Canoes vs Kayaks – Which Is Right For You?

When it comes to getting out on the water, there are so many choices. If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous then you may have considered investing in either a kayak or a canoe. But quite often, these terms are used interchangeably, and what a lot of people don’t realise is that a kayak and a canoe are not the same thing. 

While you will probably have a lot of fun using either, it is important to think about a few things and get to know each vessel before making a decision on which is best for you. But when it comes to kayak vs canoe, there is one major difference as well as many smaller ones.

Kayaks feature a closed desk and a small hole that the user sits inside of. The legs are outstretched and a double-bladed paddle is used to propel the craft forward. Conversely, a canoe features an open deck and while the user still sits with outstretched legs, there are typically benches or small seats for them to sit on. Furthermore, when controlling a canoe, you would use a single-bladed paddle. 

But there is so much more to get to know about these two vessels and in this guide, we aim to give you all the information you will need to know. By the end, you will feel confident in choosing whether a kayak or a canoe would suit your needs better. 

Kayak Vs Canoe: Getting To Know The Vessels

Before we get into the nitty gritty of it, we ought to point out that, if you want to take a canoe or kayak onto British water, you need to have a license. This is a fact that nota many paeople, especially newcomers to the sport, know. This doesn’t apply to all waterways but it is worth checking whether the area you intend to paddle requires a license. The annual cost is only £45 so it certainly won’t break the bank and will help you avoid getting into any bother. 

There are clear differences between a kayak and a canoe and the main one is that they are entirely different vessels. With a kayak, the pilot sits in a small seat that lies within a closed deck and uses a double bladed paddle. Conversely, a canoe has an open deck and only uses a single bladed paddle, but the differences don’t stop there. 

Kayaks are very low profile and this means that you will be a lot closer to the water when paddling in one. There is no chance of water getting in, however since the only opening in the deck is where the user sits. Since a canoe has that open deck, there would be more chance of water spilling in over the sides, but that isn’t a problem because the design means that the sides of a canoe are slightly higher than those of a kayak. 

There is always a chance of capsizing in a canoe or kayak and while it would be easy to resurface when using a canoe, this may be much trickier when you are in a kayak. For this reason, kayak users need to be confident in getting out of the seat while underwater.

That said, everyone has to start somewhere and the great thing about kayaking is that there are entry level tricks you can learn to flip the boat back over in the event you capsize. This is known as an eskimo roll. If you want a vessel that is quick and agile then a kayak would suit you very well. 

Pros And Cons Of Kayaks And Canoes

Everyone is different and as such, it would be unfair of us to say whether a kayak or canoe was the better option. However, it does help to think about the advantages of buying each kind of vessel. Once we are familiar with these, we will go into more detail and look at the things you should consider before buying a canoe or kayak. 

  • Canoes offer a much more comfortable experience so if you will be using the vessel for longer periods of time, this might be the better option.
  • Canoes tend to be easier for people with mobility or stamina issues thanks to their easier to row design. 
  • Canoes offer more space for several people and families. 
  • There are many options of the style of canoe including those for white water and flat water. 
  • Kayaks are excellent for those who want more choice when it comes to size. 
  • Many kayaks are inflatable and so will save space. 
  • Kayaks are typically easier to get the hang of and so make a good choice for beginners. 
  • Kayaks can be used in various environments.

How To Choose Between A Kayak And A Canoe

If you speak to almost anyone and ask them about canoeing and kayaking, the chances are that they would think these were the same activity. But this is a common misunderstanding. If you are looking for a way to spruce up your outdoor adventures, then buying a kayak for camping or a canoe is a great way to do this. 

Before you start looking for a vessel, you must think about which you will go for as they each provide an utterly different experience. One of the most effective ways to choose between a kayak and a canoe is to think about how you will use your new ‘toy’. Consider the following. 

Think About Where You Are Paddling

One of the first things you will need to think about when questioning the area that you will be paddling is the condition of the water. For white waters, a kayak is typically more suitable although there are some canoes that are designed for this purpose. Conversely, if the water is pretty placid, you will find that a touring kayak or a canoe will provide a smoother ride. 

When you are tackling some of the more demanding canoeing or kayaking areas, there may be plenty of times that you need to remove the craft from the water and carry it over land; these are known as portages. 

If the area you will be adventuring on features a significant number of portages, you might find that a cumbersome canoe proves to be a bit of a problem. This is especially true for people who will be paddling alone. 

