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Guide To Kayak Trailers: Types, Parts, Towing Tips & More

Guide To Kayak Trailers: Types, Parts, Towing Tips & More

Y ou don’t need a trailer to transport your kayak , but sometimes a trailer is the right tool for the job. Heavy fishing kayaks can be next to impossible to lift onto a roof rack solo. Smaller paddlers might be challenged to get their kayak onto a tall SUV. Friends heading to the river together might prefer to carpool and load all their boats onto a trailer for simplicity.

Whatever the reason, there are times when a trailer is the best solution to kayak transport. Here are some details to keep in mind if you’re thinking of adding a trailer to your fleet.

Types of kayak trailers

We’re used to choices when we go looking for outdoor gear, and kayak trailers don’t disappoint. There are dozens of different designs and configurations of trailers to choose from, from DIY specials to sophisticated ultralight folding trailers. You’ll find kayak trailers made of aluminum and galvanized steel, kayak and bike trailers, hybrid kayak trailers with storage, and massive trailers for commercial deliveries. The choices can be bewildering, but if you keep your eye on what you really need it’s easy to cut through the confusion.

A note on tongue length

One thing that almost all kayak trailers have in common is a long tongue. Tongue refers to the part of the trailer that sticks out the front and connects to your vehicle. Kayak trailers need to have longer tongues than conventional utility trailers so your kayaks won’t hit the rear of your vehicle when you turn. The shortest kayaks can be transported on a trailer with a conventional length tongue. Anything longer than about 10 feet requires the extended tongue that comes on a dedicated kayak or canoe trailer.

Traditional kayak trailers

Traditional kayak trailers are the ones we’re used to seeing at canoe rental shops. They typically have two upright posts with horizontal crossbars. Depending on the number of crossbars, trailers like this can carry from two to eight canoes. The largest of these trailers can transport as many as 16 canoes! Since kayaks are shallower than canoes, it’s possible to stack kayaks together on their edge and double the capacity of the trailer.

Traditional kayak trailers may be made from galvanized steel or aluminum. Aluminum trailers are lighter but are more expensive. Crossbars are often rudimentary and should be padded to protect your kayaks.

Traditional kayak trailers are favored by livery operations, kayak manufacturers and clubs that need to transport a lot of kayaks at a time.

Ultralight kayak trailers

Ultralight kayak trailers are smaller and lighter than traditional kayak trailers. Their light weight makes them appropriate to tow behind lighter vehicles and passenger cars.

Like traditional trailers, ultralight trailers can be made from both aluminum or galvanized steel. Ultralight trailers typically feature lighter springs and smaller tires. Some are equipped with lightweight wheels that are similar to bicycle tires. Some ultralight trailers feature the ability to fold for compact storage.

Many ultralight trailers feature conventional roof rack crossbars. These crossbars make it possible to mount a wide range of kayak saddles and cradles for secure kayak transport. They also make it possible to create a hybrid trailer that will transport kayaks, luggage boxes and bicycles at the same time.

Ultralight kayak trailers are the most popular option for most kayakers.

Hybrid kayak trailers

Hybrid kayak trailers carry boats and gear. The simplest type of hybrid trailer might be a traditional kayak trailer with a mesh basket welded underneath the boat racks. This configuration makes it possible to stash wet gear and bags under the boats.

More sophisticated hybrid trailers use roof rack crossbars to create a platform that can be customized to transport kayaks, canoes, luggage boxes and bicycles. Some hybrid trailers offer the option to fit a fold-out tent or camper to the top of the trailer.

Most hybrid trailers are of the ultralight design. The versatility of this type of trailer makes it a top choice for paddling enthusiasts.

How do you transport a kayak on a trailer?

If you’ve never towed a trailer behind your vehicle, the whole process might seem a little intimidating. Once you have the hang of things, it’s a snap.

Vehicle requirements

Before you select your trailer, you should make sure your vehicle is set up for towing. For many vehicles, this means adding a receiver hitch and a trailer wiring harness.

Receiver hitches bolt to the vehicle frame and take a hitch ball insert. Different vehicles are rated for different sizes of receivers. Smaller vehicles can be fitted with a 1.25-inch receiver. Trucks and SUVs typically take a 2-inch receiver. Bigger means stronger, but either receiver size is appropriate to tow a lightweight kayak trailer.

Kayak trailers use a four-pin trailer wiring harness. This harness connects your vehicle’s electrical system to the trailer and synchronizes the trailer lights with your vehicle lights.
Depending on your vehicle and your skills, installing a receiver hitch and wiring harness could be a DIY project. If not, you’ll have no problem finding a local business that can complete the install for you.

Once you have the appropriate receiver and wiring harness mounted to your vehicle, you’ll want to purchase a ball that is matched to your trailer. Most conventional trailers use a 2-inch ball. Many ultralight trailers use a smaller, 1-⅞ size. Make sure to purchase the right size ball for your trailer.

Hooking up

Hooking up a trailer is simple. Here are the basic steps:

1. Attach the tongue coupler to the ball

The tongue coupler is at the front of the tongue. This coupler fits over the ball on your trailer hitch. There is a lever on top of the coupler that locks and releases the coupler clamp.

To attach the coupler to the hitch, first squeeze the release on the coupler latch lever and lift the lever. Next, drop the coupler over the top of the ball. Finally, press the coupler latch lever downward to clamp the coupler to the hitch ball. There is a hole through the coupler latch lever that should be fitted with a pin or lock to prevent the latch from accidentally opening.

2. Attach the safety chains

Your trailer will have one or more safety chains. These are a backup in the event your hitch coupler should disconnect from your hitch. Attach the chains to the chain loops on your hitch receiver. If you have two chains they should be crossed under the tongue. This way the chains will catch the tongue and prevent it from dragging on the ground if the coupler disconnects. If the chains drag on the ground, twist them once or twice to shorten them.

3. Connect the wiring harness

Connect the four-pin connector on the trailer to the wiring harness on your vehicle.

4. Check your lights

Once you are all hooked up, it’s a good idea to make sure all your trailer lights are working correctly. Check the function of your running lights, turn signals and brake lights by turning on your vehicle headlights, placing your foot on the brake and switching on your turn signals. You can check running lights and turn signals by yourself, but it’s nice to have a helper to check your brake lights. If you’re on your own, you can check your trailer brake lights by placing something close behind the trailer light and looking in your mirrors.

5. Check the load

Make a final walk-around of the trailer to ensure your kayaks are secure and there are no loose straps that could catch on the axel or tires. If your trailer has a jack or kickstand, make sure it is fully retracted before driving off.

On the road

Now that you’re hooked up, it’s time to roll. Be careful at first when learning to drive a trailer. Take turns wider than you normally would. Check your side mirrors frequently. Watch what the trailer does as you change lanes. Make sure to leave LOTS of extra room if you pass. Drive a little slower and leave extra room for braking. When you’re towing a trailer, it’s best to be a cautious, defensive driver.

Backing up

Most folks get the hang of driving a trailer after a few trips. One thing that can be tricky is skillfully backing a trailer into a parking place or down a boat ramp. Here are a few tips that will help you step up your backing game.

1. Put your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel

This is an old trick that makes backing a trailer more intuitive. Put your hand on the bottom center of the steering wheel before you begin to back the trailer. The direction your hand moves is the direction the trailer will move. Move your hand right and the trailer moves right. Move your hand left and the trailer moves left.

2. Use your side mirrors

Sometimes it’s hard to keep a trailer moving straight while you’re backing up. If you use your side mirrors you’ll be able to make small adjustments without veering the trailer from left to right. Here’s how the trick works. As soon as the trailer appears in one side mirror, make a slight correction in the other direction. If the trailer appears in the other mirror, adjust accordingly. Using your mirrors will help you make small corrections to keep your trailer on the straight and narrow.

3. Back to the sight side

It’s much easier to control a trailer when you turn it toward the driver’s side of the vehicle. In fact, it can be so hard to tell what’s happening on the passenger side that truckers call it the “blind side.” Experienced trailer drivers avoid the blind side and back toward the sight side whenever possible.

If you need to maneuver your trailer into a tight spot, set yourself up for success before you back up. Approach the turn so you can look over your shoulder out the driver’s side window and see exactly how far the trailer is turning. This will allow you to make small corrections to the trailer’s path and help you to avoid the dreaded jackknife—which happens when you turn too far and the tongue of your trailer hits the rear of your vehicle. Ouch.

