Complete guide to burning calories with kayaking! (and its other health benefits)

Image of a kayaker paddling through rapids
Photo by roya ann miller / Unsplash

We all know that exercise is important for our health, but sometimes it can be hard to find the motivation to get up and move. That’s where kayaking comes in! Not only is it a great workout, but it’s also a lot of fun.

I bet you're here because you are looking for a fun and exciting way to lose weight and burn calories, or perhaps, you are wondering how kayaking builds muscle, or maybe you are just curious about the overall health benefits of kayaking.

Well, look no further! In this article, I am hoping that you will learn a lot about how kayaking can impact your health and some tips for getting the most out of this sport. But first, here's a quick summary.

Someone with an average height and weight can expect to burn about 400 calories per hour of kayaking with moderate effort. Of course, how many calories you burn while kayaking depends on a few factors, including your weight, your gender, how vigorously you paddle, and how long you paddle for.
Table of contents

Here is a quick lookup table to determine how many calories you can expect per hour to burn based on your weight and how much effort you put in. While these numbers are merely estimates, I hope that it gives you a good idea as to what you can expect from kayaking.

Estimate of calories burned per hour of kayaking based on your weight

Weight\Effort Low Effort Moderate Effort High Effort
120 143 286 429
130 155 310 464
140 167 333 500
150 179 357 536
160 190 381 571
170 202 405 607
180 214 429 643
190 226 452 679
200 238 476 714
210 250 500 750
220 262 524 786
  • Low Effort - Leisure kayaking on calm water (2.5 MET)
  • Moderate Effort - Actively paddling on calm water (5 MET)
  • High Effort - Actively paddling on rough water (7.5 MET)

*Note: Actively is defined as 1.5 meters per second.

How are calories calculated for kayaking?

Since kayaking is an activity that has so many different factors, it can be hard to find a uniform way to accurately calculate calories for everyone. Luckily, there are systems that do a good job at estimating how many calories you can expect to burn. One such system is the MET.

MET (which stands for Metabolic Equivalent) is the ratio of the rate at which a person expends energy, relative to the mass of that person while performing some specific physical activity compared to a reference. This allows us to quantify the amount of energy that is being expended for an activity, in our case: kayaking!

In simple terms, a MET of 1 means that your body is idling and not doing any physical activity. A MET of 5 means that you are doing 5 times more work than a MET of 1.

According to the Compendium of Physical Activities (an aggregation of many sports medicine journals), kayaking has a MET of 5. [source]

With the MET, we can now calculate an estimate of how many calories you can expect to burn while kayaking. In order to do that you can use the below formula.

Calories burned per hour of kayaking = 60 * (MET * 3.5 * body weight in kg) / 200

Quick example: Someone who is 160 lbs can expect to burn about 381 calories per hour. Here is the calculation:

60 * (5 * 3.5 * 72.5 kg) / 200 = 380.6

Smart Watch

If you want more precision and willing to get more hands-on, then I suggest investing in a smart fitness watch that can better calculate calories burned.

While this may set you back a couple of hundred dollars, some watches can provide really accurate data using built-in tools like the accelerometer and heart-rate sensor. This will give you a lot more accurate detail into how many calories you are actually burning when out for a paddle.

Is kayaking a good exercise?

Not only is kayaking a great way to get some fresh air and Vitamin D, but it’s also a fantastic exercise. Paddling burns calories, strengthens your core, and gives your arms and legs a great workout.

Kayaking is a great way to get some exercise while enjoying the outdoors. It is a low-impact activity that is easy on the joints, and it is also a great way to build upper body strength. Kayaking is also great for cardio, and it can help to improve your balance and coordination.

What affects calorie burn in kayaking?

Calories are the units of energy that we use to fuel our bodies. When we eat and drink, we take in calories. Our bodies use these calories for everything from breathing to running to thinking. When we use more calories than we take in, our bodies have to work harder to make up the difference. This is how we lose weight.

So how does kayaking help with this?

Kayaking is a great exercise that uses many of the muscles in your body and increases your heart rate, making it a great activity for calorie burning and fat loss.

Factors that affect how many calories your burn include, how calm the water you're kayaking in is, how hard and fast you paddle as well as what equipment you are using.

Kayakistes à l’entraînement sur la Marne.
Photo by Pascal Bernardon / Unsplash

Is kayaking cardio?

Cardio, or aerobic exercise, is any type of activity that gets your heart rate up and keeps it up for an extended period of time.

While kayaking is more of a strength and endurance exercise, when you paddle, your heart rate increases and you start to breathe harder. This happens because your body is working to move the boat forward.

Your arms and legs are also working hard to keep you balanced and moving through the water.

All of this physical activity means that kayaking is an excellent way to get your heart pumping and your blood flowing.

