Last updated: June 22

Canoeing or Kayaking: Which Is Better?

An age-old debate, canoeing vs. kayaking can keep you entertained for hours if you get a group of paddlers together in a room. The history of both sports dates back thousands of years.

Therefore, you will find thousands of canoeists and a similar number of kayakers today. This number includes people who practice the sport on a regular basis.

People with an interest in canoeing or kayaking are in the millions.

Often, you will find these people defending their sport in a die-hard manner. If you’re on the edge about which side to choose, then you have come to the right place.

Here, we will be discussing the differences between canoeing and kayaking to help you choose the sport that best meets your preferences whether it is speed, the look of the boat, utility, or comfort.

A brief history of kayaks and canoes

Before we start the comparison between canoeing and kayaking, let’s take look a brief look at the history of kayaks and canoes.

The history of kayaks

First built almost four thousand years ago by the natives of North America’s Arctic regions, kayaks were originally made from whalebone or carved driftwood. Caribou or whale fat was used to make these ancient kayaks waterproof and they have the skin of animals stretched over their shell.

The primary purpose of using kayaks back then was hunting. However, larger kayaks were also built to take families and goods from one place to another.

The icy environment in which the ancient people lived explains what the original kayaks had an enclosed design. The kayaks with the enclosed design allowed the paddlers and their belongings to stay dry and warm on the water where the hunt for food, fuel, and clothing was on-going.

In addition to the above, it was convenient for paddlers to maneuver the kayak through the icy water due to its design. As a result, the kayaks had to face very little distraction as they cruised through the waters for hunting.

However, it would be very difficult to build the original kayak using the materials we have available today.

It took many centuries before kayaking was introduced as a recreational activity. This happened in the 1800s when the sport was introduced to Europeans.

Ultimately, word got out and sportsmen and explorers around the world started taking interest in kayaking. This eventually led to the sport becoming part of the Olympic Games that were held in Berlin in 1936.

Kayaking has been an Olympic sport ever since.

History of canoes

With the oldest canoe dating backing ten thousand years, canoes have existed for thousands of years. The ten-thousand-year-old boat used by our ancestors was found in 1955 in Pesse, Netherlands.

However, this is not the only proof we have of canoes being used thousands of years ago.

In 1987, a canoe was found in Nigeria which is thought to be eight thousand years old. The name given to the canoe is the Dunfana Canoe.

This information is provided in case you want to research the canoe on your own. Another proof that canoes were being used thousands of years ago is an eight-thousand-year-old canoe that was found in Kuahuqiao, China.

Dugout canoes, all these ancient canoes that were discovered in different parts of the world were made by axing logs and trees. This helped to create a floatable vessel.

However, the design of these canoes had changed by the time the Europeans made it to the land known today as North America. Birchbark and wooden frames were used by the Native Americans to build canoes, with tree resin used to seal them together.

Just like the ancient kayaks, the first canoes were also used for taking goods and people from one place to another. Some historical text claims that the first canoes in North American were used by the natives of the Caribbean to get from one island to another.

There you have it—a brief history of kayaks and canoes. With this out of the way, we can start discussing the differences between kayaks and canoes.

The differences in design between canoe and kayak

At first glance, you may not find too many differences between a canoe and a kayak. In fact, they might seem similar to you.

However, there are a lot of differences between these two types of boats that may not be visible to the naked eye. We will discuss these differences here to help you pick the right boat for your environment and specific needs.

The following are some of the major differences in the design of canoes and kayaks.


Having an open design, canoes feature sides that come out of the water in an elevated position. In other words, canoes are completely open and do not have any cockpit, making them appear like a rowing boat.

On the other hand, kayaks have a closed design and a cockpit where the canoeists can station themselves. Compared to canoes, paddlers in kayaks sit much lower in water.

The reason behind this is preventing water from entering the kayak via the cockpit. Often, the paddlers will wear spray skirts to fit comfortably into the kayak’s cockpit.


