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Paddle to Adventure: Canoes vs Kayaks - Which you should get?

Canoes vs Kayaks

Canoes vs Kayaks

Updated on 2/20/2024
Abigail ScottBy Abigail Scott
Hi, I'm Abigail 👋 Since embarking on my kayaking and boarding adventures in 2010, I've navigated rivers and lakes across North America and beyond. With over a decade of experience and countless waterways explored, I'm here to help enthusiasts like you embark on unforgettable water adventures!
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Thousands of years ago, people used canoes. In the past 8,000 years, archeologists discovered the remains of a dugout canoe, so canoes have undoubtedly been around for a long time.

The kayak, on the other hand, has been around for much shorter time, about 4,000 years. Recreational paddlers, fishermen, and exercise enthusiasts can enjoy these two types of boats.

We'll take a quick look at each of them and see how they differ and how they are similar, as well as why you might choose one over another (sit-inside kayaks and canoes look most similar).

What's Better – A Canoe or a Kayak?

Kayaks versus canoes

Kayaks and canoes have many similarities and differences. Among them are:

Boat Design: Difference No.1

This is probably the biggest difference and yet the closest similarity between the two boats. Kayaks are typically much smaller than canoes. Their frames are wide and their tops are open, much like sit-on-top kayaks. A canoe, however, is designed to carry more people and gear than a kayak. Compared with kayaks, which offer more space and are sleeker, canoes offer less space.

The most common type of canoe is called a "Canadian" or a "recreational" canoe. A paddleboard typically measures 13 to 17 feet long, has tall sides, sits higher on the water than a kayak, and has enough space inside for the paddler to sit or kneel on slats, depending on size.

Canoes have open tops, whereas kayaks do not. Kayaks with an open top do exist, but it's the sit-inside kayaks that are the closest to canoes; the main difference is that kayak paddlers sit inside enclosed cockpits.

If you are riding a canoe, you are actually wearing a sit-inside kayak.

The second difference is getting into the boat

Getting into a canoe is much easier than getting into a kayak because they are open vessels. The only thing you have to do to get into a kayak is step onboard. Stepping into a boat is easy if you use the boat's sides or dock as a steadying force.

On the other hand, getting into a kayak requires impressive technique. To keep the boat from tipping over, you must carefully slide your legs into the cockpit while maintaining the necessary balance. This balance is also necessary for canoe users, but it is easier to achieve with a canoe than with a kayak.

Paddle Canoes vs Kayaks

Paddle Canoes vs Kayaks

The comfort of a kayak, however, can be argued once you're inside. As a result, many kayaks are snug and quite comfortable, with some even having backrests on their seats. In contrast, canoes do not offer such luxuries. There are benches if you're lucky in this open space.

The difference between paddling a canoe and a kayak

Here's where the rubber meets the road. Paddling a canoe takes much more effort than paddling a kayak because canoes are heavier and bulkier. A canoe paddle requires two people since it has a shorter paddle and a single blade, unlike a kayak paddle.


At the top of the paddle is a "T" knob and at the bottom is a blade. It is operated by keeping one hand on the T knob and the other in the middle. The canoe is propelled by pushing the paddle down with both hands.

For the canoe to track straight, you must do the same thing on the other side of the boat as well. Either that or you should paddle with someone who alternates strokes. Achieving this synchronization isn't as easy as it sounds.

As for kayaking, it's pretty straightforward. Since kayaks aren't typically as wide or bulky as canoes, using the paddle is as simple as gripping the middle of the blade with both hands about two feet apart and dipping each blade alternately into the water.


What's better, a canoe or a kayak?

Any decision between two things offering almost similar services is complicated by many personal biases. Examining both the advantages and disadvantages is the best way to proceed.

A canoe's advantages

  • A kayak's width makes it more stable than a canoe
  • There is no problem entering or exiting them
  • The gear they carry and the space they provide tend to be much larger
  • The higher you sit on the water, the better the view, and the drier you stay

A canoe's disadvantages

  • Open cockpits expose you to the elements
  • Kayaks are more efficient
  • Paddles, transports, and maneuvers require more energy

Using a kayak has many advantages

  • Paddles and transport are designed for efficiency and require less energy
  • On the water, it is more maneuverable
  • Protect yourself from the elements with a sit-inside kayak
  • Dry storage is provided by sit-inside kayaks

Kayaks have some disadvantages

  • Entrance and exit are more difficult
  • Water-resistant but less stable
  • Your body gets wetter because you're closer to the water
  • Gear is usually not accommodated well