So yes, kayaking is most definitely a cardio activity and a great one if you are looking to get outside more and want something with a small joint impact.

Is kayaking good for fat loss?

As mentioned above, kayaking is a great cardio exercise that will get your heart pumping and burn lots of energy. Because of this, kayaking is great for burning fat!

As long as you are able to keep your input calories low and maximize your time spent exercising (such as kayaking) then you should be burning fat in no time.

On average, you can expect a 155-pound human with a moderate effort to burn around 380 calories per hour just kayaking. Now, of course, many factors play into this (which we go into more detail with below) but with only a few hours of kayaking, you will start to show results on the scale!

Does kayaking build muscle and strength?

Of course! Kayaking is a great way to get a full-body workout, as it works all of the major muscle groups.

The resistance of the water and the paddling motion helps to work the muscles of the arms, and also the legs and core to a lesser extent.

Everyone remembers how tired and how sore their arms were after their first time out in a kayak. This is muscle growth! Working these muscles over and over again is a great way to build more strength. You'll notice that every time you go kayaking, it gets easier and you are able to push yourself beyond your limits.

Photo by Brandon McDonald / Unsplash

What are the other health benefits of kayaking?

While we looked at how kayaking can directly benefit your health with fitness, there are still some lesser ways that kayaking can help!

Vitamin D

Firstly, kayaking is a great way to get outdoors and absorb lots of vitamin D. This can have great and important health benefits such as absorbing calcium and phosphorus in your body, facilitating normal immune system function, and generally improving your mood. [source]

Reduce Stress

Kayaking is a great way to reduce stress! It combines deep breathing with gentle exercise and being surrounded by nature, which all help to clear your mind and relax you.

Many kayakers find that calm waters are soothing to hear and the calming effect of the sound of the water combined with the deep breathing helps to bring them back to their center. This relaxation technique is used to effectively reduce levels of stress and anxiety. In combination with the natural scenery, you will soon find your troubles melting away.

De-stressing through kayaking is not only effective in a quality and easy way, it is becoming a popular way to rid your life of negative impacts or high levels of stress.


Kayaking is a low-impact activity meaning that it is easy on your joints. Unlike activities such as running or basketball, it does not require repetitive impact on your joints, which can lead to joint pain or injury. Kayaking is a gentle form of exercise that requires lots of energy while putting very minimal stress on your joints.

Low-impact exercises are a great way to preserve the long-term health of your joints while still getting a good workout and burning lots of calories. This type of exercise is perfect for people who are just starting to get in shape, or for people who are trying to avoid injury.

Photo by Frank Busch / Unsplash

Tips for burning more calories while kayaking

Paddle harder

While this may seem very obvious, paddling harder is one of the easiest ways to burn more calories. Asides from the benefits of kayaking faster and building more muscle, this will also increase your MET (see above) therefore increasing the rate at which you burn calories.

Based on the data in the table above, you can look to burn more than 100 more calories an hour. Of course, as we've seen, many factors play into this but this can be a great way to up your kayaking game.

Also, the longer you keep up the intensity the more your muscles build-up, and the easier it gets to paddle the next time you're out on the water!

Paddle for longer

Not looking for something high energy like paddling harder? Another great way to burn more calories while kayaking is simply just spending more time out in your boat. As long as you are out there moving, you will be burning lots of calories.

Every extra hour spent kayaking is a few hundred more calories burnt and gone from your system.

Be sure to wear lots of sunscreen though!

Find rougher water

If you're looking for a little more action, finding harsher tides can also be a good place to burn extra calories. This may come but just finding rough streams or by going white water rafting.

The rough water will force you to paddle harder when facing the current but also make you use your legs and core in order to stay balanced and not tip over. This level of exercise can easily increase your MET all the way up to 10!

That being said, this can be quite difficult for kayakers without much experience, and safety precautions should be taken.

Add more weight to your kayak

Lastly, while this is my least favorite option, some may find that adding more weight to their kayak is their preferred way of increasing calorie burn.

The extra weight forces you to put a lot more force into your strokes which in turn increases heart rate and stimulates muscle growth.


As they often say, losing weight starts in the kitchen and this is no exception.

Some of these tips are great for burning lots of calories, if you are looking to lose weight then keeping a healthy diet is necessary for this as well. There are many resources online that can help with this and it isn't really something that is kayaking specific so I will leave it to the experts to help you.

Eating healthy is a great way to stay energized for your next adventure!

With kayaking, you can enjoy the outdoors while also getting a great workout. It is a low-impact activity that can help you burn calories and improve your fitness. As we've seen, kayaking can be an amazing way to lose weight while also doing a sport that many love and enjoy!

So, if you are looking for a great way to burn some calories, Kayaking is a great option. Just remember to put in some effort and paddle hard, and you will see great results.