kayak and canoe on a shore

The Difference Between Kayak And Canoe: 3 Ways To Tell. And Which Is Best For You?

Kayaks and canoes are both great boats to choose from! But they also have some similarities that can make it difficult to choose from which you want. So what’s the difference between kayak and canoe? There are 3 distinct differences that we’ll cover!

There are quite a few differences canoe vs kayak, so let’s look at them and help determine which one is the best choice for you! Keep in mind, there are a few different types of each boat, and it depends on what you want to use them for which is better for you to get!

Canoe vs Kayak: The Differences

Both canoes and kayaks generally fit one to two people, have at least some storage space, and are shaped similarly at least from an exterior point of view. So what’s the difference between a kayak and canoe?

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The three main differences are: the inside of the boat is shaped differently, the paddle is different, and where you’re going to take the boats out to is different!

Canoes typically hold 2 people, but can hold up to 4 people depending on the size you get, and kayaks hold at most 2 people. Let’s look more closely at those 3 main differences!

The Shape of the Boat

Both of these boats have a similar shape of bow and stern angling into a point, and staying fairly narrow in the middle. These are both fairly long boats, but canoes end up being slightly longer on average.

On average, a 2 person kayak will be 10-14 feet long, and a 2 person canoe will be at least 14 feet long, often up to 18 feet.

With a longer 2 person canoe though, you will be able to fit a child or dog in with you.

Kayak Shape


Whether you’re looking at sit on top kayaks or sit inside kayaks, there are specific spots for a person to sit in. There may be foot rests that are adjustable, but you do have to sit in the designated area of the kayak.

The storage areas are usually inside a compartment on the kayak that have a cover, to keep your items dry. And there’s often a bungee area on top for you to put things like maps, flares, spare paddles, or water bottles in.

Some kayaks also come with a rudder to help you steer with your feet, rather than the paddle. Kayaks can be made of wood, fiberglass, plastic, or you can have an inflatable kayak.

Keep reading: Best kayaks for fat guys, best cheap kayaks for under $200

Canoe Shape

canoe on a lake

Rather than having specific spots basically carved into the boat for a person and storage, a canoe is entirely carved out in the middle. This means that it’s more important to find a way to secure your items in the boat, and have dry bags.

For seating, there are seats in the canoe and these can look different depending on the type you have, whether just a wooden beam across or bench seats.

One of the main differences from canoe vs kayak is that the canoe has a yoke in the center of it. This goes across the canoe, with a curve in the middle of it. This is to make for easy carrying of the canoe upside down when transporting it places. It’s made to fit comfortably on your shoulders for easy carrying.

Your items or any pets/children can sit near the yoke of the canoe. This makes for a lot of space for carrying gear for a fishing trip or hold camping gear.

Canoes can be made of wood, canvas over the wood, plastic or fiberglass. And the material can greatly depend on what you’re hoping to use the canoe for.

Kayak vs Canoe Paddles

While this isn’t specific to the shape of the boat or easily identifying it, this is a major difference between canoes and kayaks.

A canoe paddle only has one blade on it. Kayak paddles are a double bladed paddle. So it’s a different movement while paddling the boat, and your hands are placed in a different spot.

kayak paddles
kayak paddles

With a kayak paddle, whether in a single or double kayak, you are paddling on both sides and your hands are placed near the blade of the paddle. These also have a distinctive right direction and wrong direction, by having a slight curve to the blade.

A canoe paddle is a single bladed paddle and often is flat, making it not have any right or wrong direction. With this, one hand is placed near the blade, and the other hand is placed on the grip at the top. If solo canoeing, you’ll have to alternate which side you paddle on regularly by moving the paddle across your body. If you’ve got multiple people, you may choose one side and only paddle on that side of the boat.

canoe paddles

Where You Use The Boat

The final main difference of a canoe vs kayak is where you’re hoping to use the boat. As said quickly earlier, each boat can be made of different materials, and which you choose can be based off what water activity you’re hoping to do!


A sit inside kayak will do better on the ocean than a canoe. These have a spray skirt that protects you from waves and can also help you stay in the boat somewhat. Kayaks can withstand some waves, whereas canoes do much better in very still water.

If you’re planning on staying in sheltered coastal areas, then a canoe will work on the ocean too – this type of canoe just prefers calm waters.


Depending on the type of kayak or canoe you choose, both can go out on a river.

Canoes will have a different shape if they’re made to go out on a lake vs a river. There will be a keel on the canoe for a lake, to help keep it going one direction, whereas this won’t be present on a river canoe to help easily change directions.

Whitewater racing canoes will be made of lightweight material, and is often slightly different than traditional whitewater canoes.

There are so many great whitewater kayaks to navigate rivers as well. These may be easier to use on rapids than canoes.

kayak on river


Both kayaks and canoes are great on lakes, especially for beginners just starting to learn how to paddle. This is when a sit on top kayak works best, as you can easily pop in and out of the kayak. Both kayaks and canoes can have space for fishing gear, so you can sit out on the water all day and fish comfortably in your boat.

This flat water will be easy to navigate and being on a calm lake will make for a peaceful day trip out on the water.

Kayak Vs Canoe: Which Is Right For You

Now that we’ve discussed the differences between a canoe and kayak, let’s figure out which is the right one for you! The biggest things to keep in mind are: there are different types of kayaks and canoes, so regardless of which you pick, make sure to get one that will suit you best.

If you’re planning on being in waves, whitewater kayaks might be a better bet. If you’re looking for something for slow moving rivers or lakes, a recreational canoe might be better for you.


There is a big difference between kayaks and canoes, and it’s easiest to tell with the shape of them! Kayaks will have a closed deck, and canoes tend to have ample room with a dugout shape.

You will sit lower in a kayak than a canoe, and a canoe paddler will have to move their paddle across them unless there are two people in the boat.

It also depends on how many people you want to carry in the boat at one time! If you’re just looking to hold one or two people either boat is a great choice. But if you’re wanting to bring children along, animals, or other adults, a canoe is going to be the way to go.