Canoe Vs. Kayak: Which One Will Work Better For You?

Canoe Vs. Kayak

Have you ever looked longingly at a river and wondered what it’s like to travel down it? If so, you need to know the differences between a canoe vs. kayak. They’re not the same, and they’re not suited for all the same things.

They do have a few overlaps, of course. However, beyond knowing those few, you may have found that you don’t know much about them.

If you want to get into either of these water sports, we can help you understand the differences between canoes and kayaks. That way, you’ll be armed with the knowledge you need before you go out.

Canoe vs. Kayak: Which Is Which?

Kayak vs Canoe

If you don’t know much about these two types of watercraft, figuring out what’s a canoe and what’s a kayak might seem confusing. Indeed, they don’t look very much alike, and they’ve got some significant differences between them other than appearance.

Canoes resemble boats, in part because their sides come up out of the water. They’re also open on top, as well as bigger and heavier than kayaks.

Kayaks, on the other hand, are smaller and flatter than canoes, and they’re mostly, or entirely, closed on top. They’re also smaller and lighter than canoes, making them easy to transport.

That might make a kayak seem like a better choice, right? Not necessarily. Knowing whether you want a canoe vs. kayak depends on where you’re going and what you want to do.

A Brief History of Canoes and Kayaks

A Brief History of Canoes and Kayaks

Canoes go back at least 10,000 years, whereas kayaks go back about 4,000 years.

The oldest watercraft ever discovered in Europe is 10,000 years old, and the earliest boats in both China and Africa are about 8,000 years old. All three are wooden “dugout” canoes.

Those who made these canoes hollowed out tree trunks and logs with axes to create the inside of the craft. In other words, they dug the wood out from the centers of these trees and logs. That’s where the word “dugout” comes from when referring to these canoes.

As for kayaks, historians believe that Native peoples in the Arctic regions of North America and Greenland invented kayaks.

They carved this watercraft from driftwood and whalebone with seal skin stretched over the entire structure. They waterproofed that skin with caribou and whale fat, making them fit to use on the water.

Ancient peoples used both canoes and kayaks for transporting people, food, and other goods.

Differences in Canoes vs. Kayaks

Obviously, you can’t decide on a canoe vs. kayak if you don’t know the differences between them. You can have one or two-person canoes and kayaks, so that’s not a difference. So, what are some of those differences?

Design differences

The first difference you’ll notice between canoes and kayaks are their designs. You can use both in certain bodies of water, and you paddle both, but their similarities pretty much end there.



We already mentioned that canoes are open on top and have sides that come up out of the water. And that’s why they resemble boats, particularly rowboats.

However, they also have seats inside. In a two-person canoe, one seat is in the front, near the bow, and the other is in the back, near the stern. In a single-person (solo) canoe, the seat is situated just behind the center.

Canoes also have several struts that help them maintain their shape. The most popular style of canoe — the “Canadian” style — is 13 to 17 feet long.

To board a canoe, you only have to step into it. You can do that at a dock or on a beach (assuming you can push off from there). You can even do it from shallow water. You’re also less likely to get wet in a canoe because of its design.

Furthermore, a canoe’s design allows you to carry a lot of gear depending on how much weight you can handle.



Kayaks, on the other hand, either have cockpits or have an entirely closed top. You either sit on top of a kayak, or you have to slide your legs into the cockpit in order to board. Some might say that you ride a canoe, but you wear a kayak.

There are kayaks out there where your legs don’t actually slide inside it. And there are times you don’t want that style kayak.

When you board a kayak, you have to be careful to maintain its balance. That makes getting into one a little trickier than getting into a canoe. However, this design gives you more control over it when you’re in the water.

Also, since kayaks are smaller and closed, you can’t always carry as much gear as you can in a canoe. That’s something you’ll have to keep in mind when comparing a canoe vs. kayak.

Differences in paddling techniques

Design isn’t the only major difference between canoes and kayaks. You paddle them differently, too. Canoe paddles have one blade, and you hold it with one hand on the end for control and the other in the middle for power.

You also alternate which side you paddle on in order to go straight.

If you’re riding with someone, the two of you paddle on opposite sides and should switch sides at the same time (which is easier said than done, so if you want to canoe with someone, you should find a way to practice paddling together). Otherwise, you start turning just as you would if you were alone and only paddling on one side.

However, you don’t necessarily have to alternate strokes. You can paddle a few strokes on one side and then switch to the other.

By contrast, you paddle a kayak with a double-bladed paddle. You hold this paddle with both hands at a comfortable distance apart, and you move your hands in alternating circles just like the way bike pedals move for your strokes.

You can use a double-bladed paddle with a canoe, but because the sides of a canoe come up out of the water, doing so is a little more difficult than in a kayak.

Activities and lifestyles for which each one is designed

As you compare a canoe vs. kayak, think about the activities you like and your overall lifestyle. If you’re a thrill-seeker, you might quickly get bored with canoeing. By the same token, if you prefer calm, quiet, and even lazy trips, you can do this in a kayak, but you’ll be better off in a canoe.

Canoes are better suited to calm waters like lakes and wide, flat, slow-moving rivers. Inland rivers through flatlands attract canoers more than kayakers because of that. Also, since you can carry more gear, you can make your entire trip more comfortable than you can in a kayak.

However, if you have a thrill-seeking adventurer lurking inside you, then you may want to consider a kayak. Kayaks make seeking those thrills on the water much easier and safer.

Canoe vs. Kayak: Where you want to go matters, too

Think about what you want to do with a canoe vs. kayak. Do you want to float around a lake or down a lazy, slow-moving river? Are you more interested in paddling in the ocean? Do you want to experience the thrill of whitewater rapids?

Kayaks are easier to paddle than canoes because they have less friction in the water. Because of that, they’re more prevalent on most waterways than canoes these days. You can achieve higher speeds more easily in a kayak than in a canoe.

That doesn’t make them better, though. When you need to carry a lot of gear, or you’ll have to be loading and unloading your gear frequently due to things like portages, you’ll probably want a canoe.

Canoes, because you can stretch your legs out a little bit inside them, are often more comfortable than kayaks. Some kayaks do have a more open design, and your legs aren’t actually inside them, so you can find ways to stretch them out in those too.

However, you don’t want this kind of a design if you plan on going through large, fast rapids or anywhere else where you might get thrown. You also want a sea kayak if you want to go out in the ocean.

Canoe vs. Kayak: The Point Is to Have Fun

There’s no rule against having both and enjoying their differences. It all depends on what you want and enjoy doing.

Ultimately, the whole point of having either one of these is to have fun, which is why knowing the differences between canoes and kayaks is so essential. When you have the proper knowledge, you can maximize your enjoyment and minimize your problems. So decide, go out, and enjoy!

Have you ever ridden in a kayak or a canoe? Which one do you prefer? Let us know in the comments!


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