Is a 20 mile paddle more than twice the effort of a 10 mile paddle?

I’m pretty sure that 20 miles will be tough. Very tough. My longest continuous kayak trip was 16 miles about 6 years ago. This year, I regularly paddle 5 miles and did 8 miles with no problem. 10 miles was not so bad but seemed a bit more tiring than I had hoped. I’m just wondering if 20 miles, if I slow my pace a bit, is a bit too far to paddle in a day without doing a few more 10 and some 15 mile trips first.

This would be on Lake Tahoe and would be starting in the morning so there are no serious water/weather factors to deal with. Just a long day of sitting and paddling. I would plan on at least 6 hours for it since the 4MPH average I had on the 10 mile trip might be tough to keep up for double that.

I will likely start at Ski beach in Incline Village. I can abort at Cave Rock after about 14 miles, or Zephyr Cove at 16 miles.

So should I just go for it? Maybe take a few Advil along the way? Anyone here paddle for 20 miles in one day and have any problems that show up suddenly near the end that is more than expected?

I would love to do this and find out it’s not so bad. My next goal would be to find someone and some way to paddle from LA to Catalina. I doubt that it would happen but it seems like a cool challenge.


P.S., Wow is the water temperature high this year on LT. It’s at 70f most days out in the middle of the lake, even 1m below the surface. It’s interesting that the winter was huge due to more warm wet storms too. Funny how that works.

I doubt if anyone really knows the answer to this. A lot depends on the boat, and the conditions (mainly wind and waves), and especially on the paddler. My gut feeling is that if 10 miles left you feeling “more tired than you had hoped”, then 20 miles will leave you totally wiped out, but probably happy you succeeded.

There’s a small nearby river where I’ve done trips which I seem to recall were about 22 miles, round trip. Right away someone will say you can go farther on rivers, I’m an oddball in that I don’t limit my river travel to going downstream. These were upstream-and-back trips, so averaged out, the effect of current is nullified. I think these trips take me about 6 hours, and that’s in a solo canoe with a single-blade paddle. I would expect a kayak to be easier in some ways (easier to go faster) and harder in others (less ability to keep comfortable). It’s not something I’d do early in the season, and during a slow season (when I don’t get on the water as much and haven’t toughened up as much as other years) it would be harder than I’d prefer, but doable. If I had all day and could take it easy, that would be a lot easier than a steady grind crammed into one afternoon.

Twice as hard? Maybe, maybe not. But the more important question is whether you can do it, and we can’t answer that. Some people know how to ensure they don’t burn out over time, others blow up and can’t keep paddling. Some people can push through a lot of pain, others can’t. Some people know how to stay hydrated and fed (and deal with relieving themselves), others can’t. It is stuff like this that makes or breaks endurance people.

What are the prevailing winds for Lake Tahoe area? I seem to remember winds building in afternoon and often being from the north? Best to plan the trip for when winds are favorable to the direction you are going. If doing an out and back, consider doing like Guideboatguy does and paddle upwind first, so you get a ride back.

I like that you are planning bail out points. If you were talking of making a crossing, I would be much more hesitant. But following the shore and passing bail out points is a much safer option for trying to push yourself.

sure it will be tough if all conditions are the same. Could even get worse if condition go against you. My hardest mile is the first many times because I need to get a new mindset and loosen up. There is no physical reason send ten would be easier that I can think of. Why go from ten to twenty? Ramp up slowly in varied conditions. Like lifting weights most people don’t go doubling the weight it’s gradual. What are you paddling?

If you’re on a rec kayak I’d say don’t do it. If you’re on a K1, surfski or HPK I’d say go for it. I’d also say to skirt the shore so you have something to look at. If I can backpack in the mountains for twenty miles with 75 lbs on my back I’m sure you can paddle that far if you’re in good condition. Keep your phone with you.

not just about how far, but how long you want to sit in a boat. I find I like two or three hour trips.

You’ll never know unless you try.

How is your cardio endurance? Do you work out regularly (including rotator cuff exercises)? Any hamstring stretches? If you’re reasonably fit, why not give it a try? If you get tired you always can turn around and go back. It’s great training, so why not make the attempt? It’s no big deal if you don’t do the full 20 miles the first time out but you’ll learn a lot about yourself.

Also, what type of kayak? Length and width?