Generally, you will find a seat on a canoe that resembles a bench to sit on. The purpose of designing the seat like a bench is to raise the paddler from the boat floor.

Typically, you will two seats on a canoe. However, some canoes have three seats.

There are many canoeists today who prefer kneeling on the floor. However, those adopting this position do it only in challenging conditions or when they want to generate more power in their paddle stroke.

On the other hand, with their legs right in front of them, kayakers sit in a seat that is typically framed to the kayak’s bottom. In order to brace against the kayak’s sides, the paddlers use their knees.

When paddling, experienced paddlers will use this to their advantage.


The third and final difference in the design of canoes and kayaks is the difference in their paddles. Only a single paddle is used to paddle in canoes.

This paddle can be used on either side of the canoe. By adopting a ‘J’ stroke, paddlers can paddle in a straight line without changing the side frequently.

On the other hand, a double paddle is used to paddle in kayaks. At each end of the double paddle, you will find a paddle ‘blade’.

In order to drive the kayak forward, kayakers need to paddle on alternate sides.

The difference in types

The popular belief is that kayaking is far more versatile than canoeing. This is mainly due to the difference in the types of canoes and kayaks.

There are only three types of canoes available for use today. On the other hand, the number of kayaks exceeds five.

The following are the different types of canoes and kayaks used today.

Types of canoes

The following are the three main types of canoes in use today.

Recreational canoe

Designed to stable, secure, and easy to control for a single or multiple paddlers, recreational canoes are between thirteen and seventeen feet long. The most common type of canoe, the recreational canoe is ideal for use in lakes and slow-moving water.

Whitewater canoe

Smaller in length than recreational canoes, whitewater canoes are specifically designed for paddling by a maximum of two people on fast-moving water. Compared to recreational canoe, the whitewater canoe is much shorter and less stable.

However, it has greater maneuverability than a recreational canoe. Often, the canoe’s front and back will feature flotation panels that prevent excess water from entering the boat.

Racing canoe

Compared to recreational canoes, racing canoes sit lower in the water and they are much narrower. These canoes are specifically built for solo or duo racing.

In racing canoes, paddlers sit in a half-kneeling stance. The purpose of this is to generate optimal speed and power when paddling.

Types of kayaks

We have discussed the three main types of canoes. Now, we take a look at the different types of kayaks available today.

Recreational kayaks

Ideal for paddling on calm, flat water, recreational kayaks are between nine and twelve feet long. They are perfect for use on canals, slowing moving rivers, and lakes.

This is because recreational kayaks are extremely difficult to capsize but very easy to control. Additionally, they are relatively comfortable and stable.

Whitewater kayak

Compared to recreational kayaks, whitewater kayaks are wider and shorter. This makes them incredibly responsive and floatable when pushed into the water.

Whitewater kayaks differ in lengths based on their function. For example, river runners are between eight and nine feet long while the size of playboats is only five and a half feet.

Touring and sea kayaks

Compared to recreational kayaks, touring and sea kayaks are much slimmer and longer. The size of these kayaks is between twelve and eighteen feet long.

They are designed to run further and faster. Typically, at the kayak’s front and back, you will find storage holds, many of which are equipped with rudders or skegs to ease steering.

Sit-on-top kayaks

Kayaks without any cockpit, sit-on-top kayaks are generally used in regions with warmer climates. While these kayaks do not feature any cockpit, they do have a molder top where paddlers can sit.

Due to their design, sit-on-top kayaks are ideal for use on calm and flat water for diving and fishing. Additionally, the kayaks are great for beginners and families as only basic paddling skills are needed to operate them.

Inflatable kayaks

Compared to other types of kayaks, inflatable kayaks are much less durable. However, these kayaks are equally enjoyable.

Designed to be used in a similar way to sit-on-top kayaks, inflatable kayaks are easier to transport than the latter. Additionally, on most occasions, two or more people can be accommodated in these kayaks.

