Canoe for easy (class 1/2) whitewater rivers and occasional 2-3 day camping trips

I’m looking for a canoe that will be used:

  • Most of the time (90% or so) for trips down the Housatonic River, from Falls Village to Housatonic Meadows, a stretch of moving flatwater with some short class 1 and class 2 sections. These will usually be with myself plus 1-2 guests, i.e. 2-3 people total.) This is very easy whitewater, but during low water periods can be a bit scratchy.

  • Occasionally on similar rivers (Farmington River in Connecticut, Fife Brook section of the Deerfield in Massachusetts, etc). These would also be 2-3 people.

  • Occasionally for outings on local ponds and small lakes. These would also be 2-3 people.

  • Once or twice a year for 2-3 day canoe camping trips with one other person, in the St Regis Canoe area or similar (i.e. ponds and small lakes, with some short carries.) I’m a backpacker, so used to packing light, so I don’t need an “expedition” canoe for these short camping trips.

I’m thinking about a Swift Prospector 16, and would probably do the expedition kevlar laminate for strength, plus the epoxy finish for more strength and the skid plates.

Alternatives are the Wenonah Prospector 16 and the Esquif Prospecteur 16, since the T-Formex hulls would probably hold up better for the (hopefully infrequent) bumps and scrapes on rocks.

What do people think?

  • Would the Swift Prospector 16 be strong enough (with expedition kevlar, epoxy finish, and skid plates) to hold up on an easy whitewater river where it might suffer the occasional scrape or bumps into rocks ? (i.e. I won’t be taking this on class 3/4 rivers, which I do in my real whitewater boat.)

  • Or would a T-Formex boat be better?

  • Or should I be thinking about other options?

If you do indeed have III - IV OC1/OC2 skills you should be fine with anything NON-ultra-light. If you go with Swift get their light colored bottom finish (2-Tone). That will help cover the scratches. Otherwise, I suspect that you would have a hard time doing major damage to that layup other than a severe wrap.

If you want to bump things up take a look at a Northstar in their IXP layup.

Thanks! I should have clarified, all my serious whitewater boating is not open canoe, I paddle class 3-4 in my whitewater kayak. But I am quite comfortable doing class 1/2 in an open canoe.

Will take a look at the Northstar, thanks!

Well, I’d expect that if you are OK on Class III - IV in most any craft you would be fine in I - II in a canoe. You already understand how to read the river & its interactions with you & your boat.

I have a Northstar B 17 in Blacklite. I’ve had it for about a year and it’s a great moving water canoe. It has huge capacity (held a weeks worth of food & gear for two without coming close to being full) and still only weighs 43 lbs.


I love that section of the Housatonic – last year we were there on the Saturday of slalom race weekend when the gates were up. It was really low and scratchy. Overnight it rained and I guess it looked like an entirely different course on Sunday. We went on the wrong day. Seems like it has been cranking along all spring. Hopefully I’ll get there when the water is still up this spring.

You seem to have a pretty good sense of what you need, and all the boats you picked would be great. All of the rivers you mention get pretty low in the summer when you are probably going to be thinking about flatwater runs. You will define put some scratches on them.

You could also go the cheaper route and look for used royalex boat – Explorer, Penobscot, Tripper, etc. Won’t be as pretty, but it will be just as functional, and you won’t cringe every time you go over a rock. My tandem river boat is an old Mohawk Whitewater 16. Can’t kill that boat. Couple of years ago we ran the Dead (1,800) in a 16’ Explorer - what a blast that was. (We portaged Upper and Lower Poplar - what a mistake that was, but that’s a different story.)

For those days when you have 3 in the boat or when you are camping, you could also think about a 17’ boat. I have a composite Spirit II that is great on lakes for big rivers, and it’s nice to have some extra room when camping. It will carry a ton of gear.

Good luck with whatever you decide.

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i’d look for a used canoe, already scratched up, perfect for running over the rocks and not feeling bad about it. Class 1/2 the world is your oyster- aluminum, royalex (abs), glass, kevlar all should work. Are you looking to solo or tandem? Not sure from your post. You mention other people. Will they have their own boat?

