Canoe comparison

I own a Bell Wildfire with Roylex hull. It’s my first solo canoe and I can say there isn’t much that I don’t like about it. My youngest son wants to paddle with me but wants to solo. I’ve looked at two other canoes the Merrimack Baboosic Kevlar hull and the Swift Osprey Expedition. The specs. are similar. I’m leaning toward the Baboosic because of the workmanship(this one will be mine). I’m hoping someone who has paddled all three or two can offer a performance/handling comparison. Thanks, BStox

First off, I like the Royalex Wildfire, but as I’ve stated before. I like the Kevlar one alot more. The Baboosic in Kevlar paddles more like the Kevlar Wildfire. Both are symmetrical. The Baboosic is often touted as a scalled down Chestnut Prospector. But even bringing up the word Prospector brings a cadre of thoughts due to the plethora of totally unrealted performance characteristics of hulls displaying that moniker. Kevlar itself allows the boat to feel smoother both in acceleration and turning than the Royalex boat. The Wildfire in kevlar is probably faster than the Baboosic, but the Baboosic may release the ends easier and feels a little more maneuverable. The Roylex Wildfire is still pretty quick, and isn’t much slower than either the Kevlar Wildfire or the Baboosic. But it has that noticeable stern drag that nearly all asymmetricl canoes seem to have. The Royalex Wildfire was constructed to minimize the limitations in Royalex and still retain many of the charateristics of the kevlar hull.

Now the Osprey is a vey different hull. It’s a foot longer at 15’ and is a much better tripping boat. It’s faster, and carries more gear. It would surely be the boat of choice to trip in if you are bigger than about 170-180 pounds. Because the Wildfire will start to get slow up around 230 pounds. The Osprey too has noticable stern drag when turning as John Winters built the hull asymmetrical as well and places a premium on speed over turning efficiency.

Stability wise, I don’t see any of these boats being tippy. I would personally rate all three as having comfortable primary stability and all can be heeled well past the point were water is filling the boat with little effort. The depth of the Osprey will surely make it the driest boat, but also will likely be the one most affected by wind.

I hope that helps you…


both fine canoes
My first solo canoe was a fiberglass Baboosic which I bought nearly three years ago. Until I got used to it, I thought it seemed “tippy”, but I just needed to grow into it. The Baboosic is a beautiful canoe, and I hated to put it on moving water where I might scratch it, or worse, so I bought the Wildfire in Royalex. A friend and I took both canoes out and maintained about the same speed. I like both canoes, but see them as being used differently–the Baboosic on quiet lakes and the Wildfire on rivers. The Baboosic seems to me to be more affected by wind, given its 3 inches of rocker.

Last summer, the solo canoe itch led me to buying a Blackhawk Zephyr and a Bell Merlin II. I haven’t had much of a chance to use the Merlin, but the Zephyr is a real joy to handle–fast and maneuverable.

I haven’t the technical expertise of pknoerr, but have found him to give about the best advice on on solo canoes. is a great community of paddlers whose advice has helped me tremendously. Serious paddlers are scarce here in South Dakota.

we no nah?
I am also looking to buy a solo canoe this spring. This will be my first solo and I am looking more at the we no nah models. All my family owns we no nah canoes and I love them. I am looking at the Vagabond and the sandpiper. The Wildfire is very pretty and I am sure it is a great canoe but it costs a good deal more than the we no nah boats. wish I had the money to really look at the wildfire.

Also looking
I have also been looking for a solo canoe. I am looking for one primarily for wilderness tripping for 4-10 days so it needs capacity for my gear and me. I am a large guy at 6"5" and 230 and have only paddled a Bell Wildfire which I felt was a little to small for me and gear. I have been thinking of a Bell Magic or Wenonah Prism. I value the opinions here-let me know what you think. Thanks.

I’m looking too!
I don’t want to steal this thread, but I am interested in getting a solo canoe that is good for all around use-lakes, rivers, up to class two maybe but not over. I’m checking out the ones mentioned in this thread. Keep the info flowing. San Diego is also not a paddling mecca for caones. How about a solo canoe in RX that would carry a lab, and my 230lb frame?

I’ll chip in…
From a beginner perspective.

Been paddling a solo for one year solid. Learned a great deal from a number of P-net folks and paddled with a bunch.

Noticed some of the posts are from people in the bigger than a breadbox size! Me too.

6-3 and 230 when the atmospheric pressure is low. My first solo is a Swift Shearwater. After one good year of paddling:

Great stability, reasonable speed, high volume-listed max optimum load of 360# is honest.

Real good riverboat but a bit big for smaller rivers/creeks/streams.

The Bell Magic is wonderful. Paddled it a fair amount on flatwater and intend on buying one in the near future. Max optimum load is listed at 280#. Assuming I shed 20 or more, this would be great for a BW trip of 6 to 10 days. IMHO.

Wenonah has a real nice boat I got to paddle last year, think its the Encounter? Very high volume but fast and stable. Could haul a bunch of gear and be very comfy for a large person. Paddler01 has one. Check with him for details.

Hope this helps


I’ve owned both…
the Sandpiper and the Vagabond, and I think the Vagabond is the better canoe. It tracks better, has a bit more volume, and the added weight is not very significant.

I’ve paddled all three and I own an Osprey. I agree with Paul K’s comments other than the comment about an Osprey having any reluctance to free it’s stern while turning…the Osprey is a fantastic river boat and the stern will never resist any input from the paddler. The Wildfire and Baboosic are just wildly capable for freestyle (and if you just stop paddling either one, it will do some sort of freestyle maneuver all on it’s own), but personally I enjoy the Osprey more than a Wildfire for leaning way over (less twitchy). If you were actually competing in freestyle then the Baboosic has more ultimate capability…more like the Wildfire. I’ve found that John Winters’ solos, both the Osprey and Shearwater, turn remarkably well - much better than they should given the modest rocker.

