What Is The Difference Between A Kayak And A Canoe?

May 06, 2022

Three people canoeing on lake

Wondering what is the difference between a kayak and a canoe? While these two boats seem pretty similar, they have some striking differences you must be aware of. The ideal choice will depend on a number of factors. And today, we're going to unpack the kayak vs canoe debate to help you pick the right boat.

The kayak and canoe share many similarities - they both require paddles and can even look similar depending on the specific boats in question. Make no mistake, though, they are entirely different types of watercraft. And the gear you'll use in paddling and transporting these boats varies greatly as well.

While canoes typically feature an open top, kayaks have a closed deck. You'll sit with your legs stretched out in a kayak whereas you'll sit on your knees in a canoe. Canoers use a single-bladed paddle while kayakers use double-bladed paddles.

And that is just a few of the noteworthy differences you are going to learn about today. Let's not hold you in suspense any longer - it's time to break down the difference between a kayak and a canoe!

What Is The Difference Between A Kayak And A Canoe?

So, what is the difference between a kayak and a canoe? We touched on a few differences above. But to fully explain the differences and help you understand which of these boats is best for you, we need to explain each one in its entirety. Let's start with kayaks.

What Is A Kayak?

Kayaks originated in Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. They were relied on by the Inuit tribes for hunting. These early styles were crafted from wood with seal skin - but today's kayaks are far different. Nevertheless, the manner in which you operate a kayak remains the same. More on that later. First - a bit more information about what a kayak looks like.

A kayak is typically a smaller boat than a canoe. These are available most often in a closed deck style. These are known as sit-on-top kayaks - and the premier choice on the market these days. But, there are all sorts of other types of kayaks. You'll find inflatable kayaks that can be blown up - these are a more "sit-in" style of boat. There are also fishing kayaks that resemble something more of a raft. Finally, there are hardshell kayaks that are built for performance paddling.

Whatever style you ultimately choose, you'll typically find a seat molded to the bottom to brace up against. This is very different from what you'll find in the cockpit of a canoe. You'll also find that in a kayak you are seated far lower in the water than in a canoe.

Whatever the style of kayak, one thing remains consistent - how you sit on the boat. Kayakers sit on their butts with their legs out in front of them. And in terms of kayak paddles, double-bladed paddles are the norm. You can learn more about choosing a kayak paddle in our blog. You should also take a look at our discussion of how to paddle a kayak.

In terms of where you can paddle your kayak, you'll enjoy far more versatility compared to the canoe. There are whitewater kayaks and performance kayaks for racing on lakes. You can even go sea kayaking! Virtually no type of water is off-limits to kayaks.

What Is A Canoe?

Now, what is a canoe? What makes these different from kayaks? This type of boat can be dated back as far as 8200 BC in what is now known as the Netherlands. In fact, this is the oldest documented boat in history.

Ok, enough with the history lesson - let's talk details. As we've discussed already, canoes feature a more open top that canoe paddlers can kneel within. That's right - you don't typically sit on your butt in a canoe. However, you do have a nice cushioned bench-style pad to kneel upon. And canoes are typically going to feature at least 2 to 3 of these benches to make it easier to paddle tandem.

One other striking difference is in the type of paddle you use. The double-bladed paddle is the norm for kayaking, whereas a single-bladed paddle is more typical for canoeing. This means you'll have to switch between paddling on the left side and the right side to push your boat forward. As such, it can be a bit more difficult to generate speed and maneuver in a canoe compared to a kayak.

And, because the canoe has higher sides, the paddler is more protected from wind and water splashing in. However, not all canoes are created equal. There are racing canoes, whitewater canoes, and even recreational canoes. With that said, these are typically the less versatile boat compared to the kayak.

Kayak vs Canoe: Which Is Right For You?

Alright, we've talked enough about the differences between a kayak and a canoe. You came here to learn which of these is right for you. And to help you make that decision, we're going to quickly weigh the pros and cons of each to help you decide. Let's start with the kayak pros and cons.

Kayak Pros & Cons


  • Easier to learn the basics of kayaking than canoeing

  • More versatile in different types of water

  • You can paddle these faster and maneuver them better

  • Transporting a kayak is much easier than a canoe

  • You stay drier in a kayak with a spray skirt

  • Paddling strokes are more efficient with a double-bladed paddle vs single blade paddle


  • The more advanced kayaking techniques take a while to master

  • Kayaking is more exhausting on your body

  • Learning in calm water doesn't always translate to learning in whitewater or the sea

  • Beginners tend to be scared of spray skirts

Canoe Pros & Cons


  • Canoes are larger, making it easier to accommodate friends and additional gear

  • They are more comfortable for long excursions

  • Canoes are more stable boats with less risk of capsizing

  • You'll have an easier time getting in and out of a canoe than a kayak

  • Standing up on a canoe is easier and more fun

  • If you need to portage, canoes are up to the task - kayaks are harder to portage with

  • While you may start kneeling, you can alternate your seating position to keep your body comfortable and pain-free


  • Because canoes are bigger and heavier, they are not as easy to transport to and from the water

  • If you're paddling solo, you'll get tired easily and struggle to generate speed

  • It's also difficult to learn how to paddle a canoe solo

  • Canoes take on a bit more water than kayaks, so expect to get wet

What Is The Difference Between A Kayak And A Canoe? Closing Thoughts

We've covered all the information you need to know when it comes to the kayak vs canoe debate. You now know the difference between a kayak and a canoe, along with the pros and cons of each.

So, which of these boats should you go with?

The answer is not one size fits all. Your personal preferences will help you make the right decision. And if you aren't sure, you don't have to choose right now. You can try each out a few times by renting them at a lake or pond near you! This is the best way to determine which boat best suits you. They're both great options, and you can't go wrong either way - because you'll be out connected with nature.

And, for all your canoe and kayak accessories, head over to our site at OutdoorPlay. We have everything you need for your next adventure on the water - from spray skirts to paddles, lifejackets, transportation essentials, and much, much more!

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