First Canoe Purchase

My wife and I (mid-twenties, upper midwest) are looking to make our first canoe purchase this spring. We have a bunch of Gander Mountain gift cards to use, so that limits our selection to mostly Old Town and Mad River. Looking to keep it under $1000 for the boat, I am primarily looking at Old Town’s Saranac and Guide series.

Primary uses will be day trips and fishing for now, but hope to grow into some multi-day trips, sticking to slow rivers and flat water. Any thoughts on those two Old Town canoes and the difference between doing 16’ and 14’6" lengths?

Some Length Advice
You’ll most likely get lots advice on models to select from, but if you intend to paddle with 2 people and take multiday trips, you will want the 16 foot length. Just not enough room for 2 folks and gear in a shorter canoe, unless you’re both minimalists .

In a symmetrical hull you could still solo the 16 footer turning the canoe around and paddling out of the bow seat.

My first boat
14 foot Old Town from Dick’s. I loved it. Never knew what a dog it was until I got something better. Same boat is now sold by Waterquest.

I don’t care for tractor seats, you can’t turn the boat around and paddle it solo.

If that center console goes all the way to floor the whole width of the boat you’ll learn to hate it. You can’t lay fishing poles or other long things down in the bottom and it is difficult to come up with ways to tie things into the boat.

Those poly boats have a limited life time. I’ve been careful to store it out of the sun and on a good level surface. Even at that the bottom is hogged. Other people complain about them warping. Still, I’m starting my third summer and it’s still running.

14 ft is small for two people and overnite gear. It can be done, but we preferred to solo the 14 canoe with the gear and my wife took her Kayak. I was amazed at how much crap I take to overnite on a sandbar. Fill that boat up.

On the one hand I wish I had saved up and bought a better boat to start, but on the other I would have missed out on some of the fun I had. And some of the learning experiences probably would have hurt more in a more expensive boat.

consider this
I am reluctant to complicate your decision but I would suggest that you consider doing one of two things: either stretch your budget for the canoe to more like $1500 or use your gift cards to shop Gander mountain for the accessories you will need, such as PFDs and paddles.

If you limit yourself to a budget of $1000 for the boat and a new canoe made by either Mad River or Old Town, your selection will be pretty limited.

On the other hand, there are typically a lot of quality used tandem canoes for sale in the upper Midwest. You might very well be able to find a very nice used boat for half the purchase price of a new one, and your selection of makers and models will be much greater.

16’ is about as short as I would consider going for a tandem canoe that will be used for overnight tripping. If you must buy new from Gander Mountain you could get a 3-layer polyetheylene Old Town like the Discovery 169 (which I think would be better than the Saranac) for about $1000 suggested retail.

But if you could afford to pay more I think in the long term you would be happier with something like Old Town’s Royalex Penobscot 16 RX or Mad River’s Royalex Explorer 16. It’s not that polyethylene is a bad material, but it is quite heavy, especially when used to construct a tandem canoe, and toting it around will tend to subtract from your enjoyment in using it.

For your intended use I would also consider buying a composite tandem. They are lighter than Royalex and more efficient to paddle, but you won’t be able to find one new for $1000. But there are tons of used composite tandem Wenonahs (and other brands) in the upper Midwest and I suspect you could find an extremely nice one for $1000 within easy driving distance of where ever you live if you look around a little.

Drop The Multi-Day
Suppose we were to take multi-day trips off of the goals list for this canoe as that is a bit more pie-in-the-sky… how would that change opinions? Of our $1,300 total budget (all gear), $800 is in Gander Mountain Gift Cards, so the boat purchase isn’t too flexible on where it comes from.

Good Point
Good point on the limiting space created by center console and seats that go to the floor. Another option currently online in my price range is the Mad River Journey TT 158 but can’t find much about it online… thoughts?

If you have to limit it to $1000 or less

– Last Updated: Mar-27-12 6:18 PM EST –

I would choose a 3 layer polyethylene boat over a thermoformed polyethylene boat. Three layer polyethylene is similar to Royalex in that it has a central "foam" core that adds rigidity and flotation.

Thermoformed poly boats are made of solid polyethylene sheet which is heated and formed over a mold. The problem is that solid poly lacks rigidity and is "floppy". That is why you have those big central bench seats (as in the Saranac) to add some rigidity, but it will still be floppy and you will be stuck with them. Those seats probably also have foam cores to give the boat some flotation because solid poly doesn't have much. When you add a little hardware to it, like gunwale rivets and machine screws to secure the seats it might not have any. So if you try to ditch the molded seats and substitute wooden ones you might wind up with a boat with negative buoyancy.

