Canoe vs kayak: What’s The Difference?

Exercise and physical activity are good for everybody’s body! Getting up, out, and moving will have a positive effect on virtually every aspect of your health, including your brain and mood. Physical activity is also linked to increased longevity.

There are lots of different activities you can pursue but, in our opinion at least, getting out on the water is one of the best.

Water-based activities, like sailing, fishing, and paddleboarding, allow you to escape the stresses of modern life and unplug from technology. Reconnecting with nature also seems to have a very positive effect on mental health. Being out on the water can be very calming.

Two of the most accessible water-based activities are canoeing and kayaking. But which should you choose? These activities can seem very similar but, in fact, are different enough that you need to know a little about each one to choose the right one for you.

Let’s explore the differences to you can make an informed decision.

Airhead Montana


Sit On

  • Inflates quickly
  • Easy to transport
  • Ideal for traveling

Perception Sound 9.5

perception sound

Sit Inside

  • Ideal for fishing
  • Perfect for slow moving waters
  • Comfortable ergonomic seat

Old Town Vapor

old town vapor

Sit Inside

  • Size: 10ft
  • Adjustable Comfort Flex seat
  • Ample space to store supplies

Canoeing basics 

If you are new to watersports, a canoe is an excellent place to start. Canoes are entirely open, which means they are easy to get in and out of, and you don’t need to master a whole lot of tricky skills to enjoy getting out on the water in one.

Canoes have benches you sit with your legs bent and your feet flat on the bottom of the boat. This is a very comfortable position, especially if you have a long paddle planned.

And speaking of paddles, most canoeists use a single-bladed paddle. While this does mean you’ll need to swap sides to keep your canoe going straight, it makes paddling with a partner easier as one of you will mostly paddle on one side while your partner paddles on the other.

Canoes provide lots of space to carry gear. Because of this, they are perfect for touring and camping. There is also plenty of space for your kids or even your dog! Canoeing is the ideal watercraft for families.

Bigger canoes are ideal for families.

If canoes have a downside, it is that they are open to the elements. Waves can swamp your boat, and it could start to fill up if it rains heavily. Because of this, they are best suited to fair weather paddling and using on slow-moving rivers, calm seas, and lakes. This is not a boat for white water rivers!

Canoes come in all shapes and sizes, from single-seaters to much bigger boats that will hold your entire family. They can be heavy, which makes them harder to transport, but two people should be able to lift even a large canoe onto a roof rack or trailer.

Kayaking basics

There are two types of kayaks: sit-in and sit-on. Sit-in kayaks have an enclosed hull, and, as the name suggests, you sit inside them. Some people say this is like “wearing” your boat. You sit on a low seat with your legs outstretched, and your lower body is covered and protected from the elements.

Sit-in kayaks tend to have a decent amount of storage space, which makes them suitable for long-haul trips and camping. However, there are different types of kayak, and some are better for touring than others. Some are made specifically for racing or using in the surf and are not made for longer trips.

Sit-inside Kayak.

Sit-in kayakers often fit their boats with spray decks, also known as skirts. These devices seal the entry port and stop water from getting into the boat. Using a spray deck will keep you dry but also makes getting out of your kayak harder. It also means that, if you capsize, you’ll need to do an Eskimo roll and self-right your boat using your paddle. This is not an easy skill to learn.

Sit-on kayaks are ideal for casual, recreational use. In short – they are made for fun! With a sit-on kayak, you can jump (or fall!) off easily, and your legs are exposed. This means they are easier to use and ideal for beginners. Sit-on kayaks, like their sit-in cousins, come in a variety of designs, but, as a rule, they are not suitable for touring or camping.

Sit-on-top kayak. Easier to get in and out.

You paddle most types of kayak with a double-bladed paddle. This is more energy efficient as you don’t have to keep swapping sides to keep your boat traveling straight.

Kayaks are generally made for one or two people. This means they are not ideal for families unless you are prepared to buy several boats.

Kayaks can be used on most types of water, but you’ll need the right boat for the conditions. Sit-on kayaks are ideal for calm water, but you can also use them in rougher water, providing you don’t mind getting wet when you capsize. They are also a popular choice for fishing. Sit-in kayaks are used for things like racing, touring, and whitewater kayaking.

Kayak vs Canoe: What’s Best and Why?

If you want a watercraft the whole family can enjoy, a kayak is probably your best choice. Easy to get in and out of, and with plenty of space for gear, dogs, and kids, they are an ideal boat for getting out and enjoying calm water.

But, if you are a little more adventurous, want a single or tandem paddling experience, or want to paddle in more demanding waters, a kayak may be the best choice, and in particular a sit-in kayak. Sit-on kayaks are fun and easy to use, but you won’t want to use one for more than a couple of hours at a time.


Whether you choose a sit-in or sit-on kayak, or a canoe, you can be sure that you will love getting out on the water. Remember to put your safety first and always wear a personal floatation device, even in calm waters.

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