Our Best Tips for Large Kayakers, Kayak Anglers and Canoeists

Here at Bending Branches we’re passionate about getting people out on the water. All people—no matter their age, ethnicity, size or shape.

man fishing from a kayak

Fishing kayaks are designed to be super-stable, making them a great option for big folks

Kayaking, kayak fishing and canoeing are wonderful paddle sports for anyone who wants to devote themselves to learn. Like other sports, it takes the right gear and some education to get you going in the right direction.

If you’re a big, tall or heavy person, don’t let that stop you from joining us in this wonderful world of paddling!

General Fitness for All Paddlers

All paddlers will benefit from a baseline level of physical fitness. After all, kayaking and canoeing are active outdoor sports. You don’t have to train like a madman or madwoman, but things like muscle strength, flexibility and cardio fitness will all help to make every aspect of paddling easier and more fun:

  • Getting in and out of a recreational kayak involves leg and arm strength, plus some flexibility.
  • Getting into and out of a canoe involves balance, which is always easier when your legs and hips are strong.
  • Paddling, especially for a few hours at a time, involves your entire upper body—or it should if your technique is right. A strong core, shoulders and arms all help you paddle with less fatigue and more enjoyment.
  • Anglers, if you want to stand at times while you fish from your kayak, it’s much easier to get up and down if you’re strong.
  • You’re better able to get your boat up on your vehicle for transporting, and carry it to the water.
  • Being fit helps prevent “weekend warrior” injuries!

How to Choose the Right Size Recreational or Fishing Kayak

The key to choosing the right kayak—whether recreational or fishing—is the weight limit of the kayak. This is a stat every manufacturer lists for their boats along with things like length and width.

big man in a kayak with a big fish

(photo courtesy of @joshdolin_fishing)

A good guideline is to allow a 20-30% cushion between your own weight plus the weight of anything else you’ll have along (gear, a child, a dog) and the weight limit of the kayak. Say you’re 285 pounds. You’ll want a kayak with a weight limit of at least 342 pounds if you kayak without gear, or at least 378 pounds if you’ll have your 30-pound dog with you.

As a rule, the longer and wider a kayak is, the more stable it is. Sit-on-top kayaks designed for fishing are the most stable of all. And you don’t have to be an angler to buy a fishing kayak, of course. Another advantage of fishing kayaks is they often have high-low seat options. Many people find them more comfortable plus they’re easier to use if you want to stand up in your kayak at times.

If you’d like to try a sit-inside recreational kayak, look for one with an open cockpit that will allow you to get in and out easily. You also want to be sure it has enough leg room for you, and a comfortable seat.

Go to a local paddlesports retailer and have them put a few of their models down on the floor or the ground for you. Get inside and see what they’re like.

Your center of balance is at its lowest in a sit-inside kayak, then on the floor of a sit-on-top kayak. Sitting on the high-level in a fishing kayak puts your center of balance higher, but with a wide enough kayak that shouldn’t be an issue.

How to Choose the Right Size Canoe

Canoes are specifically designed to carry loads, so a canoe can work great for heavier people. Again, if you’re in the market to buy one be sure to look at the manufacturer specs, especially for weight limit and width.

two men fishing from a canoe

Netting for whitefish in the Boundary Waters in a canoe—the more you paddle, the more comfortable it’ll get (photo courtesy of Katy Lesiak)

The blog For Big and Heavy People has a very helpful article on choosing a solo canoe. Because your center of balance is higher in a canoe, choosing one with the right width is important in order for it to be stable enough.

For those interested in canoeing solo, that article recommends choosing a tandem canoe that has the option of a solo seat in the middle. It lists other specific canoes for heavier people, too, including a folding option.

Another blog, That Big Blog, delivers several great tips from personal experience for canoeists who are large, including:

  • Get a canoe that has the option of lowering the seats, which enables you to lower your center of balance.
  • Buy some knee pads and canoe like the Canadians—on your knees. That lowers your center of balance even more.
  • “If you’re nervous about being able to balance, don’t be…your body adapts much faster than you’d think to canoeing.”
  • See the rest of the tips here…

What About the PFD?

Safety is always first in any paddle sport, and the most important safety item on the list is a Coast Guard-approved and well-fitting PFD (Personal Flotation Device, or life jacket).

Even if you decide not to own your own boat buying your own PFD is a great idea if you want to paddle regularly. Then you know it’ll fit comfortably for you no matter what situation you’re in: at a friend’s cabin, renting or going with an outfitter.

Is Renting or Outfitting an Option?

Renting or going through a touring company or outfitter may be a great idea, as long as they have boats that accommodate large people. Rather than assuming they will, call ahead and ask them what their options are for you.

many people in a big canoe on a mountain lake

Everyone should have the chance to get on the water! (photo courtesy of @liquidalaskatours)

This is a great idea if you’d like to try out different styles and sizes of kayak or canoe before you buy. There’s no better way to see if one will work for you than to spend an hour or two on the water with it.

If you’re brand new to kayaking or canoeing, we recommend you sign up for a local class to learn the basic techniques from a certified paddle instructor. That’ll go a long way into getting you comfortable in the boat and paddling in no time.

Let us help you choose your next paddle! Get in touch with our Wisconsin-based Customer Service Team today: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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