Feb 2, 2022

Canoe vs Kayak: What's the Difference?

canoe vs kayak in the water - evolution expeditions

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.  


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 one in a tandem kayak on the hoover dam
Kayaking within the Hoover Dam


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.
women in a canoe on the colorado river
Paddling through the Colorado River

Canoe vs. Kayak: 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:



  • 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 


  • 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



  • 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


  • 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

Is a kayak or a canoe easier to Use?

Kayaking and canoeing are both popular water sports and outdoor recreational activities enjoyed by people of all ages. However, many beginners often wonder which is easier to use: a kayak or a canoe. 

Kayaks are small and narrow boats that are designed for speed and maneuverability. They are typically used for racing, touring, or whitewater paddling. Kayaks are propelled using a double-bladed paddle, and the paddler sits in a low seat with their legs stretched forward. Kayaks offer great stability and are easy to control, making them a popular choice for beginners.

On the other hand, canoes are larger and wider boats that are designed for stability and carrying capacity. They are typically used for recreational paddling, fishing, or camping trips. Canoes are propelled using a single-bladed paddle, and the paddler sits on a raised seat or kneels on a padded surface. Canoes offer excellent stability and are easy to paddle in a straight line, but they can be challenging to control in fast-moving water.

When it comes to stability, canoes are generally more stable than kayaks due to their wider and flatter hulls. Canoes also offer more room for gear and passengers, making them a better choice for longer trips. However, kayaks are more maneuverable and offer better performance in rough water or waves.

In terms of pros and cons, kayaks are easier to maneuver and control, making them a better choice for beginners who want to learn the basics of paddling. They are also faster and more agile than canoes, making them a good choice for experienced paddlers who want to explore rough waters or challenging rapids.

Canoes, on the other hand, are better suited for longer trips and carrying gear or passengers. They offer more stability and are less likely to tip over, making them a safer choice for families or groups with children. However, canoes can be slower and more challenging to control in rough water or windy conditions.

So, which one is easier to use? It depends on your preferences and what you want to use the boat for. If you are a beginner and want to learn the basics of paddling, a kayak may be an easier choice due to its maneuverability and stability. However, if you plan to go on longer trips or carry gear or passengers, a canoe may be the better choice due to its carrying capacity and stability.

Both kayaks and canoes are fun and rewarding water sports that offer unique advantages and challenges. Choosing the right one depends on your individual needs, preferences, and experience level. Whether you choose a kayak or a canoe, always remember to wear a personal flotation device, check the weather conditions, and paddle safely.

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 Las Vegas kayaker. Book a tour with Evolution Expeditions today!

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