How Does Wind Speed Affect Your Paddle?


Wind speed and wind direction have significant implications for paddling safety and enjoyment—and it doesn’t take much to affect the paddling experience.

  • A light breeze (4 to 7 miles per hour) is sufficient to alter the movement of most kayaks; paddlers will need to compensate to keep moving in a straight line.
  • A gentle wind (8 to 12 miles per hour) easily pushes kayaks around, generates waves 2 to 3 feet high in open water (taller than the sides of a kayak), creates a headwind that reduces typical paddling speeds by roughly a third, and can be challenging for novice paddlers.
  • A strong wind (13 to 18 miles per hour) builds waves 3 to 5 feet high with numerous whitecaps, generates a headwind that reduces typical paddling speeds by half or more, and is generally only safe for intermediate to advanced paddlers.
  • Paddling in wind speeds above 19 miles per hour should only be attempted by experienced paddlers with the skill and fitness to handle waves that can quickly exceed 6 feet.


About the Author…

Matt Heid


Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear expert: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.

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