Gridded population distribution data are finding increasing use in a wide range of fields, including resource allocation, disease burden estimation and climate change impact assessment. Land cover information can be used in combination with detailed settlement extents to redistribute aggregated census counts to improve the accuracy of national-scale gridded population data. In East Africa, such analyses have been done using regional land cover data, thus restricting application of the approach to this region. If gridded population data are to be improved across Africa, an alternative, consistent and comparable source of land cover data is required. Here these analyses were repeated for Kenya using four continent-wide land cover datasets combined with detailed settlement extents and accuracies were assessed against detailed census data. The aim was to identify the large area land cover dataset that, combined with detailed settlement extents, produce the most accurate population distribution data. The effectiveness of the population distribution modelling procedures in the absence of high resolution census data was evaluated, as was the extrapolation ability of population densities between different regions. Results showed that the use of the GlobCover dataset refined with detailed settlement extents provided significantly more accurate gridded population data compared to the use of refined AVHRR-derived, MODIS-derived and GLC2000 land cover datasets. This study supports the hypothesis that land cover information is important for improving population distribution model accuracies, particularly in countries where only coarse resolution census data are available. Obtaining high resolution census data must however remain the priority. With its higher spatial resolution and its more recent data acquisition, the GlobCover dataset was found as the most valuable resource to use in combination with detailed settlement extents for the production of gridded population datasets across large areas.