Canoe or Kayak?

Absolute newbie. My wife and I camp and I would like to get something that we could paddle on lakes, and slow rivers.

We think we would like to paddle together and am not sure whether an tandem kayak or a 2 person canoe would be the best choice. I had also considered an Advanced Elements inflatable but I worry that the performance will be so poor that we will be frustrated.

I would love to hear any advise. The choices are almost overwhelming.

Try a few out first
Get to some place where they rent tandem kayaks, and try one out.

Then try a tandem canoe out

They jokingly call a tandem kayak a “divorce boat” and many times I can see why. The two paddlers have to be or should be in sync. to prevent banging their paddles together, and many times we have seen couples yelling at each other.

My wife and I paddle both canoes and layaks and when we are in the tandem canoe, we like that the best, but when we are in our single kayaks we like them best.

We used to race a high end tandem kayak, but it was not a good boat for just putzing around in, so as much as we enjoyed racing in it we sold it.

No one can tell you what is the best for you, so you should absolutely try both out before you decide.

Ideal situation would be like us. Get a tandem canoe, and two single kayaks along with about ten more different types, makes and models!

Good luck

Jack L

Try paddling together first
Take a few tours in a tandem, maybe get a half day of basic instruction from someone, anything to spend time seeing if it feels like tandem paddling will work for you. As JackL indicates, it works very well for many. But it is a bad idea for a lot of couples as well (like my husband and I), who do just fine in different boats.

Tandem Rec Paddling

– Last Updated: Feb-05-11 9:25 AM EST –

My wife and I tandem kayak because she has some back problems and I need to do most of the paddling which is fine. We do rec flat water paddling, lakes and slow rivers. We absolutely love it.

We started out with Advanced Elements Convertible tandem last year. The performance isn't as bad as you may think and they have a great support forum online. If storage space is an issue then give that some thought.

We moved up to a hard shell kayak for this coming year. Wilderness Systems Pamlico 135T which is a nice wide stable tandem.

We made the change mainly because we found that we really liked paddling the slow rivers and most seem to have downed trees and logs hiding just under the water line so we got worried with an inflatable even though it has separate air chambers.

Hard shell we can make better time paddling on the river and cover more miles but the trade off is the storage and transport of the kayak and all.

Let me know if you have any other questions.

Either Will Do The Job…

– Last Updated: Feb-05-11 9:48 AM EST –

...just fine. My wife and I have paddled together for over 30 years. We started in canoes when our daughters were young, and still have two canoes today. For camping, the canoe is great - very easy to load and unload, carries a whack of gear and the odd dog. We still use them occasionally, but as we do less and less camping, our kayaks are coming to the fore.

We got into kayaking about 10 years ago, and it's definitely our preferred option. We opted for single kayaks, since they're lighter and easier to handle ashore, allow us some flexibility on the water (I like to take little side trips) and provide a major safety margin - if one flips, the other can do an assisted rescue. We haven't paddled a double kayak, so can't say much of any use to you on that.

One other thing - if you're just getting into paddling, you might want to look around for a good deal on used boats, canoes or kayaks - they often sell for about 1/2 retail, and you can pick up a lot of useful gear - PFDs, paddles, spray skirts, etc., as part of the deal. You can then try the sport, and if it suits and you want to upgrade to better or more appropriate boats, you can get most of your money back when reselling your used boats. And if you choose to go the used kayak route, there are a lot more singles out there than doubles...

Canoe or Kayak?
Ironically, the two I am looking at are the Advanced Elements Convertible and the Wilderness Systems Pamlico 13T, as well as a Mad River Adventure 14 canoe.

I fully understand needing different boats for different things. I am an avid cyclist and have 3 road bikes and two mountain bikes. I am not sure my wife fully understands that, but she lets me indulge.

Caution re the pamlico 135T

– Last Updated: Feb-05-11 10:37 AM EST –

(I assume you mean the 135T)

This caution applies to all the Pamlico tandems actually. Because of how big that cockpit it, they can be at least very difficult to perform an on-water rescue in if they capsize. We had a couple come to some informal sessions of rescues etc with one like this, and while they were additionally challenged because they were really overweight for the boat, they would have had this problem at just about any weight. By the time two people climb back into these, especially if there is any chop, the boat has taken on enough water over the sides to be unstable and ready to capsize again.

