Whitewater kayaking and canoeing are great ways to get outside and get exercise---and they can easily be done on a budget. We take a look at how to get out on the water without spending a lot.

Whitewater kayaking and canoeing are great ways to experience extreme water sports. With rivers all over the country (and the world), you’ll never be bored.

With beginner kayaks starting at a few hundred dollars or less, you can find a cheap kayak you can use for years.

On the other hand, you’ll have to understand that cheaper kayaks (or canoes) means less room, they’ll be a little heavier, and built from cheaper materials. But, there are plenty of excursions you can go on where you can rent canoes or kayaks as part of a trip package—so you’ll still save money even if you discover it’s not the sport for you.

When shopping for a kayak or canoe, used is the way to go

If you want a more upscale kayak but can’t dish out over a thousand dollars to do so, try buying a lightly used kayak. As long as you know what to look for, you can get a great deal.

Unless you’re absolutely sure a site is reputable, don’t buy used until you see the boat. And be patient. Spend time on a variety of used sites like Colorado Kayaks (they offer payment plans on used kayaks), Rei, and Craigslist to figure out how much you should actually be paying for the kayak you want.

Also take into consideration the type of water you’ll be in. Like any other boats, kayaks and canoes come in a range of shapes and sizes meant for various excursions.

You won’t want a sit-on-top kayak for whitewater kayaking—you’ll definitely fall out. If you plan on kayaking in the sea, which can still bring fairly rough water, there’s sea kayaks that are often longer than your average kayak and offers closed storage space and are built to withstand rough weather. The same goes for whitewater kayaks, which are smaller in order to get around tight bends.

If you’re looking for a simpler kayak to use in more steady water, you can get a touring kayak.

Where do you go?

There are plenty of river entry points that are free to go to as long as you bring your own kayak, you just might have to pay for parking. But, if you’re just starting out, you might want to go with a guide.

There are plenty of short trips in Colorado and Indiana (to name a few) for under $100.

What equipment will you need?

Always wear a life jacket

A simple life jacket might only set you back $20, but life jackets with waterproof pockets and that are lightweight and not bulky can be over $100.

If you kayak or canoe frequently, you probably want to consider the investment. If you don’t, you’ll be constantly frustrated by your bulky, cheap life jacket.

Think about getting a helmet

Like any helmet, never buy one that’s used. For whitewater kayaking and canoeing, you’ll want to buy a helmet specifically for the sport as they provide more support for a greater impact in case of an accident. Rei.com offers inexpensive helmet options.

If you’re in stable water, you don’t necessarily need a helmet, but it’s always good to be prepared.


Kayak and canoe paddles can cost anywhere between $40-$400 and sometimes more. If you’re on a budget, try Amazon or big-box sports stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods.

The difference in high-end versus low-end paddles is how well they allow you to propel forward and how much they weigh. More expensive paddles can weigh almost nothing. This makes make it easier for you to paddle long distances and to travel in general.

You’ll definitely need a car rack

If you’re driving longer distances to whitewater kayak or canoe you might want to invest in a nicer, durable rack. These will typically hold more than a single boat and be sturdier.

If you’re more into kayaking as a weekend warrior, Walmart offers racks for about $40.


Whitewater kayaking and canoeing on a budget may seem difficult, but as long as you stick to buying used, you’ll be able to save a ton. Since most rivers have free entry points, trips are typically inexpensive, especially if you live close.

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Christopher Murray is a professional personal finance and sustainability writer who enjoys writing about everything from budgeting to unique investing options like SRI and cryptocurrency. He also focuses on how sustainability is the best savings tool around. You can find his work on sites like MoneyGeek, Money Under 30, Investor Junkie, MoneyCrashers, and Time. You can find out more about Christopher on his website or via LinkedIn.