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Canoeing vs Kayaking: Which Is Best For You?

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People kayaking in the sea.

The differences between a canoe and a kayak can elude even the most learned of outdoorsmen, so today we’re going to set the record straight. There are variations in seating, in the method of paddling, and a huge difference in the origins of these two crafts. These, in turn, give the two types of boat different ideal uses. You can use both canoes and kayaks for transportation, for racing, sport, fishing, and more. 

There are also many different types of canoe and kayak within the divisions of these boats. From beginner craft that anyone can paddle to expert equipment specially made for certain purposes, we’ll guide you through each step of your choice. Both canoe and kayak camping are very popular recreational activities, and in this area, the two boats offer different amounts of storage space, stability, and a host of other things to consider. Now let’s jump in and find out everything you need to know about canoeing and kayaking. 

 

A person canoeing.

Canoes and kayaks both offer a lot of on-the-water fun.

 

The origins of the canoe

The oldest boat ever discovered was a 10,000-year-old canoe, found in the Netherlands made out of a dugout tree trunk. The canoe is not solely a European invention, however, as an 8000-year-old Dunfana canoe was discovered in Nigeria, and another of the same age in China. Canoes made in this traditional manner were all hollowed-out logs, entire tree trunks that were shaped with axes and other tools to create a vessel that would float on water. 

Much later than the times of these oldest discoveries, the Native Americans had employed a new design of canoe. They built wooden frames and then lined them with birch bark, and sealed them to be watertight using tree resin. Both styles of the canoe, whether framed and barked or dugout, featured a thin point at both ends. This shape and general design remained unchanged for hundreds of years, as it was very effective. 

Originally, canoes were used for the transportation of both goods and people. They could even be used for the purposes of war, with canoes as long as 130 feet used to transport many soldiers. Nowadays, they’ve evolved to become a popular recreational activity, as well as a sport. In 1936, canoeing became a part of the international Olympic Games. Canoes have been used all over the world for thousands of years because of their convenience for travel across water. 

 

The origins of the kayak

The kayak has a much narrower provenance than canoes, limited to Arctic regions. These crafts can be traced back to the Inuit and Eskimo people of Northern America around 4000 years ago. Kayaks were originally constructed from a frame of driftwood and whalebone, covered by animal skins. Whale fat and seal bladders may also have been added by the Inuits to improve buoyancy and waterproofing. These boats were made firstly for use in hunting upon the water, and later larger kayaks were made to transport people and goods. 

Kayaks feature a similar shape to canoes, with a point at both ends. However, a number of key differences set the two boats apart. For example, Inuits designed the craft to be closed on top for additional protection against cold weather, a problem Native Americans further south did not face. This is why kayaks are traced solely to the northernmost reaches of the planet, whereas canoes can be found practically everywhere. 

 

How to tell the difference between a kayak and a canoe

To the untrained eye, kayaks and canoes look incredibly similar. They are both long, slim, watercraft with a point at both ends. The easiest difference you can rely on is seating. Canoes generally sit a little higher in the water than kayaks, and often feature a bench for the paddler to sit on. Kayaks, on the other hand, have their seats almost directly on the hull. Whereas canoeists sit above the water, kayakers are almost level with it. Both canoes and kayaks can be open or closed, however, canoes are traditionally open, and kayaks are mostly covered with just a small opening to sit in. 

 

Kayaks are crafted for adventure and usually set one to two people.

 

Different types of canoes

The design and construction of both kayaks and canoes have varied considerably over the years. You’re highly unlikely to spot a dugout canoe out on the river nowadays, as new materials and technologies have changed how these boats are constructed. In addition, the multiple uses of these watercraft in sport and leisure mean several different types of each are available. You can buy a canoe or kayak which is geared towards a specific purpose, specially designed to work best for your uses. 

Recreational canoes are the most commonly seen in rental stores and on lakes and rivers. They’re usually from 13-17 feet long and are made from plastic, although some are constructed using aluminum. Recreational canoes are popular because they can seat multiple people, making them ideal for a family outing or a trip with friends. They’re stable, easy to paddle, and require no training or prior experience. 

Whitewater canoes are made for faster moving rivers and streams. They are shorter than a standard canoe and are easier to maneuver, however, this makes them less stable in the water. Expedition canoes are longer in comparison to others and made for group paddling over long distances. They’re optimized for efficiency, as well as designed to fit more gear for your trip. The last type of canoe is racing canoes, which are narrower and sit lower in the water. Racing canoes have no seats, as the paddlers kneel in the boat for optimum speed and power. 

 

Different types of kayak 

While canoes are mostly limited to these four different types, the options presented regarding kayaks are numerous. They differ both in design and in purpose, which may seem overwhelming at first. There are three primary types of kayaks from which you’ll need to choose your preferred design. Then, within each category, there are kayaks for all manner of sports and purposes. 

  • Sit-inside kayaks: Feature a traditional design. They feature a covered hull with a hole (or two) for the paddlers to place their lower body inside. This keeps your legs and torso dry, which is a necessity in colder waters. Sit-inside kayaks are popular for sea kayaking as well as whitewater kayaking, where you’ll benefit from the increased waterproofing. 

