How Many Calories Does Kayaking Burn?

You can’t always find time for an hour-long session in the gym. And even when you can, do you really want to spend a beautiful Saturday afternoon inside? It seems like a waste of a perfect afternoon – especially when there’s such a thing as kayaking. And before you get ...
Photo of author

Photo of author

Sam OBrien

Founder, Kayaking & Paddle Boarding Expert

Sam is the founder and editor of WaterSportsWhiz. With over 20 years of experience across various water sports, he provides trusted reviews and expert advice to help others pursue their passion for getting out on the water. When not working, you can find him kayaking, paddle boarding, or planning his next water-based adventure with family and friends.

You can’t always find time for an hour-long session in the gym. And even when you can, do you really want to spend a beautiful Saturday afternoon inside?

It seems like a waste of a perfect afternoon – especially when there’s such a thing as kayaking.

And before you get to say anything, yes, it counts as exercise. And yes, it can help you meet – and quite possibly, exceed – your fitness goals.

How many calories does kayaking burn, you ask?

Keep reading for a detailed take on how kayaking can help you shed some pounds!

Back To Basics: What Is A Calorie? 

What Is A Calorie

We take them in every day, we burn them – even when we’re just lounging on the couch – and sometimes, we go through the effort to count and cut them.

But what are calories, though?

A calorie is a unit of energy. Yes, the answer is that simple – and at the same time, it’s not. The more accurate, scientific definition of a calorie would be:

The amount of energy that’s required to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius.

Everything that goes on in the body, at the cellular level, requires energy to sustain life and function at an optimal level. And we get that energy from the food we eat – which, as you know already, comes in the form of calories.

So, nutrition-wise, calories refer to the energy we get from food, the nutrients they provide, and, when it comes to burning them, the physical activity and the way our bodies use that energy on a day-to-day basis.

But to make matters a tad bit more confusing, when we’re talking about nutrition, we’re referring to kilocalories – dietary or nutritional calories comprising 1000 of these “small“ calories. 

What Affects How Many Calories Burned Kayaking? 

How Many Calories Burned Kayaking

Since you’re here, trying to figure out how many calories you can burn kayaking, I’ll take a wild guess and say you’re interested in losing those quarantine pounds.

Well, here’s your first lesson in weight loss:

You’ll have to burn more calories than they take in and create a calorie deficit that’s big enough to ensure steady, pound-per-week weight loss.

I’ll get to that later. The only reason why I’m mentioning it now is that you can’t tell if you’re in a calorie deficit unless you know how many calories you burn daily – or during exercise.

And that is a lot trickier than it seems. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible to talk exact numbers – they depend on an infinite number of factors. Some are out of your control and come down to what I like to call the “genetics lottery.” Others aren’t, though.

Here are some of those factors that will affect how many calories you burn kayaking:

  • Age – The older the paddler gets, the fewer calories their body burns. That’s because, as you age, your body composition changes, and you start losing muscle mass.
  • Sex – Males and females burn calories at different rates. Men burn more calories, even at rest. Why? They tend to have less body fat – and more muscle mass – than women.
  • Weight – The more you weigh, the more calories you’ll burn. In essence, an overweight person will burn more per session than a kayaker of average weight.
  • Body Composition – Remember what I said about why men burn more calories than women? That’s body composition at play right there. Bodies with more lean muscle mass are more efficient at burning calories.
  • Exercise Intensity – The more intense the activity and the higher your heart rate, the more calories you burn. There’s a pretty big difference between chilling in your ‘yak and putting serious effort into paddling.
  • Exercise Duration – Now, this one is a matter of simple math. The longer you do it, the more calories you’ll burn. That’s as true for kayaking as it is for any other form of exercise. 

Is Kayaking A Good Form Of Exercise? 

Unrecognisable man wearing life vest kayaking

The fact that you’re even asking something like that tells me one of the following is true:

You’ve never gone kayaking before. Or, you have – but it mainly consisted of you sitting in the kayak and floating lazily down a river.

Either way, you didn’t really go kayaking. If you did, you’d know that it gives the entire body one heck of a workout.

