Kayak or Canoe

By Brian Mohr
Posted June 1st, 2006

If you’re trying to maximize your paddling pleasure, consider this advice.

Which is for you? Today in New England, canoes and kayaks of all shapes and sizes can be spotted along our waterways in ever-increasing numbers. Gone are the days of birch bark canoes being the primary vehicle for long-distance travel. But thanks to the canoe’s origins, our region is now steeped in paddling history and lore.

To view Vermont from the water is to view a unique and beautiful world that cannot be experienced on land. You may have lived here for a great many years, but have you explored your home area from the water? Even a short paddle is likely to be full of treasures and surprises.

With new water trails like the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, the Lake Champlain Trail and the Connecticut River Trail coming to life, more great paddling events being organized each year, and some helpful advances in paddling-related equipment, now is a great time to find yourself a boat and hit the water.

After consulting an entire spectrum of experienced paddlers who sell boats, build boats, guide boat trips and paddle locally and globally in a wide variety of water conditions and vessels, I’ve come up with a relatively short list of pros and cons for both the canoe and kayak.

If you get really serious about paddling, chances are you will eventually own both a canoe and a kayak, or even several of each, depending on your needs. Meanwhile, if you are trying to maximize your paddling pleasure, consider the following advice.


Today, kayaks come in all shapes and sizes. They are generally constructed of composite plastic, fiberglass, Kevlar or carbon. Most touring and recreational kayaks come in solo or tandem models.

Large, open cockpit and sit-on-top recreational kayaks sell well to many fair-weather, occasional-use paddlers. Touring kayaks—including sea kayaks—are the longest, most slender kayaks available, and are designed for paddling larger bodies of water and carrying gear over longer distances. They can slice through wind and waves like no other water craft. Unlike recreational kayaks, touring kayaks usually have a rudder to help with steering.

Whitewater kayaks and “creek boats” are another category of kayaks that are especially well suited to the faster moving streams and rivers that shape our mountains and valleys.

All kayaks are commonly paddled with a double-ended paddle.


For novices, kayaks tend to be easier to maneuver and get the hang of.

You can generally find two well-priced recreational kayaks for the price of one decent canoe.

Many solo recreational kayaks (not touring kayaks) are lighter and more easily transported than most canoes.

In general kayaks are easier to steer and maneuver than canoes, but even more so on open water.


Touring kayaks can be physically confining and less comfortable than a canoe for extended outings (i.e multi-day, multi-week).

Touring kayaks generally cannot carry as much gear or be portaged/carried as easily as a canoe.

Most kayaks require the use of a spray-skirt that must be secured to prevent water from entering and soaking the paddler.

When on water that forces the paddler to be in and out of the boat frequently, the kayaker will often wish he or she were paddling a canoe.


Tandem canoes feature a seat in the bow and one in the stern, and plenty of room for gear, an extra friend (I often paddle with a third passenger) or your favorite canine.

Less common solo canoes have either a seat or pad to kneel on in the middle of the boat, and are typically shorter in length. Both come in a wide variety of hull-designs and sizes, and are constructed of one of the following: composite plastic, fiberglass or Kevlar (much lighter), aluminum, birch bark, or canvas.

Canoe design has come a long way in recent years. Whether its Class III-IV whitewater you are after, or a month-long journey along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, there is a canoe design well suited to the task.

All canoes are generally paddled with a single-ended paddle.


Most canoes are versatile, do-everything boats that are easily maneuvered down river, comfortable to paddle on open water, can be poled through shallow or overgrown stretches of ponds or backwaters, or sailed down wind (with a canoe sail).

Tandems are great family boats, with plenty of room for kids, gear, a cooler, beach chairs, pets, etc.

Most avid paddlers agree that canoes are more comfortable to sit and travel in.

Canoes sit higher out of the water and are therefore drier.

Canoes can be more easily portaged/carried long distances, especially the lighter-weight  fiberglass/Kevlar boats, than most touring kayaks.


Canoes are at first more challenging to maneuver confidently, and in general, are less maneuverable than a kayak designed for the same water conditions.

Canoes tend to be slower than most kayaks, especially in the wind and across large expanses of open water (i.e. lake crossings), where the weather can “grab” a canoe more easily.

Because they sit higher out of the water, canoes tend to be slightly less stable than all but the highest-performance kayaks.