 

  • Sit-on-top kayaks: Are the same as others but with an open cockpit, they feature a molded top for one or two paddlers to rest on. You’re much more likely to find sit-on-top kayaks at boat rental stores because they can be used by beginners, whereas sit-inside kayakers will need some training. If you’re out on the lake or river in hotter weather, sit-on-top kayaks are ideal! They allow you to hop in and out of the water with ease, as well as move around freely in the boat. That’s why sit-on-top kayaks are the preferred choice for fishing and other calm-water activities. You can even stand up on this craft! 

 

  • Inflatable kayaks: Are the third type of boat, featuring the same sit-on-top design. As the name suggests, these kayaks are much more portable and far easier to transport. These kayaks are less durable because they are made of softer materials, but that’s the compromise for a lighter and easier mode of transport. All kayaks, be they sit-inside, sit-on-top, or inflatable, may feature a slightly different design depending on their intended use. 

 

  • Recreational kayaks: Are rarely sit-inside but can be both sit-on-top or inflatable. This is because these designs can be easily enjoyed by complete beginners, they’re perfect for families and kids. Recreational kayaks are generally between 9 and 11 feet and are slightly wider to offer more stability. They’re easy to maneuver and can be used on any lake or slow-moving river. 

 

  • Sea kayaks: Are slightly longer and slimmer, with a reinforced design to handle the surf. These boats often feature a foot-controlled rudder for even more maneuverability. They also have watertight hatches for safe gear storage. Sea kayaks have an excellent level of buoyancy, so much so that they’ll continue to float even when flooded with water, a likely possibility when sailing on the sea. 

 

  • Touring kayaks: Like expedition canoes, are designed for covering long distances. They also have foot pedals and watertight storage, with a long and sleek shape for a speedy experience. Touring kayaks can be found sit-inside or sit-on-top, but they require more experience to navigate. They also have a special shape which helps to keep the boat straight in the water, which is great for speed, but not so much for maneuverability. Expedition kayaks are broader and longer than touring kayaks and are generally sit-inside. They have increased storage space for camping gear and other supplies. 

 

  • Surf kayaks: Are much closer to surfboards than sea kayaks, although the name may lead you to believe otherwise. While they’re both built to withstand the ocean waves, surf kayaks are made especially for riding them! They have fins, thrusters, and hard rails on their flat bottom, making them completely inappropriate for any calmer water. However, if you’re a surfing fan and want to extend your experience, surf kayaks can be a lot of fun! 

 

  • Racing kayaks: Are long, light, narrow, and quite unstable. They require a good amount of experience to paddle in a straight line and are unsurprisingly built for top speeds. Fishing kayaks and scuba diving kayaks are also highly specialized craft, designed for optimum use in sport. Fishing kayaks are sit-on-top, similar to recreational kayaks. Scuba diving kayaks are also sit-on, with a design similar to surf kayaks for use on the coast. 

 

  • Whitewater kayaks: Themselves are broken down into many further categories. In general, whitewater kayaks are a little shorter and wider than their recreational cousins, with a sit-inside design. They’re exceptionally easy to maneuver, as well as highly buoyant, meaning they respond well when tossed around in fast-moving water. It’s important to choose the right kind of whitewater kayak depending on your activity and experience level. 

 

  • Inflatable whitewater kayaks: Are the best choice for beginners because they’re very stable, comfortable, and lightweight. Creek boats are for intermediate kayakers, they will resurface when submerged meaning you can navigate even rougher waters. Play boats and river runners are yet more advanced kayak designs, made for the most daring and adventurous whitewater riders. Kayaks are generally preferred over canoes for most whitewater activities, but we’ll explore your decision next. 

 

A man on an orange kayak on a river.

Kayaks are always the most popular choice for rough waters.

 

Canoe vs kayak: which is best? 

The better choice for each person depends on many different aspects, including your activity, experience level, and of course, personal preference. We’ll now explore the individual factors and characteristics of the canoe vs kayak. 

  • Size and transport: Canoes, on average, are larger than kayaks. They generally measure from 13 to 18 feet, while the standard length of a kayak is 6 to 15 feet. Canoes are also taller than kayaks because of their raised hull and seating, and this can make transporting them quite difficult. You’re much more likely to fit a kayak on the roof of your car than a canoe. In addition, kayaks can be bought in the inflatable variety making them all the easier to move to different locations. 

 

  • Seating and comfort: For longer trips, canoes win easily in the comfort department. The elevated bench seating means you can sit up straight, while the raised position offers you a better view of your surroundings. Moving around inside a canoe is much easier, as kayakers are limited to a single seating position. Also, there’s little chance of getting wet in a canoe, unless you’re on whitewater. In a kayak, there’s little protection between you and the water, so it’s likely you’ll end up sitting in a puddle. Water skirts in closed hull kayaks help keep your lower body dry, but even so, you’re likely to get some splashback on your upper body. The entry and exit process is also much easier in canoes, as these stable boats are open in design. Kayaks can present a serious risk of toppling or even capsizing when climbing in and out especially sit-inside designs. 

 

  • Paddles: One of the objects of utmost importance regarding canoes and kayaks are the paddles. This is how you maneuver and move through the water, and you could be paddling all day, so it’s important to choose the right option. Kayaks have a significant advantage in this area because they have double-bladed paddles. No matter the number of people in your boat, using double paddles makes it easy to keep in a straight line. Kayaks are also more lightweight than canoes, meaning they require less effort to get moving. Canoe paddles feature a single pedal, meaning you must work with a partner to paddle on one side each, or alternate sides with every stroke. This can be much more taxing than paddling a canoe, and the technique has a much steeper learning curve. The single paddle approach of canoes also makes them more difficult to steer, especially when coordinating with other paddlers. If you’re just going for a lazy ride down the river, canoe paddles are fine. However, longer and more intense trips benefit from the increased ease of use of double-bladed kayak paddles. 

