Canoe vs Kayak: The 7 Main Differences + Types of Both

Have you ever seen a canoe or kayak out on the water and wondered which one would be best for you? Or what the difference between them is?

Although they are both similar in some ways, there are some key differences that make each of them unique. This canoe vs kayak article will take a closer look at the different types of canoes and kayaks to help you understand the nuances that make each one special.

Canoe vs Kayak: The 7 Main Differences

The main differences between a canoe and a kayak are:

  1. Seating: Canoes are open and have benches for seating (which is typically more uncomfortable than a kayak seat.) Kayaks have enclosed cockpits (with back support) in which one sits OR there are sit-on-top versions.
  2. Paddles: Canoe paddles are single-bladed and shorter than kayak paddles. Generally, canoes are designed to be paddled by more than 1 person. Paddles for kayaks however are longer, double-bladed and designed to be used by 1 person effectively.
  3. Stability: Canoes are more stable on the water as they are generally wider, longer and heavier than kayaks. Even though kayaks are less stable, they provide greater maneuverability and their designs have gotten a lot better as far as stability goes.
  4. Size: Canoes are typically much bigger than kayaks and can carry more people or cargo, making them better suited for long trips over flat water. Kayaks are shorter and often faster than canoes, making them great for whitewater rapids or open ocean waves.
  5. Staying Dry: Due to their design and paddling techniques, it is much easier to keep dry in a canoe. Kayaking generally requires a side-to-side paddling motion so there are more chances of water getting into the kayak (although it is possible to stay dry in both.)
  6. Accessibility: Getting into (and out of) a canoe is generally easier than a kayak because they are wide open and more stable.
  7. Speed: Because kayaks tend to be lighter and more streamlined in their designs, it is much easier to get up to (and maintain) higher speeds. Paddling a canoe requires more strength and endurance than a kayak.

Different Types Of Kayaks

Recreational Kayaks

Recreational kayaks are best used on flat waters such as a calm lake or meandering river. They’re generally not suitable for long trips or in rough water situations (like a fast-flowing river with rapids or waves in the ocean.)

They are typically affordable, stable, easy to maneuver and get in and out of. There are sit-in and sit-on-top versions of recreational kayaks available.

recreational kayak
Photo from: REI

Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks are great if you don’t have the storage space for a traditional kayak (or a way to transport one.) They also tend to be cheaper than their hard-shelled counterparts.

There are many different styles to choose from (depending on the type of kayaking you want to do.) Whether you’re looking for a recreational inflatable kayak or a serious touring inflatable kayak, there are options to suit every need.

inflatable kayak
Photo from: REI

Sit Inside Kayaks

Sit inside kayaks allow you to climb inside the kayak hull with your legs under the deck. This provides better protection from the elements (especially with the addition of a sprayskirt.)

Sit inside kayaks also allow you to press your knees against the inside of the hull which results in more powerful (and controlled) paddle strokes (which is why most racing kayaks are sit-in.)

Sit On Top Kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks are easy to get in and out of and many people prefer them because they’re not “confined” in the cockpit (which is good for nervous paddlers.)

They also tend to be more stable than sit-in versions so can get on and off as you please (if you like to get off and swim.) The only downfall is that you will inevitably get wet as there is nothing to protect you from the elements (which makes them more suitable for warm water paddling.)

sit on top kayak
Photo from: REI

Fishing Kayaks

Designed to navigate shallow waters with ease, these kayaks provide a lightweight and smaller alternative to cumbersome fishing boats, so they can go almost anywhere.

They offer adventurous fishermen incredible mobility through small coves and winding rivers that would usually be unreachable. Some fishing kayaks even come with a pedal drive system which keeps your hands free to do all the fishing things.

fishing kayak
Photo from: REI

Folding Kayaks

Folding kayaks are a great choice for adventurers looking to save space while exploring the outdoors. These collapsible vessels offer all the benefits of regular kayaks – stability, speed, and maneuverability – but with the added bonus of being able to fold them up when not in use.

Folding kayaks can be easily transported and stored, making them ideal for those who want to enjoy kayaking without taking up too much room in their home or car.

folding kayak
Photo from: ORU KAYAK

Whitewater Kayaks

Whitewater kayaks come in many different versions from “river runners” to “creekers.” Which one is best for you will depend on your experience and the type of whitewater you like to paddle.

If you typically paddle on lazy rivers (with smaller wave trains and holes) then a river-runner or playboat may be suitable. But if you live somewhere with fast-moving steep creeks and big drops, then a long boat or creeker may be your best bet.

Expedition Kayaks (AKA Sea Kayaks or Touring Kayaks)

Expedition kayaks, sea kayaks and touring kayaks are designed to provide a comfortable experience no matter what the environment. These advanced boats are built to tackle even the toughest of waters, with exceptional stability and agility.

