Kayaking and canoeing are very similar in nature, to the point where many people can barely discern the difference between the two. One of the major properties that these two popular outdoor activities share is the art of paddling. Those that are familiar with both kayaking and canoeing often wonder whether or not a kayak paddle is suitable for canoeing.
A kayak paddle can be used for solo canoeing, so long as the paddle is the proper length. Experienced paddlers can produce enough stroke power to drive the canoe forward and maintain a straight path with a kayak paddle. However, double-bladed canoe paddles are better for canoeing than kayak paddles.
To fully understand why kayak paddles are able to cross over into the realm of canoeing, we’ll take a look at some of the major reasons behind why kayak paddles can complement the likes of a canoe. From there, we’ll delve into the advantages and disadvantages to paddling with a double-bladed kayak paddle over a single-bladed canoe paddle.
Why You Can Paddle a Canoe with a Kayak Paddle
Many traditional canoeists have only ever paddled with the single-bladed canoe paddle. As of late, however, canoeists are starting to open up to the idea of experimenting with kayak paddles on solo expeditions. The question is, “Why do kayak paddles work with canoeing?”
Kayak Paddles Generate Enough Force to Propel the Canoe Forward
For one, kayak paddles are built to function in the exact same way as a canoe paddle. Both types of paddles are designed to thrust a watercraft along the water, whether it be forward, backward, or steering right and left.
Although canoe paddles are single-bladed and kayak paddles are double-bladed, a skilled paddler will still be able to improvise their paddling to accommodate a kayak paddle. It may not be ideal, but canoeists can still generate enough leverage on their paddle strokes to get moving.
All things considered, if a canoeist places their kayak blade in the water and pulls with force, the canoe will move in flat water conditions. A canoeist may need to experiment with their body positioning and technique to plunge the blade fully in the water every stroke, but it can definitely work.
It’s Easy to Maintain a Linear Path with a Kayak Paddle
Furthermore, the dual-bladed kayak paddle makes it easy for canoeists to stay on a straight, linear course.
In canoeing, preserving control is always a key factor to success. A major part of maintaining control is holding true to a straight path. Veering off course involuntarily may lead to problems later on down the road.
Canoeists that use single-bladed canoe paddles often have to manipulate their paddling technique to keep the canoe moving in a straight line.
Achieving a straight paddling course with a kayak paddle is not so difficult since riders can paddle on both sides of the canoe with ease. If it seems like the canoe is shifting off towards one side, all that a canoeist has to do is apply a few extra strokes to that side to maintain a proper headway.
Double-Bladed Paddle Canoes Were Common in the Past
Many canoeists are surprised to find that double paddle canoes were actually very commonplace in the early days of canoeing.
In the 19th century, Henry Rushton was a reputable architect of these double-bladed paddle canoes. One of his foremost double-bladed paddle canoe designs was a Nessmuk Model Open Paddling Canoe, which he named Wee Lassie (source).
At the time, Rushton’s double-bladed paddle canoes shared many properties with kayaks. Over time, however, the differences between canoes and kayaks became more refined, until double-bladed paddle canoes took an extreme dip in popularity.
Regardless, the Wee Lassie is a prime example of how double-bladed paddles, such as kayak paddles, can work in the realm of canoeing.
The Benefits of Using a Kayak Paddle on a Canoe
There are a few distinct advantages to utilizing a double-bladed kayak paddle as opposed to a single-bladed canoe paddle. These advantages often go overlooked, but they’re important to consider nonetheless.
Better Equipped to Sustain a Steady Pace
First and foremost, kayak paddles lend to a much faster pace, given the benefits in energy efficiency that accompany a double-bladed paddle.
Since the canoeist has two blades to work with, they can cram in way more strokes in a given span of time compared to a single-bladed canoe paddle. With a kayak paddle, there’s rarely ever a moment where at least one blade isn’t actively propelling the canoe forward.
For solo canoeists, this can be a huge benefit, especially if they’re on a trip with other paddlers. Trying to keep pace with tandem canoes can be an arduous task with a single-bladed canoe paddle. Nobody wants to be the person that holds everyone back.