 

  • Stability: Because canoes are wider with a broader hull, they’re more stable in general than kayaks. Canoes allow for a fair amount of movement within the craft before they can be destabilized, and in calm waters, it’s very difficult to capsize them. However, in the unlikely event that a canoe does topple, it can sink. Without proper training it can be very difficult to right a capsized canoe, so don’t take them on whitewater unless you’re an experienced canoeist. Kayaks are not built for stability, rather for speed, so they don’t offer much room for error. It’s very popular to take kayaks on rough whitewater to capsizing is a common occurrence, but setting your craft straight is quite easy. You can even employ techniques such as the Eskimo roll to help you right a capsized sit-inside kayak without having to climb out. That’s why kayaks are always preferred for whitewater boating. 

 

  • Maneuverability: Where canoes win easily in the area of stability, kayaks are unparalleled in their maneuverability. Paddling a kayak requires the use of your full body, and the lightweight design means it’s easy to turn this craft to your will. They’re popular among adventure enthusiasts because you can become one with the boat, a vital element if you want to enjoy the adrenaline rush of whitewater boating. In comparison, canoes are heavy and cumbersome. You need skill, rather than power, to steer them correctly, and changing direction quickly is close to impossible. 

 

People canoeing in the mountains.

If you want to paddle in a group, canoes generally allow for more passengers to come on board.

 

Final Verdict: 

So, should you go kayaking or canoeing this weekend? Figuring out the answer is quite simple; firstly, you need to consider your destination. If you’re heading for some whitewater rapids for an exciting water-borne adventure, sit-in kayaks are the best choice. The closed hull design will keep you safe even if you capsize, while the lightweight and sleek shape allows for the most maneuverability in the water. This option is best if you’re kayaking alone or in a couple, or of course, you can use several kayaks for a group trip. 

If you’re heading for a flatwater destination such as a calm lake, the options are more open. Sit-on-top kayaks can be a barrel of fun, allowing you to paddle, sunbathe, and hop in and out of the water easily. If you’re going in a group or with your family, canoes allow for more people to paddle in the same boat. Check out the best fishing canoes if you’re looking for a new angling craft. You’ll have to use a single-bladed paddle, which could be more taxing and tiring, however, the improved comfort of sitting on a bench and being able to move around makes up for it. 

 

Bonus tip: Check out this video for a visual explanation of the difference between a kayak and a canoe! 

 

 

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How The Annual REI Dividend Works

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rei annual dividend explained

What is the REI Dividend?

The dividend is a sum of money that is awarded back to REI co-op members every year. The amount of money is based on two primary factors: a percentage of all eligible purchases made by a member and any rewards they accrued on their REI Mastercard during the previous year. You can think of it a bit like a tax return and purchasing points on your credit card — only instead of frustrating points, it’s just money. You can also get any unused amount of the previous year’s dividend added onto the next one, but this isn’t always the case.

REI is short for Recreational Equipment Incorporated, an American company that offers outdoor gear, as well as courses and vacation options.

If you aren’t familiar with their brand, they are known for having high quality and ranked highly in the review of the top tent brands on the market.

What sets it apart from other outdoor retailing competitors is that it follows the co-op business model. That means they offer a wide range of perks to their members, one of the most unique of which is their annual dividend. Since this is such an unusual benefit to the company, understanding the ins and outs can be difficult. So, here are some answers to many of the FAQs people have when talking about the REI annual dividend program.

 

REI, also know as Recreation Equipment International, is well-know for its outdoor supplies.

How do you earn the dividend?

First of all, only REI co-op memberships can earn a dividend. The good news is that being a member of the REI co-op is both inexpensive and easy. To become an REI member, all you have to do is go here and sign up for a lifetime membership. The upfront, one-time membership fee is only 20$, and there isn’t even an annual fee to keep your membership. However, only members that are considered active receive a dividend notice.

To be an active member of REI, all you have to do is spend at least 10$ merchandise in a year, unless it is the year that you first sign up. If you ever lose active status, getting it back is as easy as to resume making REI purchases.

REI Members earn toward their annual dividend by making eligible purchases. Almost any merchandise you buy directly through REI is considered eligible as long as you are purchasing full-price items. This includes the physical REI stores or through REI.com. One notable exception is that gift cards do not count toward your REI dividend. However, when you use a gift card to make purchases, that can be considered eligible as long as it otherwise would be.

The percentage that goes back into your dividend varies depending on how well the company did financially the previous year, but it tends to be around 10%. The calculation is made based on the product price alone, so sales tax and any other fees such as postage are not counted.

Unfortunately, none of REI’s experience purchases are considered eligible. This means that classes, special events, and the popular REI Adventures don’t get counted into your annual dividend. Service charges don’t count either, so rentals and labor fees are not factored into the dividend. The initial membership fee also is not eligible.

Any returns you make are removed from your dividend amount in the final calculation, and if it has already been calculated, then the dividend amount counts against the return amount you would receive. 

