Canoe vs. Kayak: Differences and Benefits You Need to Know

Even though canoe and kayak are terms often used interchangeably, there are multiple differences between these two. Be it in equipment, rowing position, or history, they differ, and today we will address the topic of canoe vs. kayak and point out the main difference between the two.


The main difference between a kayak and a canoe that is essential to point out immediately is in the vessel you use. Canoes are usually open top, and the rowers kneel inside them or sit inside if there are small benches while propelling themselves using a single-bladed paddle.

On the other hand, kayaks are closed-deck with a hole in the middle for the rower to climb and sit in. Kayakers propel themselves using a double-bladed paddle. This is a basic explanation, but there is much more to it. We want to cover the topic in detail, so let’s get into it without any delay.

Canoe vs. Kayak: Key Differences

Although there are different types of kayaks and canoes, there are some differences that are common for each type. Here are some of the key and fundamental differences between these two boats.

Canoe vs. Kayak differences infographic


Canoes are referred to, as we already mentioned in the introduction, as open since they have sides coming high out of water. To put it simply, they do not have a cockpit, and the boat is entirely open, which is something that you can see in traditional rowing boats.

Kayaks are referred to as closed, and they have cockpits for the rowers to sit in. They stand in the water much lower than canoes, and paddlers usually wear spray skirts in order to prevent the water from coming into the cockpit.


Canoes come with bench-like seats that are raised slightly from the floor to raise the paddler. You can find canoes with two or three seats. Although you can sit comfortably in these seats, some canoers prefer to kneel on the floor when rowing, as this position can generate more power behind the paddle strokes and is helpful in challenging conditions.

Canoe vs. Kayak

On the other hand, kayakers sit in the seat that is molded to the bottom of the kayak. Rower’s legs are in front, and he uses the knees to brace against the sides. Some advanced paddlers take this technique to their advantage and maximize the effectiveness of their paddling.


Canoers use a single paddle that can be used on either side of the canoe. Experienced paddlers often adopt the paddling technique known as a “J” stroke which enables them to paddle in a straight line without the need to swap the sides. This technique saves the rower a lot of energy, making it quite effective, so it is recommended to learn it as soon as possible.

Kayakers, on the other hand, use a double paddle that has a paddle blade on both ends. To propel the kayak forwards, you can paddle on alternate sides that, in some situations, seems like an action that requires less effort.

Types of Canoe


There is a total of four main types of canoes, and each is designed to accommodate different needs. We have listed and explained each of these types in the section below in order to paint you a picture of what their main uses are.

1. Recreational Canoes

Recreational canoes are designed with high stability and ease of use in mind. They are typically between 13 feet and 17 feet in length and are the most common type of canoes you can encounter. It is best to use them on slow-moving waters and lakes where they feel right at home. Recreational canoes are very stable, and one to three canoers can paddle them.

Recreational Canoes

2. Flat Back Canoes

These canoes are built with a flat rear to accommodate a motor if you want to install it. This type of canoe is a great choice for longer trips since the gentle output from a trolling motor can provide you with a bit of rest from paddling. Flat-back canoes are also great for fishing trips and similar aquatic adventures.

3. Whitewater Canoes

A whitewater canoe is notably shorter than a recreational canoe and is far more maneuverable. However, it is more difficult to paddle it in a straight line and generally has less initial stability than the recreational type. It is typically outfitted with air-filled floatation panels on the front and back, which prevent water from filling the cockpit and sinking it.

4. Racing Canoes

Racing canoes are way different from all the other types we have listed. They are much narrower and sit lower in the water. Moreover, they are designed specifically for solo and duo racing, and paddlers take the half sitting or half kneeling stance to achieve optimal power and speed.

Types of Kayaks


Countless paddlers often argue that kayaks are far more versatile than canoes, and whether that is true or not, there are certainly more types of kayaks than canoes. Each type is designed to accommodate different purposes, so we have listed each in the section below to explain their uses further.

1. Recreational Kayaks

Recreational kayaks are between nine and twelve feet long, and they find their purpose on flat and calm waters such as lakes, slow-moving rivers, canals, and sheltered coastal areas. They are designed with stability, comfort, and ease of control in mind and are generally difficult to turn over.

2. Whitewater Kayaks

These kayaks are typically shorter and wider than the recreational type, and these features make them far more responsive and floatable on whitewater. The dimensions of whitewater kayaks vary depending on their function.

Whitewater Kayaks

3. Day Touring Kayaks

These kayaks are generally available in both sit-inside and sit-on-top designs and are much longer than whitewater variation, which grants paddlers more paddling speed over longer distances. They usually come with storage holds at the front and back of the kayak, and some even come with skegs to help with steering.

4. Expedition Kayaks

Expedition kayaks are designed for long-range paddling adventures and kayak camping. Every expedition kayak has a sit-inside design and is typically longer and wider than a touring kayak. This variation grants more dry storage space for your camping supplies.

5. Sit-On-Top Kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks are designed for warmer climates, and instead of a cockpit, they have a molded top on which paddlers can sit. They mostly find their use in exploring flat and calm waters and are great for fishing. It is very easy to paddle these kayaks, making them an exceptional choice for beginners.

