Should I choose a canoe or a kayak for a beginner?

(Sorry if this gets posted often)


I have no paddling experience but I want to get into the sport. I am stuck between choosing a canoe or a kayak. Canoes seem to be able to hold more cargo and have better stability, but kayaks seem to be faster and if you accidentally tip over, you can learn to do a roll to get it back up,

I mainly want to do river and lake paddling. In 2020 I want to attempt to do the Mississippi River from source to sea. This would be after gaining three and a half years experience of course. I’ve done a lot of research and the Mississippi River is wide enough at many points that if you tip over in a canoe, self-rescue might be impossible. There are also many portages at the beginning, and I’ve read that kayaks are lighter and easier to carry.

For canoes, since they have more space, I can easily fit all the camping gear and other supplies in it. They also have more stability but if I do tip over in the middle of the river, things might go wrong very fast.


Whoa! I think you need to slow down a bit on your ambitions. Find out if you actually LIKE paddling first before planning this expedition. You clearly have much to learn and can’t even know at this point how much you DON’T know. Kayaks and canoes come in many different types and variations and the sort that you would be likely to use for a self-supported extended journey is not necessarily what might be the best to learn basic skills with. Is there a local paddling club or outfitter that you can get started with in the Spring? Find a place where you can get some basic lessons, preferably with boats provided by the instructor. Then start doing some day trips, preferably with other more experienced paddlers, on rivers in your area.

Also plan to do as much camping as you can over the next couple of years to get comfortable with living that way. Most of us start with a used boat and you will be better equipped to find something to start with once you have been exposed to instruction and used both canoes and kayaks on multiple occasions.

And start reading accounts by folks who have done extended source-to-sea paddling expeditions. Your local library should have plenty of them. Here’s a good one to start with:

There are a lot of factors you are considering, and I have no idea which type of boat will be better for you, but some of your preconceptions aren’t quite right, so let’s start there, and let’s start with the premise that a canoe in this context is a solo boat, rather than a two-person boat to make the comparison more reasonable.

It’s true that in general, kayaks tend to be faster than solo canoes, but solo canoes can be fairly fast in their own right, much faster than most people would expect, if it’s the right canoe paddled by a decent paddler. I think what tends to more often be a significant difference between the two craft is how they handle in strong wind. A kayak moves much more easily in strong wind than a solo canoe (and a solo canoe is much, much easier to handle in strong wind than a two-person canoe that’s paddled solo). You’ll surely encounter quite a few very windy days doing that Mississippi River trip.

As to stability, that’s more a matter of perception than reality. I find that most kayakers (these are average people, not experts), on first getting into a solo canoe, almost always remark about how unstable the canoe feels. That feeling of tippyness is something you get over pretty quickly, but I’d still say that the average solo canoe is more prone to tipping over in rough water than the average kayak (again, there is so much variation in boat styles that a generalization like this won’t be true across the board). In addition, for both styles of boat, there’s just so much that the paddler can do to compensate for any tendency to tip over that stability all by itself isn’t such an important thing. Still, for a person with the skills, a kayak can be recovered in open water by rolling or re-entry, and doing the same in a canoe is just about impossible for most people, especially if the water rough enough to likely be the cause of flipping, and this is even more true for a heavily-loaded boat in rough water. Still, plenty of people have paddled the whole Mississippi in canoes.

As far as ease of carry, the canoe wins, hands down. Canoes are generally lighter, and the fact that they can be supported on your shoulders means the mechanics of carrying is much easier as well. In addition, when it comes time to carry, having your gear in just a few large packs is a huge advantage too, and that can only be done with the canoe. In a kayak, you’ll be packing your stuff in multiple, small bags, and you’ll have what looks like a yard sale going on while packing and unpacking your boat, and you will also need to pack and unpack large packs for consolidating your gear on the carry. Or, you might bring a cart with you and use that to move your kayak without unloading it. Then again, even getting your boat onto dry land and to a location where the cart can be used, without unloading it first, might be a challenge.

Then there’s the learning curve just for paddling. If you opt to use a single-blade paddle in the canoe, it will take two or three years of frequent practice just to develop a decent forward stroke and a good ability to deal with wind, etc. With a double-blade paddle, you’ll be in pretty good control of your boat (canoe or kayak) in a very short time.