You can also receive a retroactive addition to your dividend based on eligible purchases you made at other retailers on REI merchandise, as long as it was in the same year. For example, if you bought backpacking equipment from Amazon that was the REI brand, then you can get that counted. You’ll just need to have your receipt handy to answer some information about the purchase. You cannot get retroactive additions to your annual dividend if the purchase was made before you became an REI member, though.

There is a slight workaround with the discounted merchandise, though. Members can receive an REI co-op Mastercard. As mentioned earlier, this has a built-in rewards system. One such reward is that when you use the REI credit card to purchase sale items, then you receive a 5% kickback into your dividend. It’s a much lower percentage than what you would expect to receive from a normal eligible purchase. However, savvy shoppers will be able to notice when the reduced pricing and smaller kickback turns out to be a better long-term value. 

 

When would I receive my REI dividend?

If you’re an REI member and have a balance, you’ll receive a dividend notice in March of the next year. All purchases you make from January 1st to December 31st are considered part of the same annual sum and will be available until January of two years later. So, if you made purchases throughout 2020, you’ll be able to use your dividend from them starting March 2021, and you’ll have the money available to you until you either spend it all or until the first day of 2023. This, however, is only the case if you don’t accrue any more dividends. Assuming you constantly make enough eligible purchases and spend roughly however much you earn from the program each year, your dividend balance should never expire.

 

Buying equipment from REI with an REI Mastercard is a great way to earn points towards your dividend.

 

So what can I do with the dividend?

This question is best answered with another question: “How do you want to spend your money?” For anyone who has ever been frustrated with trying to redeem credit card points or dealing with the restrictions of store credit, you are going to be blown away by the range of options REI gives you when it comes to your member dividend.

 

Use the dividend as store credit

The most basic option available to you is to use your dividend like store credit. If you can find it on the REI website, then you can buy it with your store credit. If your dividend balance doesn’t completely cover the total price of your purchases at checkout, don’t worry. It will still get deducted from the price and you’ll only have to pay for whatever is leftover.

If you’re near one of their physical REI stores, then you’ll be able to use your dividend to directly buy available outlet items from their stores. Your dividend works at every REI store location, so you won’t have to worry about not being able to access it if you’re shopping far from home. Just be sure to have your co-op member number ready. 

Even though buying them doesn’t sound toward your dividend, you can put your earnings on it toward booking an REI Adventure. If you’re a hardcore outdoors enthusiast, then you might be able to generate enough of a dividend to book a trip to a national park at no out-of-pocket expense.

If you aren’t quite that adventurous but still would like a fun experience, then look at spending your dividend on one of the many REI classes. There is something to learn for everyone. From riding a bike to navigating the backcountry, the basics of rock climbing to dozens of stewardship opportunities,  it’d be hard not to spend part of your dividend on enriching yourself with the REI classes.

You can also download the REI mobile apps. These make it even easier to shop with REI in general, but they can streamline the process of using your dividend in the online store.

 

Receive the dividend as a check

If you’d rather take the money that REI has awarded to you elsewhere, then you can request to have your dividend amount in the form of a check.

There are a couple of ways to go about getting the check. The most direct way is to go to a physical REI outlet once you have received a notice of a dividend balance. If you are not anywhere near an REI store, don’t worry. You can have your check mailed to you directly by filling out their request form. Once you have the form filled out, REI will have that information in their database and can mail you the check every year without any extra work from you, should you want that

The check can only be issued to the name of the primary membership cardholder. REI does not send out checks if your annual dividend does not exceed 25$, and they do not send out a check for the REI Mastercard holder reward amount that does not exceed 1$. You can request the check whenever is convenient, but they do not begin mailing them out until July 1st. 

You don’t have to receive the whole dividend as a check. You can go ahead and spend part of it as store credit on the online store. Then, whatever amount that is leftover, you can have it sent as a check. As long as all the other requirements have been met, of course. Also, if you attempt to use any of your dividend between the time of the check being sent out and you receiving the check, then it could result in either the check being void, or you being unable to use your dividend funds at all.

If for some reason you don’t want to use the online check request form, you can also make the request over the phone or by contacting them by mail.

 

You can get your REI dividend in cash or in purchase credits.

 

Get the dividend in cash

No, that’s not a joke, and there aren’t any strings attached. You can receive your annual REI dividend, in full, as cash. There are a few hoops you have to jump through, but none of them are fine print details that are going to keep you from turning your dividend sum into cash and doing whatever you want with it.

First of all, you can’t convert your dividend into cash after July 1st of the year after you earned the dividend. This is similar to the check option. Unlike the check, there is a cut-off point at the beginning of the next calendar year, so if you wait too long then your dividend can’t be turned into cash.

This option can only be done through a physical REI store, so if you don’t live near one then you will probably have to settle for the check option. If you plan on going to a store to get your dividend as cash, it would be a good idea to call them ahead of time and try to make an arrangement. REI stores only have so much free cash on hand. 

If you don’t call ahead, you might run into a situation where the store does not have enough cash to equal the dividend balance you should receive. In these cases, co-op members are given the option to receive the check. For some, that is a fine alternative, but people dead-set on getting cash should be aware of this.

One other thing to note is that the cash option is based on a specific year’s balance. This means, like the check option, if you spend any of your dividend funds as credit first, that would result in you receiving less cash in the end. Also, unlike the store credit option, you can’t compound years together. Since the years have cutoff dates that line up to where there is never an overlapping period between them, you’ll only be able to get your cash balance one year at a time, rather than building it across up to 3 years.

