We know the dilemma. You’re at a lake, you have a lifejacket on, and you’re ready to get out on the water. But then it’s your turn to pick what boat you’re going to use, and you are presented with two options that look the same but are clearly different. Or worse, you’re at an outdoor store and someone is trying to upsell you on something you aren’t sure you actually need. Canoe vs kayak? You have no idea.

Don’t worry. You aren’t alone. The canoe vs kayak debate is one we know well. We’ve all been there before, trying to suss out the difference is between canoe vs kayak. Is one better than the other? Is one better for you? We know just how to help!

About Canoeing

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Canoes are the oldest boats in the world. With a history dating back to the most ancient of civilizations, canoes are the most basic of basic boats that every culture has managed to invent at one point or another. Canoes are basically hollow boats that can be operated by a single paddle. You can sit or stand in a canoe, and you can have multiple riders in a canoe; but the thing that doesn’t change is the fact that the entire frame of the canoe is hollow and that you can move freely through the middle.


Different Uses For Canoes

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Of course, canoes have gone through a massive evolution over the last thousand years. No longer made from a hollowed-out tree trunk, canoes are now made from lightweight materials and have seemingly endless uses. The most common canoes are probably recreational canoes, which can be used for fishing, camping, or just paddling out in a lake. There are also racing canoes and whitewater canoes, as well as canoes that are made specifically for hauling a lot of weight or for fishing. Basically, there’s a canoe for every purpose.

About Kayaking

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Kayaks came out of Iceland, Greenland, and Canada for the sole purpose of fishing safely in frigid waters. Early kayaks were made from whale bone and seal skin and had a design that was meant to protect that paddler as well as lend them speed in open waters. While there are certainly kayaks that can tolerate a second rider, most kayaks are meant for a solo experience simply because of how the kayak is built. Unlike canoes, which have some sort of bench seating, a kayak rider sits on the bottom of the boat with their legs stretched before them. There is limited movement in a kayak.


Different Uses For Kayaks

There are several types of kayaks and several uses for kayaks. While recreational kayaks certainly exist and are seen often, the most common kayak you will probably see is a whitewater kayak or a sea kayak. Kayaks can be used for fishing, racing, and navigating rushing waters. Most people who use kayaks these days are probably looking for a more rigorous boating experience, which is why a lot of kayaks are sold with elbow pads and helmets.


Main Differences

Canoes are the most basic boat you will ever come across. Kayaks, on the other hand, are a different beast altogether. Most of the differences between canoes and kayaks are visual identifiers. You can usually tell between a canoe and a kayak with a single glance. Here are the main differences in the canoe vs kayak debate:


Size And Shape

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Canoes are oblong and usually somewhere between 13 to 20 feet long, although the most common models are about 16 or 17 feet. Canoes these days are typically madeout of fiberglass or aluminum with designs that are meant to ease through water with minimal splashing. Canoes are typically made with a blunted shape.

Kayaks are different in that their shapes are usually sharper and more pronounced. A kayak is meant to cut through water with ease, so the shape at either end of the boat is more aerodynamic. Kayaks are usually made from aluminum or a highly durable plastic and have sizes that are comparable to that of canoes. However, you will find that kayaks are significantly more narrow than canoes and also tend to have less depth.



One of the bigger canoe vs kayak differences is the decks. Canoes have open middles that allow for free movement between either end of the boat. Kayaks have closed decks with a single opening in the middle that is meant for the rider, so once you are seated in a kayak, you are seated in a kayak until you return to land. The deck differences between canoes and kayaks is another visual identifier to tell between the two.


Seat Position

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Another huge difference between canoes and kayaks is the seat position. Canoes tend to have multiple bench seats that are set slightly toward the back end of the boat. Kayaks, on the other hand, have closed seating set dead-center in the middle of the boat. Even kayaks meant for two people place the seat position as close to the middle as possible to maintain the balance on the more narrow frame of the boat. Canoes have no such restrictions.



Paddles are also another big deal in the canoe vs kayak debate. Traditionally, canoes have a single-bladed paddle while kayaks have a double-bladed paddle. This reaches back to how the boats are operated. Canoes, with their single-bladed paddle meant to steer and propel the boat, require you to constantly move the paddle from one side of your body to the other as you row. Kayaks, with their double-bladed paddles, allow you to simply shift the balance of the paddle with each stroke, all in one simple motion.

Sometimes people choose between canoe vs kayak based entirely on the paddles. If you aren’t particularly coordinated or searching for a lot of speed, then you might pick a canoe, which will allow you to take your time. If you want a faster ride and have faith in your coordination, then a kayak might be a better choice, since the double-bladed paddle will make your boat move swiftly through the water.



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With canoes vs kayaks, the difference in the purpose of the boat is kind of like the difference between a sedan car and a sports car. They are both more or less capable of the same things, but one is clearly intended for a flashier future. The same is true with canoes and kayaks.

You can think of a canoe as a family car. It is reliable, safe, capable of speed but also capable of multiple uses. A canoe can do everything a kayak can do, as proven by the many styles of canoes that are available. However, a canoe is overall more relaxed and generally more balanced than a kayak. There are certainly canoes that are meant for racing and rougher waters, but even those canoes prioritize balance over speed.

Kayaks, on the other hand, are basically the sleek and sporty car of the boating world. Kayaks are fast and slim and usually designed with a specific sport in mind. Kayaks are used more often for racing and whitewater maneuvering. Kayaks can be used for low-key recreation, but they are definitely meant for speed and fun.


Which Should You Choose?

Canoe vs kayak? Ultimately, the choice is up to you, and your level of comfort in the water, your confidence in your paddling abilities, and how you intend to use the boat will all go into your choice.

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It is usually recommended that beginners on the water start with a canoe just to familiarize themselves with balancing on that type of narrow boat. But if you’re comfortable in the water and willing to learn the proper kayak paddling techniques, then you might consider kayaking for your solo recreation boating adventures.

Otherwise, most people choose between canoes and kayaks based on what activity they are seeking. Canoes are good for fishing, camping, and expedition hauls that require lugging around heavy supplies and gear. If you’re more interested in racing or other water sports, a kayak is the way to go since it offers more control and speed to the rider.

You might also consider how many riders will be in the boat when choosing between a canoe and a kayak. If you have two or more riders, a canoe is the better choice since canoes are roomier and able to carry more weight. Kayaks are better for solo riders, although there are kayaks that have tandem rider designs. Just be sure that if you are kayaking in tandem both you and your other rider are in synch for paddling.


Canoe Vs Kayak: Conclusion

While both canoes and kayaks have long played roles in human history, both boats have evolved with specific purposes that will help you decide which boat is better for you. In the end, the canoe vs kayak question is about your comfort and safety; so no matter what boat you choose, make sure that you are following all safety procedures while on the water.