Paddling Upriver

Trying to decide what is the best for paddling upriver in a basically slow-moving river during summer with some short areas of shallow, faster-moving water. I want to be able to paddle back up to where I put in after a couple of miles. I’ve seen canoes go upriver with ease with 2 people but I’ll be by myself. Any suggestions for a style of canoe or kayak for this would be appreciated.

Up river
It’s not so bad. That’s how I normally paddle. 3-6 miles upstream and then back. Our river runs about 2mph bank full down to nearly nill by August. I’d rather paddle upstream in 2mph deep water than 6 inches of water that’s standing still.

You’ll probably want something that tracks relatively straight, so think a little longer. As my technique and stroke improves over the years I’m getting better at propelling shorter boats in a straight line with less effort. Bell Magic is probably my favorite production boat for such paddling but I’ve done it in everything from 13’ rec kayaks to 18.5’ C1 racing canoes and 21’ racing kayaks.

You’ll be the determining factor more so than the boat. Pay attention to how you cross eddy lines. Learn to hide from the current. Develop a solid forward stroke, preferably hit and switch.

It’s a fun way to paddle. Adds a new dimension and keeps the brain engaged. Can be very rewarding when you power up a swift section or use available eddies to hop your way up a tough section.


Something to think about …
Unless you are training for racing there is a lot to be said for going upstream first and then going back to you put-in with the current. Like starting out with the wind on a bicycle, you just cruise along thinking that you are really in rhythm … until you turn around into the wind or the upstream current. One of the runs I’ll do locally on the Grand River works out to an hour upstream & 40 min. back.

Some other thoughts: if you have some shallows that you struggle to climb you can just step out and walk the boat up to deeper water. Also, upstream paddling can do wonders for you water reading and boat control. You can really start to see and understand current differentials and the pressure of the current will magnify any directional errors that you make.

Two boats I like for that.
I like to do that with a Dagger Alchemy and an Epic V7. The Dagger is much more stable. The Epic is much more comfortable and slightly faster.

I usually go upstream first and then come back the easy way.

Canoe upriver,…Yes I do!
I really enjoy the challenge and nuances of upriver paddling. You REALLY learn more about eddies, currents, ferrying and boat handling in general by paddling up rivers. I always use a double blade (kayak) paddle going upriver and switch to my single blade canoe paddle on the return downstream. the upstream paddle is TEN times easier with the double blade paddle and by switching to the single blade, you work different muscles in the process. I suggest a narrow beam solo canoe with very little rocker, if any. I actually go up rapids by eddy hoping and ferrying and it is serious fun but you really gotta be on your game. My preferred canoe is a Dagger Sojourn but just yesterday I used my Mohawk Solo 14 with equal fun and efficiency. I paddled three miles up the Saluda River here in Columbia SC where there are many exposed boulders, fast current and many class 2 rapids. Once again since you will be going against the current (and possibly against the wind) you want a tracking canoe more than a rockered whitewater canoe.

Shallow water going upstream a canoe - perfect conditions for poling

No better way to get upstream.

If you have no experience paddling
either, I think a kayak would be easier.

I paddle both canoes and kayaks, and for up river my preference would be in the kayak

Jack L

Not so much the boat. More you
Its about paddling technique. Hit and switch in a canoe is very effective. Forget J strokes in this situation. It takes time and practice to get the technique right and the ability to switch sides as soon as the bow starts to be affected by ongoing current pushing it to one side.

Easier in yak but don’'t get locked into using always using the two sides in the normal pattern… and correct as soon as yaw starts.

Usually a longer boat has the capability for more speed which you need going upstream.

Yes we stand and pole in tandem canoes when we are alone here in New England because it it so efficient for upstream travel but I trust you will be in a solo boat; poling some is a guaranteed bath.

Easy, smart and safe way. Paddle upstream first then once you’re all tired out you can drift back to where you put in.

Bill H.

where there is a will there is a way
Streams and rivers as you described are perfect for upstream travel, like the one in my backyard. My poling boats are all Mad River models, malecite, traveller and independence. I’ll kneel when salmoning up one large drop as I’m always alone and when you do lose it, it isn’t as traumatic as when standing.

Paddling Upriver
Typically I go alone because now one else seems to have a similar work schedule. When I do go out I’ll also take into account the wind along with the current. I paddle a lot of sections of the upper Susquehanna River in central NYS and there are some places where the wind will be stronger than any current I may find. When that happens I’ll go into the wind first and then let it push me back home if you will. Upstream or downstream; it really doesn’t matter as long as you get the chance to be out paddling.

That’s all for now. Take care and until next time…be well.


Another vote for poling

– Last Updated: Dec-16-15 5:43 PM EST –

I have a 10 ft pole from a hardware store, it's a closet hangar pole, I use while kneeling in canoe. Definitely not the traditional method eckilson is referring to but works well for me.

In cases where the water occasionally gets deeper than the pole reaches I use it like a Greenland kayak paddle, surprisingly effective, but I would not want to fight a swift current with it.

