To float for relaxation or exhilaration is an ongoing question for outdoor adventurers. The traditionally held view is that canoes are for recreation and kayaks are meant for thrills! Yet, many outdoor enthusiasts have, or use, both types of these vessels. Current hybrid kayak models also are closing the gap between these popular water-trip boats. A comparison of the two comes down to analyzing the sort of water experiences sought and what features are needed to support the type of trip planned.
“Twenty years ago, family canoeing was big, but kayaks have become more popular recently, as not as many people are going on overnight or multi-day floating trips,” explains Jason Russell, manager of Ozark Mountain Trading Company’s Southwest Missouri store in Ozark, Mo.
Russell said people are more frequently opting for just a casual day of floating or fishing in lakes, rivers and streams, with the North Folk White River, Current River and James Rivers becoming favorite spots for fishing from kayaks.
The actual terms “canoes and kayaks” often are confused, or used interchangeably, although it’s easier to distinguish between modern-made versions, due to kayaks’ more angular hulls and bows, as well as slimmer bodies. The following comparison was designed to sort out the differences … and similarities.
General Considerations for Canoes and Kayaks:
Canoes are open boats that allow water to easily enter and exit, while kayaks can be closed crafts. So, considering water velocities in which the boat will be used, mobility goals and how much overall water you want to deal with is one of the first factors. Canoes are larger, so they allow for more people onboard or more gear to be hauled along, compared to kayaks’ limited space. While canoes often are made of metals, hard plastics are typically used in manufacturing kayaks. Canoes are associated with fun and freedom, while kayaks are related more so to speed and racing.
Kayaks reflect sleek designs so they can stay close to water surfaces. They move faster than canoes, and many people appreciate that wind cannot affect their speed as much. They can be used in most types of weather conditions, with solid control. Kayaks come with a closed or open cockpit; both models typically have inbuilt drains to get water out of the craft.
Both boats still reflect their original purposes. Canoes reportedly originated in the Caribbean when islanders chopped down trees and hollowed out the subsequent thick trunks, and Native Americans also used canoes to carry fish and furs. Conversely, kayaks were invented in the cold, northern regions of Alaska, the uppermost strip of Canada, and Greenland, mainly by indigenous Eskimos, Inuits and Kalaallit Arctic people. Both vessels became more commonly adopted after they were demonstration sports at the 1924 Olympic games in Paris, and added to the Olympics’ competition sports in 1936 in Berlin.
Canoes are actually small boats, powered by human paddling, or electric and gas motors. They are easier for the majority of people, including children and those with physical challenges, to get into — making it a great option for family outings. Unlike kayaks, water easily can get into canoes, and wind can guide the direction they head. Two people usually propel canoes, while kayaks are most often built for single handlers — although this aspect is evolving.
Paddlers tend to use single-bladed paddles, or oars, in canoes and double-bladed paddles in kayaks.
- Kayaks typically travel faster than canoes.
- Kayaks move more gracefully through choppy water.
- Kayaks, in general, tend to be much less susceptible to wind gusts, and so are more responsive to the paddler.
- Canoeists are able to access gear easily.
- Rain can mean serious problems in certain situations in canoes, thus prompting a wise notion of taking along a small tarp to avoid spontaneous rain down pours. It is absolutely essential that the gear is raised off the canoe floor where rain water tends to accumulate.
Russell said kayaks are typically easier for one-person trips, but that canoes are selected when a lot of gear is needed.
Depending on the intended purpose of a kayak, various models make better selections, with types ranging from novice, children’s, touring, modular and sit-on-top to inflatable, folding, fishing and whitewater.
Body and Physical Considerations:
Kayakers get a small amount of support to their lower backs and through footrests, which basically are tiller levers operated solely by the feet. Larger kayaks allow for the person in them to raise their knees up slightly while they are navigating through the water. One of the best positions to take while paddling a canoe is to kneel; the other position is to sit.
For those who kneel in a canoe, they are able to leverage their weight and direct the canoe to where they want it to go within seconds. Those who sit while in a canoe attempt to control the craft with their backside along with their heels.
Many people agree kayaks require a bit of ambidexterity, but kayakers generally use a steady stroking rhythm with left-right-left-right movements of muscles when paddling. Experienced canoeists can use a steering stroke that switches back and forth with several people in the canoe. By changing back and forth, it balances out potential hand callusing and muscle fatigue. Or, two canoeists working together can use the combined draw stroke and J-stroke to both propel and guide the vessel, while keeping it straight. Modern paddlers now often use a 12- to 14-degree bent-shaft paddle and the technique of switching sides, in unison, every four to six strokes.
Russell said it seems more people are selecting kayaks for fitness reasons or to get the most exercise value from water outings. But he said for some people, it’s challenging at first to find “that perfect kayak.”
He said many people start out with “sit-on-top, self-baling kayaks,” which are designed so if a wave breaks over the side or it rains, the water drains. The deck of these boats usually are above the waterline with a hole in the transom to allow the water to drain out, but because the hole is above the waterline no water comes in.
For customers having a hard time deciding about kayaks, Russell said Ozark Mountain Trading Company offers free demonstration services.
People with canoes and kayaks often have completely different experiences when it comes to convenience. While one person with a larger canoe may have a difficult time getting their craft down to the water, someone with a kayak may be able to easily transport it to where it needs to be. Overall travel convenience is one of the most important factors in choosing a kayak or a canoe.