I don’t have the experience the above posters do, this being my third summer paddling a touring kayak. I had planned on a 20-mile paddle July 29, but I was a sloth that morning and didn’t get started as early as I should have. Had to cut it short to 15 miles because I knew the winds were to increase later in the afternoon. As it turned out, I paddled the last two miles in a strong beam wind and lively water. I didn’t have any problems at the end (other than staying straight in a surf landing) and wasn’t overly tired. This trip was a large inland lake which is part of the course of a 27-mile one day event I’ve entered, so I wanted to check it out.

I do carry a hydration pack of water with the tube connected to my PFD and hydrate around every 30 minutes. Also carry 21-gram protein bars to snack on as I’m paddling. I’m testing GU, an energy gel, but don’t have an opinion on it yet.

I’ve found that upping the ante on my hip rotation is helpful when my seat starts getting uncomfortable. Will also paddle for a few minutes with my legs stretched out and feet off the braces. Seat comfort is my biggest challenge during longer distances.

I guess if you’re suffering from pain a NSAID might help - but you might also incur a more serious injury by masking the pain. I sure wouldn’t take them in anticipation of getting sore as they’re not without risk.

Just stay along the shore, check the weather forecast, paddle safe, and have fun! Setting goals widens your horizons.

Don’t under estimate winds on Tahoe, people surf on those wind waves sometimes. Afternoon winds in summer are likely to be strong so check with locals about wind directions and shifts .

I’m thinkin’ it’s twice as fun!! :slight_smile:

I don’t think I have done more than 18 and change miles in one day, and that was with two decent breaks and a (literally) stretch break. The best one of that length I have done was around the Monomoys in Cape Cod, and while it was long it could not have been more perfect. We had a falling tide under us on the way out and a rising tide coming back in. I was doing absolutely nothing coming around the tip and clocking 3 or so mph. The last one that long targeted Eastern Egg in Maine, coming back in some increasing quartering waves sorta behind us. It was GOOD to be done.

Personally, in my lazy old age I would not try a paddle like that unless I could leave with virtually no wind in front of me and a pretty reliable one at my back coming home. Or a tidal current but that is not going to happen in Lake Tahoe. That said, I am fine with waves at my stern so would not have to run closer to shore if the wind came up enough to start some white capping. If that is something that would happen in the case of 12.5 or higher knots, you need to add miles to accommodate not running the middle of the fetch.

It depends on how comfortable you are in your boat. If you have good outfitting and ten miles flies by with no issues, and you don’t need to get out to stretch every 40 minutes, then I don’t think twenty would be so bad. If you’re hobbling around after ten miles, and can’t sit in the boat for more than 30 minutes at a time, then I’d think again about trying twenty.
Used to do twenty mile days pretty regularly, it’s a good day of paddling without feeling like you’ve wrecked yourself. Thirty miles starts to feel like a long day. Have done 35 miles but got a pretty good ride via tides for that one.
What used to work for me. Have water and snacks easily within reach. I stash as many snacks as I can in my lifejacket pockets and keep snacking throughout the day. After every hour take a five to ten minute snack break, rather than stop and take a big lunch break. A big electrolyte intake about halfway through the day helps me tremendously. Keep sipping water every 15 minutes or so. Just get out of the boat to relieve yourself and stretch a bit. Big lunch breaks kill me, I feel like I have to get “started” all over again, after more than twenty minutes on land. Especially kills me if I’m paying for instruction, and end up hanging out on my ass for an hour in the middle of the day, what am I paying for?
I’d save the advil for afterwards, but would be good to have nearby just in case. A cold beer in the parking lot would be effective as well.

My longest day was 26 miles. I like 15 better. We figure 3mph average for planning purposes, breaks included. We paddle around 4 to 4.5 mph.

Is 20 twice as difficult as 10? No it is more . For example when you start first ten you are fresh. Start the second 10 and you are already tired from the first 10.

Personally I plan for stretch breaks on shore each 2-3 hours. Sore can be allieved but old needs to get circulation back and joints lubed.

Go for it. I’ve done many big one-day endurance things on the bike and several long ones in the kayak. The worst that could happen (that’s in your control) is that you bonk. Eat and drink right and you shouldn’t bonk. Take lots of breaks. Best of luck.

Honestly, I think the biggest factor in succeeding at this is just you. If you really want to do it it’ll happen and you won’t be sorry.

