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 into my beloved sport – there are a lot of bloggers out there using ‘canoeing’ as an umbrella term which kayaking seems to fall under, in their opinion.

This should not be the case as they are very different, from the ways you might use them; whether that’s for sport or for leisure – as well as the sort of equipment you would need whilst you’re in your personal boat.

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 different ball game.

Despite what many people think.

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

We’ll discuss in detail another day about the equipment and true purpose for 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.


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

History of the Kayak

With their existence being traced back to just over 3800 years, kayaks were first built by the Native Americans within the Arctic sector.

It should come to no surprise as these personal boats were created for practical purposes; not for leisure and certainly not for sport – as they are used for today.

Most probably carved from any wooden material they could get their hands on, such as driftwood (or whalebone which were indigenous to the region) these first form of kayaks also had animal skin stretched over the bottom of their shells with a combination of fat to help give it its waterproof characteristics.

With any leftover animal skin, they would cover the base and the rest of the inner of the raft – keeping anybody inside the raft nice and warm.

Which would be especially useful 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 natives to get around their land.

Olympic kayaking was first featured at the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936.

Kayak types and uses

There are in fact two types of kayak designs – picking the one for you is essentially based on what you might be getting up to, and if you’re alone or you’re bringing friends with you.

The two kayak designs:

  • Sit inside
  • Sit on top

Despite their differences, there are always two things kayak have in common, and that is the tool you use to steer them with: a two-bladed paddle.

This style of paddle is essential to the kayaker and its design is no mistake.

It has been made this way so that you can use as little energy as possible to get around, which when compared with canoeing (which we’ll discuss a little more on later) you’re not having to move the paddle from side to side to have the same effect.

All you need to do would be to alternate your hands to paddle yourself forwards or backward, thanks to the blades on each side.

Then of course, if you wanted to rotate in a direction, you would just paddle one side to turn yourself.

Sit-in Kayaks

A sit-in kayak is favored and more tradition of the types of kayaks available for consumers.

Designed with a sort of cockpit where the paddler can sit whin – meaning that your legs are within the main hull of the kayak, protected away from the elements.

These kayaks also come in different shapes and sizes; choosing one depends on what sort of water surfaces you’re looking to paddle through in your kayak.

Sit-on top kayak

Sit on top kayaks are a more modern version and safe style of kayak which are available.

Since you’re not locked within the hull, though the drawback of this is that you are exposed to the splashing water which will inevitably be splashing up at you and soaking you over the course of your journey.

These kayaks in particular are made with casual kayakers in mind, for anyone looking to have a quiet stroll across a lake rather than racing around on a body of water; sit-in kayaks would be preferred if that is something you are interested in


Disclaimer: I am not a canoer, as you may have guessed from my other articles, so my knowledge on the subject is limited.

However, I feel like I can still give some details on canoeing as it simply another paddle sport/hobby like kayaking is.

With that being said, let’s continue on with this section.

Brief history of canoeing

The first canoe dates back to about ten thousand years ago, which for those readers who are paying attention, this means that canoeing was a thing way before kayaking was.

Or so that’s what history has led us to believe.

We know this from a canoe that was discovered in the Netherlands in the 1950s, which has been given the name Pesse Canoe by the canoeing community.

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 where evidence was found of the canoes.

The oldest boat in Africa was in fact a canoe and was found in the 1980s and is around 8,000 years old 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; wood and animal fat.

Canoe Design
Unlike the design of the kayak; open and closed design, canoes come in one style only; sit-on-top.

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 flatter and design represents a traditional boat-like design.

Canoes tend to be larger and heavier than kayaks due to their sheer scale and the materials 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 as an individual which a kayak would be best suited for.

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 want to move anywhere.

This really isn’t 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 leisure activities in this day and age.

Though canoeing is a favoured activity for family and friends, due to the size of the boat you can fit a few people inside one to take on an adventure.

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

Due to their size, they are perfect for day trips and long haul family camping adventures, perhaps this is because canoes are a lot comfier than kayaks and even children will feel comfortable enough onboard – and perhaps may even be willing to help with the paddling.

With this being said, there are racing canoes that feature more of a sit-in design, with technology to stop you from capsizing.

What is the difference between kayak and canoeing? – A summary

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

At first glance, the main difference is the appearance as kayaks tend to be smaller and are typically for one person only.

Whereas canoes are like little water boats built for families or at the very least 2 people (you can go in a canoe alone, but I feel like you might as well just get a kayak if that were to be the case)

There seems to be more choice for kayaks, but perhaps that’s just my bias coming out.

There certainly are plenty of inflatable options – I’ve done plenty of reviews on them if you’re struggling to figure out which one you should buy.

Ultimately, it’s down to personal preference, I don’t want to give you my opinion (since you could probably already guess based on the fact that this is a kayak site) 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.

Well, 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 for you and your family.

See you all next time,