Best whitewater canoe for big rivers?

I’m starting to look for a new canoe and I am finding a lot of good creaking boats but I live in the southwest where I mostly do raft-supported trips up to class 4 and hope to one day do the grand. I am looking for some input on what crafts folks have succeeded with. I currently have a bell prodigy, I am hoping for something with a bit more rocker and sharper edges but still versatile.

So far my top picks are esquif ecstasy as I am a smaller paddler, but mostly feeling the esquif raven because I think it checks off more boxes.

If you can find a used Dagger Rival go for it. Otherwise, Esquif may be the best option these days.

Old Town Tripper
Sawyer Charger or 222
Wenonah Cascade
Clipper Tripper
Mad River Revolution
Prospectors made by different companies.
For big rivers, some length at least 17 feet
Depth of 15 inches
Rocker to turn with a load.
Beam around 36 inches.


Esquif Raven and Exstasy are wildly different canoes.
First up, as you described yourself as a smaller paddler I would recommend against the Raven. Even at my size (near 6 foot, 190lbs) I thought the Raven a barge, and with very annoying edging profile - even keel it is stable, on full secondary edge it is solid, but inbetween there’s nothing - flat or full lean, it just wants to “flop” to a full edge with not much stability inbetween.

The Extasy is certainly designed for a smaller paddler, and from reports of friend who have tried it is super fun. Definitely a day boat (very little room for gear), very quick to accelerate, but a low cruising speed. The design is such that most control is done with forward strokes, so you should have a good cross forward. Very maneuverable and a great slalom or creek boat, but doesn’t sound like a very good choice for big water.

I noticed that Esquif is finally making the Zephyr in T-Formex. Perhaps take a look at that boat. In the older layup (Twin-Tex) I found it very quick with a great cruising speed, very dry in big conditions, and just a hoot to paddle. At my size it was a bit tender on initial stability, so a smaller paddler might be delighted. An old paddling buddy would use it to creek in, including Class V waterfalls. A fun boat!

A bunch of old school Dagger and Mad River boats here;

I’m just a lowly, east coast, small river boater, and I watch those guys running the Grand Canyon and I am amazed - so calm, so cool, so many super-human braces. I wouldn’t last 2-seconds in there.


If you are looking to do extended trips paddling solo, you might look at the Pocket Canyon too. It would give you a bit more space for gear.

I spent a few solid moments watching that video with my butt puckered

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Oooh, I’ll second the suggestion of a Pocket Canyon!

I’ve owned a regular Esquif Canyon for…14? years, and love that boat. Many long WW trips up to class IV, a joy to paddle. And my favorite WW tandem tripping canoe, and I’ve paddled a lot of different designs.
I only paddled the Pocket Canyon twice, both times paddling it as a solo. Once was a day trip in Class III, the other was a two day trip in low water II+ that included poling/snubbing as well as tight technical maneuvering.
I’ve wanted one ever since, just a huge amount of fun! Except that my wife and I already have six canoes.

Oh, yeah, pucker factor 100.

Absolutely proof that it’s not the boat but the paddler. Why? Because I paddle (or more or less, use to paddle) one of Bob Foot’s designs (see my user name) that you see in that stuff. Even at my best, and that was a while ago, I could manage Class III+ - IV-.

Every time I watch it I am amazed - nothing like spinning the boat around on the top of a 10’ wave. You’d think the boat would be full of water, but they seem to do fine.

What do you think he is paddling in those first few segments - not a Rival. Maybe an Ovation? What is the Mad River that the guy with the yellow helmet is paddling? Twister? Toward the end there is a guy in a fushia Encore. I still have one, but I paddle an Outrage most of the time now.

I need to dig out my old ribbed PFD - maybe that will help me paddle better :wink:

Simply amazing footage of raging water and skills to match!

I’m pretty sre that it is a Rival. Other that the color it looks like the one hanging in the garage. The length of the blotch at the stern where the name is looks in the right place and right size to say RIVAL. I know that Bob Foote used Rivals on the Colorado although his was at times Kevlar.

I’m guessing that the Mad River is a ME but no guarantees. My buddy Jay paddled a fushia Encore and got to be pretty good. Sold it some time ago. The cost (not so much $$ but time) to maintain a class IV skill set out of Southern Michigan is high.

I still have a yellow PFD I bought mail order in the 80s from Charlie Walbridge. Maybe I should pull that out along with the Rival & see what happens.

At least around here, lots of things to paddle that don’t involve a class IV skill set. I am quite content to be a II/III boater.


My goal is to keep up enough basic skills to run straight forward class I - II with a loaded tripping canoe. And to be able to read water well enough to know when to go for a walk in the woods.


If you can find one, a good ol’ Dumoine, in Royalex. That’s what they were made for.

Old Town Tripper, Royalex, old mold, it is a bit longer, good rocker, great depth, a bit heavy, good volume.
Jim Henry, Mad River, made a big one, T W Special, only in glass, named after George Walsh and Ray Titcomb, ray was at least 60# lighter, boat did not mind, it has high sides, one was for sale last summer, turns well, good rocker

Can’t believe the number of legacy boats being recommended. You might wander over to or even to get some additional advice.
My daily driver is an Echoee which is a composite Ocoee and I love it. Good for Class III for sure. Out your way Empty Canoes makes composite derivatives of the Ocoee that I think are worth a look. They have a Facebook site.
Also I think the L’Edge Lite would be a good choice – not just a creek boat. I know several woman paddlers using them well on the Ottawa which is big water, although drop and pool.
Good luck with your search.

Maybe some of us are recommending legacy boats because there are still a few really good old boats out there, like the Rival. And maybe because some of us feel like we’ve been around the block a few times ourselves :-/
See video of when I was younger, paddling a fiberglass Rival. Yes, that boat used to belong to Bob Foote until my now husband broke it. The Royalex ones are better for tighter, rockier rivers.
Hermit Rapid, Grand Canyon


Wow - that is amazing - how did you stay in the boat?

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Good thigh and knee straps plus nose over tailbone plus amused river gods I guess.