How to choose a kayak trailer

When choosing a kayak trailer, first decide how many kayaks you’ll need to carry at one time. Next, consider whether you’ll want to carry bikes or a luggage box as well as boats. Do you need a trailer that folds for compact storage against the wall of your garage? Are you towing with a small vehicle that requires an ultralight trailer? These are some of the questions you should have in mind when you talk through trailer options at your local shop or explore things on the web.

If you’re looking for the most economical option, a traditional kayak trailer made from galvanized steel is likely the best bet. If you place a premium on light weight and versatility, lean toward toward ultralight hybrid options.

How much does a kayak trailer cost?

Most kayak trailers start at about $1,000. Aluminum trailers aimed at livery use can top $3,000. Commercial grade trailers for heavy loads are more expensive still.

Most hybrid and ultralight trailers start at $2,000 for the basic trailer, plus the cost of any accessories you might choose to mount.

DIY kayak trailer

Quality kayak trailers can be pricey, so it might seem like a good idea to build your own using an affordable utility trailer as the foundation. Advanced DIY enthusiasts will certainly be able to put a workable solution together, but most folks will be better served with a specialized trailer designed specifically for hauling kayaks. The two main reasons are tongue length and suspension.

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, kayak trailers require a longer tongue than conventional utility trailers. The longer tongue prevents the kayaks from hitting the back of your vehicle during turns. Some DIY projects get around the problem of a longer tongue by using a small boat trailer as a foundation. Others might extend the tongue on a utility trailer. Either way, such a modification likely requires welding and fabrication skills. Not a simple fix.

Suspension is another concern when adapting a boat or utility trailer for hauling kayaks. Kayak trailers are designed for lighter loads. Stouter trailers with heavier springs won’t ride as smoothly down the road as kayak trailers. In the worst situations they may bounce down the road with enough force to damage lightweight kayaks. If you’re working on a DIY trailer project, make sure you consider how your trailer’s suspension will impact your kayaks.

Is a trailer right for you?

Trailers aren’t right for everyone, but they are the perfect solution to some difficult kayak transport challenges. Maybe your kayak is too heavy to be lifted on top of the vehicle by yourself. Maybe your car doesn’t have a good roof rack fit. You could be taking the whole family out for a paddle and have more boats than you could fit on your car.

In any of these situations, a kayak trailer is the right tool for the job. Trailers make it easier to paddle alone or with friends, eliminate the need to lift a kayak over your head and offer a good option for additional cargo storage on long road trips. If you’re looking for a better way to move your kayaks, be sure to give kayak trailers a look.

You’ll Be Surprised By The Beautiful Paddling Experiences Lake Powell Offers

You’ll Be Surprised By The Beautiful Paddling Experiences Lake Powell Offers

Paddling on Lake Powell is a lesson in embracing contradiction. Behind a controversial dam, a massive reservoir winds like a ribbon through 150 miles of remarkable desert canyons. Of course, being located in one of the driest regions in the U.S., the reservoir is typically half full. The watercrafts of choice, in high season, are speedboats and houseboats which bounce waves between cliffs in the main channel. Many Southwestern paddlers hate Lake Powell so much, they call it Reservoir Powell, and refuse to even consider paddling there. BUT WAIT.

Other paddlers explore stunning side canyons, take overnight trips to remote bays, and even paddle across the entire reservoir. In recent years, Lake Powell has developed a growing paddling scene among dedicated locals and awestruck visitors. And those paddlers, including skeptics, who give the reservoir a chance often come away pleasantly surprised.

Kayak and SUP rentals at Lake Powell

The town of Page, Arizona, near Glen Canyon Dam, serves as regional hub for paddling at the southern end of the reservoir. Three companies offer rentals. For SUP rentals, check out Lake Powell Paddleboards and Kayaks . For kayak rentals, check out Kayak Lake Powell and Hidden Canyon Kayak.

For those seeking a more remote experience, the Hite Outpost is now operating on the north end of the reservoir, offering kayak and SUP rentals, plus an updated campground.

Kayak and SUP tours of Lake Powell

The three companies based in Page, listed above, each offer a variety of tours. The most common are half-day trips by kayak or SUP into the narrowing slot of Antelope Canyon or to Lone Rock Canyon in Wahweap Bay. Full-day and overnight trips will often motor paddlers and boats to more distant places, like Labyrinth Canyon and Padre Bay. At North Lake Powell, the new Hite Outpost plans to start offering tours in 2021.

Side canyons: The best place for paddling at Lake Powell

For most paddlers, Lake Powell is all about exploring side canyons. A great introduction to this experience is Antelope Canyon at the southern end of the reservoir, near Page. This is the lowest extremity of the famous Antelope slot canyon in the Navajo Nation.

To reach this side canyon, paddlers launch from Antelope Marina and paddle west for a mile on the main channel. Go early in the morning if you want to avoid the wakes from boat traffic in the main channel. Depending on reservoir level, water typically reaches two miles back into the narrowing Antelope Canyon. After that, you can hike another two miles through the twisty slot canyon that’s known as Lower Antelope Canyon, which is accessible only to small watercraft. Due to the risk of flash floods, do not explore slot canyons during thunderstorms.

Another popular and user-friendly area is northern Wahweap Bay, where you can paddle into Lone Rock Canyon. Further away, paddling at North Lake Powell offers a remote experience far from the southern scene.

Places to kayak and SUP near Lake Powell

The section of Colorado River between Glen Canyon and Lees Ferry goes by several names, including the Backhaul and Horseshoe Bend section. The run offers the final 15 miles of the Colorado River through Glen Canyon that’s not flooded by the reservoir. The water runs clear and cold, about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, from outlet pipes at the bottom of the dam. Since there’s no road access, paddlers and boats must be hauled upstream on a motorboat from Lees Ferry by Wilderness River Adventures.

Best time of year to visit Lake Powell

You can paddle at Lake Powell any time of year. Summer is hot and busy, but it’s still a nice way to cool off. Winter offers a nearly empty experience but expect cold temperatures and cold water.

The shoulder seasons, when the reservoir is less busy, can offer a good window for many paddlers. These windows will vary each season, given shifting weather patterns, so check conditions at Page, Arizona, before you go. For fall, target roughly late-September to early-November. During spring, consider March to early-May.

What to pack to kayak and SUP Lake Powell

Other than a party boater tossing you a beer (not likely, but also not impossible) prepare like you’re going desert hiking. An approved PFD must be worn by each paddler. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, sunscreen, a sun hat, a sun shirt, a sun dial—did I mention it’s very sunny out there?

That said, take some extra layers or splash jacket in case air temperatures drop and winds rise. Given the potential for waves, be prepared for possible immersion—water temperatures are colder during shoulder seasons and warm substantially during the summer.

Important things to know

The surface elevation of the reservoir is typically around 3,600 feet. Weather can appear with little warning. Be prepared for building clouds, rising winds, frequent waves and sudden thunderstorms. If this happens while paddling, head to shore and wait until conditions improve.

Access to the marina launch ramps in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area requires a $30 entrance fee per vehicle which is good for seven days.

 

Mike Bezemek is author and photographer of Paddling the John Wesley Powell Route: Exploring the Green and Colorado Rivers. The book combines a condensed retelling of the dramatic 1869 expedition with color photos and a trip guide to the 1,000-mile Powell Route, which includes Lake Powell.

How To Choose The Right Drybags For Your Paddling Adventures

How To Choose The Right Drybags For Your Paddling Adventures

A drybag is a piece of gear used to keep things dry when submerged in water. It is essentially a sack made of waterproof material with a water-tight seal at the top. Some drybags come equipped with a waterproof zipper, and some use the roll-down-and-buckle-up method.

Drybags are extremely useful on kayaking and paddling trips. When used properly, food, clothes, safety gear and even iPhones can be kept dry—even when completely submerged in water.

If you find yourself asking questions such as “What is a drybag?”, “What is a drybag used for?”, “How does a drybag work?” and “What type of drybag should I purchase?”—keep reading!

How to use a drybag

Depending on which type of drybag you choose, you will need to learn how to properly close it to ensure a water-tight seal. With drybags that use the roll-down-and-buckle-up method, you need to make sure you roll the top at least three times over itself, then buckle it up securely. If you have space to roll the top four times—do it! More rolls = better chance of keeping your stuff dry.

