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Canoe vs Kayak: What’s the 3 Clarifying Questions for RVers?

| Updated Jun 20, 2023

Canoe vs Kayak? Beyond their shape, here are the main differences and types of each to help decide which is best for you as an RVer.

Are you trying to decide between buying a canoe or kayak? Both of these boats are a great way to explore more of the outdoors. Especially since many things, like waterfalls or coastline, can only be seen from the water.

Making that choice will come down to personal preference since each was designed with specific purposes in mind.

How do you intend on using the vessel? Will it be for a quick little race or longer, sightseeing day trips? Not all are made for long distances, so you will want to choose wisely before running out and purchasing your boat.

How will you carry your canoe or kayak? That seems to be one of the biggest challenges for most RVers.

The following outlines the differences and benefits of canoes and kayaks and which one is best for you.

Canoe vs Kayak for RVers: Main Differences

Canoe vs Kayak
Canoe vs Kayak

When it comes to canoe vs kayak, you probably already know the basic differences. But, just in case, here is a quick rundown.


These types of boats usually consist of an open deck. Users can use either a seated or kneeling rowing position, as well as a single-blade paddle.


This closed deck boat has a seated position, with the paddler's legs laid out in a frontward position. Users utilize a double-bladed paddle to propel the vessel forward.

As you can see from the above descriptions, it mainly comes down to the cockpit, seat, and paddles. These basic differences affect how the user can utilize each craft. The following explains these key differences in further detail…

1. What type of Cockpit do you want?

Canoe vs Kayak
If you choose a canoe – how will you travel with it?

Canoes are open in the center with exterior walls that come up high out of the water, much like regular boats. They do not have a normal “cockpit” like kayaks do.

Kayaks, on the other hand, have closed cockpits for the most part, which is an open cockpit where paddlers use a spray skirt to protect them from the spray of open water. Some have no cockpit at all since the user sits atop the kayak itself. Kayaks sit lower on the water than their canoe counterpart.

2. What type of Seat do you prefer?

Canoe vs Kayak
Think about the type of seat you prefer.

For the most part, canoes have a bench-like seat, raising the user up off the floor of the boat. Most canoes have at least two seats, while some have three. Some canoeists like to kneel on the floor, especially when there are challenging water conditions. It helps them to power through paddle strokes.

Kayak seats are usually molded to the bottom of the kayak, giving the user a lower seating position. Users sit in the seat with their legs out in front of them. Kayakers oftentimes brace their legs against the sides of the vessel, which can be used to their advantage when paddling.

3. Which type of Paddles do you like?

Canoe vs Kayak
Think about the paddles.

Canoe paddles consist of a single-bladed paddle, not to be confused with an oar. A single-bladed paddle can be used to paddle through water on either side of the vessel.

Many canoe paddlers use what is called a “J” stroke that allows them to move through the water in a straight line without the need to swap paddle sides that often. They can glide smoothly through calm waters!

Kayak paddles, on the other hand, use a double-bladed paddle that features a paddle on either side. A solo paddler can alternate sides to move the kayak forward through the water.

Types of Canoes

Canoe vs Kayak
Canoe vs Kayak

Generally speaking, most canoes do not vary greatly in size and shape. However, there are some highly specialized canoes that may not look a whole lot different but are made for different purposes.

Whitewater Canoes

This type of canoe has an open-top, and is usually shorter than a recreational canoe, and is specifically designed to move on fast-moving water. They are not as stable as other canoes but can handle better in rough water.

Recreational Canoes

This typical canoe is usually made to be 13- to 17-feet in long. They are steady canoes and can be easily controlled with one to three paddlers. They work very well on slow-moving, flat water and lakes.

Racing Canoes

A racing canoe is a little more similar to a kayak since it is narrower and sits lower in the water. It still has that signature open-top design. Most of them are also specially designed for duo racing.

Most duo racing paddlers practice a half kneeling, half sitting stance for optimal control, speed, and power.

Types of Kayaks

Canoe vs Kayak
Canoe vs Kayak

Many people believe that kayaks are more versatile than canoeing. These closed deck boats do appear sleeker and have more options to choose from.

