Paddling is an awesome activity that pairs perfectly with a camping trip! You can paddle peacefully alone or make it a race and take the entire family. Unlike an expensive boat, you can paddle anywhere, from lakes and rivers, to a pond or the ocean, and it is a fantastic workout!

Paddling is an inexpensive activity because once you own the equipment the rest of it is completely free! It is a fantastic way to get outside, cool off, enjoy nature and get a great workout in without even realizing it.

You can burn up to 500 calories from just one hour of kayaking, all without any negative concussion and impact on your joints and tissues. With regular paddling you will build muscle through your arms, back, shoulders and chest from rowing. You’ll also be working your legs, abs, and lower back by balancing and turning your rowboat.

Paddling improves cardio and stamina and strengthens your heart muscles, improving circulation and red blood cell count. It also exposes you to vitamin D, reduces stress, increases happiness, improves memory, focus, and quality of sleep.


Kayaks are much smaller than a canoe, and while you can purchase tandem kayaks, most are designed for one rower. They are simple to steer and the rower sits inside of a closed deck low in the water. Kayaks are designed to not flip easily, and their low center of gravity helps it stay upright. They are stable and they handle wind and waves better than a stand up paddle board or canoe, but they can take some practice to get in and out of smoothly.

Types of Kayaks

There are many different types of kayaks, ranging in price, size and shape. You can purchase kayaks designed for kids, and sit-on-top kayaks that are much easier to get in and out of, making them perfect for beginners.

A touring kayak is designed for hours of rowing across a large lake with it’s long body and small cockpit. The recreational kayak is wider, shorter in length, and ideal for a calmer kayak experience. Whitewater kayaks are designed for intense waters, and there are even four different sub-types of whitewater kayaks.

Picking your paddle

Consider the width of your kayak and the length of your torso when you are selecting a paddle. If your torso is longer than 28 inches, your paddle should be longer than 200cm. To check the fit of your paddle, stand the paddle beside you and reach up and hook your fingers over the top blade. Your fingers should just be able to hook over the top of the blade by a knuckle, but if you can’t reach your fingers over at all, or can lay your hand flat on the opposite side, the paddle is not the correct size.

Paddle blades can be made from nylon, fiberglass, or plastic, and the shaft can be made of aluminum, fiberglass or carbon fiber. Different blade and blade materials affect how well you can transfer energy to your stroke, and change the weight of your paddle, since you lift the blade higher than the shaft of the paddle while you row.  A lighter paddle reduces fatigue, but increases price.

Shafts come in straight and bent shafts. A “kinked” shaft is designed to minimize discomfort and fatigue on your joints. You can find small diameter shafts that are easier to hold if you have small hands, and paddles that come apart into two or four pieces to become more portable.


When you’re ready to start your paddle, enter your kayak and make sure everything is adjusted for you. Sit up straight, with your hands placed shoulder width apart, knuckles up on the shaft of the paddle. The concave part of the blade should always face you. Begin with your elbows at 90 degrees, and pull your hand towards your hip as you push the blade into the water and propel yourself forward.  A wider grip while rowing increases speed, but can make one tired very quickly.

Kayak Lingo!

Sweep strokes – To turn your kayak by using one side of the paddle and pulling it towards you.

Draw stroke – To move the kayak sideways by placing both hands and blades of the paddle over one side of your kayak, your paddle standing up and down. Reach out as far as you can, placing the bottom blade in the water, then pulling the lower hand on the paddle towards your hip, moving yourself sideways.

Tandem kayak – A longer kayak with two cockpits. Sometimes called a divorce boat.

Drybag – Waterproof bag used for gear storage.

Eddy – A place in the river where the water reverses and flow upstream, a great place to pause and rest. Often found behind an obstruction or sharp turn.

Pogies – Mittens that attach to the paddle shaft for cold weather.

Tracking – The ability of the boat to hold a straight course, depending on hull design.

Skeg – A steering device that drops down from the hull at the stern of the kayak. It is static and helps the kayak stay straight.

Portage – Carrying your kayak around an obstacle or across land to another destination.