Being only 10 ft it's a little easier to set out of the way when picking up a traditional paddle.

That’s something I want to try

– Last Updated: Dec-16-15 6:33 PM EST –

I can't stand in my solo canoes - well, not steady enough for poling anyway - so the idea of a shorter pole used when kneeling really appeals to me. I tried it once. I made a take-apart pole in the manner that was most convenient to me on short notice, and the pole ended up breaking at the joint. However, what I DID learn is that in certain situations when in strong current, my natural reactions regarding boat control based on using the water for purchase (with a paddle) led to me doing exactly the wrong things when using the river bottom (with a pole). It's that old problem of relative motion. I could see that there would be quite a learning curve just getting to the point of compartmentalizing the natural reactions required for the two different methods.

Colorado River
I do the Colorado River (Hoover Dam to Yuma) a couple times a year at least.

Going down river, it does not matter. Robert uses a 16’ aluminum canoe that he overload sna dpaddles solo. I’ve gone downriver in an Old Town Dirago-12, a Perception Carolina 14.5 and an old Town Pack-12 canoe with equal results.

Going upriver, fighting that 3-5 knot current, does matter.

No canoe that I have seen can easily go upriver. I have to fight to get my Dirago upriver but my Carolina goes upriver easily.

The rule is simple, long & narrow. After that, the rest is minimal.

I can’t
Wish I could paddle up my local river. I tried twice. Spent 3 hours battling and made it less than a mile. I have recorded a best speed of 5.8 mph on my gps bicycling app I use out on the lake. The 2nd time I checked while I floated back down with the current, 6.6 mph. No wonder I couldn’t get up the river.

As kayamedic said

– Last Updated: Dec-18-15 8:25 AM EST –

It's more about technique and skill than it is about the boat. Learn to read the water and utilize the micro eddies along the shoreline and behind rocks. Stay on the inside of the turns, very close to the shoreline, then ferry across so as to stay on the inside of the next turn. Learn to do solid cross forward strokes, so that use of correction strokes may be minimized and to allow you to stay closer to the onside shoreline.

A shorter boat, with moderate rocker will be more maneuverable with minimal speed reduction, but will require more skill to control.

Many books and articles have been written on these subjects, however there is no substitute for hands on instruction from someone who is qualified.

Don’t agree about boat don’t matter
I DO AGREE with rikjohnson statement titled Colorado River just above in regards to Long & narrow being much more efficient than short, rockered and especially wide. I have done attainment upriver paddling in Mohawk WW canoes and though I really like them for downriver rapid running, they are very frustrating and fatiguing when going upriver. Long and Narrow is SO MUCH more pleasant, efficient and will get you up river much faster.

I would agree
that heavily rockered play boats are difficult and inefficient, going upstream, any distance. I was referring to the general range of touring and perhaps some rec. hulls which seemed to be the gist of the discussion.

I agree as well, with qualifications

– Last Updated: Dec-18-15 3:43 PM EST –

The fact is, on most quiet rivers, taking advantage of eddies isn't all that practical. On quiet rivers, the current isn't that bad to begin with, and nearly all of the eddies will be due to logs or fallen trees, and getting into one of those eddies only means you now have to zig-zag out again after enjoying about 10 feet of shelter from the current. The next worthwhile eddy might be on the opposite shore, and it might be 100 feet ahead. Zig-zagging to hit the eddies on these rivers is fun, and great maneuvering practice, but it takes you so far off from the shortest distance between two points that at best there's nothing gained, and usually it's a lot slower. One semi-large river with a fairly brisk current that I paddle a lot has virtually no "useful" eddies at all. Inside curves tend to be too shallow to make decent progress, and true eddies are mostly far enough out of the clear path that they can be bypassed far more quickly than ducking into them. Eddy-hopping is best reserved for those swift-water sections where making progress upstream is truly a challenge, and in those cases, I'll agree that a maneuverable boat has the advantage.

When it comes to simply making good progress upstream, the effect of current is to magnify the importance of whatever speed difference there is between boats (by the same token, when going downstream, the effect of current is to minimize boat-speed differences). Let's say the current is 3 mph and you wish to go upstream. If you have one boat that easily cruises at 4 mph and another that easily cruises at 5 mph, the 5-mph boat will take you twice as far upstream in a given amount of time, and that's a big difference. Compare that to the speed advantage of the faster boat on still water or going downstream. On still water, the faster boat takes you 1.25 times as far as the slower boat, and going downstream with a 3-mph current, it only takes you 1.1 times as far (hardly enough to matter). The faster the current, the greater this effect, and thus the greater the advantage of a faster boat for upstream travel.

it’s great practice

– Last Updated: Dec-18-15 3:48 PM EST –

piggybacking on what you wrote, it's also great practice to make one's way upstream without relying on eddies to the extent possible. It teaches you a lot about your boat's handling characteristics. What would be a minor variation in course on a still body of water is much more pronounced when paddling against the current.