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Canoes Vs. Kayaks: What Are The Differences?

All around the globe, people enjoy discovering the beauty of the great outdoors. 

Whether hiking through a majestic mountain range or fishing on a quiet lake, more people than ever before are ditching their electronic devices to experience the thrill of nature.

If you plan to paddle along a lake and other waterway, then you’ll need a boat. There’s one type of boat in particular that has become increasingly popular over the past couple of decades: the kayak. 

However, long before kayaks were all the rage, canoes were the front-runner when it came to paddling options. 

Ultimately, both of these boats offer unique benefits that will determine the quality of your outdoor adventure.

So what’s the difference between a canoe and a kayak?

A canoe has a wider frame, an open cockpit, and moves through the water with the use of a single-bladed paddle. In contrast, a kayak is a smaller, narrower boat with pointed ends, a covered deck, and is usually propelled by a double-bladed paddle. 

In this article, we will look at both canoes and kayaks, and help you determine which type of boat may be best for your particular outdoor needs. We’ll also answer some common questions raised by outdoor enthusiasts!

What Is A Canoe?

Canoe anchored near the shore of a lake

A canoe is a boat with a wide frame and an open cockpit. The canoe paddler moves the boat through the water using a single-bladed paddle.

The shape of the bottom of a canoe is formed by two inclined planes that meet at a sharp V-shaped angle called a “rocker.” This design allows for better gliding and less water resistance when moving through the water.

Most recreational canoes tend to be constructed out of sheets of fabric or wood that form a watertight skin around aluminum, fiberglass, or carbon fiber shells. The wood is usually covered with some type of sealant, such as a varnish or polyurethane.

The History Of Canoes

Canoes have long been used for transportation in many parts of the world, especially Asia. The first canoes were made by native peoples using hollowed-out logs. These evolved over time to include wooden frames with stretched animal skins used for paddles and waterproofing.

Today, canoes are still used as a primary mode of transportation among indigenous populations in many parts of the world. Canoes are also extremely popular for outdoor recreation, such as camping and hunting.

What Do You Need For Canoeing?

Person loading supplies and equipment onto a canoe by the lake shore

Canoeing is a recreational activity in which the paddler sits in the boat, facing forward. The canoeist uses a single-bladed paddle to push the boat’s hull through the water. 

Some canoes have seats that are placed above the level of the hull. This aids with faster movement when paddling, which allows you to move faster than many kayaks, but also limits access inside the canoe itself.

Here are some key items you should have if you plan to go out in a canoe:

  • Paddle
  • Life jacket
  • Bailing tool (bucket/pot/jug)
  • Paddle float
  • Rope/tow line
  • Waterproof clothing
  • Warm clothing, including a hat and gloves in the winter
  • Multi-tool
  • Change of clothes for when you get out of the water

Canoe enthusiasts can agree that canoeing is a fun and relaxing way to explore lakes, ponds, and rivers. This activity allows you to freely move across the water without the use of a motor, and provides you with ample speed. 

The Benefits Of Canoes

Recreational canoes offer several benefits, including reasonable cost, availability, and ease of transport. 

Those who may be concerned about balance will be happy to know that most canoes tend to offer more stability than kayaks, but they still allow for decent maneuverability because of their flat bottoms.

Since a canoe offers more stability than a kayak, moving around inside the boat is much easier. This means that you can easily access any needed contents of your boat, such as fishing gear, from within the canoe.

Where Can You Go In A Canoe?

Canoes are not necessarily limited to just rivers or lakes, though they do perform best in these types of water. 

Whitewater canoes can also be taken out on the ocean, where they can be used for fishing and exploration.

Racing canoes are designed for speed, but are generally only used by professional teams, and are much more expensive than your average aluminum canoes.

Solo canoes are typically used for recreational canoeing.

What Is A Kayak?

Tandem kayak and single person kayaks by the docks

A kayak is a small, narrow boat with pointed ends and a covered deck that is usually designed for one person. 

In most cases, kayaks are propelled using a double-bladed paddle to move the boat forward, but a paddle with a single blade can also be used.

Sit-inside kayaks have a small opening that allows the kayaker to sit inside the closed cockpit of the kayak, while sit-on-top kayaks consist of a flat board with a seat attached to the top. 

A sit-inside kayak is more similar to a canoe, since this type of boat comes with a designated cockpit. On the other hand, a sit-on-top kayak looks more similar to a stand-up paddleboard. 

The average kayaker is likely to prefer a sit-inside kayak, although sit-on-top kayaks have recently gained more popularity as stand-up paddleboarding has become a popular activity.

Both sit-inside kayaks and canoes can be outfitted with a spray deck, which fits around the paddler’s waist and keeps almost all water out of the cockpit while kayaking or canoeing. 

