Canoe vs. Kayak Comparison – Advantages, & Disadvantages

Get a few paddlers together and start a canoe vs. kayak conversation, and you’ll have endless fun. At the end of the chat, you’ll realize you have no clue what’s better for you. When you need this comparison to make a decision, it pays off to understand the differences and similarities between them.

Many newbies will find it difficult to tell canoes or kayaks apart if they see different boats. In theory, they’re very similar, and they offer the same type of experience. But like for many other things, small details often make the difference. Here’s everything you need to know.

Short Answer:

A kayak is a narrow, streamlined boat primarily designed for a single paddler who sits with legs stretched out in front and uses a double-bladed paddle. A canoe, on the other hand, is a wider, open boat often designed for multiple paddlers who kneel or sit on benches and use single-bladed paddles.

Differences between a canoe and a kayak

Both kayaks and canoes come in various shapes and types. Obviously, some of them look quite similar, but others have massive differences. However, no matter what type of boat you’re after, some differences stand out.


Kayaks are usually referred to as closed boats. As a paddler, you’ll have a cockpit to sit in there. They’re more protective and comfortable at this point. Compared to canoes, they also sit lower in water, meaning water is more likely to get in.

But for this reason, many paddlers rely on spray skirts for protection against water.

A canoe, on the other hand, is known as an open type of boat. This is also the reason wherefore the canoe sits higher in the water. This clearly means there’s no cockpit for the paddler to sit in. From many points of view, a canoe can be considered a type of rowing boat.


Talking about the seat, you’ll need to sit down no matter what type of boat. But when comparing these two boats, the kayak usually comes with a molded seat. It’s practically built into the bottom of the boat. Legs go slightly bent in front of the seat.

Kayakers often rely on their knees to get some support from the side of the kayak while paddling. This type of support simply provides more balance and puts less strain on the back.

The canoe will also have a seat, but it’s designed like a bench. If kayakers keep their legs in front of them, canoe users will sit on a raised bench so their legs are slightly ahead. Many canoes come with two seats, and some of them have more than that.

Paddling for fun doesn’t require any unique positions, but when you want power to the paddles, you’ll want to knees on the floor. Different riders find different positions for a more comfortable approach.


While the paddles are often overlooked, it’s also worth noting that different types of boats require different types of paddles. The same rule applies here.

Kayakers will usually have double paddles. Basically, a double paddle is a stick with a blade on each end. To move forward, they’ll paddle alternatively. When the left blade is in the water, the right one is in the air, and so on. The control is often made from the middle.

To move a canoe forward, there’s only one paddle. It’s not an oar, despite some misconceptions. The paddle is used on the left or the right side. Again, it’s used alternatively, so paddlers will need to alternate sides.

To make this job easier, some paddlers rely on the so-called J stroke, which means you can go straight ahead without really having to swap sides.

Simply put, there are all sorts of paddling techniques out there. What works for some people won’t work for everyone else, so chances are you’ll need to experiment.

Types of kayaks

There are numerous differences between canoes and kayaks in terms of styles and designs as well. Kayaks provide a bit of extra versatility, as there are more types out there, and each of them has its own particularities.

colorful Kayaks by the lakeside

Recreational kayaks

Recreational kayaks are excellent for newbies, as well as people who just enjoy a relaxing experience on the water. They measure anything between nine and 12 feet in length, and they’re suitable for calm waters, such as lakes or canals.

Some recreational kayaks can also be used on slow rivers, not to mention coastal waters. Since they’re not meant to provide a top-notch performance, they’re relatively wide and offer great stability, but they’re also very easy to control and direct.

Touring kayaks

Touring kayaks are also referred to as sea kayaks, and they’re much bigger than recreational kayaks. Some of them can get up to 18 feet in length. Despite the extra length, they’re not wider. Instead, they’re slimmer, so they actually go pretty fast.

Touring kayaks are self-explanatory. Since they’re suitable for people going long distances, they also offer ample storage, usually both at the front and the back. Some of them have skegs, too, only to help with control while steering.

Whitewater kayaks

Whitewater kayaks are normally smaller than most other types of kayaks. When comparing canoe vs. kayak, you’re less likely to find canoes so small. Some of the shortest whitewater kayaks measure as little as 5.5 feet. On the other hand, the longest ones can go up to nine feet.

Given the size and proportions, whitewater kayaks are highly responsive, so control is fairly simple. This category is split into quite a few subcategories, hence the wide variety of sizing standards. Each subcategory has its own purpose.

Inflatable kayaks

Inflatable kayaks offer a bit of convenience because you can transport them in backpacks. Sure, you need to inflate and deflate them all the time. At the same time, since they’re based on soft materials, they’re not as durable as solid kayaks, but they provide just as much fun.

Inflatable kayaks don’t offer much versatility, though. They don’t have too many features, and they’re often used for recreational purposes. They can usually accommodate two people, depending on the size. They’re also suitable for children or newbies.

Sit-on-top kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks are similar to canoes from some points of view. Basically, they have no cockpit. They’re like paddleboards and offer a good experience in relatively mild waters. You don’t need to be an expert to use such a kayak but don’t try taking it on rapid rivers.