Those who enjoy taking side trips, or stopping to fish, while exploring waters will want to consider how conveniently the boat can be stored and how uniquely hard it can be to keep a fishing rod and reel stable from a kayak. But some “angler kayaks” now come with adjustments for stability and ways to attach rods, fish finders and underwater cameras. Those who want to keep the fish they catch should consider the amount of room needed for having fish aboard.
“Another factor is if you want to take your dog along with you, a canoe has more room for that overall use,” said Russell.
Vehicle Loading and Transporting:
Canoes that are 16 feet long or smaller are fairly easy to load and transport when using best practice techniques to throw them over your head. Some motorists find they can strap canoes to the roof of their vehicle if it is not too high. A majority of SUVs will be able to accommodate single kayaks on the roof. Whether anchoring down a canoe or kayak on top of a vehicle, be careful to do it in the most sturdy way, due to the risks of wind resistance, especially when needing to drive on highways.
Some people get foam blocks to go over the gunwales of a canoe and tie over those. Although this can be a good method of transportation, it may not provide the level of support gotten with a canoe that is actually fully tied down and strapped. Be careful with roof racks that clip, so your canoe or kayak doesn’t easily come off during transportation.
It’s a good idea to check weight limits of any vehicle onto which you’re strapping a canoe or kayak. Roofs can buckle from being overloaded. Some kayak users with trucks or larger vehicles put down their seats and carry them inside the vehicle.
When transporting canoes or kayaks, it is extremely important to consider that traveling at speeds of 70 mph can be risky unless you know your craft is fully secured on the vehicle.
When considering the financial investment of leisure water vessels, enthusiasts can pencil out comparisons of how many annual trips may be scheduled versus renting options, as well as taking into account availability (or lack thereof) of rentals for specific dates. Financial estimates also can include a myriad of accessories, such as racks, paddles, paddle bags, repair and care kits, life vests, spray kits, cockpit covers, carts, trailers, motor brackets, roller loaders, fishing items, additional storage, customized seats, cup holders, pumps, gloves, hats, boots, helmets, clothing, and training books or DVDs.
New canoes start in the range of $500 or $700 to $2,000, depending on size, brand, attributes, manufacturing material and retailer. Wooden canoes with ribs can run $2,990 to $4,100, based on an online evaluation.
The price of new kayaks generally spans $200 for inflatable or plastic models to sea kayaks costing between $1,000 to $3,000. Additionally, Fiberglas kayak paddles can cost about $150, on average, while lighter-weight carbon paddles may be $275 to $500 for a set.
Prices of pre-owned canoes and kayaks vary, based on quality, features, appearances and “conditions” of the craft, including designations such as used (sold as is); poor (needs work); fair (looks rough and might be questionable structurally); good (scratches, perhaps some dents, but OK structurally); very good (scratches and small dents from typical use and wear); excellent (very limited scratching and wear, almost new condition); demo (generally excellent to good condition); closeout (not used, as is or discontinued by manufacturer); clearance (not used and new boat that could be previous year’s model with warranty in effect from date of purchase); special (not used and new, may have special feature or color with warranty in effect from date of purchase); and new.
Jennifer Paulsen, president of Devils Back Floats in Leslie, Mo., rents canoes for $30 per day and kayaks for $25 daily for traveling the scenic Bourbeuse River. She said she purchases new canoes periodically, but only aluminum ones, for about $700 each. She said the local stream cleanup group and some other regional businesses who offer floating instead purchase for approximately $1,000 each Fiberglas canoes or kayaks for navigating shallow, fast-moving water with many rocks.
There can be additional shuttling and ramp fees, as well as camping, fishing and firewood costs.
Jeff’s Canoe Rentals, Inc., near Annapolis, Mo., and the Black River, rent kayaks for $30 daily, and canoes for $45 to $50, depending on the number of them reserved. They also rent tubes for $20 per day, as well as multi-person rafts for $100 to $200 daily, plus a refundable $20 security deposit.
Ozark Mountain’s Russell, who personally has 11 kayaks and three canoes, said family canoe outings have started to pick up again recently, as canoes become more comfortable. As new versions of both canoes and kayaks inspire more outdoor enthusiasts to try water trips, perhaps frequency of floating again will help dictate what options that floaters should mull over.
Some people consider canoes to be the “sport-utility vehicles,” or SUVs, of recreational boating, while kayaks are the “sports cars” of the market. To choose between the two, always keep in mind how many passengers are going, the amount of supplies needed, what degree of stability is required for the type of water you’ll be on, the paddlers’ degree of boat handling experience, and how agile you’d like your vessel to be. Also, in certain terrain, consider whether you will be dealing with portages — hoisting a kayak onto one shoulder or dragging it behind you doesn’t always work well for portages of any distance.
Take advantage of any demonstrations you can find about the canoes and kayaks, and leverage off-season presentations or try-before-you-buy options.
Industry sources indicate low-to-mid-priced models can retain nearly 75 percent of their original value after five years, if they are well-maintained, so both vessels can be good investments.
There are safety, environmental, sight-seeing and handling situations to envision, but it generally takes equal discipline to master canoes or kayaks. Given that there is an friendly rivalry between the two users — much like skiers and snowboarders who both love snow — with either decision, floating enthusiasts can have satisfying, yet different, experiences on both watercraft.