In their open form, inflatable kayaks resemble canoes. However, a double paddle is used to paddle them, ensuring an enjoyable and comfortable experience for children and families.

Racing kayaks

Kayaks that can accommodate up to four people at a time, racing kayaks are lightweight, learn, and long. The size of these kayaks is between seventeen and thirty-feet long.

Additionally, paddlers in these boats sit very low in the water and get directions through a rudder. Racing kayaks are best for paddling on flat water for marathons or sprints.

The difference in techniques in canoeing and kayaking

Another important comparison between canoeing and kayaking that needs to be made is the difference in their techniques. There are many differences in the techniques used for canoeing vs. the techniques used for operating a kayak.

The most obvious difference is the techniques used to paddle them. Paddles with single blades are used by canoeists to alternate strokes on the two sides of the boat. The t-shaped handle at the paddle’s end is gripped by one hand while the other hand grips the paddle shaft halfway down.

On the other hand, paddles with double blades in the middle are used by kayakers to move themselves forward. They push forward using first the right blade and then the left in the water.

With blades positioned at ninety degrees to each other, maximum pushing power is generated while minimizing wind resistance by using a twisting technique.

However, kayakers can use other advanced techniques such as the Eskimo Roll after learning them. Using this technique, you can correct the alignment of a kayak if it has capsized the use of the paddle and your hips.

This is impossible to do in canoes due to their open-top design.

The pros and cons of kayaking and canoeing

The pros and cons of kayaking and canoeing are perhaps the most important thing to discuss when determining which one is better: canoeing and kayaking. This is exactly what we will do next.

The pros and cons of canoeing

The following are the pros and cons of canoeing.


  • It is easy to get in and out of canoes
  • A lot of gear can be easily accommodated in a canoe
  • Canoes make it easy to bring children and pets out on the water
  • The carrying capacity and comfort of canoes make them perfect for long expeditions
  • Compared to a kayak, portaging in a canoe is much easier. This is especially useful if you are carrying a lot of gear with you
  • Compared to kayaks, canoes are more stable and difficult to capsize
  • Compared to a kayak, a canoe provides a better view of the surrounding areas
  • In a canoe, you can change your sitting position. This makes it much more comfortable than a kayak, especially if you’re going on a longer expedition
  • You won’t be getting too wet in a canoe unless you paddle on whitewater
  • It is possible to stand up in a canoe
  • You can master canoeing quickly and easily once you know the basics


  • Compared to a kayak, it takes more effort to paddle a canoe at top speed
  • It is big and heavy which makes it difficult to transport
  • Compared to double paddles, single paddles are less efficient
  • Mastering paddling skills is difficult at first
  • Compared to kayaks, canoes take on more water when you use them on whitewater

The pros and cons of kayaking

The following are the pros and cons of kayaking.


  • Compared to single canoe paddles, double kayak paddles are much more efficient
  • Picking up the basics of kayaking is easy and quick
  • Compared to a canoe, you are much close to the water in a kayak which can make you feel more connected with it
  • Compared to canoes, kayaks move much faster and required much less effort from the paddler
  • Compared to canoes, kayaks have a greater ability to handle whitewater
  • Compared to canoeing, kayaking disciplines have much more variety
  • Compared to canoes, kayaks are easier to maneuver
  • Compared to a canoe, your gear will stay drier in a kayak
  • Compared to canoes, kayaks are lighter and easier to transport


  • Compared to single paddles, double paddles are heavier
  • You are unlikely to stay completely dry at the end of a kayaking session
  • For beginners and those looking to improve their kayaking skills, it can be a little scary to use a spray skirt
  • Mastering kayaking skills can take a very long time
  • Making the transition from kayaking on flat water to kayaking on fast-moving water can be difficult and scary

There you have it—all the pros and cons of canoeing and kayaking.


You now know the difference in the design of canoes and kayaks, the difference in the types, the difference in canoeing and kayaking techniques, and the pros and cons of canoeing and kayaking. Using this information, you can decide which one is better: canoeing or kayaking.

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