The tilt angle theta tilt of the hydrocarbon chains has been determined for fully hydrated gel phase of a series of saturated lecithins. Oriented samples were prepared on glass substrates and hydrated with supersaturated water vapor. Evidence for full hydration was the same intensity pattern of the low angle lamellar peaks and the same lamellar repeat D as unoriented multilamellar vesicles. Tilting the sample permitted observation of all the wide angle arcs necessary to verify the theoretical diffraction pattern corresponding to tilting of the chains towards nearest neighbors. The length of the scattering unit corresponds to two hydrocarbon chains, requiring each bilayer to scatter coherently rather than each monolayer. For DPPC, theta tilt was determined to be 32.0 +/- 0.5 degrees at 19 degrees C, slightly larger than previous direct determinations and considerably smaller than the value required by recent gravimetric measurements. This new value allows more accurate determinations of a variety of structural parameters, such as area per lipid molecule, A = 47.2 +/- 0.5 A2, and number of water molecules of hydration, nw = 11.8 +/- 0.7. As the chain length n of the lipids was increased from 16 to 20 carbons, the parameters A and nw remained constant, suggesting that the headgroup packing is at its excluded volume limit for this range. However, theta tilt increased by 3 degrees and the chain area Ac decreased by 0.5 A2. This behavior is explained in terms of a competition between a bulk free energy term and a finite or end effect term.