 

Can I check my dividend balance?

Yes! At any point, you can go to REI.com, and enter the name on your membership card along with your member number, and they will be able to tell you the dividend balance. This is not updated in real-time, so if you have been roughly keeping track and the amount looks odd when you check it, don’t worry. Most likely, it is just in the middle of being exactly calculated by members of the REI team.

 

Is the annual dividend the only benefit of Coop Membership?

Not at all! You’ve already read a bit about the REI Coop Mastercard and its reward system. You get 5% back with any REI purchases, 2% back through mobile transactions, and 1% everywhere else. This is all factored into your annual dividend along with all the usual 10% kickback from buying normal priced items. This means that anything you use the card on, even bills and groceries, is factored into your dividend.

Members get access to special pricing on certain items through REI. These are usually on things like classes and tours, as well as rentals on any outdoor equipment. This can be frustrating since the specially priced experiences aren’t dividend eligible purchases. Though, with dividend earnings and special pricing, it is easy to earn enough to pick up enough to pay for a class or two. 

Members-only events are probably the second-best part of being a member after the dividend. Some of the most popular of these events are new member-exclusive hiking trips or member gatherings to try out local brews. Without a doubt, Garage Sales are the star of members-only events.

The REI Garage Sales are hosted at REI outlet stores every so often. The merchandise of the Sales is made up of returns and other used goods, and come at a heavily discounted price. The products are as-is, and cannot be accepted for returns as of their return policy. Since the merchandise is on a case-by-case basis with the outlets, REI cannot guarantee specific inventory. All Garage Sales operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. Garage Sale purchases cannot be put toward your annual dividend unless they are purchased with the members’ Mastercard. Though, the products are usually so aggressively marked down that it usually makes up for it. Plus, the Garage Sale merchandise is evaluated beforehand to assure that there are no major issues with it, so you don’t have to worry about the quality with the low prices.

 

Final Verdict:

The annual dividend is a unique benefit of being a member of REI’s coop. It saves the frustration associated with other rewards programs by just allowing the members to claim a monetary incentive. It is both pleasantly simple, offers multiple options to use your dividend as you see fit, and a great tool for people that love to maximize value in their shopping.

There are some ins and outs with the membership program to remember how to get the most out of the dividend. Though, remembering these details is more of a bonus than a requirement to earn on the dividend properly, unlike other rewards programs. On top of all that, you get several more awesome benefits for a single 20$ purchase. 

 

Bonus tip: Here’s a video from REI talking about the essential items for backpacking, which are available on their website: 

 

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Learn How To Identify 12 Types Of Trees

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Tree species are such a common form of plant life that they often go unnoticed in our daily lives. Generally speaking, as they don’t have finite lifespans, trees live much longer than other plant life. Some tree species can even live for thousands of years. Trees are no stranger to our planet — they have been around for nearly 370 years. Currently, planet Earth is home to more than 60,000 types of trees that play a vital role in the life we know and enjoy.

One of the first things children learn about in school is how common trees supply us with the oxygen we need to breathe. Our survival depends on plant life around the world continuing to thrive, including underwater vegetation, grasslands, and the approximate 3 trillion types of trees which currently grow on our planet. Learning how to identify tree species can be an important skill, similar to knowing how to start a campfire when it comes to outdoor survival. 

Throughout this article, we’re going to clarify and define what exactly a tree is and introduce you to the different categories that common trees fall under. We’ll also take a closer look at the most common types of trees that you’ll most likely come across, and explain how you can identify them correctly. Different types of trees have different types of leaves and bark that are characteristics of certain tree species. If you can spot the differences, then you’re a step closer in your quest of becoming a tree identification master. Now, let’s begin by differentiating between the two primary types of trees: deciduous trees and evergreen trees.

Related: The 10 best outdoor antenna’s for camping and rural areas

A field with a tree sunset.

All trees are either deciduous trees or evergreen trees.

What defines a common tree? 

In botany (the study of plants), trees are defined as perennial plants with an elongated trunk or stem which supports leaves and branches(Perennial plants live for multiple years, as opposed to annual plants which have a life-cycle of only one season.) However, this is a slightly limited definition, as the term “tree” can be extended to include any woody plant with branches and a trunk that grows significantly taller than the plants around it. 

Tree branches are supported by a large and strong trunk, which extends underground. Beneath, the trunk extends into widely-spread roots which collect nutrients and moisture and provide support to the tree species above ground. The branches which extend from the top of the trunk divide into smaller shoots, which spread to produce leaves. Leaves collect sunlight, converting it into energy via photosynthesis, in order to feed and grow. 

The trunk of a common tree is the strongest part, made from a woody tissue that supports the weight of the canopy. Tree trunks also contain vascular tissue, which carries nutrients from one part of the plant to another. Most types of trees also have a layer of bark around the trunk that acts as a protective shield. Although these are the general characteristics that fit every type of tree, tree species vary. 

There are two primary categorizations that all tree species fit into. The difference between these two categories is the first thing you need to spot in order to properly identify common trees. Most people already recognize the distinction between these different types of trees, but we’ll still go into detail about how you can identify them. Read on to discover which types of trees lose their leaves, and which tree species remain green all year round.

