In this article, we’re solving the great debate what’s better: canoe or kayak?
I should probably give a little history to myself first.
I’ve been a kayaker for 20 years. That being said, I’m not only a kayaker, I’m a paddler, white water kayak for the first 10 years.
I started sea kayaking, thereafter canoeing, stand up paddling, rafting.
I’m a paddler, I love it all, but I’ve spent most of my time in a kayak.
Canoers and kayakers may not agree with everything I’m going to say about what’s better: canoe or kayak.
But this is what I can tell you.
Canoes and kayaks are both awesome in the right scenario!
When is the canoe most awesome?
The canoe is particularly amazing for multi-day trips. I absolutely love canoeing on trips where you need to carry a lot of gear to make your camping super comfortable and you have a boat that requires portaging.
I learned this the hard way when I was not as into canoeing and I took a sea kayak on a four day trip with a lot of portages.
I thought I could get away with it, brought a kayak cart and it didn’t work so well.
Kayak cart needs a pretty smooth trail to work effectively. What ended up happening is I left a trail of plastic as I dragged the kayak across these long portages.
Not a good option.
With canoes, you can have all your big packs just be thrown on your back when you get to the portage and carried across even with a canoe on your head. Way easier to portage! You can carry way more gear.
For multi-trips, hands down the canoe is the best tripping platform.
Unless you’re in exposed waters, like the ocean, then you really don’t have a choice, you have to go by sea kayak for safety’s sake. Because the sea kayak can handle rough water so much better without having to worry about swamping or being able to at least avoid swamping if you have a kayak roll.
The drawback is only that you can take less gear because there’s less room in the kayak to put stuff.
Also when you pack a sea kayak, it’s more difficult because you have to break it into small pieces, instead of just having one big bag.
The other great thing about canoes is that they’re amazing for family trips. You can literally load the kids, the dog, the works into a canoe and you’re off to the races for a day trip or multi-day trips.
That’s something you can’t do with the kayak.
You can do that with a tandem kayak. A lot of tandem kayaks have a center hatch that can fit tons of gear and you can even put a third person in, a dog or a kid.
It’s not exclusive to canoes, tandem kayaks can also be good family platforms, but tandem kayaks are a lot more difficult to get around. They are long, they are heavy.
The canoe is a lot easier. It’s possible to carry it as one person. Tandem kayak not so much.
Canoes are also much more comfortable.
You can change your sitting position, you can stretch your legs, you can bring your legs in, you can just change your position and get comfortable in canoes.
You just don’t have that option, unless you’re a very small person, when you’re in kayak.
These are definitely strong points for canoes.
But I am a kayaker!
Kayaks are more versatile. You have a lower center of gravity, they are much more stable, you can take it into almost any type of water conditions, from open ocean to extreme white water.
Some people will argue with this, but kayaks are faster. You have two blades and you can keep blade in the water more often and therefore travel faster.
Similarly the wind doesn’t impact you as much when you’re in a kayak. The canoe has a higher profile and wind pushes it around and can stop you more.
Expanding on wind, just paddling in wind in general is much easier in a kayak versus a canoe. A canoe is impacted tremendously by the wind. Kayak is impacted as well but it’s much more manageable.
It’s especially more manageable when you’re paddling solo, which is another big plus of the kayak. Paddling solo in general in a canoe is much more difficult than paddling solo in a kayak.
Throw other conditions in there, current, wind and it amplifies those differences.
For me, appreciating the solo paddling experience as much as I do in a variety of conditions, from rivers to the ocean to open water that it gets impacted by wind, kayak is just is my go-to and I turn to the canoe when I want to do multi-day trips and load it full of camping gear.
Or when I just want to go for a cruise with the family.
Canoe vs. Kayak | What’s the Difference?
With kayaks, you sit a little bit lower to the water, you are a little more exposed to water. They cover longer distance in less amount of time.
Most kayaks will always have a dry storage in the bow and stern, so your gear is gonna stay dry.
You are gonna use a double paddle over a single blade, which makes maneuvering the boat a little bit easier.
The one downfall of a kayak is if you are looking at doing some portaging and trying to carry the boat. They can be a little more cumbersome to carry, just because there’s not a good way to hold on to it. If you are looking at doing some areas where there’s portaging, you want to be able to pick it up and carry it.
That’s where canoe might fit better. But if you’re looking at more exposed water, longer distances, that’s where a kayak fits.
Nice thing about a kayak is that it’s a little bit more of an independent sport.
Most kayaks you’re gonna find are solo, which means you and your paddling partner can be on two different sides of the water. You’re not always relying on a partner.
Why you should buy a canoe versus a kayak if it’s your first boat?
For one thing, a canoe has way more room.
You can move around in a canoe, you can kneel, you can sit, you can stretch your legs out, put one leg up, one leg down. Very comfortable for a long term.
You can get a lot of gear in a canoe. If you’re going on a trip and you have to portage, take your gear out, put the canoe over your head, go down the trail.
If you have a family, mom and dad can paddle, the kids can go along for a ride, everybody’s happy. You can get the kid a little paddle, they can help out.
A canoe glides really nice on the water, similar to a kayak, but you can cover a lot of ground with a canoe. You can go lakes, work well in rivers as well as in lakes.
For an all-round boat, canoe wins every time.
Let’s talk about some of the advantages of a kayak over a canoe.
Both vessels have their purposes.
When you’re paddling a kayak, the profile and your experience on the water is going to be a lot lower, which is a desirable characteristic for a vessel for many people.
Another advantage of a kayak over canoe is in the event that you’re in a more dynamic water environment, a kayak might offer greater flexibility and recovery situations, self rescues or even assisted rescues.
Another advantage might be the ability to cover longer distances in a kayak at a more rapid pace. Especially as we go up in the length of a kayak, you’ll get a greater speed and the ability to cross greater distances.
Let’s talk about some of the benefits of a canoe over a kayak.
First is functionality. Typically it’s lighter weight, easier to move. You’re not gonna be exposed water. You’re gonna be able to pick it up, portage it, carry it, very easy to pack, you’re not limited by space in most cases.
You do sit a little bit higher off the water, a little bit better visual. You are gonna use a single blade over a double blade.
Canoe is better than a kayak for fishing.
You’ve got a big open exposed area in front of you, easier gear accessing. In a kayak gear is going to be more contained in the hatch covers.