October 05, 2022 9 min read

Another paddling debate to add to the mix

Kayakers and Canoers on a cave

Canoe vs kayak is an argument that can entertain a bunch of paddlers for hours. At first glance, newbies can be forgiven for thinking that these two water sports are almost the same. However, be careful in making that assumption in front of a Canoer or a Kayaker…

There are some pretty significant differences between canoeing and kayaking that make these two paddle sports unique. 

So if you are trying to work out which is best for you, you have come to the right place. We are going to discuss the differences, the benefits, and all the paddling details in between. After reading this article, not only will you know the difference between a canoe and a sit-on-top kayak, but you will also know which one will be best for you. 

What’s The Difference Between A Canoe And Kayak?

Floating island with loads of kayak and canoes

When you look closely, a canoe and a kayak have differences in vessel shaping. This includes the cockpit, seat, and hull. 

Canoes tend to be open top. Paddlers either kneel or sit on benches for a more elevated position. Kayaks, on the other hand, have a closed deck with a cut-out hole in the middle for the paddler to sit in a seat. Most kayaks are lower profiled, sitting closer to the water. These boat shape differences are crucial for the distinct paddling techniques. 

  • Canoe paddlers use a single-bladed paddle. This is moved from one side to the other to maintain straight tracking. 
  • Kayak paddlers use a double-bladed paddle. Using a twisting motion, the blades alternate to the respective sides for a faster and more efficient paddling technique.

Now of course, just as it is in the world of paddle boarding, there are several different types of kayaks and canoes that specialize in certain activities. 

Different Types of Kayaks

From tandem kayaking to whitewater madness, the world of kayaks is vast. Many of these are sit inside kayaks, but there are some variations that you can delve into more detail in our ultimate kayak buying guide.

Name Description
Recreational kayak Recreational kayaks are beginner-friendly and a good all-rounder option. They are suitable for all ability levels, offer good stability, and are typically easy to paddle. Typically sit-in kayak style.
Whitewater kayak Whitewater kayaks are generally longer with less volume. This allows for more maneuverability while in the rapids. Used with a spray skirt to close the cockpit and deck.
Sea kayak Sea kayaks are generally a sleek design. This gives them stability in choppy water as the hull ‘cuts’ through the ocean. Made for easier paddling.
Touring kayak Touring kayaks have a specialized hull that tracks well in strong currents and can handle rough waters. 
Racing kayak Racing kayaks are long and narrow, built for speed. They are unstable and difficult to manoeuver. Require experience. 
Sit-on-top kayak Sit-on-top kayaks are perfect for fishing. Fishing kayaks give you a higher vantage point and more deck space. 
Inflatable kayak Inflatable kayaks are good for travel and recreational paddling. They use a similar technology to inflatable paddle boards and are beginning to take the world by storm.

Different Types of Canoes

There are not as many different types of canoes out there. But there are still some options available to you. 

Name Description
Recreational canoe Recreational canoes are made for everyday paddling on lakes, rivers, and flat water. Generally wide to give extra stability that is perfect for beginners or multiple people. 
Whitewater canoe Whitewater canoes tend to be shorter in length with a high rocker. This allows them to navigate rapids while (hopefully) keeping the cockpit and paddler dry!
Racing canoe Racing canoes are narrow with a pointed stern and rear. This design cuts through the water and provides optimum speed.


A Quick History Of Canoes And Kayaks

Canoe and kayak on moraine lake

Canoes and kayaks have been a useful tool used by many cultures across the world for centuries. 

Throughout history, canoes have been made from carved-out logs, animal skins, and tree barks. They were used widely across the globe for basic transportation, trade, improving fishing, and even warfare. Lengths ranged from 3 meters to 30 meters, depending on the intended use. 

Kayaks were developed vessels designed to keep the icy cold Arctic waters out. They were made using animal skins stretched over the wooden frame. It is believed that kayaks originated from Greenland. 

