Different types of canoes an kayaks laying on the grass

Canoe vs. Kayak. Which One to Choose for Your Next Outdoor Adventure?

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Canoe versus Kayak? The conversations involving canoes versus kayaks have been going on almost as long as both of the vessels have been in existence. And that has been a very long time. 

All of these discovered canoes were dugout canoes.  Logs or trees were hollowed out to create the vessel.   At about the same time, Native Americans were building their canoes using wooden frames and birch bark. These two materials were sealed together with tree resin to make them watertight.

Although the design and materials might be different, the use of the canoes was much the same: the transport of people and goods, and travel from one place to another.

While canoes go way back, the kayak is a relative newcomer. The first kayak can be traced back about 4,000 years to the arctic region of North America and the Inuit people. Using driftwood or whalebone as a frame, the kayaks had animal skins that were stretched over the frame.

Waterproofing was achieved by sealing them with a whale or caribou fat.  The primary use of these vessels was for hunting, but larger kayaks were built and used for transporting people and goods as well.

The Inuits devised an enclosed design because of the icy environment in which they lived.

Their belongings would have stayed dry during hunting trips. The design made it easier to maneuver with very little disturbance of the water, which made hunting more successful.

Now that we know a bit of the history of these vessels. What is the difference between the two vessels?


Couple-Kayaks, canoe vs kayak


The cockpit in a canoe is open, with sides that come up high out of the water.  They are open, much like a rowing boat.

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A kayak has a closed cockpit in which the paddler sits. The person in the cockpit sits much lower closer to the water than a person in a canoe.


A canoe will have a bench-type seat to sit on, and the person paddling will be raised above the canoe floor.  Most canoes will have two seats, and some have three.

In a kayak, the seat is molded to the bottom of the kayak, and the paddler’s legs are out in front of them.  They sit much lower and closer to the water than a paddler in a canoe. A kayak is typically a one-person vessel.


A canoe is paddled with a single paddle.  (please note that a paddle is different from an oar. Oars are used to propel a boat in the opposite direction from where the rower is facing. Paddles are used to propel a vessel in the same direction that the paddler is facing.)  The paddle can be used on either side of the canoe.

A kayak uses a double paddle.  This paddle has a blade on both ends.  A kayaker will paddle on alternate sides to move forward.


Canoes tend to be larger than a kayak.  They can be more difficult to transport because of the size and the weight of the canoe.

Kayaks are designed to be portable; there are even inflatable models. There are many more styles of kayaks to choose from than you will find in a canoe.  They are also lighter than a canoe.


Canoeing was very popular in Europe in the 20th century. Swedish canoeist Gert Fredriksson participated in the Olympic Games from 1948 through 1956 and won 6 gold medals for individual and team performances, as well as more than 40 more gold medals in international competition.

In 2015, kayaking was the most popular form of paddling in the USA.  There were about 13 million participating, with about 10 million people who took part in canoeing.

Besides the enjoyment of being on the water and traversing waterways, there are also various sports associated with both the canoe and kayak.

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Here are some of the most popular:

  • Canoe Polo: the objective is to score a point by throwing or hitting a ball through a goal that is suspended above the water.
  • Ice Canoeing: this is done with a five-member crew, that pushes their canoe on the frozen parts of a river, as well as rowing in the icy water.
  • Whitewater Slalom: a kayak or canoe navigates through a course that consists of hanging gates suspended on river rapids
  • Playboating:  a whitewater sport in kayaks or canoes in which the paddlers perform various moves in a fixed place called a playspot
  • Racing: both kayaks and canoes are used in racing from one designated point to another to see who gets to the goal first.


Couple-Canoe, canoe vs kayak

Pros for canoeing

  • Can carry a lot of gear
  • Great for longer expeditions
  • You can stand up
  • They are more stable, harder to capsize
  • Learning to use a canoe is relatively easy
  • You don’t get as wet operating a canoe
  • Can be more comfortable as you can vary your position
  • You have a better view, as you are seated higher
  • There is room for more than one person
  • They are easier to get in and out of

Cons for canoeing

  • A canoe is heavier than a kayak
  • It can be difficult to transport a canoe because of the size and weight
  • A canoe can take on more water if the water is rough
  • It takes more effort to paddle a canoe

Pros for kayaking

  • A kayak is lightweight and easy to move
  • Learning the basics is relatively easy
  • It takes less effort to paddle a kayak
  • Your gear will stay drier in a kayak
  • They are more maneuverable
  • You are closer to nature and the water in a kayak
  • Kayaks go faster on the water

Cons for kayaking

  • You will undoubtedly get wet
  • It can take a while to master advanced skills
  • Double paddles are heavier than single paddles
  • Some people may feel a bit claustrophobic with the kayak enclosure
  • They are harder to get in and out of
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The smartest thing to do is to try out both a canoe and a kayak.  Not once, but several times. It is best to be sure of your choice before you invest in one or the other of these vessels.

There are a few other things to take into consideration before deciding.  For instance, where will you be paddling the most?  Do you want more quiet time on the water, or maybe you prefer a vessel to navigate the rapids with?

Do you plan on going solo, or do you want the time on the water to be with family and friends?

As we discussed, a canoe can hold more people than a kayak.  But if all of your friends have kayaks, you might get left behind in a canoe.

Are you planning on going on trips with your vessel choice?  Will you be gone for days at a time, or do you want to be able to go out for an hour here and there?  Keep in mind that one is more portable than the other, and transporting also has to be taken into consideration. 

What type of vehicle do you own?  Do you have a smaller car or a truck? Does your vehicle have the ability to transport your choice in vessels, or would you have to upgrade your vehicle to be able to transport a kayak or canoe?



As is usual with choices, there are pros and cons – legitimate ones – for both a canoe and a kayak.  The best thing to do is to research both of the vessels extensively.  Decide which one will fit in better with your lifestyle and how you will want to use it.

Try both of them out. There are venues that you can go to and rent a canoe or kayak. This is the best place to start, getting a real feel for what both can do, and which one feels more comfortable to operate.

Whichever one you choose, choose to be out in nature. Choose to take the time to connect with the great outdoors.

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Ian, his wife, Heather, and two collies live in Central Florida and try to enjoy just about everything the Sunshine State has to offer, especially if it involves being on the water or out enjoying nature.


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