First Canoe for Expedition

Hey all,

I’m about to purchase my first canoe, mainly for tripping. I’m trying to find one that won’t break the bank. I’ve been eyeballing the Saranac 160 heavily bc of the price point, durability, etc, but I havent done this enough to know if it will work well enough.

I’m looking for one that is sturdy enough to take a beating but also under $1000. I’d like something versatile enough to take on the lake, but that’s a very low priority. My key points are durability, stability, solo maneuverability.

The trip itself is down a river and will be several days long. There’s potential for some class II spots, but nothing worse. I am assuming there will be some portage so another factor I’m considering is weight.

I’ve been looking at Old Town more specifically but I’m open to something that checks off my boxes.

Under $1000
Handles rivers with ease
Potential lake action
Potential additional paddlers

I am willing to compromise on weight and lake action since this is primarily for tripping.

Any info would be appreciated.

Which of these characteristics are you willing to compromise on?


String is right.
There is no perfect canoe. Buy used and you can trade it later.
Durable and light are hard to get together.
There is primary stability with a flat bottom or secondary stability with a v or rounded hull. Secondary stability is what keeps you upright in waves on lakes and rapids.

Do not head out into class II rapids in a loaded canoe without some practice and instruction or you will probably be swimming.

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Weight. I’d rather be durable than not. And I’ve never tripped this river before so I do not know what to expect and that’s why I’m looking for a stable work horse of a canoe.

Since I’m primarily tripping, lake use is not a must but I will be testing it on a lake prior to going in the river.

The only reason weight was a factor is bc I am going this solo, however, I can lift 80-90 pounds no sweat.

I’d like it to be durable and maneuverable for a solo paddler. Large enough to hold the gear. I’ve been told this river has potential for a couple class II spots, but nothing too crazy.

The Saranac 160 is NOT a tripping canoe. It is heavy (89#), the single layer poly construction is prone to warping, it has a keel, and the molded plastic center seat makes soloing and portaging almost impossible. Also, the plastic seats do not allow for kneeling, which is the best position for when the water is moving.

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Look for a used OT Tripper. Not light, but rings most of your bells

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Okay, then what do you suggest

That is not a tripping canoe. It might work for what you’re talking about, but so would any other canoe. That is not a boat that you will be able to portage very far. Unless you want a boat that you are probably going to feel like replacing you will probably need to spend a couple hundred more.

I think there are three good boats from old town that meet your requirements with the exception of being a bit more expensive. These are three layer polyethylene boats that will last a lifetime:

Discovery 169, $1200. This is an excellent river tripping boat for the price, I would have no issue using one anywhere. This is going to be a better white and rough water boat. It will be very seaworthy and maneuverable, at the expense of needing a little more skill to paddle straight.

Penobscot 164 ($1300), and the Penobscot 174 ($1400). These are better flat water straight line boats, but will work up to class two rapids. These would be easier to paddle in a straight line than the 169, but less manuverable. The 164 would be fine for short trips or less gear. The 174 would be great for a long trip, one with more gear, or bringing a dog.

There is also the Discovery 158, $1100. This seems to me like your standard utility canoe. Probably not the best in any category, but definitely a better boat than the Saranac. It won’t track as straight as a Penobscot, and not be as seaworthy as a 169. This isn’t really a tripping canoe, but would work fine for mild trips where you don’t have a ton of gear.

I think you would be much better off getting a used boat than a Sanarac if cost is a big concern. If it were me and I was only going to own one new canoe it would be a Discovery 169, I think the is the best all around boat Old Town makes.

Edit: I just realized that you will be using the boat solo. You can solo any of the boats I suggested by sitting in the bow seat and paddling the canoe with the stern going forward. If most of the paddling you are going to be doing is solo, then I think the Discovery 158 would be the best option. The other ones are getting pretty big to solo. Plus the smaller displacement of the 158 won’t matter if it’s a solo and carrying less weight. I have been heavily considering getting a 158 as a Solo tripping boat. I think it would make a better solo tripper than tandem tripper. The 158s are also the easiest one to find used, and you can get one in decent shape for a comparable price to a Sanarac.

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So I’m am willing to spend a little more.

I’ve heard lots of good things above the penobscot and the discovery.

My trip is two weeks down the river. I expect to portage a few times. I will have a solid amount of gear but I’ve thought ahead and kept my gear small and light. I have not made this trip before so I’m unaware of any white water. My buddy said that he’d be surprised if there are any class II spots, never any class III.

So if it’s between discovery and penobscot, I’m really leaning to the discovery 169.

I don’t think you can go wrong with either. If you aren’t going to do much white water, big waves, large open water, or small windy rivers the Penobscot would be a better choice.than the 169. The penobscot 164 and 174 are basically the same hull design, just different lenghts. The Discovery 158 and 169 are not the same hull design. The 169 is a prospector style hull, which is the preferred hull shape for tripping. Just keep in mind that these are big tandem boats with a large displacement and high sides. If you are paddling solo, the wind will kick your a$$ in either of them. If most of what your going to do is solo then I would opt for a smaller boat like the 158. 15’ is probably the best all around solo length, and 15’-16’ is the sweet spot for tripping boats. 16’ and longer in a tandem boat starts to get to be a lot to handle solo if the conditions aren’t perfect. You should definitely get a three layer instead of a one layer polyethylene boat. Three layers is tougher, more ridgid, and harder to warp. I would buy a used three layer boat over a new one layer boat every time.

