Thursday, April 30, 2015

Canoe or Kayak?

Ah choices!  Shall I take a canoe or a kayak on my paddling trip?  Well that depends on if you like Coke or Pepsi, drive a car or a truck, listen to pop or classics…  well you get the idea.  It mostly comes down to personal preference, but knowing the differences can help you have a more enjoyable time out on the river.
The oldest boat known to still be in existence is a canoe from about 10,000 years ago.  Kayaks didn’t come along for at least another several thousand years.  So if “experience” is an important qualification to you, well then stop reading and pick the canoe!

Canoes and kayaks come in many different styles and materials, but the one characteristic that they all share is their ability to allow you to float easily on water and navigate across its surface.  Here at Fox’s Canoe Livery in Hocking Hills, all our canoes are designed to hold 2 (or more) people, while our kayaks are designed to hold only 1 person.  So in a canoe, there is someone for you to blame, in a kayak, it’s all your fault!

There are two primary differences between our canoes and kayaks:


Though solo canoes and multiple person kayaks are manufactured, we don’t really have them available to rent here at our livery.  So capacity is a key element to the seating arrangements of each type of craft, with the canoe being the option if more than 1 person wish to travel together in the same boat.

Paddling a canoe is akin to sitting in a chair. There are two seats in our canoes, with the additional option of sitting 1 person (or two 3-8 year olds) directly on the bottom of the boat.  The canoe seats do not have built in back support, though a few back rests are available for free on a first come first serve basis.\

Paddling a kayak is akin to sitting on the floor.  The whole craft rides low in the water with “bucket style” seats.  Some have cockpits that you sort of climb down inside or there are sit-upon versions which you sort of just climb on top of.


The canoe paddle has a grip or handle on a shaft opposite a single blade that gets dipped in the water to move the craft.  It is placed right alongside of the canoe on one side or the other. 

The kayak paddle resembles a cotton swab, with two blades, one on each end of a long shaft.  The blades are placed alternately on opposite sides of the craft, into the water at an angle away from the sides of the kayak.

Some important considerations 

A kayak is generally easier to learn how to use than a canoe, but in the hands of a master a canoe is more maneuverable and quite elegant.   The art of steering a kayak is more intuitive to beginners due to the double bladed paddle, being more centered in the craft, and having no other paddlers affecting the boat.  For more see our paddling primer

Kayaking is a wetter ride.  For starters water collects in the bottom of boats, which as it turns out, is sort of where you are sitting.  Additionally, the action of paddling with a kayak paddle tends to cause more droplets of water to end up in the craft as you paddle, whereas droplets rolling off a canoe paddle tend to drip back into the river.  Then again, who cares if you plan on popping overboard from time to time to swim! 

A canoe is easier to enter and exit from, particularly for older bodies that just don’t bend like they used to.   There is more ability to adjust your body for comfort in a canoe it seems, however without the aid of a seat back, kayaks tend to trump canoes for back support. 

A kayak tends to offer more maneuverability and speed, and without having to coordinate with another person, more freedom to explore the river as you wish.    

As for stability, our wide bodied kayaks and sit-upons are in line with canoes as far as their adeptness at remaining upright.  The skill of the paddler tends to be a significant factor in the likelihood of flipping a boat.  That being said, I’ve known the river to flip even seasonal paddlers with equal success regardless of which boat they were in!   

The view from both offers equally interesting views, but from slightly different perspectives.  Sitting up in a canoe you can usually get glimpses of features and terrain out on top of the banks of the river.  Being down in a kayak is more of a fish-eyed view.

Paddling a kayak tends to be more of a symmetrical experience, canoes more asymmetrical.  Both repetitive motions are a beautiful and wonderful work of art, a way of dancing across the surface of a still pond.  Don’t believe me?  Check out these artistic dances of light and paddling of a canoe and of paddling a kayak. Cool! 

Ah choices!  Whichever boat you choose, it is very difficult to NOT have a great time out on the Hocking River!


  1. Wish you can also consider paddling using a SUP board someday but love your article Wes! Hope you can try stand up paddleboarding when you have time. Snowcoast Paddleboards Alberta

  2. I had booked a travel ticket through Kayak Website online but now i want to cancel it So can you please send me KAYAK Customer Services Number for the cancellation of ticket....