Can You Paddle Up River In A Kayak? [What You Need To Know]

Have you ever wondered if it’s possible to go against the current in a kayak? Do you have to follow the flow of the water, or can you chart another course if you choose to and have the skill? Paddling upriver might seem an interesting new approach to take, especially if you’ve never done it before.

Can You Paddle Up River In A Kayak?

Yes, you can paddle upriver against the current flow! You will need to be strong and skilled, as it takes a significant amount more work to go against the current than to paddle with it. The water must be deep enough for you to get your paddle blade in/ but otherwise, if you have the strength, it can be done.

What Do I Need To Know About Paddling Upstream?

There are two significant factors to consider when you are thinking of paddling upstream rather than downstream. And these will determine whether it is or is not possible to go against the current. 

Firstly, it’s important to be aware of the depth of the water in the places where you intend to paddle. If the river becomes too shallow for you to get your paddle blade into the water properly, you will soon find that you can’t keep going upstream, and the water will wash you back down.

You’ll need the full driving force of your paddle’s blade to push you forward. So paddling upriver becomes pretty impossible in areas where the water is very shallow, but the current is strong. 

You may find that you have to get out and carry your kayak along the bank at points.

Secondly, you need to take the force of the current into account, and this needs to be measured against your own strength. 

If the current is very strong and you are not a strong paddler yourself, you won’t be able to paddle upstream. Therefore, you must be able to outmatch the strength of the water.

This also must hold true for all parts of the river that you wish to paddle up. 

It’s no good to paddle up the first part but then get stuck – and remember that as you go further, you will get tired much more quickly than paddling downstream, so it will get increasingly difficult to fight the current.

That isn’t to say that you can’t do it, though! Just make sure you think about the route you’re planning, how deep the water is, and how fast the water flows. 

Have a backup plan, just in case you find it is too hard for you to keep going, or be prepared to turn around and go with the current instead.

How To Paddle Upstream?

Paddle as close to the edges of a river as you can. The current here will be much slower, so you won’t have to work nearly as hard to make good progress. Again, you should judge your ability based on the fast-flowing points, but try to stick to the slow-flowing points.

Avoid paddling through currents that move at more than three and a half miles per hour, as the average paddler cannot move faster than this and will be unable to deal with the current. 

If you are a novice or not a strong paddler, it would be better to go for weaker currents.

Keeping close to the side will also make it easier to get out of the water if you’re running into difficulty. Bear in mind that kayaking is a tiring sport, and going upriver is far more challenging than going downriver. Not only are you constantly having to fight the current. But you can’t pause for any breaks, or you’ll undo your progress.

Remember too that narrow river sections tend to be much faster and therefore harder to paddle through. The water travels with greater force when it is pushed through a narrow section, and you may wish to avoid these points (where possible).

Make sure you use suitable safety gear whenever you’re paddling, especially when traveling up river and dealing with complex currents.

It’s also a good idea to use eddies to give yourself a boost when you need it. Eddies are points where the current is reversed, and the water flows in a different direction to the rest of the river. This is usually because of a sediment buildup or bend in the river.

What Are The Advantages Of Paddling Up River?

The biggest advantage of paddling upriver is that it allows you to turn your kayaking trip into a circuit, ending up where you started – which is often where your car is. 

If you are not able to paddle upriver. You’ll have to transport your kayak back to your car in some other way because you will always end up downstream of your vehicle.

Of course, you may not travel by car, but it’s still an advantage to be able to end up where you started in many cases.

A lot of kayakers choose to paddle upriver first, going a few miles until they start to tire. They then have the advantage of the current carrying them back at the end of the journey, when they have less strength and energy for paddling. This makes it much easier to get back to the car safely.

The second advantage of paddling up river is that it’s a harder workout. So if you’re interested in building up your muscles and getting the maximum exercise from your river excursions, paddling against the current is the best way to do it. It will exercise lots of core muscles and make you a much stronger kayaker.

Things To Avoid

Although paddling near the bank is a good idea, you shouldn’t paddle under low branches. If you get caught by an unexpected current, you could find yourself trapped against the branch and struggling to get free.

Secondly, don’t ignore the wind. This can make a big difference to your paddling experience, and if it is blowing against you, it will make paddling upstream significantly harder. 

If there’s a strong wind going with the current, you may find it much harder to go in a straight line upstream.

However, if the wind is blowing you upstream, you might find it easier than if there is no wind. So paying attention to the wind and its speed is key to determining how far you should travel and how difficult it will be.

You should also be careful of catching your paddle in debris when you’re working in shallow water. Remember that the wide blades will easily tangle in plants, branches, stones, and other underwater detritus. So you need to steer with care and try to keep your paddle free.

Final Word

Kayaking upriver is a popular way to work out your muscles and ensure that you end up back at your vehicle without having to use a shuttle service when you reach the end of your trip. It’s certainly possible, but it needs to be done with some care.

You may want to measure the river speed before you paddle, and you should not try to head against the current when you are already tired or struggling.

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