If you plan to stay near enough land that you can swim you and/or the boat to shore (latter being a tough job once these things are full of water), this isn't an issue. But if you plan to venture further out, for self-rescue purposes you'd be better off in a tandem canoe with float bags or a tandem kayak with individual cockpits and sealed bulkhead/storage areas front and back.

You mentioned camping? You likely need more dry storage than you can get out of the Pamlico tandems anyway. In a craft with better provisions for containing stored stuff, the gear would be easier to keep dry and you'd be less likely to be chasing it down the river if you did capsize.


– Last Updated: Feb-05-11 10:28 AM EST –

I would say Canoe all the way. Not only was the canoe God's gift to man and his answer to the need for the ultimate human propelled watercraft...but the practical side of things just scream go canoe. When it comes to two people in the same boat...the canoe is hands down easier to get in and out of. The canoe will pack more gear, allowing you to bring camping chairs if you decide to stop for lunch on a remote beach or island...she'll be able to bring her items (lets face it...woman just have more stuff to carry along...not being sexist, it's the truth). A tandem canoe, even in Royalex will be far lighter and easier to load and unload than a tandem yak. Also, with a may never do it but if you ever decide to bring a friend along, or a's an option. The yak doesn't make that remotely possible. I mean...maybe she'll bring one of her girlfriends'll be in the back paddling, they'll be up front in bikini tops blabbing about curtains and soap operas...think of the view you'll have? Maybe they'll even rub suntan lotion on each other? They could even start making out up there, you know them better than us. Maybe one of them will turn to you and say "hey, why dont you grab a few beers from the cooler and come on up here and join us?" I mean, a yak even a consideration now??

If you do look at Tandem kayaks
Take a look at the Current Designs Double Vision

My wife and I tried one that our friend have and loved it.

Jack L

135T bulkhead
One note, I think the older Pamlico 135T didn’t have sealed rear bulkhead but the models the last few years do have rear sealed bulkhead.

The flip side of the big opening is easy in and out but as Celia mentions that will take on lots of water in a capsize. We generally stay close to shore and the stability of the 135T seems pretty good.

Compare AE convertible vs. Pamlico 135T

– Last Updated: Feb-05-11 12:21 PM EST –

I can't speak to canoes but I'll try to run down what we learned on Advanced Elements convertible and a little bit we know about the Pam 135T.

AE Convertible:
Pros: No roof racks needed, store it folded up in car trunk on way to water and in closet/basement at home. Performance isn't bad for an inflatable since it sits in the water and has ribs in bow cut through water. Stability is super. Soft all around, wide opening like a canoe. I could carry it on my shoulder to sling it around the launch site.

Cons: Needs 15 minute setup and break down time. Once you do it a few times it becomes routine. Using a battery pump to do 3/4 of the work really helps and then you just top off with hand pump. Performance is slower then something hard shell. The other con I mentioned above was we got a little spooked seeing all the pointy stuff under the water in rivers around here :)

The Pam 135T is kind of a hard shell version of the AE. Recreational use, wide opening, pretty stable but should zip a little bit faster and has dry storage in rear. Of course it requires roof racks and place to store at home + learning to sling 70lb kayak on truck roof but they have some gadgets to help out there like rollers etc.

Lakes and Slow Rivers

– Last Updated: Feb-05-11 2:29 PM EST –

Just to put this paddling environment in perspective, when people buy canoes for "lakes and slow rivers", no one advises against their use on account of how much they flood if capsized, or that they don't have enough "dry storage". Difficulty in self-rescue out in open water is something to be aware of, to be sure, but it seems odd that this issue comes up every time when providing advice about choosing kayaks, but for canoes used in the same waters, where every boat has an "oversize cockpit", people instead concentrate on picking the right hull design for handling, and leave the self-rescue aspect alone.

Canoes are often an easier fix

– Last Updated: Feb-06-11 7:37 AM EST –

If there is a canoe where this can't be solved with good sized float bags, I don't know of it. It can ce difficult to solve the problem in some of these rec kayaks. That's because legs take up room where you can put flotation into a canoe and sit.

