Kayaking Costs: How Much Is Kayaking?

Budgetary limitations are often one of the biggest obstacles standing between you and any new outdoor hobby. But thankfully, kayaking costs are pretty reasonable – especially for those who just want to dip their toes into the paddling waters.

In many places, you could find yourself paddling down a creek later today for less than 50 bucks. Just rent a kayak and personal flotation device (which may even be included in the yak rental price) for a couple of hours and start having a blast!

And for just a few hundred bucks, you could find yourself as the proud owner of a brand-spanking new kayak and all the necessary gear.

You could also start perusing some of the high-end kayak sites and put a multi-thousand-dollar dent in your credit card if you like. That’s not really a fantastic decision for beginners, but accomplished paddlers know all too well how easy it is to spend a ton of money on this fantastic hobby.

So, we’ll try to guide you through the nuts and bolts of kayaking costs below. We’ll explain the kinds of things you have to buy, what the basic price ranges of those items are, and point out a few ways to save some money as you get started in this new addiction hobby.

Pro-Tip: We’re primarily discussing the kayaking costs you’ll encounter when purchasing all of your gear. But you can rent a kayak and the necessary equipment for a fraction of the cost of buying. We generally think beginners are better served by buying, but if you’re really just looking for a fun day on the water, go ahead and give your local kayak rental shop a call.

Kayak Shopping List: The Things You Need to Buy to Go Kayaking

Just about every hobby in the world requires a bit of equipment. Even hiking – one of the least equipment-intensive pursuits in the world – requires that you pick up a good set of hiking boots.

Kayaking is no different. If you want to start paddling, you’ll need some basic gear. For that matter, there are some things you may also want, even if you don’t necessarily need them.

We’ll identify the most important items from both categories below.

Mandatory Kayaking Supplies

what do you need for kayaking

There are no ifs, ands or butts – you need these things to kayak.

  • Kayak: Assuming you want to buy a kayak (as explained, you can just rent one), you will have to spend at least $75 or so – but that’s for a bargain-basement-level inflatable kayak. This may be enough if you just want to paddle around the local lake with some friends one weekend. But if you are serious about kayaking at all, you’ll probably want to spend at least $400 or $500 on your first yak. And you will certainly not regret spending a bit more – up to about $1,000 or so – if you can afford it. 
  • Paddle: Ironically, most very low-priced kayaks will come with one or two paddles. But if you spend a couple of hundred bucks on your yak or more, you’ll have to buy your own paddles. No worries – they start at twenty bucks or so, and fifty bucks will get you all the paddle a beginner could possibly need.  
  • Personal Flotation Device: It doesn’t matter how well you swim; you need to wear a personal flotation device when paddling. In fact, you’re legally required to do so in many places. You can get a functional (if not comfortable) life jacket for less than 10 bucks, but you’ll be better served by spending at least $20 to $50.
  • License/Permits/Park Passes/Etc.: You’ll have to check the relevant local authorities (or federal authorities, if you plan on kayaking in the ocean) to determine whether or not you need to register your kayak or if you’ll need a license to do so. Similarly, you may find that you need to pay for access to the water if you’re planning on paddling in a park. 

Optional Kayaking Supplies

additional kayaking supplies

In addition to these primary four items, most entry-level paddlers will want to consider adding the following tools and toys to their gear collection.

  • Skirt: A skirt is essentially a flexible, well, skirt that fits around your body and attaches to the rim of a sit-inside kayak cockpit. It keeps water out (and may help to keep your belonging inside). Those at the affordable end of the spectrum are less than $20. But you could spend thrice as much on a fancy one.  
  • Additional Storage (Dry Bags, Containers, etc.): Even if your kayak comes with storage, you may find yourself wanting more. Storage container prices vary with all of the obvious factors, such as size, materials and overall quality. You may spend 10 bucks or thousands, if storage is your thing.    
  • Kayak Cart: Essentially a little wheeled thingamajig that makes it easier to lug your kayak from the car to the water. You don’t need one if your yak is small, you are large, or you have help. They’re convenient but not strictly necessary in most cases. Budget-priced models can be found for 30 bucks; fancy ones cost a couple of hundred dollars; “good enough” is generally $50 to $80.
  • Electronic Tools: There’s a good chance your cell phone will suffice for most entry-level navigation purposes, but if your needs are unique or you just thing GPS units are cool, you may want to at least consider adding a dedicated GPS or course plotter and the necessary mounting gear. Other potentially desirable electronic equipment would include sonar units and communication gear. These kinds of things start at around fifty bucks or so and go up from there.

Of course, you may need other (potentially expensive) gear if you intend to kayak for a specific purpose. In other words, it you intend to fish from your kayak or take wildlife photographs, you’ll obviously need fishing or camera equipment too.