Sit-On-Top Kayaks

6. Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks are used in a similar way as a sit-on-top variation but are much more portable. Some types can accommodate two paddlers, and when you look at their design, they are much more similar to canoes. They are a great pick for families and children since they are very fun and very comfortable. With that said, their downside is that they are much less durable than any other kayak type.

7. Racing Kayaks

As the name implies, racing kayaks are designed to provide you with as much speed as possible and are paddled on flat water for sprints or marathons. They are very long, slim, and light and usually range between seventeen and thirty-six feet in length. In addition, they sit very low in the water and are equipped with a rudder to help with direction.

Canoeing and Kayaking: Which One Is Better?

Canoeing and kayaking offer two different types of experience. Determining which one is better is relatively tricky, especially if you ask a canoer or kayaker, since both will likely decide to praise the type of boat they prefer. However, these two activities differ in many ways, and one of the most significant differences is in the paddle characteristics and how you move through the water.

Canoes: Paddling and Turning

Canoers are seated at the rear of the vessel, and they use a single-bladed paddle to move through the water by stroking on both sides of the canoe. Typically, canoers do two strokes on one side than two strokes on the other side which enables them to keep the canoe going in a straight line.

Turning is done by paddling on one side only, but you can alternatively turn by inserting a paddle in the water and angling the blade like a rudder to make a turn in the desired direction. The latter method can work only if the canoe is on the move.

Kayaks: Paddling and Turning

Kayakers are seated in the middle of the vessel and are paddling with a double-bladed paddle by stroking on each side of the kayak. The balance of strokes keeps the kayak going in a straight line. The turning is done by the same principle as with the canoes – stroking on the side in which you want to turn.

You can also turn by inserting one end of the paddle into the water and angling the blade like a rudder to make the turn. Same as is the case with canoes, this method can only work if the kayak is on the move, so there are no significant differences.

Canoe vs. Kayak: Comfort Level

Canoe vs. Kayak

Comfort level is where many aquatic adventurers decide to choose one or the other. Since the top of the canoe is wide open, it makes it much easier to step in and out of it. However, canoe seats are much simpler and basic when compared to kayak ones which usually offer some extra support for the lower back.

It all comes to personal preferences, really. If you like feeling extra secure inside your boat, then sit-inside kayaks might be exactly what you are looking for. They cover your lower body and protect you more effectively from water splashes, whereas, in canoes, you are much more exposed to elements.

Canoe vs. Kayak: Stability

As we already mentioned, canoes are much wider and more stable than your average kayak. Moreover, they are constructed with deeper and wider hulls that grant even more security on the water. It is worth mentioning that this stability is due to the fact that canoes are meant to carry larger loads of gear and more people over longer distances.

On the other hand, you have kayaks that are much easier to maneuver, and their overall stability has increased over the course of years. Shifting your body weight while paddling in a kayak will cause you to stray away from the straight line. This is by design but largely impacts the overall stability.

Is Kayak or Canoe Better for Fishing?

Both of these vessels are highly effective when it comes to fishing. However, which one you will choose largely depends on how you fish. In the section below, we will break down some of the essential features of both canoe and kayak that are closely related to fishing.

Fishing Kayaks


Canoes are a fantastic choice for fishing adventures. Their overall design is well suited for this activity since they can hold more people and gear. They are also larger and much more comfortable for prolonged fishing sessions than kayaks. If you want, you can put a trolling motor on your canoe, and you are all set for a relaxing fishing day.


Typically, fishing kayaks are wider than other variations. They sit lower in the water, which enables you to sit or stand in them without flipping over. Moreover, they are designed so that they can handle rough waters much better than multiple fishing canoe varieties. However, due to their small size, they tend to get uncomfortable during long fishing trips, and they offer less storage space. In addition, they are designed to accommodate only one angler.

Which One Is Faster, Canoe or Kayak?

Both kayaks and canoes are pretty fast vessels that are excellent in racing competitions or aquatic activities that require you to glide through the water faster. However, kayaks generally have better speed characteristics since they are light, have a low profile, and possess a sleek design.

kayak race

Canoes are generally heavier than kayaks, and as such, they exert more energy from the paddler to get to the same speeds as kayaks. Averagely, canoes can travel around 4 to 5 kilometers per hour, while sustaining that speed is much more difficult than in kayaks.

Canoe vs. Kayak: Which One Is Better for Beginners?

It is important to know that whether you opt for kayak or canoe, you will have a certain learning curve to overcome as a beginner. Starting with canoes is much more difficult for beginners, and it requires more energy and upper body strength to paddle them since you have to stroke the paddle on each side of the boat to stay in a straight line.

Often enough, beginners have issues with pushing and pulling the water in the right direction and end up turning their canoes in circles. Generally speaking, canoe basics are much more difficult to learn, but once you get the hang of it, you will master advanced techniques easier. On the other hand, kayak basics are very easy to pick up for beginners, but advanced techniques are much more difficult to master.

