Canoe Vs Kayak

This guide will discuss the differences between canoes and kayaks. We’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of each type of watercraft. 

 In short, canoes tend to be open inside. They’re larger than kayaks and are paddled with a single bladed paddle. They’re also commonly made for more two paddlers.

Kayaks on the other hand, are often light, have an enclosed hull and are paddled with a double bladed paddle. While two person kayaks exist, most are single person designs.

So, say you’re looking for a watercraft that’s easy to use, not too expensive, and can give you a good workout. Canoes and kayaks both fit the bill nicely. 

Kayak History

The word kayak means “man’s boat” or “hunter’s boat.” Kayaks were initially invented by the Inuit people of North America. They have been in existence for at least 4000 years.

These kayaks were used for hunting and transportation. They were built by stretching animal skins over a frame. The skins were then stitched together.

The frames were constructed from either wood or whale bone. This depended on whether trees were available for harvest.

Some of these early kayaks had multiple cockpits for more than one paddler.

Some of these kayaks reached 30 feet in length.

Even these early kayaks had coamings over which a skirt could be stretch. This prevented water from entering the kayak and allowed for eskimo rolls as a way to recover from capsizing.

Different Types of Kayaks

Kayaks come in two main types: Sit inside kayaks and Sit On Top Kayaks. These two main types can be divided again based on designs that are used for specific purposes.

Sit Inside Kayaks

A sit inside kayak is a type in which the paddler get into a cockpit that is inside the hull. The cockpit is basically a hole in the kayak. There is normally a seat inside the cockpit. In addition, there a often pegs for the paddler to press their feet against. 

Once seated in the kayak, the paddler’s legs and lower body are inside the kayak. 

A spray skirt can be used to create a seal between the paddler’s body and the cockpit opening.  It’s basically waterproof fabric that goes around the paddler’s waist and then stretches over the cockpit opening. The spray skirt prevents water from entering the kayak. 

This is important because if too much water enters your kayak, it could sink. 

Some sit inside kayaks are equipped with bulkheads. Bulkheads are waterproof walls that divide the kayak into sections. This prevents water from moving from one section to the other. So, if one section were to get flooded the flooding would not spread to other sections.

Bulkheads are normally seen in longer kayaks with storage compartments.

Sit Inside Kayak Uses

Sit inside kayaks have many uses and this will dictate different design types. Cruising is one one of the most popular uses for sit inside kayaks. 

A typical cruising kayak will be about 12 feet long or more and will have a compartment for storing some stuff. They’re often constructed out of HDPE (High Density Polyethylene). These plastic boats are popular because they’re lightweight and durable.

Cruising kayaks can also be constructed out of fiberglass or carbon fiber. This will make for a much lighter and faster kayak. But kayaks made of these materials are usually much more expensive.

Whitewater Kayaking

Whitewater kayaking is one of the more exciting forms of kayaking. It can also be dangerous. So, don’t try it without expert guidance. 

Whitewater kayaks are sit inside kayaks with skirts that prevent water entry into the hull. This is important as there will be significant wave action. These waves will splash over the kayak and would flood the kayak otherwise.

Whitewater paddlers look for rivers that have strong rapids to propel them at high speeds.

Whitewater Kayaks are much shorter than cruising kayaks and are often made of HDPE.

Sit On Top Kayaks

Sit On Top Kayaks are built with a deck that has a seating area on top of it. The seating area on the deck of a sit on top kayak can be a molded in seat shaped area. Or it can be a molded in bracket that holds a metal framed seat that you attach to the deck.

When you sit on a sit on top kayak, your legs and lower body are not inside the hull. They’re on top of it. 

This makes it much easier to get into and out of the kayak. As a result, there is much less fear of capsizing a sit on top kayak. 

You won’t have to learn any complex rolling techniques with a sit on top.

Sit on top kayaks are usually more popular with anglers. Many kayak manufacturers make sit on top kayaks that are specifically designed for fishing. 

These kayaks come with rod holders, tackle compartments and even mounts for fish finders.

Fishing kayaks are also outfitted with special tracks for you to mount accessories.

Sit on top kayaks are also ideal if you’ll be paddling in very warm areas. With your legs on top of the hull it will be easy to dip them in the water to cool off. Just keep in mind that with your legs extended  directly in front of you, you may be exposed to sunburn.

Sit In And Sit On Top Kayak Similarities

Both kayak types are similar in a few ways. Both sit on top and sit inside kayaks are paddled with a two bladed paddle. The two bladed paddle allows you to make strokes with each arm without having to switch the paddle from one side to the other. 

Sit inside and sit on top kayaks are also available in a tandem configuration. This two seat kayak that allows two paddlers to work together.

Finally most sit on top and sit inside kayaks will come with storage compartments. So, if you’re really into kayak camping, you should be able to find a sit on top or sit inside that meets your needs.

Paddle Vs. Pedal Kayaks

Another option that you have with a kayak is the option to paddle or to pedal. 

Most kayaks are powered by a two bladed paddle. The paddler uses this paddle to stroke on one side and then the other. The two bladed nature of the paddle allows the paddler to switch sides easily. 

With a paddle kayak, you’re exercising your upper body. If this is your goal then the question is answered.

However, if power and speed is more important. Or, if you want to power your kayak in an almost hands free fashion. Then, a pedal powered kayak may be exactly what you want.

Pedal powered kayaks are propelled by your leg power. Leg muscles are much more powerful than your shoulder muscles.

Additionally, the propellers and fins used by pedal powered kayaks are more efficient at transferring power. When you add these factors together, pedal powered kayaks can truly outperform paddle kayaks.

This is true in both speed and endurance categories. So, if you want to go faster and further, take a look at a pedal kayak.

Canoes Explained

Canoe History

Canoes have been around for thousands of years. The oldest canoe discovered has been dated to between 8200 and 7600 BC. It was found in the Netherlands. 

Canoes were also developed by various indigenous peoples throughout the world. Most ancient canoes were made by  hollowing out of a tree trunk. However, native Americans made them from wooden frames with birch skins. This helped make the canoes light and easy to portage.

Canoe Design

A canoe’s main difference from a kayak is that a canoe is designed to be open on top. There is no enclosed hull. As a result, the sidewalls or gunnels must rise up higher to prevent water from splashing in.

The open nature of a canoe makes them more suited for carrying large amounts of gear. If you’re camping with a group and a large cooler is a must have option, then a canoe is a good choice. This is especially true if you’re going for a long trip.

Canoe Seating

Canoes normally come with a simple bench seat. Most canoes are equipped with two benches. With two paddlers the cruising speed of a canoe can be significantly increased even with a heavy load.

There are canoes that come with folding chairs that include a backrest. 

If you really want a backrest and your canoe does not include one, you can add one. Aftermarket backrests can be attached to the canoe bench. 

Canoe Paddling

You paddle a canoe with a single bladed paddle. This means that you may have to often switch sides while paddling. Switching sides would help keep the canoe going straight. If you just paddle on one side, your canoe could veer off. For example, if you just paddle on the right side, your canoe could end up veering to the left. 

However, if you learn a technique called the J-Stroke, you can paddle on one side of your vessel without veering off.

Canoe Uses

Canoes are great watercraft for camping. Their ability to carry heavy loads make them useful when you need to haul tents, food, and other camping gear.

Canoes can also be used for light rapids. Canoes can even be outfitted with covers and flotation devices. These additions can make them more suitable for dealing with water splashing over the bow. 

How To Choose Between A Canoe And A Kayak.

So, you’re looking to get yourself into a new watercraft but you’re having a hard time deciding.

Start taking all of the factors that are advantages for canoes and then write those down. Make sure you take into account what you plan to use the vessel for.

So for example, let’s say you just plan on taking paddling trips that are for sightseeing and only last a few hours.

You’re probably not going to need a large amount of storage capacity. This means that a smaller kayak with less storage than a canoe would be fine.

So, here are the categories you can look at. 


As I mentioned earlier, the wide open nature of a canoe makes it ideal for hauling large amounts of gear. 