I have done 20+ miles on the Edisto river many times. In a REC kayak. The river typically runs slow so that helps a little, but it is no float trip. The heat and wind are often factors.
Lately it has been 16.
At this point I prefer 16.

Only you will be able to answer the question but I don’t consider 20 miles to be ultra-long distance (for a sea kayak anyway). It can either be a “longish” routine trip or pure misery. Build up incrementally rather than doubling your maximum distance in one shot .

I’ve done a number of expeditions and long distances races. Some of the following tips apply more to long distance racing/expeditions, but hopefully something here will help:

As others have pointed out you need to ensure that you eat and drink regularly, and also learn what food you tolerate and how much you should consume. Eat too little and you’ll “bonk”, eat too much and your stomach will get stick. You won’t be able to eat the same amount of calories as you’re burning. I set a “hydration alarm” on my watch and drink/eat something small every 45 minutes during Water tribe races. It’s easy to forget.

Efficient technique/gear/outfitting make a huge difference. Comfort is king. Once you start to hurt, long distance is pure torture.

It is critical that you have good technique and maintain your form and posture for as long as possible. Once you get tired and you start to slump forward or backward, not only does your technique fall-apart, but you start to hurt, and can even injure yourself. If you are training, stop as soon as possible once your technique crumbles and you can’t recover it. Over time you will go faster and further before this happens.

Take a break and stretch/walk every few hours if practical.

You may need to experiment with different seats or seat pads. Once your butt becomes becomes an inferno of pain, it takes a lot of willpower to continue and is certainly not fun. Prevention is the best measure. What works for me is to cut a seat pad from a Thermorest Z-lite mattress, and alternate between pad and no pad. The frequent changes helps to prevent pressure issues/chafing. You will need to experiment and find what works for you. This only became an issue for me when I started pushing more than 30 miles/day, training for Water Tribe events.

Having an ergonomic foot-plate or bulkhead footrest, that gives you the options to paddle with knees close together (better rotation) or splayed outward (better stability), and with your feet tilted forward at a comfortable angle, can improve rotation and comfort, allowing you to go further.

Build up to longer mileage. Use long paddling sessions to determine where you chafe and hurt, and find solutions to make the next attempt better.

Just for some comparisons, 20 miles/day is fairly typical long-distance expedition distance for strong sea kayakers.
The front runners at crazy-long endurance events such as Water tribe Everglades Challenge (300 miler) cover anywhere from 60 to 100+ miles per day, depending on the conditions. Racers on moving rivers rack up even more mileage.


If you have a 17 or 18 foot fairly light weight sea kayak go for it. I have done many 20 milers and now even with out working up to it I wouldn’t hesitate to do one.
On the other hand don’t even think about it in a short rec kayak.

Listen to Greg’s advice above. He could write the book on long distance paddling.
Think plenty of water, some power bars or equal and sunscreen

good luck,


The advise given thus far is quite good. Give yourself some “outs”, like the ones at miles 14 & 16 and any additional you can locate. Watch the weather -_ that’s_ what can really make all the difference, as has been mentioned. Only you know what kind of shape you’re in but it sure wouldn’t be a good idea to take on a record (for you) paddle without getting a fair amount of paddle time in early in the season. Big lakes and open water are, at least to me, more tiring. I think its partly psychological - you don’t have as immediate a sense of progress when you get a bit away from shore. Time seems to drag on.

That said, I have to confess that contrary to what I just advised, the first paddle I did this year was 21 miles on the Kickapoo R. here in Wisconsin. I can report that the second half was much harder than the first. However, unlike your planned trip, this one was all river and all downstream.

The river was up slightly from what I usually run it at, but was dropping following a recent spring flood. It was early season and coolish for Wisconsin. I think there was a bit of frost when I crawled out of the tent prior to departure. Anyway, we (Anita - CasitaAnita and I) stopped at mile 5 for a leg stretch and at mile 11 for lunch. So that was the first half.

After lunch we went about 100 yards, turned a bend in the river, and wham bang encountered the mother of all strainers. At least three big trees were tangled up in it. It was river wide, fast current, steep muddy banks - a dangerous one. We ferried out of the fastest current and were working our way through it on the shallowest part of the river, getting caught in boot-sucking mud, when the rain started. And then there were six other strainers that were similar in the remaining ten miles as well as several lesser ones. Though it got a little warmer, it never did stop raining. The rain’s intensity varied through the afternoon.