If you have a drybag with a water-tight zipper, just make sure you have zipped it all the way across and have zero space for water to seep in. A good way to check is to leave a little bit of air in the drybag, zip it up, and try to squeeze the air out. If you can’t squeeze any air out, it is a water-tight seal.

If you are on a multi-day kayaking trip, requiring multiple drybags filled with food and camping gear, you will want to keep two drybags in the stern of your kayak, just behind your seat. You will also want one drybag in your lap containing food for the day, extra layers, maps, and other necessary items.

If you are in an open kayak , canoe , raft  or paddleboard, you will want to clip your drybag to the craft with a carabiner. You never know what is going to happen when paddling, so you want to be prepared and not lose your gear! Clip your drybag to a cam strap around a raft thwart, a flip line or any rope attached to your boat to ensure your gear stays secure.

Types of drybags

Drybag backpack/rucksack

Some drybags are built like backpacks—with a roll-top closure system and shoulder straps to carry the bag. These are useful when packing lots of gear that will need to be portaged around rapids or from one lake to another. Instead of lugging around a heavy duffel, you can simply load the drybag on your back with ease.

Drybag duffel

Duffel drybags are useful for longer multi-day trips where you will be living out of the drybag. When spending two or more weeks on a river, lake or ocean, it is nice to be able to open your drybag and have everything clearly laid out in front of you. With a duffel closure system, it is easy to organize and find things in your drybag.

Roll-top drybag

Roll-top drybags are the most common closure system for drybags. They ensure a water-tight seal by rolling the top of the drybag over itself several times, then buckling either end together. Simple, effective, and often the cheapest drybag option.

Zipper drybag

While all drybags are technically “dry,” I highly recommend using a zip-top drybag for your phone or camera. Zipper closures leave a smaller chance of error when closing the drybag, thus ensuring a better chance of keeping everything completely dry. Smaller zipper drybags are nice to use as kayak drybags. They fit on your lap and provide easy access to anything you need to keep handy while paddling.

Kayak stern-shaped drybag

These are shape-specific drybags built for storage in the stern of a kayak. You can fit two in the stern of a whitewater kayak—one on each side of the rear bulkhead. For easiest packing, fit the empty drybag in the stern of the kayak, then pack it full of gear. This is easier and more efficient than trying to stuff a full drybag into a small space.

Drybag sizes

Drybags come in all sorts of shapes, but the one thing they have in common is the volume. Drybags are sized in liters, making it easy to tell how much stuff you will be able to fit inside.

5L to 15L

These smaller sizes are commonly used for day trips to carry snacks, phones, cameras and layers. They are also often carried in a kayaker’s lap on a multi-day trip to hold things that will be needed throughout the day.

16L to 30L

Drybags in this size range are commonly stowed in the stern of a kayak, or used as a smaller gear bag attached to a SUP or raft. This is a good size for storing a sleeping bag and sleeping pad.

30L to 50L

The mid-range sizes of drybags are good for single-night trips, or for various gear needs on a raft or SUP. These sizes won’t fit in a kayak, but are perfect for other open-topped crafts. Often coming with backpack straps, they are easy to portage and move around.

50L to 110L

Best for multi-day rafting trips, as they will not fit on a SUP or in a kayak. These drybag sizes are perfect for carrying each crew member’s personal gear for a multi-day expedition.

How to clean a drybag

The best way to clean a drybag is to empty all the contents, fill it with soap and water, seal the drybag, and shake it up! Simple and effective. Dish soap or a biodegradable soap like Dr. Bronners are good options for cleaning out grease and dirt. If extra scrubbing is needed inside the bag, it’s easy to turn the drybag inside-out to reach every corner. Scrub with a sponge or wet rag to get every last bit of dirt out.

If you are using a zipper drybag, you will need to take good care of the zipper so it doesn’t get caked with sand, thus causing leaks in the seal. It is best to purchase some 303 Rubber Seal Protectant, and apply it to the zipper periodically to keep the zipper feeling fresh.

How long do drybags last?

Depending on the brand of drybag you purchase, and how well you care for it, you should be able to get at least three seasons of use out of it. With higher quality drybags, you can get upwards of 10 seasons of use. However, wear and tear on your gear is normal, so don’t get discouraged if you need to replace your drybag more often than this.

Drybags can also be repaired with PVC patches, drybag-specific repair kits, and/or Aquaseal. These can be ordered as accessories from drybag manufacturers. Additionally, some drybag manufacturers provide warranties and repairs on their products. Most of them will charge a fee for repairs, but it will be cheaper than purchasing a new drybag. Contact the manufacturer’s warranty and repairs department if you have questions.

Can you use a drybag as a bear bag?

If you are asking the question, “Are drybags smell proof?” you may be disappointed with the answer. Drybags are not smell proof, especially not to bears. They are, however, both lightweight and waterproof, which is why backpackers often use drybags as bear bags rather than non-waterproof food bags. In case of a rainstorm, your food will be protected. Additionally, other small creatures such as mice and rats will have a harder time penetrating the outer layer of a drybag than they will a mesh or cloth bag. For these reasons, a drybag is a good choice for a bear bag.

As with any bear bag, you still need to hang the drybag at least 15 feet off the ground and six feet from the trunk of the tree if you want it to be protected from bears.

Where to buy a drybag

Drybags can be purchased at any outdoor gear store. Your local paddling shop is the best bet, as the employees will be knowledgeable about any paddling gear you wish to purchase.

If you want to shop online, check out our Paddling Buyer’s Guide. You’ll be able to filter for what you’re looking for, compare products and buy directly from top-quality brands.

Stay Warm & Dry With This Guide To Using, Buying & Maintaining A Drysuit

Stay Warm & Dry With This Guide To Using, Buying & Maintaining A Drysuit

W hat is a drysuit? Simply put, a drysuit is a specialized piece of paddlesports clothing. Drysuits provide a high level of protection from cold water immersion and a broad range of comfort in all but the hottest weather. For many paddlers, drysuits are money well spent—the best investment you can make in safety and comfort paddling.

When to use a drysuit

A drysuit is appropriate to use anytime the water temperature is cold enough that you would be at risk of hypothermia if you went for a swim. This might sound extreme, but it really isn’t. Summertime water temperatures are cold enough in much of North America to warrant a drysuit for sea kayaking or whitewater boating. Water conducts heat away from your body 25 times faster than air. This means that even cool water temperatures can be dangerous if you don’t dress appropriately.

Many people choose neoprene wetsuits for cold water protection, but drysuits are more effective. Drysuits offer better protection from cold water immersion and a broader comfort range in warm weather. Any way you slice it, drysuits are a secret weapon for paddling comfort and safety.

How does a drysuit work?

Drysuits work by preventing cold water from touching your skin. If water can’t contact your skin, you won’t be subject to the rapid cooling effects of H20. Drysuits accomplish this feat by sealing your body inside a watertight envelope. The suit itself is made of waterproof materials, neck, wrist and foot openings are sealed with super-tight latex gaskets, and entry is provided by a waterproof zipper. Different suits use slightly different materials and closures, but the general concept is the same—water stays out, you stay warm.

The drysuit doesn’t offer any insulation itself, but anything under the suit will stay (mostly) dry. This means you have the option of increasing or decreasing insulation under the suit to adapt to different water and air temperatures. The ability to vary insulation to meet different conditions is the key reason that drysuits are so versatile.

Buying a drysuit

Common features

All drysuits have a few features in common. The most obvious of these are latex wrist and neck gaskets that seal tightly against your skin and limit the amount of moisture that can enter the suit. Many suits have latex or fabric socks at the feet rather than gaskets. These are much easier to use than ankle gaskets and keep your feet warmer.

A second common feature is some kind of closure. You need to be able to get into and out of the suit somehow and designers have hit on a few angles that work well. When you start looking at suits, one of the main decisions you’ll need to make is what type of entry you prefer. It is definitely worth trying on different suits with different zipper placement to figure out what works best for you.

Here are a few of the main types of entry design.

Types of drysuits

Font-zip drysuits

Front-zip drysuits place the entry zipper across the chest of the drysuit beginning at the upper right shoulder and angling downward toward the waist on the left. The advantage of the front-zip entry is that it is the easiest configuration to zip closed by yourself. With a little practice, most paddlers can zip the suit all the way closed at the top and reach the zipper tab to open the suit at the end of the day.

The disadvantage of front-zip suits is that they place the bulky zipper right across your chest where it can be uncomfortable. They also tend to be less dry on the boat than rear-zip suits since any sprayskirt tunnel incorporated into the design will need to be penetrated by a flap that allows the zipper to be opened and closed.

