A greenhorn here....

OK, a new greenhorn has joined the ranks and wants to buy a canoe. Did some canoeing many years ago on a rental basis and have finally decided to buy one. Love camping and fishing but would want the canoe for me and my girlfriend for lake and slow river enjoyment. Now the hard question …what is the best canoe to buy? Been leaning towards the Old Town Discovery 158 or a Mitchicraft T17. Have read pros and cons about the materials of both and I’m now more confused than ever. I’m very interested in the opinions of you experienced paddlers. Thanks.

I have a OT Disco 158 so …
I can speak from some experience;

The pluses for it are, it is a great all around canoe, that is very stable and it is just about indistructable.

The negatives are it is a big old heavy slow pig.

I suggst that if you are going to be paddling in water where you won’t have to worry about scraping against rocks take a look at a composite (fiberglass or kevlar canoe).

They will be much lighter which translates to faster. Many models are just as stable as the OT Disco.

The biggest draw back to them is that they cost a lot more.

If you are going to be paddling in water where you might be bumping into rocks then take a look at a canoe made out of roylex.

The weight will be less than the OT disco but more than a composite canoe, and the cost will be more than the Disco, but less than the composite.

With all that said, take a look at the Old town Penobscot 16 made out of Roylex, (cost more and not quite as stable, but a better choice)

Best choice in my estimation, but also the most expensive would be a Wenonah Jensen 17 made out of kevlar.

It is the most stable, fastest and lightest tandem canoe I have ever paddled. (not for rocky rivers though).


and Merry christmas,


my take
I also have the OT discovery. Great “family style” canoe for taking my kids paddling on the local lake. Very stable and sturdy. Also slow and tends to weathercock quite a bit. We transport it to the water on a little cart. It weights a ton, and I never use it anywhere else because it is hard for me to get it on the car roof. If I wanted a canoe to take places, I would not get the Discovery.

might try renting or borrowing
If you live in the right area, you might consider renting or borrowing a canoe before buying. You would then learn about different canoes, and also find out if the girlfriend is going to enjoy paddling. How you are going to haul it and where you are going to store it might also be considerations in your eventual choice. Buying a used canoe can give you a cheaper way of finding out if canoeing is an activity you will enjoy together.

Good luck to you both as you explore the world on water.

rather buy

– Last Updated: Dec-25-06 11:54 PM EST –

a good used one than a 'bad' new one.
The Disco is not a good canoe. As said before: heavy, slow, sluggish-but lots of initial stability...
Buy comfy PFDs and fitting paddles and rent a few canoes before you buy one. And if you settle on buying one: see my first sentence.

Be careful about the “S”-word
Beginners usually put too much emphasis on wanting a canoe that is “stable”. Although there are some specialty canoes that are only comfortable for experienced paddlers, you won’t be getting one of those. Just about any general-purpose tandem canoe you can buy will be “stable enough”. If it’s a “good” one, it probably won’t feel as stable as an Old Town Discovery right away, but whatever degree of tippyness you might initially percieve will disappear quickly once you get some time on the water.

Here are some facts of life about canoes with lots of stability.

  1. They are slow, simply because flat-bottom boats are slow. A somewhat more rounded hull profile will rock side to side more easily, but it will move through the water more efficiently and will be faster.

  2. They are less forgiving in choppy water. They are tough to handle in choppy conditions because that highly stable flat bottom tries to match the profile of the water’s surface as the waves pass beneath you. A boat which rocks more easily (a boat with a more rounded bottom) doesn’t “try” as hard to conform to the water’s surface, so you don’t get tossed around, and you are less likely to get flipped.

  3. They are less forgiving when crossing eddylines. An eddyline is a line of sharp contrast in current speed or current direction, and these can occur even on rivers which are mostly mild-mannered. Crossing an eddyline subjects the canoe to a sudden force from one side, until the boat “catches up” with the new current it’s exposed to and goes with the flow. During that sudden transition, depending on condtions, you may be more likely to flip if you are in a flat-bottomed boat than a boat with a little more curvature on the bottom.

  4. They don’t provide a very forgiving ride when tipped. Once they get close to the point of tipping over, the point of no return arrives without warning, and it will be just about impossible to prevent tipping the rest of the way. Most boats with a more tippy feel actually become more stable when leaned to the side, and these boats are less likely to surprise you with a flip. Also, if you become more proficient, you’ll be able to prevent a flip that is already underway, rather than just “riding it out”.

    You may not have to worry about “rules” 2 through 4, depending where you go, but #1 is something you can never get away from. Anyway, it’s so easy to learn to be comfortable in a “good” general-purpose canoe that stability (as defined by something like an Old Town Discovery) really needn’t be on your shopping list. Just my opinion of course.

don’t be afraid …
The OT 158 does not excel at anything aside from being a great, all-around beginner boat – which is why Old Town began making it again due to popular demand.

