With so many options for solo canoes and kayaks out there, it is important to address the question of which is better. As you would expect, there are pros and cons to each and certain types of paddling that each might be better for.
If you are currently evaluating buying a solo canoe vs a kayak, we are here to help. In this guide, we will provide a thorough comparison of the major features you can expect if you were to choose a kayak vs a solo canoe.
We will also evaluate the pros and cons of each type of paddle craft and provide some examples of the specific types of paddling that each would be best for. So let’s get to it!
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Table of Contents
- 1 Solo Canoe vs Kayak
- 2 Quick Features Comparison
- 3 In-Depth Features Breakdown
- 4 Pros and Cons of a Solo Canoe
- 5 Pros and Cons of a Kayak
- 6 So Which is Better?
- 7 Final Thoughts
- 8 Enjoyed Solo Canoe vs Kayak – Which Is Better? Share it with your friends so they too can follow the Kayakhelp journey.
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The main differences between a solo canoe and a kayak are going to be hull design and cockpit style. Solo canoes tend to have flatter hulls with a shallow arch rocker and kayaks come with everything from flat to deep, V-shaped hulls.
Additionally, almost all solo canoes have the classic, open, canoe-style cockpit where the walls at the center are slightly lower than the walls at the bow and stern. Among kayaks, you can find both sit-inside and sit-on-top options depending on the type of paddling you want to do.
While this is not necessarily always the case, solo canoes also tend to be longer than kayaks. You will, of course, find some long touring kayaks that rival the length of solo canoes, but it is rare to find a solo canoe that is under 10 feet in length.
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There is slightly more variety in designs of one-person kayaks versus solo canoes. Still, you will find a few ‘maybes’ on our features comparison list because the exact answer will depend on the specific kayak or canoe model in question.
So there’s a brief idea of what to expect with a solo canoe vs a kayak. However, you probably see “maybe” or an “or” more than you like and that is because the precise answer will vary depending on the exact model canoe or kayak you choose.
Plus, it helps to understand how these features impact the performance of a solo canoe or kayak. In this section, we will dive further into these features to give you a better understanding of what to prioritize when choosing a kayak vs a solo canoe.
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Kayaks can either feature open, sit-on-top cockpits or enclosed, sit-inside cockpits. Solo canoes, however, will always have a completely open top that makes it super easy to get in and out.
The canoe cockpit style is usually better for loading a lot of cargo or to make it easier for larger paddlers to get in and out. On the other hand, it will usually require you to load your cargo a little more mindfully so that the bow of your kayak isn’t riding too high up out of the water.
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If you frequently paddle in locations where it can go from perfectly sunny in the morning to windy and drizzling rain in the afternoon, you need to choose a paddle craft that is compatible with some type of spray skirt.
The best spray skirts will enclose the cockpit of your vessel to keep water from entering. They also have the added benefit of holding more of your body’s natural heat inside the cockpit to keep your lower half warmer and less susceptible to wind chill.
For kayaks, you will need to choose a sit-inside design if you want to make sure it will be compatible with a spray skirt. For canoes, things are a little bit more difficult because it will depend on the exact model you choose.
They do make spray decks for canoes, but you will have to search a little harder to find one that matches the exact dimensions and specifications of your specific canoe.
This gets a little complex because you will need to factor in length, beam, and gunwale height at the bow, stern, and centerline of your canoe.
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A yoke is a feature that is entirely unique to canoes. It is defined as “a crossbeam at the center of a canoe that connects the starboard and aft sides.”
Some solo canoes will actually boast two yokes to provide more lateral support for more intensive types of paddling. A yoke on a canoe is also highly useful for something you might do with a canoe when it is not in the water: carry it over short distances.
Canoe yokes have a slight curve in the center that is intentionally designed to curve around the back of your neck while the majority of your canoe’s weight rests on your shoulders.
This is the easiest way to carry a canoe and is useful for getting it down a boat ramp by yourself or portaging between lakes.