The kayak paddle offers solo canoeists the opportunity to stay on track with their canoeing company. Plus, it can also come in handy if you and your companions are on a time crunch. Single-bladed canoe paddles don’t offer this same luxury.
Eliminates the Need for Corrective Strokes
Another major advantage to double-bladed kayak paddles is that canoeists no longer have to apply corrective strokes to keep the canoe aligned with where they intend to go.
With a single-bladed canoe paddle, a canoeist can only feasibly paddle on one side at a time. In the absence of corrective strokes, a canoeist will eventually veer off course as the stroke misalignment compounds over time.
For this reason, canoeists must apply a slight pry at the end of each stroke to stop the canoe from gradually turning to one side. Popular corrective strokes include the J Stroke and the C stroke, for example (source).
The double-bladed kayak paddle gets rid of this issue completely. Since canoeists can conveniently paddle on both sides of the canoe, lopsided paddling is not that much of a problem. A canoeist can equally distribute their paddling efforts across both sides of the canoe, preventing unintentional curving.
Minimizes Reliance on Back-Ferrying in Whitewater Conditions
In addition, the added maneuverability of a kayak paddle provides canoeists with the chance to be more bold in navigating whitewater conditions.
Since canoe paddles only have one blade, it’s hard to adapt to the rush of the whitewater as it constantly disorients the canoe one way or another. For this reason, canoeists have to back-ferry on a regular basis.
For those of you that don’t know, back-ferrying is a maneuver that’s performed with the intent of moving the canoe across a current, typically from one eddy to another. It allows paddlers to take a more conservative approach when navigating around whitewater rapids.
Although this more conservative approach certainly has its perks, back-ferrying can be time consuming. Often times, you have to sacrifice some of your upstream progress and work backward in order to maneuver around the rapid. It’s essentially the same thing as the one step back, two steps forward approach.
With a kayak paddle in tow, canoeists can afford to be more aggressive in their paddling, avoiding the need to back-ferry regularly.
The Drawbacks of Using a Kayak Paddle on a Canoe
Since kayak paddles aren’t designed for canoeing, there are bound to be some unforeseen drawbacks when employing this type of paddle. If you’re considering experimenting with a kayak paddle on your next canoeing venture, you may want to keep these disadvantages in the back of your mind.
Kayak Paddles Can Tire Your Muscles Quicker
One particular area where kayak paddles pale in comparison to canoe paddles is muscular stamina.
To wield a kayak paddle properly, your body needs to be in a constant state of movement. There’s rarely ever a time where your paddle is not making contact with the water in some way, shape, or form.
Although this does yield tremendous benefits in the domain of speed, your muscular endurance will die out quickly if you’re not accustomed to this level of rigor. It takes a special kind of fitness and an intimate familiarity with the dual-bladed paddle to canoe effectively for long distances.
If you fall short in either of these categories, your body will eventually tap out on you midway through the trip.
It’s also important to note that canoeists are forced to hold a kayak paddle horizontally for almost the entire trip. Gripping a kayak paddle vertically is very inconvenient due to its excessive length. This horizontal grip will gradually wear you down.
Windy days can also present a particular complication to kayak paddles, as the blade that’s not actively in the water can be tossed about. The suspended paddle blade acts as a form of air resistance. In extremely high winds, canoeists may have a harder time manning the helm and retaining control over the paddling strokes.
This added instability requires slightly more activation from the stabilizing muscles, which can increase exhaustion over time.
The Kayak Paddle May Not Be the Proper Length
In addition, the kayak paddle may not be long enough to support adequate paddling on a canoe.
Kayaks tend to have a narrower width than canoes. Due to the fact that the length of kayak paddles are optimized for the narrow width of kayaks, most kayak paddles are slightly shorter than what’s needed for most canoes. Ideally, the kayak paddle should be a minimum length of 250 cm.
Although canoeists can find ways to work around this issue, it’s still an annoyance to deal with. Most canoeists end up improvising with the shortened kayak paddle by leaning in toward the canoe’s edge with each stroke.
This tactic does accomplish its purpose, but the canoe tends to rock from side to side as the canoeist leans in with every paddle stroke. This can promote instability and may even lead some individuals to capsize their canoe.
