What is Kayaking? Equipment, Best Season, Top Spots

Kayaking is a fun activity that involves moving through water in a small water vessel with the aid of a double-bladed paddle. It allows the boat driver to maneuver through waterways by sitting face-forward and propelling ahead with alternating side-to-side paddle strokes. The paddler sits in the cockpit with the legs extended beneath a closed deck, leaving the upper body free and exposed.

The kayak has been around for centuries. It was first used by the Inuits in the Arctic regions for navigating waterways. It was a pragmatic way to hunt, fish, and transport passengers across the water. Its easy access and basic functionalities have made it the burgeoning recreational activity known around the world today.

It is a great activity for enthusiasts of all levels. It can be a wonderful way to quietly discover the shallow waters at the edge of a lake, or an exciting high-energy sport to race along rushing waters. Kayaking is open to everyone, requiring no previous experience for its basic form other than a passion for exploring open waters.

Kayaking can be combined with other outdoor activities like camping and fishing, giving an adventurer an added layer of immersion on any given adventure. If you plan on ski touring or rock climbing in areas that require water travel, a kayak can be an excellent tool for accessing the remote beauty of a region.

Exploring fjords in Iceland. Photo: Runar Karlsson.

All bodies of water are open for kayaking. Oceans, rivers, lakes, and everything in between can be navigated by kayak. In general, the kayak is a sleek boat that has few limits, though high-traffic waterways may be off-limits for kayaking to avoid boating accidents. It is important to always remember water safety and wear a life jacket whenever possible.

Types of Kayaking

There are kayak variations which allow for subtle differences in the sport. In general, kayaks have a closed deck. This protects the legs from the water and elements, and its narrow build allows the rider to glide efficiently through all types of water. Sit-on-top kayaks – which leave the legs uncovered while the paddler sits in the deck above the water level – are increasing in popularity.

While kayaking is a straightforward and simple sport, it does have a wide spectrum of intensity that can drastically shape the way you enjoy it. Recreational kayaking is an easy way for anyone to discover waterways. It offers a tranquil mode of transportation to peruse an inlet and allows the paddler to stop and appreciate a waterscape while exploring a region. Some activities include whale watching, nature discovery, and navigational exploration.

Sport kayaking adds intensity to the experience and can include white water courses or races for a low-impact workout. This is a great way to take the sport to the next level for anyone who wants to get their heart beating faster or join a competition. The length of the kayak and its build will need to be taken into consideration when enjoying sport kayaking.

Kayaking in Bariloche, Argentina. Photo: Juan Carlos Queirolo.

Sea kayaking is the most immersive form. It involves seaworthy vessels that can endure long journeys, sometimes up to weeks at a time. They have storage space for other equipment and cargo and are well-suited to take on more substantial obstacles in open water. This may necessitate an in-depth knowledge of terrain and logistics and require a certain level of experience.

When is the Best Time of Year to Go Kayaking?

Kayaking is easy, accessible, and always in season. Spring, summer, and autumn are perfect times to enjoy a comfortable ride. Warm weather is generally more appreciated than cold temperatures. For recreational and sport kayaking, this makes for great conditions to explore a region or to tackle the excitement of the sport along challenging or complex routes.

Exploring Norway by kayak. Photo: Fred Buttard.

Winter contains more hazards for kayakers, which can make it more dangerous. Not only does cooler weather add discomfort for outdoor activities, water temperature is also affected. Depending on your location, ice may become an issue. Some winter kayaking trips may require a guide for safety and security.

What Equipment Do You Need?

Kayaking is a relatively straightforward activity. It requires only a few essential items, though other gear may become necessary as the intensity of the sport increases. The basic equipment for a kayaking adventure is:

  • Kayak: This is the narrow watercraft that you sit in. Without it, you’re just swimming with a stick.
  • Double-bladed paddle: Wielding your wind-resistant oar pushes you through the water with ease and is a vital tool for a kayaking excursion.
  • Helmet: Protecting the head is a no-brainer and being out on open water is the perfect time to flaunt your head gear.
  • Life jacket: Every type of water sport poses the danger of going under and wearing a life jacket is a logical step to keep you afloat.
  • Water-resistant shirt and pants: Small waves and paddle splash can rain on your parade. Proper attire keeps you dry and comfortable throughout your kayaking adventure.
  • Safety goggles: If you will be paddling out into challenging waterways, splash protection may be necessary to keep your field of vision free to spot potential hazards.
  • Durable shoes or footwear: If you are facing conditions that make staying dry a pipe dream, having quality shoes is a must. Even when entering and exiting the kayak, you want a reliable pair of kicks that ensure stability and comfort.
  • Waterproof bag: This will keep any valuable items dry while you cruise through the water.
Exploring Finnmark in Norway. Photo: Fred Buttard.

Your specific kayaking program will determine what you need to bring and wear to have a safe and satisfying experience on the water. Of course, if incorporating any other activities on your kayaking experience, you may need to include more equipment.

Why Should You Hire A Guide for Kayaking?

The sport of kayaking is an absolute blast, and nothing is better than sharing this experience with a passionate expert. Hiring a guide for a kayaking adventure allows you to experience an area like a local, learn extensively about the flora and fauna in and around the water, and have an overall incredible time. A guide will direct you towards the proper equipment and technique for your particular program, and this insight enhances the trip in ways that are invaluable.

A guide also drastically increases the security of your trip. Staying safe is paramount to any water activity. Whether you are facing the challenges of rushing waters or the hazards of an enduring multi-day trip, a guide ensures your overall satisfaction with the trip. This enhances your experience and prepares you to take on your next kayaking adventure!

Kayaking in the beauty of Antarctica. Photo: Matthew Edwards.

Top 5 Destinations for Kayaking in the World

  1. Iceland – This is one of the most exciting ways to tour the epic fjords and remote landscapes of this stunning region and can be incorporated into touring and backcountry trips. Kayaking in Iceland is the pinnacle of serene adventures.
  2. Japan – What better way to navigate a group of islands than by kayak? There are some great recreational and sport kayaking spots for all levels of adventurer, and Japan has a plethora of pure lakes to peruse!
  3. Bariloche (Argentina) – One of the southern hemisphere’s most notorious wilderness playgrounds, Bariloche does not disappoint. The surrounding mountainside and countryside is some of the most picturesque in the world – perfect for photographing from a kayak.
  4. Lake Garda (Italy) – Set within the Italian Alps, the largest lake in Italy has five islands to explore. What better way to sculpt a unique Alpine adventure than by cruising through historic and pristine waters?
  5. Norway – A true northern wilderness, Norway is loaded to the brim with unforgettable jaunts into its nature that can best be seen by kayak. This evocative fjord-filled landscape is brought to life from the tranquility of a kayak.