Canoe vs Kayak – How to Choose Between the Two?

While choosing to go either canoeing or kayaking, you might be asking yourself certain questions:

  • What is the difference between a canoe and a kayak?
  • Which is better for fishing: a canoe or a kayak?
  • Which one is easier for me to use in terms of practicality of a kayak or lifestyle of a canoe?

While the two vessels might seem very similar, each has it’s own pros and cons. Depending on your preferences, you can choose between the two with the help of this informative guide that discusses all aspects to help make your decision easier for you.

What is a canoe?

kayak on lake


A canoe is a small, lightweight and narrow boat pointed at both ends. It can be propelled and steered by one or two paddlers. These paddlers are either seated or kneeling down, facing the direction of travel, using a single bladed paddle. Canoes are typically referred to ‘Canadian canoes’ or ‘open canoes’ to distinguish them from kayaks. Thus their open top is a differentiating feature.

What are canoes used for?

Canoes are used for a range of a range of recreational activities and sports. However, traditionally they were used as a mode of transportation.

Canoes are not as widely used as they once were but they are still popular for use in calm and slow moving waters such as lakes. Furthermore, their stability and capsizing also makes them popular among families, for exploration and camping trips.

What is a kayak?

girl in kayak

A kayak is a slimmer vessel than a canoe, and is used to move across water, an activity called kayaking. It is propelled by a double bladed paddle and has a closed top. In a kayak the paddler sits facing forward. Unlike canoes, they have closed decks.

What are kayaks used for?

Kayaking has become a lot more popular in modern times. The number of kayaks we find in every water body are a lot greater than the number of canoes. In fact, in America it has been the most popular form of paddling somce 2015. There are many different types of kayaks to cater to the different forms of kayaking.

For instance, sit-in kayaks are enclosed are suitable for sea kayaking and white water rafting. Sit-on-top kayaks are a better option for beginners because they’re a lot easier to get in and out of, but have relatively lower stability so should be preferred in calm waters.

What are the differences betweens canoes and kayaks?

Open vs Closed tops

A primary difference between canoes and kayaks is their structure: canoes are wider and heavier. Comparatively, kayaks are lightweight and sleeker. Canoes are open top, while kayaks are closed, and the enclosed space is called a “cockpit”.

Some kayaks have open tops too, specifically a sit-on-top kayaks. But majority of the kayaks are sit-in kayaks which is why it is referred to as “wearing a kayak”.

How to Paddle

Kayaks are generally a lot easier for beginners than canoes, and it is mainly because canoes are a lot heavier. This means that they’re a lot more difficult to paddle. It takes the effort of two people to paddle a canoe because of how bulky it is. The two people have to alternate strokes to propel the canoe forward. Furthermore, canoe paddles are shorter with a blade at one end only.

But kayaks can be steered and propelled using a single paddle because it has blades on both ends. The paddler can grip the paddle from the middle and alternately dip each end into the water. The position of the blades on the paddle at a certain angle further enable the kayak to move forward easily, overcoming any problems of wind resistance.

Do you mind getting wet or not

Canoes are technically better at keeping you away from water because you’re a lot higher than the waves. They’re also more difficult to tip over but both kayaks and canoes are stable and made of durable material.

Kayaks are harder to get wet in because of the cockpit which is an enclosed space. Water can also be prevented from seeping in by attaching a spray skirt, which is a piece of rubber that further waterproof s your kayak.


Getting into a canoe is relatively easier than a kayak because of its structural design. With an open-top, the canoe is as easy to get into as stepping onto a platform.

Comparatively, getting into a kayak is more difficult as paddlers have to slide their legs inside the cockpit first. This means there’s a greater chance of the vessel disbalancing and tipping over. However, this is not the case for sit-on-top kayaks because of their open-top feature.

Furthermore, while kayaks might feel more restricted, as compared to the open air experience of a canoe, they can be better equipped with comfortable seating for back support. Thus, they are better suited for riding long hours.

Storing your Gear

There is greater flexibility in canoes for storage space because of the open deck. This is a plus point if you plan on carrying camping equipment with you.

On the contrary, kayaks have storage beneath the deck which can make them difficult to access during the ride if you haven’t planned properly ahead of the trip. However the storage in kayaks is waterproof which is a huge bonus because you can ensure that all your accessories are safe during your rides including your phone and other electronic devices.

Canoe vs Kayak Fishing

kayak fishing

While both canoes and kayaks can be used for fishing, each vessel offers unique opportunities in different waterways. Canoes are preferred for fishing in calm and relaxing waters such as lakes and ponds.  On the contrary, kayaks should be used for fishing in white waters and rough seas. With lesser drag, kayaks swiftly travel across waters.