The one minor complaint that some paddlers have about the Baboosic is it’s width…it’s kind of wide in the middle so it’s not as naturally suited to switching sides as the narrower Wildfire or Osprey.

So if your son is stronger than you then a Baboosic would be okay and you’d be well-matched, but in general I’d say go for the Osprey because it’s noticeably more efficient for cruising, and it sure doesn’t give up much if anything for river work. If you get an Osprey I recommend the bulletproof expedition kevlar lay-up. The sliding seat in the Osprey is a nice bonuds so you can easily adjust your trim regardless of the load.

If your son is over 250 pounds I’d lean towards the Baboosic since it should carry a bigger load than the Osprey.

C&K Review

– Last Updated: Feb-10-04 9:04 AM EST –

Might want to read the review at , particularly the Paddling Performance section. Of course, it's just another person's opinion, but I've found it to be an accurate assessment.

I've never paddled an Osprey, but I own a Baboosic and a Wildfire (Blackgold). I prefer the Baboosic, but the Wildfire comes a close second.

I would love to try one of these out.

If they paddle as nice as they look…

Not cheap though. They do have some used for around $1000.

It’s really all realitive
In response to Tom, I feel that you are correct the Osprey does track better than either the Wildfire or the Baboosic. That amy make the Osprey a better boat for certain rivers, and surely capable enough to run most rivers. But as rivers get twisty the Baboosic and the Wildfire become the boats of choice.

As to your comment on the Baboosic being a bigger person’s boat… again I disagree. Tha Baboosic matches up very close to the Wildfire. 14’ 29" 13" deep… but with a bit more rocker. My biggest gripe with the Baboosic for freestyle is the lack of “lock” at the rail. But for paddling twisty rivers it will be very good.

I prefer boats that turn without a fault… paddling straight is all in the stroke… and I just like boats that feel loose… and so I paddle a pretty small boat.


Small boats…
PK wrote “I prefer boats that turn without a fault… paddling straight is all in the stroke… and I just like boats that feel loose… and so I paddle a pretty small boat.”

Hear, hear!! Couldn’t agree more!

I’m trying not to get too far from the original baboosic v osprey discussion, but in response to solo boats for the gravitationally challenged paddler that may like the wildfire, may I suggest a Mad River Guide (or whatever they are calling it this week). At a soaking wet #180 lbs, I had a hard time making the guide perform. I know that is one of pknoers boats of choice but I now paddle a kev wildfire (when I can get it away from my wife) and absolutely love the step up in performance. The boat is far easier to carve turns and catch eddies in and heel her to the rail on the slow water for a spin than anything I could ever pull in my former guide. I think the addition of a few pounds might make the guide carve and perform a bit better. It was a bit buoyant for me.

ok ok!
fair comments Paul

I don’t know the rated weight range for a Baboosic…I assumed it would carry a huge load because it’s quite wide in the mid-section…even compared to a Wildfire which carries quite a load comfortably

in the fall I let someone paddle both my SRT and my Osprey…his comment was that the Osprey was clearly hotter and more responsive…and I think the SRT has a fairly solid reputation as a river boat, so unless you are going into major whitewater with full flotation in the boat (not for this whitewaterweenie!), I seriously doubt that you’ll ever find a situation where a Baboosic or Wildfire’s greater turning capability is needed…unless you are on a narrow creek that’s less than 15 feet wide

I also certainly understand liking boats that are short and responsive, and it’s easy to see falling in love with a Baboosic…if I had one it would get used for sure (generous volume in middle looks great for the dog) and it’s easy to love a boat that shows some wood on the inside…I’m lucky to have a wood/canvas version of the Wildfire and I definitely like the boat a lot

yes it’s easy to make a Wildfire or Baboosic go straight - with the paddle…just a bit too much rocker for my personal tastes…same for Mad River Guide…fantastic boat but a bit too eager to turn for my tastes

I like a boat that cruises well too! I run against the current a lot and the extra efficiency of the Osprey is nice, and I prefer a longer boat since there is more room for the dog, more room for spare paddles and more room for me to nap. Wildfires cruise OK with a bent shaft paddle and as much weight as possible, and they are always effortless…they just don’t maintain much speed if one pushes the boat a bit…the Osprey is one step up

all three boats accelerate instantly from a dead stop - right? and all three are “10’s”…just with different personalities - so - hard to make a bad decision

I think of the Swift solos as ideal for someone who will only have one solo canoe

and I tend to enjoy arguing about the Osprey versus Wildfire


If I may so bold as to ask, where did you get the wood and canvas Wildfire? Sounds intriquing. Very. Just something about the allure of a w/c canoe… How did they handle the ‘shouldered flare?’

you should!
If you live anywhere near Hemlock I strongly recommend that you go see and paddle Dave’s boats.

I had an SRT. I have Peregrine. I will have a Kestrel.

Both the Peregrine and Kestrel beat the Bell Merlin II for cruising efficiency (by a small amount), and the Bell is one of my all time favorites. And they turn quite well…no surprises and very cooperative…but they don’t turn on a dime like some other solos (like the SRT).

The SRT just makes one feel so safe and dry, like no water could ever get in. I think it’s mainly because of the boat’s depth (14 inches…or is it a touch more?) and also since it’s way narrow in the middle so one has a ton of paddle control, plus the boat is so well made that it adds to your confidence. Plus - the thing will happily take 400 pounds. I can take the dog and the wife too. It cruises very nicely unless you push it hard, then it pushes back and other boats will walk away. But none of the faster boats are as comfortable in moving or “noisy” water. For a fast downstream run in a strong Spring current the boat is hard to beat…and it’s awesome for any downstream work.

just my 2 cents