Paddling a kayak versus a canoe

Is one easier to paddle than another? I paddle an inflatable kayak and it’s pretty much my only experience paddling beyond the old days of paddling a Grumman aluminum canoe in Boy Scouts or as a summer camp counselor. Does one tend to use more muscles than the other or perhaps give a better workout? I like the fluidity of paddling a kayak with a double paddle but I’m considering making a take-down SOF kayak or canoe and before I commit I want to know some opinions regarding level of exertion and such. I know my inflatable is not something that gives me a good idea of performance. It’s an Advanced Elements Expedition so it’s a well designed easy tracking boat but not the fastest performer. I’m also 6’1" and about 180-190lbs and I need to move my seating position and leg positioning frequently or I get cramps in the back of my left leg (an old injury). I like to paddle mostly flatwater and fairly leisurely as well as the occasional multi-day camping trip. Additionally I like to photograph wildlife from the boat so I want something stable that I can mount my little video camera on as well as be able to shoot from using my dslr with a monopod - from the cockpit. I’m looking at the Yostwerks designs and favoring them fairly heavily right now. Comments, suggestions?

You might email…
… Tom Yost. It’s my understanding that some of his designs can be a bit tender.

I think in terms of cardiovascular workout the intensity is dependent on your level of exertion, primarily your stroke rate, much more than what type of craft you are paddling.

Some people are more comfortable with the sitting position that goes along with a kayak. Others are more comfortable in the higher sitting, or kneeling position provided by a canoe. In my opinion, a canoe offers more opportunity to move about than a kayak does.

Many people do trip with kayaks but there is a good reason that the Voyageurs used non-decked boats (canoes) for transporting cargo. Generally speaking, canoes are much easier to load and unload than kayaks. In a canoe the gear can all be consolidated into one or two pack sacks. In a kayak, the gear needs to be broken up into stuff sacks or dry bags small enough to fit through the hatches, and these parcels must be individually loaded and unloaded. For portages, a canoe is typically more comfortable to carry.

I would consider tripping with a kayak along coastal waters, or on a downriver trip in which the boat would need to be loaded and unloaded only once a day. For canoe camping trips requiring multiple portages and multiple daily loading and unloading I would much prefer a canoe to a kayak.

Kayaks are much less effected by wind and large waves than canoes, which is why they are more popular for ocean paddling, or large open-water crossings. Since kayaks usually present less windage they are typically faster than canoes and may allow the paddler to cover more mileage on the water.

In my opinion, canoes require somewhat more time on the part of the average paddler to become competent. Canoeing involves mastery of more strokes than does kayaking and going straight necessitates the use of correction strokes, whereas in a kayak the turning effect of a forward stroke on one side is nicely counter balanced by that of the next stroke on the opposite side.

In my opinion
The main difference between paddling calm water in a kayak and a canoe is the seating. Sitting on the floor vs sitting or kneeling on a low seat.

It’s often easier to change your position in a canoe but you really have to try it to see if one is better than the other for you.

Paddle techniques are different. The kayak paddle works both sides fairly equally. You can paddle on one side only with a canoe paddle. That can make for an uneven load. Paddling sit and switch (or even kneel and switch) lets you work both sides with a canoe paddle. Many canoesters alternate between one side techniques and switching as needed.

Again what is best is what works for you.

If I were you, I would go with the canoe
I paddle both canoes and kayaks and love them both, but from what you said about your legs cramping and you have to move around a bit, I think you will be happier in a canoe.

jack L

2nd the canoe or a Sit-on-Top.
The latter gives you total freedom of motion and most are stable enough for photos.They are very heavy out of the water though.

I paddle both
and enjoy the different motions of each.Paddling either is centered around using abdominal and back muscles.

The learning curves are differently shaped.

Canoes initially are harder to wrap your head around to get to where you want to go. Kayaks are kind of instinctual. Even with an awful stroke on each side things balance out and you get to where you are going.

Once you get the canoe going straight I think the progression to being a really good paddler goes faster.

Mastering all the things you can do with a kayak blade seems to take longer. Perhaps its just the mass of the double blade. I am trying hard still to place my boat exactly where I want it with the double blade.

I was musing while paddling wondering why kayakers seem more inclined to take instruction and canoeists not.

