Kayak designs have come a long way from what they used to be a few centuries ago.
Modern-day kayak manufacturers now give equal priority to ergonomics as they do to function to ensure paddlers can enjoy maximum comfort, stability, and safety while they’re out on the water.
However, sometimes they still fall short of these ambitions and you end up with a kayak seat that doesn’t offer proper support and leaves you in a world of pain after a few hours on the water.
You don’t have to learn to live with uncomfortable kayak seats, nor do you have to go running to buy a new seat just yet. In this article, I will walk you through some steps you can take to make a kayak seat more comfortable and enjoy pain-free paddling trips.
I’ll also answer some pertinent questions you might have about kayak seat positioning and upgrading your kayak seat.
Photo by Simon Bobsien
- Why should you upgrade your kayak seat?
- Proven ways to make your kayak seat more comfortable
- What is the most comfortable kayak seat?
- Factors to consider when upgrading your kayak seat
- Can you use stadium seats in a kayak?
- How should your legs sit in a kayak?
- Should a heavier person sit in front or the back of a kayak?
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The quality of your kayak seat will greatly influence the quality of your kayaking experience. If your seat is broken down or uncomfortable it can compromise your stability and balance on the water, putting you more at risk of getting into an accident or toppling over.
Here are some of the reasons why it’s worth it to make your kayak seats more comfortable or purchase a new kayak seat if your current one has undergone significant wear and tear.
- A comfortable seat will allow you to paddle for longer without tiring easily.
- It will improve your well-being and the health of your muscles by reducing or even eliminating body pains, especially in your back and butt.
- It will add an extra layer of safety to your outdoor activities and enhance your paddling skills.
Here are some strategies you can use to remedy the discomfort you’re experiencing in your kayak seat and pave the way for more enjoyable and fun float trips:
Cushioning your kayak seat, especially if you’re using a hardshell model, can offer you adequate lower back support and increase your comfort level in your kayak. Orthopedic memory foam seat cushions are some of the best seat pads you can find in the market.
What makes orthopedic memory foam cushions ideal is their ability to contort their forms to suit your body shape and posture, so you’ll always have adequate support. Most models also feature space to accommodate the coccyx, which allows for better relaxation when using your kayak seat.
Not only are orthopedic memory foam pads incredibly comfortable, they’re also simple to install and can fit on top of your current kayak seat seamlessly.
Gel pads have a gelatinous substance inside them that moves around the seat based on how you position yourself to provide your back with the cushioning and comfort it needs to withstand long paddles without suffering cramps, stiffness, and smarting.
Another great comfortable cushioning option that you can outfit your kayak seat with is thin minicell foams. Unlike basic foams, thin minicells don’t mess with your center of gravity and won’t cause you to change your paddling style significantly.
Padding your seats with gel pads or thin minicell foams will get rid of the pressure that paddling places on your butt and hips, and prevent it from traveling to your back, resulting in a pleasurable kayaking journey.
Photo by Jeffrey Eisen
If you don’t want to go through any extra fuss to make your kayak seat comfortable, you can just grab any basic foam you have lying around and use it to cover your kayak seat.
Foams are soft and flexible so you can easily shape and cut them to fit on any kind of kayak seat. Alternatively, you can grab a pillow and use that as a seat cushion instead.
Either way, your back, and legs will thank you. You don’t have to worry about your foam or pillow getting wet and ruined because you can just dry them after you get back on land and they’ll be ready to use again.
However, if you don’t like the idea of sitting on wet foam or pillows, you can get waterproof covers to keep them dry at all times.
Most modern kayak seats are designed to be adjustable so a simple way to improve your sitting experience is to adjust the backrest.
To do this, simply sit in or on your kayak and stretch out your feet to the length you prefer, then tilt your seat far back until it feels like the angle of a ramp or until your back and buttocks form a 90° angle when you’re seated.
This way you have more room to lean back comfortably and give the rest of your body a good stretch. You can take things a step further by purchasing back pads to eliminate discomfort in your lumbar area.
Back pads are a special kind of cushion that are created to fit the curvature and contours of your back to minimize strain and protect you from pain and problems in your lower back.
Most back cushions are easy to set up and can work with all types of kayak seats. If you don’t want to spend money on a lumbar cushion, you can make one by cutting up pool noodles and attaching them to your seat.
Photo by Soontorn B
The reason you are uncomfortable in your kayak seat could be that your kayak comes with a seat pan that is too short so it’s not doing much to relieve the pressure on your thighs. Inflatable thigh supports are a quick and effective solution for this situation.
They’re incredibly lightweight and easy to adjust and they only cost a few dollars, which is a small price to pay for extra comfort and zero leg cramps while paddling.
A lot of kayak seats are kept low by default because the manufacturer leaves it up to you to adjust the height to the position that works better for you.
The higher your kayak seat is, the greater the support it will offer so consider increasing the height of your kayak seat to make it more comfortable.
Another benefit of raising your kayak seat beyond improving comfort and ease of paddling is that you’ll have a bit more storage space underneath to store your kayaking gear.
Don’t go overboard with the adjustments because raising a seat too high can tamper with the stability of your boat especially if you’re kayaking in an area with high sea waves.
You probably won’t find the right seat height that offers perfect balance and support with the first adjustment you make. You may have to tinker with it a few times before achieving your desired result.
Photo by Sangeet Rao
If you’ve tried all the above options and you’re still not as comfortable as you’d like, it might be time to just throw out your current kayak seat and buy a high-back kayak seat.
High back seats provide better support for your lumbar, neck, and head thanks to their higher backrests. They also maintain a flat sitting position which helps to minimize hemorrhoids, tailbone pressure, and feelings of numbness in your lower body.