In the 1800s, Europeans began using kayaks for sport. In the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, the first kayak exhibition showcased flatwater racing. This publicity boost for kayaking introduced the sport into the Games 12 years later. Slalom racing was brought in much later in the 1972 Games.

Since then until now, innovative designs and materials have been developed across both canoeing and kayaking to create the diverse water sports we know and love today. 

What Gear Do You Need For Canoeing and Kayaking?

Regardless of which one you choose, both kayaking and canoeing require a similar kit list to get paddling.

  • Canoe or kayak – obviously. Owning your own kayak or canoe can be expensive, so you may want to look into rental outlets near you.
  • Paddle – again, obviously. You will need either a double-bladed paddle or a single, depending on which vessel you are paddling.
  • Helmet – safety always. Paddling in shallow water or near rocks can be hazardous. Make sure you protect your head.
  • PFD (personal floatation device) – again, safety first. Even the most experienced swimmers should wear a life jacket when paddling a canoe or kayak.
  • Appropriate clothing – neoprene, waterproof clothing, or sun protection layers depending on the weather and where you are paddling. 

Best Places To Go Canoeing or Kayaking

Man and a woman on a tandem kayak in a calm waters

There are countless adventures to be had with a canoe or kayak. Choosing where to go is all part of the fun. You can discover new corners of your local area or venture further afield to see places in an alternative light. 

Beginners ideally need calm and flat water to learn the basics of paddling. Think lakes, sheltered ocean bays, or calm meandering rivers. As you become more confident with the paddling then you can look to take on whitewater rapids or waves for some more adrenaline. 

Based in the USA? Check out our Top 16 Epic Places To Paddle In The USA for inspiration!

Canoe vs Kayak: Which Is Better?

So now you know the key differences, which is better suited to you? A canoe or kayak?

As with everything in life, there are pros and cons to both canoeing and kayaking. Choosing between the two typically comes down to your personal preference and circumstances. 

Pros and Cons for Canoeing

Pros & Cons

  • Easy to get in and out of
  • Large space to carry lots of gear easily
  • Comfortable sitting position
  • Perfect for longer expeditions with comfort and carrying capacity
  • Stable and difficult to capsize
  • You can stand up to get a good view
  • Basics are quick and easy to master
  • You won’t get very wet unless paddling on whitewater
  • Good view of your surroundings
  • Easy for kids or dogs to join out on the water
  • Big and heavy boat 
  • Difficult to transport and store
  • When whitewater canoeing they can take on a lot of water
  • Single paddles are less efficient than double paddles
  • More effort to reach top speed in a canoe

Pros and Cons for Kayaking

Pros & Cons

  • Easy and quick to pick up the basics
  • Fast with speed requiring little effort
  • Huge variety of kayaking disciplines
  • Gear and paddler are kept dry – providing there is no capsizing!
  • Light and easy to transport – Best Kayak Car Roof Racks  
  • Good maneuverability 
  • Handle whitewater well
  • Feel connected with the water as you sit closer
  • Double kayak paddles are more efficient than single canoe paddles
  • Highly likely to get wet in every session
  • Advanced kayaking skills are hard to master 
  • Transitioning from flat water to fast-moving water can be daunting
  • Spray skirts can feel restrictive and scary for learners 
  • Double paddles are heavier than single paddles

How To Determine If Canoeing or Kayaking Will Suit You Best

Woman canoeing behind kayakers on a lake

With all the differences highlighted, pros and cons outlined, how do you go about determining if canoeing or kayaking will suit you best? There are aspects you need to keep in mind along with a series of questions to ask yourself.

Aspects To Consider

Your personal circumstances may be what sways the decision in the canoe vs kayak debate. These aspects could be one or all of the following:

  • Paddling location
  • Paddling partners
  • Paddling trips
  • Transportation

If you live right on the water, then a canoe will be blissful. If you plan on heading out for road trips and adventures, then a kayak will be easier to transport. And if you have got a water-loving doggo in your tribe then you need to consider what is more comfortable for them! Make sure you think all of this through so you make the best decision for yourself.