Canoes have plenty of dry storage - you just have to buy big bags for it. There is more capacity in even a pack canoe than in many of these rec boats. Canoes also tend to offer the new paddler a bit more "feedback" as you get them into more wind than kayaks, because of the windage. It's often harder work to get into as much trouble.

Case in point - the couple in that Pamlico tandem that came to learn rescues decided they needed help after scaring the willies out of themselves crossing Lake Champlain in it. They barely made it back and realized they'd been not so smart. They themselves said they would have never, ever tried this in a canoe. But they were lulled into a false sense of safety by how kind these rec kayaks are to beginners.

Canoe or kayak is a personal choice.
I’d rent both a few times before buying. Personally I think kayaks are more versatile, but surely canoeist would argue the point. The sitting position is different in each, and one may suit your body more comfortably. If you’re idea of camping is bring lawn chairs, a 12-pack and solar-powered TV, get a canoe. If you’re idea of camping is luxurious backpacking, kayaking may be the way to go.

When I’m out on trips, there’s a mix of kayaks and canoes on the short, close, easy, protected areas. When I get more wild, remote, away from the city, and into truly spectacular wilderness, it’s only kayaks out there. (I’m on the coast, maybe there’s more canoes on remote rivers).

If you get a kayak, get a centre-hatch double, otherwise it can be a divorce-boat. The centre hatch leaves enough space between paddlers that you’ll never bang paddles, plus stowage space for much more gear.

The best double kayak imo is Seaward Passat G3. Others to consider: Delta20 and NC22 (check out the NC kayak website). Test lifting the kayak together before buying. I sometimes used to paddle a Necky plastic double, but it was too heavy for my gf (at the time) to lift on and off the car. No big deal, though, I just had to snag a passer-by.

Personally I can’t imagine choosing a canoe over a kayak, but canoe-people probably think the same about kayaks. Maybe just as there’s dog and cat ppl, there kayak and canoe ppl.

Choosing canoe or kayak
Many call two person kayaks, divorce boats. I’d suggest if you want one boat, make it the canoe. If you each enjoy independence, get two kayaks. Rob

Based on your stated intentions
of paddling tandem and camping, a think a canoe has very definite advantages over a kayak.

For any given price range a tandem kayak is likely to be considerably heavier than a tandem canoe, and you will find fewer models to choose from in any given price range.

Tandem kayaks cater to a bit of a niche market, and I think might be a little harder to sell than a tandem canoe.

Tandem kayaks are often also longer than tandem canoes of similar carrying capacity and they are more awkward to carry any distance or to car top.

For camping purposes, canoes are vastly easier to load and unload than kayaks.

Having said that, some people just really prefer kayaks to canoes (and vice verse) so you and your wife should try both if possible.

Canoes are normally easier to portage and load. Kayaks normally have an advantage in open areas with bigger waves and wind. Where the kayak doesn’t take on water

and has less area exposed to the wind.

In kayaks you are kind of stuck in one position

Always together??
You say “We think we would like to paddle together”.

If there are times when you don’t, the canoe is going to be much better for one person than the tandem kayak. As a couple other folks mentioned, you may want to consider a pair of kayaks. You can still paddle “together” - even side by side.

lessons and rent first

– Last Updated: Feb-07-11 2:19 PM EST –

Can't help you with choice of canoe vs kayak. But will strongly second the advice given by others: lessons and rent first. My wife and I watched a short video (maybe ~1/2 hour) and got some very basic instruction about how to enter and exit a canoe, paddling strokes, coordination of bow and stern paddlers, etc. Those simple things are learnings that we still use today, and have made our canoeing much easier, safer, and enjoyable. You'd be surprised how only a little instruction gives a significant proficiency improvement. (P.S. -- many people think that because they canoed/kayaked in summer camp that they know how -- usually they don't.)

The question is canoe or kayak FIRST?

– Last Updated: Feb-07-11 5:08 PM EST –

The answer of course is canoe, then a kayak for each of you, then a tandem kayak. Then you go back to paddling the canoe solo while she paddles a kayak and save the tandem kayak for people who invite themselves along that you don't really like.
This is the natural order of things.