The river I’m going down is slightly windy in areas

You’re getting some good advice here, and I’m curious as to what river you’ll be paddling. A lot of us on here have a ton of experience and very well may have paddled your river. That might further help with suggestions.

I am using an Ally canoe made in Norway but you can find some in the US and Canada, great all arround build for expedition. I just got a Neris smart pro inflatable for my next 4 month expedition.Inexpensive but really good and fast, you can use it as a kayak or canoe , pretty good load capacity.

The Etowah River in North Georgia

Nice. I’ve just done some day paddling on it, but it was my impression at the time, which granted was a while ago, that camping was fairly limited along much of the whole stretch. I know you can camp in Chattahoochee NF, Allatoona WMA, and I think the Dawson Forest, but that still leaves a lot of river. Is there now enough camping access along the river to do the whole stretch? I’m assuming you’re looking at Etowah Spring to Rome?

I’m considering somewhere near the blue ridge mountains to Allatoona lake. From what I’ve seen on the interactive maps, camp sites along the river seem plentiful if you’re able to make your day.

“I’m unaware of any whitewater.” This line jumps off the page. You better check some guides and figure out what you are signing up for. It is easy for novice canoeists to capsize a loaded canoe. Imagine sitting on the beach with your soaked outfit and your canoe full of water. Maybe some stuff got lost. Maybe you will be eddy shopping downstream.

I agree that there are some red flags in your trip planning. Have you attempted to get a copy of the Etowah River Water Trail Guidebook? Planning a trip on a river with which you are not familiar, in a boat that you will not have much chance to practice with and going solo based on what your have “heard” about conditions is not very wise.

You need to know where rapids or other obstacles are way BEFORE you get to them. A loaded canoe, paddled solo, is not going to respond to quick repositioning in the stream when you suddenly realize there is rough water or a dam around a blind bend. The Etowah has low head dams, ancient fishing weirs, rock gardens and rapids up to Class IV – even if you are positive you are not going to be in sections with that sort of danger, it indicates a major river.

You also need to be aware of where the USGS gauges are and what safe levels are for the sections they measure., also potentially how conditions could be affected if you get significant rain during your trip. Major drainages like the Etowah can rapidly change from placid to deadly in heavy storms. And low water in a drought season can cause hassles with a loaded boat in a narrow winding river with a lot of sand and gravel bars.

I totally support people planning ambitious and dream trips, but I want them to be able to enjoy them without episodes of panic, misery, struggle and potential danger (or having to involve others in possible rescue.) So I hope you are making more effort to prep and practice for this “expedition” than just selecting a boat.

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I’m partial to madriver’s explorer. I liked the v hull design…but the truth is for general tripping there are a whole host of boats that would work, including aluminum canoes. The Madriver Courier would be something I’d look for (smaller than the explorer). I’d look for something in the 15’-16’ foot range for soloing and tripping on a river.

How well a boat portages comes down to three things: The overall weight of the boat, how the weight is balanced (OT trippers always seemed stern heavy to me, but that’s better than bow heavy) and if the boat has a portage yoke/padding. My personal opinion is that a 17’ OT tripper is a lot to move around for a solo paddler and a bit heavy to portage. Then there’s the whole getting blown around on the lake and weighting the bow.

My recollections are that the discovery was a better solo craft (somewhat narrower sitting turned around in the bow seat) for tripping…but I admit I’ve been out of canoe tripping mode for a long time.

I have no experience with the penobscot so can’t compare that to anything. I actually found the grumman eagle to be fairly nimble for a solo tripping canoe.

With you being in the south, Blueholes were once popular but very heavy. Perhaps though you could find one in GA. Availability is also part of the equation.

Just know, that once upon a time, we tripped in aluminum canoes on rivers, lakes, and even ww.

Avoid poly (like my MR adventurer) unless the portages are wheelable.

Really good advice for the guy to follow. When he said upper Etowah in a poly Saranac i am thinking cue the Banjo music. Of all the current Old Town PolyLink3 canoes, the 164 Penobscot/Discovery is the best solo choice. Just mount a solo seat behind the center yoke and load the gear to trim for conditions. The 169 is toowide to solo well and the big ends will tire a strong paddler on any windy days. All the Old Towns with the molded poly seats are unsuitable to paddle backwards from the bow seat without changing out the seat to a cane or woven seat. Dumping thw 2 molded seats and installing one woven seat will drop close to 10# off the carrying weight.Oh and Old Towns weights were fudged for years. The penobscots weight was for a canoe with aluminum trim and cane seats. Molded seats and vinyl gunwales adds about 10# Disco 169 with vinyl gunwales and molded seats gotta be more in the 90s than the old 84# Tripper weight.