Feb 2, 2022
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Canoe vs Kayak: What's the Difference?

From an easy-going walk in the park to a breathtaking hike up a nearby mountain, there are several ways to enjoy the great outdoors. But there’s nothing quite like experiencing nature on the water. Riding a boat offers an immersive view of the surrounding landscape plus the exciting unpredictability of the water. But for those who are new to water activities, two terms will likely catch your attention – canoe vs. kayak.  

These two terms both refer to water transportation vessels, but they differ in terms of design, technique, functionality, and pros and cons. Read on to learn the differences between a canoe vs. kayak, and find out which one suits you best. 

Canoe vs. Kayak: Boat Design and Technique

One of the biggest distinctions between a canoe and a kayak is their respective designs, which makes a big difference in terms of how they are maneuvered.  

Design

A canoe is generally wider and taller with sides that come up above the water. It doesn’t have a cockpit, which means that it has an “open” top and can resemble a rowing boat. It normally comes with one or more rows of low bench-like seats for paddlers to sit on, although some paddlers prefer to kneel on the boat floor. 

On the other hand, a kayak is a relatively flat, almond-shaped boat that sits low on the water. It has a “closed” design because it has a cockpit, an enclosed space where the paddler sits with their legs outstretched in front of them. Unlike a canoe, a kayak does not have benches, but it has molded seats at the bottom of the boat. 

two women kayak las vegas

Technique

Canoes and kayaks also differ in terms of what paddles are used. Single-blade paddles are typically used for canoes. These paddles are moved in a J-shaped stroke and alternated from left to right to keep the boat straight or change direction. Double-bladed paddles are commonly used for kayaks. These paddles can propel the kayak forward quickly with alternating strokes without the paddlers having to lift the paddle from side to side. 

For single-blade canoe paddles, a beginner may need to learn how to properly steer and switch sides to efficiently maneuver the canoe. But double-blade kayak paddles are relatively intuitive as most people can figure out on their own how to get the boat moving and which side to paddle to switch directions. 

Different Types and Where You Should Use Them

Canoes and kayaks came in various sizes and designs to adapt to different environments. Below are examples of canoes and kayaks that you’ll find on the market, and where they are appropriately used:

Kinds of Canoes

  1. Recreational Canoe: Ranging between 13 to 17 feet in length, depending on how many people it’s meant to accommodate, this is a stable and controllable canoe that is suitable for slow-moving and still bodies of water, such as lakes. This is the most common canoe type. 
  2. Racing Canoe: This is a low and narrow canoe that allows the paddler to sit closer to the water. It’s normally designed to accommodate only one or two paddlers, for solo or pair racing. Because it’s for racing, the paddlers typically half-kneel or half-sit for speed and power. 
  3. Whitewater Canoe: Shorter than recreational canoes, this is designed to be more maneuverable on fast-moving waters (“whitewater”) by one or two paddlers. It’s also relatively more unstable and can come with flotation fixtures at the front and back to prevent excess water from coming into the vessel.

Kinds of Kayaks

  1. Recreational Kayak: Approximately between 9 feet and 12 feet in length, it’s best used for slow-moving and still waters such as lakes, calm rivers, canals, and sheltered areas. It is a comfortable, controllable, and stable vessel that is not easily capsized. 
  2. Racing Kayak: This type can range from 17 feet to 36 feet, depending on the number of paddlers or team members. It can be raced solo, in pairs, or teams of four per boat. It’s usually fitted with a rudder to aid with direction-setting during the race and is meant for marathons or sprints on flat water. 
  3. Whitewater Kayak: This comes in various lengths based on what they will be used for. For example, river runners can be 8 feet to 9 feet in length while playboats are often only 5.5 feet in length. This type is extremely buoyant and responsive, especially on fast-moving waters. 
  4. Sit-On-Top (SOT) Kayak: This type of kayak does not have a cockpit but is centered around a molded top that the paddler simply sits on. It’s great for beginners and families as you only need to know the paddling basics. It’s commonly used on calm and flat waters and is great for fishing and diving. 
  5. Touring and Sea Kayak: Ranging from 12 feet to 18 feet in length, this kind of kayak is long, narrow, and meant to go fast. The cockpit is meant to store more belongings as kayak tours may take several hours. It’s sometimes fitted with rudders to aid with steering.
woman kayaking on las vegas river

Canoes vs. Kayaks: Pros and Cons to Consider

If you’re looking to dive into these water activities, keep these factors in mind to help you decide which vessel is best for you:

Canoe

Advantages:

  • Designed for more stability
  • Offers more storage space and legroom
  • Won’t get easily wet unless traversing rough waters
  • Generally lighter and easier to portage between bodies of water 

Disadvantages:

  • The bulky design might be hard to store and transport
  • Open top lets water in when traveling rough waters
  • Open top catches more wind and drag
  • Single-blade paddles are not as efficient as double-blade paddles, so it can take more effort to propel the canoe forward

Kayak

Advantages:

  • Kayaking basics are easy to learn
  • Double-blade paddles are more efficient, so it takes less effort to propel the kayak
  • Cockpit keeps belongings safe and dry
  • Narrow and closed design catches less wind and drag

Disadvantages:

  • Advanced kayaking skills may be difficult and time-consuming to learn 
  • Challenging to transition from flat to fast-moving waters
  • Double-blade paddles are heavier than single-blade paddles


Ready to hit the water? It’s a smart move to opt for a guided tour. Make the most of your adventure under the watch of an experienced kayaker. Book a tour with Evolution Expeditions today!

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