You will not have this option with a kayak (although some manufactures now make kayak yokes that can attach externally). Kayaks can be a little more awkward to carry depending on their size, which is why some kayakers make their own PVC kayak carts.
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Kayaks can boast either enclosed or open storage areas. The latter is usually fine if you are just getting into recreational paddling, but the latter is more preferred for harsh weather conditions and multi-day camping trips.
With canoes, the entire length can basically be used for gear storage (as long as you don’t exceed the weight capacity). That gives you more versatility and the ability to bring more cargo, but you will need to have everything properly enclosed in dry bags to keep it dry.
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Many traditional canoe paddlers love the nylon-webbed seats that come standard on solo canoes. They force you to engage your core to keep your back upright and help you build core and back muscles in the process.
However, if you are looking for a more relaxed form of paddling, you will want a seat with a seatback that allows you to relax and recline occasionally. This seat design is pretty standard on kayaks and, fortunately, you should be able to find it on some solo canoes too.
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You will only find a handful of the best solo canoes that come with footrests or pedals. On the other hand, this is a standard feature on all kayaks and that is true regardless of whether you are looking at sit-on-tops or sit-insides.
The major advantage of having footrests or pedals is that it gives you something to push against with each paddle stroke. This makes it easier to engage your abdominal and back muscles to reduce fatigue in your arms and shoulders.
It also makes paddling a better workout for your entire upper body and will allow you to maintain a technique that ultimately results in more powerful paddle strokes so that you can achieve a higher average kayak speed.
On another note, it also makes an individual kayak or canoe adaptable to suit individuals of many different heights.
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There is no deck on any style of a canoe, period. Instead, the entire top of the canoe is open and that means you will have the ultimate versatility to load children, dogs, or overnight camping gear in as you see fit.
With kayaks, on the other hand, you will only have the benefit of a deck if you choose a sit-inside variety. Sit-on-top kayaks also have open cockpits and typically just have two areas dedicated to gear storage at the bow and stern.
The main advantage of choosing a kayak with an enclosed cockpit and deck on top is for paddling in rough weather.
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If you do have someone to help you carry your canoe, you will usually find molded handles at the bow and stern. On a kayak, there are also typically handles at the bow and stern, but they vary between molded and toggle-style handles.
Molded handles are nice because they are less likely to break or wear out over time. However, if they do break, they are much more difficult to repair or replace than a toggle-style handle.
Toggle-style handles can be found online and replaced in a matter of minutes. Because they rely on some type of rope or string being attached to an anchor point at the bow and stern of your kayak, however, they are more likely to snap under heavy loads or succumb to UV degradation over time.
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Kayaks are made to be propelled with a double-bladed kayak paddle. This paddle design increases the number of paddle strokes you can complete per minute and allows inexperienced paddlers to keep up with their more experienced paddle partners.
It also allows new paddlers to exert less effort to propel their kayak forward and eliminates the need to switch the paddle from one side of the craft to the other. These are significant advantages to folks that are new to kayaking or canoeing.
These advantages are one of the reasons why some solo canoes are now built with elevated seats that allow you to use either a single-bladed or double-bladed paddle.
While they can cost a little more and be harder to find, this versatility is a huge benefit if you are a relative beginner but you are set on getting a solo canoe over a kayak.
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Now that you have a quick overview of the differences in features between these two types of paddle craft, let’s discuss some of the pros and cons of solo canoes in greater depth.
The wide-open design of canoes makes them ideal for larger paddlers and also provides more legroom than most kayaks. You will also have the ability to use that extra room for storing gear or going for a casual paddle with a small child sitting in the bottom of your kayak in front of you.
While you should probably store all of your gear in a dry bag before you store it inside your canoe, it will be much easier to grab anything you need out of those bags while you are on the water because they won’t be stuffed into enclosed storage compartments that are inaccessible from the cockpit.
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Some kayaks do have plenty of room to paddle with a dog, but all canoes definitely do. You should have no trouble paddling with your pup in a canoe and the higher gunwales on canoes can also dissuade many dogs from hopping into the water like they would be more likely to do on a kayak.