But I think it comes down to personal preference. Granted, my personal preference is for kayaks, especially since I'm hooked on kayak fishing.

Whitewater Kayaks

Whitewater kayaking is usually only done with this specialized kayak.

This type of kayak is shorter and wider than a recreational kayak. They are very buoyant, and responsive when used in whitewater conditions. Most of these boats are somewhere between 5.5 and 9 feet long.

Recreational Kayaks

A recreational kayak is a sit-in kayak and runs about 9 – 12 feet long. These are best to use in calm water, like a flat lake, canal, sheltered coastal area, or slow-moving river.

Generally speaking, these kayaks are easy to control and provide a mostly comfortable and stable ride.

Racing Kayaks

These vessels tend to be long and slender. They are also lighter than other kayaks.

Racing kayaks can be raced with a single paddler, or with two, three, or four people aboard.

They can usually be found measuring 17 – 36 feet long, but that measurement depends on how many racers will be in the boat.

These boats sit very low in the water and feature a rudder to help steer.

They are usually utilized on flat water for sprints or marathons. So, they're not a top choice among RVers, but are worth mentioning for comprehensive purposes.

Touring and Sea Kayaks

These kayaks generally run about 12 – 18 feet in length. They are longer and slimmer than their recreational counterparts. That is because they are made to go farther distances.

They also usually offer storage at the front and back of the vessel. Many times, they also have rudders, known as skegs, to help with steering.

Sit-on-top Kayaks

These vessels are different than a sit-in kayak and are generally used in warmer climates since they do not have a cockpit. That means the paddler will be more exposed to the elements than with other kayaks.

They are excellent for exploring calm waters that are flat. They are also great to fish or dive from.

Inflatable Kayaks

This is an affordable option for those wanting to try out kayaking. Inflatable kayaks are less durable and stable than other kayaks, but are still a great deal of fun for users!

They can also be deflated and transported more easily than other types of kayaks.

The most important question for Canoe vs Kayak?

How will you transport it? Will you put it on the top of your rig? Is it small enough to go in an RV garage? Can you put it in your toad? Do you really want to take it? Make sure you take the time to answer this most important question!

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Mike Wendland

Published on 2021-12-19

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

3 Responses to “Canoe vs Kayak: What’s the 3 Clarifying Questions for RVers?”

December 19, 2021at10:29 am, Gene Bjerke said:

An another difference between canoes and kayaks is their reaction to wind. Kayaks, which sit lower, are much less prone to being pushed around by the wind. This can be very important if you paddle in an area that tends to have a lot of wind, such as the Outer Banks of North Carolina.


December 19, 2021at9:37 am, Frank Anthony said:

I have used an inflatable 2 person kayak for years. Everything packs into two duffel bags. Being so compact it is easy to take along on car trips away from the RV. So I tend to use it a lot more than if I had hard units. Throw the bags in the back and go… Also can be stored inside a vehicle, so no theft worries. Different quality levels available, from toys to the highest quality. They now have sit on tops that break down into 2-3 pieces. So plenty of options. Always something special about being out on the water 🙂


December 19, 2021at9:28 am, Bev Parkison said:

Excellent summary of the different types of canoes and kayaks. Don’t forget the importance of a properly fitting PFD. One that is comfortable to wear so you will wear it.

We have one tandem canoe and two kayaks. The canoe is excellent for overnight river trips when you need to pack gear. The kayaks go with us on most longer RV trips. We carry them on top of my Jeep or pull a small trailer for shorter trips. Many epic adventures with these kayaks come to mind. So worth the trouble of bringing them along! Renting kayaks is not the same because we have all our gear we need and the yaks were carefully chosen. My advise would be to check with a local business that sells kayaks/canoes and see if they have a “try before you buy” event. Great Miami Outfitters in Centerville Ohio did this and you could sign up to try a specific type of boat they sell. They would take the demo models to a local lake for you to paddle around and try. Not sure if they still do this because of Covid but worth checking out.


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