Kayaks are, in general, much narrower than canoes and this makes them ideal for exploring waterways that are a little more difficult to navigate. If you will be heading out into waters with narrow passages, rocks, trees and other obstacles, your kayak will make light work of this whereas a canoe might struggle to pass through certain areas. 

Think About What You Want To Achieve

People decide to take up canoeing or kayaking for a plethora of reasons and what you want to get out of the experience will play an important role in which vessel is more suitable for you. For example, if you want to take in the scenery and immerse yourself in nature then a canoe is typically going to be the better option. These are great for longer outings and a more relaxed vibe. 

On the other hand, people that are looking for a more adventurous and daring outing would opt for a kayak. These vessels are designed for rougher waters but will only be suitable for people who get on well with a double-bladed paddle. Otherwise, there is the option to go for a 0C1 which is a specific type of white water canoe. 

Think About How Often You Will Use The Kayak Or Canoe

The frequency of which you will take your kayak or canoe out onto the water is an essential consideration when choosing which option would suit you best. You see, kayaks are much more compact and many are inflatable which means that they are good for those who want something for occasional use that won’t take up masses of storage space. 

Alternatively, if you want something for regular outings then investing in a large canoe might be worth your while. However, you should consider the space you have in your vehicle to get the canoe from A to B as some of these vessels can be pretty lengthy. 

Think About The Number Of People Using The Kayak Or Canoe

If you are going to be paddling alone then a kayak will generally be the best option. This is because, as we discussed earlier, portages will be much simpler. However, if you like to spend time with friends and family on the water then a canoe would be more suitable. 

Canoes tend to be much bigger and while there are two-person kayaks out there, they still don’t provide you with quite as much room. With canoes, you will normally have quite a lot of storage space so not only will the entire family fit inside comfortably, but there will be enough space to pack food, drinks and other essential items giving you the freedom to explore the river all day. 

Moreover, it is important to think about who will be using the kayak or canoe. While you can purchase several kayaks for a family, it is important to keep in mind that getting into one can be difficult for some people. For older people or those with limited mobility, it is far easier to get into a canoe as this involves nothing more than stepping in. Conversely, when you board a kayak, you’ll need to slide into the seat as well as keeping the vessel balanced. 

Are You Worried About Getting Wet?

Part of being on the water involves getting wet to some degree; whether it's a few splashes from a rogue paddle or a full dunk after capsizing. However, if you want to avoid getting too wet then hopping in a canoe would be a better option. For starters, you are much higher above the water which means that you won’t have direct contact with it. In a kayak, you’re pretty much at water level.

If you prefer a kayak, it is possible to invest in a spray skirt and a dry suit which will give you some protection from the wet. That said, it’s all part of the adventure. Moreover, it is important to consider that, in the event you capsize and cannot eskimo roll, you will need to be able to remove the spray skirt while under the water.

Canoes are typically more stable than kayaks and are less likely to capsize. That said, it’s not like in a kayak you will be flipping over every few minutes; they do have a good degree of stability, just not as much as a canoe. 

Furthermore, if you do capsize your canoe, it is much more difficult to fix this problem. With the open deck, you’ll likely find the vessel filled with water.

Handy hint: Remember to pack a surf poncho for when you get out of the water.

What Experience Do You Have?

Choosing between a kayak and a canoe can be much easier if you think about your level of previous experience. While both vessels will take some getting used to, it is widely accepted that kayaks are a little easier to get to grips with. They can be very speedy and nimble so you will need to be confident in taking control but by practising on flat water to begin with, it won’t take long to build that confidence. 

Canoes are generally used on calm water but that doesn’t mean that they are easy to master. The issue is usually with steering since the single bladed paddle means that staying in a straight line isn’t as easy as it looks. Of course, with time and practice, you will get the hang of it but for beginners, you should keep this point in mind. 

With all of that in mind, there is also the consideration that, when paddling in a canoe, you will likely have a partner which can make things much easier. In a kayak, you’re alone and have nobody to help you control the vessel. This means that you must be able to maintain control even when things get a little choppy. 


Kayaks and canoes are both excellent ways to get out on the water and enjoy everything that nature has to offer. If you’re looking for a different type of outdoor adventure then you can feel confident that kayaking and canoeing will provide the fun you are looking for. But the problem that many people face is that they aren’t sure which vessel to use. 

There are pros and cons to both canoes and kayaks so it is important to think about how you will use the boat, where you will use it and the type and number of people you wish to have aboard.