Kayaking, done right, can be felt in nearly every large muscle group, head to toe – not just your arms, as many wrongly assume.

When it comes to the body muscles that kayaking works, prepare to be amazed:

  • Back muscles, including your lats, rhomboid muscles, and trapezius muscles
  • Shoulder muscles, primarily the deltoids
  • Biceps and triceps
  • Forearm muscles
  • Chest muscles, or pectorals
  • Core muscles, primarily abdominals, and obliques
  • Leg muscles and glutes 

If you’d like to learn about the specific muscle groups that kayaking targets, check out this detailed guide.

Fitness Benefits of Kayaking

But beyond just being a fantastic low-impact workout, kayaking offers additional mind-and-body benefits that deserve mention, too.

Seriously, here are a few other reasons to take up kayaking – besides burning calories, that is:

  • It contributes to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • It’s highly adaptable and inclusive; pretty much everyone can find a way to enjoy kayaking.
  • It’s an excellent way to combat vitamin D deficiency; all it takes is 15 to 20 minutes out in the sun, and your body does the rest.
  • It makes for an effective stress-management method, helping you clear your mind and enter a stress-free, almost meditative state while you’re on the water.
  • It triggers the release of natural mood-enhancing chemicals like endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin- which can have a positive mental health benefits 
  • It makes a difference in your confidence and how you perceive yourself – and what you are capable of achieving.
  • It’s a chance to meet lots of like-minded, water-loving individuals. Join a local paddling club, and you’ll make some life-long friends. 

Does Kayaking Count As Cardio?

When you think “cardio,” you think jogging and treadmills – but sitting in a tiny plastic kayak? That probably doesn’t come to mind as a form of exercise that gets your heart pumping, huh?

That’s where you’re wrong.

Propelling a vessel through water is hard work – and paddling is, in fact, a repetitive motion that engages the entire body, not just the arms, as many wrongly assume. Your back, abs, legs and glutes, chest and shoulder muscles are all getting a workout – and a good one, for that matter.

And the most important muscle in your body – the heart – does, too.

Grab your paddle and go kayak a mile at a faster pace; you’ll see that there’s a heart-pumping side to kayaking when you pick up the pace.

If that’s not reason enough to take up kayaking as a form of low-impact cardio, consider this:

You’ll be working out in nature instead of running on a treadmill and staring at the wall in front of you. And no two sessions will ever be the same.

Can Kayaking Help You Lose Weight?

200 Pound Weight Loss Leads to Epic Adventure

There are two things you should keep an eye on if you’re trying to lose weight – exercise, and diet. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Otherwise, obesity wouldn’t be a global epidemic.

The idea behind upping your exercise routine and going on a diet, preferably at the same time, is creating a calorie deficit.

It’s about burning more calories than you need to maintain your body weight.

On that note, how’s your math?

I’m asking because tracking calories in and calories out to ensure that you’re in a calorie deficit takes some calculations.

First, you should figure out your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and, based on the activity levels, the Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). Once you have that figured out, you need to subtract roughly 500 calories from your daily calorie needs to ensure that you’re in a deficit on a daily – and, ultimately, weekly – basis.

The good news is that you’ll have apps that can help you keep track of these things. And the bad news? You’ll have to find a way to create a weekly 3500-calorie deficit to lose one – yes, one – pound of fat.

And that brings me back to the initial point:

Cutting calories from your diet is great, and all, but most people find it a bit hard to maintain that deficit for long. That’s where exercise comes in; the more you exercise, the easier it becomes to create and sustain that deficit. 

How Many Calories Can You Burn Kayaking?

Hand with marker writing the words - How many Calories

Every time you dip your paddle, you employ large groups of muscle throughout your body to complete that stroke and propel your kayak forward. Even the simple act of maintaining balance in a kayak will engage your muscles – let alone the act of paddling.

So, in that sense, there’s no doubt that kayaking burns calories.

But when it comes to “how many,” the answer isn’t straightforward, simply because it depends on a variety of factors. I mean, sure, I could give you some rough estimates, based on the previous research:

The American Council on Exercise conducted a study suggesting that an average 125-pound paddler will burn approximately 283 calories per hour spent kayaking.

