How Hard Is It To Kayak Against Current? Tips For Kayaking Upstream

Fact Checked By James A Rockey | Post Updated On: November 26, 2022
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Kayaking against the current is quite challenging, especially for beginners, but it is not impossible. You will require a considerable amount of effort and paddling skills to push through. Before you decide to tackle the currents, be sure to have observed the water and know what you are getting yourself into.

Key Takeaways

  • Before kayaking against the current, you must have a clear idea about the river’s geography and how the water flows
  • You should also find out whether there are any waterfalls, gorges, or rapids on the revere
  • While kayaking against the current on the river, you should pick the correct type of kayak to handle the rapids
  • If you are kayaking upstream, then you should read the river’s speed and water condition

This article takes you through what you need to know before you try kayaking against the current. We also have some valuable tips that will be beneficial when you need to kayak upstream. Read on

What To Consider Before You Kayak Upstream

Kayak Upstream

1. The River’s System, Including Its Features And Possible Obstacles

You need to understand how the river is defined geographically, the features that affect the strength of the current, and how the water flows. Make sure you are aware of any waterfalls, gorges, or rapids on a river so that you can know how to navigate or avoid them. Also, be aware of any obstacles that may cause water to flow faster and avoid them.

2. Your Paddling Skills And Fitness Level– you need to ensure that your fitness level and skills combined are up to the task. Always be realistic about what you can handle on the water. Before you try kayaking against the current, make sure you are confident in gentle currents. Ensure your fitness level is at par since kayaking against the current will be an extreme upper-body workout.

3. Have The Right Kayak For Handling Rivers Or Rapids

Before you start kayaking in the river, ensure you have the right kayak to handle the currents. A good kayak for river running should be sturdy and maneuverable. It should also be shorter, with an average length of about 8 feet

4. Read The River’s Speed And Water Condition

The speed of the river is essential, especially if you are kayaking upstream. A river’s speed will often vary depending on the volume of water flowing through, the slope’s steepness, and the channel’s shape. An average kayaker paddles at a speed of 5 miles per hour; it is advisable to paddle within this speed and avoid rivers whose speed is higher than yours.

5. Direction And Strength Of The Wind

When paddling upstream, you need to know the wind’s direction and how strong it is. If the wind is moving in the same direction as the current, it is wise to avoid kayaking against the current. This is because the strength of the wind and current combined can overpower you. If the winds are blowing against the current, you will have a smooth time paddling upstream due to the extra push.

Top Tips For Kayaking Against The Current

Top Tips For Kayaking Against The Current

Paddling upstream is a skill that is necessary for all kayakers to master; this is because, at some point, you will need to kayak against the current. Always ensure you are prepared to handle currents before kayaking in a river. Here are some valuable tips and tricks that will be beneficial as you kayak against the current.

1. Plan Your Paddling Trip And Tackle The Upstream Part First

Plan how you will handle the upstream paddle before embarking on a kayaking trip that will involve paddling against the current. If possible, start with the upstream paddling when you have all the energy and finish with the less demanding downstream paddle. This way, you won’t have to handle the current when you are already exhausted. You will also become more proficient at paddling upstream when you start before you get tired.

We recommend starting with calm waters and vast rivers to practice before you can navigate the faster waters for first-timers.

2. Read The River And Gauge The Speed Before Heading Out

 Familiarize yourself with the river system and water terrain before getting to the water. Look for markings and river gauges for speed before you settle on a waterway. Don’t embark on a challenge that will risk your safety.

3. Study Any Obstacles And Currents That Will Help You Along The Way

Some obstacles on the river can be a hindrance or a source of help when paddling upstream. A good example is eddies; these are currents that slow down the water and are caused by obstacles on the river. If you need to rest from paddling when kayaking upstream, eddies are an excellent place to rest since you won’t drift backward.

As you study the obstacles, it is essential to take note of V-shaped flows that should be avoided. You will notice upstream V’s that point up the river, meaning there’s an obstacle forcing water to flow over it fast, and downstream V’s caused by water being funneled past obstacles. It is advisable to avoid these V’s when paddling upstream because of the high-water speed.

4. Paddle Close To The Edges

Currents are strongest at the center of the river, and they get weaker as you approach the edges. If you want an efficient upstream paddling experience, stick to the edges where the current is weakest. Sticking to the edges will also help you tackle areas where the river narrows down and gets faster.

5. If Possible, Choose A Lighter And Shorter Paddle

When kayaking upstream, ensure you are using a light paddle for maximum efficiency. Light and shorter paddles are less likely to get caught up in obstacles, and you will focus on tackling currents undistracted. Some people recommend using canoe paddles for upstream paddling, but a light and short kayak paddle also works.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Kayaking Against The Current?

After going through all the information, you need, you might be wondering whether it’s worth taking the risk to kayak upstream. Deciding whether or not to kayak against the current will depend on your goals and intention. Below are some benefits and disadvantages of paddling against the current to help you discern if it’s worth the risk.


1. Kayaking Against The Current Helps To Improve Your Endurance And Strength

Paddling upstream will benefit your fitness levels greatly since you will have to work hard when paddling against water flow. Your muscles will be active and engaged throughout, and this is such a great workout. Your body will be strengthened, and this will, in turn, boost your paddling confidence.

2. You Will Not Need To Pay An Outfitter Shuttle To Go Upstream

You need to pay for a shuttle to take you and your kayak to the launching area for paddlers who cannot paddle upstream. If you are comfortable paddling upstream, you don’t have to spend extra on this service. You will also get the most out of your experience if you paddle in both directions.


1. Kayaking Upstream Might Be Too Risky And Demanding For Beginners And Inexperienced Paddlers

If you are not confident in your paddling skills, we advise against kayaking upstream. The risks involved may turn fatal when you don’t know what to do. You might also get too exhausted, and this will have a toll on your health.

The Takeaway

It is possible to kayak against the current, but you need to be equipped with the right paddling skills. You also need to know how to access the water and know which areas to avoid for the sake of your safety and physical well-being. You cannot learn how to kayak upstream if you don’t try, so go out there and start with the tiny currents as you gain experience.



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