You’ll likely scoff (or laugh) at my suggestion, since you appear to have pretty refined preferences and can afford higher end craft, but my ex (an experienced class III-V WW paddler) and I, who did a lot of river and stream tripping during our 4 years together, ended up acquiring one of Mad River’s klutzy looking rotomold Adventure 16s to use on fast bony creeks to spare the hulls of his Royalex canoes. Never would have considered the model had we not rented one on a vacation trip and been impressed how it performed in both rivers and in wind and waves in a sheltered coastal bay.

Low gunwales meant we could use either single or double blades (we sometimes used a 240 kayak paddle in the stern and a 230 in the bow), we cared not if the plastic bounced off rocks or scraped gravel and the central molded perch accommodated a third paddler on a few occasions. Ours (procured used for $300 with paddles and an electric trolling mototr thrown into the deal) had the regular bench seats, not the lounge chairs on the more recent iterations of the model. Only real drawback was it was awkward to kneel due to the seats (had to do more of a squat, but that was OK for the short passages that necessitated gettin’ low.) We regularly did class I-III sections of Pennsylvania mountain streams like Red Bank, West Branch Susquehanna and the Red and Black Moshannons and had a blast. Even used it by choice at times on flatwater trips.

If you can get past the indignity of paddling a beater thing that looks like the bastard spawn of a sit on top and an ice chest, Adventures are cheap (also plentiful on the used market) and indestructible.


Indignity? Don’t you mean “cool factor” ?

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I have an adventurer mr poly canoe. It was a blem from dick’s and picked it up from for 300 bucks. I just put it out in the sun and the big dimple on the side just disappeared. Poly canoes are subject to a bit of shape shifting. Mostly algae is growing on it now under my porch. But still servicable. It never was a good boat for kneeling, heavy to lifting on car, but I developed a solo method of loading it from the back and put a bucket on one end and a rug on the car . Also it was not very good for runnning backwards as a solo- as the built in seats get in the way. Mostly though it doesn’t get used much because it is a tandem and I’m an empty nester now.

For all of the boat’s faults, it paddles just fine on the coal, greenbrier, upper new, bluestone (class II-III) and local lakes. A very tough boat but I do use an old air matress for flotation. I even strapped two sets of portage wheels on it and used it on section 1 of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Seats are set a bit high for ww but I’ve got no complaints and have even used the built in cup holders.

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Interesting that you repurposed an air mattress for that. We made some bundles of pool noodles, zip tied together and wedged in the bow and stern. The rolled gunwales (that sort of resemble a kayak coaming) made it easy to keep them in place.

In fact, since the gunwales have that sort of outside lip, I had been planning to try to sew a spray deck for it (never got around to that before selling off my share of the boat to the ex, who had more room to store it than I did at the time). I still have most of the marine grade bungee cord and 6 yards of orange coated nylon I bought to do that, though some of it has been used by now for kayak cockpit covers and haul bags.

You need a canoe with some rocker, and a round or v shaped bottom profile. At least 16 feet, I Iike 17-18 feet. No keel.

I like the way you think. For me, the “cool factor” in outdoor gear isn’t how costly, shiny and slick it is, but how useful and well-worn it is. Well used gear earns some battle scars. I do keep my stuff well maintained for durability, safety and function, but am not that concerned with aesthetics. I have been to some paddler gatherings (both canoe and kayak) where there is an array of costly boats lined up along the shore that appear to never have been used.

All my boats have scuffed hulls and even scratches and dings, particularly because I have acquired most of them in used condition to begin with, but even the ones I bought new (at least three of them over $3,000) show signs of wear. I picked up, for a steal, a fantastic composite sea kayak 3 years ago that had shipping damage (ugly gouges and one small crack, but only in the gelcoat). I slapped clear patching tape over the dings, planning to do a “proper” repair eventually but the tape remains and I have had more enjoyable trips in that boat than I can count so far.

And the upright stern stem of my skin on frame got broken when the boat flew off my car as I was loading it in wind, so I cut open the skin, sawed off the cracked frame, and roughly stitched the tail “wound” closed and gooped it over with a whole tube of AquaSeal. Looks horrible but doesn’t affect the performance at all. But I know that some of my fellow participants in group outings have looked askance at my scarified boats.

I know people who continually fret over the finish on their watercraft hulls and continually buff and recoat them. Do they think the fish will judge them for scratches? Reminds me of kids when I was in high school who obsessed over keeping their new white Chuck Taylor high tops pristine (while their classmates vied to be the first to step on and smudge them).


