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Canoe vs Kayak: Which Is Better For Camping?

Any paddler will tell you being on the water feels like heaven. Catching a rapid or drifting under the sun is like living a dream. When we get out on the water, nothing else matters. We escape all the cares in the world.

There’s still a question that most paddlers have been trying to answer though. Between a kayak and a canoe, which is better for camping? In some instances, a canoe will be way better, such as for family camping. In other cases, like getting out onto the ocean, a kayak will be better.

By the end of this article, you will have a pretty good idea of the pros and cons of both. We broke this down into different categories that will help you see both sides of this paddler’s dilemma.

Does a canoe or kayak hold more gear?

The canoe will carry by far more gear for camping. You will be able to carry large backpacks which can be fit into different sections of the canoe. Unlike in kayaking, where gear is segmented into different small bags, everything you bring canoeing will fit into one big bag. Then there’s still space for the cooler, fishing gear, and other extra supplies.

In a kayak, gear is split up into separate bags. By making them smaller, they can fit into the dry storage located at the bow and stern of the boat. That storage is a nice feature that canoes don’t have. Your gear can be extra secure inside of the kayak without getting wet or drifting away, even in case of a capsize. You can’t bring as much, but you can keep it nicely compact.

Is it easier to portage a canoe or a kayak?

Some of you may prefer to carry a kayak, but for most portages, a canoe will be more simple. Here’s why.

When portaging a canoe, you’re going to need two trips. Sometimes they can be condensed into one depending on fitness, how much you bring, and if you’re canoeing solo or not. It will take one trip to carry the big dry bag, another to carry the canoe itself. Portage pads (such as this one on Amazon) are often an affordable investment that can be fixed to any canoe yoke, an ideal lifesaver for the solo paddler.

When you need to portage a kayak, the fact that there are many smaller bags means there will be more trips between the beginning and end of the portage.

Even while portaging ultralight kayaks, they are often bulkier. Tandem kayaks are particularly heavy and bulky. For this reason, it’s easier to portage a canoe during most inland trips which require regular portages.

Are canoes or kayaks better for family camping trips?

There are a number of reasons why it’s easier to take families canoeing. You’re going slower in a canoe. You’re taking your time. You can bring more stuff. You can even fit a child or a dog in your canoe. All of this is the perfect setup for taking the whole family camping out of a canoe.

Granted, it is nice to teach kids all kinds of skills. One of those skills is packing a kayak. However, for a very relaxing trip with less hassle, it can be the easiest method to throw everything into the canoe in a well-placed manner.

The only downside to canoeing, especially with family, will be high winds. Due to the higher profile of the canoe it is more easily pushed around in open water. Yet, this can be safer than kayaking with a family for several reasons.

Those same open water crossings create risk in group settings while kayaking. During the open water crossing, such as across a channel with motor boats, means every paddler must stay close together. Children, especially young children, can be too slow or drift too far away.

This risk can be mitigated if you have tandem kayaks with a parent in both kayaks. However you can’t bring your dog, and managing a tandem kayak by yourself can be challenging.

When it’s a windy day, normally kayaks can handle the wind better. However, in this case, it is easier to put the whole family in a large canoe and get everyone through the conditions together. You can even give the kids a paddle! They’ll love the chance to help out.

Are canoes or kayaks better for ocean camping trips?

Unlike the windy scenario with a family, kayaks make great vessels for solo paddlers in open water conditions. They are especially versatile in ocean camping trips. In high winds and high waves, kayaks can give you better control. Couple that with the dual blade, and you can be flying across the water. With all of these reasons added together, the kayak is the superior vessel for the ocean.

The feeling you get while in a tandem kayak and swiftly cutting through the water can also be exhilarating. While a canoe could capsize in these conditions, a kayak with its lower center of gravity will be indefatigable. When it comes to safety, kayaks can handle whitewater or capsizing very well.

The fact that you can roll your kayak when it capsizes is a huge benefit for ocean and whitewater kayakers. With two solo kayakers, if one capsizes then the other can give an assisted rescue. Before the current has time to sweep the capsized kayaker away they can be fully upright.

There are some small drawbacks to taking a kayak camping. You can’t reposition your legs as often as in a canoe. There are fewer chances to stretch or adjust your body. Another downside is you can’t bring as much camping.

In the end, there is something to be said for simplifying your camping trip as much as possible. By bringing less stuff you can live more sparsely on purpose. Last, as long as portaging isn’t a common occurrence, going kayaking can be inherently more fun if that is your favorite boat.

Does a canoe or kayak cost more?

Kyaks can cost anywhere from $300 to $1,500, while canoes generally cost around $500 to $2,500. If you don’t want to spend this much money, the used market (such as on craigslist) will have kayaks and canoes for cheaper than this.

One thing to keep in mind is most kayaks are only meant for one person, while canoes can generally carry 2 or 3. Because of that, canoes end up having more value for the price than kayaks do.

Which one is the clear winner for camping?

There are specific circumstances where a canoe will do better than a kayak, or the reverse. After weighing the pros and cons, we would declare the canoe the ultimate winner. It can be much easier to portage with a canoe than a kayak, especially when you have the dry bags with backpack straps, or when you have shoulder pads for the yoke.

Another benefit to canoeing is you can bring your dog, your kids, your cooler, or your fishing gear on the ride. It’s much easier to pack a canoe, as well as to fit more things or people.

The kayaks time to shine will be for ocean camping trips and solo camping trips. It can handle the hazards that come with being on open water such as wind or high waves. It also has those handy dry storage compartments, plus you can roll out of tricky capsize situations.

In the end, there are more opportunities to go camping in a canoe. Inland camping, family camping, bringing your dog, and camping trips where you go fishing are much easier to do in a canoe.

In addition, they do make canoes of all sizes to suit different needs. Solo canoes are still open with the opportunity to stretch your legs, but small enough for only one person. These days, the solo canoe makes for a beautiful getaway vehicle.

Last, there’s one more thing. Canoes come with an entire set of paddling strokes that kayaks don’t have. The finesse it takes to paddle with the single paddle combines challenge with technique to create a very enjoyable skillset. For some, this can be frustrating, but for others, it is the draw of the canoeist. The trip gets even sweeter when you make a paddle yourself.

We hope this article helped to address this lifelong paddler’s dilemma. Depending on what you want to do, either a kayak or a canoe will get you through it.

Sam