I have just started using FitBit. I am not much of a runner but I do kayak a lot. I was just curious whether anyone has experience using it while paddling and whether it clock each paddle stroke as a step.

  • I had a feeling this question would invite discussion rather than someone answering it by providing an algorithm. The 'answer' below confirms those worries. Since I can't find an adequate reason to close this, and the meta seems to see these tech-support questions fit for this site, -1.
    – user8119
    Jul 25, 2014 at 12:42
  • @LarissaGodzilla - "Too broad" and/or "opinion based". IIRC, I think this was already closed and reopened.
    – JohnP
    Jul 25, 2014 at 14:48
  • How is this opinion-based? I think you confuse opinion with anectodial facts. They are perhaps not as good as a well understood fact, perhaps coming from an authorative source such as the manufacturers web site, bit its certainly better than nothing.
    – vidstige
    Jul 27, 2014 at 6:51
  • Probably not that useful but the rival Adidas miCoach / speed_cell combo has a Kayaking option / formula.
    – arober11
    May 23, 2015 at 20:48

7 Answers 7


I just got back from kayaking, while wearing my "One" Fitbit - in three different positions. First I velcroed it to my wrist, and counted 100 paddle strokes. I counted L-R-L-R as 1-2-3-4. The Fitbit reported 82 steps. I repeated it, and got 90 steps. Next I velcroed it to my upper arm, just above my elbow - a bit uncomfortable. I got 150 steps. Next I put it in my shirt breast pocket. I got 27 steps. So the wrist seems to be the most accurate.


Based on the FitBit website, it appears that the device goes to great lengths to solely detect steps, rather than other motion:

Fitbit trackers have a finely tuned algorithm for step counting. The algorithm is designed to look for motion patterns most indicative of people walking. One condition for a motion pattern to be recognized as a step is the motion must be large enough.

They website makes mention of a 3-axis accelerometer used for detection - this tool, in conjunction with the "finely tuned algorithm", make it unlikely that kayaking will register as steps, especially where the kayaking motion is "smaller" than most steps. It appears that this is the case, as vidstige documented in his answer.

If you're looking to have the kayaking register, a normal pedometer, with a 1-axis accelerometer, would likely work better, as it will log most motion rather than calculating whether that motion was a step.

  • You reference it being "smaller" than a step. My wife is 4'9", her steps are about the same size as I would make for a kayak sweep. Also, it's based on accelerometers, so even as the page you reference notes, riding on a bumpy road could be enough to trigger it, or walking on a plush carpet to not register.
    – JohnP
    Jul 25, 2014 at 14:44
  • @JohnP Your wives steps may be small; that does not change the fact that the kayaking motion is smaller than a normal step. The device is tuned to detect steps, and kayaking is not a step. This device will not handle kayaking well in terms of detection; if you'd like I can give you an outline of how the algorithm likely works, but that's really beyond scope. None of what you mentioned in your comment warrants a downvote. Jul 25, 2014 at 14:57
  • The device is tuned to detect acceleration and stop motion. Hence how a bumpy road will register and carpet may not. Also, the website states that it can be used for other activities, it just may lose some accuracy. I do see your point, but the vote can't be retracted unless you edit. :p
    – JohnP
    Jul 25, 2014 at 15:08
  • @JohnP I'm now unclear as to what you view as lacking in my answer. The bumpy road may register, this will occur if the acceleration from the run resembles that of a step. The whole idea of this device and its "3-axis accelerometer" is to accurately detect steps, as such, my answer pointed out that it's unlikely to work well for kayaking. Another user confirmed this. Where do you find issue? Jul 25, 2014 at 15:14
  • 1
    If you read my entire comment, I agreed with you but can't retract until edited.
    – JohnP
    Jul 25, 2014 at 15:15

I just got back from a 10k kayak session, but my Fitbit logged is as ~5k. It was in a calm lake with hardly any wind any obviously no water streams. I had the Fitbit on my non-dominant hand as per usual.

I don't know how they log it exactly, but it does not seem to have any explicit kayaking support.

  • 4
    Seeing how you "don't know" how your ~5k were calculated, this might have been better put as a comment.
    – user8119
    Jul 25, 2014 at 12:37
  • How were you "kayaking" for that 10k? Were you actually floating down a river? Where was the fitbit located?
    – JohnP
    Jul 25, 2014 at 14:47

The distance on Fitbit is calculated from the steps it measured and during kayaking this is only a small amount compared to paddling efforts.


I just went out for a kayak with a fitbit surge on. It said that my 24.6km kayak was only 6.2km. When I uploaded the data it had the route correct but the distance was well off. I don't know how it can be so wrong when the PGS was running (which it was before I started) and it had the route right. FYI I checked the actual distance on Google earth to determine the 24.6km. There was no problem with the GPS signal all day and the batteries were good.


I have been kayaking quite a bit with my Fitbit flex. No it is not accurate as far as actual steps since obviously paddling isn't walking. I don't think there's a way around it unless Fitbit makes an option for it. But, it's still nice to use the activity tracker to see where you went. Also, the question about mileage- What I think is that even though it's tracking the entire route as say 10 miles, it's only tracking the actual distance you paddled and not the part where you are drifting. It's like going on a 10 mile walking trip but floating for half of it. I apologize if my answer is in the wrong place or format. I'm not experienced in this forum and was looking for kayaking/Fitbit tips myself and thought maybe my input would help someone.


Kayaking is a good exercise for HIIT. Try doing 10 intervals of 1 minute, 30 seconds on, 1 minute off to get the good, telomere-building exercise and don't worry about the number of steps is my advice.

  • This study's conclusion would seem to contradict the notion that long term, high intensity training has a beneficial effect. In any case, it is an excellent review of some of the more recent literature on exercise and telomere length.
    – JohnP
    Apr 23, 2017 at 22:56

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