Money-Saving Kayaking Tips: How Can You Start Kayaking Cheaply?

kayaking on a budget

By now, you probably have a feel for the ballpark costs of kayaking. But there are a few ways you can reduce the costs of kayaking a bit. Some of our favorites include:

  • Buy pre-owned (used) equipment. You can often find kayaks, paddles, and other kayaking gear on social media posts, kayaking forums, and occasionally via kayaking retailers. There is a bit of risk involved for beginners, so try to enlist the help of a knowledgeable friend if you can.
  • Pick your kayak up in person. Shipping a kayak isn’t exactly cheap. So, drop the retailer or manufacturer of your choice a note and find out if they offer in-person pickup. This obviously isn’t a way to save money if the manufacturer is located two states over, but if you live in a kayak-friendly locale, you’ll likely have a source within an hour’s drive.
  • Travel light and be ready to get wet. You don’t need a skirt if you’re trying to save every penny. So, just wear a bathing suit or wet suit (which you should do anyway) and pack a towel in the car. Similarly, try to avoid bringing anything with you that you don’t absolutely need – this will help reduce the amount of waterproof storage you need.

There’s one other great way you may be able to save some money: Watch for introduction to kayaking events put on by local parks and recreation departments, retailers, and manufacturers. These types of events will often give you the chance to try out kayaking and purchase low-cost, entry-level gear.

Kayaking Costs: FAQ

questions about kayaking

We’ve tried to cover most of the basics above, but here are a few particularly common questions prospective paddlers often have about kayaking costs.

What is the cost of kayaking?

The complete cost of kayaking will vary based on your specific needs and desires. You’ll spend about $50 or so renting a kayak (and all of the necessary equipment) for an afternoon. It’d be wiser to buy one though, if you think you may want to kayak at least twice. You can probably buy a bargain basement, inflatable kayak and gear for around $100, or set yourself up properly for around $500.

Is kayaking an expensive sport?

No – kayaking is not a particularly expensive sport. It will cost you a few hundred dollars or so to get set up, and the on-going costs are relatively minimal. However, serious paddlers can spend quite a bit of money on high-end kayaks and equipment.

How much should a beginner spend on a kayak?

Beginning kayakers should spend a sum that’s in line with their discretionary income and – most importantly – interest level. If you just want to pick up a kayak to try it out casually, just grab a high-quality inflatable model. But if you feel pretty excited about the sport and anticipate seriously trying it out over a summer, go ahead and spend $300 to $500 on a hard-shell kayak (and if you have the financial wherewithal to do so, you can get all the kayak you would be able to appreciate for around $700 or $800).

Note that all of these prices assume we’re talking about a single-seater kayak. Tandem models will obviously cost a bit more.

Do kayaks hold their resale value?

Used kayaks can sometime fetch a reasonable percentage of your initial investment, but it will depend on myriad factors, ranging from the condition of the yak, the features it offers, and your location – it’s harder to sell a second-hand kayak in the middle of a desert than the Pacific Northwest.

Should beginners buy or rent a kayak?

Beginners with anything more than a passing interest in kayaking will be better off buying a vessel. You can get a super affordable one that’ll pay for itself in two or three trips, or spend a bit more to get one that’ll pay for itself over a season.

But if you’re honestly just interested in paddling around the lake with some friends and will likely stick the yak back in your garage for the rest of eternity, save yourself the headache and just rent one.  

How much is a kayak rental?

Exact kayak rental prices will vary, but you’re generally looking at $30 to $50 for a few hours.

How much is a kayak at Walmart (or other big-box retail stores)?

Walmart and other big-box retailers rarely carry very expensive kayaks; they tend to stick to the bargain-basement end of the spectrum. Accordingly, you’ll likely see kayaks for $75 to $200 at these types of places.

How much does a two-person kayak cost?

Two-person (tandem) kayaks are generally a few hundred dollars more than comparable single-paddler models. However, there are some inflatable, entry-level tandem kayaks that are available for around $100 or so.

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As you can see, kayaking costs usually aren’t huge obstacles for budding paddlers.

Kayaking does cost a little bit of money, but it isn’t a cost-prohibitive hobby in the way some other things are. It’s certainly easier on your bank account than something like golf would be, and – if you ask us – it’s a lot more fun too.

Let us know how much it cost you to get on the water – or how much you intend to spend for your first few trips. We’d also love to hear any great money-saving tips we haven’t shared above. Let us know in the comments below!

A lifelong environmental educator and the former executive director of a 501(c)3 nature preserve, Ben has led more than 10,000 miles of guided nature hikes, authored more than 40 animal care books, and been profiled in a variety of media outlets, including local public television, Countyline Magazine, and Disney Radio. When not on the trail or in front of his computer, Ben can be found cooking for his lady or playing with his dogs.

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