Deciduous Trees Vs. Coniferous Trees

Every single one of the thousands of tree species found on our planet fits into one of these two categories: coniferous trees (evergreen trees) or deciduous trees. Deciduous trees lose their broad leaves at a specific time of the year, typically fall or autumn. The word ‘deciduous’ literally means “to fall off at maturity”. As such, the leaves of these trees have an annual life cycle. In the spring, new leaves grow and quickly mature into broad leaves, green in color. Over time, they slowly change color leading to the wonderful fall color palette we all recognize and love, before falling to the moist soil. 

This is the case with the most common trees in North America, Europe, and other countries with a mild climate. In hotter tropical countries, deciduous trees lose their greenery during the dry season. Once the leaves have fallen, these trees remain bare wood skeletons until new leaf shoots begin to grow in the spring. Most deciduous trees are broadleaf, with wide, flat, green leaves. 

Coniferous trees, otherwise known as evergreen trees, keep their leaves all year round. No matter the season, evergreen trees are unchanging in appearance. This type of tree often has needle-shaped leaves, which withstand the cold temperatures better than more delicate broadleaf types of trees. Evergreen tree landscapes are especially stunning in the winter months when all other plant life looks dead. 

deciduous vs coniferous trees

Tree Identification: Basic Leaf Types

There are three different types of leaves that evergreen trees and deciduous trees can have. Broadleaves is a wide term that encompasses leaves of all shapes and sizes — so long as they are flat. Almost all deciduous trees have broad leaves: they can be oval, round, heart-shaped, and much more. The maple leaf of the red maple tree is an iconic shape that we all know. The term ‘Broadleaves’ encompasses much more than just common tree species, it also includes a huge range of different plant life. 

Most people will recognize common tree needles thanks to Christmas trees — many evergreen trees feature this shape. Common tree needles are long and thin and typically grow together in clusters or sparsely depending on the tree species. Evergreen trees lose their needles over time, however, this process doesn’t happen all at once as is usually the case with deciduous trees. Instead, the needles are lost and replaced gradually; similar to how humans lose hair. The third category of leaves that some coniferous trees exhibit is scale-like leaves. We see these on common trees such as Juniper trees and cedar trees, where the needles resemble the scales of a reptile.

A maple leaf in the rain.

The distinctive shape of the maple leaf makes this red maple tree easy to identify. 

12 Common Types of Trees and How To Identify Them 

Tree Species: Maple Trees

Maple trees are a common tree species found across Europe, North America, and Asia. They belong to the genus Acer family and are commonly associated with Canada — just look at the maple leaf on the Canadian flag. There are more than one hundred species of maple trees, the most common in Europe being the sycamore maple tree. Red maple, sugar maple, and silver maple are also common tree species you’ll commonly see in the countryside. Japanese maple trees are a common choice for bonsai where a small tree is groomed and maintained to resemble a miniature replica. 

Maple trees are famous for the sweet syrup made from their sap, which is a big reason why maple trees are often farmed in North America. Maple trees are a hardwood tree species. Its timber is often used to make baseball bats and musical instruments. The easiest way to identify a maple tree is by its distinct leaf shape, which is the same across all maple tree species. Maple trees can be small trees, reaching only 10 meters in height, or large trees more than 40 meters tall.

maple tree

Tree Species: Oak Trees

Oak trees are one of the most common tree families across the world; their wood is very hard and durable and resistant to most diseases. Oak trees come from the genus Quercus of which there are over 90 different species in the United States alone. They have been one of the most prized trees for building material for centuries, and are used in all kinds of industries, including musical instrument production. As there are more than 300 known oak tree species globally, when it comes to tree identification, it helps to break them down into further categories. 

White oaks feature round broad leaves and produce sweet acorns that take a year to mature. Black (or red) oak trees have bristles on their leaves and produce bitter-tasting acorns. The acorns from a red oak take two years to mature and are referred to as biennial oak trees. By identifying the maturity of the acorns on an oak tree, you can tell which type of oak tree it is. Most oak tree species are deciduous tree species, however, there are a handful of evergreen oak trees. The easiest way to identify an oak tree is by its acorns — all oak trees carry this fruit. The leaves of oak trees are lobed, with either rounded or pointed tips.

Oak Trees

Tree Species: Sycamore Trees

Try not to get the sycamore maple confused with true sycamore trees — they’re only related by name. The sycamore is a large hardwood tree in the genus Platanus and is a deciduous tree species by nature. The wood from these trees is incredibly hard and dense, and therefore it’s not commonly used as a building material. Sycamores can grow up to 40 meters and are one of the easiest types of trees to identify when it comes to tree identification.  

You can spot a sycamore tree by examining its bark. Don’t be misled by its leaves, which look similar to a maple leaf tree species. Instead, look at the color of the trunk. True sycamore trees have flaky bark which gives the trunk a red and brown multi-colored appearance, often featuring patches of white and grey. The Sycamore is a broadleaf tree species. You can identify them by their leaves which have three to five lobes with toothed edges.

A sycamore tree.

Sycamore trees are very large trees, with hard, dense wood. 

Tree Species: Pine Trees

Pine trees are another common tree found all around the world. This evergreen tree family of the genus Pinus is probably the most easily recognizable coniferous tree species in the world. The pine tree is a common ornamental tree with softwood. Pine tree leaves consist of clusters of green needles. This tree species is also easily identifiable by its hard cones, often referred to as pine cones. White pine and red pine are two common trees of this tree species and can be found throughout Canada, the United States (North America in general), and Europe. 