Fortunately, flipping over a canoe is very hard to do on accident because of how well built canoes are. You can find more information about why canoes are so difficult to capsize by clicking over to How Hard Is It to Flip a Canoe (+Tips to Stay Upright).
Greater Potential for Lower Back Pain
Another glaring problem with canoeing with a kayak paddle is the higher risk for lower back pain.
Kayaks are designed to confine you into a tight space to prevent you from slipping around with every stroke. Although you may feel cramped, many kayakers are willing to take on this discomfort in exchange for a healthy back.
Canoes have a more open layout with extra room for the paddler to move about. This may lend itself to additional comfort and storage space, but it also allows your body to slip and slide with every paddle stroke. Every time the torso rotates to generate power, your body will inevitably shift since there’s nothing holding it in place.
At first, this may only feel like lower back soreness. But after a long bout on the water, this lower back pain will only grow worse. If you do decide to canoe with a kayak paddle, pay close attention to how your lower back feels. As soon as the pain starts to flare up, you may want to consider reverting back to a single-bladed canoe paddle.
What’s the Difference Between Double-Bladed Canoe Paddles and Kayak Paddles?
Now that you know that kayak paddles can be used for canoeing, you’re probably wondering what the difference is between kayak paddles and double-sided canoe paddles. When I was first stepping foot into the world of canoeing, I know this thought crossed my mind once or twice.
Canoe Paddles are Intentionally Designed to Be Longer
For one, canoe paddles are noticeably longer than kayak paddles. Typically, they come at a standard length of 260 cm or 280 cm. At this length, canoeists shouldn’t encounter any problems with accessing the water despite the wider girth of the canoe.
This is meant to resolve the problem we discussed earlier of kayak paddles compromising the stability of the canoe because of its insufficient length. Since these specially designed canoe paddles are the appropriate size, riders don’t have to rock the canoe back and forth with every paddle stroke.
Subtle Differences in Paddle Blade Design
Another difference can be seen in the structure of the paddle blades. Although they may look identical from afar, you can observe slight differences in the design if you look close enough.
Most of the popular double-bladed canoe paddles have a straight, asymmetrical blade design. On the other hand, kayak paddle blades have a tendency to be offset to reduce the effect of wind resistance.
These details may be neglected by many paddlers, but they can have a noticeable influence on the overall quality of the canoeing expedition. After all, paddle blades are what actually cause the canoe to move along the water.
Should You Invest In a Double-Bladed Canoe Paddle Over a Kayak Paddle?
Ultimately, the answer to this question depends on your specific wants and needs.
If you’re a serious canoeist that likes the challenge of long outings on whitewater rapids, experimenting with a double-bladed canoe paddle may be worth it in the long run. The added maneuverability and the optimal length of the paddle will make navigating through whitewater far easier. Plus, you won’t have to suffer the embarrassment of lagging behind your canoeing buddies.
Another case where a double-bladed canoe paddle may be beneficial is if you tend to suffer from lower back pain when using a kayak paddle. The added length of the double-bladed canoe paddle may help to reduce this pain significantly. This way, you can spend less time nursing your injuries and more time paddling out on the water.
On the other hand, if you’re more of a recreational canoeist, a kayak paddle should be more than sufficient for what you intend to do. On a flat lake or waterway, a kayak paddle should be enough to get you where you need to go.
In either case, I recommend you try out the kayak paddle first if you have one available just to get a feel for how the dual-bladed kayak paddle complements the canoe. You may find that the single-bladed canoe paddle better suits your intentions than a dual-bladed paddle.
With this knowledge, you may not even have to entertain the dilemma of choosing between a dual-bladed canoe paddle or a dual-bladed kayak paddle. You can simply stick to your good, old, trusty single-bladed canoe paddle.
The Bottom Line
Kayak paddles can work with solo canoeing. It may take some time and patience on your part to nail down a paddling technique that appeals to you, but this experimentation phase might be just what you need to spice up your canoeing experience.
The only way to know whether or not a kayak paddle is the ideal type of paddle for you is to go out and try. So take your canoe out there and paddle!