Rear-zip

Rear-zip suits open and close across the back of the shoulders. This design places the zipper away from the chest. The advantage is that there are no penetrations through the sprayskirt tunnel on the suit. A drier sprayskirt tunnel means a drier boat, so rear-zip designs are popular with whitewater kayakers and rough water sea kayakers.

Rear-zip suits work great once you’re zipped inside, but they can be tricky to close. Depending on how flexible you are, you may not be able to zip the suit closed by yourself. This isn’t a problem if you’re spending a day out on the river with friends, but it might be an obstacle to wearing the suit on solo adventures.

Two-piece

There are a few suits on the market that mate together top and bottom. The idea is that you can use the top section separately as a drytop if you don’t need the full protection of your drysuit. The most common of these systems use a conventional drytop with a double tunnel and a specialized set of paddling bib pants that have a matching tunnel. The two tunnels are rolled together and tucked inside the tunnel of a neoprene sprayskirt for security.

The drytop/bib drysuit option is versatile, but it doesn’t provide nearly the amount of protection that a true drysuit does. In practice, the roll closure is difficult to keep sealed and some amount of water does enter the suit if you swim. This means this kind of system doesn’t really function as a true drysuit. If you already have a good drytop, adding a set of bibs can stretch your season and improve your safety, but a dedicated drysuit will function better.

There are some drysuits on the market that place a waterproof zipper between the top and bottom of the suit. This allows the top of the suit to be worn as a drytop by itself, or to be combined with the drysuit bottoms to create a full suit. The use of a waterproof zipper creates a truly dry closure between the two halves of the suit. If you’re looking for the versatility of one suit that can be worn as a drysuit or a drytop, this is the most secure option.

Semi-drysuits

One last type of suit worth mentioning is the semi-drysuit. These suits typically have all the features of conventional drysuits but replace the dry latex neck gasket with a neoprene closure. This closure isn’t as dry as a latex gasket but can be adjusted for comfort and ventilation. The thinking is that if you capsize and come out of your kayak, your head and neck will quickly be above water, so you won’t get that much water in through the looser neck opening.

Semi-drysuits can be a good option for expedition canoeing, where you’re unlikely to put your head underwater if you flip. They also might be the right choice for someone paddling in very hot air conditions and cold water. Some folks have sensitivity to latex and aren’t able to wear a suit with a neck gasket. In these circumstances a semi-drysuit could be a good choice. Just remember that it won’t keep you as dry as a true drysuit. For most folks, a true drysuit is the best option.

Drysuit materials

Drysuit fabrics and zippers are the two main areas of variation between models and manufacturers.

Fabrics

Years ago, drysuits were built from urethane coated nylon fabrics that didn’t breathe. Water couldn’t get in, but your perspiration couldn’t get out. This meant that in warm conditions you would stew in the suit. Back in the non-breathable days, drysuits were really only an option if the water and the air temperatures were freezing.

It took the advent of breathable fabrics to make truly versatile drysuits possible. The best known of these is Gore-Tex, which is a family of fabrics made from ePTFE (expanded polytetrafluoroethylene). Other common breathable fabrics are produced by laminating breathable urethane coatings to a variety of face fabrics. Both Gore-Tex and proprietary waterproof breathable fabrics are proven, effective options in drysuit materials.

Breathable fabrics allow some moisture to escape from the inside of the fabric to the outside. All work best when the environment on the inside of the suit is warmer and more humid than the outside air. If the outer fabric of your suit gets soaked, it won’t breathe as well. In practice, this means that even breathable suits can get a little sweaty when you’re working hard. Even so, they are much more comfortable than non-breathable suits. So much so that it’s become difficult to find a suit made from non-breathable coated fabrics. The breathable suits just work better.

As far as fabrics go, Gore-Tex has a strong reputation as a durable, breathable material for drysuits. WL Gore even goes so far as to back their materials with a robust warranty that covers delamination. This means that Gore-Tex suits are among the most durable and strongly backed options on the market.

The downside of Gore-Tex is cost, which can be considerably higher than the cost of other effective fabrics. Many quality manufacturers choose alternatives to Gore-Tex for their suits and most companies that build Gore-Tex suits offer a lower-cost alternative in a proprietary fabric. Fabric alone shouldn’t necessarily dictate which suit you choose. There are lots of good options out there in a wide range of materials.

Zippers

Drysuits require waterproof zippers. The two types available are metal and plastic. The metal waterproof zipper has long been considered the best, driest option, but in recent years new waterproof plastic zippers have come onto the market and are giving the metal option a run for its money. At this point it would be difficult to say whether metal or plastic waterproof zippers are truly superior. A quality drysuit manufacturer will choose the zipper that is best matched to the design of the suit. Both metal and plastic options are effective.

Special features

These days, drysuits come standard with a wide range of specialty features. The most common of these are double tunnels and relief zippers, but there are a few more worth considering.

Double tunnel

Double tunnel drysuits have a fabric tunnel sewn into the suit that goes over the top of the tunnel on your sprayskirt. This tunnel snugs up tight with a velcro closure and dramatically limits the amount of water than can get into your kayak between your body and your sprayskirt. Whitewater kayakers will prefer this option as will sea kayakers who venture out into the rough stuff.

Relief zips

Once considered a luxury, relief zips are now standard on a range of drysuits. They are worth every penny of extra cost that they add to a suit. Simply put, a relief zip makes it possible to answer the call of nature without completely removing your suit. This means you’ll stay warmer and will be more likely to hydrate properly. Men’s suits have a relief zipper at the front. Women’s suits feature a zipper around the edge of the seat.

Socks

Another option that is rapidly becoming standard issue, socks are definitely worth having. It’s much easier to slide your feet in and out of socks than it is to force them through ankle gaskets. Better still, wool socks inside waterproof socks, inside the fully-sealed drysuit stay toasty warm and dry.

The two main types of socks are latex and fabric. Fabric socks breathe a bit and keep your feet a little drier. Latex socks are a little more durable and don’t bunch up inside your booties or water shoes. Both options work well and can be repaired or replaced if needed.

Pockets

Sleeve pockets, chest pockets, thigh pockets. There are lots of options out there. Some pockets can be custom added to suits. Others come standard as part of a specialty suit design.

Reinforced wear areas

Heavy-duty fabrics on seat and knees are a good idea, especially for whitewater kayakers who will be scouting and portaging in rugged terrain. Many suits come with this feature as standard. Others offer it as a custom option.

Hoods

Specialty sea kayaking drysuits frequently feature a hood that can be deployed to keep the rain off your head and block the wind.

How should a drysuit fit?

Your drysuit should fit comfortably over whatever insulating layers you plan to wear. It’s important for the suit to fit when you’re seated in your kayak. You don’t want it to bind when you sit upright or when you set up for a roll. Common fit problems include a suit being too short in the torso so that it binds in the crotch, a suit being too tight across the shoulders so that it limits mobility for rolls, and a suit being too tight around the waist, which causes limited mobility all around.

How tight should a drysuit neck seal be?

Speaking of tight, how about that neck gasket? New suits with new gaskets can fit so tight your face will turn red. Not good! You want the gasket to be just tight enough to keep water out of your suit without cutting off circulation. If the gasket is too tight, you’ll need to make an adjustment.

Over time, neck gaskets stretch out a bit and become more comfortable. A good trick for loosening your neck gasket is to stretch it over an oversized object like a mixing bowl. Leave the bowl in place for several days and try on the suit again. In most cases the gasket will stretch enough to fit properly. Don’t be afraid to try this several times before moving on to more drastic measures.

If you can’t get your neck gasket to fit comfortably by stretching, you can cut the gasket down to create a looser fit. This is a tricky process and if you do it incorrectly you could tear the gasket. Check with the manufacturer of your suit for tips before you resort to cutting your neck gasket.

How much does a drysuit cost?

Depending on features and materials, drysuits range from about $500 to well over $1,000. Many of the most popular models sell for $800 to $1,000. This is obviously a considerable outlay in cash for a piece of clothing. On the other hand, the versatility and comfort that a drysuit provides is unmatched. When it comes to comfort and safety, drysuits are worth the investment.

