Canoe vs Kayak: How they’re Different and Which One is Right For You

Canoe vs Kayak

Imagine rowing a kayak in a calm lake with a picturesque view at sunset with the wind blowing through your hair. 

Can you think of a better way to unwind and bask in nature? Well, us neither! 

Kayaking and canoeing provide a sense of relaxation, fulfillment, and positive energy like nothing else! Paddling through the endless waters is thrilling and rejuvenating at the same time. It’s an excellent way to detach and catch a break from life’s monotony

If you’re planning to invest in a canoe or a kayak, but are confused about which one you should get, you’re not alone. There’s a lot of confusion around how these water vessels are different and which one’s the ideal choice. Stay with us to get all the answers you need and much more. 

In this article, we’ll break down: 

  • The history of canoes and kayaks 

  • Canoe vs kayak: how they are different

  • Advantages of canoes and kayaks   

  • The better choice for a thrilling and memorable experience

    picture of a woman kayaking

    How it all Began: A Brief History of Canoes and Kayaks 

    Invented by native Americans thousands of years ago, canoe is derived from the Carib word “kenu”, which translates to dugout. These hollow canoes were made out of wood from large tree trunks and were used for trade and transportation. The shape and design of canoes was slowly improved and perfected over the years, but not much changed in terms of functionality. 

    The word kayak literally means “man-boat”. Kayaks were first seen in Alaska and Greenland and were used primarily for hunting and fishing

    Fun fact: they were designed to keep the icy cold Arctic water outside of the vessel. 

    So, how did canoeing and kayaking gain popularity?  

    In the mid-1800s, Europeans showed interest in both canoes and kayaks and slowly, canoeing and kayaking became mainstream water sports. Over the years, the construction of canoes and kayaks evolved. With improvements in how they were made, these water vessels became relatively cheaper, more flexible, durable, and resistant to wear and tear. 

    But, were canoes and kayaks always different in design and function? 

    The simple answer is yes. The difference between the two was that kayaks were closed boats with a cockpit, while canoes were open top. Also, kayaks required riders to paddle in a sitting position with a double bladed paddle and canoes required them to paddle in a kneeling position with a single bladed paddle. 

    Canoe vs Kayak: Key Differences Between the Two Water Vessels

    Not surprisingly, the differences between a canoe vs kayak have evolved tremendously over the past years. Let’s take a look at how these water vessels compare: 

    Design of the Vessel 

    Design is the clear distinction between canoes and kayaks. 

    • Canoes are open deck; kayaks can either be open or closed deck
    • Canoes are longer and carry more people than kayaks
    • Canoes are physically bulkier and heavier than kayaks
    • Kayaks are narrower and sleeker and offer enhanced maneuverability
    • Kayaks are available in a wide range of shapes and sizes to suit all requirements 

    Weight Capacity 



    Best suited for 

    Solo trips or up to 3 people 

    Large groups 

    Maximum weight limit 

    Up to 300-350 pounds (recreational kayaks)
    Up to 500-600 pounds (tandem kayaks)

    Up to 900 pounds 

    Built of the boat

    Narrow and sleek 

    Bulky and tougher to transport  

    Seating Position 

    In kayaks, paddlers usually sit closer to the hull and their legs are stretched out, while canoes require paddlers to kneel. Kayaks are usually equipped with padded seats and backrests, making them a more comfortable riding vessel of the two. 

    Paddling Technique  

    Canoes are bulky and heavy and hence paddling them requires at least two people. Moreover, a canoe paddle is shorter and equipped with a single blade. So, paddling a canoe needs a lot more effort than a kayak. Paddling a kayak is fairly straightforward as kayak paddles are double bladed and longer, while the boat itself is narrow, light, and short

    Canoe vs Kayak: How the Two Stand Against Each Other 

    So, canoes and kayaks are clearly different. But, each of them still have a lot to offer -  

    Advantages of Recreational Canoes

    • Enhanced stability owing to their larger width 
    • Have more space to carry food and gear
    • Easier to enter into and exit from 

    Advantages of Recreational Kayaks

    • Easy to transport, store, and carry
    • Require less energy to paddle and are easily maneuverable 
    • Faster and more agile 
    • More versatile and high-performing 
    • Easier to master for beginners 
    picture of a man kayaking

    How to Choose Between a Canoe vs Kayak

    Comfort and Versatility

    No matter which water activity you enjoy, there is a kayak for each one! From fishing kayaks and racing kayaks to sea kayaks and expedition kayaks, there are different types of kayaks available for every need, making them a much more versatile option than canoes. 

