Expedition Kayaking

Pre-Trip Training

A multi-day kayak trip can tax you much more than most day trips. Technically, you're faced with handling a loaded kayak, which tends to respond more sluggishly than a kayak lightly loaded for a day trip. Load your kayak as you would for an extended trip and spend some time paddling--get the feel for turning, bracing and paddling in wind and waves.

Expedition paddlers may also face a greater variety of water and weather conditions over the course of a trip. Proper research can alert you to special conditions you may need to prepare for. Prior to any expedition, I recommend reviewing and practicing your paddling skills in a variety of water conditions with a competent instructor or an experienced expedition kayaker from a local club. Do your best to simulate the conditions you may be facing.

Expedition kayakers also need to be physically prepared to meet the challenge. Sometimes that challenge may be as simple as sitting in a boat for three to six hours a day. A regular stretching routine that emphasizes the hamstrings, gluteus and lower back will make sitting for long periods of time more comfortable. Similarly, long paddling sessions will put an increasing strain on the endurance of muscles in the torso, shoulders and arms.

While the best way train is to paddle a loaded kayak long distances, strength endurance training (15 to 20 repetitions for two to three sets of each exercise) that includes exercises for the affected muscles will help.

Go it Alone or Go with a Guide?

Once you're well into your research and training, you should have a good idea of what you are getting yourself into and the level of preparation you need. It is time to make an important decision. Ask yourself, "Do I have the skills, knowledge and equipment to make my trip safe and enjoyable?" If you can honestly answer "yes," then it is probably okay to pursue the trip on your own. If you have doubts, ask an expert--an experienced expedition kayaker or a competent instructor--to evaluate your skills and your planning. If you still have doubts, look for a qualified guide or outfitter to add a margin of safety to your trip.

Guides bring added bonuses with them. They simplify logistics, usually arranging transportation and supplying needed equipment. Guides tell great stories--about other paddlers, other trips, the local flora and fauna and the area's history. Best of all, most guides are great cooks!

Always look for reputable guides and outfitters. Kayaking is a fast-growing business and has attracted many inexperienced start-ups. Ask how long an outfitter has been in business. Ask for contact information for previous clients and solicit their opinions. If possible, look for guides who are also kayak instructors, preferably certified by either the American Canoe Association (ACA) or the British Canoe Union (BCU). Find out how long the individual guides have worked in the area and for the particular outfitter.

Good outfitters may even recommend a book or two about the area to put you "in the mood" for your trip. In the end, pick an outfitter you feel comfortable with.

The Trip

So you've researched the trip, trained your body, practiced your paddling and decided whether or not to paddle with a guide. The anticipation can be excruciating. One final caution--day one of most trips can sometimes be disappointing after all the build-up. You are usually still in range of the day-trippers and civilization. But have faith. Anybody can paddle one day from the put-in. The real magic of expedition kayaking comes on day two or three. That is when the fish dance and the raindrops glow.

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