Canoe vs. Kayak

Across the globe, people are 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 devices to experience the thrill of nature.

But if you’re going to be paddling along lakes and waterways, then you’ll need a boat. There’s one 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 along the water. Ultimately, both offer unique benefits that will affect your outdoor adventure.

In this article, we will look at both canoes and kayaks, and discover which may be best for your outdoor needs. We’ll also answer some common questions raised by many outdoor enthusiasts!

What Is a Canoe?

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 is formed by two inclined planes meeting at a sharp V-shaped angle called a “rocker.” This 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 a 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; they evolved over time to include wooden frames with stretched animal skins used for paddles and waterproofing.

Today, they are still being 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 to Canoe?

Canoeing is a recreational activity in which the paddler sits in a canoe, facing forward. The canoeist uses a 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 faster movement when paddling, allowing you to move faster than many kayaks, but limits access to the canoe.

Here are some key items you should have if you plan to head 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 are eager to share that canoeing is a fun and relaxing way to explore lakes, ponds, and rivers. It allows you to freely move across the water without the use of a motor but still provides you with speed. 

Benefits of Canoes

Canoes offer several benefits to those looking to take up the activity. Recreational canoes are inexpensive, readily available, and easy to transport. 

Those who are unsure of their balance will be happy to note that most canoes offer more stability than kayaks, but they still allow decent maneuverability because of their flat bottoms.

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

Where Can You Go in a Canoe?

Canoes are not limited to rivers or lakes — though they perform their 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. Solo canoes are the typical boat used for recreational canoeing, and racing canoes will be much more expensive than your average aluminum canoes.

What Is a Kayak?

A kayak is a small, narrow boat with pointed ends and a covered deck that is usually designed for one person. Kayaks are usually propelled using a double-bladed paddle to propel the boat forward; but 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. Sit-on-top kayaks consist of a flat board with a seat attached to the top. 

Sit-inside kayaks are more similar to canoes, with the boat still having a designated cockpit. Sit-on-top kayaks, on the other hand, would be more similar to a stand-up paddleboard than a canoe. 

The average kayaker is likely to prefer a sit-inside kayak. Sit-on-top kayaks have recently gained more popularity as stand-up paddleboarding has become a new sport.

Both sit-inside kayaks and canoes can be outfitted with a spray deck, which fits around the paddlers 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.” The 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 used to hunt and fish as well as travel between islands. 

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

Over time, recreational kayaks have become more advanced, perfecting the art of design. 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 to Kayak?

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

Here are some of the items you should bring if you plan to head out 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 skirt to keep water out of your kayak cockpit
  • Bilge pump (this can be used to remove water from the boat if you’re sinking)
  • Clothing in layers and rain gear
  • An illumination device (such as a headlamp or flashlight)

Kayaks offer you maximum movement 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.

They can be extremely fast since you are 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 maneuverable. The double-bladed paddle helps you move swiftly through the water, because when one blade exits the water the opposite blade is already entering to give you the next push.

The closed cockpit offers dry storage, or space to pack more gear that shouldn’t get wet. This makes great storage space for fishing supplies, camping gear, and other essentials.

There are also different types of kayaks made for specific activities. Sea kayaks are made for kayaking on rough water, often called whitewater kayaking. 

Surf kayak pros can use their kayak and double paddle to ride the ocean waves similar to a traditional surfer. 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?

Kayaks allow you to go where no other boat can — like up small, shallow creeks or narrow waterways. Since the kayak sits low in the water and has a flat bottom, it offers better visibility when paddling down 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.

Canoe vs Kayak – How to Choose What’s Right for You

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

Let’s discuss how to choose a canoe versus a kayak.

When to Choose a Canoe

1. If affordability, storage space, and stability are the top priorities for you.

Canoes are a great choice due to their low price, availability, and sturdiness. This can help to alleviate some of the pressure that comes with buying a new water vessel while not yet knowing if canoeing is right for you.

While you can find whitewater canoes, these stable boats are generally made for slow moving rivers and calm water. More space in the boat can also be useful for those who may occasionally want to bring along a child or pet.

2. If comfort is a priority while you are out on the water.

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

A kayak, while offering increased maneuverability, will also require more effort to balance and paddle.

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

If your main goal is to explore the water around you during longer trips and outings, then a recreational canoe might be the better choice for you since their design allows most canoes 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 easily move through these areas because of their thin and stable bottom. They allow the paddler to sneak up on fish or cover long distances swiftly.

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

The kayak’s performance, such as speed and maneuverability, allows 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 will thus be easier to paddle.

3. When you want added mobility.

Kayaks offer more than canoes when it comes to paddling and mobility. This means that most kayaks can cover larger areas of water quickly, which is a benefit over their canoe counterparts.

4. If you plan on going through fast-moving waters.

Since kayaks sit low in the water, they offer the paddler a stable and safe vessel to go through turbulent waters. Canoes can tip easily in choppier or fast-moving water.

Kayak tracking tends to follow a straight line, which can come in handy if you don’t want to put all your effort into steering. 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 for fishing since they provide 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 Kayak

Are you looking to buy a kayak or canoe and are 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 they can hold more weight and work well for transporting kids, dogs, camping gear, or other supplies.

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

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

4. A kayak offers a better paddling position because of its smaller size and design. The lower you sit, the easier it is to put more 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 for you.

6. It can be more difficult to stand up in a kayak since they sit very low in the water; however, it can be easy to stand up in a canoe if you have proper balance. Sit-on-top kayaks, though, will usually allow you to stand reasonably easily.

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

8. Canoe seats tend to be more comfortable for extended periods of time, while kayak seats can get 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; there are even inflatable kayaks that are extra light. 

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 do, 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 their aerodynamic design. They are also easier to paddle in a straight line. 

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

Canoe vs Kayak FAQs

Canoe vs kayak: Which should I choose 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 the water spray, but you will have less overall room for your gear. 

Canoe vs kayak: Which is best for fishing?

Both canoes and kayaks are used for fishing, but they offer their own benefits for this application. 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.

Canoe vs kayak: Which offers the best 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. 

Canoe vs kayak: What price is best?

Typically canoes are less expensive than kayaks, especially when new vessels are being purchased. Used canoes also tend to be much less expensive than used kayaks.

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

Canoe vs kayak: Which offers the best speed?

Kayaks, especially racing kayaks, offer better paddling movement and more speed because they are lighter than canoes and sit lower in the water. This allows for better paddling and less drag on the kayak.

Canoe vs kayak: Which weight is best?

Touring kayaks tend to be much lighter than canoes because of how low they sit in the water, which 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.

Canoe vs kayak: Which offers the least water resistance?

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

However, the upper edge of canoes sit higher on the water and provide more surface area of the boat against the water, creating more resistance.

Canoe vs. Kayak Final Verdict: Pick What’s Right for You!

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

A canoe will work better for those who want a 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 what you choose, make sure to practice your water safety. In no time, you’ll be out on the water enjoying your vessel!