Advice re white water canoes, please

-- Last Updated: Sep-10-13 3:43 PM EST --

Somme friends and I have started to get into white water canoeing trips and I'm being tacked with research on best types to buy.

We mostly tandem canoe - and do some lake paddling as well. Our trips usually involve portaging (pack plus canoe).

I'm looking for advice re:

* Material of construction - weight vs Class rapids (durability) vs cost
* Hull shape - manoeuvrability vs tracking for River paddling
* Length & width - carrying capacity vs manoeuvrability
* Possible manufacturer/used canoes to consider
* Anything else I may be missing?

Also, on a recent trip, we rented some heavy ABS canoes and one one of them managed to get separation of the shell from the hull (noticed a bubbling inside the canoe) - does this spell the end of the canoe or are there repairs/refurbishments that can be done?
(We noticed significant drag from that canoe's performance)


why manoeuvrability instead of …

– Last Updated: Sep-10-13 7:05 PM EST –

...... "maneuverability" ?? ... Are you a Brit ??

Do you know what "rocker" is ??

Do you know what bow flare is ??

Do you know what Royalex is ??

Do you know what "airbags" are ??

You asked about WW canoes , said tandem . When I think of a WW canoe , I think of class 3 and higher . Something that actually begins to "require" a specialized WW canoe .

I think of Old Town Canoe Co. and the Appalachian model canoe .

When I think of class 3 and lower , still ww ... I think of canoes like the Old Town Tripper , and not always necessary for airbags , probably zero portage requirements .

Check them both out . You have to know what "rocker" is to understand how much of it is needed ... or if you have too much of it .

So , do you have experience in WW (ww) canoing , and how much ??

When I 1st saw 2' high spikes for a 1/4 mi. in front of me river wide , I was a bit aprehensive of going through it (tandem on a downriver multi day trip) . No airbags , gear not secured . But I went over the ledge and through it anyway ... as it turned out , no big deal , easily controlled , little chance of flipping . But I didn't know that the 1st time .

When I 1st saw 30"+ wave trains that I either had to go through or portage , I took a fair amount of time scouting and making my plan before deciding to go through them . Tandem and no airbags , didn't secure the gear ... this worked out well for us , but ... it could have easily gone sour , we could of taken a hard swim and lost our gear to the river .

Which one do you think I wouldn't repeat the way we did it ??

I will keep it a little simpler

– Last Updated: Sep-10-13 6:53 PM EST –

What boats are available to you? Esquif makes some nice designs in tandem canoes for mixed water but unless you have some around you that is no help.

ABS can be heavy depending on the thickness of the Royalex. Delaminating is a bad thing. And I haven't seen that much of it, though it does happen.

river tripping on whitewater

– Last Updated: Sep-10-13 7:07 PM EST –

Relatively few people run rapids more difficult than Class II in a canoe loaded with camping gear. Of course, it is quite possible to unload and portage the gear, then run the canoe through the rapid.

I take it you are in the market for a tandem canoe that is capable of running at least some straightforward rapids. If so, you will want something with at least a bit of depth and rocker. You may or may not want a full-on whitewater boat depending on what type of whitewater you are considering. Such a boat will catch more wind and track less well on flat water and will typically be slower due to a more bulbous water entry but will be drier and more maneuverable in whitewater.

Most people will choose a Royalex or a three-layer polyethylene boat for that type of use, but it is quite possible to run some rapids in a composite boat of reasonably robust construction. I would avoid an ultralight layup and perhaps steer clear of a foam core.

Full-on whitewater tandems are currently made in Royalex by Esquif Canoe, Mohawk Canoe, Mad River Canoe and Nova Craft Canoe. There are other smaller makers. Some models capable of Class III-IV whitewater include the Esquif Vertige X, Esquif Blast, Mohawk XL 14 and XL 15, Mohawk Probe 14, Mad River Caption, and Nova Craft Moise. There are some very small solid polyethylene tandem whitewater canoes made by Blackfly, but these would be too small for your purpose.

There are lots of other Royalex tandems that I would not characterize as full-on whitewater boats but are quite capable of Class II and perhaps straight forward Class III water. A few examples are the Mad River Legend 16, Wenonah Rogue, Swift Yukon, Old Town Tripper 172, Old Town Penobscot 16 or 17, Old Town Appalachian, and quite a few Esquif models. You could also consider a Prospector style canoe which are made in lengths from 15-18 ft by a number of makers (Wenonah, Nova Craft, Swift, Esquif), These hulls typically have enough depth and rocker to be reasonably capable of whitewater that is not too technical.