Pine trees are amongst the easiest tree species when it comes to tree identification. Pine trees are generally large trees that stand straight with needles that are mostly concentrated towards the top. Some species of pine trees can even grow up to 81 meters tall — they do it quickly, too. As pine trees grow into large trees so quickly, they’re incredibly useful when it comes to construction and furniture production. The softwood of the pine tree is easy to work with and features an attractive grain.

pine tree

Tree Species: Fir Trees

Fir trees, such as the balsam fir, Fraser fir, and noble fir, are all popular festive choices. This evergreen tree family is of the genus Abies and contains approximately 50 different species of tree. Fir trees are closely related to the genus Cedrus, or cedar trees. Fir trees have a much denser needle distribution than pine trees, giving them a fuller and greener appearance. 

Fir needles are soft and flat and tend to have two white stripes at the bottom of each needle. As they grow, fir tree cones tend to be green, purple, or blue and turn a golden brown as the tree matures. You can easily spot a fir tree as its cones grow upwards, whereas other coniferous trees have downward-pointing cones.

fir tree

Tree Species: Elm Trees

Elm trees are a common tree found mostly in forests and can be classed as either deciduous or semi-deciduous. There are about 35 different types of tree species within the Ulmus genus, including the American elm and the European elm. Elm trees are another ornamental tree species that are not generally appreciated for their wood or fruit. Elms are hardwood trees and therefore difficult to work with as a building material. 

You can identify an elm tree by its leaves, which are technically classed as broadleaf. There is quite a range of different leaves that grow on elm tree species, but they all have the same pointed oval shape. Elm tree leaves range between 7 and 16 cm long. Unfortunately, a pandemic of Dutch Elm tree disease wiped many elm trees from our streets and forests. However, conservation efforts are well on their way and the American Elm tree species is in revival.

 

elm tree

Tree Species: Willow Trees

Willow trees have some of the most distinctive shapes out of any tree in the world; their long drooping branches have a dramatic and striking appearance. There are approximately 400 species of willow trees and they are all deciduous trees. Willow trees can be small tree-like shrubs or grow to be medium-height. Willow tree leaves are always elongated ovals, but their color varies between species. Black willow trees feature dark, furrowed bark. 

Willow tree leaves can be green, yellow, or blue in hue, making these breathtaking trees even more beautiful. The wood from willow trees can be used to make wicker baskets and similar items, due to their long, soft, and flexible branches. Willow trees are arguably the easiest tree species to identify, as no other type of tree has anything comparable to its low sweeping branches. When temperatures drop in the fall, willow trees are among the last to lose their leaves.

Willow trees.

Willow trees are easy to identify from their long, drooping branches. 

Tree Species: Magnolia Trees

When people choose a tree to plant in their garden, Magnolias are an obvious choice. The Magnolia family contains both deciduous trees and evergreen types of trees, which can grow in a huge range of environments. These trees produce large fragrant flowers and cones of fruit that look like berries. In terms of tree identification, all types of the Magnolia tree are broadleaf. 

Magnolias are medium-sized trees, they grow fast and have softwood. As there’s quite a large variation in leaf size and shape in magnolias, the easiest way to identify this tree species is by the fruit. As their cone-shaped seed pods are unique in comparison to other types of trees, if you can spot these, you’ll know if your tree is a part of the magnolia family.

Magnolia Tree

Tree Species: Birch Trees

Birch trees, of the genus Betula, are a type of tree family containing about 60 species of hardwood trees. Often, the wood from birch trees is used as firewood or for making furniture. Birch tree bark is papery, often white or silver in color, and is its most identifiable feature. The branches of birch trees are long, and droop slightly, holding small, thin, triangular leaves. Oil extracted from birch trees can be used in both cooking and medicine. Birch trees are some of the most common trees on the planet with small leaves.

Birch Trees

Tree Species: Tulip Trees

The tulip tree is not actually related to the flower that shares its name. It’s called so because of its attractive yellow-green flowers. The softwood of the tulip tree is attractive but weak. For this reason, it’s often used for aesthetic purposes rather than construction. When a tulip tree is young, the bark is brown or ashy gray. As the tree matures, the color will darken, however rich and moist soil is necessary for this. 

The leaves of a tulip tree are almost rectangular in shape, featuring 4 to 6 lobes which can be up to 15 cm in length. Tulip trees bloom before their leaves grow, meaning once spring rolls around, their large leaves hide their blooming flowers. This distinctive feature makes the tulip tree easy to identify — try focusing on the leaves and the orange-yellow flowers.

Tulip Tree

Tree Species: Butternut Trees

If you’ve ever seen a tree species with what appears to be small green balls growing among its leaves, then you may be looking at a Juglans Cinerea. The butternut tree is a slow-growing,  deciduous tree that’s native to Canada and the United States. It grows in moist soil and has edible nuts that resemble green balls. You can easily identify this type of tree by its light grey bark, which gets rougher in texture with age. This large-leafed tree has no stems — its pointed leaves grow directly from the branch.

Butternut Tree

Tree Species: Cedar Trees 

Cedar trees are large trees from the Pinaceae family that can reach a towering 50 meters. Cedar trees are often used as ornamental trees and also make popular bonsai trees. This kind of tree is also a popular choice of men’s fragrance. In the United States, many of the trees that we refer to as cedar trees, such as the eastern red cedar (found in the Rockies of Colorado), are actually Juniper trees from the family Juniperus. When it comes to tree identification, cedar trees are pretty straightforward as they are one of the few kinds of trees with scaled leaves. In addition, their foliage is either dark green or bluish in color and grows in spiral clusters.

