“The larger the island of knowledge,
the longer the shoreline of wonder.”
Ralph W. Sockman
Here’s a variety of paddling discussion forums and message boards, blogs and personal kayaking websites, and other helpful links for shopping and for planning your own kayaking trips.
CHAT: Forums & Message Boards
If there were only one place on all the web for paddling information, I would hope this was it. This great online resource offers information on choosing a kayak or canoe, free paddling articles, links to retailers and outfitters, trip reports, photography, classified ads, and much more.
I stop in nearly daily to the Paddling.com Message Boards. This is the Internet at its best: helpful, contentious, immediate, argumentative, hilarious, vastly experienced, and self-contradictory. Post an obscure paddling question and go to lunch; when you return, you will likely find a dozen replies from kayak and canoe nuts who have been there and done that, probably with a few wisecracks tossed in just so you maintain your sanity.
Reddit > Kayaking
All things paddling related! Kayaks, canoes, even SUPs are welcome — this is your place to post your paddling photos, ask your gear questions, share your experiences, or just be a part of the paddling community!
A few Facebook Groups
SURF: Personal Paddling Sites
Bryan Hansel’s personal paddling site leans toward the nitty-gritty aspects of wilderness kayaking, camping, and do-it-yourself adventure travel. Features lots of great photos, practical wisdom, and reviews of canoe/kayak/camping products. You’ll also find some excellent info regarding designing and building your own gear, including kayaks, canoes, and paddles.
The Lake is the Boss
A laidback and wryly humorous ramble around the shores of my favorite inland sea, exploring such topics as the environment, attending kayaking symposiums, trips with good traveling companions (and good beer). If you’re still not sure why anyone would call a lake ‘great’, make a few visits to “The Lake is the Boss”, and you’ll probably start to get it.
When I find myself mired in mid-winter self-pity, watching local lakes achieve their annual solid state, with snow and ice encrusting my empty roof rack, I visit Michael’s “Canadian Ckayaker” for uplifting and poignant blog posts. A retired schoolteacher living in Quebec, Michael offers an interesting blend of paddling observations, historical and regional notes from a life spent in the north, with the occasional technical article of interest to paddlers. And he serves it all with the patience and wry sense of humor required of a kayaker with a paddling season even shorter than mine.
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SHOPPING: Online Paddling & Camping Shops
Quite possibly the world’s largest brick-and-mortar paddlesports shop, Rutabaga also boasts an excellent retail website, offering a wide selection of top-notch paddling products, along with reviews and helpful articles by their knowledgeable staff. If you ever pass through Madison, Wisconsin, be sure to stop in to Rutabaga’s store for a multitude of quality kayaks, canoes, and other camping and outdoor gear and apparel. A pond and dock just behind the shop allow ample opportunity to test paddle their boats, and Rutabaga offers many on- and off-the-water classes throughout the year.
The highlight of the season, though, is Rutabaga’s annual paddlesport exposition, Canoecopia. Two-and-a-half solid days of new-product launches, demonstrations, bargains galore, and perhaps best of all, a daily schedule so jam-packed with fascinating speakers and inspiring presentations that it is perpetually difficult to choose which ones to attend. Whether a rank amateur paddler or a flannel-bound, veteran voyaguer, you will find plenty to pique your interest at Canoecopia, and everyone should make at least one pilgrimage to this paddling mecca during this lifetime.
Aside from poring over maps and charts for next season’s paddling trips, there are few better ways to pass a cold winter’s night than roasting your chestnuts by an open fire while perusing the familiar 200-page, black-and-white, hand-illustrated Campmor catalog. Chock full of everything from tents and sleeping bags to stoves, backpacks and bags, tools like knives and flashlights, and paddling-specific clothing and gear, the catalog is a goldmine of cool camping stuff, much of it at bargain prices. Of course, you can find all the same stuff and more on Campmor’s excellent website too, but you can’t keep that atop the toilet for bathroom browsing …
Requires little introduction. A tad chichi and overpriced for my tastes, this venerable national retailer is a decent enough place to shop for outdoor gear and apparel. Especially if you simply cannot venture out without fifty-dollar Gore-Tex socks, an Under Armour Arctic Beanie, and a five-lb., dual-speed, hand-operated blender for making “shakes and frappes” in the backcountry … sigh.
Sierra Trading Post
This is the place for good deals on closeouts, overstocked items, and outdoor gear and clothing with minor cosmetic flaws. Because Sierra’s inventory is dependent on overstocks from major manufacturers, selection is often quite irregular, and changes almost daily. So it pays to check back often for new bargains. You’ll find deals on everything from SmartWool socks to closeout drysuits to last year’s recreational kayak.
TRIP PLANNING: Online Maps & Nautical Charts
Paddling is about time spent on the water, but you still need to get there and back, and probably camp somewhere along the way. You’ll need maps of terra firma for that, and an excellent place to start is Google Maps. Offering free online topographical maps and aerial photographs, Google Map’s resources are searchable by city or latitude/longitude.
The topo information can be used to determine which shorelines may be safe for landing and camping, and which not. Though no substitute for a proper marine navigational chart, a lot can be learned by studying such topo maps, and should be part of the plan for any successful trip.
Several other useful online charting and planning aids have been phased out; please check back as I continue to compile new ones.