Best Weather Conditions For Kayaking

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Kayaking is always more fun when the weather is at its best. But there are many weather factors to learn about if you’re new to kayaking and all of them can have huge impacts on your paddling experiences.

From wind to waves to ocean currents, the weather is probably one of the most important factors to learn about when you’re growing your kayaking skills. Aside from understanding techniques like trunk rotation and reverse paddling, you’ll need to learn how to identify the best weather conditions for kayaking.

That means gaining an understanding of how factors like water temperature, wind direction, air temperature, and tidal patterns can impact your paddling experience. We’ll cover important points relating to all of those factors (and more!) in this article.

So let’s get started on identifying and defining what constitutes the best weather conditions for kayaking!

Best Weather Conditions For Kayaking

If you plan to do most of your kayaking where you’ve been living for your entire life, you’re already at a distinct advantage. But there are still several factors to consider when you’re looking for the best weather conditions for kayaking.

Wind Direction And Speed

If you’re kayaking on any lake, slow-moving river, protected coastal waterway, or even in the open ocean, wind direction and speed are going to be two of the biggest weather conditions that impact your kayaking experience.

Wind can blow your kayak around and make it difficult to make any reasonable headway in the direction you’re trying to paddle. But it can also create other weather conditions that make it very difficult for kayakers.

As you might imagine, the best weather conditions for kayaking involve minimal or no wind. But if you live in an area where wind is common almost all the time, you’re hoping for wind speeds under five miles per hour.

In terms of direction, it takes some time to understand where the winds in your area typically come from. But every region has “average” wind patterns that you can come to expect (and maybe even rely on) when you’re out on the water.

When it comes to wind direction, there really is no ideal direction for wind to come from. But if you know the cardinal direction that the wind direction typically comes from in your area, it makes it much easier to plan your kayaking routes.

Water Temperature

Water temperature is a really interesting consideration when you’re asking about the best weather conditions for kayaking. And that starts with the fact that what feels bone-chilling to you might feel crisp and refreshing to me.

But there’s a more scientific recipe for what’s considered “too cold” to kayak. For example, water temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit really start to make kayaking much easier and more enjoyable.

That’s because there is a 120-degree rule that involves the combined temperatures of the water and the air in your area. So, if you can count on minimum water temperatures of 70 degrees, you only need air temperatures of 50 degrees for safe kayaking.

But that’s really when you’re talking about heading out without worrying about wearing a wetsuit or drysuit for kayaking. You really can kayak year-round, but if you want to do that you would do well to check out our top 10 winter kayaking tips and tricks for beginners.

Air Temperature

Colder temperatures don’t necessarily keep you from putting your kayak on the water. But when the air temperatures start to dip below 50 degrees, the probability of getting in trouble on the water starts to increase.

Anything over 50 degrees makes things much more enjoyable for kayaking, but the best weather conditions for kayaking involve air temperatures over 70 degrees. That helps to make up for colder waters when you’re assessing the 120-degree rule.

This rule is really the staple when it comes to enjoyable temperatures for kayaking. And while you probably know how to find the temperature of the air in your area, water temperatures can be more challenging.

Fortunately, most bodies of water are monitored for multiple factors nowadays, and water temperature is definitely one of them. So if you Google ‘water temperature for [insert your body of water]’, you’ll most likely be able to find the numbers you need to evaluate the safety of conditions in your area using the 120-degree rule.

Wave Height and Interval

Wave height and interval are obviously important considerations for ocean kayakers. But, as you might imagine from just looking at the image above, this can be a really important weather factor for ocean kayakers.

And actually, you waves can become a major factor for lake kayaking on larger bodies of water. A lake such as Lake Tahoe or Lake Superior, for example, can see waves reach heights of more than four or five feet during major storms.

Obviously, if you know there’s a storm happening in your area, you’re probably not going kayaking. But when waves reach heights of more than one or two feet for lake kayaking, you’re no longer experiencing the best weather conditions for kayaking.

For ocean kayaking, wave height and the interval in between sets will have a major impact on your ability to launch and land back on the beach. Unless you have considerable experience with kayak surfing, you’ll want the waves to be as small and manageable as possible when you’re launching and landing.

Additionally, the time between waves is important for getting in and out of the beach safely. As you might imagine, larger intervals between sets are going to be better for kayakers trying to navigate waves to get past the break or back into the safety of the shore.

Flow Rate

The final weather factor that we want to mention for the best weather conditions for kayaking is flow rate. This is specific to whitewater or river kayaking and the flow rate on most rivers is measured in cubic feet per second (CFS for short).