Cedar forest trees at night.

Cedar tree forests are some of the most beautiful natural spaces in the United States. 

Final Verdict

Throughout this article, we’ve identified 12 of the most common types of trees from across the United States and the world. Using this knowledge, you should now be able to accurately identify several of these tree species. Some of the more common tree families we didn’t cover include ash trees, hawthorn, larch, black walnut, hickory, hemlock, dogwood, walnut trees, and other species of the genus Picea. Although they’re beautiful tree species, they’re not as common as the trees that made our list. From butternut trees with green balls to huge weeping willow trees, it is our sincere hope that you enjoy identifying tree species as much as we do.

 

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Outdoor Blog

How to Keep Snakes Away from Your Campsite (Stay Safe!)

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Having a phobia of snakes is a common fear among people and some research suggests that it may even be an instinctive fear present at birth. Regardless of the reason, encountering a snake at your campsite is not a pleasant experience and can be intimidating, especially if you’re in an area where snakes are native.

While it’s not always possible to completely avoid snake encounters while camping, there are steps you can take to reduce the chances of an encounter and to be prepared if one does occur.

One important thing to consider when it comes to snake prevention is the choice of campsite.

Where do rattlesnakes like to hide?

Snakes tend to prefer certain types of environments, and if you can avoid camping in these areas, you’ll be less likely to encounter snakes. For example, you should avoid camping next to rock piles or outcrops, as these can provide snakes with plenty of hiding spots.

Similarly, areas with heavy brush or deadfall should also be avoided, as these can also provide snakes with plenty of hiding places. Additionally, it’s a good idea to avoid camping directly next to water sources, as snakes often use these areas to hunt and to travel.

 

10 Do’s and Dont’s on how to keep rattlesnakes away:

  1. DO stay calm if you encounter a rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes are more likely to bite if they feel threatened, so try to keep your distance and avoid making sudden movements.

  2. DO keep an eye out for rattlesnakes while hiking or camping, especially in areas where they are known to inhabit. Look for warning signs such as a rattle sound, a V-shaped indentation in the ground, or the shed skin of a rattlesnake.

  3. DO wear sturdy boots and long pants while hiking or camping in areas where rattlesnakes are present. This will help protect your feet and legs from a bite.

  4. DO be aware of your surroundings when hiking or camping. Avoid stepping on or near rocks, logs, or other objects that could be hiding places for rattlesnakes.

  5. DON’T try to handle a rattlesnake, even if it seems docile. These snakes are venomous and can be dangerous if not handled properly.

  6. DON’T try to capture or kill a rattlesnake. This can be dangerous and is generally not necessary.

  7. DON’T attempt to play with or tease a rattlesnake. These snakes are not toys and can be very dangerous if provoked.

  8. DON’T leave food or trash out in areas where rattlesnakes are known to inhabit. This can attract rodents, which are a food source for rattlesnakes.

  9. DON’T try to move a rattlesnake out of your way. If you encounter a rattlesnake on a hiking trail or campsite, give it plenty of space and allow it to move on its own.

  10. If you are bitten by a rattlesnake, DON’T try to treat the bite yourself. Seek medical attention immediately, as rattlesnake bites can be serious and require medical treatment.

 

 

So, what is the best type of campsite for avoiding snakes?

Generally speaking, an open area with short grass is your best bet. Snakes are secretive creatures and tend to avoid being out in the open, so if you can camp in an area with plenty of open space, you’ll be less likely to encounter them.

It’s also a good idea to choose a campsite that is well-lit at night, as this will make it easier to see any snakes that might be passing through. If your campsite allows it, lighting a fire can also be a good tactic to deter snakes, as well as rodents, which are attractive to snakes as a food source. Just be sure to handle firewood carefully, as it can be a prime hiding spot for snakes.

Another important aspect of snake prevention is food storage. While snakes don’t generally have much interest in human food, they do prey on smaller animals such as mice and birds, which are attracted to food scraps and trash.

How do you keep snakes away?

To prevent attracting snakes to your campsite, it’s important to store food and trash properly. This means sealing trash bags and disposing of them properly, being conscious of dropping crumbs and cleaning utensils thoroughly after use, and storing leftover food in airtight containers away from your tent. If possible, you should also store food in an elevated area, such as a tree branch, to further protect it from rodents. Additionally, it’s a good idea to pack away anything on the floor when you leave the campsite, such as picnic blankets and tarpaulin, as snakes can use these items as hiding places.

Even if you take steps to avoid snakes and prevent attracting them to your campsite, it’s still important to be prepared in case you do encounter one. If you do see a snake, the most important thing to do is to keep your distance and let it pass.

Conclusion

It’s important to remember that most snakes are not aggressive and will only bite as a defense mechanism. If you give them plenty of space and allow them to move on, they’ll likely do so without incident. However, if you do come across a venomous snake, it’s especially important to keep your distance and avoid trying to handle it. If you are bitten by a venomous snake, seek medical attention immediately.

To prepare for the possibility of a snake encounter, it’s a good idea to do regular checks of your tent and gear. Make sure there are no holes in your tent and that all zips are shut, as snakes can sometimes find their way inside through small openings. Additionally, inspect your gear and gear storage areas before use to make

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