Is Kayaking A Good Way to Lose Weight?

These days it seems everyone is looking for a good way lose weight.  As a kayak coach and dare I say, an advocate for the sport, it’s a bit of a no-brainer that I would tell you that kayaking is indeed a good way to lose weight.. After all, any exercise that supports physical fitness, burns calories and keeps you interested is on its surface, a good way to lose weight.  But is it really?  Here are some thoughts… 

According to the American Council on Exercise, a 125 lb person burns about 283 calories per hour while kayaking. A 200 lb person burns a whopping 454 calories.  That’s logical since the heavier you are, the more energy you expend when you exercise.  However, when you compare 1 hour of walking to 1 hour of kayaking you’ll find the difference (depending on weight and chart), is around 30-50 calories.  So paddle an hour, or walk an hour and 20 minutes and you’ll end up in about the same place, calorie-wise. Hiking on mixed terrain for an hour will push you nearly 150 calories higher than paddling for that hour invested. (again, the number depends on weight and other factors).

Now when I paddled around Puerto Rico, it took almost a month and we paddled almost daily with a few off days here and there.  At the end of the trip I had lost about 25lbs.  That’s a lot of weight to lose in a month for sure, but again we put in hours & hours of paddling.  Plus the fact that I was often too tired to eat certainly contributed to the weight loss. Other paddlers on even longer expeditions have lost even more weight.  Thing is, most of us simply can’t do 2 expeditions a year just for the sake of weight management.

As a coach and paddling addict I paddle a lot, but like you I have a job, a family and life to contend with.  I’m lucky to get an hour or two free, 4 or 5 days a week. In that limited time I have to decide how to get the most “out there” experience.  Hiking means, just jumping in the jeep, driving to the destination and I’m instantly on the trail.  It takes me only a few more minutes to load my bike.  Heck, I can ride my bike right out of the driveway.  Paddling takes more effort. Even if I leave my kayak on the roof as I often do in summer, I still have load up gear, unload gear at the beach and get my s*^T together before I actually get on the water and begin exercising..

Once on the water you have to again remember why you’re there.  To burn those calories, you’ll need to keep up a sustained speed and do some distance.  Stopping to watch the loons every few minutes won’t burn calories.  Paddling for exercise and paddling for pleasure are not always the same thing. You need to maintain a good speed over a set duration to really get your calorie burn reward. What’s more, the better paddler you become, the more efficient, the less energy you’ll use and the less calories you’ll burn. Drat!

Feeling a little less excited about paddling to lose weight?  Well, you shouldn’t, you simply can’t expect any exercise alone to do the job of getting you back into a tight pair paddling shorts.  It’s as simple as “Calories in, Calories out”.

Here’s the thing, after I go paddling for an hour, real exercise paddling and I (being around 200 lbs) burn my 454 calories, I don’t dare reward myself with a coke and a snickers bar!  A 16 oz bottle of coke, which is easier to find than a can these days, is about 200 calories.  A snickers bar comes in at another 273 calories.  There went my hour of paddling!  Don’t even think about a handful of your favorite gorp.. some of thoes can be nearly 700 calories for about 6 oz! Heck even a cup of carrots will ding you to the tune of 50 calories… that means 1 hour paddling plus a cup of carrot slices equals an hour’s leisurely walk.  Now there’s a downer if I ever heard one!

Don’t lose heart though, staying fit isn’t just about losing calories.  You also need to build up your muscles and stay flexible as well. Kayaking will do that for you, and you do in fact, burn calories doing it.  The thing is, you need to be realistic.  Weight loss means not simply exercising, but also limiting your intake; “Calories in, Calories out.” Just taking the little plastic tub out to the lake once or twice a week isn’t going to do much for weight loss.  On the other hand, it may do wonders for your soul.


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25 Responses

  1. Nice post. I lost 15 lbs. this spring and summer while kayaking, but it took 45 days of 22 miles per day on average. On the other hand, on my last bike tour, which was about two weeks long of 45 miles per day on average, I actually gained weight. I’d guess it was the massive burgers that I ate for lunch at a restaurants everyday and the easy access to grocery stores and potato chips.

    For exercise, I’d rather jump on my bike. It’s so much easier than getting into the wetsuit and heading to Superior. Plus, I burn 726 calories in an hour riding between 12 and 13 mph. That means I get to eat that snickers bar and still lose weight. :)

  2. Thanks. Yeah I get that.. I rarely paddle for exercise.. I hike our hilly trails or bike.. Right now I’m also living on 1000 calories a day Sun-Friday.. so I still don’t get the snickers bar!

  3. I have found a balance of exercise and diet that has kept the weight off, toned my body, raised my energy levels and I do not starve everyday. “Calories in, Calories out” may indeed work, but it is far more important to pay attention to the source of those calories. 30 calories of twinky is not the same calories as 30 calories of spinach.