You might consider a three-layer polyethylene boat such as the Old Town Discovery 169, Old Town Penobscot 164 or 174. These boats are pretty tough but they are wickedly heavy to portage any distance.

Plenty of folks have run significant whitewater in a composite boat such as a Mad River Explorer 16, or Wenonah Spirit II. You might take a look at the Millbrook Canoe AC/DC.

The Esquif Mistral is a reasonably maneuverable tandem boat made of a synthetic material called Twin-Tex which some folks have found suitable for whitewater use. The Mistral 17.5 has 15 inches of depth and 3 inches of rocker which should make it quite whitewater capable.

There are a lot of used canoes that you might come across. Some models that I would look out for would be the Dagger Legend 16 and Dagger Caption (both now made by Mad River), Dagger Caper, Dagger Dimension, Bell Nexus, Mad River Synergy 15, and perhaps the Bell Alaskan, and the Blue Hole Starburst or Blue Hole OCA.

A lot of people started out running whitewater in a 15 or 17 foot aluminum canoe. They are heavy but it is an option. If you find one with a shoe keel you might consider it. Avoid a T-shaped keel for whitewater use.

I’m tempted…

– Last Updated: Sep-10-13 7:53 PM EST –

to say,"get a Nova Craft Prospector in Royalex and take it from there." But that would be kinda' glib. And conservative. It's an "old standby." But it IS a good boat for mixed lake and milder ww river paddling, carries a bunch of weight. Can be soloed or paddled tandem. But there are other options as well.

As for materials, Royalex can take a beating but isn't the lightest material around. When you go the Royalex route it kinda' says you are more inclined to run rapids than carry around them. For affordability in a ww hull its sure a reasonable choice though. Arguably the best choice.

As for design, a starting point to consider...anything that turns well enough (medium to high rocker) and has high enough sides to handle ww reasonably well will be a bit more of a handful on a windy lake and will take extra effort to keep on course in those conditions. It'll require more skill to paddle straight and still make headway. Choice is yours. Which do you think you'll be doing more of? WW or lakes? Let that help in guiding your decisions.

Sharp bow entry lines dive into standing waves (not what you want in ww) but are usually faster and smoother on lakes. Another compromise to consider.

Flattish bottoms usually turn quickly and carry weight well, draw less water with the same amount of weight on board. They usually surf well. They usually side slip well. All nice features for ww. They also skid sideways all over h & gone in a side wind on a lake and usually require more attention to keep going straight..

I'm assuming you're planning on mostly tandem paddling but want to retain some solo capability and my suggestions are based on that premise. I'm basically thinking maneuverable tandems that can be soloed effectively in ww. Hope that's what you're thinking also.

Tandem ww is a pretty demanding skill, btw. It is no small thing to learn to paddle ww well. It takes practice. To get two people doing it well and as a team is MUCH tougher. But it is a joy to behold when it works.

Just to get you started, might want to look at Esquif Mistral, Mad River/Dagger Legend, and Nova Craft Prospector. Used Blue Holes and Daggers are a real good place to look.

I'm sure many other suggestions will be coming soon. There are many other good choices.

PS: And I see Pete already beat me to a lot of them... :-)

work your way up
most people did that, starting out on easy stuff with the boats they had- we ran lots of Class I and II rivers in our Grummans, with the standard keel and I still would.

most people doing what you want would look for a Royalex hulled river tripper model as a beginner boat.

keep in mind that you don’t have to file for divorce to upgrade to a better or more agressive model - just sell the boat you have for maybe 2/3 of what you paid (and condider the difference as a chaep rental),

and get a another boat. Royalex or Polyethelene hulls are more likely to survive a bad wrap than a composite hull - if you are able to unpin the boat, stomp it back into shape and likely keep on paddling, maybe with some creases in the hull and some jury rigged thwarts, but probably no holes.

if you get a lake tripper, like an ultralight hard tracking 18 footer, you will have a lot more trouble steering around the rocks and getting thru the big wave trains - especially as beginner - also cost a lot more and more difficult to field repair

its like buying a vehicle to use camping - any car will work if you stay on blacktop and good dirt roads, even a Porche or Corvette - but go up much rougher roads to backcountry locations and you would want at least an all wheel drive SUV with decent clearance; and if you want to get up the Jeep Road to that high mountain lake, you will want a more robust 4x4 with a lot of clearance and maybe skid plates. You can take the 4x4 to the grocvery store - a less comfortable ride and higher gas cost than a car, but you can’t take the Vet up that heinous Jeep Road.