Tips for Beginner Kayakers

1. Dress for the water, not for the weather
2. Opt for a sit-on-top kayak since it is much more beginner friendly than a sit-inside kayak
3. Always wear a life jacket or kayaking buoyancy aid
4. Make sure to sit properly so you can make fluent motions and reduce flipping and rolling
5. Use proper paddling techniques
6. Always bring spare clothing
7. Start kayaking with an experienced paddler for extra safety

Tips for Beginner Canoers

1. Paddle with your partner on opposite sides of the boat to avoid going in circles
2. Try to synchronize the paddling rhythm with your partner to maintain the direction
3. Always wear a life jacket
4. Dress for the water, not for the weather
5. Before you start paddling in deep waters, work on getting in and out of the canoe
6. Do not take unnecessary risks
7. Bring an extra set of clothes in case you get wet

Canoe vs. Kayak: Which One Is More Family-Friendly?

When it comes to a family-friendly comparison between kayaks and canoes, the latter has a slight edge due to their size and storage capacity. The extra storage space is rather useful since everyone needs to wear life jackets, snacks, water, sunscreen, and special equipment meant specially for kids.

If you want to find out more about preparations for kayaking or canoeing trips with children, check out our article about special equipment and trip preparations you need to make for such an endeavor.

Canoe vs. Kayak: Price

Average canoes are typically slightly more expensive than their kayak counterparts. The average canoe will cost as low as 500 USD and as high as 1000 USD, while kayak prices range between 350 and 850 USD.

With that said, both types of boats can get quite expensive into thousands of dollars, and the price entirely depends on the brand, type, and intended use. Still, even on the upper end, canoes tend to be pricier than high-end kayak units.

Which One Performs Better in Different Water and Weather Conditions?

When it comes to water and weather conditions, kayaks perform better on the open sea, choppy lakes, fast-flowing rivers, and whitewater. They have exceptional secondary stability that keeps them from rolling and tipping over in rough waters. Moreover, kayaks perform really well in cold and windy weather, making them perfect for early spring or late fall paddles.

kayak perfomance

On the other hand, canoes work better in calm, placid lakes and slow-moving rivers. However, if the wind picks up and the water becomes rougher, the canoe becomes much more prone to capsizing. Canoes are better suited for hot weather when you typically do not mind getting wet. Since you are seated well above the water level, you will also stay completely dry on warm days without any wind.

Canoes and Kayaks: Main Benefits and Drawbacks

Now that we have brought out all the important features of both kayaks and canoes, it is time to summarize and weigh all advantages and disadvantages each variety brings. It will paint you a better picture of which boat is better suited for your purposes.

Benefits of Canoeing
  • Width and stability
  • Easy to enter and exit
  • High load capacity so that you can carry more supplies
  • Ideal for longer travels and expeditions
  • Difficult to capsize
  • You can switch sitting positions and make your journey more comfortable
  • You are able to stand up in it
  • After you learn the basics, mastering canoeing is easier than it is the case with kayaks
  • You will remain dry for longer unless you are paddling on whitewater
  • It is suitable for kids and animals as well
  • The seating position is high, so you are able to get a better view of the surroundings
  • Easier bypassing sections of water via land
Drawbacks of Canoeing
  • Bulky, heavy, and difficult to store and move from place to place
  • It may be difficult to learn basic paddling skills, especially if you are paddling solo
  • Single-bladed paddles are not as efficient as double-bladed ones, and they consume more energy from the paddler
  • Difficult to paddle at top speed
  • Less maneuverable than kayaks and require more effort when turning



Benefits of Kayaking
  • It is pretty easy to pick up the basics, making it much more accommodating for beginners
  • Kayaks go faster and require less effort from the paddler than is the case with canoes
  • More options in kayaking disciplines than there are in canoeing
  • Your equipment and supplies will stay drier in a kayak than in a canoe
  • Very light and easy to move from place to place
  • Easy to maneuver
  • Kayaks are much better in whitewater than canoes
  • Double-bladed paddles are very efficient, and it consumes less energy to paddle with
  • Sit-inside variations have dry storage holds
  • Sit-inside variations have closed cockpits, protecting you from the sun, wind, and spray
Drawbacks of Kayaking
  • It is difficult to avoid getting wet during kayaking session
  • It takes longer to master advanced kayaking techniques
  • Double-bladed paddles are heavier than single-bladed ones
  • Kayaks are less stable than canoes and are more prone to capsize
  • Lower load capacity than canoes
  • Difficult to enter and exit from


Both kayaks and canoes come with their set of pros and cons. The bottom line is that the purpose for which you are buying the boat matters the most. For example, if you need it for some more family-friendly trips, then a canoe is the way to go, while if you need the vessel for racing and more dynamic adventures, a kayak will provide everything you need.

Final Words

The choice between kayak and canoe ultimately comes down to how you plan to use each unit. If you are more into treading rough waters, a kayak is a boat to go for, while a canoe might be a better solution if you require more stability for some casual, family-friendly fun.

It is not an easy choice, so weigh in on the benefits and drawbacks carefully and thoroughly. This is a significant investment, so you should make sure that you analyze every angle to your best ability. If you are still uncertain of which one to go for, revisit the essential sections in our article, and you will certainly make this choice a lot easier.