Overcoming the kayak vs canoe bias

Anyone have suggestions for reasoning with would-be paddlers who really need a canoe, but who INSIST they have to have a kayak instead?

I post on a couple of other general forums with advice in the outdoor sports categories (since I’ve been involved as a participant, instructor and guide in a number of them over more than 40 years). At least once I week I run across someone who says they want to “get into kayaking” then describes themself and what they want to do in the water (and where) and it is clear they really need a canoe, not a kayak. Yet my reasonable arguments nearly always fall on deaf ears. I enjoy both kayaking and canoeing and use both regularly so I think I have a balanced and well-informed approach, but there seems to be a deep anti-canoe bias, probably due more to the high-visibility “coolness” marketing of kayaks in the media during recent years than anything resembling logic.

Like the 300 lb woman who wanted to do “mostly calm rivers and lakes but also whitewater up to Class II”. She also claimed she was in a program that would cause her to lose a lot of weight this year. The boats she was asking for “recommendations” on were rec boats with giant cockpits and 325# maximum capacity. I pointed out that she would have little freeboard in those kayaks (I even doubt she would have fit in the seat of a couple of the models), that they were not safe for whitewater, especially as low as she’d be riding in them, and that any 'yak that fit her this year would be too big if she makes it down below 200 #. And, of course, she only had a budget of $500. I told her she would only be able to afford a used kayak since any with a big enough volume and weight capacity to fit her were in the $1000 range new.

BUT, I pointed out, she could pick up an Old Town Discovery 119 solo canoe new for $399 and paddle it with a 240 cm double paddle and it would suit ALL her uses now and later, on flat or fast water (properly outfitted).

As I have come to expect, she is still adamant she HAS to have a kayak. * sigh *

I run into that a lot, from people wanting to fish from a boat or paddle with a couple of dogs or kids along. Or who are freaked out by being “trapped” in a SINK and therefor gravitate towards heavy slow SOTs when they could get a lighter and faster canoe for less $$. Or, like the newb above, are just way too rotund for a low end rec boat (or most kayaks for that matter). A canoe would absolutely serve them better but they act like you’ve suggested they drown a kitten when you say so.

The attitude seems to be: kayaks = cool, canoes = eewww, dusty old Grandpa boats. Does anybody else run into that with newbies, friends and family? Any successful arguments for addressing it? I have thought of keeping a list of links I could forward of YouTube videos showing paddlers doing challenging whitewater with solo canoes, or swiftly negotiating rivers with a well packed double rigged for fishing.

I feel like I should just resign myself to this, I know. I worked in wilderness sports retail for several years and know there is no arguing with people who’ve been brainwashed by marketing, whether for a “hip” brand of hiking boots built on a last that will never fit their feet, an extreme mountaineering tent that is complete overkill for summer weekends at the KOA or high-camber Nordic racing skis on which they’ll twist their ankles while floundering along on the local golf course.

You’re probably right, a lot of it is image/coolness factor.

Modern kayaks look cool and high tech, and like they’d fit into your typical iPhone-using yuppie’s lifestyle. Canoes tend to look very ‘old school’ and maybe even a bit ‘hick’… think ‘Deliverance’.

Of course, there are sound reasons for preferring kayaks which have nothing to do with image, but as you say, for the rec boat market, not so much.

It does seem like SOT kayaks, especially, have really grabbed the lion’s share of the boom in rec boating and fishing, probably at the canoe’s expense.

But, that’s admittedly a California perspective. Is it perhaps different elsewhere in the country?

Don’t waste your time.
My wife and I paddle both canoes and kayaks

If someone asks about a canoe, I’ll gladly help them if I can, and if they ask about I kayak, I’ll gladly help them on that if I can, but there is no way I am going to try and sway someone from what they have their heart set on.

