What’s the Difference Between a Kayak and a Canoe?

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There is a HUGE difference between a kayak and a canoe.

Yes, they can both float you down the river via paddling. But that’s about where the similarities stop.

Let’s go over some differences.

Differences between a kayak and a canoe.


difference between a kayak and a canoe

Canoes are big and bulky. This makes it very difficult for a one-person carry. Can it be done? Yes, but it sucks.

Kayaks are MUCH easier to carry. I can carry mine with one hand.


Canoes tend to traditionally be one solid color. Not very imaginative.

My Swifty Perception kayak, on the other hand, has four colors.

difference between a kayak and a canoe

They are all blended into each other at different sections of the kayak. This makes for a very colorful craft.


While canoes can be paddled by one person, and often are, the fact still remains that it is easier to paddle a kayak.

Kayaks are shorter and lighter. Both of those factors make it easier to paddle.

difference between a kayak and a canoe

Kayak paddles are also designed with two blades. This makes it twice as efficient to paddle a kayak.

Canoe paddles have one blade and have to be rotated from one side of the boat to the other. Unless you are very skilled at the J-stroke.

Dry versus wet

Canoes are completely open. Lots of opportunities for the canoer to get wet. Kayaks can be fully closed minus the hole the paddlers sit in.

And even that can be covered by a spray skirt.

Virtually eliminating all chances of getting wet, below the waist anyway.

Taking on water

Just like getting wet, it’s hard to take on water when most of your kayak is enclosed.

Canoes are wide open and can take on the water much more easily. In fact, you can often see kayakers doing rolls in their kayaks.

Try doing that in a canoe.

Steering the boat

Most canoes are made for more than one person. The person in back paddles and steers while the person in front paddles.

If you are in a solo canoe, you have to learn how to steer and paddle. A J-Stroke is used to both push forward and turn in one stroke.

Kayaks, with shorter hull length and dual-blade paddles, are easily steering by one person.

Keeping Gear Dry

Kayaks come with subcompartments to store gear. Again, canoes are wide open.

It is much easier to keep gear dry in a kayak.

Either way, you should store your gear in a dry bag just in case.


Canoes are typically made of fiberglass. Patching a hole with fiberglass is a learned skill that not many people have.

Most kayaks are made from plastic that can be patched fairly easily. YouTube has many videos on how to melt plastic for kayak repair.


Canoes are much bigger to lug around on top of your car. In fact, you might as well get a trailer.

And don’t even think about hauling two canoes without a trailer.

Kayaks, on the other hand, are much easier to travel with. I can put three INSIDE my 12 passenger van.

difference between a kayak and a canoe

That doesn’t include putting a few on the top. Plus, we still have room for a little sit-on-top for our littlest daughter.


While canoes do have some accessories, there are many more for kayaks.

Since kayaks aren’t designed to be wide open like canoes, there is much more surface space to attach accessory equipment to and fasten down.

Adding rod holders, custom drink holders, fish finder equipment and the list goes on and one.

You can pedal a kayak

Canoes have one mode of propulsion: paddling. But kayaks can be equipped with pedals.

A solo or tandem pedaler can get you across the lake or river in a hurry. Paddle out too far and got exhausted?

No problem, just put your feet on the pedals and head back to the dock.

Easier to control and roll

Kayaks can be rolled and controlled when hitting whitewater rapids. Don’t even think about trying this in a canoe.

Cost is variable

With used canoes and kayaks on the market, the prices are roughly the same. But head to a big box sports store and you’ll see canoes cost quite a bit more.

Now, don’t get me wrong. You can spend thousands of dollars on a kayak. But you don’t have to. My Swifty Perceptions were only $299 on sale during an Independence Day sale at Dick’s Sporting Goods.


So there’s your comparison on the difference between a kayak and canoe. Can you tell me which one I like better? LOL.

There is a nostalgia to a solid canoe and I do own one. Dark orange and as handsome as they come. But it never goes out for use. It just sits on my back porch looking pretty.

My kayaks, on the other hand, get thrown into the van every chance we get. It takes us about 15 minutes to load up and 15 minutes to get to the dock.

We are in the water and paddling away towards Pillar Falls within 30 minutes.

Well, what are you waiting for? Go grab a kayak already!

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