a full on ww tandem is like the 4x4; a reiver tripper is more like the SUV - capable of quilte a lot, and an easier ride on the lakes, and just about any canoe will go to that easy loacation

lots of good more specific, suggestion above by others - you just need to decide if you want a car, an SUV or a Humvee to start out with - and I’d recommend the SUV for a beginner - relatively slow on the lakes, but still not to bad, and capable of CII river running

ww canoes

– Last Updated: Sep-12-13 1:43 PM EST –

Make sure your boat has rocker, no keel, has depth and sheds water. For technical water, smaller boats are okay. For longer trips I like big canoes at least 14 1/2 inches deep at least 17 feet long or more.

I like pblanc s post as usual.

Thanks to everyone so far…
I’m located in Toronto, Ontario - I’m used to spelling using English-based spelling (colour, neighbour, manoeuvrability, etc…).

We’re all high intermediate paddlers and have been lake canoeing for some time. Recently we’ve done some training and have taken two pretty challenging trips (Up to Class III Tech) over the past couple of years and I sense we’re looking to take on more challenges of this nature.

However, we do week to 2 week trips into wilderness to experience these WW trips, so the tripping (tracking, speed of canoe and, portage weight/shape) aspect does come into consideration.

What I understand from your responses to my preliminary question is that we should better define our needs (WW Class vs portaging/tripping requirements) to better determine design (dimension/shape), material, and associated costs.

I’ll compile all the advice I’ve received here and look for opportunities to acquire used canoe(s) that can fit our needs. (The common view being that we can always step up as our interest, abilities and experience allow.)

What the recommendation re airbags, skirts, skid plates, thigh straps, toe locks, and possibly sails?


Trying to choose a boat that is to be used on both flat water and whitewater is always a trade off. You might need to choose lighter weight over durability if longer portages are anticipated. As mentioned before, a deeper canoe with rocker and a blunt water entry (which rides over standing waves rather than slicing into them) is going to perform much better in whitewater but it will be slower, track less well, and catch more wind on flat water. A boat with a lot of flare throughout the length of the hull will shed water better but it will be harder to get your paddle into the water vertically than one that has straight sides or tumblehome.

You might choose to prioritize flat water performance and easier portaging and accept the fact that you will likely need to walk around some rapids. On the other hand, if running Class III (or harder) rapids is a priority, you will need a more whitewater capable boat and accept the fact that it will be heavier to portage and you probably won’t be able to go as many miles on the flats. Remember that any boat (even highly rockered whitewater hulls) can be paddled in a straight line on flat water (with practice). Paddling such a boat on flat water might get you a bit frustrated though. Conversely, trying to run difficulty rapids in a boat not really suited to more difficult whitewater might get you hurt or dead, or cause you to lose all your gear.

As for skid plates they really are not needed, especially on a new hull. If you buy a used boat with extensive stem wear you might choose to put them on.

A kneeling posture will greatly increase your boat control and any boat you get should be outfitted to allow both paddlers to kneel, even if you plan to paddle sitting for flat sections. To this end, you will want some type of kneeling pads. Thigh and/or knee straps considerably enhance your control over the boat and I would recommend them. Attaching thigh strap anchors to composite or Royalex boats is straightforward but attaching them to polyethylene boats is more problematical, although it can be done. Toe blocks or footpegs help keep your thighs braced up against the straps. They are pretty much essential for rolling an open boat, but not critical otherwise. Many whitewater open boaters choose to cut ankle blocks out of minicell foam to go under the lower calves and ankles when kneeling. Some use these in addition to toe blocks and some in lieu of them.

Flotation is always a good idea in whitewater. You will want to have some type of mechanism to retain gear and float bags in the boat. A ‘bag cage’ made out of 3 mm diameter nylon accessory cord works well. Cordage can be run through small holes drilled in the hull just below the gunwales, or through anchors (P-clips, or nylon inchworms for example) attached to the gunwales with pop rivets or stainless sheet metal screws. If you anticipate running the boat through rapid unloaded you could get larger bags that fill up more of the hull. These can be stuffed up into the stems of the boat when carrying gear and inflated only as much as the load allows, then fully inflated when running empty.