It’s more complicated than giving you a number, though. The number depends on a wide range of factors and can vary drastically based on your weight, how much effort you’re putting into the swing of your paddle, and the distance traveled, among other things.

All these variables amount to a different result in terms of calories burned kayaking.

I’ll try to provide an overview of how many calories you can expect to burn while kayaking based on all these different factors, starting with the basics:

Formula For Calculating Calories Burned Kayaking Per Minute

The formula that can give you an estimate of how many calories you burn kayaking per minute looks like this:

Calories per Min = (MET x Bodyweight (Kg) x 3.5) / 200

You’ll have to do some math – but first, let’s go over the variables found in this equation.

What is MET?

The Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET) can be defined as the objective measure of the ratio of the work metabolic rate – the rate at which a person will expend energy while performing a physical activity, relative to the person’s mass – to the resting metabolic rate.

Here’s the energy cost of on-the-water activities, like kayaking, based on intensity:

Physical IntensityMetabolic Equivalent of Task (MET)
Light Effort (2.0 mph)2.8
Moderate Effort (4.0 mph)5.8
Vigorous Effort (>6 mph)12.5

Average Weight In The USA

According to CDC’s data, the average weight measured in US adults, male and female, aged 20 and over is:

  • Male – 199.8 pounds (90.8 kilograms)
  • Female – 170.8 pounds (77.4 kilograms)

Granted, this probably won’t give you much insight into how much you’d burn kayaking – unless your current weight is within average values stated above, that is. 

But if you’re interested to see how many calories kayaking burns per minute on average, here’s what you’d get by using these numbers in the equation: 

  • The average 90.8-kilogram adult male, kayaking at light effort, will burn (2.8 x 90.8 kg x 3.5) / 200 = 4.5 calories per minute
  • The average 77.4-kilogram adult female, kayaking at light effort will burn (2.8 x 77.4 kg x 3.5) / 200 = 3.7 calories per minute 

How Many Calories Burned In One Hour Of Kayaking?

If you weren’t sure why I insisted on talking about calories burned per minute so much, this next section would provide some clarification. It’s finally time to see how many calories you can burn while kayaking for an hour – and the equation will be as simple as:

Calories per Hour = Calories per Minute x 60

And there you have it! You know exactly how much you’ll burn per hour, based on different factors – including your weight, gender, and effort, as indicated by MET.

Using the examples above, you can expect to burn:

 Pace Per Hour
 Light EffortModerate EffortVigorous Effort

So, to sum it up:

  • The average 90.8-kilogram adult male can burn between 269 and 1192 calories per hour of kayaking, depending on the effort.
  • The average 77.4-kilogram adult female can burn between 227 and 1101 calories per hour of kayaking, depending on the effort. 

How Many Calories Are Burned Kayaking Per Mile?

The consensus is that, in ideal conditions, you need roughly 20 to 30 minutes to kayak a mile. Of course, things are rarely perfect. Many different factors will affect your speed on the water – including weather and water conditions, type of kayak, and your ability and expertise.

But for the sake of this whole argument, we’ll stick to average values:

  • Slow pace – 30 minutes per mile
  • Moderate pace – 20 minutes per mile
  • Fast pace – 10 minutes per mile

And since we’ve already established how many calories kayaking burns per minute, it’s easy to calculate how much you’ll burn per mile, too:

 Pace Per Mile
 Slow PaceModerate PaceFast Pace

So, per mile, paddlers can burn:

  • The average 90.8-kilogram adult male can burn between 133 and 198 calories per mile while kayaking, depending on the effort.
  • The average 77.4-kilogram adult female can burn between 114 and 170 calories per mile while kayaking, depending on the effort. 

Calories Burned Kayaking Compared To Other Activities 

which exercise workouts burns the most calories

The table below will provide some rough estimates of how many calories kayaking burns per hour – and, more importantly, how it compares to other popular forms of exercise.

Again, these are general estimates. The number of calories you’d burn over one hour can vary based on weight and body composition and the intensity of a given activity.

