People coming to the Arrowhead of Minnesota usually want to explore the water. This includes, of course Lake Superior, but also the many miles of inland lakes and streams. The canoe was the main vehicle for water exploration, for the original inhabitants of the area. While the kayak was originally developed by far-north groups like the Inuit, it is now popular everywhere. You might wonder which is best to use. Sawtooth Outfitters, which rents both, is just ten minutes down the road from Caribou Highlands. Owner Jeff Lynch says the boat he recommends depends on your situation.

“A canoe is designed to carry a lot of gear and to be able to portage from one lake to the next,” said Lynch. “They are balanced and symmetric, while kayaks are usually bow heavy and aren’t the best for portaging, especially longer portages.”

This quality of being easy to portage made the canoe king in the interior of northern Minnesota, where there is a lot of water but also a lot of annoying pieces of land separating the waters. It was good to avoid making this vessel carrying any harder than it had to be.

But, those camping and on voyages have always wanted to bring along as much stuff as possible. The canoe again scores well in this category, holding a lot and not being that heavy.


While the canoe has worked well over the years as a water truck, the kayak is like a sports car. It doesn’t hold much, but is made for speed.

“Typically they are faster,” said Jeff. “They don’t catch as much wind and there isn’t as much surface area pushing water. Also, they are narrower and they are designed to glide through the water pretty efficiently.”

The sport car analogy only goes so far. While sports cars are usually fast but inefficient, kayaks go fast because they efficiently utilize the energy of their engines, which is you. Part of this is because of their shape. Part of this is because of a more efficient form of transmission.

“You also use a double blade or a kayak paddle which is a little more of a symmetric form of paddling,” said Jeff. “So, you aren’t having to switch sides and doing a corrective paddle stroke. They are more efficient in the water than a canoe.”

Sawtooth Outfitters takes people on tours in the water equivalent of off road vehicles.

“Sea kayaks are designed to handle really large wind and waves, if you know what you are doing, ” said Jeff. “We’ve had kayaks out in 10 foot waves on Lake Superior. They can handle a big swell like that.”

Sawtooth Outfitters does not typically take people out in seas that high. Sometimes they will be out there and the weather will change and bring those conditions to them. Some of their customers enjoy riding the surf on these low boats. This is where it helps to understand things like how to avoid reflection waves and how to perform the proper rescue procedures, if someone ends up in the water.

Sometimes a boat doesn’t quite fit either category.

“We do have hybrid boats that are sort of a cross between a kayak and a canoe,” said Jeff. “They are symmetric and designed for portaging but you sit lower to the water line than you do in a canoe.”

It also turns out not all canoes are paddled unequally. There are one-person canoes that are designed to be paddled with a two-blade paddle. This is a mixture of techniques from both boats. Both are useful in northern Minnesota.