Whats the Difference between a Kayak and a Canoe

whats the difference between a kayak and a canoe

A frequently asked question by many…… but what really is the difference between a kayak and a canoe?

Canoeing is generally used as the overall term for both but even with their similar looks, they actually do have completely different features.

Your probably pondering some questions such as:

  • Which is better for me?
  • What is easier to control?
  • How many people can it hold?
  • Which is best for storage?
  • What is best for the type of water I will be using it on?
  • Will it hold its value?

Well, let’s not wait around any longer.

I’ve put together an article here that will give you all the information you need to choose the right boat for you.


At first glance you may think kayaks and canoes have a very similar look to each other but upon closer look you can begin to notice some key differences.



Average weight:

23kg or 50lbs

Average length:

4.3 metres or 14 feet


Some made of wood and canvas but most modern canoes are made from moulded plastic or fiberglass.

How many people will it hold?

It’s designed for 3 people but can hold more

A canoe has an open-top design with benches laid across the beam for people to sit or kneel on.


  • Due to the size and length of canoes, they are very good for holding equipment or camping gear.
  • More people can fit in a canoe including dogs
  • You can stand up and move around slightly


  • Can be awkward to carry due to its weight
  • Difficult to transport
  • Difficult to steer in fast paced waters



Average weight:

Between 20lbs – 80lbs or 9kgs – 36kgs

Average length:

Depending on the kayak they can reach from 10 feet – 16 feet


Wood, Kevlar, Remoulded Plastic or Poly-based fabric (Inflatable kayak)

How many people will it hold?

Up to 3 people

Kayaks can come in two forms, a sit in or sit on kayak.

The sit in kayak has a closed top design so basically you slide your legs into the hull of the vessel with the top half of your torso outside.

With the sit on kayak, it has an open-top design so you have more freedom of movement as you are sitting on the actual kayak itself.

Both types of kayaks have great storage facilities. Within the sit in kayak, your storage area is within the hull whereas within the sit on kayak, you have storage pots or tanks where you can keep gear safe and dry.

The sit on kayak has additional storage ontop of the kayak where gear can be cable tied down.


  • They are easier to control and steer
  • They are more adaptable to different water types
  • Can be customised
  • Faster than a canoe


  • If you choose a sit in kayak, your freedom of movement is limited
  • Accessible storage can be harder to each in a moment
  • More prone to flipping over


Paddles for a canoe and kayak are completely different to one another.


Canoe paddle

The paddle for a canoe is entirely made of wood or with more recent designs they have a metal shaft and polypropylene blade.

Depending on the canoe, there can be 2 separate paddles or 1 paddle with a T-shaped hand grip on the end of it.

These paddles have just the one blade attached to it

If one person is paddling in the canoe alone, they would simply cut the blade through the water on one side of the canoe, bring it out and over to the other end, cut through the water once again and repeat to keep the canoe straight and pushing forward.


kayak paddle

The paddle for a kayak has a long metal shaft with polypropylene blades at either end.

As a kayak is in a closer proximity of the kayakers body and the waters edge, a kayaker has the benefit of two blades on the paddle rather than one, so that they can sweep and cut through the waters surface in quicker repetition.

It wouldn’t be beneficial for a canoe to have a paddle with two blades as a canoe, by design, has a hollowed out shape so that the person canoeing is sitting inside the vessel, meaning they are higher up from the waters surface. A kayak paddle would only keep hitting off the sides of the canoe and you wouldn’t be able to get a proper stroke through the water each time.

Where are you paddling?

So essentially there are 3 main areas where you will be using your canoe or kayak……the ocean, a lake or a river.

Choosing the right vessel is essential in some of these areas as the water can become turbulent which makes it very hard to steer and maintain control of.

Both a canoe and a kayak will be able to handle any type of water but its understanding the fine details in each will allow for a more enjoyable and safer experience out on the water.


Best for:

A lake or a slow moving river

Canoes have always been used as an efficient form of transport to get from one end of a river to the other.

They are excellent in cutting through the water with their pointed bow and streamline design however they are not quite good in fast paced rivers or rapids.

Due to the design of a canoe and position of the paddler(s), it makes it very difficult to maintain a straight line and hard to keep control of if you get stuck in a fast flowing river.

Canoes are best used on a calm lake or even a slow moving river. The paddler has more control of the vessel and can correct any alignments necessary to keep the canoe moving forward.

Canoes are best known to be used by anglers or if anyone who is camping near a lake.


Best for:

Ocean, lake or river

With the advancement of technology and industrial materials, kayaks are becoming ever more popular for anyone looking to venture out onto the water.

Kayaks can essentially be seen as the 2.0 version of the canoe.

The reason I say this is that a kayak has been adapted and modified to further improve a kayakers speed, control, steering and usability.

Kayaks are more durable and can withstand greater forces put upon it from whatever nature throws at it.