Fishing Techniques

Standing up while fishing is an option available across certain types of kayaks and canoes. Specifically sit-on-top fishing kayaks are designed for this, as well as wider canoes on which you can stand upright without losing balance, and the vessel flipping over.

Because of the way canoes and kayaks are structured, they can stealthily approach fish without chasing them away. This reduces the need for long casts, as short casts can accurately catch plenty of fish.

Also, don’t forget to place your fishing gear in a manner that is easily accessible because you won’t have much time during fishing. Make sure that you utilize the less space properly by planning ahead.

Canoe Fishing

When outfitting a canoe for fishing, you need to be mindful of the water conditions. Canoe rigs come in two types: gravity and diamond. A gravity rig is suitable for you in wide, stable canoes and calm waters if you’re experienced. However, if you’re a beginner who’s still in the learning process, perhaps you should opt for a diamond rig as you can focus on fishing without worrying about objects rolling around in the vessel.

A motor or anchor can also be added to increase stability and control.

Make sure to approach the fish quietly so that they are not scared off. Also, avoid making any noise by hitting the side of the canoe with your paddle. Also, take a boating safety course before you set out, so that you can ensure your safety!

Kayak Fishing

There are certain features that you should be looking for in your kayak if you plan on fishing. These features ensure paddle holders, multiple rod holders, and a dry hatch for storage. You can also attach a gadget for fishing finding such as a GPS or sonar. You should also keep landing net and pliers within easy reach. 

There are different types of kayaks for fishing:

Freshwater Kayaks 

  • Sit-on-top kayaks: Because of their open tops, these kayaks can be used in calm and relaxing waters where stability isn’t an issue. Waterproofing allows you to store your equipment, and you can relax on the open deck while fishing.
  • Sit-in kayaks: Because of sealed cockpits for anglers to sit in, these kayaks can be used in moving waters. They are enclosed so splashing isn’t an issue. But they can be swamped easily so do carry a PFD along just in case!

Saltwater Kayaks

These kayaks are built to handle all water conditions, particularly adverse conditions. They are built with more durable material, and are also equipped with gear to catch and store bigger fish. Dry wells in the kayaks ensure that the equipment is kept dry through water proofing. They can also be propelled with a foot pedal in some cases. Furthermore, since this involves deep fishing, good fish finding equipment is also a necessary add-on such as sonar or GPS equipment 

Canoe vs Kayaking Pros and Cons

people in kayak

Canoe Pros 

  • You can stand inside canoes easily because of their wide frame
  • They are stable and difficult to capsize 
  • There is a lot of space on board, so you can carry gear and equipment 
  • You do not need to worry about getting wet because you are higher on the waves, except if you are on white waters
  • You can alternate between different sitting positions, which makes it suitable for long journeys
  • You can bring your children or dogs along because there’s ample space 
  • If you want to enjoy the view, this canoes are definitely better than kayaks

Canoe Cons

  • They are difficult to carry and not as portable because they are bulky
  • They have single paddles which are inefficient as compared to double paddles 
  • It requires more effort to bring a canoe to top speed as compared to kayaks

kayak in water

Kayak Pros

  • It is easier for beginners to learn kayaking as compared to canoeing
  • Because of sealed storage spaces, your equipment is a lot safer
  • Double paddles are more efficient than the single paddles of canoes 
  • They have better maneuverability
  • They are lightweight and portable 
  • They have greater variety as compared to canoes 

Kayak Cons

  • Kayaking skills are a lot harder, and take longer time to learn 
  • Double paddles are heavier and difficult to use 
  • Kayaking can be scary if you move from calm to fast moving waters

FAQs About Kayaking vs Canoeing

Q. What is faster: a 2-person kayak or canoe?

If the two paddlers are experienced, a canoe can reach higher speeds than a tandem kayak

Q. Which is easier to flip: a canoe or a kayak?

You can flip a kayak very easily, because they are unstable as compared to canoes that have lower center of gravity. However, sit-in kayaks are relatively more stable as compared to sit-on-top kayaks. There are much lower chances of a canoe capsize as compared to kayak.

Q. Can one person ride a two person kayak?

Tandem kayaks are built for two paddlers, hence a single paddler would struggle to maneuver the vessel alone. However, some tandem kayaks are designed in a way that they can be operated by both single/double paddlers.

Q. Is kayaking like canoeing?

Kayaking is the act of moving across water in a kayak. It is similar to canoeing, with the only difference being the use of a double blade paddle instead of a single blade one in canoes. Furthermore, the sitting position in a kayak is also different from canoes, with an enclosed cockpit, so paddlers do not have to kneel down.

Michael Holding

Michael is an outdoor adventurer and a kayaking enthusiast who loves to share his experiences with others. He is the Chief Editor at XgearHub.

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