Touring kayaks come in many different sizes and designs and they are constructed with impressive storage space, which allows adventurers to take along everything they need for long trips.

touring kayak
Photo from: REI

Different Types Of Canoes

Recreational Canoes

Recreational canoes are perfect for flat water canoeing (like on lakes and calm rivers.) They are stable, agile and easy to control which makes them perfect for beginners, photographers and families.

While they can be versatile, they are not typically meant to be used at high speeds or on rough waters.

recreational canoe
Photo from: REI

Whitewater Canoes

These canoes are designed specifically for navigating fast-moving waters and rapids. They have a narrower beam than traditional touring canoes, with low buoyancy and high rocker, meaning a higher bow and stern. This allows them to move quickly in rushing water and maneuver around obstacles more easily.

They are often made from roto-moulded plastic or abs material which is lightweight yet strong enough to withstand impacts with rocks or other objects in the water. The length of these canoes usually ranges from 8′ – 16′, depending on their intended use.

Racing Canoes

Racing canoes are specially designed to be as light and maneuverable as possible. They often have a narrow, shallow hull that allows them to cut through the water with ease and helps reduce drag and increase speed.

The seats are usually low to the ground, which helps minimize fatigue for paddlers during long races. They also feature specialized paddles with custom-shaped blades that help increase their efficiency in the water.

Additionally, many racers outfit their boats with custom-made rudders or centerboards for improved steering control.

River Canoes

River canoes are designed to be more stable and less maneuverable than racing canoes, making them ideal for recreational river trips. They often feature a wider, deeper hull that allows them to handle waves and currents better, while still offering good speed.

The seats are also typically higher off the ground to provide easier access in and out of the boat. River canoes are usually equipped with standard paddles, though some may have rudder systems or centerboards as well.

Fishing Canoes

Fishing canoes are designed to be stable and durable enough to handle the environment of a fishing expedition. They feature a wider beam than recreational and racing canoes, making them more resistant to capsizing in choppy waters.

They often include a raised platform at the stern or center of the boat, which creates an area for anglers to stand while casting their lines. Fishing canoes also come with special features like rod holders, tackle boxes, and ice chests for storing equipment and bait. Additionally, many are outfitted with motor mounts for trolling motors or small electric motors.

Inflatable Canoes

Inflatable canoes offer the convenience of being lightweight and easy to transport. They are designed with multiple air chambers and incorporate heavy-duty materials such as PVC or urethane that provide excellent puncture resistance.

They are suitable for both recreational use on lakes and slow rivers, as well as more intense whitewater adventures. Inflatable canoes typically have less capacity than hardshell river canoes, but they are still capable of carrying a decent amount of gear and supplies for overnight trips.

Folding Canoes

Folding canoes are an excellent choice for those looking for a lightweight and convenient canoeing solution. They are designed to fold down easily, making them easier to transport than traditional fibreglass or aluminum canoes.

Folding canoes feature special frames that provide enough rigidity to ensure they don’t flex during paddling. They also have several advantages over inflatable models, such as greater durability in rough conditions and the ability to travel deeper into areas inaccessible by motorized boats. Folding canoes come in various sizes and styles and are ideal for camping, fishing, river running, and more!

folding canoe
Photo from: MYCANOE

In Conclusion

Ultimately, canoes and kayaks both offer unique advantages that make them great choices for different types of water activities. Canoes have greater stability, carrying capacity and speed, while kayaks offer more maneuverability and convenience.

Touring canoes are great for extended trips on flatwater or slow-moving rivers, while whitewater canoes are designed specifically to tackle rapids. Kayaks come in a variety of sizes and styles such as touring or sea kayaks, inflatable, sit-on-top or fishing models that offer something for every type of paddler.

When it comes to getting out on the water, both canoes and kayaks are excellent options with different features that cater to different uses. I hope this article gave you some clarity in the canoe vs kayak debate. If you’re interested, check out what to wear on the water next.


Why Choose A Canoe Over A Kayak?

Canoes typically offer more stability than kayaks. They have open tops, making them easier to access and there is usually more room for passengers and cargo. They are best used by 2 or more paddlers.

What Is Safer: Kayak Or Canoe?

Safety really depends on what you’re trying to do with your boat. Canoes are preferable on flat or slow-moving water (as they are less prone to capsizing) and kayaks are preferable on rough waters.

What Are 3 Differences Between Canoes and Kayaks?

Canoes have open tops, use a single-bladed paddle, and require the user to sit higher in the water; while kayaks feature a pointed hull, use double-bladed paddles, and require the user to sit lower.

Is A Canoe Or Kayak More Stable?

Canoes have a wide, flat-bottomed design that provides extra stability. The wider profile gives canoeists the ability to feel better balanced while they paddle and allows them to maneuver more easily.