But the poly boats are heavy. A longer tandem will still be more efficient because it can be narrower, and it will track better, but if you are stuck with 3-layer polyethylene and don't plan to carry much load, you might consider a short tandem in the 15-16' range simply to cut down on the weight a bit.

In that case I would probably look at the Old Town Discovery 158. The Guides are very beamy boats (38" for the 147 and nearly 40" for the 160) and I suspect they would be slugs to paddle, especially solo. What I don't like about the Disco 158 is the molded seats, which prevents you from sitting backwards on the bow seat to paddle the boat solo, but with the 3-layer poly you could swap the seat for a wood-framed one suspended from dowel hangers if you plan to do solo paddling.

As for Mad River you might consider a Journey 156 which has wood-framed seats. But it is also a beamy boat that weighs 80+ lbs.

Again, if you can stretch the budget to $1300 or so a number of much better options open up.

I’d Check Out Used Canoes First
There are often good used Royalex and even composite canoes available for something in the neighborhood of $500-750. The Gander Mountain cards could then go towards good PFDs, paddles, safety gear and camping equipment.

Besides saving on the initial cost of the canoe - when I go looking for a used boat, I allow about 50% of new-boat retail as a base price , and adjust up or down maybe 10-20% based on condition. (Our best deal was an insurance sale - a new but badly scratched-in-shipment Kevlar Prospector 16’ for $750) It’s a lot easier to get most or all of your money back if you decide that another canoe would suit you better as your interest evolves. Folks often want to sell the package - boat, paddles, PFDs - so you can sometimes pick up extra gear for little more than the cost of the boat alone.

For two, even with just overnight gear, a sixteen footer is a better choice, IMHO - lots of room and plenty of reserve carrying capacity.

You’re getting some good advice here.

– Last Updated: Mar-27-12 8:32 PM EST –

I'm a proponent of the used boat strategy, but that can be frustrating for anyone, nevermind a beginner. The nice thing about it, though, is that it's nearly impossible to lose money should you decide to sell or trade up.

There is a new poster on the advice board that just went through this up in ME. He started out asking very similar questions and kept at it as he learned more. In less than two weeks he found a nice used OT Royalex "Tripper" model for about $700. It can be done if you put a little effort into it.

buying used. Canoes last a long time. Lots of good deals.

Used is where it’s at
I was in a similar situation, but I waited and found used OT Camper with wood paddles and some accessories for $625, so it is definitely worth the effort. Plenty of canoes on craigslist. The weight difference cannot be emphasized enough - I will grab my royalex anytime and go out solo, but if it were 80+ pounds I am sure I would use it less.

One other thing…
on length of the canoe…you said fishing is part of what you’re planning to use the boat for. For safety reasons if nothing else, the 16 footer is the better choice. If you have two people in a 14.5’ canoe, they are sitting close enough together that it’s possible to snag your partner on a back cast, since the radius a 6’ or 7’ fishing rod plus your arm covers reaches the other person. The farther apart the two of you are, the less likely that somebody gets snagged with a hook!

As far as I’m concerned, the only viable reason for getting a tandem canoe of less than 16 feet is if you have storage issues and you can’t fit one that long wherever you want to store it. Short tandems are almost always real barges to paddle. They are always marketed as “for fishing and photography” because they are so wide that they have great initial stability (they don’t feel tippy). But the width makes them a very inefficient paddling design, and chances are they won’t have any more secondary stability than a longer, narrower canoe (secondary stability signifies how resistant the canoe is to actually tipping, rather than how “un-tippy” it feels).

Old Town Disco 169 is a good canoe

– Last Updated: Mar-28-12 11:45 AM EST –

....... as long as you don't have to pay too much for it . I would not pay Gander Mt. $1000. or even close for a Disco , but they may match Bass Pro's price if you ask them , it's worth the question .

There are no Bass Pro Shops in WI. but there are a couple just south of the boarder in IL . So if you have a chance to get to one of them , check out the Old Town Expedition 169 (Expedition is Bass Pro's name for ther Disco) . You can get the Expedition for under $670. brand new out the door from Bass Pro Shop .