Jack L

even true here in "Bubba Land"
We paddle in north central PA mostly, home of deer hunters, Country music bars, John Deere tractor caps and “biker” chic, yet we still run across more folks in cheap SOT’s and rec “kayaks” on the streams and lakes than in canoes. You would think that the fact that we easily glide past them (in our OT Guide 147, hardly a rocket ship) as they struggle to make headway with hound dogs, fishing poles, kids and coolers of beer bungeed to the decks would make at least a few of them look up and think “Gee, I coulda had a canoe!”.

Hmm, might be a goldmine being overlooked there. Do you suppose Harley Davidson, John Deere and Mail Pouch chewing tobacco would license their logos for “themed” canoe decor? Maybe a marketing niche I ought to look into for retirement income (since that sucking noise I’ve been hearing all this week appears to be my 401K’s crcling the drain.) Just picture it: a gloss black tandem canoe with the HD logo on both sides, chrome gunwales and simulated snakeskin seat covers…

Just kill me now.

wrong canoe
My wife’s Summersong is prettier than most kayaks. Also narrower and therefore faster. The rec plastic green canoe is damaging to its rep.

Ryan L.

probably right. Tis human nature to pursue what we “want” rather than what we “need.”

camp canoes
and likely generations of summer camp survivors who equate canoes with Grumman “tin cans”.


– Last Updated: Aug-05-11 3:38 PM EST –

Dem dag-blamed, good-fer-nuttin', yuppie (waars Coffee lately???) hoytee-toytee, mildew-butted, ugly kneed, wadda-logged hemirooded, kin-not-larn-more-than-two-strokes (forwoyds an' backwoyds), commie neocon, fancy color needin', paddle-glove waarin', an' de never endin' whinin' when dems kin'na git all dem's gear an' koolers inta dem's gnat-boats so dem ask us canooists ta carry dem's crap fer dem...

'yaker polecats.... DUN'T KNOW NUTTIN'...

Now, us canooists... well, wez de best paddlers (an' a lot better lookin' too - 'specially de knees!) dis side o' de Pecos an' wez know'd it...

An'... who gives a hoot about Nigel Dennis anywho! Bet'ya he kin not do a gimbal! But ah' do gots a geenooine autygraffed dauggertype o' Freya Hoopmeister. She be a'might partial ta canooists!


They’ll eventually settle on a boat or fleet of boats and have as much fun as you or I did getting there!

It depends
on who you are reasoning with.

If his/her plans are easy recreational on flat water, then he may get an SOT “kayak”, mostly heavy polyethylene. Then when he tries a composite canoe, he’ll be surprised how faster and lighter it is.

If he dreams of long wilderness expeditions, then he may get a decked canoe sometimes called a “kayak”: Kruger Seawind “kayak” (or Superior Sawyer - cheaper imitation of Seawind), or Clipper Sea 1. After trying to paddle it with a kayak blade he’ll discover that a boat that wide is easier to paddle with canoe blade.

many who paddle canoes enjoy …
… the aspect of having another with them , as in “tandem canoe” .

Many who go fishing enjoy the aspect of having another with them , as in “tandem canoe” .

Many like the “tandem canoe” for two person river camp trips .

The tandem canoe has always been the perfect boat for two people to share time in together no matter where you are . So that’s my take on tandem canoes .

A tandem canoe is a great way to spend quality time together with someone special to you .

Pack canoes maybe
Seriously, it isn’t attractive to most not-young people to be hauling around (on land or water) a heavy tandem royalex boat that they are paddling alone because their partner bailed out of them. Especially since you actually have to know how to paddle decently to manage it in wind.

I suspect that a good entry point would be pack canoes. Easier to handle and easier for new paddlers to manage due to the double blade.

Different strokes …
Aside from the abovementioned (and misguided) coolness factor, there is also the question of whether one wants to paddle solo or tandem.

Perhaps like most here, I grew up with canoes, and my wife and I experienced the usual benefits and drawbacks of a canoe, which I also often paddled solo.

But when a friend insisted I try his 10-foot rec. kayak, I reluctantly took it out and was soon amazed by the higher speed and maneuverability. It felt more like a natural extension of my body and less like piloting a vessel.