Where to buy a drysuit

If you’re lucky enough to have a serious paddling store in your hometown, pay them a visit. Buying a drysuit from your local shop is a great way to ensure you’ll end up with a suit that fits and has the features you need for your local waters. Chances are, the folks at the shop will have tried one or more suits themselves and will be able to offer up an educated opinion on what will work best for you.

If you don’t have a local connection, you can search out suits on the web. Our Paddling Buyer’s Guide is a great place to start. It compares a range of suits from top manufacturers and provides links for online shopping.

Where to rent a drysuit

Depending on where you live, you may be able to rent a drysuit from a local paddling shop. Some manufacturers also provide rental services as a way for you to take their products for an extended test drive. A few specialty retailers and schools will ship a drysuit to you anywhere in the country. A web search for kayak drysuit rental will be your best bet in finding a drysuit to rent.

How to use a drysuit

What to wear under a drysuit

What you wear under a drysuit will dictate how comfortable you are in and out of the water. You can read our complete guide on What To Wear Kayaking for the nitty-gritty of how to stay comfortable in a full range of conditions.

The basics of layering under a drysuit come down to moisture management and insulation. You’ll want to wear a wicking base layer to help move moisture away from your skin and toward the outer fabric of the suit. In warm weather, this wicking base layer may be the only thing you wear under your drysuit. In colder conditions, you’ll want to wear a layer of wicking fleece over the top of this base layer.

Wicking fleece works better than conventional fleece inside a drysuit. It is woven in a way that draws moisture from the inside of the fabric toward the outer fabric face. This active wicking process works with your body heat to move perspiration away from your skin so you’ll feel drier, warmer and more comfortable. In some cases, wicking fleece is so effective you might choose to wear it alone, next-to-skin rather than layering over a thinner base layer.

You can layer under a drysuit with any appropriate wicking clothes from your conventional outdoor closet, but specialized paddling layers work better. These clothes are cut to move seams away from armpits or waist where they might chafe while paddling. They typically have longer tails and higher waists to prevent gapping while seated. You can even buy a one-piece fleece suit to wear under your drysuit for low-bulk, gap-free insulation.

What you shouldn’t wear under a drysuit is anything that absorbs moisture and is slow to dry. Cotton is out. Merino wool works but is slower to dry than synthetics.

Avoid wearing rings, watches or other jewelry that could damage latex wrist gaskets. You’ll want to remove all these items before trying on any drysuit.

How to put a drysuit on

The easiest way to put on a drysuit is feet, waist, hands, head. Find a padded, clean surface to stand on. A chair can help. Slide your feet into the legs and fully down into the drysuit’s socks. Next, pull the suit up to your waist. Slide your hands into the arms and get them fully through the wrist gaskets one at a time. Now comes the tricky part. Grasp the neck gasket with both hands and pull outward to expand the gasket. Duck your head into the suit and under the gasket and press through the gasket until it drops below your chin. You’re in! Zip the zipper and you’re ready to go.

How do you get a drysuit off?

To remove a drysuit, reverse the steps mentioned above. Open the zipper. Grasp the neck gasket with your hands and pull outward to stretch the gasket. Pull the gasket over your head and duck your head out of the body of the suit. Pull your hands out of the wrist gaskets. It is usually easiest to pull these gaskets inside out. Once your hands are out, the suit can be removed like a pair of pants.

Taking care of your drysuit

Repair

All our tools wear with time. Drysuits are no exception. Latex gaskets degrade with time and must be replaced. Waterproof fabrics can develop pinhole leaks that need to be patched. The best manufacturers offer repair services that will get your suit back up and running when it comes time for scheduled maintenance.

How long should a drysuit last?

The lifespan of a drysuit has a bit to do with materials, but more to do with how you care for the suit. Gaskets deteriorate with age and with frequent use may need to be replaced every three to five years. Waterproof fabrics can develop small pinholes over time. Fabric socks are prone to this problem because of the wear and tear they endure inside paddling shoes. A quality manufacturer can test your suit for leaks and make repairs for a modest cost.

What’s the maximum lifespan of a drysuit? A long time. 10 years isn’t uncommon, particularly if the suit is well-maintained. Longer is possible.

How to dry out a drysuit

It’s a good idea to dry your drysuit after each use. This prevents destructive mildew from forming on the fabric. Rinse your suit in fresh water if you’ve been paddling in the sea. Hang the suit out of the direct sun to dry. You may need to turn the suit inside out to ensure it dries completely.

How to clean a drysuit

If your drysuit is grungy, or if the outer fabric isn’t beading water anymore, it’s time for a clean. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations when cleaning your drysuit. In most cases, it’s recommended that you use a front-loading machine or a top-loader without an agitator. Use a technical soap, not conventional laundry detergent. Detergents will destroy the Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment on the face fabric of the suit. Hang the suit to dry.

If you need to restore your suit’s DWR, use a spray-on treatment. You can’t put your suit in the dryer (it would destroy the gaskets), so you’ll want to use a hand iron to complete the DWR treatment. Details of how to do this correctly can be found on the manufacturer’s website.

How to store a drysuit

Store your drysuit in a cool, dry place out of the sun. UV radiation breaks down drysuit gaskets so the more time they spend in the dark the better. It’s okay to store your suit in a duffel bag or hanging over a stout hanger. There isn’t a particular way the suit needs to be folded.

Follow the recommendations from the manufacturer about what to do with your suit’s zippers. Some zippers should be stored slightly open, while others should be zipped up tight. Proper storage will ensure the zipper remains waterproof for the life of the suit.

Don’t compress your suit or store it in a hot place. This can cause the latex gaskets to become sticky and make them adhere to themselves. Once this happens, the gaskets usually tear and need to be replaced.

How do you change a drysuit gasket?

Changing a drysuit gasket can be tricky. It’s definitely something that is within reach of a skilled DIY paddler, but it’s worth doing some careful research before you dig into the project.

The basic process involves cutting away the old gasket where it meets the fabric of the suit. The opening is then stretched over an oversized object (PVC pipe sections are commonly used). The surface of the old gasket is prepped and a new gasket is stretched over it and glued in place with Aquaseal. When the sealant is cured, the repair is complete.

Replacing a gasket isn’t difficult, but it can get messy. If you’re going to try this on your own, be sure to do a little homework ahead of time. If you don’t feel like tackling this project at home, you can send your suit in to the manufacturer for a professional gasket replacement.

A Paddler’s Guide to Social Distancing

A Paddler’s Guide to Social Distancing

Iced in with nowhere to go? As more states and provinces recommend people work from home, stay home from school, cancel paddling events and practice social distancing, many are starting to feel cabin fever—especially since open water is still weeks away for northern regions.

Not to fear. Paddling Magazine has you covered with a list of suggestions to keep you calm, busy and feeling inspired.

Favorite Podcasts for Paddlers

Keep adventure on your mind with this list of 16 podcasts paddlers and adventurous souls are sure to love.

Favorite Books for Paddlers

Get our list of eight books every paddler should read (but probably hasn’t) here.

Crossword for Whitewater Kayakers


Need a clue? Consult the Best River Lingo List.

Favorite Movies for Paddlers

Watch the most recent viral paddling videos on Paddlingmag.com here.

Practice Yoga

Stay bendy and ready for paddling season with these poses specific to keeping your paddling muscles loose and limber.

Dream Up Your Next Trip

Use the online Paddling Trip Guide to dream up your next big adventure, or Paddling Maps to discover new routes local to you.

Wish List Gear

Browse the best new gear for 2020 on the online Paddling Buyer’s Guide,then organize your gear closet to make room for more.

Go Paddling and Get Outside

Go paddling. Take a walk in the woods. Just be extra safe while doing it. Time in nature makes us happier, healthier and more creative—it’s not just in your mind, time outside benefits us on a physiological level. Here’s why. 

Main image: Image by Alain Audet from Pixabay

Camping and Glacier Kayaking By Helicopter

Camping and Glacier Kayaking By Helicopter

Picture this. You pack everything for your camping and kayaking trip into a helicopter in Vancouver, British Columbia. The helicopter then takes you through the mountains giving you some of the nicest views you can possibly find on your way to your first campsite. The helicopter lands on an island on a lake that is so remote, no one has ever seen it. You spend a few days here before taking the scenic route back, making a quick pit-stop to paddle the waters of a glacier. Does it get much better than this?

For those looking for an epic and unique travel experience to pad those Instagram accounts, you might be interested in trying out a camping and glacier kayaking trip by helicopter.