Will not be paddling solo (I have a WW kayak for that), so when I say 2-3 people, I mean 2-3 in my boat. Thanks!

Yup - badges of honor - scratches on my composite Wildfire and royalex Yellowstone Solo.

Red Wildfire, green Yellowstone Solo

Hate to say it, but this was eight-years ago. Lots more scratches on them now.


Iin the last 63 years I have owned a lot of canoes. Some were fiberglass, some were kevlar, some were Royalex and the best one was wood and canvas from 1951. Some were in disrepair, and some got wrecked but they were all fixed and put back on the water. None of them were new, and I made money on every single one of them.

Sheer lines like a Sawyer Cruiser slice through waves instead of going over them. Boats with a straight keel like a Wenonah Odyssey are hard to turn. Canoes like an OT Guide 18 have a flat bottom and limited freeboard. The ideal swift water boat for camping, is long, deep and has some rocker. A round bottom or v shaped bottom is best for moving water.

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then I would go at least 16’ and probably 17’ for overnight tripping, all the gear and for someone riding “garbage” (3rd person sitting in the middle). Old town trippers, mad river explorers, and even old town discoveries would work, even a full size grumman would do the job. You’/ll need to adjust your paddling style if truly boating ww loaded. Keeled boats will not be your friend and think about backpaddlling and running dry lines.

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I think it would be helpful to know how much weight the boat needs to carry…and what characteristics you value most. Both the Swift and Esquif P16 are fine boats. The Swift would be better on flat water and the Esquif would be more playful going downstream. The Swift would be a lot easier to load. But if it needs to handle three large people and over 500 pounds I’d suggest something bigger. The Northstar NW17 (actually 17.5) could handle all that very easily. If all 3 people are medium to small I’d say get the Swift P16. The exp Kev will easily handle the duty you have planned for it. You could also have a lot of fun solo with either Prospector 16 just going in circles on a pond.

Thanks @TomL

Weight: Max would be

  • Myself plus a friend (or my son), both <170 pounds, plus camping gear for 2-3 nights (likely <80 pounds maximum, we are both experienced backpackers and my normal pack weight before food and water is sub-20 pounds.) So total weight <420 pounds max camping.
  • Myself + two friends for short (10 mile) trips down the Housatonic, so ~500 pounds total.

Characteristic that matter most is ability to comfortably navigate easy (class I/II rapids) with 3 people (including myself) on those short trips down the Housatonic.


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Sorry for my delayed response.

For 2 people and 420 pounds or less a 16 is a great fit.

For 3 people and 500 pounds the 16s can still handle it but one real consideration is physical space. If you envision all three people paddling I just don’t know if paddles will be bumping and folks will be getting splashed with paddle drops. Typically folks use pretty big boats (perhaps 17.5-18.5) for three people. But if the middle person is just cargo/ballast it’s easier.

I mostly paddle solo canoes. I know that some longer tandems paddle nicely even lightly loaded.

But I’m not sure what’s best for you. A T-formex boat is virtually indestructible and you can bump rocks on purpose if you like and you get the peace of mind of knowing you’re OK if you accidentally hit something. With a composite (even expedition kevlar) you want to try to avoid rocks and you may paddle more conservatively.

If the weight of a T-formex boat doesn’t make you flinch at all I might suggest getting the Esquif P16 and an Esquif Echo solo for the days you have 3 people. Might be cheaper than one Swift.

But perhaps a boat like rival51’s B17 or something like a T-formex Wenonah Spirit II would be a better fit.

I have to throw in my usual plug for portable boats. Pakboat folding canoes are the choice of many backcountry fishing and hunting outfitter guides for remote fly-in sites and they are suitable for white water, often superior to hard shell boats due to their resistance to damage and the way they absorb wave pressure rather than being battered by it. Their PakCanoe 17 has a 910# load capacity at 54 pounds and can be stored in a closet or checked as airline baggage for travel. It can have additional seats added and a spray deck is available for it.

Ally of Norway also makes an 18’ foldable canoe, 47 pounds with the same capacity. Cheaper list price (Pakboat is $2700 and Ally around $2300 US) but shipping from Europe would add to that. Pakboats are usually drop shipped for free from New Hampshire (at least mine all came with free freight.)