 Calories Burned Per One Hour
Activity160lb (72kg)200lb (90kg)240lb (108kg)
Aerobics (High-Intensity)533664796
Aerobics (Low-Impact)365455545
Cycling (<10mph)292364436

Oh, and one more thing:

Based on the values provided above, you can see that certain activities burn more calories than kayaking. But don’t assume that makes them more efficient.

You’ll generally find it easier to paddle for longer periods than run or perform extended HIIT sessions. And that means you’ll likely burn more calories at the end of the day, too. 

Which Burns More Calories Kayaking Or Paddle Boarding?

According to research from Harvard Health Publications; kayaking burns 550 calories per hour, while paddle boarding burns 450 calories per hour

But what is the difference between these two activities?

Both are paddle sports; but there is an important distinction that affects calorie burning: Paddle boarding relies on arm and core movement only, whereas kayaking requires the balance of muscles in your entire body, from head-to-toe – all working together as a team! 

However, both sports are great for weight loss – but if you want to lose weight faster, then you should opt for kayaking.

How To Burn More Calories Kayaking: Tips For Feeling The Burn

an active kayaker on the rough water

Now that you know how many calories you can expect to burn, you might be interested to see what you can do to increase the calories burned per session.

Don’t worry; I have you covered.

Here are some tips on how to burn even more calories when you hit the water!

Use Proper Technique

A proper paddling technique is your friend – and I don’t mean only in terms of avoiding injury, reducing fatigue, and learning how to control your ‘yak more efficiently. When you know how to paddle a kayak – the right way – you also learn how to engage the right muscle groups.

And by “right muscle groups,” I mean more than just your arms. When you start engaging your core to drive each stroke and realize that your entire body and all the large muscle groups in it are a part of a chain that propels you forward, you start to burn some serious calories.

Kayak In Challenging Waters

Battling a series of rapids burns more calories than a casual ride on a lazy river. If your goal is to burn more, you have to increase the intensity; it’s as simple as that.

There are many ways to up the intensity of your sessions – the most obvious one is picking up the pace. But there’s only so much you can do in that department at once.

So, instead, try finding a more challenging waterway to navigate. I’m not saying you should jump into class IV whitewater rapids, but if the current environment feels “too easy” and doesn’t require you to push yourself, it’s time to switch things up.

As long as it makes paddling more demanding and strenuous, it’s going to burn more calories.

GoPro: Rafting the North Fork Payette River in 4K | HERO7 Black

If you’re looking to spice up your fitness routine and really engage all of your muscles, sign yourself up for some whitewater rafting – weight loss kayaking at its best.

Kayak Upstream

If you think kayaking downstream counts as exercise – and it does – wait until you try doing it in the opposite direction and going against the flow.

Kayaking upstream is a lot of work and will push you to your limits in every way imaginable. And you know what else it will do?

Put your entire body into high gear and get your heart rate up in a matter of minutes. So, as you can imagine, powering your way up a river will also burn a ton of extra calories.

Add Weight To Your ‘Yak

I’d typically recommend that you keep things as light as possible when loading your ‘yak – while still packing all the essentials, of course.

But since the name of the game is burning more calories, it might be a good idea to try a slightly different approach. So, how does adding some additional weight to your kayak sound?

On the one hand, it could potentially make your kayak more stable. But on the other hand, it will slow you down and create additional resistance, requiring you to put in more effort to maintain a specific pace – taking your workout routine up a notch!

Extra pounds mean extra work – and extra work equals more calories burned.

Calories Burned Kayaking: Summary

The calories burned during any activity will depend on your age, gender, weight, and body composition, as well as the intensity and duration.

So, how many calories does kayaking burn, then?

Studies suggest that an average 125-pound paddler can burn roughly 283 calories per hour of kayaking. These are general estimates, but still – it’s a low-impact cardio workout that’s bound to help you lose weight.

Photo of author

Sam OBrien

Sam is the founder and editor of WaterSportsWhiz. With over 20 years of experience across various water sports, he provides trusted reviews and expert advice to help others pursue their passion for getting out on the water. When not working, you can find him kayaking, paddle boarding, or planning his next water-based adventure with family and friends.

Share to...