Let me introduce another factor
how about decked canoe designs that look somewhat like kayaks - ie. Kruger canoes or their look-a-likes. I would like to be able to get out and comfortably paddle when it gets cold out and it seems like a decked canoe would make it more comfortable than a typical open canoe. I’ve only seen pics of decked canoes. Is the seating more like a kayak or can you move around some in them as you would in a traditional canoe? Also, how about paddling a canoe with a double paddle (kayak style)? I believe I’ve seen some pics of people paddling canoes with double paddles but are they paddling with a kayak type of stroke or more a canoe type of stroke and simply using a double paddle to eliminate the hand switch thing? Also, the decked canoes I’ve seen pics of look like they’d be an inbetween compromise for gear loading. Somewhere between a kayak and a canoe - ie. some gear easy to get to, some not as much.

Individual differences
I could never paddle a canoe in a kneeling position and would never even consider that. Paddling a canoe in a seated position? Nothing I do makes that an option either. You have to evaluate your ability to tolerate kneeling and whether your objectives are better suited to a canoe or a kayak.

I’m not as “biboatal” as many here. I like canoes, but some of my best friends kayak. I’ve had several kayakers over for dinner and such. Really.

So I’ve made some observations over the years.

If you want to paddle as a form of workout, if you want aerobic or cardiovascular exercise, I suspect a kayak is perhaps a bit better than a canoe. The short stroke sit-and-switch canoe strokes that racing canoeists use may be close to a kayak stroke as far as exercise value is concerned. Paddling an open solo canoe into a headwind wind can sometimes get aerobic also. Personally, I don’t seek out that sort of situation. I like to relax when I paddle. But that’s just me. Others really seem to enjoy the workout.

Thing about a typical cruising canoe stroke is that there is a “recovery” portion to each and every stroke. (Perhaps you make a little better use of your torso and thighs in a kneeling canoe stroke also - if you can teach yourself to tolerate kneeling.)With a kayak you’re always powering on one side or the other and at no point (as long as you’re actually paddling at all) are you really resting as far as your heart and lungs are concerned. It seems to me, therefore, as if kayaking strokes are more like jogging or running where cruising canoe strokes are like walking (or maybe “power walking”). Which is easier? I think walking (canoeing)is over the long haul.

Putting that continuous energy of the kayak stroke into the boat does result in some speed. I’ve often seen sea kayakers scoot off at the start of a trip and really cover some distance, but usually most kayakers will start to “run out of gas” after a few hours. Durangoski, Rusty125, a few other kayakers I know both on and off this board are exceptions - they’re very fit and practice a lot. Still, I think kayaking for, say, six hours straight really takes it out of most kayak paddlers, where most canoe paddlers can just keep cruising for about as long as they care to. If your goal is to travel on your own power across a state or the country, you’d walk rather than run, right? Ultimately you’ll get there faster if you don’t exhaust yourself early.

Those Krugers decked canoes you asked about are a different breed of cat altogether. That rudder makes a big difference in how they’re best paddled. Kruger was once a fighter pilot and instructor and thought a lot in terms of drag, like an aircraft designer. He felt, probably rightly, that less drag was created by using a rudder slightly offset than was created by constantly doing traditional corrective paddle strokes. So basically you just straight power stroke Krugers and let the rudder keep your course rather than doing j’s or c’s or whatever. Its what they’re designed to do. They’re made for long days and long expeditions and they do it better than anything else I’ve ever seen.

But it’ll be a long time before you see anyone trying to paddle a Kruger Canadian style. I think some of the “art” of traditional canoe paddling is lost in the Kruger approach, but it sure is efficient for going long distances fast with a load in any kind of weather. They’re very costy, but they are easy to paddle and there’s almost no learning curve involved. Just power stroke 'em. Short stroke if you’re in a hurry. Switch sides and move the rudder a titch before your muscles grow lop-sided.

decked canoes/pack canoes
There is a class of canoe referred to a pack canoes which are more or less designed to be paddled in a low sitting position with a double bladed paddle. Best examples currently in production are the Spitfire, Rapidfire, and Shadow manufactured by Placid Boatworks.

Just about any canoe can be paddled with a double bladed paddle and some people prefer this style, especially for open, flat water paddling that doesn’t require much maneuvering.