A lot of people find that spending long hours in either type of boat is a lot more difficult than they expect. This can be more of a problem with kayaks because in that case, you really only have one position to choose from, whereas in a canoe you can vary how you sit, or switch between sitting and kneeling, or kneel with either leg forward or neither leg forward (both feet beneath you). If you have limited flexibility in your hamstrings, sitting low, as in a kayak, might be difficult without working on it for a while. You won’t know until you start paddling your boat of choice how this is going to turn out, and at that point you may need to think about ways to improve your comfort during long days on the water.

I’m partial to canoes, but for a person who’s mainly just working up to paddling the whole Mississippi River, I’d give the edge to the kayak, especially when it comes to how things are likely to go on windy days. Still, working out how much stuff you need to bring along is up to you, and you might end up liking the idea of a canoe more.

You need to spend some time learning the basics of both? As above many of your assumptions need an experience check. Then decide.

You definitely have some misconceptions. A canoe is far easier to carry than a kayak. If a lot of portages are involved you will be much better off with a canoe. Canoes can also be much lighter than kayaks and when you consider a long trip, the canoe can carry a lot more gear. With kayaks you need to think like a backpacker. Small and light. With canoes you can carry a lot more in the way of conveniences, which could make a long trip much more bearable. Something as simple as a folding chair is an item that will fit easily in a canoe and not in a kayak. During an extended trip such as you propose, consider the simple luxury of having a chair while camping at each stop vs. sitting on the ground every evening for a few months.

As far as recovery, a kayak is easier if you learn to roll, but that could take many hours of practice to be able to do it under all conditions. A canoe can also be recovered with practice in open water and easily re-entered, but not full of gear. Unless you become an expert at rolling, you will likely need to get both a kayak and a canoe to shore or shallow water to recover.

Before you make a purchase and going on your journey consider taking a few multi-day camping trips each year and try renting both canoes and kayaks and determine which is better from your perspective.

Canoes are different than kayaks. Some people like canoes, and other people like kayaks. I agree with the commenters who recommend that you try out both, because that is the only way that you can find out which you prefer. You can rent them, you can borrow them, or you can buy an inexpensive used canoe and an inexpensive used kayak. You need to figure out whether you prefer paddling with a canoe paddle or paddling with a kayak paddle, you need to figure out whether you find sitting in a canoe or sitting in a kayak more comfortable, and you need to figure out whether you prefer camping out of a canoe or camping out of a kayak.

I suggest that you consider your first canoe and/or kayak as a training boat and a learning experience. Don’t agonize over what brand and model of canoe or kayak to buy for your first boat. Just get something generally appropriate, get it out on the water a lot, and do a lot of overnight or several day camping trips. After a couple of years of paddling, camping, talking with other paddlers, and asking questions on forums like this, you’ll have a much better appreciation of the design features which you need for a long river trip. Then you can start shopping for the canoe or kayak for your Mississippi trip. You’ll find that most paddlers have owned a series of different boats, or currently own several boats.

Here are my views: I think that it’s easier to paddle a kayak than it is to paddle a solo canoe. I think that in general kayaks are a little faster than canoes. I think that kayaks handle better in wind and waves than canoes, It appears to me that some people find it more comfortable to sit in a canoe, some people find it more comfortable to sit in a kayak, and some people find both uncomfortable; I personally find kayaks to be more comfortable. I think t’s easier to load gear in a canoe than it is to load gear in a kayak, but you can carry everything you need for long river trips in a kayak. A Mississippi trip will involve a lot of portages, so you’ll want to pack pretty lightly. Because it isn’t safe to leave gear behind while portaging in developed areas, I suggest that you get a cart which you can pack in your canoe or kayak, and that you plan to portage your canoe or kayak loaded with all of your gear. Look for a cart which attaches near the center of your canoe or kayak, so you don’t need to support very much weight while portaging.

But I should disclose that I have four whitewater kayaks, an expedition sea kayak, and two sit-on-top fishing kayaks, but only one canoe. So you should also consider the opinions of die-hard dedicated canoeists, whose views will no doubt be somewhat different than mine.