Apparently we were the first ones through that section for the season. We encountered several rental canoes stuck in the trees, apparently washed off the banks where they had been stored when the earlier high water hit.

I was glad to see the take out, but I have to say it wasn’t completely exhausting. Frustrating was more like it. I think it took us about 8.5 or 9 hours.

Bet your run will go better. :slight_smile:

Lots of good advice from Greg & others. SeaDart and Peter mention Tahoe’s winds which can make things rough & more tiring. Maybe I missed it but I didn’t see anyone mention an EARLY start. 20 miles isn’t that bad if you’ve conditioned yourself. Starting early, you can pound out 20 before the midday winds. You also mention a Catalina crossing someday. Open ocean is a different ball game, plus no bailout points. I suggest open ocean experience & weather knowledge, going with an experienced partner or partners, and again a very early start since winds in the channel are pretty reliable at coming up around midday. When I’ve done Catalina, I’ve been launched & paddling before 5:00. That channel is a shipping lane so you have freighters to contend with too. They are fast, silent, and before daylight their running lights can blend into the background of all the shore lights, rendering them dangerously hard to see. If/when you want to do Catalina, there are guys in CKF or SDKC that have personal knowledge. Oh yeah, and I definitely second Johnny’s suggestion: two thumbs up to a cold beer reward!

I would have to say the boat makes all the difference–and of course the right paddle. It really helps if you have the right timing on the wind and current. That all doesn’t happen too often, but where I paddle when it’s right, it’s right. It’s fairly easy to do 20 miles, or more when you’ve got the current and wind with you and a nice long fast sea kayak.

My best advice is not to do it the day after you’ve had a colonoscopy. And then don’t go and do about the same the next day.

" If you were talking of making a crossing, I would be much more hesitant."

I’ve done a Lake Tahoe crossing. It’s 13.5 miles from Cave Rock to Tahoe City. Five years ago, it was easy for me. I took my time and did it in about 3.5 hours. My boat seems to like going 4 MPH on longer trips.

For reference, I have a Tempest 170 and a Greenland paddle. I keep a storm paddle on the deck for emergencies and for fun. I have paddled 16 miles before but nothing further than 10 in the last 5 years. I paddle 5 miles a few times a week. After that 10 miles, I was not exhausted, just a bit sore in the shoulders. I blame some of that on my need to sprint the last 1/4 mile.

It’s funny that I got a few comments about watching out for the winds. I was out paddling on the lake last week (or the week before) during a small craft warning when the lifeguards were telling people that they might want to leave the beach due to the impending thunderstorm. It was fun and I managed to catch a few waves. Yes, it would be a serious bitch to try to make any headway against that wind. I was once out on an 8 mile out-and-back paddle (Sand Harbor to Cyrstal Bay Point and back) when a sudden, and I mean totally sudden, storm blew in and made the crossing difficult at best. Having lived at the lake for 25 year and having paddled here on and off for the last 10, I am probably good-to-go with weather planning. Mostly, I’ll just start at 7:00 AM and by the time the wind comes up, I’ll be down south where it’s a little calmer out on the water in windy conditions (not much fetch when the winds are from the south).

The most critical issue to me is the fitness issue. I know that I can paddle five miles in windy rough conditions - I do that all the time. And I know I can paddle 10 miles and be sore in the shoulders. I’m pretty sure that another 3 or 4 will be a breeze, relatively speaking. That last 5 or 6 to get to the 20-mile mark sounds like it could end up painful.

I’ll find a spot to paddle 15 miles, probably out-and-back along the shore, and see how it goes.

The Catalina ocean crossing is a pipe-dream. I would never want to try that alone, That’s for sure. Maybe after I do this 20 miles on Tahoe, I’ll start looking for someone who’s done the Catalina crossing and wants to do it again.

I think that with being able to bail out early if I somehow get tweaked in a shoulder or just don’t have the gumption for it, I’ll probably just try another 10 to 13 miles this weekend and then go for the full 20 next weekend.

Thanks for all the responses. I appreciate that I can just think out loud about this (fitness) issue and get good feedback.


P.S. If anyone is near the North Shore of Tahoe and wants someone to paddle with, feel free to let me know. Just look me up online by searching for “rectorsquid” and “gmail” and you’ll find me easily.

P.P.S. Here’s a map of all of the routes I’ve taken paddling on Lake Tahoe (and other places). I do the trip from Sand Harbor to Thunderbird Lodge at least a few days a week: