Kayak vs. Canoe – the Pros and Cons of Each

kayak vs canoe

The kayak and the canoe are similar in many ways.

Yet, there is some kind of unspoken rivalry between the enthusiasts of these two sports. Both sides consider their sport to be superior.

This rivalry is nothing serious. But it can cause confusion for someone looking to choose between the two.

Instead of listening to the two sides, how about you understand the details first.

Canoeing and kayaking are both great sports but they have their differences. People choose one based on their preferences. No one can make this decision for you.

The best thing would be to tell you everything about each activity. At the end of the article, you will have an idea of which side to join.

The Difference between a Kayak and a Canoe

canoe on lake with dog

a. Design

Canoe: in the past ages, a canoe was nothing more than a tree trunk that had been dug out. The modern design is not very different. It has an open top and is pointed on either side. Most of them will have two benches, one near the stern and the other one near the bow.

Kayak: a kayak is narrower and does not have an open top. It is available in two main designs. With one, you sit at the top. The other one has some kind of cockpit that you sit it. The said cockpit is small and only fits your lower body.

b. Paddle

Canoe: a canoe paddle features a single blade—not to be confused with an oar. It is more difficult to use compared to a kayak paddle. You have to move the bladed end from side to side.

Kayak: a kayak paddle has blades on either side. It is easier since you do not have to move the entire paddle from one side to the other.

c. Size

Canoe: a canoe is bigger. It can accommodate more luggage and several passengers. It can also be paddled by two people at the same time—one at the front and another at the back.

Kayak: a kayak has limited space. It is usually made for one or two people. There is also not much you can carry in it.

d. Cockpit

Canoe: what a canoe has is not really a cockpit. Paddlers sit on the benches while paddling. Sometimes they prefer kneeling.

Kayak: there is a small space in a kayak where you can get in as described above (design). That is the cockpit. It is easy for water to get into a kayak’s cockpit. Paddlers wear spray skirts to prevent this from happening.

Kayak Vs Canoe: Which Is Better?

One person will prefer a canoe while another one will opt for a kayak. The choice is greatly influenced by what you plan to do.

See how they compare in different areas.

1. Camping Trip

A canoe is the better option when it comes to camping trips. It is spacious and allows you to carry enough luggage. It is also suitable if you want to bring your dog or family. You can get one that fits two adults and two children.

A kayak would not be ideal for a camping trip. Where would you put all your belongings?

Another thing that makes a canoe suitable is the open top. Getting in and out is less awkward and challenging. Compared to a kayak, a canoe is more stable too. It is comfortable for every member of the family.

If you are planning to go on a short solo trip where you will not need a lot of supplies, a kayak will do. It is not bulky and is perfect for a single person.

2. Water Condition

Canoes are good if you will be paddling in calm, peaceful waters. Being open, they are more likely to let in a lot of water. This could prove to be troublesome and even dangerous in wild conditions.

Kayaks, on the other hand, will do just fine in rough whitewater conditions. They are closed and less likely to capsize. If they do, it is easier to get back to the right position compared to a canoe.

3. Fishing

People use kayaks for fishing. But they are limiting in some ways. First, they are very narrow and staying balanced may be hard. A sit-in kayak will prove to be even more challenging because you cannot move freely. If you have to fish with a kayak, get a sit-on.

The narrowness of a kayak does not allow you to carry as many fishing equipment as you would like. It would only be suitable if you are bringing simple essentials.

The canoe is the winner in this category. There is enough room for you to carry your fishing equipment and a few other essentials. You can also bring someone else for company. Besides that, it is stable and you can move around freely. It is also easier to quickly grab what you need.

4. Speed/Racing

Canoes and kayaks are not about fishing and trips only. It is good to make life exciting every once in a while.

If you are looking for speed, you will find it in a kayak. It has already been mentioned that the kayak is narrower than the canoe. As such, it is faster and more suited for races. The kayak’s lighter weight contributes to the speed too. You will find it easier to control even in whitewater rapids.

The double-blade kayak paddle also makes it better for racing. You will use less effort and go faster.

While you can race with a canoe, the speed may let you down. There are canoes designed for racing but they are still slower than a kayak. Moreover, they will not be ideal for whitewater running.

5. Stability/Flipping

This has been discussed in most of the other points above. The canoe is more stable than the kayak because of its wider beam. It is the better option if there will be kids and beginners on board. The kayak is less stable and getting in and out can be hard.

When flipping occurs, those in a canoe can get out without a lot of struggle. This cannot be said about a kayak. You may end up trapped in the seat—and this is dangerous for kids.

In whitewater or generally rough water conditions, the kayak is more ideal. First of all, it is made for such situations and can stay upright. Even if it flips, you can quickly get back up using the “Eskimo Roll.” The canoe does not stand a chance here. If it capsizes, you will struggle to get it back up.

6. Learning Curve

A kayak is easy to control and is maneuverable. It is suited for beginners because the basics can be learned in a day. You may not be ready for whitewater rapids but you will be able to paddle around for fun.

A canoe is bigger and heavier. Learners may have a hard time in the beginning. The one-bladed paddle will wear you out. While canoeing, you need to plot the course beforehand and stick to it. If you are alone, you will not be able to make a sharp turn.

Must-Have Safety Equipment on a Canoe and Kayak

Whether you choose canoeing or kayaking, safety is crucial with either one. You have to be ready for the worst.

Here are a few essentials that you should never leave behind.

  • Sun protection: this refers to sunscreen, hat, sunglasses and lip balm. Sunlight is good for you but it can also cause you pain.
  • Personal flotation device: in most jurisdictions, you cannot go kayaking/canoeing without a PFD. Experience does not eliminate the need for wearing one.
  • First aid kit: anything can happen. If someone is injured, you should be able to help them as you wait for paramedics. Having a first aid kit is not enough—you should learn how to use it.
  • Helmet: this one applies more to kayakers who will be paddling in rough places. Ensure that the helmet you have is approved.
  • Proper clothing: in warm weather, wear light clothes that are ideal for swimming if you fall. Carry a jacket in case it gets cold. If you know that the water is super cold, wear a wet suit or dry suit. Remember to have the right kind of shoes as well.
  • Whistle: the main purpose of a whistle is to call for help. You will use less energy and it will be heard over a great distance. These two factors matter in an emergency.
  • Throw bag: the throw bag simplifies a rescue process. If you are kayaking/canoeing you must have one with you at all times.
  • Knife: this one is useful in any outdoor trip.


So, kayaking or canoeing? Hopefully, you are ready to make your decision at this point.

The two sports are awesome and you will have fun. If you want a family water vessel, the canoe suits you. For the adventurous soul, a kayak is ideal. You can try whitewater rapids and water races.

If you are still undecided, there are special canoes and kayaks designed for versatility. You can get one and explore your interests.