Canoe vs Kayak – Which one to choose?

If you’re a beginner looking to get into canoeing or kayaking, this guide is sure to help you.

I’ll be answering all the relevant questions related to canoeing and kayaking, such as which is best for you, which one to choose, and which is easier to learn. Additionally, I’ll cover the pros and cons of both canoes and kayaks. You might also be interested in our Best Kayaks guide from 2023, which I’ve written for you.

I’m confident that this guide will give you a clear idea of both activities.

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Kayaks Overview

A kayak is a type of canoe originally used by the Inuit people. It is made of lightweight material with a top opening to sit in or on. The paddler sits facing forward with their legs in the front and uses a double-bladed paddle. There are two main types of kayaks: sit-on-top and sit-in kayaks. These two categories are further categorized into different types of kayaks used for various purposes and events.


The kayak was first created by the Inuit people. In the early times, kayaks were made from wooden frames covered in sealskin, with a small hole in the middle for the paddler to enter. These old kayaks were made for hunting purposes. The design of early kayaks varied from region to region. Later on, they also built kayaks with huge storage spaces to transport families and goods.

Since the Inuit people used to live in icy environments, the closed space to sit and store kept them dry and warm in cold weather. The old design of the kayak made it easy to maneuver in icy waters with greater stability, making it a vessel to be used in tough weathers.

In the 1800s, kayaks were introduced in Europe which made them popular in that region as well. Later in 1936, kayaking featured as an official Olympic sport at the Berlin Olympic Games.

Types of Kayaks

There are two types of kayaks: sit-on-top kayaks and sit-inside kayaks. These two types are further classified into other categories based on usage and purpose.

Sit-on-Top Kayak

sit on top kayak, sot kayak, Sit-On-Top Kayaks

In a sit-on-top kayak, the paddler sits on a molded hull on top of the kayak. This is the most comfortable design, as it gives the paddler enough room to move around with ease. The vessel can be easily maneuvered, and it is preferred by paddlers with large bodies and long legs. A sit-on-top kayak is perfect for summers and areas with hot weather.

Sit Inside Kayaks

Sit inside Kayak, SI Kayak, sit in kayak,

A sit-inside kayak, also known as a SIT kayak, has a small cockpit to fit the paddler. In this type of kayak, the paddler sits inside the vessel. It is a perfect kayak to paddle in cold waters, as it keeps the paddler safe from splashes of water. Since the paddler sits inside the cockpit, they have complete control over the vessel. A SIT kayak is usually known for its speed and stability.


As I have discussed earlier, kayaks were originally used to transport goods and people from one place to another. Nowadays, kayaking is more of a sport and gaining popularity among the masses.

Kayaking is becoming the most popular form of paddling in the USA, with approximately 13 million Americans participating in kayaking compared to 10 million Americans canoeing.

Different people use kayaks for different reasons. The two types of kayaks are further divided into various parts and types according to their uses and requirements.

There are people who use kayaks for fishing, camping, trips, and races. Different kayaks are used to perform these activities as they have specific features to do so.

Certain sports are played with sit-in kayaks like Canoe polo, which is interestingly played with a kayak and a single two-blade paddle.

On the other hand, SOT kayaks are used for fishing as they have enough space to move around on the deck.

Checkout: Best Inflatable Kayaks

Pros of Kayaking

Now, let’s talk about the pros of kayaking!

  • Kayaking is easier to learn compared to canoeing.
  • A paddler needs to put very little energy to paddle the kayak.
  • You can choose from a wide range of varieties that you can hardly find in canoeing.
  • Unless capsizing, your gear and equipment are stored dry and safe in kayaking.
  • They are much easier to transport than canoes.
  • Double-blade paddles give you more control and stability in kayaks than a single blade in canoes.

Cons of Kayaking

  • You may have to invest some time in developing kayaking skills.
  • In the case of a Sit-In kayak, a skirt may be a scary part for beginners as it may be claustrophobic for many of them.
  • Double-blade paddles are much heavier than single blades.
  • In the situation of capsizing, you need skills to roll a kayak.

