What is the Difference Between a Canoe and a Kayak?

A quick guide to outdoor recreation gear

Flickr/J F

When it comes to outdoor recreation you have your pick of adventures, but most activities require equipment. The variety of gear and subtle differences can be confusing—we’re here to simplify.

Many people ask about the difference between canoes and kayaks. They can be tough to distinguish because they look similar and they’re both designed for paddling. There are, however, a few key differences that set them apart.

The easiest way to understand the differences is by relating them to common vehicles. One site equated canoes to SUVs for their ability to carry more people and gear, and kayaks to sports cars for their limited storage and sleek design, which maximizes speed.

A canoe is a small boat, with a place for passengers to kneel or sit on a raised seat. Canoes are powered with single-blade paddles, can often accommodate more than one person and are usually open on top.

A kayak is a slim boat that sits low in the water, with a place for either one or two passengers to sit with their legs out in front of them. Kayaks are powered with dual-sided paddles and they are most often closed on top, shielding the lower body.

The most notable differences between canoes and kayaks are:

—How the passenger(s) are positioned in the boat
—The number of blades on the paddle
—The capacity and speed
—On paper, the boat will be identified with a “c” for canoe and a “k” for kayak, these letters will precede the capacity of the boat. For example, C-2 would be a two-person canoe and K-1 would be a one-person kayak.

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