Sit-on-top kayaks allow paddlers to sit on top. They’re used by professors teaching newbies, but they’re also good for short and basic fishing sessions that don’t require too much gear. In other words, they’re right for calm waters, but that’s pretty much it.

Racing kayaks

Racing kayaks are mainly recommended to those with a bit of experience. They’re much faster than most other types of kayaks, not to mention canoes. They’re relatively slim and lightweight, but they’re also long. A powerful stroke can send you out there quickly and far.

Some racing kayaks have room for two or even more people. In terms of length, they can go up to 36 feet. It normally depends on how many seats they have. Some of the smallest racing kayaks measure 17 feet in length, and they’re made for sports and competitions.

Types of canoes

Canoes are not as versatile, but categories are common. They’re more limited, though because of the actual construction of a canoe.

Canoe with paddle on shore of beautiful lake with island in northern Minnesota at sunrise

Recreational canoes

Recreational canoes measure between 13 and 17 feet in length, and they offer excellent stability. They can take up to three paddlers on average, but some of the smallest ones are also made for single paddlers.

Recreational canoes are recommended to newbies, as well as those looking for a relaxing time on flat and slow moving waters, such as lakes or coastal areas.

Whitewater canoes

Whitewater canoes are meant for those who want more adrenaline. They’re suitable for rapid waters and can take one or two people. They’re relatively short and offer great control, which you’ll need in such environments.

Despite the control, they’re not as stable, so they require a bit of experience. Given the rapid water, some of it may get into the boat. That’s why many whitewater canoes are enhanced with flotation panels at the back and front.

Racing canoes

Racing canoes give you a bit of a kayak experience because they sit relatively low in water. They’re quite narrow, too, only for paddlers to get more distance with each stroke. They’re also fast, and they can take one or two people on average.

To gain as much as possible from their strokes during a race, paddlers often kneel with one leg while still sitting on the bench. This kind of position offers more support when paddling, so strokes are more intense and effective.

Pros and cons of getting a kayak


  • Kayaks are easy to get along with, and you don’t require any experience. When comparing canoe vs. kayak, you’ll realize that kayaks are much faster and require less effort. Furthermore, kayaks are more diversified and offer extra versatility.
  • You can easily find a kayak with storage, and you’re likely to keep your stuff dry. Furthermore, a kayak is easy to transport and maneuver, not to mention handling. You are also closer to water, so you’ll feel a better connection.


  • On a negative note, you can still get wet when kayaking, while advanced skills require time and training. While paddling requires less effort, the truth is double paddles are actually heavier than single paddles, yet the paddling movement is more comfortable.

Pros and cons of getting a canoe


  • Canoes may not always have designated places for storage, but they can usually allow you to carry more gear. They are excellent for long trips because they’re comfortable, not to mention the carrying opportunities.
  • A canoe is much more difficult to capsize, and you can change your sitting position, which is clearly more comfortable over a long trip. There’s not much you can do about your position when it comes to riding in a kayak.
  • Stability won’t disappoint you either, and once you get used to the paddling movement, you’ll find moving a breeze. You won’t get too wet in a canoe either, so you can also bring your whole family or even your pet.


  • They’re heavy and bulky, so transportation could be an issue. As a solo paddler, you’ll realize you’ll need a bit of time to master a basic paddling technique. And when it comes to getting some speed, it’s pretty difficult when you only have one paddle, and you’re alone.

Kayak vs. Canoe – Video Guide

Kayaks and canoes are both popular watercrafts, but they have distinct features and purposes. While reading about them can provide some insights, seeing them side by side can really highlight their differences. To give you a clearer picture, we’ve prepared a video that showcases both. In this video, you’ll observe the unique designs, seating positions, and paddling techniques associated with each boat. By the end, you’ll have a better grasp of what sets them apart. So, let’s dive into the video and see them in action.


Still unsure whether you should get a canoe or a kayak?

  1. Is a canoe better than a kayak?

It depends on what kind of experience you’re planning for. Kayaks are quicker, canoes offer more space for families. Both are similar in operation, but kayaks are more versatile in types and designs.

  1. Is it easier to use a canoe or a kayak?

If you’re new and have no experience, moving a canoe is more difficult than moving a kayak, mainly because you only have one paddle, and the boat is heavier. Kayaks are easier to maneuver, and mastering a paddling technique is a piece of cake.

  1. Are kayaks or canoes lighter?

Generally speaking, unless you compare a massive kayak to a canoe for kids, kayaks are lighter than canoes. That’s why they’re also easier to transport than canoes, not to mention control and maneuverability while on water.

  1. Is it hard to capsize a canoe?

Normally, a kayak is easier to capsize than a canoe. A canoe also has some tall sides, and it’s more stable. Sure, you can also capsize a canoe, but that’s less likely to happen, especially on calm waters like lakes.

Final words

Comparing canoe vs. kayak leaves plenty of room for interpretation.

Canoe riders will swear by their boats, while kayak paddlers will love the versatility of theirs. At the end of the day, which one is better depends solely on your necessities and preferences, as well as what kind of experience you expect on water.

Each option has its own advantages and benefits. Indeed, one can choose to try both and can have a good time in any of them, but most people tend to go in one direction or another.

About the author

My name is Brock Browning. I’m the founder of I have a passion, for kayaking that runs through my veins. It has driven me to create a central hub where everything related to kayaking comes to life.

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