In general, a solo canoe is going to be a little bit less maneuverable than most kayaks of similar lengths and widths. They are designed more for longer, straighter paddles instead of navigating narrow creeks and streams.
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Some of the best solo canoes are actually quite lightweight, but their larger dimensions make them a little more difficult to carry and transport than their kayak counterparts.
That said, there are now lightweight folding canoes out there that are great for people with small vehicles and minimal storage space at home.
For the most part, you will find solo canoes equipped with the traditional nylon-webbed seats that all canoes are known for.
These don’t boast any sort of seatback to provide lumbar support and most solo canoes don’t have foot pedals or footrests to help you maintain an ergonomic and comfortable paddle position.
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To help you make your final evaluation of whether or not a solo canoe vs kayak makes more sense for you, let’s also examine the pros and cons of kayaks.
Kayaks are more likely to fit a wider variety of body types because the best kayak seats are highly adjustable.
At the very least, they will allow you to choose a more upright or reclined position and some even boast height adjustments that allow you to raise your hips so that you don’t feel so crunched in the cockpit.
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Kayaks are made to be more easily maneuverable on smaller waterways and also on moving water. There are obviously a lot of different styles out there in this category as well, with the best whitewater kayaks usually being the most maneuverable and the best day touring kayaks being built for straight-line speed.
Kayaks also tend to be more stable and forgiving if you are new to paddle sports in general. This is especially true if you choose one of the best kayaks for beginners and it will also depend on the types of hulls on the kayaks you choose, but it is still true on a general level.
Even if you choose a sit-on-top kayak with open storage areas in the bow and stern, it can be difficult to turn around and reach gear that you have secured in your stern tankwell.
Additionally, the bow storage area is usually located so far to the front of the kayak that you won’t be able to get to it until you pull up on shore and get out of your kayak.
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Many larger paddlers have trouble getting comfortable in the smaller cockpits that most kayaks offer. This can be especially tricky if you choose one of the best sit-in kayaks, but it can also be challenging with sit-on-top tandem kayaks.
If you are looking for a vessel that you can use for a multi-day expedition in a place like Boundary Waters or Voyageurs National Park, kayaks tend to be tougher to portage over land than their canoe counterparts.
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The best answer to this question is that it depends on the situation, the reason you are heading out on the water, and your goals once you get out there.
For starters, we don’t recommend a solo canoe unless you are familiar with canoe rescue techniques. Because of their open cockpits, canoes form a seal with the surface of the water that makes flipping them over quite difficult if you capsize.
The same is actually true for sit-inside kayaks, but they have smaller cockpit openings that don’t create as strong of a seal if you flip. So, the best solo canoes are a better fit for intermediate and experienced paddlers.
Kayaks are more forgiving than solo canoes and that is especially true if you opt for one of the best sit-on-top kayaks for beginners. These models include scupper holes that naturally allow water to drain out of the cockpit if you flip.
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That being said, experienced canoe paddlers love solo canoes for several important reasons.
They boast more open storage space than kayaks and they make it easy to maintain access to all of your gear without pulling onto shore, getting out of your kayak, and opening a closed storage hatch.
They do make it necessary to store your gear in appropriately sized dry bags, but accessibility to gear is a major advantage on long-distance canoe trips. They also can be easier if your trip includes any portages because of the built-in yokes for carrying.
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At the end of the day, a lot of this comes down to personal preference. If you grew up doing overnight canoe trips with your family or Boy Scout troop, for example, you probably will enjoy a solo canoe over a kayak.
However, if you are just entering the world of paddle sports, you should be aware that kayaks are typically easier for beginners than solo canoes.
That is not to say that paddling a solo canoe is impossible if you have no experience, but we do recommend getting a lesson or joining a local canoeing group so that you can learn basic skills before you set out on your own.
We sincerely hope that you have enjoyed this overview of the differences between solo canoes and kayaks. As always, we wish you the safest and most pleasant canoe and kayaking experiences in the months and years to come!