    I paddle twice a week on average, one long day usually 20+ miles and another short evening paddle of 5 to 7 miles plus some play. I tend to take two or three multiple day kayaking trips a year, usually 4 to 5 days of constant paddling. I run twice a week, 3 miles or so each run. Most days I do a morning workout for about an hour focusing on stretching, yoga, pilates and strength training only using my own body weight. But all of this needs the proper diet to work well, keep me at an ideal weight and give me the energy to accomplish this.

    I can not recommend more highly going to this website and following their 30 day plan:


    After following this strictly for 30 days, transition into the slightly less restrictive diet of (it is a long article but take the time to read, REALLY):


    I started this in January. I used to average about 160+ lbs and felt tired and fat. I am now 134 pounds (this mornings weigh in) , I feel light, energetic and am in the best shape of my life. I even “look” healthier as my completion and skin is clear, before I would always have the stray zit and tend to be on the pale side. No more.

    Yes, it is a combination of diet and exercise, but this diet is not a “diet” but a lifestyle change. I pick and choose everything that goes into my body with care and with the mind set “is this good for me”. This is not a count the calories diet. I eat what I want, and how much of it I want to make me feel full. I do not over indulge and I stick to the mantra of the types of food I eat. I just live and eat healthier, on a daily basis.

    It has changed my life, in the literal. I feel better, work better, play better.

    1. Marius

      Let me see – 9 mile run yesterday, a bit over 1000cal, didn’t even take one hour. Pass me that beer.
      Is is rather amusing that I actually eat everything on that Whole30 prohibited items list (except for artificial sweeteners) , and yet feel quite light and fit

      Oh, my weight is perfect for my height, which varies.

      1. Hey, that’s good for you. Whatever fits your lifestyle. If it works, great. But for some people they need some guidance, they need a program. It gives them something to work for and a goal. After the 30 days they can choose how to move on and adjust their diet to their lifestyle, wants and personal needs. I lost almost 30 pounds in that month, broke an awful habit of drinking way to much way too often, got off of processed foods and too much sugar. It got me back on track to a better diet and a healthier me. If I did not have the program to follow with a set goal and the anticipation of coming out on the other side leaner and healthier I would be in the same shape now if not worse then I was when I started. Which is bad.

        I now have the occasional beer and wine, I indulge in dark chocolate every now and then. I just try and stick with an overall plan of whole natural foods and what I have come to like after completing the 30. It works for me and it may work for some who do not have the will power to break bad habits.

        All I am saying here is that the program works. I did it and lots of other people have to, all with the same results. Better health, better weight and a better feeling about yourself.

        1. Hey Lawrence, you make a good point that many people need a program. Either commercial or through their doctor, nutritionist or whomever… the biggest issue is always willpower. 😉

          Another point I try to make regularly is that some folks really struggle & we’re all different and live in different situations, so we can never take our own personal experience and apply it to everyone else. Regardless, I think we should certainly share every idea we can come up with in the hopes that it can help someone!

  4. Kayaking to loose weight? are you kidding me?
    I never have been chunkier since I took up sea kayaking.
    The fault doesn’t exactly lay in paddling itself but what I have replaced it with.
    Before becoming engrossed in sea kayaking I used to ride mountain bikes, in the dirt, on singletrack, steep, fast.
    These days I just sit on my ass, paddle much less often than ride. As you mentioned it takes considerable more effort/time to go paddling; about an hour just to get to what I regard decent water.
    I have chucked in MTB (it’s too hot where I live and I am NOT a morning person :-) )
    I also used to backpack over the weekend at least every second one.
    Much fitter before sea kayaking.
    Well, the doughnuts aren’t helping :-)

  5. If you factored in portaging, loading and unloading boats, I’m sure the calories burned would go up. These are a big part in kayak, since must people don’t have a kayak sitting in the water they can easily jump in and out of. Great Article!

  6. deborah

    although this likely does not apply to the people who have posted so far, casual paddling as done by the vast majority of kayakers is far from the best way to lose weight or “work out.” In the sense that such paddling is better than nothing, and may lead to interest in other sports, it’s a plus.

    Done at a sustained pace, as Derrick suggests, it can provide good cardio (but again activities like cycling, running and cross country skiing are far better) and, for some body types, weight reduction results.

    IMO the greatest benefit is toning and strengthening core muscles in the abs and back – which is very desirable, even if weight loss doesn’t accompany it, as this is a good platform for more exercise and other sports, as well as better performance in yoga, pilates, etc.

    I don’t need to lose weight, I need to make the weight I have be stronger & more efficient!

    Ditto to the person who advocated a balanced, clean diet. Crap in is crap out, in more ways than one.

  7. Kellie

    thanks for posting this – I figure that kayaking is better than sitting on the sofa. I realize that the pace I normally keep won’t do it (cardio/weight loss), but I find myself paddling with folks who are much faster and so figure I get a little better workout that way.