A kayak, whether it be sit on or sit in, can be used on any water type due to its improved design but also maintains the shape and character of the canoe.

Kayaks are easier to control and steer due to the paddlers lower centre of gravity.

As the paddler is closer to the waters surface and using a double blade paddle, it allows for faster stroke repetition and better handling of the kayak if travelling down fast moving rivers.

How to sit in a canoe and kayak

Sitting in a canoe and a kayak must be the same thing surely?

Yes…..but no


In a canoe, there are generally 3 raised seats depending on the size of it. These seats are mostly made of wood with no back support so if you’re paddling for a long time, it can start to put strain on the lumber region.

Within a canoe your body naturally tends to fold forward to compensate for the propelling force off the water to drive the canoe forward.

This can put further stress on the lower back meaning for more rest periods and generally a more deflated canoeing experience.

Some people prefer to kneel inside a canoe as it can give you better leverage when paddling.


Most kayaks nowadays have a seat with back support. These seats are generally cushioned for better comfort with some even being inflatable for increased lumber support.

When sitting in a kayak, you will feel the urge to slump back into the seat but try to withhold from leaning back too much as it will knock your balance off and may cause the kayak to flip over (capsize).

Paddling Techniques

There are different techniques used to paddle a canoe and kayak.


Paddling in a canoe is very straight forward.

If you have a canoe with 2 separate oars you would sit on the yolk (middle bench) and simply raise the oars up and down in an anti-clockwise direction, cut the waters surface and push forward to propel the vessel backwards.

If it’s a canoe with no paddles connected. You would simply sit on either the yolk, stern seat or bow seat. Dip your paddle into the water and push off with the full effect of the blade. Take the paddle out, swap hands and repeat on the other side.

This will keep the canoe pushing forward and in a straight line.

*****Tip***don’t keep cutting and pushing off from only one side of the canoe as the canoe will just turn left or right and you’ll get nowhere….except in circles!


When sitting in or on a kayak, keep the feet pushed up against the foot pegs and hips right into the seat – this will keep a solid and well-balanced structure.

Keep the legs slightly bent and dip the paddle into the water with the full effect of the blade, take the paddle out and repeat on the other side – keep your hands rotating in a clockwise direction and elbows at a 90 degree angle throughout.

Want to improve your kayaking technique? Check this out!

With a solid upper and lower body structure and continuous strokes, you will be able to maintain a straight narrow line and have better control of the kayak.

What’s the average lifespan of a Kayak or Canoe?

A kayak or canoe should last an excess of 10 years + if taken proper care of.

With the introduction of fiberglass and remoulded plastics being used to build these vessels, it makes them more durable and can surely handle the conditions when out on the water.

Just make sure that when you take your kayak or canoe out of the water to dry it out or over time it can begin to deteriorate the material of it.


So looking back, you can start to notice that canoes and kayaks are completely different to one another even if they share a resemblance.

Just to recap then

  • Canoes have a larger hollowed out frame that can hold a lot more storage
  • Kayaks are better designed to handle all types of water such as the ocean, lakes and rivers
  • The paddles used are different by design even though they have the same use
  • Kayaks are generally used for sporting or for a thrilling adventure such as white water kayaking whilst canoes are excellent for fishing, exploring and maybe even used for sentimental reasons.

I hope this sheds some light on the key differences between a canoe and a kayak that will provide you with a better informed decision if you are looking to purchase soon.

If you do have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

4 comments Add yours
  1. Yes!  This absolutely helps out with the differences of them.  I’ve been canoeing a couple times in my life and it was always fun.  But, I wanted to check out kayaking sometime, too.  My husband and I both like the water and being able to get out on it and go fishing.  I think I like the idea of being able to tangle with the water on my own in a kayak.  But, I guess the fishing gear would be better suited to taking along with us in a canoe?  Definitely something I’ve been thinking about lately and would still want to try kayaking just for the joy of it 🙂

    1. Hi Kaeyoes, I must say kayaking is certainly one of my favourite hobbies next to camping and it’s always a great day out. If you were looking to go fishing as a couple I would definitely suggest a canoe, it will hold both of you and your fishing gear. If you felt you wanted to fish on the water by yourself, I would suggest the Bluewave Kayak, check out my review of it here: https://campkayakcanoe.com/kay

  2. This is a very informative article, I have only ever used a kayak and my thought about canoes were that they were just bigger because people used them for fishing and had to carry stuff. But from reading your articles kayaks can be quite large as well and they are designed differently. I can attest to kayaks being prone to flipping because I flipped mine a couple times haha. How do they compare when it comes to pricing? 

    1. Hi Huy, yes you’re right the designs are different but ultimately they perform the same task. It just depends on what is more suited to you. Pricing varies depending on what type of kayak or canoe you’re after. You can check out a list of the top inflatable kayaks I’ve created here: https://campkayakcanoe.com/kay

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