Planning a Kayak Trip (and what you’ll need)

Kayak Trip

How to Plan a Kayak Trip That Won’t Suck!

Introduction – Kayak Trips vs. Canoe Trips

Kayaking and canoeing are both great best ways to immerse yourself in the great outdoors. Both boats allow you to escape from the highways and travel the way our ancestors did: on the water. In addition, kayak and canoe trips are great opportunities to experience the outdoors with your friends and family. Children and adults alike will love floating down the river, as well as fishing and swimming. But which one do you pick, kayak or canoe?

Kayak: The main advantage of a kayak trip is that you can do it by yourself. The small size and weight of a kayak allow you to maneuver the craft more easily (and drag it much less) than you could a canoe. Most kayaks also only seat one person, so you can travel whenever you want and enjoy some solitude on the river. In addition, some kayaks allow you to escape the rivers and go sea kayaking, which you would not want to do in a canoe.

Canoe: On the other hand, since you are alone in the kayak, you cannot depend on your paddling partner, so canoeing is generally a better idea for the novice paddler. In addition, canoes have extra space for people and supplies, so you can put either a third person or extra supplies in a canoe. The extra space also makes canoes easier to enter and exit than are kayaks.

Most river outfitters will rent both canoes and kayaks like The Old Town Kayaks, but ask canoeing and kayaking friends (or contact your state’s tourism office) for suggestions on where to take your trip and what outfitter to use. Pick an outfitter that provides clear directions and all your equipment, and don’t avoid asking questions. If you want to go sea kayaking, use the same process, but make sure the kayak you receive is sturdy enough to handle the waves you will face.

Kayaking is one of those skills that takes a few minutes to learn but a lifetime to master. Changing locations, water currents, and weather will ensure that no two trips will be identical. Even if your first trip is a failure, keep at it; with each trip, you will have to think less about the details and you will get to enjoy the trip more.

Planning a Kayak Trip: Introduction

Planning a kayak trip can be a lot of work, but for many people it is a labor of love. Contact outfitters or friends for advice, but be prepared to answer some of the below questions regarding your plans:

  • Day trip or overnight trip? Day trips are usually either half-day or full-day, and they are much easier to plan than are overnight trips because you don’t need to think about camping or cooking. Overnight trips, however, have the added appeal of combining kayaking and camping.
  • Hire a guide or go it alone? A guide takes away from the solitude of a kayak trip, but if it is your first overnight trip or if you are traveling in a group, you may want to pay the added expense to hire a guide. Many rivers, however, are easily navigable, and outfitters do not offer guides.
  • Who is traveling? Simply make sure that everyone has a seat. Most kayaks seat one person, but you can also rent or purchase two-person crafts.
  • Time and Money? How much are you willing to pay and how long do you want to be on the river? A day trip might cost only twenty to forty dollars per kayak, but a multi-day guided trip could cost several hundred dollars per person. If you plan on taking a long trip or multiple trips, look into purchasing your own kayak.

Finally, don’t forget to think about your goals for the trip. Tell the outfitter if you are interested in fishing or hiking; they can tell you the best spots. If you are just going for the solitude or the scenery, plan your trips for “unpopular” times of year.

When and Where to Go

After answering some of the basic questions regarding what type of kayak trip you want, you can move on to deciding exactly when and where you want to go.

When to go: Kayak trips are especially popular during the summer because of the warm weather and summer vacations. On the other hand, the spring rains and the melting snow means that the water level is often at its peak during March and April. With a wet suit kayak, however, you might even be willing to brave the cold water months.

Where to go: First of all, choose between whitewater kayaking and sea kayaking. For whitewater kayaking, look for rivers that you could also canoe, particularly rivers near your home or, if you are willing to travel, in the Great Lakes area.

Sea kayaking, on the other hand, is especially popular in whale-populated regions off the Pacific Coast, such as Puget Sound in Washington and California’s Big Sur. On the Atlantic coast, check out Maine’s Acadia National Park or Key West, Florida.

river kayaking day trip

If you are planning a day trip, make sure you allow yourself plenty of time. For a multi-day trip, plan a relaxed first day to get your muscles used to paddling, and expect your soreness to decrease with each successive day on the river.

For a multi-day trip, it’s a good idea to get a map of the area and to plan your camping spots. Contact the U.S. Forest Service to see if there are any marked campsites, and if there are none, look for a clean site that is not in a depression.

Packing for a Kayak Trip

The final step of preparing for a kayak trip is packing your supplies. The right supplies will make the difference between a great experience and a kayaking nightmare.

Day Trip: Because of space limitations, you should pack less for a kayak trip than you would for a canoe trip. Still, make sure you bring plenty of water, as well as some snacks. Stick your camera in a waterproof bag (if you have one), and leave a towel and a change of clothes in your car.

Overnight Trips: Basically, pack everything that you take on the day trip, just bring more of it in proportion to the length of your trip. In addition, however, you will want to bring some camping supplies, including a tent, sleeping bag, and cooking utensils. You’re also likely to use items such as a map, compass, knife, duct tape, rope, raincoat, trash sack, and hiking boots.

The best food to take on a canoe trip is high-energy food, such as peanut butter crackers or trail mix. For overnight trips, consider purchasing dehydrated food (be warned; it’s expensive) or pasta or rice.

As for clothing, you may want to invest in a wet suit, which will keep you dry and comfortable in the kayak. In addition, wear a life vest, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Dress in layers (including a jacket) while you are at camp and, if you don’t have a wet suit, in the boat.

The limited space in kayaks make packing a challenge, so eliminate as much as possible from your packing list. Basically, you will be stuffing everything into the bow and stern of your canoe, so make sure you balance the weight and place frequently used items near the front like we talked about in our Tarpon 120 review. It’s a good idea to purchase a dry bag and fill it with everything from clothes and cooking supplies to your wallet and keys.

Kayak Trip Safety

The first step to having a safe kayak trip is to pack items that will help keep you safe, namely a life vest and a first aid kit. In addition, prepare yourself by making sure you can both swim well and recognize and self-treat medical issues (such as hypothermia).

The best way to learn paddling is by doing it, but as a basic rule, don’t hit whitewater or waves sideways; avoid it altogether or head directly into it. Practice paddling in gentle water, though, and use common sense: empty water that enters the kayak and only enter or exit your kayak in shallow water. If you’re using an inflatable kayak, then practice setting it up and storing it. Never mix alcohol and kayaking; alcohol impairs your senses and you will have even more difficulty than usual escaping from a flipped kayak.

Do some research (including browsing the other kayaking articles on this website) regarding how to escape from a flipped kayak, and before you depart, make sure that you could safely escape from a flip.

If you are taking an overnight trip and camp on the shore, use normal camping safety practices. Don’t leave out food (it will attract animals) and don’t light your fire near leaves, sticks, or brush, which will all ignite. Finally, both in kayaking and camping, watch out for snakes, which often rest on low-hanging tree branches over the water.

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