Canoe Recommendations

I know this question is open to personal preference, but I am more looking at the weight issue vs canoe style and seating options.

I have been scouring Craigslist for a decent used canoe for my wife and I, and have come here for reviews of those I considered. What I am looking for is a general recommendation for design elements based on my specific details.

Skill level: Me-Novice(but I have but have been canoeing many times in my life) Wife-Novice but has kayaked in the past.

Planned use: Day trips in harbors, inlet waters, and lakes in Southern California,

Paddler weights:(the largest concern) Me-385, Wife-155.

Height: Me-6’3"(30"inseam) Wife: 5’5" (28" inseam?)

I am anticipating being the stern paddler. My concern is the difference in weight and how this may adversely affect us. Also with my weight, I am concerned what type of seating I should be leaning towards. I was thinking more on the lines of the Old Town Saranac molded since it is supported underneath and not just hung from the gunwales like a traditional seat.

Your thoughts are appreciated. Please feel free to suggest canoe design elements, or even a specific canoe. Thanks.

Canoes I have considered
A few canoes I have been considering are:

Old Town Saranac 16

Mad River Adventure 16

Old Town Camper 16

Old Town Discovery 158

you need a seat that is NOT
molded in because with molded seats your wife will look like she is about to be launched… She won’t be near the water nor able to paddle.

You can add reinforcement from below to any hung seat. In order to get decent trim, look at narrowish tandems with ample volume. You will need to move the stern seat forward but the dilemna is you still need to be able to get a vertical paddle stroke… Something that is wide to begin with is going to hinder your stroke.

With a starting weight of 540 lbs, look at 17 and above feet. Don’t pay attention to the “capacities”. In Old Towns case that figure they give is to ensure six inches of freeboard. That isnt enough… You also will feel like you are paddling a sloth. Take that"capacity" and multiply by 0.6

this is a real problem
What KM said is all true. At that weight difference trim would be so affected as to be a major pain. Some might tell you to add weight in the bow but at that difference this is not a good option. You might look at moving both seats. Hers back and yours forward. You would have to move yours a lot more. My wife and I have this problem and our solution is to both paddle solo canoes.

Price range?

– Last Updated: Jun-11-15 5:09 PM EST –

based on the canoes you say you're looking at, this would likely be more than you're looking to spend, but a Wenonah Itasca may suit you well.

Its a high volume tripping canoe and has dual sliding seats, so both of you could be all the way forward to equalize the weight difference. Also, the Itasca has tucked in gunwales in the stern so you would still have a good paddle angle even being all the way forward.

In general, its hard to trim a boat with >100lbs weight difference without adding some weight to the lighter side of the boat, even with dual sliding seats. A a 3 or 5 gallon plastic container filled with water works well.

If the Itasca doesnt work for you for some reason, look at any boat with dual sliding seats. I have a mid 90's Wenonah White Water 2 with dual sliding seats and I can trim with up to ~120 lbs weight difference, but it paddles better with less than 100 lbs difference. If im in the stern, the bow pops up when I lay down the power.

Any wenonah boat can be ordered with dual sliders, or they occasionally come up for sale used. (i found mine used)

230# weight differential
If my math is correct we have 385-155= 230#. That is a really big bow-stern difference. All the canoes you mention have fixed seats.They could be replaced and changed to sliders with some work. Your 385 will be tough on an aluminum framed slider. My second wife was put on steroids and bulked up to 355 and she broke two seat frames. On top of the weight she could not lower herself gently onto the seat. The last 6 inches were always a free fall and that’s what broke the tubing. That csnoe still has the modified seat frame with a Michicraft aluminum thwart acting as the crossmember to the sliding seat frame. Has not broken since.

To handle your trim problem you will need her seat as far front as possible. She needs to be to where her feet are on the front float tank or right on the bow stem. The stern seat and you need to move far front. You will not get level. Just back of a solo position would put you close, but any canoe on your list will be pretty wide a that point. Your height will save the day here because you can reach farther than most of us.

The canoe choice presents two conflicts. A narrow canoe will be easier for you to paddle nearer to the best trim location, but a narrow canoe will not have as much floatation under you. A wider canoe will be more accommodating of your weight, but you will have a wider paddling station. Will be a case of best compromise.

