Is It Hard To Paddle a Canoe Upstream ?

Canoeing is a fun outdoor activity that can be enjoyed alone or in groups. This outdoor sport requires endurance and physical strength, so it’s often seen as a form of exercise among many. Correctly paddling your boat is key to enjoying canoeing, but some waters require more paddling, like when going upstream.


It can be hard to paddle a canoe upstream if you’re an inexperienced paddler. Beginners are advised not to jump into their canoes and paddle upstream, as paddling upstream can be a huge challenge. If you must paddle a canoe upstream, make sure not to do it alone.


Paddling a canoe upstream is hard but doable, with enough experience and information. Therefore, let’s explore some important factors that you should consider for a successful upstream canoeing adventure.

Paddling a Canoe Upstream Is Hard

As discussed earlier, it can be hard for a beginner canoeist to paddle a canoe upstream. Before you attempt to paddle a canoe upstream, you need to understand canoeing better first. You’ll learn that in your canoeing lessons.


The main reason paddling a canoe upstream is hard is that the water force can be too strong for you to handle, and if you lack the strength and experience navigating the river system, you may put yourself and your paddling buddy at risk.


The next sections will discuss this further.

Understand the River System

Gauging the river system is the first thing you should do. You need to be aware of what you’re getting yourself into. It’s easy to enjoy your upstream canoeing when you know the best way and positions that’ll help you use less effort. The river system includes:

The River’s Edge

The river’s edges have the lowest current compared to the middle part of the river. Using the edge of the river means using less effort during your upstream paddle, and therefore saving more of your energy for the more challenging sections.

Narrow River Passages

For a beginner, it’s best to start your upstream canoeing in wide rivers. The water in narrow river passages flows very fast, and the pressure is high. The strength and the flow of the river make this a hard task. Once you’ve gained more experience, you can canoe in these passages confidently.

Learn How To Read Wind Direction

Strong winds can work to your advantage or disadvantage when paddling upstream, depending on its direction. Few paddlers forget to gauge the strength and the direction of the wind.


When strong winds blow while you paddle paddling upstream, you might find that you’ll use less energy than when it blows against you, making paddling an extreme challenge. Suppose a high water current is combined with a bad wind direction while paddling upstream. You’ll need a lot of strength to overcome the waters. More experienced canoers will know how to react in a situation like this.


It’s important to know how to determine if it’s too windy to canoe, too. Avoid canoeing when the winds are traveling over 17 mph (15 knots), as doing so can be dangerous, especially if you’re a beginner.

Watch Out for the River Speed

An average paddler can paddle at 3 mph. It’s imperative to know the speed of the river before beginning your upstream adventure. The highest tidal current in the world is around 10 mph, but most currents are somewhere around 3 mph. When the current moves faster than your paddling speed, you’ll find yourself in quite a pickle after a while since you will be too exhausted to continue.


If the downstream speed of the river is at the difficult level, you should consider that the upstream level is two times as difficult. Most canoeing areas have been classified according to their difficulty level, making it easier to compare and decide where to start. They’re classified from easy to extremely difficult.

Gauge the Size and Shape of Your Canoe

Another factor that’ll make your upstream paddling better is investing in the right equipment for it. A narrow, longer boat will make this a better expedition, especially because of its streamlined nature, and this helps pierce the water and prevent drag while going upstream.


You’ll also find that single paddling is better and easier than two-person paddling. It’s for the last part of the adventure, and this will allow you to rest. Make upstream your first endeavor; at this point, you have the energy and excitement for it.


Paddling upstream engages your muscles, and with time you will find that it gets easier and easier.

Exploit the Eddies

Eddies are points where the water flows against the natural flow of the main current. They can be caused by an obstruction such as logs and debris. Experienced paddlers can spot these points and use them to their advantage.


Paddlers can use Eddies as a resting point before tackling the upstream paddling. Paddling upstream can be draining, and therefore being able to spot an Eddie can be an excellent move.

Watch Out for the Steepness of the Slope

The steeper the slope, the higher the water flows. Therefore, you should avoid sections with a higher velocity that you can’t handle. Beginners, especially, should avoid areas with steep slopes. Before heading out for your next canoe adventure, be sure to research the area you plan to cover.

Consider Your Fitness Level and Padding Skills

Another thing to consider in an upstream paddle is your fitness level. People who work out regularly may find it easy to start an upstream paddle, and it’s important to gauge your fitness level to know the upstream level to start with.


For a person who wants to undertake an upstream paddle, they must already have basic skills in paddling. Paddling upstream is way more engaging than paddling on flat water. Therefore, one has to have paddling skills before committing to this venture.

Pick the Right Paddle for the Job

Paddling upstream can be made easier with a good paddle choice. Getting a good paddle can be tricky since so many factors are at hand. One of the main factors that you can consider is the size of the blade.

Larger Blades

Before you attempt to paddle upstream, make sure you get the right paddle for the job. You want to make sure that your paddle of choice suits your needs. Larger blades are great for several reasons, but they do have a few downsides. Considering their size, they can make paddling more tiring.



  • Efficient paddling leverage
  • More effective strokes
  • Acceleration is faster



  • More tiring
  • Catches more wind

Smaller Blades

Paddles with smaller blades are also great, but like larger blades, smaller blades also have their downsides. While smaller blades don’t put too much pressure on the muscles, they require faster paddling.



  • Easy on muscles
  • Less resistance due to the small surface area



  • A faster rhythm required
  • Less power, making maneuverability difficult


For a successful upstream adventure, planning is the main factor to be considered. Planning makes the upstream paddling easy to enjoy. As an upstream paddler, you have to consider the foreseen problems that you can encounter. Having a piece of good knowledge on upstream paddling makes it less of a challenge in action.


Always keep in mind that paddling upstream is always tougher than paddling downstream.

Scroll to Top