Kayaks have been around since at least the 1600s, when they were known as “yoles.” These boats were originally made from animal skins stretched over wood. Later, the modern kayak evolved to include more efficient designs and different materials.

The History Of Kayaks

Kayaks were originally made by the Inuits, although similar boats preceded them in Europe. Kayaks were primarily used for hunting and fishing, as well as traveling between islands. 

The kayak was perfected by the Inuits, who lived off its ability to take them where they needed to go with incredible durability.

Over time, recreational kayaks have become more advanced and their design has been highly perfected. 

Today, most kayaks are used for recreational paddling trips as well as competitive sports such, as racing on whitewater rapids and rock crawling.  Some boats can even launch off of waves to perform maneuvers in the air!

What Do You Need For Kayaking?

Kayaking is suitable for people who want access to their boat at all times. They also work great for fishing because you usually don’t even need to get up from your seat to access your gear.

Here are some items you should bring if you plan to go kayaking:

  • A waterproof dry bag that can be securely fastened inside or outside of your boat
  • Floatation devices (also known as life jackets or PFDs)
  • A spray deck or skirt to keep water out of your kayak’s cockpit
  • Bilge pump (this can be used to remove water from the boat if you’re sinking)
  • Layers of clothing and rain gear
  • An illumination device (such as a headlamp or flashlight)

Kayaks offer you maximum movement capability as you paddle on the water. Their structure allows for easy access to all parts of the kayak, which limits the amount of times you need to get in and out of your boat.

Kayaks can go extremely fast, since you are actually moving through the water itself instead of displacing it, and their compact design creates little wind resistance. 

If you’re looking for a boat that can get you to your destination in record time, kayaking is the way to go.

Benefits Of Kayaks

Typical recreational kayaks are lightweight, fast, and easy to maneuver. 

Their double-bladed paddles help you move swiftly through the water, because as one blade exits the water, the opposite blade is already entering to give you the next push you need.

A kayak’s closed cockpit offers drier storage space to pack more gear that shouldn’t get wet. Kayak cockpits provide great storage space for fishing supplies, camping gear, and other essentials.

There are also different types of kayaks specially designed for specific activities. For example: 

  • Sea kayaks are made for kayaking on rougher water, often called “whitewater kayaking”. 
  • Surf kayak pros use their kayaks and double paddles to ride the ocean waves, similar to traditional surfing. 
  • Inflatable kayaks can be easily inflated and deflated at the water’s edge, offering easy transportation and storage. 
  • Racing kayaks, similar to racing canoes, are designed for professional competitions. Kayaking is an olympic sport, as is canoeing. 

Where Can You Go In A Kayak?

Person riding a kayak in very turbulent water rapids

Kayaks allow you to go where no other boat can, like up small, shallow creeks or narrow waterways. 

Since kayaks sit so low in the water and have a flat bottom, they offer better visibility when paddling through these kinds of areas.

Kayakers can also go into turbulent waves and whitewater rapids, as long as the kayaker is experienced and knows how to maneuver the kayak paddles correctly and safely.

Canoe vs Kayak – How To Choose The Boat That’s Right For You

Both kayaks and canoes are fantastic water vessels, and each offers its own set of benefits. The kind of activities you plan to use your canoe or kayak for will likely determine which craft is best for you. 

Let’s examine how to decide between a canoe and a kayak.

When To Choose A Canoe

1. If affordability, storage space, and stability are your top priorities 

A canoe is a great choice due to its low price, availability, and sturdiness. This purchase can help to alleviate some of the pressure that comes with buying a new water vessel if you’re not completely sure if canoeing is right for you.

While you can find whitewater canoes, the majority of canoes are generally designed for slow moving rivers and calm water. 

Canoes also provide more space, which is useful for those who may want to bring a child or pet along.

2. If comfort on the water is your priority

Since kayaks can be more difficult to get into and sit in for extended periods of time, some people prefer the stability and open space of a canoe over a kayak.

While a kayak offers increased maneuverability, it will also require more effort to balance and paddle.

3. When you’re looking for a vessel that can reach further distances at one time

If your main goal is to explore the water on longer trips, then a recreational canoe might be the better choice for you, since this boat’s design allows it to carry more weight and gear than recreational kayaks.

When To Choose A Kayak

1. When you want to access tight and shallow waterways

Kayaks can move easily through these areas because of their thin and stable bottoms. They also allow the paddler to sneak up on fish or swiftly cover long distances.

2. When comfort isn’t a priority but performance is key

A kayak’s performance, speed, and maneuverability allow you to get in and out of tight waterways with ease.

Kayaks have less wetted surface area, meaning they face lower friction than canoes and are therefore easier to paddle.

3. When you want added mobility

Kayaks have an advantage over canoes when it comes to paddling and mobility. Kayaks can cover larger areas of water quickly, which is a benefit over their canoe counterparts.

