Kayak for rivers, source to sea

I´ve been away from the US for several years, teaching English in South America. My wife and I are returning to US next year and retiring.

Our longest trip kayak camping trip so far has been the James River in Virginia, about 350 miles in two weeks. Now we want to kayak four rivers in the mid Atlantic, source to sea.

We want to do the James again, this time to include the headwaters rivers Jackson and Cowpasture. There was a trip on there a few years ago when a guy did 516 miles in three weeks.

After that we want to do the Susquehanna from Cooperstown to Chesapeake Bay on down to Virginia Beach, then the Potomac, North and South branch down to the Chesapeake, and the New, from North and South Branch in North Carolina, through Virginia to the confluence of the Gauley in West Virginia.

All of these rivers have many portages around dams, rapids up to Class II and lots of granite ledges with sharp edges.

My question is, boats.

I´m 5´9¨ and 170 pounds, comfortable through Class III whitewater, and my wife is 5´3¨ and 110 pounds and comfortable through Class II.

We like shorter touring kayaks in the 12 to 14 range, and we tend to spend a week at a time river camping before resupply. So we need enough cargo space for 50 pounds of gear and food. We are accomplished backpackers, so this weight range is doable for us.

At the moment I like the Delta 12.10 for myself and the Delta 12s for my wife. The Deltas have excellent cargo space, comfortable and easy to paddle and are lightweight thermoformed plastic.

Are there other options we should consider?

Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

Look at Venture if you can

– Last Updated: Sep-05-16 1:40 PM EST –

You might have difficulty finding a dealer, but if you can, check out the Venture line. These are rotomold poly kayaks made by high end British maker P & H and they make some very versatile mid sized kayaks that are well-appointed, rugged and reasonably priced. I have had their Easky 15 LV for 6 years and have taken it everywhere from the Atlantic Coast and Great Lakes to moderate class II rocky streams.

Their Islay (which replaced the Easky models in their USA lineup) is available in a 14 foot version.


Honestly, I would NOT use a thermoform kayak in the waters you are describing due to potential rock and concrete damage. And 12' is really awfully small for an extended trip. Boats that short are more tiresome to paddle and you would gain both efficiency and cargo room by going a bit larger. There is a reason why the manufacturers categorize 12' and even many 14' kayaks as "day touring" boats.

If I was going to be packing a lot of gear on an extended trip my first choice would be Pakboat folding kayak like one of their XT models or a Quest. The entire hull space is accessible just by peeling back the deck which is attached by perimeter velcro. These have an additional advantage in that they can be broken down into a duffel bag when off the water, enabling you to store them in a motel room, rental car or even carry onto public transport, which eliminates many of the hassles of shuttling for long journeys. They are also half the weight of most rigid kayaks. I've owned 6 models of folders and would not be without one. People have crossed the Atlantic Ocean in folders and they are widely used throughout Europe and Asia, where fewer people have the vehicles to haul and the garages to store hard boats.

And yes, folders can be taken in class I and II waters. I've done it. The hulls are pretty tough and also can be easily patched in the field. Besides, like rafts, they tend to bounce off rocks rather than scrape them. I knew an outfitter who used Pakboat folding canoes (same construction as the kayaks) for back country fishing expeditions in Patagonia and Alaska.

Islay Venture 14´
the Venture looks like a very capable kayak. My concern is the weight. I´ll be 70 soon and not looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with heavy poly boats.

But, I do take your advice carefully concerning the thermoformed being susceptible to ledge and rock damage.

I did have a 16´thermoformed that is no longer in production that I used on the James and Susquehanna for lots of scrapping and dragging on granite ledges and I really didn´t see any deterioration. It doesn’t scratch the way poly does.

The idea of needing a lot of gear for kayak camping has been around a long time, but seriously, we did 3 weeks on the AT with only 30 pound packs and never went lacking for anything we needed. Even a 12 foot kayak can carry 50 to 100 pounds of gear and food, and of course water is readily available on a kayak trip, unless your in brackish or salt water. I remember island hopping in the Chesapeake with 3 gallons of bottled water weighing almost 25 pounds.

The pack boats are a great idea because of the numerous portages around dams. Also will consider inflatable kayaks. I´ve used the inflatable whitewater kayaks and found them to be very satisfactory, especially when you can pack them away in a 25 pound backpack for off the river.

I agree that a 12 foot kayak would normally not be my first choice, but my wife is a smallish woman and anything bigger would be uncomfortable for her I´m thinking. The 12 Delta can easily keep up with 14 foot touring boats, but it has the advantage of lighter weight, smaller cockpit, improved maneuverability for running rapids and rock gardening.

River camping

– Last Updated: Sep-05-16 3:47 PM EST –

Just a suggestion to also take a look at the Dagger Stratos models for river camping. Love mine in the river. Lots of videos of them on youtube if you are looking for information.

Edit, sorry just your post above regarding weight. Hard to beat the light weight on the Deltas. I have lots of scratches on my big Delta from river running but so far no real damage despite taking plenty of hits.


– Last Updated: Sep-06-16 9:33 AM EST –

is I-II pooool n drop, windy below Sunbury. A longer boat is best.
Thru a one thermo hull all conditions
Under III search, I arrived at


as a design class.

Know of Phillip.AK ? VIDEO in trips at WeSt Coast Paddler. Videos of thrashing a thermo hull on portage.

all depends on where your looking to
start and finish and when you go- I say that because upper reaches of the cowpasture and jackson have some “good” ww. It could be a lot of fun in the Spring when those stretches typically run (march,april,may).

