Go against the wind or the current?

As a solo paddler, I learned the hard way to paddle upstream first, then turn around and paddle downstream to return. However, a nearby river that I would like to travel has the current going one way, and the wind going the other way. So should I start out paddling against the wind or against the current? Thanks.

If your luck is like mine
If your luck is like mine you should paddle against the current first. The wind will shift when you turn back and you will paddle against it both ways.

If you truly have a steady dependable wind you will have to try it and see. Some boats will respond more to the wind and some more to the current. Either that or get a sail!


Now, THERE’S an idea!
The sail–sure would make one of the legs much easier and more enjoyable! I just might do that!

During a paddle on a non-tidal river or
after a significant rainfall, the wind can and will change, the current will not. Paddle up stream and hope the wind improves because you know it won’t be the other way around. Bill

Put up a sail
which is 99% guaranteed to make the wind disappear…

It’s some idiots law!
“the wind and current is against you both ways”

Don’t fight it. It develops upper body strength

Same in biking: The wind in your face both ways, but then the up hill grade is too.



there is a reason wind is always against
The physics of wind and apparent wind is that from more directions than one thinks the wind exerts a negative drag on you, not just from directly against you. And, if that were not enough, the drag when it is negative is not made up for when it is mostly or enough behind you to push. That is why it always feels against you.

The decision to paddle first against wind or current is complex. Wind varies by where the center of high or low is with respect to you and thus whether it will remain the same, increase or decrease, time of day, and local terrain. Current may vary by local rainfall, dam releases, and tides.

Good to know how much force each creates as well. A wind of about 18 mph is equal approximately to a current of 1.5 mph

"A wind of about 18 mph is equal approximately to a current of 1.5 mph"

Seems like this would depend on the direction of the wind and how much of the boat/paddler surface area is presented. Thus, it seems it would vary widely over the range of boats from ww playboat to ocean kayak to loaded tripping canoe to empty canoe. It would also vary by whether the paddler took defensive action.

As to the OP’s question, I usually do upstream first not only because of the exhaustion factor, but also because it makes it easier to return to the car unaided in the event of an injury or equipment failure. In such a case, I think it would be easier to make progress downstrem against the wind, even a 30-40 MPH wind, than vice versa, so I would still start out upstream.

This isn’t rocket science. Put the boat in the water and don’t paddle, see which way it moves. If the current over powers the wind then you have your answer.

Bill H.

Complex question
Here on the tidal Hudson Estuary (150 miles long), the current changes direction every 6 hours or so. That throws in another level of complexity for your trip planning.

Current in my area of the river is usually 1 to 1.5 mph at the max. I find it easier to paddle against that sort of current than against the wind.


A wind of 30 mph is about impossible to move forward in, 40 is totally impossible to make progress in. Wind force doubles approximately every 5 mph.

A current of 6 mph is about all most kayakers makes any progress against and not all that much if any.

The answer below about seeing which force is most is actually a nice solution. It shows you how in reality just how powerful these forces are and how different they are from what we think about them. Really quite amazing actually.

Water is so much denser than air, small currents are quite powerful. And air force increases much more than we think as it speeds up. Pretty cool I think.

Wind and waves
I don’t mind paddling into the wind, but around here it’s a very big river, so when the wind blows along the length of it you get some fair sized waves. So if i have to chose it usually depends more on which direction the waves are going, they have more of a difference than either the wind or current.

hard to generalize but
I’d say that you always go against the current unless the wind is so high that there are whitecaps and you can’t leave your boat unattended on land or it will blow away.

Agree, but for one point
"Wind force doubles approximately every 5 mph."

Actually, drag is proportional to wind velocity squared, so the wind force (drag) doubles when wind speed increases by a factor of sqrt(2)=1.414

Today’s Choice…
Just got back from a Show-N-Go paddle I organized. Going in, I was made aware (and checked river levels online), that the Santee River (SC) was flowing pretty good and last weekend was overcoming the tide. Water levels did drop almost 1 foot since last weekend, and we decided to go to the river and see (we were circumnavigating an island and it would have been only 1/4 backtrack. We went to the river, with the tide coming in, light winds blowing downriver (against the tide and with the current) and decided to paddle against the tide. The wind made it seem like the river was flowing over the tide at the surface.

Good choice.

First time on that river I have eve considered paddling against the tide (which normally beat the current easily).

Bill G.

Mt. Pleasant, SC

Sails can be $$$$
But a big old golf umbrella is something you might already own, and it stows easily. If you like the golf umbrella, buy a “real” sail.

ditto jackl, don’t fight it…just paddle

– Last Updated: Jun-29-09 11:38 PM EST –

*EDIT...Guess you're talking tidal zones y/n? ..Not much experience there but know what it's like..a little. In a non-performance hull = not fun. But in whatever, find the most efficient attitude with your craft...kayak or canoe.

When paddling against the current
Stay close to shore, the current is stronger in the center than either side. If the river has a sharp bend, stay to the inside of the bend.

2 things (pure theory!)
Unless it is a flood situation where it is bad everywhere, you usually have eddies and turns on the river where you can hide from the main current and often make up-river progress with little effort. The wind may still be pushing your back and help you go up. Then, on the way back, stick along with the strong current to help you downriver and the current will somewhat compensate for the wind blowing against you and again, you can have an easy ride down-river…

Thre is one more thing that I did not see mentioned: when wind slows you down, you paddle at say 2-3 mph relative to the water. This means that you are paddling in a very efficient speed zone (how hard is it to paddle at 2-3 mph if there is no wind - almost no effort!). So, you are only fighting the wind, not the water. Where if you paddle against a 3 mph current and want to progress at 2 mph above that, you need to be paddling at effective 5 mph, which may be all but impossible to maintain for most people for more than an hour or two continuously in most boats. Basically, paddling at effective 2mph against 3 mph current you loose energy due to your kayak approaching its “hull speed” where it is hard to paddle. In contrast, paddling at 2 mph aginst say 25 mph wind you are still slowed by the wind but at least you are not wasting energy to maintain near hull speed…

Or is my logic wrong???

based solely upon
my paddling experience, I have to say I’m with you on that.