Both of the Old Towns you mention are pretty much the same canoe. And both have a pretty flat bottom that will be an active old can at your weight. My choices would be the Discovery 174 or the tripper. Both are heavy.

A light canoe that would work for you be a Wenonah

Champlain. It was designed as a bigger capacity companion to the Spirit II. They can be had with dual sliding seats. And the hull is very tolerant of being stern heavy. You lose some speed, but the handling does not go to pot. Not a low price canoe like the four you chose, but if weight is the big criteria; a Kevlar Champlain at 18’ will be lighter by 25#.


Both seats go forward
Need the heavy stern paddler closer to center and the light bow paddler farther from center.

similar situation
I’ve got a similar weight disparity with my wife. I’m 300, she’s about 120 (don’t you dare tell her I listed her weight on the internet, shhhh!). For the most part we’ve now gone the solo route as she seems to prefer standing around on a paddleboard to sitting in a nice comfy canoe, but that’s another topic. However, early on we did paddle tandem canoes and tried several, some with success even.

Here are a couple of thoughts from my experience with this.

  1. adding ballast may distribute the weight better, but to even out that big of a disparity, you’re lugging around a ton of stuff that is just a hassle, whether it’s milk jugs or buckets or dry bags or an ice chest or whatever. It’s just a pain and you’ll hate dealing with it. You’ll have enough stuff to bring along without that.

  2. dual sliding seats help. We had one Jensen 18 with dual sliding seats and that helped a lot. Her seat moving around (which is the seat that most often comes as a slider) with her little bit of weight was mostly inconsequential. Being able to bring my seat forward had a much greater impact.

  3. if the seats don’t slide, relocate yours. We had a Penobscot 16 that I removed the stern seat and replaced the rear thwart with a seat, and it evened us out nicely. Didn’t need to change her bow seat at all. Plus, it put me closer to the middle for soloing rather than paddling from the bow seat backwards. So it was an added bonus. I could even take her seat out when I was going out solo on my own and save a few pounds. Takes like 5 minutes and that includes finding the wrench and powerdriver. Even with my seat nearly in the middle, at my height I was still easily able to reach the water. It looks like you’re nearly as tall with a lot of torso, so we’re in the same boat, so to speak. You should have no trouble with that. In its new location the seat will be wider and may sag. You can cut a 3-4” thick piece of minicell foam to wedge between the center of your seat and the hull to create your own pedestal that you’ll still be able to kneel around.

  4. bigger is better. Yes, even with canoes. At least in this case. We found we had far fewer problems in 18 footers as compared to 16 and even 17 footers. That extra length must get added in the middle, which equates to more volume per foot. That’s my guess at least. We’d need one of the canoe experts to say for sure. Besides the Jensen 18 we had, we also paddled a Wenonah Champlain a few times and absolutely loved it. It didn’t even have the rear slider, and it was still fine. Probably would have been that much better with a rear slider. That Champlain was probably our favorite to paddle, but man is it huge. For me, 18 foot of boat presents a storage problem, so I’ve stayed away from them since. And now that we solo, it’s not a factor.

    My first recommendation for you would be to try some out before you buy. Rentals give you some decent time on the water to really experiment. Of course, that assumes you’ve got access to places that do rent decent models to try. Also, avail yourselves to local paddle fests to try some different ones. Our local paddle shop lets you try before you buy, so maybe yours do as well. But like the rental places, the local shops may not have the right models you need to try. Seeing as you are both new to canoeing, and you have this imbalance to overcome, you may want to experiment before you invest too much.

    If trying isn’t an option, of the models we tried, I’d recommend the following:

    Wenonah Champlain with dual sliders. It’s huge, but given the places you want to paddle, you might want it to be extra seaworthy, and this model sure is that.

    Old Town Penobscot 17. We had the 16, but you may be better off going with the larger model and still move the stern seat forward. You can’t get these new any more, but I see them pop up used from time to time.

    Wenonah makes some other big boats that I’ve never had the chance to try, but might also meet your needs. What other manufacturers are represented in your part of California?

    Of the options you listed, I think you’ll want bigger. We had a Camper and it was fine for lazy floats on the lake, but it’s not an efficient paddling hull. It’s wide and flat, so it takes some work to go straight. It’s not fast and I wouldn’t want to go far in one. On the plus side, it feels super stable and my wife liked that about it. For your described outings though, I think you’ll want to cover more ground than would be ideal for the Camper.

