Difference Between Kayak and Canoe

There is quite a difference between kayak and canoe, but it may not be immediately obvious.

Especially if you’re just getting until my beloved sport – there are a lot of bloggers out there using ‘canoeing’ as an umbrella term which kayaking seems to be falling under.

Which this, in fact, should not be the case as they are very different, from the ways you might use one; for sport or for leisure – as well as the sort of equipment you would need whilst use one of these particular personal boats.

Even the history itself of both kayaking and canoeing is quite different, some skills and techniques are transferable but learning to kayak and then learning to canoe is a whole completely different ball game.

The two are also associated with different waterways (as I’ve detailed in a few of my other kayaking articles such as Sevylor Ottowa Review and Sevylor Wabash Review s)

We’ll discuss in detail another day about the equipment and true purpose of each raft in other articles; for now, we’re going to outline the characteristics of a typical Kayak and Canoe so that you can better understand how to set them apart.

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In this next section, as we will do with Canoes, I’m going to talk about a bit about the history of the kayak, the design, and some use cases.

Difference Between Kayak and Canoe - kayak first

History of the Kayak

With there existence been traced by to just over 3800 years, they were first built by the Native Americans within the Arctic sector. It should come to no surprise as these personal boats were created for a practical purpose; not for leisure or for sport as they may be used for today.

Most probably carved by any wooden material they could get their hands on, like driftwood (or more notably whalebone which were indigenous to the region) these first form of kayaks also had animal skin stretched over the bottom of there shells with a combination of fat to help give it its waterproof characteristic – which is needed in any water raft.

With any leftover animal skin, they would cover the base and the rest of the inner of the raft, this was to keep anybody inside warm – especially needed if they were sailing about the arctic hunting for much-needed resources.

It took plenty more years for kayaking to be introduced as a serious sport since its days of being a practical way for the natives to get around their land. Olympic kayaking It was first featured at the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936.

Kayak types and uses

There are in fact two types of kayak designs – picking them is essentially based on what it is you might be getting up to and if you’re alone or with 1 or 2 friends.

The two kayak design;

  • Sit inside
  • Sit on top

Despite the difference, there are always two things that kayaks have in common, and that is the tool you use to steer them; a two-bladed paddle

This style of paddle is essential to the kayaker and its design is no mistake, it is made this way so that you use less energy when paddling; in comparison to a canoe (which we’ll discuss a little later) you’re not having to move the paddle from side to side to have as there is a blade on each side already so this is unnecessary so instead you would just need to alternate your hands to paddle your forwards or backward – then, of course, paddling only one side to turn in the direction you wish to go.

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Sit-in Kayaks

A sit-in kayak is favoured and more traditional of the two types of kayaks available for the consumer. Designed with a sort of cockpit where the paddler can sit within – meaning the legs of the paddler are within the main hull of the kayak, protected away from any water.

These kayaks also come in different shapes and sizes and this as always depends on what sort of water surface you’re looking to use the kayak on.

traditonal kayak

Sit on top kayak

Sit on top kayaks are a more modern and ‘safe’ style. Since you’re not locked within the hull, though you are exposed to any splashing water these types of kayaks are made for more casual kayaks who are looking to have a quiet stroll across a lake rather than racing on a body of water.

Whichever design of kayak you choose, they are designed to be more portable, meaning that they tend to be smaller and lighter than their water boat counterpart; canoe.

Typical uses of a kayak

From their early day’s purpose of transporting goods, hunting, and general civilian transportation, kayaks have come a long way and have only grown in kayaking since I got into the ‘sport’ more than 10 years ago.

FACT: A report that was published in 2015 found that kayaking becomes the leading favouring in the paddling sports in the US with 13million American enjoying the hights of kayaking whilst only 10million favouring canoeing as their desired hobby.

Instead of telling you what sort of uses kayaks have, I have instead produced a visual infographic that might be a little more entertaining and will also be a quicker way for you to see which kayak design is best for the type of activity you wish to get up to; check the image below or click this link to have a look.

However, despite what I’ve just said, I’d like to let you all know (as I’ve only just found out today!) that snow kayaking EXISTS! I’ll be writing a fully-fledged article on it soon as it’s and is something I definitely haven’t heard of before and more that certainly something I’m going to look into because it sounds so strange but potentially really fascinating – us kayakers are the real nerds!

