From pricing to goal setting, we’ve got the questions and answers to guide you in your pursuit of canoeing, rafting and kayaking.
As the temperatures begin to rise and summer approaches, you might find yourself looking to try something new outdoors. Walk into REI or your local sporting goods store and you’ll notice shelves that were once stocked with snow gear, replaced with paddles, canoes and kayaks.
Looking to cool down during the summer months leads many to the water, and this year will be no exception. The pursuit of water in the warmer seasons has led many outdoor enthusiasts to the worlds of kayaking, canoeing and rafting. If you’ve recently taken an interest in paddling, getting started can seem like a daunting task. Below are three questions and answers to help you decide which water activity is right for you and your goals.
In Teams or On Your Own?
Like many land sports and leisure activities, paddle sports can happen in both a team setting or as a solo, individual outing.
In the water department, kayaks are one of the most popular options for individual paddling. The kayak’s narrow frame and singular hole on top of the boat commonly allow room for just one paddler. Accompanied by a paddle with blades on either side, the paddler can propel themselves through the water on either side of their kayak without the assistance of a partner. While instruction from a friend or teacher is always handy, a kayak paddler learns how to navigate their boat on their own.
Two is Better Than One
Perhaps an individual challenge isn’t what you’re looking for. For those that prefer to work in trustworthy pairs but aren’t interested in group work, canoeing may be up your alley. Traditional canoe dimensions are longer and wider than your average kayak, granting enough space for two paddlers, one in the front and one in the back. Wielding single-bladed paddles, the pair must communicate and work together to move their canoe in the desired direction at a proper speed.
Teamwork Makes the Dreamwork
Both scenarios still don’t sound like you? If you thrive in group work, rafting is for you. Most rafts can hold anywhere from four to eight paddlers, requiring a great amount of teamwork to move and navigate efficiently. A leader who sits on the back of the boat can call out paddling commands to the rest of the team to help steer and propel the boat through the water. Rafts enable groups to explore teamwork dynamics as each paddler can take a turn being the leader in the back or a paddler of the boat.
If you’re like me, you might think you would like dipping into both worlds of a team and individual performance, and choosing just one from here still sounds like a struggle. Thankfully, there are still a few more defining factors left to explore.
What Are Your Goals?
Before embarking on any new journey, it’s characteristic to know what you’re aiming to get out of your efforts. Likewise, knowing where and how each boat is typically used will help you decipher which one aligns most with your intended outcomes.
Although there are many kinds of kayaks, such as whitewater, sea, recreational and inflatable, each one typically serves a specific purpose and is intended for a certain type of body of water.
For example, sea kayaks are designed for navigating large bodies of water but would have their hands full on a smaller river with faster-moving water. Therefore, if you think you want to paddle on more than one kind of body of water, you’ll realistically need to buy more than one type of kayak. Meanwhile, if you’re purely interested in one kind of paddling, whether it be for whitewater, sea or whatever your specific interest is, your kayak will serve its purpose well in your exploration.
Now, if your goal is to use a boat that can breach the surface of multiple kinds of paddling, the canoe is the craft for you. The longer and slightly wider frame of most canoes permit them to not only travel long distances on open water but also to punch through whitewater in the right direction and speed. The second you find yourself bored with one kind of paddling, the canoe can introduce you to the start of another world. It’s good to think of canoes as a jack of all trades and a master of none. Though they can maintain high mileage paddles in the distance department, where they begin to fall short is when there’s a major interest in whitewater. This is mostly due to the canoes’ longer frame, which makes it much more difficult to maneuver quickly in the faster-moving world of whitewater.
However, the size and power of rafts are designed for the whitewater environment. A raft’s ability to punch through rough water is one of the main reasons it became a staple in the whitewater community. Despite navigation being more difficult than kayaks and canoes, rafts journey down large sections of whitewater on rivers where the risk of capsizing in a canoe or kayak is too great.
Rafts can certainly operate on open bodies of water like large lakes and oceans but thrive most in areas with currents that help push them along. While kayaks and some canoes playfully navigate whitewater rivers, you and your team can take your raft right through the thick of it.
Hopefully, by now you’re starting to get a better picture of both the social and physical dynamics of each boat as you make your decision. Even then, there’s one more question I always hate to even think about, but always must be asked—money.
What’s Your Budget?
The unfortunate truth is that outdoor recreation can be expensive, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible! I strongly suggest always looking to buy used gear when you’re first starting, or renting, if possible, in any outdoor sport and paddling is no different. Used or unused, the costs of rafting, kayaking, and canoeing can vary between the three.
Kayaks – From $300 to $1,500
As stated above, kayaks are tailored to specific purposes. Although buying an individual kayak might be the cheapest purchase among the three, the instant your interests shift towards different types of water, the moment your costs begin to increase. Sea kayaks will almost always cost a significant amount more than your basic river/whitewater kayaks, typically starting around $1,000 to $1,200. Whereas at the leisure level, a kayak can be the most affordable of the three options. A brand-new whitewater kayak can cost $700 to $1,500 while a leisure kayak can cost as low as $300.
Canoes – From $500 to $900
With a canoe, you’ll likely only need to buy one to suffice your interests. So, while a canoe might be a little more expensive than your basic kayak, it can act as an investment for all of the various kinds of paddling you hope to dip into. A standard canoe geared towards long-distance paddles will generally range between $500 and $900. Meanwhile, canoes specifically designed for whitewater will cost < $900.
Rafts – From $800 – $2,000
Rafts are ultimately the most expensive of the three boats, and when you buy one, you’ll want to take care of it as best as you can to protect your investment. Pricewise, the smaller the raft is, the cheaper it will cost. Six-person rafts will cost upwards of $2,000 while rafts for four people or less can be as low as $800. There aren’t many ways around the cost of most rafts. If rafting is set in your heart, but the cost seems too high, I encourage you to find a group of people willing to split the cost, use and care for the raft of all of your interests.
Getting into paddling of any kind is one of the best decisions you can make to benefit your mental and physical health and is a great way to make new friends! No matter what path you take, it could not only benefit you but could inspire the next person who sees you out paddling to take their own leap onto the water.
Ready to get started on one of these three paddling activities? Master technical skills and get to know each type of water vessel like the back of your hand on an Outward Bound expedition! Check out these upcoming expeditions:
Oregon Rafting & Rock Climbing for Women
Boundary Waters Canoeing for Adults
Salmon River Rafting for Adults
Water Gap Backpacking, Canoeing & Leadership for Adults
Chesapeake Sea Kayaking for High School Students
Oregon River Rafting for High School Students
About the Author
Willie is an Instructor for the North Carolina Outward Bound School in the Cedar Rock and Pisgah National Forest recreation area. Willie has a bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Recreation & Education from Ohio University as well as a master’s degree in Anthropology from the University of Bristol, England. Outside of leading courses for Outward Bound, Willie loves filling his time watching films, paddling the local rivers and telling people fun facts about Ohio.
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