Canoe vs. Kayak: 9 Key Differences to Help You Choose

Canoe vs. Kayak

A rivalry/debate as old as time, it literally goes back hundreds of years, canoe vs. kayak. Even though they might seem similar to the naked eye, there are many differences between them, and that’s why today we are going to highlight those differences and help you come to an informed conclusion.

Canoe vs. Kayak – Short Answer

If you want a relatively lightweight vessel that you can paddle alone or with company and can steer through strong current, then go for a kayak. On the other hand, canoes can only be steered by two people as it will be impossible for a single person to control it, they are also slower and more stable than kayaks.

Canoe vs. Kayak – Full Comparison

We will thoroughly break down these two products for you.

Construction

We would like to talk about the materials used to make a kayak or a canoe. A multitude of materials go into making both a kayak a canoe from wood, to kevlar, to fiberglass, polyethylene, and durable, high-quality plastic, all kayaks and canoes on the market today are durable and have a long shelf life.

Design

We move on to the design, and there are notable differences between a kayak and a canoe when it comes to their design. Beginning with the canoe, which mostly has a fixed design, as there are not many types of canoes, the ones that you will be seeing the most are recreational canoes. 

They have an open design, meaning that the hull and upper part of the canoe are exposed, along with a broader frame and an open-top, their sides are a lot higher than a kayak’s. They have a lot of gear space as well as always being able to accommodate at least two people sitting in front of each other or facing each other.

Canoes are usually from 13 to 17 feet long, and they sit higher on water, which means that they have better buoyancy than most kayaks.

Moving on to kayaks, which have multiple designs based on their types. Firstly, one piece of vital information to always keep in mind when in the process of deciding is that kayaks in general are split into two main categories: the solo and the tandem kayak. What is the difference? Easily-put, solo kayaks can accommodate or carry only one person while tandem kayaks are made for two or in some cases three people.

Now that we know the main categories, we move on to the three sub-types of kayaks. They are sit-inside, sit-on-top, or finally inflatable kayaks. The distinctions between in the design of each type are notable, and we will discuss them momentarily.

We start with sit-inside kayaks. True to their name, these kayaks have a closed hull, meaning that you insert your lower body -usually up to your stomach- inside the kayak, making it fully covered. 

Sit-inside kayaks are hard to get inside, especially if your kayak capsizes or flips, fitting yourself inside that hole will be hard to do. But they have the advantage of keeping your lower body dry for as long as you stay inside them.

Sit-on-top kayaks have an open-top similar to that of a canoe; however, the difference lies in the seating. This type of kayak has stadium-style seats, with some even being fully removable and adjustable according to your liking, in comparison with the bench-like seats of a canoe. Some seats are even padded to make you as comfortable as you can be.

Finally, the last primary type of kayaks is inflatable kayaks, and they have a similar design to sit-on-top kayaks with the open hull and seats. However, the main difference is that they can be deflated and inflated all according to your liking.

Comfort

When it comes to comfort, canoes fall short when compared to kayaks, Sit-on-top kayaks are similar to canoes where you can easily get inside them without any hassle. Nonetheless, we’ve previously stated that kayaks are more comfortable than canoes. That’s all due to their seats.

Canoes have benches where you can sit on them, they’re a bit comfortable, but not padded, nor adjustable, and provide no support for your back. Kayak seats are a whole different story, they are padded, adjustable or, in some cases, removable to give you more space. Finally, they support your back which goes the extra mile for those long kayaking trips.

Portability

Both are not easy to move around from one place to another since they are big and bulky. However, moving a kayak is easier since it is lighter, also there are inflatable kayaks that you can deflate and easily move around from one place to another.

Moving them is the same; you have to carry them from the latches provided, and you will mostly need the help of a friend in carrying either one of them. There are no clear winners here, but kayaks are a bit easier to move, especially if they are inflatable.

Paddles

One of the key differences between kayaks and canoes are the paddles and the mechanism of paddling itself. First, we start with canoes, their paddles have only one blade while the other side of the paddle is a handle. You paddle by gripping the handle with one hand and the other hand, grips the paddle’s center. 

Having only one blade means that you will have to alternate between both sides of the canoe to move. Since canoes are heavier than kayaks, this makes them harder to move than kayaks and even slower than them. Plus, using only a single blade means that you will consume even more time, that is why we canoes are made for two people where one can paddle on the left side and the other on the right-side.

Kayaks are a whole other story, their paddles have blades on both sides and are gripped from the middle, and you stir them by dipping the one blade in one side of the water and then dipping the other blade in the other side of the water, and so on. Furthermore, kayaks are lighter than canoes, consequently, they are faster, easier to stir, and control.

Maneuverability and Stability

These two come hand in hand, canoes are more stable, and kayaks can be maneuvered more easily. 

A Canoe is stable due to its wider hull. It grants the paddler the ability to move around the canoe with stability and without fear of falling over. But their large size, heavyweight, and single-bladed paddle make them hard to control and maneuver, which’s what makes them perfect for calm waters.