I can’t comment on sails or spray covers as I have not used them. Spray covers seem to be more popular up north. They do help in wind and serve to keep water out of the hull but they won’t help you much if you capsize.

Since you are in Ontario, why don’t you consider touring some boat works and looking at some different hulls? Nova Craft Canoe is located in London, Ontario and they are having an end of season sale including demos and blems at present. Swift Canoe is in Gravenhurst, Ontario. Esquif Canoe has multiple dealers in Ontario as well.

Airbags Etc
Airbags are great for keeping water out of the canoe. They take up a lot of space that would otherwise be filled with water and help the canoe ride higher in the water so you can get safely to shore when in rough water. They do take up room in the canoe, so most people doing your type of trips go with bow and stern airbags but leave the centre of the canoe free for gear.

Kneepads are also essential: they hold your knee in the right place and are a lot more comfortable than the bottom of the canoe.

If you are going in really rough water (Class III with big waves), spray decks keep water out of the canoe. They are recommended for big waves and or cold water. You do not want to be stopping to empty the canoe after every wave.

You did not mention helmets: a must for white water! And get a proper paddling helmet: don’t be one of those people wearing a bike or hockey helmet!

re: Anything else I may be missing?
I would like to add the importance of correctly packing a canoe and stowing gear. When traveling in the back country on multi day trips ones progress can be slowed considerably by an incorrectly packed canoe. Insuring that gear (and more importantly weight) is evenly distributed can help to stabilize the boat in both windy conditions on flat water and while running technical rapids, especially ones with large waves. In addition, a well packed canoe is much easier to load and unload while portaging.

I’m interested to hear how your group has tackled 10 day + trips into the back country. How large was your group and how many packs did you take in with you? What type of food did you carry in with you? How did you tackle the portages (carry through or multiple trips)?

I am always excited to hear about how others plan and pack for challenging trips like you mentioned your group has taken on. However as I get older the thought of paddling all day with multiple portages on top sounds exhausting. Any advice on where to rest some weary bones at the end of a long day? I’ve looked at the latest in camp chairs and even a hammock, but the group I paddle with has always dismissed these as luxury items…

Multi-Purpose Canoe
Hi ChrisR,

Have you checked out canoes made with new materials such as Aramid, Twintex and Carbon Fibre? If you are looking for a white water canoe that is portable they are a much better bet than a traditional Royalex canoe. Note that ABS/Royalex will no longer be manufactured in the near future, so you may be limited in choice anyway. A good strong canoe made out of Carbon Fibre will weigh 50-55 lbs, which is about 30lbs lighter than comparable Royalex models. This means you can carry your canoe and your barrel. It’s never a good idea to be too far from your barrel. Start by looking at the Blue Steel from Nova Craft and then compare with other manufacturers: most canoe companies have a similar product so you have plenty to choose from. And I think a tripping canoe will be better for you than a purpose-built white water canoe, based on what you said in your enquiry. Note that you can use the same canoe for lake trips as well as river trips. Happy paddling!

Re: Multipurpose canoe
I have to agree with the comments above. With the discontinuation of Royalex in the very near future most manufactures have started to release models composed of new material. It might be a good idea to look for an expedition grade boat that would serve as both a lake tripping workhorse and a technical river runner. Following that I would also suggest that you take heed of Simeon’s advice, you must never leave a barrel unattended!

What manufacturers? What models?
I am not aware of any manufacturers bringing out any non-Royalex canoes made of any new materials since Poly One announced the pending discontinuation of Royalex manufacture.

It is certainly possible that I am unaware of something new, but it is certainly not true that “most manufacturers” are bringing out new models made of new materials.

New Materials
Hi Pete,

Maybe you are right about ‘most’ manufacturers but there is a strong selection here in Canada. For example:

Langford make Prospector and Nahanni 16’ 6” carbon canoes that weigh 39lbs

Mad River make the Malecite (Kevlar, fibreglass and carbon fibre) at 51lbs

Composite Creations make a white water tripping canoe out of carbon fibre that comes in at just over 50lbs.

Holy Cow offer canoes made out of their own formula of ‘Carbon Kevlar’

Nova Craft probably have the widest selection of newer materials, offering Carbon, Aramid and Spectra. Their Blue Steel is reputed to be very rugged.

Esquif make white water canoes out of Twintex at 58lbs.

Check out these companies’ web sites for more info. All are tripping canoes with enough room for a couple of barrels and other essential wilderness gear.