Canoe Overview

Canoeing is a paddling activity that uses a single-bladed paddle and can be used for sports, recreation, or competition.

History of Canoes

Canoeing is one of the oldest forms of transportation, and evidence of canoes has been found in Pesse, the Netherlands. Modern recreational canoeing was established in the late 19th century.

In 1924, canoeing associations from Austria, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany founded the International Canoe Federation.

Later on, canoeing gained popularity and became part of the Olympic Games in 1936. At that time, the main form of competitive sport was canoe sprint using a sprint canoe. Afterwards, other competitions were included, such as canoe polo, canoe marathon, whitewater canoeing, ICF canoe marathon, and playboating.

Canoe Design

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Couple Canoeing

Now, let’s talk about the design of canoes and how they differ from kayaks.

A canoe is open at the top and has the capacity to hold a group of people. The sides are relatively shorter and give it a traditional boat look. There is a bench at either end; one close to the bow and the other close to the stern, providing a perfect posture for paddling. Canoes are heavier and larger than kayaks, which makes them more difficult to transport.

A canoe has just one blade paddle, which makes it different from a kayak. To move forward, you need to remove the paddle from one side of the water and then re-enter it on the other side.

Paddling a canoe can be a tiring task, especially if you are paddling alone, as it requires a lot of energy. However, if there is a tandem in the canoe and both paddlers are contributing, it becomes a little easier.

The sitting posture in a canoe is different from sitting in a kayak. In a kayak, you sit with your legs straight out in front, whereas in a canoe, you sit as if you are sitting on an elevated bench.

Recreational canoes can have a lot of space for your gear, making it easier for multi-day adventures or family picnics.

There are also kayaks designed for whitewater rapids, which is why they have extra coverage and buoyancy devices at both ends.

Finally, there are racing canoes that are narrower and streamlined for faster performance. Racing canoes are used by professionals in the Olympic games.

There are also racing canoes that are narrower and streamlined for faster performance. Racing canoes are used by professionals in Olympic games.

How to Paddle a Canoe – VIDEO


Like Kayaks, Canoes were also used for transportation of goods and people. However, now they are used as sports and outdoor activity.

Canoes are used in slow moving water like; rivers and lakes which are good to explore with your family. Canoes are quiet stable as compared to kayaks and they hardly capsize.

Pros of Canoeing

  • Canoes have a lot of space for your gear compared to kayaks.
  • They can be used for extended adventures because of the comfort and space they offer.
  • They are very stable and hardly capsize.
  • You can easily change your sitting position, which is not possible in kayaking.
  • You can easily stand up in a canoe and stretch your legs.
  • You hardly get wet in a canoe unless you are in whitewater.

Cons of Canoeing

  • They are hard to transport because of their weight and design.
  • While canoeing in whitewater, they can take a lot of water compared to kayaks.

Kayak for Fishing OR Canoe for Fishing?

This is the primary concern for beginners: whether to use a canoe or kayak for fishing.

The straight answer is that both can be used!

You can choose which vessel suits you and you are comfortable with. There are pros and cons of both, so you can decide based on their advantages and disadvantages.

You can go through my pros and cons on both and decide which one you are comfortable with. In the end, it is all about your personal choice and comfort, so decide accordingly.

Canoe Vs Kayaks – Bottom Line

I have discussed all the key points regarding canoes and kayaks, including their background, design, uses, advantages, and disadvantages in great detail. Based on this information, you can easily decide which one is better suited to your needs.

In summary, kayaks are lightweight, easy to learn, and preferred by families for fishing. However, they are prone to capsizing and require practice to master. Canoes, on the other hand, are heavy and difficult to transport but have ample storage space and are perfect for multi-day adventures and family outings. They are also stable in rivers and lakes, making them easy to learn, even for children.

In my opinion, both canoes and kayaks have their own pros and cons, and one is not necessarily better than the other. It all comes down to personal preference and what works best for you. I encourage you to share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section and continue the discussion.

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