Canoeing vs. Walking: Which is Faster? (Helpful Guide)


It’s no secret that canoeing on the water is a remarkable way to spend your free time outdoors. Though, it may not be the best way to get somewhere fast given the relaxed pace of this activity. For this reason, you may be wondering whether it’s quicker to canoe or walk if you’re in a hurry to reach your destination.

Generally speaking, walking is slightly faster than canoeing. The average person walks at a speed between 3 to 4 mph, whereas the average canoeist paddles at a speed of 3 mph. Paddling stroke rate, paddling technique, environmental conditions, and canoe design influence how fast a canoeist goes.

Since there are so many variables at stake, you have to base your decision on whether to walk or canoe on your personal circumstances. Below, we will analyze the different factors that affect how fast a canoeist can go on the water. Read until the end to know exactly when you should walk versus when you should canoe.

Average Speed of Canoeing vs. Walking

Originally, canoeing wasn’t merely considered to be a simple recreational hobby. It used to be a viable means of transportation for Native American people. They used canoes to support their livelihood, both by fishing for food and traversing from one place to another.

It was only later that canoeing developed into an outdoor pastime. Nowadays, canoes aren’t commonly used as a means of transportation. With the emergence of cars, trains, and airplanes, there really isn’t a need to paddle along the water to reach a faraway destination.

However, if you’re ever faced with the choice between canoeing and walking, you may be curious as to which of the two modes of transportation is faster. In general, the average speed of canoeing versus walking goes as follows (source 1 & source 2).

Mode of TransportationAverage Speed
Canoeing3 mph
Walking3 to 4 mph

This difference in speed doesn’t seem like much at first glance. Nonetheless, you can save yourself a great deal of time if you choose the quicker mode of transportation over a long trek.

The problem with statistical averages is that there are outliers. In reality, determining which mode of transportation is faster is contingent upon multiple variables.

For example, in the table above, you may see that the average walking speed is between 3 to 4 mph. The reason that a range is presented rather than a fixed number is that walking speed varies greatly from person to person.

Younger individuals that are in the prime of their lives are much more likely to walk faster than aged individuals. At that same token, people that are more fit will walk noticeably faster than people that aren’t. Even a minute detail such as a person’s length of stride can come into play!

These variables don’t exclusively apply to walking. Canoeing has its fair share of influential variables as well.

We will explore these variables in the next section, but the main takeaway here is that the average speeds listed above are just that… averages. To truly determine what mode of transportation would be fastest, you need to consider your personal surroundings and the path that lays ahead.

Factors That Influence How Fast a Person Can Canoe

There’s an extensive list of little nuances that can influence how quickly a paddler can move on the water. We will only be analyzing the most prominent of these factors, but know that there are others out there that won’t be addressed specifically within this article.

Paddle Stroke Rate

Similar to walking, the rate at which a person paddles on the water can fluctuate depending on their overall fitness and experience.

Naturally, someone who’s physically fit and paddled countless times before will be able to paddle at speeds much faster than the average paddler. They may have the capacity to sustain speeds well above the standard 3 mph mark.

Along those same lines, someone who only paddles occasionally that has less skill and experience may paddle much slower than 3 mph. They may not have all the physical tools necessary to surpass the average paddler.

So if you happen to be quite fit, you can expect to paddle faster than the average person as you gather more experience. Once you’ve reached a certain level of expertise, it may actually be faster for you to paddle than to walk in certain instances.

Paddling Technique & Efficiency

Regardless of how fit you may be, there are specific prerequisite skills that every paddler needs. From an outside perspective, paddling may seem to be rather simple. However, there are very subtle ways for a paddler to refine their technique and draw the most out every single stroke.

Take the J-stroke for example. With this stroke, there’s a slight pry at the end of the stroke to keep the canoe tracking in a straight line (source). By implementing this stroke, a canoeist doesn’t need to change the side that they’re paddling on nearly as much. This saves valuable time and energy in the long run.

A subtle trick like that could help to close the speed gap between canoeing and walking. These tricks can appear to be somewhat trivial, but they can make a big difference when combined with other practical maneuvers.

Even if you’re not the most physically gifted, you can paddle at above average speeds if you’re well-acquainted with appropriate paddling technique. It’s one thing to have all the physical tools to perform a task, but it’s another thing to know how to properly use said tools.

Weather & Water Conditions

This may arguably be the most important factor to consider when deciding between canoeing and walking. The reason being that the volatility of the weather and water can render a person’s canoeing skills useless, no matter how fit or experienced they may be.

In extreme cases, strong winds and rough waters can be too much for a paddler to handle on their own. In a battle with the elements, Mother Nature never tires. You can.

When the wind and water is working against you, expect to go slower than the average paddling speed of 3 mph. On the other hand, if the sun is directly overhead and the waters are extremely calm, you can realistically expect to exceed these average speeds.

It wouldn’t hurt to have the wind on your tail and the current pushing you along the water either. It’s possible to paddle upstream under some circumstances, but it’s definitely not the fastest way to travel.

You can learn more about the difficulty of paddling upstream by clicking over to How Hard Is It to Paddle Upstream? (Kayaking & Canoeing 101).

Structural Framework & Design of Canoe

The last factor we will discuss is the structure of the canoe itself. There are certain types of canoes that are built purely for the purposes of speed. There are also other types of canoes that are designed more for the purposes of stability and balance.

Generally, faster canoes tend to be long and narrow, featuring rounded hulls. It’s worth bearing in mind that this streamlined design does come at the expense of stability, so you will need some practice to get accustomed to handling this type of canoe.

In contrast, slower canoes tend to be short and wide. Their hulls are also flatter, which help with stability but detract from linear speed.

Put simply, if you want a canoe that’s meant to be fast on the water, get yourself a canoe that’s long, narrow, and round-bottomed. With this type of canoe, you can make a serious case for beating walking in a race.

How to Decide When to Canoe vs. Walk Somewhere

Now that we’ve established the different factors that affect canoeing speed, you likely have a general grasp of which of these two modes of transportation is best for you. Still, determining which option is objectively superior can be rather difficult at times.

To be clear, if you’re a strong, experienced canoeist with cooperative paddling conditions, you should canoe. Your experience with the paddle should be enough to close the small speed gap between walking and canoeing.

On the other hand, if you’re physically fit and walk practically everyday, it’s probably in your best interest to walk instead. Figuring your way around the paddle takes more than just a day. It takes countless hours of repetition to learn how to navigate through the water with the utmost speed.

If you’re still at a loss, the most important factor you should look at is the distance between point A and point B. Even though walking is generally faster than canoeing, the better overall option may still be canoeing if it shortens the distance between the two points.

For example, if the water provides a straight, direct route to a destination 3 miles from where you are now, you will probably get there within an hour. If the land distance is 5 miles because you have to constantly zig zag around, you will reach your destination in an hour and fifteen minutes if you walk 4 mph!

In short, if you cannot decide when to walk versus canoe, consider your planned route. Whichever route offers the straightest shot to your destination is the mode of transportation you should use.

Walking may have the edge in average speed, but that matters little if you have to cover considerably more ground on your walking route. Plus, you never know how manageable a walking trail may be with all the trees, plants, rocks, and wildlife around. Nature has a way of presenting obstacles when you least expect it.

Ultimately, if speed is of little importance on your journey, do whatever sounds more enjoyable to you! Canoeing is a very entertaining pastime, so—if you haven’t tried it already—pick up a paddle and go!

Sources: 1 2 3

Austin Carmody

I am the owner of HydroPursuit. I enjoy kicking back and getting out on the water as much as I can in my free time.

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