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How much does whitewater kayaking really cost?

I like to kayak. Because of this, I spend quite a bit of time at the Reno Whitewater Park in the Spring and Summer. Our park is smack dab in the middle of downtown, so inevitably there are lots of people out enjoying the weather, eating lunch next to the river, or spectating. With all these people around, I must get asked once a week, “How much does one of those things cost?”. I never really thought about the numbers. I’ve been lucky to have friends and family help me out along the way with used and borrowed gear. But, what if you are starting from scratch? What gear do you need and how much does it all cost? Can I afford new, or should I look for used gear? Lets figure it out.

First question is what do you need? Let’s make a list of all the necessities to get started in whitewater kayaking.

– Kayak
– Helmet
– Personal Flotation Device (PFD)
– Drytop/drysuit
– Sprayskirt
– paddle

– baselayers
– booties
– throw rope
– nose plugs
– float bags
– whistle

Used gear is always a good option when you are tight on money or maybe just want to try things out to make sure this is a sport you want to be a part of. You can always check out Facebook marketplace or Craigslist for gear, but one of the best places to look is the classified section of your local whitewater forum. Websites like on the west coast, on the east coast, or in Colorado are good options. You can often find killer deals on barely used stuff. With one search I was able to find somebody selling an almost full starter kit. . . kayak, paddle, skirt and pfd for $700. In general a used kayak is about $500, helmet $40, PFD $50, drytop $100, paddle $150, and sprayskirt $50. The cons of used gear, especially as a beginner, is that it is used. Beginners aren’t always familiar with quality brands or what to avoid. You also might not realize the boat is 20 years old and maybe doesn’t have the most recent trends in boat design that make learning to kayak slightly easier. Boats might be scratched, possibly leak, or you can find damage on your hull which will affect it’s performance. Who knows what’s been in a used helmet? And drytops might have torn gaskets you need to replace.

Now lets price out new gear. Remember the more expensive does mean higher quality, however new less expensive gear will keep you just as dry. Also. . . there is usually a warranty, and new gear has new technology for possibly easier learning. Here are the numbers. A new paddle is between $200-$400, drytop $400, sprayskirt $200, PFD $130, and a new helmet $80. A new boat is going to be your most expensive. A new Jackson kayak is about $1400, but the good news is there financing available to help you get that new rockstar 4.0 or Zen 3.0.

So there are the rough numbers. . . Used for $1000, new for $2500, or mix and match to get exactly what you want. Whatever you choose, welcome to the sport and maybe your new addiction.

Jessica Yurtinus