Some of your preconceptions are very dependent on the particular boats and the least of your comparison concerns should be with stability, since similar attributes can be had in either a kayak, or canoe. Also, depending on the canoe, there is no reason why you would have to limit yourself to a single bladed paddle. In general, for racking up a lot of miles, the right sea kayak is the way to go, but again there are exceptions.

There are also other choices–such as the Adirondack Guideboat–which is rowed instead of paddled. It can carry a load, is quite stable and moves right along.

I’m not an expedition guy, but my choice would lean heavy toward sea kayaks. Any way you go, there will be compromise; speed and ease of paddling would be where I would not want to compromise and that has sea kayak written all over it.

There are so many preconceptions about canoes vs kayaks and often they are untrue… The Adirondack Pack Canoe is a narrow canoe that can be speedy in longer lengths… can be paddled single or double ( as can all canoes and kayaks!). Because it was designed for bushwhacking it tends to be very light ( 20-30 lbs). But the longest I know of is the Shadow and its so narrow (21 inch canoe) it has to be packed as a sea kayak.
In general bigger water calls for lower center of gravity as in pack canoe or kayak… Kneeling all day in a typical fast solo canoe is not usually comfy but keep in mind that many fast solo expedition canoes like the Wenonah Wilderness have a low seat and your gear will add a ton of stability… I would not go for a sea kayak as unloading and reloading a lot of little drybags is tedious.
It is also preferable to handle water in larger jugs though it may be possible to filter Mississippi river water. ( I have not paddled it)

Where a sea kayak shines is breaking waves and surf…as in the ocean… What might be ideal for you is a Mad River Monarch or a Sea Wind… Expensive. fast and yes a decked canoe. You pack in canoe duffle bags or dry packs.

the budget is the primary determiner… There are accounts online of paddling the Mississppi all the way by aluminum canoe.

Though I am hesistant to add TOO much new information to your thread at this point, since you are just beginning to learn about the range of boats that could be prospects for your planned journey, I do want to point out another option to consider: folding kayaks and canoes. I’ve owned 5 folding kayaks and they have some advantages for a trip like you are planning. One is that they are much lighter, often half the weight of a rigid boat of the same dimensions. The three folders I own at the moment are a 12 footer that is 22 pounds, a 14 footer that is 29 pounds and a 16 footer that weighs 37 pounds.

The other just as important advantage is that they can be break down into a duffel bag that you can carry on a bus, in a car trunk, store in a motel room or even check as luggage on a plane. If, during your expedition, you had to interrupt your journey to go home, or had to flee to a motel for a few days due to bad weather, you would be able to fold up and secure your boat for the duration. Folders are also very stable in rough water because the soft shells absorb the force of waves rather than bounce off of them. Most have long inflatable tubes built into the sides, called sponsons, that add stability as well.

Some models, like Pakboat’s Puffin and Quest series, have decks that are completely removable, so packing a lot of gear in them is very easy. These are not flimsy novelty boats, they are well made and tough craft. Special forces commandos use them for coastal raids and stealth attacks on waterways and adventurers have crossed oceans in folding kayaks. Many models can even be used in whitewater. Most are very comfortable – all of mine have adjustable inflatable seats that make all day paddling very tolerable. They are sturdy but easy to repair with a simple kit or even emergency waterproof tape in a pinch, though in 15 years of paddling folders I have never had a puncture or tear on the water.

For a good introduction to folders, look at Pakboat’s website. Their XT-16 or one of their new 15’ Quest models, could be a good option for you. Pakboat also makes excellent folding canoes, and there are many outfitters and backcountry fishermen who use them in places like Alaska and Patagonia, because they can be flown in packed down in a bush plane and set up in the field. Ally is another maker of folding canoes. The prices for most folders are reasonable and in the same range as mid to high range rigid sea kayaks. There are a few other vendors like Trak, Klepper and Longhaul. Unfortunately, two of the older folder companies recently closed up shop (Feathercraft and Folbot) but you can still find used boats from them as well.

Actually, few people know that the earliest recreational kayaks in the West were folders which became very popular in Europe in the early twentieth century. The designs are based on the original native peoples “skin on frame” kayaks which are made of wood and bone frames with a sealskin outer covering,