When my wife borrowed a second kayak and we paddled together, we both agreed that they offered more fun and independence than a tandem canoe. It was like trading in a tandem bike for a pair of single bikes.

Certainly, if a person intends to go out with a partner or other family members, or use a boat for fishing, photography, mild whitewater, or a number of similar activities, a tandem canoe is the ticket. And a tandem canoe, paddled by a good team, will easily smoke most kayaks, and for less money.

But if someone intends to mostly paddle alone, that same canoe becomes more difficult to cartop, launch, paddle in any sort of wind or waves, and will arguably be slower than a single kayak.

It all depends on your intended purpose, and unfortunately, we often don’t know what that is until after we’ve bought our first boat …



good points
Hey FE, I sure like fellas in canoes too, just like Freya does. Can’t check out a man’s assets when they’re hidden under a deck and sprayskirt :slight_smile:

I suppose I need to stop being so concerned with people getting what would work best for them (even when it is not what they “want”). I just saw so much “buyer’s remorse” when I worked in outfitter sales that I have this idealistic hope that I can save somebody a costly (or even dangerous) mistake in picking a boat.

I admit I get annoyed when a novice seeks out my “larn’ed” advice and then rejects all of it in favor of something his buddy down the street (as much a novice as himself) tells him. “Thanks for listing 8 models of touring kayak that would suit my size and tripping needs and telling me which dealers in my area stock them, but my next door neighbor turned me on to this Albanian army surplus inflatable barge made of recycled goat teats at Farm’n’Fleet for only 400 bucks – and it came with 3 oars and 6 cup holders!”

I believe a lot of people “asking” for help have already made up their minds and are just hoping someone will validate their impulsive choices.

I shouldn’t be so curmudgeonly – I have noticed that there ARE people on the boards here who gratefully accept advice and seem to act on it.

Why waste your time?
Express your opinion on such a matter concisely and move on. Few folks make the best decision the first time they buy something, so let them learn their way if they don’t listen.

As a side note, I think there are legitimate reasons that many have gravitated towards kayaks over the last several years. And companies are making boats that fit a much broader range of folks than they used to.

size and cost factors
I completely agree that kayaks are preferable in many situations and I certainly love the freedom and speed I enjoy in mine (my sweetie and I own 8 kayaks and two canoes).

The main problem I forsaw with that most recent inquiry (the 300 lb woman) was her body shape and size. Where a low budget meets the need for high weight capacity , whether for a very obese paddler or for bringing along kids and pets, a canoe makes way more sense.

As I mentioned, the 11’ 9" solo canoe was within her budget and had 60% more load rating (450 lbs versus 275 lbs) and weighed less (43 lbs rather than 48 to 54 lbs.) than the $400-$500 rec boats she was looking at. It was also 4" wider. For someone who probably has 55" or greater hips, that’s significant.

Try once … then refer to Rule 36
Rule 36:

Never try to teach a pig to sing.

It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

did this specific woman say why?
Was she simply adamant that it be a kayak or did she attempt to give any reasons (good or otherwise) why she preferred a kayak?

Some of the gray area is when one may plan to start doing things that might favor a canoe, but has aspirations of other things in the future that might favor a kayak and they don’t want to buy more than one boat (I know, crazy thought to many that have several boats).

But as others have said it’s fine to give a bit of advice, but then leave it at that and don’t fret about it.

Heck, I felt the same way. Summer-camp memories made me think of canoes as buses, while kayaks seemed sleek and cool. It wasn’t until I spent time on the water and saw some really good canoeists that I started getting interested in canoes.

not worth the effort
I try to differentiate between people who are really looking for advice and those who are just wanting someone to tell them their way of thinking is correct.

I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone in the first category. For folks in the second category, I encourage their enthusiasm, wish them well, and extract myself from the discussion as quickly as possible. Why waste time and effort on a lost cause?