On the other hand, kayaks are also stable even if less than a canoe. There is a whole faction of kayak fishermen who not only stand up on their kayak but even cast their lines while inside the kayak. That alone speaks lengths about a kayak’s stability. However, since kayaks are narrower than canoes and their bows and sterns are “rockers” -they are curved upwards- this means that less of the hull is in the water granting the kayak faster speed and better maneuverability.

Having less of the hull in the water means less water displacement thus less resistance when paddling. That is why many kayaks can go through the powerful, and mighty Class IV currents

Moreover, some kayaks have a built-in rudder as well as skegs, and due to a kayak’s lower center of gravity, you will exert less effort when paddling it.

The final point when it comes to maneuverability is that a single person can control a kayak, while one person cannot control a canoe. This is due to the kayak’s paddle having blades on both sides, unlike that of a canoe which sports a single blade.

Uses

There is a long list of uses for both vessels, that’s why we can’t reach a distinctive winner. Still we will try to work through this stalemate to help you make the best possible decision for yourself.

We start with canoes with larger space for both people and gear, making them a perfect fit for longer water excursions. Canoes are more suitable for touring and can fit more people than a kayak, and you can even nap inside a canoe.

Kayaks, on the other hand, are more suited for adventures and scouring uncharted waters. They are faster and perfect for daredevil users. Plus, fishing oriented kayaks have risen in popularity as they come with a plethora of facilitating options like rod holders and foot pedals to keep your arms free. Some even come with even special compartments for your reel and bait.

Gear Storage

Storing gear is different between a kayak and a canoe. Still, they both contain ample storage, so do not worry.

In a canoe, you can store all your gear from coolers to camping gear and many more in the deck itself. However, if your canoe capsizes or flips, you might lose everything, and if you have any electronic equipment that is not water-resistant, they are done for.

When it comes to a kayak, there is also vast storage space available but in the form of waterproof cargo holds situated below deck. A great thing about these compartments is that you can store almost anything like rods, reels, bait all the way to electronics, medicine, and even food. The waterproof seal allows for maximum security. 

But hold on, we have not gotten to the best part about them yet. As we discussed earlier, these compartments are waterproof, meaning that if you and your kayak capsize, all your belongings will be safe and secure from water damage.

However, their downside is that you have to empty the cargo holds first before carrying your kayak to drylands, which can be time and effort consuming.

Getting Wet and Capsizing

While in a canoe, you will not get as wet as you’d expect. You might think that just because the canoe is exposed and has an open-top, that water will be splashing you every second, and that you will be drenched. However, that is not the case as canoes are usually sitting high on the water, so you will not be wet. Still, that will depend on the water’s state. Always keep in mind that canoes are not favorable in strong currents.

Kayaks provide you with an even better chance of not being wet with sit-inside kayaks, your lower body will be fully covered and will not get wet at all. You can even buy a spray skirt, which is an additional piece of fabric or rubber that can be fitted over the cockpit’s top to prevent water from coming inside.

We now move onto capsizing. Canoes have a less chance of capsizing as they are larger than kayaks and a lot heavier, however, if your canoe capsizes, then you are in deep trouble as getting back inside will be extremely difficult if not impossible to do. 

One safety precaution that must never be forgotten when you are canoeing is that you should never go out by yourself. Always have a friend or two in another canoe. One, it’s a lot more fun this way. 

Two, if you capsize, the only way of getting back into your canoe is through flipping it back into its correct position using your friend’s canoe. Next, you’ll have to climb onto it from your friend’s canoe.

Additionally, if you don’t want to get back into your vessel, it will be much easier to pull it back to dry land with the help of your friend and his helping canoe.

It is always advised to use canoes on calm waters and not go off venturing into strong currents.

When kayaks capsize, getting back is easier than with canoes, you can use techniques like the “Eskimo roll” to help you get back inside much easier. Finally, it goes without saying that your safety is always the top priority, so whether in a kayak or a canoe, always wear your lifejacket, have someone along with you to help each other,  and always know the weather conditions beforehand as well as the waters that you will be traversing.

Pros and Cons:

Canoe:

Pros:

  • Stable
  • Suitable for long trips
  • Will keep you dry
  • Rarely capsize

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Hard to move
  • Slow on water
  • Bench provides no back support

Kayak:

Pros:

  • Fast
  • Lighter than a canoe
  • Three different types
  • Waterproof compartments

Cons:

  • You will be very wet in a sit-on-top
  • Less stable on calm water
  • Sit-inside might be a bit crampy

Final Thoughts

Finally, after all, is said and done, we hope that you have gained more knowledge about the two vessels and can make a wiser choice. If you need a calm, stable vessel that will rarely capsize, has ample storage, and is steered with a friend, then definitely go for a canoe.

However, if you are a daredevil who wants to scour uncharted water currents and need a fast and lightweight vessel with waterproof storage that can be steered alone, then you, my friend, need a kayak.

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