Imagining the size of a cubic foot could be difficult if you’ve never done it. But a useful visual aid is to imagine roughly the size of a men’s NBA basketball.

So, as you might imagine, a river with a higher CFS is going to be flowing faster than a river with a lower CFS. But the number alone isn’t the only way to determine whether a river’s current flow rate would fall into the best weather conditions for whitewater kayaking.

The size of the river is also important when evaluating how its CFS flow rate translates to the real-life conditions on the river. For example, a flow rate of 3,000 CFS is going to look much different on the Colorado River versus the seasonal creek behind your house.

So it’s hard to say that there’s a definitive CFS range that constitutes the best weather conditions for kayaking no matter what river you’re paddling on. But the good news is that you can find current flow rates for almost any river you’re hoping to paddle and a quick stop at the local paddling outfitter is always a great way to learn how that flow rate translates to the actual conditions on the river.

In addition to knowing what kind of conditions are favorable when you arrive at the water’s edge, it’s also helpful to look ahead at what’s coming. Whether you use them to plan trips in advance or to check out what’s on the horizon while you’re paddling, these are a few of our weather-related selections from our larger guide to the best apps for kayaking.

Best Weather Apps For Day-of Wind Forecast

1. Ventusky

Ventusky is a paid app that costs only $2.99 for an annual subscription. It’s our go-to app for checking wind direction, speed, and gusts the night before our kayaking adventures and the morning before we get out on the water.

But, in addition to wind forecasts, this app also provides up-to-date information on temperatures, precipitation, wave height, swell direction, and a host of additional weather factors that can impact your time out on the water.

The great part about the Ventusky app is that it’s international. You can pick cities or towns to get wind forecasts for those regions or you can drop a pin at your exact location to see the most up-to-date information for your specific spot.

2. WindFinder (Available on iPhone and Android)

WindFinder can provide detailed wind forecasts for more than 40,000 locations. It can also provide wind speeds in a variety of measurements, including knots, Beaufort, kilometers per hour, meters per second, and miles per hour.

The real-time wind forecasts you get from this app are pulled from more than 20,000 weather stations. And in addition to wind speed and direction, this app will also show the maximum wind gust speed for your area.

In addition to wind forecasts, WindFinder also provides information on high and low tides for more than 8,000 locations. It also gives you air temperature and the all-important “feels like” temperature for a better idea of what it actually feels like outside when all factors are taken into account.

3. Windy (Available on iPhone and Android)

The Windy app is great because it actually allows you to set wind alerts to notify you when wind speeds exceed your prescribed settings. This can be really important for you to turn around and get off the water before you really experience the effects of those high winds.

This app also includes wind archives going back to 2012. These archives give you the ability to view and analyze historical wind data, temperature, and atmospheric pressure trends that can impact your paddling experience.

If anyone out there is also interested in kayak sailing, the Windy app is useful because it includes an animated wind tracker. This dynamic weather radar makes it easier to predict and analyze wind trends for sailing, yachting, or other on-water applications.

Best Weather Apps For Tides And Ocean Currents

1. Tide Charts – Free (Free via Google Play)

If you are an Android user, the Tide Charts – Free app is one of the best options for monitoring tide charts and ocean conditions for kayaking. This app provides worldwide data for tide times, which makes it useful no matter where your kayaking trips take you.

In addition to tide times, this app also provides useful information on lunar data and gives you access to the current weather radar to see real-time weather conditions. And the great part about this app is that it functions using cellular data if you don’t have reliable internet access on all of your kayaking adventures.

2. Charts & Tides (Free in the App Store)

For iPhone users, the Charts & Tides app is one of the best free options for monitoring tide times and ocean conditions. It offers incredibly beautiful and detailed charts that are derived using NOAA and CHS vector cartography.

If you’re planning kayaking trips late into the evening, you’ll be able to switch the app to the dark user interface in order to reduce strain on your eyes and protect your night vision. And the app also gives you the freedom to display thousands of chart features depending on your preference.

This iPhone app is integrated with the ActiveCaptain interactive cruising guidebook too. This guidebook gives you access to thousands of important waypoints, including marinas, anchorages, hazards, and other local knowledge that can be useful when you’re on the water.

3. My Tide Times (Available on iPhone and Android)

The My Tide Times app is available for both iPhone and Android users and it supports data from more than 9,000 weather stations in more than 30 countries. This allows you to find the nearest location to you for the most accurate tidal forecasts before you even get to the beach.

This app includes 7-day tidal forecasts for most of its locations, which makes long-term trip planning much easier. And some locations even offer extended 30-day tidal forecasts for those long-term planners amongst us.