There are decked canoes. Solo decked canoes originally intended for Olympic slalom competition and later used as whitewater river trippers and playboats are referred to as C-1s. These have permanent hard decks with cockpits and are paddled wearing a sprayskirt, like a kayak, but using a single bladed paddle in a low kneeling position. They are completely unsuitable for hauling gear, and most people find them uncomfortable until they get used to them, and sometimes even after they get used to them.

There are also partially decked canoes. Some of these are short polyethylene whitewater playboats like the Esquif Spanish Fly and others are flatwater and easy river boats like the Bell Rob Roy.

Some canoeists and trippers fit nylon spray decks to their boats which can be removed for loading and unloading gear. These can help in high winds and also keep water out of the boat in rain and big waves. Some have nylon tunnels that fit up around the paddler’s waist. They still allow a fair degree of movement in the seat.

Generally speaking one can stay warmer in a kayak than an open canoe because lower body heat is well-retained and you stay pretty dry below the waist as long as you don’t come out of the boat. But your hands tend to get a lot wetter kayaking than they do canoeing and it can be hard keeping them warm when the water is cold.

Is one easier to paddle than the other?
This is the specific topic question.

I believe there is a definitive and inarguable answer to this question.

Let me answer it this way. 20 years ago one of the biggest paddle shops in CT was Collinsville Canoe. About 10 years ago they changed their name to Collinsville Canoe & Kayak. Last week I walked through their three new boat storage barns and saw hundreds of kayaks and not one canoe, except for a small one handful on demo racks.

I’ll answer it another way. This spring I spend 8 weeks paddling around the AmSouth, mainly Florida. Other than rental canoes on the few rivers that had outfitters, I recall seeing only one canoe other than me that entire time. All the other paddle boats were kayaks, including a huge flotilla from the Marion County Aquaholics.

The reason is ease of use.

With respect
I’d suggest that the undeniable increase in popularity of kayaks doesn’t necessarily prove ease of paddling. (But it might prove ease of marketing.) If that were the case, one might suppose that the popularity of being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic proves it to be easier than riding the train.

Probably the “learning curve” differences mentioned earlier by others contributes to kayak popularity. But ease of learning isn’t necessarily ease of paddling.

Changing patterns of usage probably contribute to kayak popularity also, but have nothing to do with ease of paddling. A couple of examples…

Used to be canoeing was almost always a tandem proposition - but nowadays it looks like it can be more difficult for many to work out a schedule with a regular tandem paddling partner than soloing. So solo canoes and kayaks offer an appeal and have increased in popularity. Nothing to do with ease of paddling, of course. Tandem canoes are quite easy to paddle, but have become less popular nevertheless. Again ease of paddling and popularity aren’t necessarily correlated.

A second example… At least from what I’ve seen of the trends, it used to be that canoeing and camping went hand-in-hand. That favored canoe popularity over kayaks which, as previously mentioned by others, are perhaps a little more difficult to camp out of. From what I’ve seen in recent years, I think that camping/paddling correlation is changing. Every single overnight club outing I’ve been on this year has had at least some club members who chose to stay in a motel or with friends rather than camping. (All kayakers, by the way.)

Even those of us who camp do so from a base camp. (It just works better for larger groups of mixed experience to have a common meeting place.) But the upshot is that it didn’t really matter how easy to load or unload a boat is or how it handles with a heavy load. In such group paddles covering long distances with ease, ease of paddling, isn’t an issue. Sections are picked to allow for the least strong paddlers in the group. Favors a kayak again. If group paddles are what one means to do and why one buys a paddle craft, kayaks make sense even if they aren’t as easy to paddle in the long run. So who’s doing a long run, anyhow? Again a reasonable and popular boat choice needn’t be the easiest to paddle.

And then there’s the marketing angle. Kayaking is made to appear fashionable and has become so. (Canoes would just look so “old school” on TV adds and such…)

By analogy, if we thought popularity of a fashion had anything to do with ease of usage we’d all be certain that it was easier to walk in Crocs than work boots.

Its not, of course. But it hasn’t affected the popularity or profitability of Crocs. (Look at all the color choices!)

Just look at all the specialized paddling stuff that is targeted to the kayak market. From car racks, to clothes, to shoes, to safety gear, to books and classes. Its good business. I’m all for any boat builder or dealer making a decent living selling whatever sells.