Like kayaks, canoes can be taken on any body of water. Canoes have a open cockpit, usually with two bench like seats fixed to the sides of the boat. Canoes sit higher in the water than a kayak, can fit a lot more people, and a lot more equipment. You earn a great workout from canoeing, especially throughout your arms, back, shoulders and abs.

Types Of Canoes

Although we all likely picture the same boat in our minds when we think “canoe” there are actually many different types of canoes. The recreational canoe is commonly 13 – 17 feet long and designed for beginner use. They should have the highest degree of initial stability compared to the other types of canoes, as well as be simple for the paddlers to control.

Square stern canoes are designed to accommodate a motor on its flat rear, and whitewater canoes are difficult to paddle with their short length and and high degree of rocker. Racing canoes are very narrow and they sit low in the water. They lack seats, and instead the paddlers kneel.

Bring a friend!

Canoes do not have the efficient hull design of a kayak, and take more effort to paddle. However, you do not have to do it alone! Going canoeing with another person, or people, is encouraged as it is much easier to steer and move with more than one person.

When you are tandem paddling there should be one person sitting in the front and one at the back. The person sitting in the front, or the bow, provides forward momentum and correction strokes when the canoe starts to wander. They’re on the lookout for obstacles, and set the pace of rowing. They can use a draw stroke, similar to kayaking, to change the boats direction quickly and avoid obstacles.

Whoever sits in the rear, or the stern, should paddle in sync with their bow partner, each paddling on opposite sides of the canoe.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP Boarding)

Rumored to have begun by Hawaiian surf instructors to move around while they taught students, SUP boarding is only gaining more and more popularity.  And for good reason, as it is a lot of fun! It is a great cardio workout, but like kayaking and canoeing it is only as difficult as you choose to make it. It is a low impact exercise that works your entire body while reducing stress, and will quickly improve your balance. There is even enough room on some SUP boards to bring a child, pet or friend along with you.

Types of SUP Boards

The main differences in SUP Boards are hard paddle boards vs inflatable paddle boards. A hard SUP board is fiberglass wrapped around an EPS foam core. An inflatable paddle board can be blown up in just a few minutes with a good pump, rolls up to the size of a sleeping bag for easy transport, is super durable, and sits higher in the water than hard boards do.

Of course there are more than just two types of paddleboards, you can find fishing boards with wider decks and attachments to carry fishing gear, surf SUPS designed for surfing ocean waves, and touring SUPS that are designed for long distance adventures with their narrow shape, pointed noise, and long body.


Paddles are made out of plastic, aluminum, wood, or carbon fiber.

A general rule of thumb is that the paddle should be 6-10 inches taller than the paddler. Use a longer paddle for flat water, and a shorter paddle for ocean surf.

While you row, place one hand at the top of the paddle and one on the shaft, about shoulder width apart, and use your back muscles to row instead of only your arms.

Standing up

The toughest part of paddle boarding is getting up, as it requires good balance. For beginners it is recommended to be on a board that is at least 30 inches wide and 11 feet long, the bigger the board the easier it will be to balance.

For your first time, begin sitting or kneeling on the center of the board. When you feel ready to stand, hold the edges of your board and move one foot at a time to slowly place your feet where your knees were. Raise your chest first, and then extend your legs and stand up.

Your feet should be shoulder width apart, parallel and center on the board. Keep your toes forward, knees slightly bent and back straight. Do not stand in surfer stance as it is much harder to balance and row.

Inflating this SUP takes only 10 minutes with a pump!


If you are kayaking, canoeing or paddle boarding, alone or with a group, you should always have a personal flotation device on board with you and check the weather forecast before you leave.

If you paddle alone stay within eyesight of other people in the area and tell somebody at home where you are going! Paddling can be as hard or difficult as you make it, so stay within your limits, search for calm water, and have fun!

Paddle Apps

AccuWeather – gives you minute by minute forecast updates and notifications in the event a severe storm is headed your way.

GoPaddling – A global database of user’s paddling experiences with advice on more than 25,000 locations.

Kayaklog – Tracks your speed, distance, and time of your paddle trip, provides information on current, wind speed, and weather, and can even show your set “emergency contacts”  your latest location.