Questions To Ask Yourself

Here are some key questions to ask yourself to help work out if you need a canoe or a kayak in your life:

  1. How important is speed to you? Kayaks are the faster of the two, while canoes tend to be more relaxed.
  2. How important is stability to you? Recreational versions of both will give you a stable ride. However, a canoe generally offers more stability overall.
  3. How important is maneuverability to you? If you want to explore caves, nooks, and crannies, then a kayak will be the favored choice.
  4. How important is load capacity to you? Canoes can carry more gear, so are great for long expeditions up a calm river.
  5. What type of water will you be paddling on most often? Choppy waters call for kayaks, while canoes were made for tranquil waters. 
  6. Will you be frequently entering and exiting your boat? Getting in and out of a kayak can be a pain, canoes are much better for this.

Canoe vs Kayak – Fishing

Fishing from a canoe or a kayak is great fun! And both are really great for the job. If you are fishing from a kayak, make sure you opt for a sit-on-top kayak type. This will give you more space on the deck for your gear, as well as a higher viewpoint to help cast your line and see the fish.

Ocean fishing is best done from a kayak. Whereas, flat water fishing is best from a canoe. Canoes tend to offer more space for your fishing equipment as well.

Canoe vs Kayak – Stability

Perhaps you are a beginner or nervous about being in the water. Whatever your situation is, stability could be the drawing factor. 

Canoes are generally more stable and much harder to capsize than kayaks. This is due to the size and width. Because of the better stability, canoes are also easier to enter and exit.

Canoe vs Kayak – Speed

Kayaks are the faster of the two crafts. This is because of the double-bladed paddle that doubles the energy that is propelling the vessel forwards. 

You can speed up a canoe by adding an additional person to paddle on the other side. This will make it roughly the same speed as a single-person kayak.

Canoe vs Kayak – Beginners

People are more inclined to reach for a canoe without lessons over a kayak. Because of this, many would suggest that canoeing is the more difficult for beginners. However, both require balance, skills, and instruction to master the technique. Therefore, we say they are about level when it comes to beginner paddlers. 

Canoe vs Kayak – Families

For big family outings, long canoes are the winners. You can load everyone on board the same vehicle, so everyone is together to join in with the fun. 

Kayak family trips are doable. However, the kids need to be comfortable to be in their own smaller kayak and paddling alongside you. Kayaking is more independent.  


🏆 Is a canoe or kayak easier?

Both canoes and kayaks take time and patience to get to grips with the skills needed. Canoeing is often considered the easier of the two though because they tend to be more stable. As they are the wider boat, this reduces the chance of capsizing and reduces the amount of balance that is needed.

However, a double-bladed paddle is easier to handle. A single-blade paddle needs to be alternated between sides and can get muddled for newcomers. 

👍 Is a canoe or kayak better for two people?

Tandem kayaks are great for people that want to navigate a variety of water spaces, getting into the hard-to-reach corners or hidden caves. Canoes are ideal for paddlers that are carrying cargo for a longer trip. It comes down to what kind of paddling you want to do.

🏝️ How is kayaking different from canoeing?

Kayaking is very different from canoeing. Kayak paddlers sit deep within the boat, close to the water, unlike canoes that sit above the water with the paddler kneeling or on a bench. 

Kayakers use a dual-bladed paddle to propel them forward using a twisting motion technique. Canoers use a single blade oar and switch it from side to side. This makes kayaks much faster.

❓ Can I convert my SUP to a canoe or kayak?

Converting a stand-up paddle board to a canoe/kayak is simple. You just need to get hold of a seat to secure onto the deck of your paddle board. Some are kayak style and sit low to the SUP, while others can be high offering more of a canoe style. 

SUP paddles that break down into pieces can have another blade added on to where the handle goes. This will give you a kayak paddle and allow you to paddle faster on your SUP.

Jay Regan
Jay Regan

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