Essential Tips for Big, Tall and Heavy Kayakers and SUPers

We firmly believe that paddling is for everyone! Just as we want to see people of all ages and ethnicities out on the water, we want to see people of all sizes out on the water.

man on paddleboard

AB ProStaffer and angler, Chris Funk, enjoying this ultra-stable paddle board

It’s the most amazing feeling to float along in a kayak or on a paddle board. To see a sunset from the lake or river. To enjoy time on the water with your family or friends. No one should miss out who wants that experience.

Choose the Right Size Kayak or Paddleboard

These days, kayaks and paddleboards come in a ton of lengths and widths with so many options for ease of entry, stability, weight and comfort.

When you’re in the market to buy one, be sure to check out the specs of any boat you’re interested in. Manufacturers always include a weight limit along with the length and width of each boat they sell.

A good rule of thumb is to allow a 20%-30% buffer in total weight capacity that includes your own weight plus any gear you’ll have along (including a dog or child!).

For example, someone who weighs 300 pounds will want a boat that can support a total load of no less than 360 lbs with no gear, or 400 pounds with 40 pounds of gear. Anything less than that buffer percentage and you’ll start to compromise stability.

Kayaks and paddle boards that are longer and wider can always carry more weight than one that’s shorter and narrower.

(Plus-size women: Check out Plus Size Paddler, a UK-based personal blog that’s full of encouragement for women of all body sizes to get on the water.)

large man kayaking

AB ProStaffer and avid sea kayaker, William McCluskey (photo courtesy of Svein Sætre)

Be Sure the Kayak is Comfortable

Many reputable paddle shops will allow you to try a kayak before you buy. If nothing else, have them set a few models on the floor for you so you can see how much room you have, both to get in and out and to sit comfortably. Be sure the seat fits you and is comfortable.

A sit-on-top model may be a great option. Kayaks designed for fishing are especially stable due to their width and length. You can even stand up on many of them if that’s an attractive feature for you. There’s no climbing in and out on a sit-on-top, just getting on and off.

Here are several articles that include lists of suggested kayaks and SUP boards for big, tall and heavy folks:

Consider a Packraft

A packraft is another option to think about, especially if you love the idea of being able to roll it up into your backpack, stuff it in a closet for off-season storage or bring it along on a bike trip.

two packrafters on a river

Packrafts are designed to take on heavy loads (photo courtesy of @chrisbrinleerjr)

These inflatable wonders can weigh less than ten pounds but carry several hundred pounds of weight—quality ones, that is! The top manufacturers design their packrafts to be tough enough for backcountry trips, so we only recommend going with quality manufacturers.

Our friends at Alpacka Raft are a great example. Their Caribou model weighs just 5 pounds but has a 400-pound capacity. The Forager weighs 13 pounds and has a beefy 1,000-pound capacity. And there are several models in-between to choose from.

Have a PFD that Fits You

The most important safety item for any paddling sport is a Coast Guard-approved and well-fitting PFD (Personal Flotation Device), or life jacket.

Even if you don’t have your own boat, if you like kayaking and/or paddle boarding, your own PFD would be a very worthwhile investment. When you rent or go with an outfitter, then, you know you’ll have one that fits you well and is comfortable for you.

Lots of PFD models have zipped pockets, D-rings and other nice features for chapstick, sunglasses, maps and other items that are convenient to have on you for easy access.

(Plus-size Women: Here’s a comment thread from about plus-size women’s paddling apparel if you’ve found that frustrating to find.)

What About Rentals?

If you don’t have your own boat and gear there are plenty of rental and outfitter options out there.

couple in a kayak looking at a manatee

This couple on a tour with @adventurepaddletours is excited to see a manatee in the water

Rather than leave things to chance or assume anything, call ahead and ask about the types of boats they offer. Let them know if you’ll need extra leg room or a larger cockpit. Ask if they have sit-on-top kayak options if that’s what you prefer.

Find out how long, how wide and how stable their fleet is. Ask if they have plus-size PFDs available or if you should bring your own. Be sure they have a paddle that’s long enough if you’re very tall.

Fitness Suggestions for All Paddlers

Kayaking, canoeing, packrafting, stand-up paddle boarding—all of these wonderful paddlesports are just that: sports. They’re physically-demanding activities just like other outdoor sports like hiking, backpacking, biking and climbing.

As with any active outdoor endeavor, you’ll have the best results if you have at least a basic level of physical fitness. This is true for people of any size and weight.

Muscle strength in your legs and back will give you better balance. It’ll make it easier for you to get in and out of a kayak or packraft.

Muscle strength in your core and arms will help you paddle longer with less effort. It’ll make it easier for you to climb back on your paddle board from the water, if necessary. Cardio fitness enables you to work harder with less effort.

When you’re fit it’s easier for you to get your kayak on top of your vehicle for transporting, bring it to the water from your vehicle or inflate your inflatable paddle board with a manual pump.

Overall fitness just makes it all easier—and with less chance of injury. You don’t have to be training for the Olympics! But we recommend every paddler maintains a basic level of fitness year-round so you can enjoy your paddle adventures to the fullest extent.

Happy paddling!

Let our friendly Customer Service Team help you choose your next paddle! Contact them today at: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

More for you...