perpendicular to the flooring. Your back ought to be straight, your chin up, and your chest forward.

This is the optimum posture for successful kayaking. If this position is uncomfortable for you, it probably means that your hamstrings are too tight.

Try some flexibility exercises to extend your hamstrings, so you’ll be comfortable in the kayak.

About William Adams

I’m an engineer and a happy plus-size individual myself. I love to blog online if I can have a positive impact on the lives of others. I help other plus-size people with in-depth product guides to make shopping for products and services less stressful in their busy lives. Read More