How to Choose Between a Kayak and a Canoe

Racks of brightly colored kayaks and canoes on the Toronto waterfront

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The relationship between canoeists and kayakers is generally copacetic. Yet, there is an unspoken superiority—or friendly rivalry—that each group typically feels over the other. It is similar to the sentiment between the skiers and snowboarders who share a mountain. Both enjoy a level of camaraderie that comes from doing a common activity, yet both feel they are doing it better than the other. But how to choose?

Which Boat is Right for You?

There is no right or wrong answer to this argument and canoeists and kayakers will banter about it as long as both boats exist. What is more important is the style of paddling you want to do.

Sure, your friend may want to talk you into a kayak, but what if you enjoy casual paddling trips with your family? For you, a canoe may be a better investment. Do you want to explore a variety of water, from rivers to large lakes and maybe the occasional long trip with a portage? A kayak might be right for you because they're versatile, easier to carry and offer a bit more freedom.

The point is that you need to examine how you will use your boat, then go out and explore your options. Your local paddling shop may offer demonstrations and allow you to test out different types of boats on the water. Take advantage of these or borrow boats from friends before you commit. You will be much happier that you made a good decision.

Kayaks Are Better

Please bear in mind these are generalizations and with the latest developments in boat technology, these reasons do not hold true for all boats.

  • Easier for beginners to paddle solo
  • More maneuverable
  • Keep gear dryer
  • Faster—two blades are better than one!
  • Handle rougher conditions better
  • Don't take on water when waves come over the bow
  • Protection from the elements
  • Lighter and easier to load on a roof rack
  • May include rudders to compensate for wind and currents
  • Allow the paddler to be closer to the water, which is a great feeling.
  • More comfortable seats and backrests
  • Track better and go straight
  • Look cooler and have more style, with new innovations each year
  • You can roll the boat and cool off without fear of losing gear

Canoes Are Better

It's true that kayaks appeal to certain paddlers, but that in no way discounts the value or fun to be had in a canoe. Whether you paddle solo or with a partner, canoes do have their advantages as well.

  • More room for gear
  • More stable
  • More seating positions and adjustments that can be made
  • More comfortable for a wider variety of people
  • Allow you to stand up if needed
  • Keep you drier when there is water in the boat
  • Better views from sitting higher on the water
  • Easier to get in and out of
  • Canoeing with two people is more natural
  • Challenge you to learn the art of paddling with one blade
  • Water doesn't run down the shaft of the paddle and into your lap