Canoe vs Kayak: Which One To Buy This Summer & Why

What exactly is the difference between canoe vs kayak? The two types of boats may look and work very similarly, but they’re also very different in their own ways.

Knowing the differences between canoes and kayaks can help you make a decision about what to buy.

Canoe Vs Kayak: The Key Differences

While there are a huge number of differences based on the specific type of canoe or kayak you’re using, the two boats share a few common features. However, these shared features also hold their own differences between canoes and kayaks.


  • In canoes, paddlers use a single-sided paddle. Canoe paddles are used on either side of the canoe, and paddlers may have to switch back-and-forth to keep their boat straight. Since canoes sit higher than kayaks, canoe paddles also tend to be longer.
  • In kayaks, paddlers use a double-sided paddle. This allows the kayaker to paddle faster and make adjustments much easier than canoes. Kayaks sit lower in the water, and the paddles reflect that by being shorter, as well.


  • In canoes, paddlers usually sit on a seat that looks like a bench. This keeps the riders off the floor of the canoe and out of any water there. While most canoes feature two rows, some can feature up to three or four.
  • In kayaks, riders sit on a molded seat built direction into the kayak with their legs stretched out in front of them. This position allows kayakers to use minimal movements for finer control on the water.


  • In canoes, there isn’t a dedicated cockpit. Instead, the canoe offers an open style with high sides that keep the rider sitting higher in the water.
  • In kayaks, paddlers sit in a closed cockpit. This prevents water from flooding the boat and gives the kayaker a secure position for rough conditions like whitewater rapids.

Types of Canoes You Can Buy

For the most part, there isn’t a large variation between different types of canoes. However, if you’re looking for a specialized type of canoe, there are more options. The main types of canoes include the following:

Recreational Canoes

  • Recreational canoes are the most popular type of canoes. These canoes are used best on slow-moving rivers or calm lakes, and they can sit up to three riders at a time.
  • Recreational canoes measure between 13 and 17 feet long, with a wide beam to create more stability for greater control.

Racing Canoes

  • Racing canoes are specialized canoes that sit in the water lower than recreational canoes. They’re also much narrower than other types of canoes to create more speed in the water.
  • Instead of sitting in racing canoes, racers—either solo or duo—half kneel, half sit in the canoe for better paddling and speed.

Whitewater Canoes

  • Whitewater canoes are another type of specialized canoe that are made specifically for whitewater rafting. They’re shorter than recreational canoes to give the paddler greater control in the rapids.
  • They’re less stable on the water, and they often feature flotation devices in both the front and the back of the canoe. These flotation devices help keep water out of the canoe during rafting.

Types of Kayaks

Kayaks offer a much greater variety of different types than canoes. For this reason, kayaks are often considered to be more versatile than canoes.

Each type of kayak serves a specific function. The main types of kayaks include the following:

Recreational Kayaks

Recreational kayaks are the most popular type of kayaks. They typically measure anywhere between 9 and 12 feet long, and they perform best on calm waters.

For the most part, recreational kayaks are the most stable of the bunch and they typically offer a good amount of onboard storage for gear.

Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks are cheaper than traditional hardshell kayaks, but they still offer just as much versatility. They’re also made out of super-durable materials like PVC so you won’t have to worry about punctures.

Inflatable kayaks are much more portable than hardshell kayaks. As such, they make great choices for people with less space.

Sit-on-top Kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks don’t have a traditional cockpit like you would see on other types of canoes. Instead, the paddler sits on top of the kayak.

These kayaks tend to be very stable in the water, making them great choices for families and beginners.

Whitewater Kayaks

  • Whitewater kayaks are made for the most extreme kayakers. These are shorter kayaks—measuring in at 8 or 9 feet—to give the paddler greater control on the rapids.
  • They’re also made with a tighter cockpit that secures you in the kayak so you don’t fall out when you hit tougher rapids.

Touring Kayaks

  • Touring kayaks are longer and slimmer than other types of kayaks with the purpose of creating greater speeds. Most touring kayaks measure between 12 and 18 feet long.
  • Some touring kayaks also feature rudders, called skegs, to help with steering. Since touring kayaks are made to go far, they also include storage compartments for gear.

Racing Kayaks

  • Racing kayaks are low, long, and slim, the combination of which creates a much faster speed. They can be paddled by single or multiple riders.


Canoe vs Kayak: Which One To Buy This Summer & Why was originally published on GR home page

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