    Kayaks also tend to offer a more comfortable ride than a canoe, giving you a higher degree of control of the vessel. Since kayak paddles are way less bulky, they require less effort to move around. Kayaks also face less resistance in water and hence are faster and easier to maneuver than canoes. 


    If you share our passion for boat-riding, you’d agree that performance is key when choosing your ride. Canoes and kayaks are both often used for an entire range of activities and water sports. 

    Although racing canoes and whitewater canoes are also quite popular today, kayaks are a better choice if you are looking for an adventurous and thrilling experience and need a reliable water vessel for some serious boat riding. These light-weight, high performance beasts are unbeatable when it comes to maneuverability

    Ease of Transportation 

    Also, let’s not forget to consider the hassle of transportation when choosing between a canoe vs kayak. Canoes tend to be bulkier and hence you need to pre plan how you are going to carry them to the shore - an SUV might be what you need, but even that would be able to carry just one canoe. 

    Kayaks , on the other hand, can be carried in almost any vehicle as the ones available today are either inflatable or foldable - making them super convenient to carry around. In fact, inflatable kayaks can fit in a backpack or rucksack and easily be taken to the waterfront. 

    picture of a woman riding a kayak

    Types of Kayaks to Choose From 

    Kayaks are extremely versatile. Yes, there’s a kayak for literally every water sport imaginable. Let’s look at some of the most common ones:  

    Sit-inside Kayaks

    Enjoy riding in lower temperatures and rough conditions? A sit-inside kayak is what you need. When riding a sit-inside kayak, your lower body is sheltered from the wind and water, thus protecting you from extreme weather conditions. The spray skirt attached keeps the water from coming in and helps you stay dry and warm and are ideal for use in colder temperatures. This position also helps improve the overall stability of the boat as the paddler is placed below the water surface. 

    picture of a sit inside kayak

    Sit-on-top Kayaks

    If you don't mind an immersive riding experience (quite literally!), you’ll enjoy a sit-on-top kayak. A sit-on-top kayak has an open deck and the paddler is positioned on top of the boat. You are likely to get wet while riding a sit-on-top kayak as the rider’s entire body is exposed in such kayaks. The benefit to these kayaks is that they are extremely easy to get in and out of and probably won’t require much practice.

    picture of a sit on top kayak

    Inflatable Kayaks

    The most convenient of the lot, inflatable kayaks can be inflated manually or with an electric pump before use. Once done riding, these can be deflated to fit a small and convenient storage space, making them easy to transport and carry around. They are available in both sit-in and sit-on design and are mainly used for recreational purposes.

    picture of an inflatable kayak

    Whitewater Kayaks

    If you enjoy the thrill of kayaking more than the relaxation, a whitewater kayak is the partner in crime you always needed! Whitewater kayaks are designed to ride fast, rough, and steep waves, making them ideal for riding in rivers. These promise speed, agility, and quick maneuvering and are ideal for anyone looking for a thrilling ride in big, rocky waves.

    picture of a whitewater kayak

    Touring Kayaks

    Also known as a sea kayak, touring kayak is ideal for long trips in the lake or sea. Touring kayaks tend to be longer than 12 feet in length and are designed to have enough and more storage to carry all the necessary items you might need on a long trip such as food and camping gear. Usually only available in sit-in style, touring kayaks offer the right balance between speed and comfort and are ideal for use in calm waters.

    picture of a touring kayak

    Good Wave - Your Trusted Partner For Safe and Durable Kayaks 

    At Good Wave, promoting water sports is our unwavering passion. From recreational kayaks to riding gear to safety equipment and accessories, we offer a wide range of products that cater to every need, requirement, and preference for your entire family. With an extensive catalog of kayaks to choose from, you are promised safety, reliability, and convenience with every purchase you make at Good Wave. 

    Apart from building robust and durable products, customer satisfaction is our utmost priority. We offer a 30-day no-questions-asked return policy and minimum 1 year manufacturer’s warranty with each kayak to make sure you are happy with your purchase. 

    For any questions regarding which kayak would be right for you or about any of our other products, feel free to use the live chat feature on our website or reach out to us via our contact form. Rest assured, our mission is to make sure you have the best kayaking experience of your life! 

    picture of a family riding a tandem kayak
    Our success is defined by more families spending time outdoors, surrounded by the healing powers of the water.

    Good Mission


    No questions asked.


    Quick and reliable.

    5/5 SUPPORT

    We're here for you.