Bass Pro sells it for $699. but you sign up for their CC card and get 10% off everything on the 1st purchase with their card .

I wouldn't pay $800. for a new Disco , but I would pay the $670. . We bought one from Bass Pro in 2006 , cost $575. out the door then . It's still a great canoe and I like it .

Used polyethylene canoes (even 3 layer Old Towns) can be another story altogether because many have problems from improper storage , sun baked warpage , and other things ... so finding a good one and knowing what to look for are important .

We have a real nice Old Town 16'-10" canoe also that is Roylex , it's a 1984 and it's a great canoe also ... found this one used , paid $400. for it .

The OT Expedition 169 (Disco 169) weighs 84 lbs. , some people think that's heavy for them . I don't , but I've always been a construction worker , I'm 57 now , still in good shape and have no problem what so ever carrying 80 lbs. up a ladder on one shoulder to a roof top , so it's difficult for me to understand when I hear men saying they think 85 lbs. is heavy to them . I'm sure there are exceptions like medical conditions or phrailness that limit some , but unless all the people (men) who I hear complain about 80 lb. canoes on this forum fall into a catagory like that ... then I just don't get it cause 85 lbs. ain't heavy at all , not even uncomfortable .

And if you consider it's a tandem canoe , that would mean there are at least two people picking it up , what's that ... 42 lbs. each ??

Excuse the rant but I don't do well with wennie men , softies , complainers and the like who think an 84 lb. canoe is something heavy to pick up for them .

The OT Expedition 169 (Disco) , is great canoe out on the water . High volume hull , tall sides , tall bow and stern , alot of room inside , very stable , stand up in it any time you want , kids can run all around in it - set on the gunnels if they want to - lean over and play with the water (no problem) , it's tough and strong , and handles high winds and nasty waters when needed very well .

OT Penobscot
I don’t anticipate going solo very often, if at all. What about the OT Penobscot 164 as a possibility? It would stretch my budget, but may be able to make it happen without delaying a purchase until later this summer or next. I know it is still not the lightest… but better?

I agree the Disco 169 is a decent boat
as long as you don’t have to carry it too far.

There are those who believe that Old Town’s quality control has slipped in recent years and that Discoveries from a few years back are superior to today’s offerings.

I would suggest that you consider carefully the weight of a boat like this, though. Old Town lists a weight of 85lbs for the Disco 169 but you shouldn’t be surprised if one you buy comes in a few pounds heavier.

Will you be car topping this boat? And if so, will you have help every time you need to load and unload it from your vehicle? Even if you can easily do a military press of 90 lbs or so with a barbell, you might find that lifting a canoe of the same weight onto your rooftop is considerably more difficult.

Find someone buying a gun at gander
… and offer them a discount on your cards. Then take their cash and have more flexibility.

I know it’s maybe a long shot but just thought I’d throw it out there.

If you need to stay under $1000 that is a pretty good choice. Again, as these tandems get shorter they tend to get broader. With a maximum beam of 37.5" it won’t be any speed demon, but the weight will be more tolerable.

Tandem Only
Do not have time to take a boat solo and don’t expect to have time to have to take a boat solo or do anything that would require portaging. By the time we are experienced enough to do that type of thing, perhaps another boat would be in the works.

Recognizing this is a beginner boat…
That I only plan on using tandem (weight not as great an issue), likely slow rivers and flat-water only… what is the biggest difference between molded single-poly and tripe-poly? Pros and Cons?

loading an 85 lb. canoe …

– Last Updated: Mar-28-12 10:40 AM EST –

...... on top of a vehical .

We put it on top of a truck with a cap , nothing to it , but the loading system we use makes it a piece of cake ... one handed does it with out any strain what so ever .

There's a Q-tower and bar on top the cab with load stops (this is removable and I put it on and take it off every time-don't keep it on truck-store it in the house) ... there's a Reese canoe loader (vertical T bar) that slips into the hitch reciever on the rear (this too gets put on and off every time-stored inside) . The T on top the vertical swivels 360 degrees . We simply set one end of the canoe up into the T at top , the other end sets on the ground . Then I just pick up the end off the ground with one hand (not even a problem for a girl to do) and walk around to the front with it and slip it onto the cab bar . Really , it's a one handed affair , piece a cake , no strain at all . I think it's the best loading system out there , couldn't get easier .

It takes about 5-10 mins to get the loading system out of the house and onto the truck , goes together fast , pop-pop your done .