Plus-Size Kayaking Gear Guide

Everything you need to know about kayaking in a fat body.

by Sam Ortiz

Water sports like white water rafting, kayaking, stand paddle boarding and more can be so fun and very plus-size friendly with the right gear! So if you’ve decided to take the plunge (pun intended) and get out on the water, here’s everything you need to know about different types of boats, how to stay safe, and what to wear for plus-size kayaking (and other sports):

What to Know About Weight Ratings

It’s not necessarily a deal breaker if a kayak is rated for below your weight. Being above the weight limit doesn’t mean you’ll sink the boat. Most of the time it will just sit lower in the water, require a bit more energy to move, and be easier to tip.

I have used many boats rated below my weight. However, safety wise, I don’t go far, go in rough waters, or go by myself with a boat that’s rated below my weight. I always make sure to be wearing a PFD (life jacket) properly.

Types of Kayaks

So, first things first: the boats. There are a number of different styles of kayaks. Some are more plus-size friendly than others! Choose the style that best works for your body and your environment.

Sit In Kayak – Sea Kayak

A sea kayak, or touring kayak, has a smaller opening and comes equipped with pedals and a rudder for steering. Like their name suggests, these boats are made for travel through choppy conditions and in large bodies of water, like the ocean. Because of this, their narrow opening is designed intentionally and is often paired with a spray skirt to keep the boat from taking on water.

These are perhaps the least plus-size friendly type of kayak. As a person who typically fits into women’s size 3x/24W, I’ve been able to fit into some of these kayaks, but not all. For the ones I have been able to get into, a significant amount of maneuvering was required to get both in and out. 

Sit in Kayak – Recreation Kayak

A recreational kayak is a different style of sit-in kayak, with a different purpose. Designed for activities like fishing in mind, these come with storage space similar to a sea kayak, but don’t have the steering pedals and rudder.

In addition, recreational kayaks typically have a much larger cockpit opening, and are typically wider. This makes it both more easy to get in and out of, and more friendly for different body types.

Sit On Top / Open Top Kayaks

These are boats with no enclosure whatsoever. Since there’s no casing, I would consider these one of the most plus-size friendly options! This is by far the most comfortable type of kayak for me and one of the most available options when renting a kayak. These are meant for mostly calmer water, like lakes, slow flowing rivers, and protected inlets.

Inflatable Boats and Kayaks

If you’re interested in making a purchase, inflatable boats and kayaks are a great budget friendly option that typically have higher weight ratings. These come in a variety of models, including both sit in and sit on options. They’re also much more portable and take up less storage space!

The trade off for inflatables is that they are harder to steer and are not appropriate for rougher waters. Pumping up these boats is also necessary before each use.

PDFs/Safety Equipment

Personal flotation devices (PFDs), also known as “life jackets,” are an important component of many water sports including kayaking. Even for those who can swim or float, wearing a PFD is still highly recommended in places where water temperatures are cool and the risk of hypothermia is higher.

PFDs are sometimes rated “one size fits most” and nearly all PFDs come with straps for adjustable sizing. Unfortunately, this type of size rating is inconsistent and doesn’t take into account the wide variety of body shapes and sizes that exist.

As someone who wears women’s plus-sizing in 3x and 24W, I have been able to fit into all of the “universal” and “one size fits most” PFDs that I’ve encountered. However, other body shapes and sizes might not have this same experience.

If you’re interested in purchasing your own, NRS is one of the most widely known PFD manufacturers. They make a variety of shapes and styles to choose from and are sold at many outdoor retailers. I own NRS’s Vista PFD in XL/XXL, which extends up to 56 inches in the chest and fits very comfortably.

If you’re looking for a more size inclusive option, the Hyperlite Wake Vest in size 5x extends up to 68 inches around the chest.

On Renting Gear

Renting kayaks is an awesome way to test out different types of boats! Kayak rentals are often conveniently situated near the water and will have all the gear you’ll need to get started. However, rental shops and what they carry vary widely. Not all of them will have options that are plus-size friendly. My best tip for trying new gear is to call ahead. 

Calling ahead is relatively anonymous and makes it easier to ask questions and make requests that you may not feel comfortable making in person. Before trying any new sport, shopping at any store for equipment, or going on any guided trip I always call ahead to ask about the sizing of the gear that they have available.

Here are the types of questions I will ask when calling ahead:

  • What is the weight limit of the water crafts you have available?
  • What kind of safety gear is required to participate? Dry suits? Wet suits? Or just a PFD?
  • Asking for exact sizing of these items also helps, as often PFDs (personal flotation devices) are listed as ‘one size fits most’… which is not a helpful measurement!
  • If you’re trying a sit-in kayak, I suggest asking for exact measurements for the opening (and even the spray skirt, in a sea kayak) to help determine if it will be safe and comfortable for you.

This tip may seem simple, but it has made a huge difference when trying something new where gear is involved!


All photos courtesy of Sam Ortiz.

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