Compass Heli Tours is a company based in Abbotsford, BC that does a variety of unique experiences by helicopter. How much fishing pressure do you think a lake gets when one of the only ways to access it is a helicopter? Not much.

While the environmentally friendly side of me says that this shouldn’t be a thing, I can’t help but think about how cool this experience would be. Maybe when electric helicopters become more prominent it will be a little easier to fully support this idea.

This company does everything from basic sightseeing tours (that really aren’t so basic) all the way to the extraordinary camping and kayaking trips that are featured in the above video.

The only downside is the price tag that comes along with these adventures. A simple tour of Abbotsford starts at $500 and packages then increase to over $7,000 for the overnight camping adventures. While these are some hefty prices to pay for an overnight trip, it’s hard not to appreciate how epic a trip like this would really be.

Insane Whitewater Canoeing Down Grand Canyon

Insane Whitewater Canoeing Down Grand Canyon

M ost paddlers who run self-supported trips down the Colorado River would be looking to bring a combination of rafts and kayaks. That isn’t the case for this group who decided to run the river in tandem canoes,  which included regular Paddling Magazine contributors Caleb Roberts and Willa Mason. This is believed to be the first tandem canoe descent of the Canyon. And watching the video, it’s not surprising why.

This entertaining capture of their 26-day wild ride down the Colorado makes one wonder why they would have ever decided to bring canoes on this trip in the first place. Watching as they crash through the big waves of the fast-flowing river you will find yourself wondering how they made it through some of the waves that they hit.

“I had the grand pleasure of boating down the Colorado River this past January for 26 days with seven other friends. A trip that all of us decided to do in proper Canadian style by taking tandem canoes and doing the river as a self-support canoe trip,” says videographer Roberts.

Though there are many sets of rapids along this river, the group claims to have only capsized 11 times between the two canoes. Each time they were able to self-rescue. This is a success. The capsizing section in the video also happens to be our favorite part of this short film. We feel it perfectly captures the fun that can be had when a group of friends set out to achieve what may seem to be unattainable.

Getting visits from more than five million people per year, the Grand Canyon is no doubt a tourist hot spot. Featuring endless hiking, biking, and paddling opportunities, outdoor enthusiasts flock to the Grand Canyon for its stunning views.

If you are looking to paddle the Colorado River that flows through the stunning canyon walls, you either need to pair up with a company that runs commercial trips down the river, or apply for a permit if you are looking to do a self-supported trip.

Coronavirus Updates: Everything you need to know about how COVID-19 is affecting the paddlesports industry

Coronavirus Updates: Everything you need to know about how COVID-19 is affecting the paddlesports industry

As more states and provinces declare emergencies and people practice social distancing due to the spread of COVID-19, the ripples are being felt across the paddling world.

Here are the latest updates:

March 19: The Yukon River Quest has cancelled the longest annual canoe and kayak race in the world for 2020. World SUP Cup in Germany is cancelled and will return in 2021.

March 18:  Old Town Canoes and Kayaks is suspending operations at its Old Town, Maine, location until April 5. All Ontario Provincial Parks are closed, including for day use and backcountry use until April 30. All MEC retail locations closed until March 30. The Yukon 1000 is postponed until 2021.

March 17: SUP’s Carolina Cup postponed until November,

March 15: All 162 REI locations closed until March 27.

March 13: Banff Mountain Film Festival screenings suspended.

Canoecopia Cancelled

March 12: In the evening on March 12, 2020, Paddling Magazine reached Canoecopia organizer and Rutabaga Paddlesports owner Darren Bush who confirmed the annual Canoecopia show has been canceled, less than 24 hours before it was set to open.

From March 13 to 15, 2020, paddling enthusiasts were set to descend on Canoecopia in Madison, Wisconsin, the largest paddlesports consumer event in the world, featuring more than 50,000 square feet of boats and gear and 180 educational seminars and clinics. In a year without the coronavirus concerns, 15,000 to 20,000 people could be expected to come through the doors.

“We had to call it, there’s just too much at stake”

“We had to call it, there’s just too much at stake,” said Bush. “We saw the COVID-19 develop so rapidly, we decided to do the right and safe thing. The paddling community is so supportive, I’m confident we’ll recover quickly. We wanted our customers and staff to be safe, full stop.”

Bush said it was too soon to say whether the event was being postponed or outright canceled for the year. However, Canoecopia tickets purchased for 2020 will be honored in 2021, according to the Canoecopia website. An official announcement hasn’t been made at the time of writing, but will be located here.

Prior to Bush’s statement, Canoecopia organizers noted, “About a dozen [exhibitors] have had to pull out due to travel restrictions from the corporate office or from government agencies.”

“If you are concerned, especially if you are from a high-risk group, have family members who are high-risk, consider staying home this year,” it continued. On March 12, Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced an additional two cases of COVID-19 in the state, bringing the total to eight confirmed cases.

Canoecopia’s Facebook post on the subject has several comments from attendees stating they had canceled their travel plans.

Nova Craft was among the exhibitors who declined to attend Canoecopia, releasing this statement via Facebook on Thursday, March 12:

Presenter and guidebook author, Kevin Callan, also canceled his attendance on March 11, 2020, in the wake of a request from his employer to avoid out of country travel to conferences. He hopes some tech-savvy folks at Canoecopia will be able to video conference him in. Presenter Camper Christina also canceled her attendance.

Ontario Backcountry Canoe Symposium Cancelled

The coronavirus outbreak is affecting other gatherings as well, with the Ontario Backcountry Canoe Symposium announcing it is canceling their April gathering in Ontario.

Banff Mountain Film Festival Suspended

As of March 13th, all Banff Mountain Film Festival screenings in the United States have been suspended.

Outdoor Retailer Coronavirus Update

Many in the outdoor industry are waiting to see how the coronavirus might affect the summer tradeshow season. A statement from Outdoor Retailer on March 4, 2020, said organizers were monitoring how the outbreak might affect the June 23-25 tradeshow in Denver, Colorado, but did not “forsee any changes at this time.”

The Big Gear Show Coronavirus Update

The Big Gear Show’s Kenji Karoutunian told Snewsnet.com on March 4 that:
“There are questions coming in from retailers and we’re addressing those; mostly, people just want to know what the plan is, what to tell staff and families. We’re trying to communicate to them that we’re on top of it, we’re gathering info from the city of Salt Lake, the CDC, the various regional jurisdictions. We have retailers registered in 38 states for BGS, so watching things carefully is important. But we’re trying to send out a more level-headed, factual kind of communication.”

Concerned paddlers can get updates and advice for preventing illness from the CDC here and the  Government of Canada.

Is your paddling event being postponed or canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak? Send us a tip at editor [at] paddlingmag [dot] com.

Plan For Adventure With This Guide To Whitewater Rafting In Colorado

Plan For Adventure With This Guide To Whitewater Rafting In Colorado

Colorado is home to some of the most popular whitewater rafting in the world. With over 150 named rivers, one of which being the mighty Colorado that carved the Grand Canyon, and rapids that range from family-friendly to dangerous, it’s no wonder the Centennial State has gained so much attention among avid rafters and vacationers alike.

If you’re thinking about going whitewater rafting in Colorado, check out the most popular rivers, best guided rafting companies, important points about safety and general trip planning information below.

Best whitewater rafting in Colorado

The following rivers and areas of the state will give you a good jumping-off point for figuring out where exactly you want to go rafting in Colorado. Ranging from short, exciting trips the whole family can enjoy to extreme, full-day journeys, you’re sure to find a river and trip that suits you.

Arkansas River

Performance Tours – The Arkansas River provides some of the best get-your-heart-pumping whitewater rafting in the state. The Numbers section is a particularly popular one among avid rafters. Although Performance Tours doesn’t state that you need previous whitewater experience for their half-day tour of this area, it would probably be wise as you will be paddling hard over class IV and V rapids continuously. This trip is recommended for people age 16+ and starts at $85 per person.

Royal Gorge Rafting – With half- and full-day options available, Royal Gorge Rafting offers tours of the world-famous Royal Gorge along the Arkansas. Thrill-seekers will navigate rapids ranging from class III to V as they whiz by steep canyon walls and under the tallest suspension bridge in the world. The minimum age for this trip is 13 to 16+ (depending on water conditions) and starts at $89 per person.

Breckenridge

Performance Tours – For another exciting tour through Performance Outfitters, check out the Browns Canyon National Monument Three-Quarter-Day trip. Before departing on your adventure, you’ll enjoy a provided lunch before hitting the class III rapids. This trip is acceptable for ages 7+ ($110 each) and first-time adults ($115 each).