4. If you plan to go through fast-moving waters

Since kayaks sit low in the water, they offer the paddler a stabler and safer vessel in turbulent waters. Canoes can easily tip in choppier or fast-moving waters.

Kayak tracking tends to follow a straight line, which comes in handy if you don’t want to put all your effort into steering. On the other hand, canoe tracking can be slightly unpredictable, which can be a problem in fast-moving waters.

5. If you plan to fish or go hunting

Kayaks offer a stable platform and better visibility, allowing you to access your gear and be ready for anything. 

A paddler might enjoy using a kayak instead of a canoe for fishing, since it provides the paddler with a comfortable position from which to cast their line, as well as easily accessible rods and reels.

Buying Guide: How to Pick A Canoe Vs. A Kayak

Are you considering buying a kayak or canoe, and you’re not sure where to start?

Here are some features to keep in mind:

1. A canoe is typically longer than a kayak, which means that it can hold more weight and works well for transporting kids, pets, camping gear, or other supplies.

2. Canoes sit higher on top of the water, while kayaks sit lower in the water.

3. Canoes are typically 34–37 inches wide, while kayaks usually measure about 25–32 inches across.

4. A kayak offers a more ideal paddling position because of its smaller size and design. The lower you sit, the easier it is to put optimal effort and power into your strokes.

5. Recreational canoes are wider and more stable than recreational kayaks. If stability is your top priority, then a canoe may be the way to go.

6. It can be more difficult to stand up in a kayak since they sit very low in the water, and it’s relatively easy to stand up in a canoe if you have proper balance. However, sit-on-top kayaks will also allow you to stand reasonably easily.

7. Canoes are more difficult to maneuver than kayaks. Since kayak paddles are double-bladed, they provide a better sense of control and more efficient paddling movements.

8. Canoe seats tend to be more comfortable for extended periods of time, while kayak seats can become uncomfortable after long periods of sitting.

9. A canoe is typically less expensive than a kayak, especially when it comes to buying a new model.

10. A canoe is heavier and harder to transport by yourself. Kayaks are typically lighter and easier to move around on your own, especially those that are inflatable. 

11. Since recreational canoes are bigger, they can be more difficult to store in your home.

12. Canoes sit higher in the water than kayaks, which makes them better suited to flat water. Touring kayaks often perform better and offer more stability in rough water.

13. A kayak is faster and more efficient when it comes to paddling because of its aerodynamic design. It’s also easier to paddle in a straight line. 

14. Canoes offer more storage options and compartments for gear, but kayaks allow the paddler to access their belongings more easily because they are closer to them.

Which one is better for storage?

Typically, canoes offer more storage space than touring kayaks because they are longer and wider. 

The closed deck of a kayak will offer more dry storage space and protect your gear from water spray, but you will have less overall room for your gear. 

Which is best for fishing?

Both canoes and kayaks can be used for fishing, but each one offers its own benefits for this activity. Either way, there will likely be a slight learning curve when adapting to fishing in either a canoe or a kayak.

Fishing in an open canoe is usually done by standing up or sitting on the front bench seat of the boat. In a kayak, the paddler has better balance in a seated position, and can use the rudder for steering.

Which offers more stability?

Kayaks offer better stability in rough waters because of their smaller size. Canoes can hold more weight, and their larger size helps them to balance better in calm water. 

Which one is a better price?

Typically canoes are less expensive than kayaks, especially when purchasing a new vessel. Used canoes also tend to be much less expensive than used kayaks.

If you’re looking for the least expensive option on the market, then a canoe is probably your best bet!

Which offers better speed?

Kayaks, especially racing kayaks, offer better paddling movement and higher speed because they are lighter than canoes. 

Kayaks also sit lower in the water, which allows for better paddling and less drag on the kayak.

Which weight is better?

Touring kayaks tend to be much lighter than canoes because of how low they sit in the water, but this also limits the amount of storage space they offer. 

A canoe is longer and wider than a kayak, which means it both weighs more and can hold more weight.

Which offers less water resistance?

Kayaks have less drag when moving through the water because they are lighter and lower in the water. This allows for greater speed and movement through the water.

In contrast, the upper edge of a canoe sits higher on the water and provides more surface area of the boat against the water, creating more resistance.


Deciding between a kayak or a canoe cannot be narrowed down to just one simple comparison. Each vessel offers benefits over the other, depending on your specific needs and what you want to get out of your outdoor boat!

A canoe is better for those who want a more heavy-duty option that can haul more weight with less paddling impact, whereas a kayak is lighter and easier to paddle through choppy waters.

No matter which one you choose, make sure to always exercise water safety. In no time, you’ll be out on the water enjoying your new boat!

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