Is it fast? No.

Does it track well? No.

Does it do white water well? No.

Do I own one? Yes.

Do I own better boats? Yes.

Do I plan to ever get rid of my 158? No.

And we could go on, and on, but the bottom line is the OT rates somewhere between OK to pretty good when compared to other all-around recreational canoes because it paddles easily and it can do both lakes and whitewater competently.

The weight issue is only important if you are old, crippled, or have no friends and are forced to paddle alone.

As you indicate you favor lakes and slow rivers the OT 158 should do fine.

Since you can easily pick up a used 158 for about $400 or less, I wouldn’t worry about the shortcomings you see posted here by those whose paddling interests do not mirror your own.

When the time comes that you feel you want another boat that addresses some performance or appearance issues, buy another boat and don’t worry about it.

Thanks for the great feedback!
Thanks everyone for the great feedback! I’m changing my position somewhat and will be watching the classifieds for used canoes, however most I’ve seen so far still have a high asking price and are so far away travel or shpping costs bring the price real close to buying new locally. I’m now leaning toward the Mad River Horizon 15rx or Explorer 16rx because of the Royalex material and hull shallow V shape. More opinions are very welcome.

demo canoes or leftovers from dealers
IMO, this is absolutely the best time of the year to buy a boat of almost any kind. If searching classifieds, don’t forget to look at dealers’ inventory of used/demo/former rental/leftover/discontinued canoes. There are some bargains just waiting for you. Some states even have inventory taxes and dealers will sell cheaper to reduce inventory.

Canoe progression
Hi there.

A few thoughts on your first canoe.

Take the time to really identify what you will be doing. You mention fishing and camping. Canoes lend themselves very nicely to those activities. Will your girlfriend be fishing and camping with you? Overnight river trips? Multi-day trips?

I paddled a little as a teenager with friends in the venerable aluminum Grumman canoes. Never owned one until 6 years ago. Had my head set on a tandem Mad River Explorer rx. That’s what I bought. It served the purpose very well and saw a lot of use with me and my fishing partner.

5 years ago through this web site a “Paddle and Compare” outing was organized with a focus on solo canoes. This has continued year to year and grown into a premier opportunity for test paddling solo and tandem boats along with numerous kayaks. Last October the “Raystown Gathering” had somewhere over 50 attendees and nearly 70 boats!

After the first year at Raystown I purchased my first solo canoe, 1.5 years later my second. The MRX was sold in favor of a light tandem. By this time I was doing trips to the boundary waters as well as numerous over night and multi day trips. Soon realized the tandem was not getting used as I preferred the solo boats, sold the tandem and purchased a used “creek basher” that I’m refurbishing for use on the numerous small rivers/larger streams in my area.

I’ve not mentioned any models other than the MRX purposefully. My suggestion is for you to examine all the possible activities you and the two of you might be doing then rent/borrow/demo as many of the hulls you are interested in.

You don’t mention the area of the world you live. You might add that to your user profile. My bet is that lots of folks from Paddling.net will give you more direct advice and perhaps a chance to meet and paddle.

As I’ve found out, heading off in a canoe can lead you further afield than you might expect. Changes in interests might lead to different place and different boats.

The Raystown event is held every October in south central PA. Folks that have attended are extremely generous in sharing gear and boats as well as advice. There are numerous other paddling get togethers as well.

Good Luck and have fun!

Good to see someone else down here getting into an open boat. Cedar and Devil’s Kitchen Lake are wonderful local resources for you, and Rick over at Shawnee Trails is an experienced paddler of both kayak and canoe.

Renting and test paddling are great ideas. You won’t be sorry if you do plenty of both. That being said, I don’t think I’d have been on the water nearly as much when I started paddling If I had to rent my boat each time. It just would have been too much hassle. With my own boat I could make plans at a moments notice or reschedule as needed.

Here’s some general thoughts, YMMV…

1-Stay well within your budget

2-Get a good deal on a good used boat, buy new after you know what you want

3-Royalex over TT or plastic (heavy), or Royalite (less durable)

4-Heavy boats can become a hassle and you may paddle them less

5-Light boats are expensive, if you don’t paddle them you’re out $$$.

6-If you plan on growing as a paddler don’t start off with a ‘stable’, ‘beginner’ boat - you’ll grow out of it quickly.

7-If you can $wing it, and the girlfriend approves, think about 2 solo boats. More pleasant to paddle side by side and the boats themselves are more fun and responsive.

Best of luck, drop me an email if you want any local beta.


Thanks for the advice…
Thanks for the great advice. I can see I’ve really found a gem in discovering this website. All you experienced paddlers are a wealth of information, please keep it coming.

