Skip to content

What is the difference between a kayak and a canoe?

canoe girlsThe thrill of the wild and the practice of adventure–you can find in both canoes and kayaks; but does that mean that these two vessels are the same? No, in fact, kayaks and canoes are very different in comparison and functionality. Though both might share the ability to grant greater ease for adventure and further realms of travel and/or exploration, they do not share many other characteristics that drastically change the experience. Many might think, “What does it matter if I can accomplish getting from point A to point B safely?” but the differences can be significant enough to challenge your ability and this can pan out to be very important depending on your unique needs.

Canoes and kayaks are both made to travel waters of many scopes and types, but both with unique advantages and disadvantages. Kayaks are made for agility, speed and maneuvering while canoes are made for stability, capacity and longevity. Those seeking adrenaline or a an ‘experience of a lifetime’ would, more than often, seek out the ventures of a kayak. But those out to see and experience the calm quiet of the wildlife and the true beauty of nature, but with a sense of durability and its requirements, will usually choose a canoe. It all depends primarily on what you plan to do.

The physical differences are clear and can be explained easily, and these physical differences play a role in how the watercraft will best be used. Canoes have one single blade on a paddle, whereas a kayak has two blades per paddle. A kayak has a closed cockpit which covers your legs which are straight out in front of you, but a canoe has a completely open top, and one generally sits either kneeling or sitting with their knees bent. A kayak has limited space—usually only for one person–and is a little more difficult to reach gear, however, a canoe can seat several people and has a lot more room and accessibility for storage. Kayaks sit lower in the water, are typically smaller, and have less drag than a canoe. The shape of the bottom of a kayak and canoe also vary. Canoes are either rounded or flat on their bellies, but kayaks have a rocker that is shaped different from a canoe. They have also always been made out of different materials, as kayaks have been made from whale fat and seal skin, but canoes were made from trees. Even today they are often made out of different elements, as a kayak is often made out of plastic, but never metal, and a canoe is oftentimes made form metal. There are exceptions to many of the above differences, depending on the unique type of kayak or canoe, but as a general rule the two watercrafts typically adhere to these characteristics.

In some countries there isn’t even a distinguishable difference between a canoe and kayak, like the UK for example. However, in North America, there are very distinct difference between the two—as listed previously. Canoes were not made to travel on waters that are excessively rough. Although canoes are typically more stable than kayaks because they are wider, they can still be overturned. A kayak can be overturned too, but a kayak was made more specifically for travel out at sea, or on other whitewater, because a kayak can be upturned much more easily than a canoe. If you plan to seek your adventures in the ocean you would possibly have better luck and ease in a kayak, but if you are simply looking for a good fishing watercraft on a calm lake or pond, a canoe can hold your beer in a cooler and your tack and gear much more easily.

Canoes can be used to travel solo, and multiple kayaks can be used to travel in a party, so a lot of it just depends on you and your preference and what you are willing to do. Canoes are better if you don’t want to travel extremely light, as you would have to in a kayak. If you want to take a dog or children along then again canoes care the more practical option for this particular case. Everyone also travels at exactly the same pace when the group is in the same canoe. However, on rougher water kayaks almost always have the better advantage. Some even argue that kayaks are more stable because the paddler has a lower center of gravity, and that canoes are just as maneuverable, but a lot of these qualities depend at least in part on the individual kayak or canoe. Kayaks are also lighter and easier to carry and transport than a canoe which is both heavier and bulkier.

All in all, canoes and kayaks are both extraordinary water vessels and in a lot of ways they do have a lot in common. Many times people travel in a combination of canoes and kayaks, depending on the group and activity. They are excellent avenues to have the most fantastic adventures, allowing you to fully experience the beauty of nature in its rawest and most unrefined state. Whether you are rushing down whitewater in a kayak with water spraying on your face, or drifting along a flat, still lake at dusk in a canoe, just enjoying the sound of the water clinking against the boat, canoes and kayaks are both useful. If you are a family man or woman, if you have a faithful canine companion, like to travel with a lunch to the other side of the shore, or enjoy fishing and just reclining, a canoe could be the best option for you considering its specific distinctions. However, if you like more serious whitewater adventures, crave adrenaline, or you are slightly more aimed at speed, kayaks certainly have their own merits as well which are more suitable than a canoe.

Leave a Reply