Anglers and paddlers who enjoy journeying to faraway kayaking destinations will find high-back kayak seats to be very convenient for their pastimes.
This is because the seats keep you in a position where you have a better vantage point and can easily take in and respond to your surroundings.
Photo by Thilo Lehnert
While there are many brands and types of kayak seats out there to suit all kinds of budgets and preferences, I particularly love the Ocean Kayak Comfort Plus Seat Back.
It’s one of the most comfortable kayak seats you will ever have the pleasure of using. The Ocean Kayak Comfort Plus seat is designed to offer ample lumbar support so you can go kayak camping or spend a full day on the water without suffering back pains.
The seat comes with adjustable straps to help you set it up according to the level of comfort you desire and brass clips for attaching it to your kayak. It also features an additional layer of padding, giving you more cushioning than you’d get from traditional kayak seats.
Ocean Kayak’s Comfort Plus Seat Back is made with breathable nylon fabric to ensure you stay cool and dry. The mounting straps on this kayak seat can be adjusted to make the seat fit your body type and sit snugly on your kayak.
If you’d like to explore more options, check out this list of best kayak seats for comfort.
When all else fails, the best way to make your kayak seat more comfortable is to upgrade to a new one that has all you’re looking for. Here are the most important criteria to keep in mind when shopping around for a kayak seat:
Photo by Ali Kazal
There’s no point in upgrading your kayak seat if you’re still not getting one that will give the kind of comfort and proper back support you need to spend as much time as you want on the water without regrets.
Picking a chair with a high backrest will help ease pressure from your spine and enable you to sit in a more natural position that won’t wreak havoc on your back.
Padding is a crucial element that will determine how comfortable a kayak seat will be. You don’t want excess padding but at the same time, you want padding that is adequate and strategically placed to support weight transfer while paddling.
The kayak seat has to be firm enough to provide support and balance, and flexible enough to allow for ergonomic motion.
There are different types of kayak seats and they offer different levels of comfort. The one you settle for will come down to the type of kayak you own, the type of paddling activities you engage in, and personal preference.
Here are the different kayak seat styles available on the market:
Although inflatable seats are usually sold or paired with inflatable kayaks, you can also install them on your hardshell kayaks if you like. Inflatable seats handle well in water, are very durable, easy to store, and much cheaper than traditional kayak seats.
Photo by Robert Forever Ago
Although it says universal in the name, it doesn’t automatically mean this kayak seat will work with all kinds of kayaks. Universal kayaks have a fold-flat seat style with the base and back connected like a clamshell.
They come with adjustable straps that support the backrest and can be tightened or loosened to make the seat angle more comfortable for you.
As the name implies, these seats are as basic as it gets. They usually consist of padded cushions that sit on or in your kayak to make you more comfortable than you would be sitting on the hard hull of your kayak.
Also known as the “tall back kayak seat” and “deck chair set up”, the lawn chair kayak feels like a regular chair in terms of the support it offers. It has a high back and provides elevated seating, which makes it ideal for kayakers with mobility issues like back pain and bad knees.
Lawn chair kayak seats are typically installed on fishing kayaks and most models allow you to raise or lower the seat height as you like to give you the perfect range while angling.
Photo by Jaime Reimer
Kayak seats are made from different materials and combinations of materials, and each one has something different to offer. Ideally, you want to choose a kayak seat that’s not only comfortable but also designed to handle harsh elements like salt water, winds, and frequent sun exposure.
The most popular materials used to make kayak seats are:
- EVA foam
- Molded foam
- Gel padding
- Nylon and polyester
The more breathable the material used in making the kayak seat is, the better and more comfortable it will be.
You want a kayak seat that wicks and evaporates moisture quickly so you don’t have to deal with the discomfort of sitting on a wet seat, risking overheating, blisters, and heat rash.
Photo by Olena Bohovyk
Look for a kayak seat that is very simple to use and can be set up in just a few minutes. Ideally, it should be versatile enough to fit different types of kayaks and paddling techniques so you won’t be forced to buy a new seat whenever you upgrade your kayak or kayaking skills.
The seat shape also needs to go with your physical frame. The rule of thumb is the backrest’s center should be high enough to support your lumbar area and the lower side flanks should add stability and allow free movement of your torso while paddling.
Also, the seat’s base should be wide enough to cover your buttocks area but also shallow enough not to offer support below the knee.
Yes, there’s nothing stopping you from using stadium seats in your kayak. A lot of paddlers use them because of the support and comfort they offer.
You just have to buy a stadium seat with specifications that can fit in your kayak and install it on your boat with tie-down straps or bungee cords. You can even find stadium seat models that are specially designed for use in kayaks.
Photo by Harrison Fitts
Once you’re sitting on or in your kayak with your back resting against the kayak seat, position the balls of your feet on the foot pegs. The foot pegs should be set in a way that allows your legs to remain straight along the bottom of the kayak.
You want your toes to be pointed outward and your heels angled toward the middle of the kayak. This will enable you to apply pressure to the thigh braces using your legs.
You’ll notice a little steady pressure between your legs and the thigh braces, as well as between your feet and the foot pegs. To achieve the correct leg positioning, you may have to get out of your kayak and adjust the foot pegs by moving them forward or backward.
If you’re paddling in normal environmental conditions, it’s better to have the heavier person sit at the back of the kayak. However, if you’re exploring an area with heavy winds, it will make more sense to have the heavier person upfront.
There you have it, all the ways you can make your kayak seats more comfortable so you longer have to cut your trips short or make peace with being in pain after every kayaking session.
If you want to go on longer trips or just get a lot more pleasure from whatever time you spend on the water, consider using one or more of the strategies discussed in this article. We enjoy it more when we are in a comfortable space.