    Good luck. Let us know what you try or end up with and how it goes.

For a woven seat, synthetic webbing should hold up better than natural cane. Aluminum gunwales should be stronger than vinyl or composite, and are an option on many boats from Mad River or Old Town. I wouldn’t hesitate to contact their customer service to ask questions re seating comfort and strength/durability.

Why move both seats toward the
center? The payload in this scenario implies selecting a large canoe, probably 36” at the beam or larger. If he moves forward to achieve trim in terms of Pitch, he will be at or near the center of the canoe. In order to paddle he will need to move to his predominate paddling side. If right-handed, that puts him over to the right side. This will result in a standing heel to the right. In other words the Trim known as Roll will be affected as well. At this point the only prayer she’s got to be effective is to move almost to center and paddle on the left. This will somewhat mitigate the Roll and allow them some modicum of control. The best solution in this case is solo canoes.

Flip the canoe
We were paddling a beast of a Grumman with a 100lb weight difference. We turned the boat around as if soloing. Heavier paddler in the centre of the canoe. This only works if the canoe has enough space behind the stern seat.

Thank you!
I appreciate the detailed answers and suggestions you have all provided. From the responses, it seems we would do better to do solo canoes, stick with the kayaks, or perhaps an 18’ Bayliner or pontoon boat…haha

Any suggestions for solo canoes that have a good cross between initial/secondary stability and have decent tracking and handling without being a barge in the water?

Again, thank you for the input. Now time to go lose 200lbs so we can paddle together.

you may be better off in a tandem
and I suspect you need to consult your wife about her feelings.

Just move the seats in a tandem… You can get a Grumman and have someone drill holes to put in seats…

We can find solos for mid range people but tiny folk and large folk have more of an issue.

Solos for large folk are hard to find… so you might look at a solo for her and a small tandem like Hemlocks Eaglet for you… Or perhaps even an Old Town Penobscot for you. You can put in a minicell saddle in a small tandem and leave the seats where they are.

Want to make sure I understand

– Last Updated: Jun-15-15 6:38 PM EST –

Your suggestion is get a Grumman Tandem, 17' or 18', and reposition the rear sear forward so we can both remain in the same canoe? If you are suggesting that, what do you think of the Alumacraft 17'?

I agree with Kim. If your wife is not into solo paddling a boat over the distances you intend to cover; she will not be a happy camper.

In the bow of a tandem if she tires you can still propel the canoe. And being the bow paddler in a good tandem is easier than being a solo paddler on a trip. Kim’s comment about the Grumman is to illustrate that most big tandems can have the seats relocated to accommodate the weight difference. Since you are big guy you can reach the water in a wider canoe than most people and can paddle from a seat that is closer to center than most.

Hope this clarifies it, not to hijack Kayamedics comment.


Custom seat location and two 3" blocks of minicell glued together and jammed up under your seat.

Big Man’s Solo
You and I are similar in size, and I just went through a very similar situation. My wife asked to buy a kayak for herself, and I was pleased to accommodate her request as our tandem paddling was problematic for all the same reasons as yours.

That left me to go shopping for a solo canoe, no kayaks for me thank you.

After considerable research I decided on a Wenonah Solo Plus. It is working beautifully for me. Good stability, 29" wide at gunnels at the center. Great tracking and great glide. Lots of freeboard to spare.

Fished from it, no problems, very comfortable. I am very pleased with the boat.

I added some support under the center seat. I used foam yoga blocks. They are sold in pairs, mine are 9x6x4", about $15. I stack them on the 4" dimension centered under the seat and it supports the seat perfectly.

For what it is worth.

1 Like

More Big Man Solo canoes
I have been searching for a good solo canoe for me and my 300#. They are a little hard to come by in Oregon. We don’t have a great diversity of manufactures represented up here. When reasonably priced used ones pop up for sale on CraigsList, I have bought and tried them out. If I don’t over reach on the price, I’m usually able to sell it for what I purchased it for, so I’m not out anything. I call it the CraigsList rental program. This lets me get more seat time with some boats to give me a better feel for it than what I’m able to get at a typical paddle fest.