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DISCLAIMER: I am not a canoer as you may have guessed from my other articles, so my knowledge on the subject is limited and perhaps biased against canoes. However, I feel like I can still give some detail on canoeing as it is simply another paddle sport/hobby like kayaking is. With that been said, let’s continue…

Brief history of Canoeing

The first canoe dates back to about ten thousand years ago, which for those readers who are paying attention is in fact way before kayaking was ever first introduced into our world.

We know this from a canoe which was discovered in the Netherlands in the 1950s that had been believed to be used; notably, it has got worldwide popularity amongst the canoeing community and is known as ‘The Pesse Canoe’.

old canoe

Pesse, is of course in reference to the town which it was discovered near.

It also should be noted that it is not just Europe that evidence was found of the canes. The oldest boat in Africa was, in fact, a canoe and was found in the 1980s and is around 8,000 years according to the archaeologist who got their hands on it at the time.

The one similarity that these canoes have with kayaks is that these boats were built with the same materials; would and animal fat.

And they were also used in the same way as its paddle counterpart; to transport people and goods and used actively when hunting for food off the native island.

Canoe Design

Unlike a kayaks options of an open and a closed design, canoes come in only one style; open top. This canoes to me generally look like little boats since the way they’re designed is how they come out of the water, with their sides rising out; that is in comparison to a kayak which is a lot more flat and doesn’t represent a traditional boat design.

Canoes tend to be larger and heavier than kayaks due to their sheer scale and the material’s typically used to make one. However when carrying it, although it is heavier, they typically have some form of handles so that you can carry them comfortably enough so it isn’t too much of a pain if you’re walking to and from the body of water back to your car – or if you’re hiking/camping

Due to their size, they are favoured by people who are looking to experience a paddle sport as a larger family, rather than an individual which a kayak may be best suited for.

The way you sit and paddle a canoe is different from a kayak. Typically you’re sat on a bench so you are a little more raised rather than sat on the bottom of the hull; although you have more than enough legroom depending on how much gear you may have brought with you.

When it comes to steering the canoe, your typical paddle will have only one blade, so you would have to push the water away from the kayak from both sides if you wanted to move anywhere. This isn’t really a problem once you get the proper motions going – or if you bring a friend who can paddle the other size in an equally timed fashion.

What are canoes used for?

Like we’ve covered, canoes were originally used for transportation of both goods and/or people. But just like kayaking they’re more favoured for sport and other leisurely activities, typically with families (this I assume is because of how much bigger canoes are)

To relay back to a fact I mentioned earlier; there are only about 10 million canoes active in America, where are around 14 million kayakers.

Canoes are popular in slow-moving water, like rivers and lakes; typically canoers will be exploring these sort of areas with their families.

Due to their size, they are perfect for family day trips and long haul family camping trips, perhaps this is because of the fact that the way passengers are seated even the kids onboard can feel comfortable enough to paddle.

They’re are racing canoes which feature more of a sit-in design, with technology to help you from capsizing; however, this is something I’d like to go over a little more when I discuss the topic of kayaks and canoes for the purpose of racing.

family canoeing

What is the difference between kayak and canoe? – A Summary

So; let’s try to summarise the difference between kayaks and canoes.

At first glance, the main difference is the appearance, kayaks tend to be smaller and are typically for one person – whereas canoes are like little water boats built for families or at least 2 people (you can do one-man canoes but I’d much rather be in a kayak if that was the case).

There seems to be more choice for kayaks, but perhaps that’s just my biased coming out. There certainly is plenty of inflatable options – I’ve done plenty of reviews on them recently if you’re struggling to figure out which one you should buy.

Ultimately, its down to personal preference. I don’t want to give you my opinion (since you could probably already guess it) but it’s down to what you want to use the paddling boat for; if you’ve got a family trip planned then canoes are probably your best bet. If you want to go solo and relax on the water whilst enjoying the atmosphere then kayaking has always been my go-to choice.

That’s it for me today, hopefully, you now know the difference between kayak and canoes and perhaps if you’re looking for one, you know which one will work for you

See you all next time,