I would like to be able do trips with the following characateristics one day:

  • Solo. May do in combination with other paddlers, but my primary interest is getting out there on my own.
  • Multi-day trips on Canadian lakes/slow-moving rivers. Not into white water at this time.
  • Relatively remote location, small lakes or slow rivers.

I am relatively inexperienced now, so I am trying to decide whether to learn to Kayak or to Canoe. Either way, I am aware I am looking at a journey of a couple of years before I am really to go out alone. It's OK, I am comfortable with long-term plans.

  • One nice thing about a large canoe is that it has enough cargo space to carry a light sailing rig as well for if you get tired of paddling. Running one without capsizing definitely takes quite a bit of practice and attention, but if the wind where you're going is relatively steady you can really move. – Perkins Sep 7 at 23:36

A kayak has the general advantage that with practice when tipped over one can roll back up. For this reason I'd say it's preferable.

However, even with this advantage, if you're planning to go onto a lake far from the shore alone you will probably want to learn how to get yourself back into a boat if you do fall out and it fills with water, regardless of which boat you choose. You'll probably want to have a good idea of how long this takes, and how much gear you should be wearing to stay warm while attempting this. This is the problem with doing anything solo: you need a way to get out of any situation you could possibly get into. My advice would definitely be to not go out solo on your first big trip. If there's another boat nearby the risks of paddling a lake fall away almost completely, since worst case scenario they'll just drag you to shore, and you get a lot of valuable insight by just talking to this other person who has probably done this before.

Now, to make this answer a bit more useful, I'd say in general single person kayaks are all around the most comfortable way of paddling. The boat is very nicely balanced because of how low you sit in them, and the double sided paddles are very efficient at translating the energy you put into them into forwards motion. Single person canoes always look awesome when I see them go, but that's because I respect how much skill goes into paddling it. Switching sides with the paddle all the time is annoying, making J-strokes to prevent you from having to switch sides wastes energy, and on top of that there's the balance issue with them sitting higher up. If you're looking for a fun challenge this might be it, for utility I'd prefer a kayak.

Two person kayaks often have a slightly higher top speed than single seater ones, but two or three person canoes typically don't because of how wide they need to be to achieve the same stability. Canoes can be a great option if you're looking to go with multiple people per boat plus a lot of gear, because the amount of space you have (for properly packed gear which is going to get wet) is huge, but if you want a one person boat I would suggest just making your gear fit into a kayak, you'll go a longer distance easier.

Speed versus comfortable pace of life

Kayaks are faster, if you actually have somewhere to go kayaks are the better option. If you want to watch the world go by with your dog sitting in the front then you want a canoe.

Cargo

Canoes are generally bigger, you can take more stuff. In a kayak you'll have to learn to pack light with mostly smaller items. Even a big sea kayak can take a relatively small amount of cargo when compared to an open boat.

Big water

Kayaks handle rough water better and you have better control. Whether rapids or coastal waters you'll be better off in a kayak. Flat water and big lazy rivers are the natural home of canoes.

In summary

I would advise learning both to a moderate standard, there are transferrable skills from each that will give you greater understanding of the other. Then decide which you would prefer to use for your journeys as it ultimately is a matter of personal preference.

A big part of this is "which canoe? which kayak"

A long paddle in a white water kayak is a pain. They are slow. Ocean kayaks are much faster but are less than nimble to turn.

I find the position in a kayak uncomfortable, and painful after about an hour or so.

Canoes also come in whitewater versions, with a fair amount of rocker, and full bow and stern, and flat water versions that slide like grease over a calm lake. And countless compromises in between.

Another part of the equation, "How long?" How long are you going out for? White water kayaks can be used for a weekend trip, but access to your gear is awkward. A 14-15 foot solo canoe can easily carry supplies for a month.

My choice?

I'd go with a canoe, with a somewhat vee bottom (better secondary stability) fairly straight keel line (If I want to turn it, I'll lean it.) somewhat flared ends. For long trips, 15 feet, for short ones 14 feet. (That extra foot is in the middle -- makes a big difference to cargo capacity)

In your case, since you aren't into white water, a straighter design may be more appropriate.

Many places that sell canoes will also rent them. Many canoe clubs have a fleet of loaners. And you can swap time on weekend trips. Paddle a bunch of canoes, and keep notes as to their characteristics.

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