I agree with the rent before buy idea, it makes perfect sense. However, I don’t want to wait until Spring to start trying out canoes. I believe now is the time to score some great deals. I’ve already been quoted $600 and one new paddle for a new Old Town Allagash 164 by a local dealer that wants to get it off their floor. It’s made of the PolyLink3 material so it’s a bit heavier. I’m kind of searching for a lighter Penobscot 16 or a Mad River ExplorerRX 16 made from Royalex, if one at a great price can be found.

Allagash 164 is the Penobscot
in essentially the same material as the Discovery 158. It is a better paddling canoe than the 158, but it is still an 80# boat.

You mentioned a MichiCraft model in your original post. The T-17 is the livery grade model if my memory still functions. Another 80# model, but a lifetime canoe with little maintenance. It has the usual aluminum shortcomings and strengths, noisey, reflector oven hot in the sun, a keel to catch on rocks; but a keel to protect the bottom in shallow water, no UV worries, no wood to maintain, nothing for a beaver or rat to chew, nothing for a solvent to dissolve.

Buying a canoe is always the balancing act of balancing your back against your wallet, saving one strains the other. Can’t set your budget for you, but on the weight side i can offer some guidelines. Anything over abouit 65# is a grunt to lift and carry over head for all but very short distances, 100yds or less. Between 50 and 65# it will depend on your build whether a canoe is light enough to carry for a distance; i am 5’9", 180# and 57 yrs. old, my comfort weight is 55# with a good yoke. At that weight with a good yoke in the canoe, i can go for a mile on the level. Anything heavier cuts the distance, anything lighter leaves me more energy at the end. Under 50# they feel ight, under 40# they are a joy to carry; my back has the 80# Grumman livery canoes as its pain reference, and a 52# Wenonah as its portage standard.

In the water there is no practical difference between a 40# and 70# version of the same hull. It only makes a 30# difference in the total weight of paddlers, gear, and canoe, and that is very small. Its at the end of the day when the boat has to be carried back to the vehicle and loaded, or toted over that steep portage that the 30# is really felt.


You didn’t ask, but …
… about that free paddle: I was advised once to spend 50 extra dollars on my paddle rather than 500 extra on my canoe, and it was good advice. When I checked a couple of months ago, Rick at Shawnee Trails, in Carbondale, had some Grey Owl paddles. Buy one of those and burn the free paddle for heat. [Ducks, covers head] Okay, okay, you can keep it as a spare.

– Mark

More on Cheap Paddles
If you need a cheap paddle, check out the ones from Mohawk. Most other cheap aluminum-and-plastic paddles are junk, though some might be “okay”. Cheap wood paddles can be as bad or worse, and the ones I’ve recently seen at Dicks Sporting Goods are as bad as any I’ve encountered anywhere. The previous poster is absolutely right, that a decent paddle is well worth the money.

I have two canoes…
both of them 16.5 ft. L.O.A. with a 34 inch beam. Rather heavy at 68# but their shallow-vee bottom with slight rocker is why I bought the beasts. Primary stability is okay but their secondary is what sold me. They’ve taken me through heavy class-II rapids and 6 to 8 ft. swells in the open Gulf of Mexico.

Due to injury accumulation I can no longer strictly paddle all day without serious after-affects but I can making headway on the water for 16 hours if I mix the paddling with poling. Sure, I’ll have some muscle aches at the end of the day but it sure beats the spinal pain of pinched nerves.

Check out Ozark Canoe
I noticed you’re in So. Illinois. If you don’t mind making a day trip to pick one up in Missouri, you might want to check out http://ozarkcanoe.com/BoatListPage.htm . They have some good prices on OT royalex canoes and are great folks too. I got a Penobscot 16 there about a year ago.

Or you can support your local shop…
by stopping by Shawnee Trails in Carbondale. We stock We-No-Nah and Bell canoes, and have some end-of-year deals going at this time. Or you could call the ‘Watershed Kayaks’ in Carbondale as I think Steve may have some O.T.'s he’s wanting to be rid of. Come on down and talk! And besides… the really GOOD Illinois paddling is right here in the ‘Shawnee’!

shop around
I just wanted to let you know that you shold check out old town,bell, and wenonah, sometimes you can get a good used one form dealers, or get a good deal on a new one. I bought a bell morning star for the same use that you want. I’m 5’8" 165#, looked at all three,got mine new just over #1200. got 25% off on accessories,and 50%off pfds. Igot 2pfds,2bell paddles,straps a neat strap on roof rack, not the sponge type. so check them all out,and try them some dealers will let you try them out. by the way the bell was less money then the wenonah, and penobscot

OK, new thought for you… Make your own Western Red Cedar Strip Canoe by Bear Mountain Boats. It does not take a lot of woodworking skill to build one and they are beautiful and very rewarding. Lakes and slow rivers only as they do not like rocks. Check out the kits on their web site…

Just more to think about…