In addition to providing useful tidal information, this app can come in handy for planning moonlit paddles. It provides information on moon phase and moonrise/moonset times so you can make sure you’re on the water at the precise moment when the moon peeks over the horizon.

Best Weather Apps For Long-Range Forecasting

1. NOAA Weather Radar (Available on iPhone or Android)

The NOAA Weather Radar is our most-trusted app for long-range weather forecasting because it pulls its data from one of the most well-respected weather monitoring organizations on the planet.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration supplies all of the data for the real-time weather radar in this app. But it also makes the apps extended 14-day forecasts extremely useful for long-range kayak trip planning.

2. Weather Underground (Available on iPhone and Android)

Weather Underground is our runner up for the best weather app for long-range forecasting becasue it offers detailed 10-day forecasts. These forecasts included expected high and low temperatures and the possibility of precipitation expected for a given day.

This app also provides severe weather alerts for your area so that you can stay informed of potentially dangerous conditions. And it also provides information on air quality index, UV index, sunrise and sunset times, and a host of other useful weather factors.

3. Dark Sky Weather (Available on iPhone and Android)

The Dark Sky Weather app is another useful tool for hyperlocal weather data and long-range forecasting. It provides 7-day extended forecasts that continuously update for better real-time tracking and planning.

And speaking of tracking, this app will automatically update to your specific location if you enable its location-sensing setting. So you won’t have to constantly update your location manually if you travel to a lot of new locations for your kayaking adventures.

How To Be Prepared For Any Weather

Any experienced kayaker will tell you that their sport is much more fun when the weather is at its best. But they’ll also tell you it’s important to be prepared, and these tips will help you prepare for any weather you might encounter out on the water.

Dress Appropriately

Dressing appropriately is the first (and easiest!) way to be prepared for any weather when kayaking. But this can mean many different things depending on where you live and the type of kayaking that you like to do.

In most situations, however, this means dressing in layers so that you’re comfortable in the worst possible weather conditions. But this also allows you to remove layers and pack them away so that you can enjoy the sun on your skin in the best weather conditions for kayaking.

If you do plan to remove layers while kayaking, you’ll need to make sure to follow our next tip so that you have a dry place to put your layers when you remove them. And if you want to learn how to dress appropriately for year-round kayaking, be sure to check out these top 10 winter kayaking tips and tricks for beginners!

Get A Dry Bag

There are certain items that must stay dry while you’re kayaking. And the only way to do that (unless you’re a meteorologist with 100% confidence in your weather forecast) is to get a high-quality dry bag to attach to the storage areas in your kayak.

While many sit-inside kayaks have bulkhead compartments that are designed for dry storage, not all of those compartments remain 100% watertight throughout the life of your kayak. So you can never go wrong by doubling down and putting your gear in a dry bag before placing it in your kayak’s bulkhead compartment.

And if you have a sit on top kayak, you’ll have very limited dry storage space on your kayak, if any. Some kayaks of this design type do offer small kayak hatches, but they rarely have enough space for even the smallest of dry bags.

Pack Layers

The reality of kayaking is that you never quite know when you’ll go for an unexpected swim. And while we hope you’ve trained enough to know how to overturn your kayak the right way, we still insist on the importance of packing an extra set of clothes.

This is a really important recommendation to help you prepare for any type of weather you may encounter out there. In the worst-case scenario, the inability to return to your launching location could precipitate the need to wait out poor weather conditions through the night.

If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll be very glad that you have warm, dry clothes to put on. Spending the night in your cold, wet kayaking clothes is a recipe for disaster, even if you’re able to start a fire.

So, if you want to be prepared for sudden weather changes while kayaking, always keep a change of clothes packed away in your kayak. And the best way to keep those clothes dry is to use one of those dry bags we mentioned above!

Avoid Cotton

Cotton clothing should be avoided at all costs when it comes to kayaking, even when the weather is at its best. As an alternative, we recommend looking into kayak clothing made of polyester or synthetic fibers.

These kinds of materials are capable of wicking moisture away from your body and they also dry relatively quickly if they do get wet. These are two important qualities that cotton simply does not have.

While cotton does well to retain heat once you’re off the water, it will keep you wet and cold if you go for an unexpected swim in cotton layers. That’s why you’re better off layering multiple synthetic options rather than relying on cotton for warmth.

Final Thoughts

Kayaking falls firmly in the category of a recreational sport, even if some find ways to get competitive with it. So the reality is that if you’re not feeling great about the weather conditions, you can always scrap your plans and come back on a nicer day.

But we do hope that the tips and insights we’ve shared above help you identify the best weather conditions for kayaking in your area. And we certainly wish you only the best of weather for all of your upcoming kayaking adventures!

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