Of the dozen or so that I’ve tried, I’d suggest trying these five:

Wenonah Prism

Wenonah Encounter

Wenonah Escapade (with center solo seat added)

Wenonah Solo Plus

Old Town Penobscot 16 (with center solo seat added)

I’d start with trying the Prism and the Encounter back to back if you can. Maybe at a paddle fest, or maybe you’ve got a Wenonah dealer with them both in stock to test paddle. The Encounter is an expedition boat meant to carry a load. But for my day trip type paddling, I found the Encounter to have a bit too much volume for me when paddling without a load, especially when compared to the Prism. However, I might feel differently if I were a little bigger and closer to your size. It’s possible the Prism might feel a wee bit small and you’d appreciate the Encounter’s volume.

I’ve paddled both the Escapade and the Solo Plus and personally didn’t care for either of them, especially in comparison to either a Prism or Encounter. If I had to pick between these two, I’d lead toward the Escapade (which I’ve also heard called a Tandem Minus when compared to a Solo Plus). It seemed to have better glide and tracking than the Solo Plus, and I think more volume which might suit you.

In my search for a good big guy solo canoe, I keep coming back to the OT Penobscot 16 (the royalex version). It doesn’t have the glide and efficiency of the dedicated solos like the Prism or the Encounter, but it paddles well and has the volume and stability that I’ve come to appreciate. I’d choose this over either the Escapade or Solo Plus. With Royalex going away, I keep hoping OT will make it in a lighter fiberglass or Kevlar. It’s manageable at 58# or so, but I wouldn’t mind it being about 10# lighter.

Wenonah also makes a solo called a Wilderness, but I’ve never tried it to say anything about it. Size wise it looks comparable to the Solitude, which I’ve not recommended below.

Some models I would NOT recommend.

Wenonah Solitude: this is a pretty nice boat, but I felt like my weight was just at the edge of what might be too much. It felt a bit like a small Prism to me. I’m not sure more weight would improve the situation, but I kind of doubt it.

Wenonah Vagabond: this one actually wasn’t bad for a short wide boat. Plenty stable. But ultimately it’s short and wide. What it has in maneuverability it makes up for by being slow. It sounds like you may want to cover some distance in your travels, so I didn’t list it above.

Wenonah Voyager: lightning fast, but way to narrow for me to fit comfortably in.

Wenonah Advantage: the advice on the board when I asked about this one was that it would be too small for me. I had to try it, and of course, everyone was right. Way, way too small. I never fell out, but the entire time I was in it, a capsize felt imminent. A very unpleasant experience. My wife tried it and loved it however. She felt perfectly steady in it. That more than anything showed me how significant paddler size is in relation to the hull shape and size.

Sawyer Summersong: great adjustable seat, front to back and up and down. But ultimately too small for me to feel comfortable in.

Old Town Pack: this was actually a fun little boat to play in. Shorter and wider than the Vagabond, so it’s not terribly practical. But it handled my weight just fine and I enjoyed my time in it. Though, to be fair, I wasn’t trying to travel any great distance. That wouldn’t have been as fun. I never had the sense that I was at the edge of it’s capacity like I did in the Solitude, but I’ve read comments suggesting other folks found it quite unstable.

Wenonah Rendezvous: actually fit me fine, but it’s a whitewater boat. I wouldn’t suggest it for flat water outings.

Depending on what manufacturers are represented in your area, you may have more choices. I’m jealous of the folks in the midwest and east who have a much wider variety of solos to pick from, but I can’t speak to experience in those.

Swift looks to make a couple of really nice solos that fit larger paddlers that I’d like to try (Keewaydin and Shearwater). Hemlock as a couple too (Eagle and Eaglet). Also, I’d love to get my hands on a Souris River Quetico 16 and paddle it solo. The way it sounds from people’s descriptions reminds me of how I feel paddling an OT Penobscot 16.

I hope you find something you both like, be it tandem or solo.

With all due respect
I don’t see any compelling reasons why you are doomed to tandem only. KM and I know Charlie M. who is about your size and paddles FreeStyle Canoe in a Bell Starfire. Some folks have listed other models for large paddlers here as well. My wife and I made the switch 25 years go and have never looked back.