Canoe vs Kayak: Which is best for you?



Red canoe on rocky shore of calm lake with pine trees

Canoes have been around for thousand’s of years, they are one of the oldest, if not the oldest known boat design man ever invented and since there inception, that original design has been steadily improved upon. The canoe helped early explorers discover new lands  and were at one time the main vehicle of commerce in many parts of the world.

kayak on the river bank.

Kayak’s have been with us for a very long time too, but because of the materials they were originally built from (drift wood, bone, animal skin), it is hard to say just how long they have been with us. Originally, the versatile kayak was used by the Inuit people to hunt in the freezing ice filled waters of the Arctic and even the name “kayak” translates in Inuit to “Hunters Boat.”

Both the kayak and canoe have evolved much since their original design. In the beginning these boats were a necessary tool that hunters, explorers and native peoples needed for survival, now they have become mostly a recreational vehicle used as a pastime by people all over the world.

So which of these two designs are best, or best for you? That argument might be as old as the designs of the boats themselves. The answer to that question depends upon a few factors that are unique to each paddler as well as advantages each boat has over the other in different conditions.

Pro’s and Con’s of each.

Paddle Experience:

Kayaks are very easy to paddle for beginners. They generally are more narrow than a canoe and require less effort to move because they have less surface touching the water which equates to less drag. The double bladed paddle allows you to correct a mistake quickly making them easy to control and easy to learn in. But, advanced strokes and maneuvers “like rolling, edging, eddy turns etc.”  are more difficult to learn and require a lot of skill and practice to perfect.

Canoes are wider and require more effort to move. For the beginner, canoes initially require a little more skill to paddle solo because you have to master the “J-stroke”. Though it is easy to do, it takes practice to get it right. Some people never learn it which is why you sometimes see people constantly switching sides as they paddle a canoe on a calm windless day. Once you learn the proper j-stroke canoeing becomes very easy.

Paddling tandem:

Canoes are usually more forgiving when paddling tandem than kayaks if for no other reason than if you get out of sync, it usually does not affect you that much. Kayaks on the other hand require you to be in sync. When in sync, the boat moves and handles beautifully. If you get out of sync, it can become very frustrating.


A kayak and canoe of equal length will have equal speed due to the fact that both designs are displacement hulls. But, because the canoe will have more hull touching the water, it will require more work to achieve and maintain that speed.


Because of the lower profile of kayaks when compared to canoes, generally they are less affected by wind. Yes, any kayak is susceptible to weather cocking, but usually less so than a canoe.

Ease of Use:

Because of their open design, canoe’s are easier to enter and exit from than a sit in kayak. You sit up higher giving you a better view of the water. You can change your seating position and even paddle from a kneeling position. The single blade paddle design is easier on your shoulders. They usually have a larger volume which means you can carry more stuff or more people in them. They are generally stable and you can even stand up in some models. Generally, canoes will give you a dry ride but they will take on water in rough conditions.

The seating position in a sit in kayak is low, with your legs in front of you. They will normally keep you dry and you can put a skirt on them for rough water. Essentially, you wear a sit-in kayak. Sit on tops are easy to enter and exit from and some are designed to stand in, but that ease of use and stability usually comes with added weight and they usually don’t have the carrying capacity a canoe of equal length has. They “self-bail” which means taking on water is not an issue but most of them will give you a “wet ride.”


Any place the average recreational paddler can take a canoe, they can also take a kayak, but, the same can not be said about the opposite. There are some places (water falls, extreme white water, open ocean, etc.) that a recreational canoe should not be taken due to the open top design. Yes, you can modify a canoe to adapt for those purposes and there are people who do it, but for the average recreational paddler, the kayak is much better suited for those waters.

So which is best?

Both kayaks and canoes have their advantages and disadvantages. Mostly, it will come down to personnel preference. To determine which is best for you, identify what you will be doing with it, then weigh out the pro’s and con’s of each design and choose the one that has the most advantages over the other for your particular application. Another option which to me is the best option would be to get one of each that way no matter what you are doing, you will have the right boat.


Find Your Headwaters,




7 thoughts on “Canoe vs Kayak: Which is best for you?

  1. Love the advice, “Get Both.” Like I say, you never have enough boats, I have 3 canoes, one for whitewater, 2 for pleasure canoeing/camping and 1 kayak and one C-1 for whitewater.

    Liked by 1 person

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