Kayaking is a highly popular pastime in North America, Canada, and across Europe as well as almost anywhere that has rivers, lakes, or a sea. Kayakers can enjoy the stunning scenery while sea kayaking in Na Pali Coast, Hawaii, or paddle gently on the backwaters of Kerala in India.

This is how many people see kayaking. As a gentle pastime that can be enjoyed by all ages and of all abilities. Whereas climbing can appear to be intrepid, or extreme. Famous tales of Everest being conquered make thrilling reading and even Hollywood movies. Free climbers make the news for scaling famous landmarks unaided.

But is this a fair assessment? Could kayaking be just as extreme a sport as climbing?

Which Sport Is The Most Extreme?


Before getting into the nitty gritty of kayaking versus climbing, what might be deemed the most extreme sport in the world today? There’s quite a selection to choose from.

Free soloing can involve taking on steep climbs by hands and feet alone. And some free climbers take this sport to urban areas as one man did recently by climbing The Shard in London. Nevertheless, there are lots of other sports that can be considered to be extreme at times.

  • Motocross
  • BMX
  • Surfing
  • Skateboarding
  • Snowboarding
  • Ski jumping
  • Heli-skiing
  • Ice swimming
  • Zip lining
  • Skydiving

Then you get the more extreme type of sports with free diving, wingsuit flying, and wait for it, volcano surfing. Almost any sport can be made extreme by adding elements of danger. Skateboarding can be laid back, but add in a good quarter pipe and you might see a jump like Danny Way did at an event in California. Way landed a 25.5ft jump from a quarterpipe to set a new Guinness Book of Records title.

But what about climbing, and what are the dangers associated with kayaking? Can these two sports be considered as extreme as some of the others listed above, and what makes kayaking an extreme sport at all?

How Extreme Are Kayaking And Climbing?

There are over 16 million people actively participating in kayaking in the US alone. The pandemic saw a rise in the popularity of the activity as perhaps a new appreciation for the outdoors occurred.

The lockdowns saw extended periods of isolation, and for many, this sparked a desire to get involved in more outdoor activities. Kayaking was one of the sports that benefitted.

Rock climbing attracts over 10 million participants in the US. There are over 590 climbing centers in the country, and California is proud to have 86 in that one state. Even if there are no suitable areas to climb outdoors nearby, there is a good chance that a sports center in your area will have an indoor climbing facility.

To give a quick indication of the extreme limits some people go to with kayaking and climbing, you can look at two simple examples. The cold that climbers endure on some mountains for instance. Everest’s temperatures can drop to -30°C on the western side during winter. It affectionately has one area known as the Death Zone where the coldest temperatures occur.

As for kayaking, there are 6 levels of rapids for individuals to experience. Levels 1 and 2 are for paddlers and are considered safe. Level 6 however is considered to be almost impossible to run and represents extreme danger. This doesn’t stop some kayakers from trying though.

So, just how extreme are each of these sports?

The Case For Kayaking

One of the beauties of kayaking is that it can be enjoyed by all ages. Families can go on trips together, and it is easy to learn the basics and start paddling. However, there are dangers to kayaking as there are with any water-based sport.

A life vest must be worn, and other safety equipment is usually recommended such as a helmet. But, some people take their kayaking activities away from placid lakes and seek out white water and the world’s most challenging river courses.

Sea kayaks bring another dimension to the activity. Unpredictable weather can provide not only challenging kayaking conditions but add elements of danger. Capsizing, lightning, high winds, hypothermia, rocks, and other boats, can all provide hazards to a kayaker.

To truly show how extreme kayaking can be, consider the potential dangers of wildlife such as alligators, crocs, or sharks. The Global Shark Attack File has recorded a number of reports about kayakers being attacked. Although rare, a shark attack on a kayaker is a genuine possibility. 21 shark attacks have been reported since 1990, with 2 fatalities.

The Case For Climbing

Like kayaking, there are different levels of intensity for rock climbing. Some climbs are more technical than others, and some are only suitable for experts.

Nepal is home to the Annapurna massif, considered to be the most dangerous climb in the world. Since 1900, 244 expeditions have set out to conquer this climb. This has resulted in 72 fatalities.

Climbers have to deal with the dangers of oxidative stress, and extreme cold at times. Falling rocks, equipment failure, and sudden weather changes are all dangers that climbers can face.

As A Sport, Is Kayaking Or Climbing Better For Health?


It would seem after looking at the dangers of both sports that neither is good for one’s health. The truth is that most kayakers and climbers will enjoy their respective sports safely throughout their lives.

Both sports can be enjoyed in a reasonably relaxed manner. Indoor climbing presents little risk, and paddling on still waters should be no problem for even a novice kayaker. The sports can also be taken to extreme levels though.

There are health risks with mountain climbing at high altitudes for instance. High-altitude pulmonary edema and cerebral edema are dangers for those who take on the tallest peaks.

But, despite the risks, both sports are excellent for improving fitness levels and overall health.


The average person can burn between 375 to 475 calories per hour while kayaking. While kayaking can be treated as a low-impact activity most of the time, it will improve cardiovascular fitness. It will also strengthen the arms, shoulders, and back muscles.


Some fitness experts believe climbing might be the most intense sport there is. According to some studies, climbers can burn up to 900 calories in just one hour.

As for muscle building, climbing will work in almost every group in your body. Aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels will increase, and your health will benefit greatly.

Which Sport Is More Extreme?


Climbing definitely takes more strength, agility, and fitness than kayaking at the more extreme levels. But, taking on grade 5 or 6 rapids requires incredible skill, concentration, and strength.

These sports can be enjoyed as pastimes and hobbies, but they can both be taken to the extreme. Perhaps they should just both be enjoyed for what they are; great activities that promote fitness and a sense of adventure.


If you are going to participate in kayaking or climbing then some training is necessary. Both sports require safety equipment, and should never be approached as a solo participant until experience is gained.

Neither of these sports needs to be dangerous when all safety measures are put into place. However, there is always a risk with any extreme sport, and neither kayaking nor climbing should be treated lightly.

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