Breckenridge Whitewater Rafting – Although the Blue River has a short season for rafting, this Breckenridge Whitewater Rafting trip is just minutes from town. The Blue River offers intermediate rafting and incredible views of the Gore Range along the way, making it a great family-friendly trip on the water. Prices start at $66 per person (ages 5+).

Buena Vista

The Adventure Company – For a more personalized experience rafting the popular Numbers section of the Arkansas River, check out the options The Adventure Company offers. Choose from a half, three-quarter or full day on the water, as well as a small group (one to five people), medium group (six to nine people) or large group (10+ people). Prices start at $86 for half-day trips and 14 is the minimum age suggested to navigate these class IV rapids. First-timers in good health and veteran rafters are both welcome.

American Adventure Expeditions – Another great outfitter for Browns Canyon trips based in the Buena Vista area is American Adventure Expeditions. Whether you choose the half-day or full-day option, you’ll enjoy intermediate rapids mixed with calm stretches, where you can take in the awesome views of the Rocky Mountains. Half-day trips start at $79 per person for ages 7+. This trip is perfect for first-time rafters and families.

Clear Creek

Colorado Adventure Center – No matter what level of difficulty you’re looking for on Clear Creek, Colorado Adventure Center has it. For hardcore adventure-seekers, try out a half-day trip down the most extreme, technical stretch of the river. Be ready to get wet on this fast, wild ride through class IV and V rapids. This tour is recommended for ages 16+ with prior whitewater experience, strong swimming abilities and good physical health. Prices begin at $79 per person.

Adventures in Whitewater – For a more relaxed adventure on Clear Creek, check out the Beginner’s Bonanza Tour through Adventures in Whitewater. The class III rapids are great fun for the whole family along this calmer six-mile stretch of river. Enjoy an in-person look at the gold rush days as you raft past as well. This three-hour tour is $49 per person and kids age 6 and up can enjoy the ride.

Colorado River

Adventures in Whitewater –  Departing from Kremmling, CO, Adventures in Whitewater’s half-day (four-hour) float trip is perfect for the entire family. You’ll tackle class II and III rapids that are exciting and fun, but not overly difficult and technical. According to their website, children weighing a minimum of 30 pounds can join in on the fun, with their tickets starting at $54 and adults at $59.

Timberline Tours – For another fun, family-friendly raft trip on the Colorado, head to the popular Vail area with Timberline Tours. This 4.5-hour float includes class II rapids and plenty of great scenery along the way. Prices for children (6 and under) start at $55 each and $105 per adult (13 and older).

Colorado Springs

Raft Masters – Looking for a multi-night rafting trip? Plenty can be found from numerous outfitters around the state, including Raft Masters. Their two-day, family-friendly trip will take you through an easy class II and III section of the Arkansas River known as the Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Your guides will even set up camp for you and make your dinner! Children must weigh at least 50 pounds and prices for both children and adults are $399 per person. This trip begins in Canon City, about an hour and 15 minutes southwest of Colorado Springs.

Echo Canyon Rafting – For something a little more adrenaline-inducing for intermediate to experienced whitewater rafters, check out the Royal Gorge tour through Echo Canyon Rafting. One of the most popular whitewater rafting locations in the state, the vertigo-inducing cliff walls and class III and IV rapids on this section of the Arkansas River are sure to thrill anyone. This trip is recommended for ages 14+ (dependent on water conditions) and starts at $89 for half-day and $149 for full-day.

Denver

Geo Tours – For a manageable, but fun, trip on nearby Clear Creek, look into the Mountain Lion tour through Denver’s Geo Tours. First-time paddlers will get their feet (and everything else!) wet with class III rapids, navigating Castle Falls, Dizzy Lizzy Rapid and even one called Twister Rapid. Children 50 pounds and above are accepted and half-day prices begin at $49 per child and $55 per adult.

Denver Adventures – For a super adventurous trip on Clear Creek through the Rocky Mountains, head out with Denver Adventures. Dive right into the class IV rapids on this relentless trip through the mountains. This tour is for experienced rafters only and available only during times of optimal water levels, so be sure to check in before you plan or book your trip. Call 303-984-6151 for prices.

Estes Park

Rapid Transit Rafting – What could be better than a whitewater rafting trip? Getting to take a peek at the sights of Rocky Mountain National Park on the way to your launch site! Colorado Wilderness Rides & Guides offers a full-day experience on the Colorado River’s class II and III rapids. Pass by some old miner’s cabins, look for bald eagles, and stop for lunch along your route. This is a great trip for families and prices start at $120 per person.

Colorado Wilderness Rides & Guides – For a more intense trip, head out on Clear Creek for a half-day trip with Colorado Wilderness Rides & Guides. You’ll navigate class II, III and IV rapids, with the majority being the latter two. This tour is available to people aged 15+ and open to ambitious first-timers and experienced rafters alike. Call 720-897-1210 for prices.

Idaho Springs

Rocky Mountain Whitewater Rafting – If you’re looking for a calmer trip on Clear Creek, check out the beginner trip from Rocky Mountain Whitewater Rafting. The class II and III rapids are thrilling and fun enough to keep everyone entertained without being too scary as you float past an old gold mine and mill, and look for bighorn sheep along the way. This trip is available to kids and adults age 5 and over. Prices begin at $49 per child and $58 per adult.

AVA – For an all-day adventure on some of Colorado’s best whitewater, look into the Phoenix Full-Day trip from Ava. Travel down 20 miles of non-stop Clear Creek class IV and V rapids (don’t worry, you’ll get a break for lunch near Idaho Springs). This trip is open to people aged 15+, but it is noted that you should be in good physical condition due to the length and strenuousness of the paddle.

Glenwood Springs

Defiance Rafting – Looking for a beginner-friendly, but adrenaline-inducing Colorado whitewater rafting trip through another popular rafting area in the state? Join Defiance Rafting on their Glenwood Canyon half-day tour, navigating class III and IV rapids. This trip is open to guests 50 pounds and above. Children start at $49 and adults (13+) are $59. Price includes snacks and drinks.

Whitewater Rafting LLC – For an even more intense whitewater experience, raft the Shoshone Rapids with Whitewater Rafting LLC. This tour only lasts about two hours, but you will be paddling your heart out the entire time… twice over! Once you get through Shoshone, Tombstone, The Maneater and more, you’ll shuttle back and go a second time on an even more challenging route. Rapids range from class III to IV, depending on the season, and the tour is available for ages 5+, though it is recommended for fit individuals due to the constant paddling and having to help carry the raft a short ways. Prices start at $45 per child and $50 per adult.

White River

Although at this time there do not appear to be any outfitters offering guided trips on the White River in the northwestern part of Colorado, this guide from Colorado Mesa University is an excellent resource in planning your own whitewater rafting trip. It includes obstacles to look out for, shuttling options, maps and more. Rapids on the South Fork of the river range from class III to IV, so you should be an experienced rafter in good physical condition, a strong swimmer, and capable of self-rescue before attempting your trip.

What to wear whitewater rafting in Colorado

Although some outfitters suggest bathing suits as being acceptable attire on whitewater rafting trips, it may be a better idea to rent a neoprene wetsuit and booties as the water temperatures range between 48 and 65°F and you WILL get wet. Here are some other items to wear/bring with you on your adventure.

  • Towel
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses (with a band to prevent losing them)
  • Warm/dry clothes to change into afterward
  • Water shoes or sandals with straps (again, to prevent losing them during your trip) or tennis shoes you don’t mind getting wet
  • Quick-drying shorts and t-shirt (no cotton clothing)

Many tour companies will offer paddling jackets for rent or include them in the price of your tour. If you’re looking to buy your own paddling attire, check out our Paddling Buyer’s Guide.

When is whitewater rafting season in Colorado?

The answer to the question of when to go whitewater rafting in Colorado depends on what kind of trip you are looking for. In general, the rafting season runs from May through September. Springtime is perhaps a better time for those with previous whitewater rafting experience to visit as the snowmelt on the mountains makes for higher water levels and increased flow in rivers.

The water levels become much more manageable in the summer, making it a better time for beginners or families with children to go. The season typically wraps up around Labor Day but, depending on water levels, can last into October. This River Runners article offers more detailed information on typical water conditions by month. Be sure to check with your outfitter of choice before planning your trip.