    I realize that if I want to be a better paddler then I need to exercise outside of the kayak too. ok, and for the weight loss thing, to quote a comic strip, you have to eat fewer calories than you expend – because “honey, there ain’t no other way!”

    ok – I guess there’s liposuction, but let’s just say there’s no other natural way.

    Cheers – I’m tired of being fat and 50 – so wish me luck with diet and exercise. Been having some foot problems so that limits exercise options a bit. Have been swimming at the pool.

  8. GilCatt

    The distance from water is indeed a factor.
    Since I now live in a house that is something like 20 yards from the shore – even the toilet room has a view – I find myself practising more frequently.
    Energy wise, everything is rosier: I consume less petrol and more calories.
    I know I’m lucky.
    The trouble is, Britanny, where I live, is also the land of pancakes, salted butter, caramel and the dreaded Kouign Amann (1/3 butter, 1/3 sugar/ 1/3 flour). Argh…

    1. Gus Garcia

      We all have the choice to eat well and exercise or not, regardless of circumstance.
      I made a choice to loose weight on my 44th birthday. I weighed 97kg (or 200lb).
      I love to kayak and have for years, but i packed on the weight after relocating for work and living in a closed off compound in PNG. When i returned on my 44th Bday i had put on 10 kilos (20lb). I set myself a challenge to release 15kilos (30Lb). i joined a local kayak club, used the club race boats (very tippy boats) as that was all they had. I took weeks of time in the water to get the balance and core strength. I’ll be 45 in a few weeks. I now weight 82 kilos (170lb). I made a commitment to myself to get fitter and healthier. I cycled 3 times per week (45min). kayaked 3 times per week (1.5hrs) ran twice per week (3klm it is still hard to do). The big thing is PUT OUT more than you PUT IN….I love kayaking and staying fit. Now that i have reached my goal weight. I ride less and run less, but do what i love to do the most. That is race kayaking. I race in the marathon series….See you on the water.

  9. GilCatt

    ah well….

    A M A N N (which means butter)


    A M M A N (which means something completely different)

    I know, it’s subtle… long live gaelic languages

  10. Late post. I read your article last year, and said, “wow, really 450 calories an hour?” You bring up an interesting point about convenience. I live aboard a sailboat and find kayaking the least effort. I merely slide off the dock. What initially began as playing around on “the dingy”in response to that 450 calorie lure has become 10 miles of paddling most days. With only a crappy sit on top I have found a sport which provides so much return. Safe, year round all weather, and for an old guy who can no longer run, it has allowed me to get longer workouts again. Also the more we learn about cardiac apoptosis and damage from high intensity workouts in the elderly (over forty) it is easy to see why kayaking is such an awesome form of exercise. Thank you for advocating for paddling as part of a long term fitness plan. Now I am starting to think of expedition paddling!

  11. Creekpaddler

    I regularly paddle an open canoe on nearby creeks and rivers after work and on weekends. For weekday workouts, I put in and take out at the same place – no shuttle to take up precious daylight hours. While the downstream portion is a moderate workout, the upstream part is more intense. As with kayaking, it’s great exercise for arms, abdomen, back, and even the hips. And it’s a decent aerobic workout, too, getting my pulse rate up in the range of 120 to 160 bpm. Stroking upstream also gets my mind focused on following my lines through the fast water.

  12. G Morgan

    at some point the distance and time need to used in the calculation not just time. Paddling around in the water for an hour is not going to burn as much as paddling 3 miles in an hour. I haven’t seen distance mentioned in any of the web sites on this subject. Thanks,

  13. I think this is a very good article/take on kayaking as exercise, and how it compares to other activities. It seems kayaking works better as a complimentary exercise rather than a core activity. While it’s nice to rest your legs, and focus on an upper-body and core (to some extent) exercise, kayaking just doesn’t work as much of your body as walking/running/hiking. Obviously, this is because you sit in a fixed position while paddling a kayak: Consequently, your legs don’t work much at all despite the insistence of some kayak enthusiasts. Core movement is also fairly limited; it’s true the obliques are used during torso rotation, but because you’re seated the larger core muscles aren’t used to nearly the extent they are when ambulating over mixed terrain.

    That said, for me one of the most enjoyable full-body outdoor workouts is to combine strength training (push-ups, pull-ups, plank, crunches, etc.), kayaking, and running. Start off with a brief warm-up, do about 20-30 min of strength training, then alternate between kayaking and running.

  14. Great post. I agree completely. It is GREAT for the soul. I focus on running/biking/weight training for overall fitness, but it is hard to beat getting out on the water for some exercise, both physical and mental. Cheers

  15. Skallebank

    I have recently started kayaking and I’m in love with it. I’m 250 pound so I’m quite overweight. Unfortunateley for me I am still recovering from a fall from scaffolding at work (26 months ago) My ankle was badly broken and screwed plated nailed ect, but I refuse to let it end me being active. Kayaking is an awesome way for me to get the exercise and strenghtening that I want without as much stress on my ankle. And it’s great fun.

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