This doesn’t mean that kayaks are no good for camping. I’ve taken several multi day river trips in a fishing kayak. It had no problem carrying all my camping gear. I wasn’t able to take a large cooler though.

Kayaks are much more likely to have watertight compartments with good hatches. So, if you just need to carry a few things and they need to stay dry, then a kayak is fine.

If you need to keep things dry on a canoe, then you’ll need to bring a dry bag or other waterproof container.


When it comes to speed, kayaks can definitely have an edge. If you get a cruising kayak with a narrow sleek hull, you will be able to hit speeds over around 5 mph. 

For a canoe to match speeds like this it usually takes two paddlers working together. 

Pedal powered kayaks can make the speed difference even larger. Pedal power is more efficient and involves larger muscles. 

Finally, some kayaks and canoes can be outfitted with motors. These can be electric motors or even internal combustion engines. One of these setups can really extend your speed and range.

Paddling With A Friend

When it comes to dual paddler watercraft, you can find options in both the kayak and canoe world. Most canoes come with two benches. This allows you to use them with a single or two paddlers. To paddle by yourself, you simply sit in  the rear bench and leave the front bench empty. If you will always be paddling alone, then you should opt for a single person canoe.

As for kayaks, you can get two person kayaks. Two person kayaks are made with dual cockpits and in various styles. You can find them in both the sit inside and sit on top styles.

Canoe Vs Kayak Fishing

Fishing from small vessels is one of my favorite pastimes. I’ve spent countless hours on canoes, kayaks rowboats, jonboats, you name it.

Canoes and kayaks are both great for fishing. 

However, there are some questions you can ask yourself that will make it much easier to decide which one will be best for you.

Canoes are great for paddling with a friend. If you’re bringing another person or your dog along then then consider a canoe.

Dog will have more room to walk around. Also, the higher gunwales on a canoe may make it less like your dog will fall out.

If you paddle solo most of the time, you may find a canoe is harder to maneuver.

This can be offset somewhat by adding an electric trolling motor to your canoe.

But if a trolling motor is not an option and you will be going out by yourself then a kayak may be a better choice.

Fishing Kayaks

If fishing is the main goal of the vessel you’re looking for and you are serious about the sport, then dedicated fishing kayaks are tough to beat.

Fishing specialized kayaks have evolved tremendously over the last few years. 

Fishing kayaks of today come fully rigged with fishing features. 

Many fishing kayaks are built with wide hulls and raised seats. The added stability makes it possible to stand up and fish. 

Some fishing kayaks are also equipped with pedal drives. These drives powered by propellers or fins will allow you to use your hands to fish while you power the kayak with your legs.

Pedal drive kayaks are steered by hand levers that are located next to the seat.

You twist this steering lever to the left or right. Once you twist the lever, it pulls on a cord that extends to the rudder of the craft. The rudder then helps turn the kayak.

Fishing kayaks also come rigged to accept fish finders. Some have battery compartments and wiring panels. 

One of the most useful features in fishing kayaks is recessed transducer mounting areas.

Transducer mounts allow you to mount your fish finder transducer in a safer location. They also allow you to run the wiring through the hull without having to use a side hanging mount.

Continuing with the electronics, you can also wire lights and charging ports on to your kayak.

Aside from this, many fishing kayaks come with motor mounts. These can handle anything from an electric trolling motor to a small gas outboard.

Battery equipped kayaks can also use powered anchor poles. These can be great help when you’re trying to stop and fish a spot in shallow water. You can use these anchor poles down to about 7 foot deep water.

Tackle storage can also be a breeze on fishing kayaks. Many come with holders that are specifically made to fit tackle boxes. This lets you secure your gear so that it doesn’t slide around.  Check out my beginners kayak fishing tips article.


Kayaks offer a range or specializations for fishing, recreational paddling, whitewater and more. Canoes can be versatile, but they do not specialize well for any specific task except for simple paddling. This may be fine. Simple slow paddling can be extremely relaxing and help you get a good workout. 

So, don’t underestimate canoes just because they’re not specialized.

In the end, any safe way you can get out and enjoy the water is worth it. 

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