The new has its share or rapids as well. Things become more problematic below Cunard Wv on the New. Definately, some class iv water in that stretch- the carry’s are difficult in the “gorge”. 0’ at fayette station is probably the easiest level for the gorge (mid July to October). Unfortunately below Cotton Hill are the new river dries and stream will be dry if the gorge run is low or anywhere near 0. Easiest level for the dries is 4-6 feet on the dries gauge. Note that the aw gauge is wrong for the dries. You’ll have to swim your boat and drag over some boulders when the river is 4.25ft-4 ft or tad lower. Below that it is a total hike. You probably don’t want to boat the new river dries above 6 ft (in the spring and after storms) unless you have big water skills. So if your contemplating doing those stretches think stinger with skeg and hatch, or pyranha fusion, or jackson’s latest offering in a crossover. The stable crossover is the xp10 but it plows on the flats. You’ll want to step up your skills by practicing. An alternative would be to raft below cunard.

Sounds like you have some fun goals and I’d be glad to put you in touch with individuals that could assist, run safety, provide raft support on the new and I also know others who routinely paddle the upper jackson and cowpasture. The west virginia wildwater association would be a good resource, wvwa.net

oops and I forgot the branches of the
potomac- more “fun whitewater” in those stretches with awesome scenery Hopeville Canyon, Smokehole Canyon and Lower Smokehole Canyon, and South Fork of the South Branch (Siebert to Milam) is neat. This stuff runs mostly in the spring.

light boats
I’m 66 and only 5’ 5" which is one of the reasons I really like folders. I can lift my Pakboats onto the roof of a car with one hand. Portaging them is a piece of cake, though if they are loaded with cargo it’s a good idea to carry a pair of webbing slings to haul them supporting the boats near the midpoint rather than the ends…

Jackson & Cowpasture

– Last Updated: Sep-06-16 11:00 AM EST –

You are absolutely right, timing is everything. We did both the Cowpasture and Jackson one year in late April with solo whitewater canoes and had a terrific time.
The Cowpasture had enough water in late April and we put in at the bridge below the confluence of Bullpasture and Cowpasture.
We did the Jackson from Poor Farm Road to Richardson Gorge. Didn´t do the gorge because we ran out of daylight and we weren´t sure how to get permission from the fishing club. They have a barb wire fence at the top of the gorge which means they are pretty serious about keeping boaters out. There is also a creek up there called Back Creek that some of my friends say is a worthwhile run in early spring.

My thoughts about doing the Jackson-Cowpasture again as part of a longer trip to Virginia Beach is that I for sure want to know how to legally run Richardson Gorge, and how to portage the Gathright Dam. I looked at those concrete stairs coming down that damn to the spillway and good lord I can´t imagine portaging on them. There must be a thousand stairs, probably the height of a 50 story building.
One option is to arrange a shuttle from Cole´s Point. Or we could take out at the dam and use our portage carts along the highway down to the spillway. Probably a couple miles, but its all downhill paved road with no traffic. My guess is it would be easier than the concrete stairs option.

other question about Jackson
Another question about the Jackson is how to portage around the paper mill?

I scouted it by road and there is a sign there you can call a number for a shuttle but I strongly dislike the idea of relying on a paper mill to shuttle us. It´s possible to take out at the water plant and use the portage carts to the open parking lot just below that second dam, then slide the kayaks down that steep embankment and back in the river. That´s only about 1/4 mile on paved and gravel road.

Otherwise we´d have to portage the boats a mile or so through town to the next canoe ramp at the south edge of Covington.

sometimes its better to ask for
forgiveness than permission

There’s a reason why I don’t boat much in virginia- water rights are retained by the landowner- more hassles than in wv

register as a user (you don’t have to join or pay to do that) on the wvwa forum and message me via the forum (tony daniel) and I’ll hook you up with someone who will have some of your answers- They also are a good source of info on the potomac branches

sometimes its better to ask for

– Last Updated: Sep-06-16 7:46 PM EST –

two carts than one, as far as cart versus stairs I'd go for the cart. I;m a bit unconventional cart-er. sometimes I cam strap on two sets of wheels- leave all the gear in the boat and pull it like a wagon- works good on roads.

Did you make any of these trips you planned? I’d love to hear how your adventures through Virginia have gone. I just finished reading a blog from a guy who kayaked the Thames source to sea in a foldable Tucktec kayak. That makes it easy to pack up at the end of each day and even take the kayak into the pub!

Just read willowleaf and Headwaters2 comments on how thermafoil boats handle rocks and abrasions. I welcome all comments. Currently considering a Delta 15.5 that I fit in (rare for a decent hull to fit me well, but haven had any responses from several posts asking for comments. Members use all kinds of boats, so somebody must have experience in the brand. My first concern was that it’s thermofoil. I drag my roto molded boats onto the sand. No wish to validate a purchase. Like all sides. I tried Current Design, but they either l fit like a glass slipper, or the big ones were like river waders.

Stones, driftwood and other surprises are always painful for every boat. Only one will continue to sail and the other will need to be repaired.

Ah, so all things are not created equal. Like using your $500 paddle to shovel rocks in a moving stream, when a plastic, paddle is more resilient and cost less to replace. Is that not what it means master? Water hopper, if a wise man throws his money at folly, he is probably not wise, and his money soon will be gone. Yes. I think I understand. Doesn’t that apply to the riddle of the best paddle as well . . . ? The wise man who uses his money with discretion, will be rewarded many times over and he can spend it on a burger and fries, and a beer on Saturday night.

There is such an expression that a miser pays twice, so you need to be objective and you don’t always need to save money. If the river is calm and you are not going to explore unexplored places then you can take a budget kayak. But if you do not know where the boat will take you, then it is advisable to take it with a reinforced bottom.