How much is whitewater rafting in Colorado?

The above-mentioned tours offer a wide array of options, giving you a good idea of what to expect to pay for a rafting trip. In general, tours run between $50 and $150 per person. Prices are dependent on a number of factors, including the length of trip, difficulty, age of the participant and location. Keep in mind these prices may or may not include things such as snacks and paddle jackets, which may cost extra.

How dangerous is whitewater rafting in Colorado?

With above-average incidents of whitewater rafting deaths in the early season of 2019, there has been some speculation about the safety of the activity in general and the precautions Colorado outfitters are taking on their guided tours. However, the majority of the deaths last year were individuals going out on their own; only a handful happened on outfitted trips. Likely, these incidents were caused by the wet winter and spring Colorado experienced, increasing the water levels of the rivers more than usual.

If you’re more of a numbers person, here are some general whitewater statistics to consider. Between six and 10 deaths occur for each 2.5 million user days on guided tours according to American Whitewater. This is one death for every 250,000 to 400,000 person visits. Interestingly, 30% of these are due to heart conditions and heart attacks, which is why it is always emphasized that you be in good health when choosing to participate in a whitewater rafting trip.

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing the whitewater trip that is right (and safe) for you and your group:

  • If you are inexperienced and/or have children in your group, choose a trip with lower-class rapids (III and under)
  • Always check water conditions with your outfitter of choice before your trip to make sure they will be safe for everyone in your party
  • Choose a reputable company with experienced guides that have lots of knowledge of and experience on the river you are rafting. Look for a company whose guides are certified in CPR and First Aid. Guides should provide safety briefings before you embark on the water.
  • PFDs should be provided by all tour companies, with most offering helmets as well
  • A good outfitter will raise the age limits based on water levels and conditions. They will also be able to help you ascertain which river, section, trip offering, etc. is right for you or your group. (i.e. lower-class rapids for families with young kids). It is also wise to look into a company’s safety record, years in business, safety certifications, and guide training procedures when possible. Licensing and safety inspections are conducted yearly by state forest rangers.

Whether you’re looking for a “splashy fun” whitewater adventure to experience with the family or a challenging, relentless run down one of Colorado’s most popular rivers, you’re sure to find the whitewater trip of a lifetime in the Centennial State!

Plan Your Trip Down The Weeki Wachee River In Florida

Plan Your Trip Down The Weeki Wachee River In Florida

The Weeki Wachee River affords some of the most stunning kayaking in Florida. At eight miles long, the river flows from Weeki Wachee Springs—located about an hour north of Tampa—to the Gulf of Mexico near Bayport. The beautiful thing about kayaking the Weeki Wachee, besides the beauty of your surroundings, of course, is it’s accessible to everyone, from beginners to advanced paddlers.

The spring itself is quite the tourist attraction, as it’s so deep the bottom has never been found. It’s classified as a first magnitude spring, which means it’s in the largest flow volume of springs in the world. To earn this classification, there must be a minimum of 64.4 million gallons of water per day, or 100 cubic feet of water per second, discharged from the spring. Weeki Wachee Spring has over 117 million gallons of clear, fresh, 74-degree-Fahrenheit water bubbling up out of the subterranean caverns each day. Northwest Florida Water Management has an informative infographic on how springs work that’s worth checking out if you’re visiting the area.

In 1947, a state park was established around the spring by Newt Perry, who specialized in underwater stunts. The mermaid show Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is known for was created by Perry himself, who taught the women he hired how to perform synchronized underwater routines while breathing from proprietary air tubes hidden in the scenery. The park still draws heavily on this heritage, with “mermaid” performances that run 365 days a year.

The mermaid show is a draw for many—maybe even you!—but if Weeki Wachee kayaking is what you’re after, this guide will take you through everything you to need to know before setting out on this stretch of crystal-clear water and through the riot of greens and blues of the floodplain.

Can I bring my own kayak to Weeki Wachee?

Yes, you can bring your own kayak to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. It costs $10 per vessel to use the park’s private boat launch (reservations are required). There are other places to launch your kayak farther west on Cortez Boulevard; however, kayakers are encouraged to use the boat launch at the springs, as the natural banks of the river are sensitive to erosion and damage from human activity.

It should be noted that inflatable tubes and rafts are not allowed in the park. Inflatable kayaks and standup paddleboards are permitted, provided they are U.S. Coast Guard-certified (most commercially available boats have this certification from the manufacturer; you can double-check on your boat).

In an effort to minimize environmental impact on the very sensitive ecosystem of Weeki Wachee, motorized recreational watercraft are not permitted on the river. The full USCG regulations for small crafts can be found here.

Trip options

There are three main options for the best kayak trips on the Weeki Wachee River, based on the experience level of your group and desired difficulty level.

On any of these routes, make sure to take some photos for your walls at home—the crystal-clear, blue-green waters with bright splashes from kayaks and paddles make for incredibly stunning photos.

Best for inexperienced paddlers

The most straightforward and beginner-friendly of the kayaking trips in the Weeki Wachee area involves putting in at Weeki Wachee Springs and paddling to Rogers Park, in the town of Weeki Wachee Gardens. This 3.5-hour stretch of river gives all paddlers an awe-inspiring view of Florida’s landscape and wildlife.

Weeki Fresh Water Adventures is the only kayak rental company in the park, and provides all the required gear as well as a shuttle for $40 per person. The other option available from Weeki Fresh Water Adventures is the shuttle service. Note that the company will not shuttle personal boats, but you’re welcome to take the shuttle back to your vehicle and then pick up your kayak.

Best for intermediate paddlers

The intermediate route option is Bayport to Rogers Park; this trip is a shorter distance at two miles long, but is made more challenging by the boat traffic, navigation skills that are required in this stretch of water, and the fact that you’ll be paddling upriver.

There are no shuttles available for this route, so you’ll need to arrange your own or paddle back downstream for a four-mile round trip.

Best for advanced paddlers

Those looking for a challenging adventure can make the journey from Rogers Park to Weeki Wachee Springs. This route will take you six miles upstream—again, you will either need to arrange your own shuttle or paddle back downstream for a 12-mile trip that will take a full day to complete.

There are some challenging elements on this route. At some points the river gets narrower and the current picks up, requiring a higher level of skill and composure on the water than the other more serene areas on the Weeki Wachee.

You’ll need to pay a $2 entrance fee at Rogers Park, but otherwise there are no costs to this route if you have your own kayak. If you need to rent, check out Kayak Shack Adventures, located across from Rogers Park. Costs are $35 for a solo kayak and $40 for a tandem. Reservations aren’t required, but are highly recommended.

Wildlife

Wildlife abounds along the Weeki Wachee—there aren’t many other places that so beautifully exemplify the natural world of Florida. Keep your camera at the ready for unforgettable shots of manatees, alligators, raccoons, otters, and numerous birds like ducks, ibis, pelicans, herons, osprey, wood storks and cormorants.

Many paddlers are particularly interested in kayaking with the manatees that call the river home; however, you should always be respectful of them (and any wildlife, for that matter). There are only about 2,500 of these gentle sea mammals left in the world, and any threat to their habitat like plastic containers or straws can have a big negative impact on their survival. Florida State Parks are very attentive to the ecological situation in the area, and have banned all single-use plastics inside the park. Please keep their efforts going when you’re outside the park boundaries as well!

The best viewing opportunities of manatees in Florida are around springs; the clear water allows you to get a good look at them while these curious marine mammals cruise by to curiously check you out too.

There are alligators in Weeki Wachee—but don’t worry, you’re not likely to see them while kayaking. Alligator habitats are in the marshland where guests are not likely to go. Alligators do not naturally view humans as prey, so they’re most likely to keep to themselves. Key West Aquarium has some great facts on their webpage that will ensure you’re informed on alligators in Florida.

Weeki Wachee kayaking rules

Weeki Wachee Springs is a sensitive ecological habitat. As such, there are some guidelines for spending time in the park. The following items are not permitted on the Weeki Wachee River:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Pets
  • Inflatable inner tubes
  • Rafts or similar floatation devices
  • Motorized vessels of any type
  • Disposable items such as plastic, aluminum, glass, styrofoam paper and fireworks

Exercise your common sense and empathy for the creatures whose home you’re visiting, and everyone will be happy!

The Weeki Wachee Springs State Park webpage provides a good overview of the offerings and activities in the park, and is a great resource for any closures or weather warnings in the area.