Fashion sells all sorts of stuff. If one wants to be fashionable there’s nothing wrong with it if its affordable. But being fashionable doesn’t any more indisputably prove a kayak is easier to paddle than a canoe than it proves a Croc is a better footwear choice than a work boot for a hike on the AT or to the other side of the city by either sidewalk or railroad tracks. If ease of use and popularity coincide its only by random chance.

And yes, I was actually trying to address the comparative ease of paddling a canoe or kayak in my previous post. (and decked canoes like Krugers) Guess I wasn’t all that successful - but they can’t all be gems. :wink:

Well, it looks like it’s not as clear
cut as to which is easier. I could probably be happy paddling either a canoe or a kayak given that I’m mostly interested in flat water paddling. However, I want to make a collapsible (folding) model and it looks like I am probably out of luck where a canoe is concerned. By and large, all the plans available to make folding boats are for kayaks. I think the decision is being made for me, regardless of whether one would be easier to paddle than the other.

Take a look at the Alley Pack canoe
We used them on a wilderness trip in the Arctic circle.

They are absolutely amazing.

They use aluminum struts and fabric with a heavier duty fabric on the inside of the hull.

They are about 17 feet long, and when taken apart all the parts and pieces go into a back pack for carrying.

Jack l

May be more folding/inflatable/hybrids
than you think. Some like Feathercraft, Folboat, Pakboats, others, I think make both open and decked boats and some that can be both. Believe worth more search time. I find using both double blade (GP) for open water/windy travel, and single blade for narrow/overhung creeks works great for my canoe. Just thoughts. R

lonely canoe
I’ve been paddling a canoe for 50 years and a kayak for 10. I now prefer a kayak in all situations except two: 1) on an extended camping trip on smaller lakes, you can haul a lot more stuff in a 17’ canoe than in two kayaks; 2) when fishing on smaller lakes and there’s another person to help with the paddling, a canoe is more comfortable than a kayak. Those are the only canoe advantages I can see. Kayaks are much more versatile than canoes - you can paddle them safely in virtually all conditions. Plus, I like it that you’re close to the water in a kayak. Since I don’t fish or go on extended camping trips on small lakes as much as I used to, my kayaks are getting a lot more use than my canoe.

I’m your height but weigh a bit less, 165-170. I built a Yost boat last fall, the Sea Tour 17R, which is one of the larger volume boats he offers. It’s a neat boat but I don’t paddle it all that often. The exterior dimensions (width) are larger than I like in a kayak but the interior dimensions are a bit cramped with the sections taking up so much room. I also need to paddle it barefoot (size 11 1/2) or with just water booties on or there isn’t room for my feet.

It’s a fun boat to take out now and then but it’s not at the top of my list.

From the paddling situations you described in your original post I’d highly recommend a solo canoe. A carbon/kevlar model would be very light, quick, stable, could haul some gear, and would give you more room to move around.


Problem is
I live in an apartment and have nowhere to store even a 10’ boat, even if I could get into my apartment. I also can’t justify the expense of renting one of the storage spaces, especially since they still wouldn’t accommodate a boat of any decent size. Some of the replies may have forgotten that I’m interested in building a take-down boat. However, my experience so far is that there are no plans available for take down canoes. There are obviously a few models of take down canoes being made but all are WAY out of my price range. Mainly I’m wanting to make a second boat because I think I can build one from raw materials cheaper than I can buy another Advanced Elements inflatable. I was wanting to get a second kayak for my wife or like I said build one and then she could use my AE Expedition inflatable. It looks like if I want to build a takedown boat it’s going to be a kayak. At this point it also seems like the best designs and materials for construction are going to make it cost as much as what I’d pay for a 10’ AE inflatable (about $399).

Sit In versus Wear

– Last Updated: Jul-12-10 3:26 AM EST –

Some may say you merely sit or kneel in a canoe while you actually wear a kayak.

A kayak has numerous contact points with the body.
Both feet on footpegs, both thighs on the braces, both cheeks of the buttocks,
left and right hip, along with the seat contact on the lower back.
If a kayak isn't properly fitted, energy is lost by slopping about in the cockpit.

Some may argue you get similar contact in a canoe while
using a canoe saddle, but many canoeists don't have one.
Some canoes also have D-rings for thigh straps.
With the proper setup, a canoe can be rolled just like a kayak.