First Family Canoe Recommendations Needed

Hi all,

I’m in the market for my families first canoe and am looking for advice. My wife and I have both paddled many times in rental or borrowed boats, but this will be the first canoe purchase. We live in Pittsburgh and will primarily be using it on flatwater lakes, slow moving rivers and some light whitewater. We would be using it for a combination of day tripping and 1-3 night trips. We have toddler who will be coming on day trips with us in the near future, but I want this boat to grow with our family so that we can use it for overnights with him in a few years. We also have a small dog who does very well in boats. I’d like to be able to use it solo if possible. I realize not one boat does everything well, but trying to check off as many boxes as possible.

Right now, I’m looking at boats in the 15 - 17’ range. I think a tripping canoe makes the most sense, but open to advice.

I have a few general questions that I was hoping you who are more knowledgeable could help with. My budget is around $1,200 new or used for the boat itself. I understand I will need PFDs, safety gear, paddles, etc. and those will be an additional cost.

  1. Does my plan to get a 15 - 17’ tripping canoe as my first boat followed by a solo make sense? Any reason why I should avoid this plan? Is 15’ too short for my needs?

  2. I found a few used fiberglass/royalex options near me for sale, but I’m pretty unsure of what’s a good deal, what can be fixed and what is a stay away! Do any of these look like a good option?

  3. Dagger Reflection

  4. Old Town Tripper

Any other advice I should be considering or something I haven’t thought of would be appreciated!

Thanks for taking the time to help me find something great for my first boat!emphasized text

I think both of those boats are really solid choices for what you are looking to do. I can’t really compare the 2 because I’ve only paddled the tripper.

For background it’s always helpful to know how much weight a canoe needs to carry. If you and your wife are 250+ then you need a different boat than if you weighed 125 each.

I think it’s important to make sure that you are comfortable lifting and loading the boat. If the boat is too heavy and you hate loading it you won’t use it as much.

Both of those boats are reasonably priced. The Reflection 16 will be lighter and better for the occasional solo. When buying a canoe you want to see the bottom, especially with a Royalex boat that may get chewed up over time. I’d ask the Reflection owner for pics of the bottom. If the bottom is in good shape that boat is a definitely a good deal. The Tripper will be heavy and suck solo but would easily hold your family.

Thanks, my wife and I are under 300 lbs. combined. I’m also an avid ultralight backpacker so for overnight trips, I have a lot of gear and skills to keep gear weight down. My concern is more with volume for everyone to be comfortable on that end.

I got some pics of the bottom of the Dagger. Do you think there’s any concern with this damage? Seems pretty superficial, but I’m not an expert.

15 feet is on the short side. Not that it can’t be done… We took our toddler on a 6 day BWCA trip ( with portages, she was 2 years old) with a 15 foot Grumman. But that kid would not fit five years later.

Thanks! I think I’m leaning towards the 16’ 4” Dagger.

Do you have any insight on this damage? Is that easily repairable? I’m a bit over my head and trying to decide if it’s a good deal.

If you want to bring the wife, a kid and a dog and go overnight, do not mess with little canoes. Sixteen feet would be an obsolete minimum, 17 feet would be better. Eighteen feet is not too big.

I have paddled big canoes solo for decades. It is not that hard. Solo canoes have much less beam and feel tender to me.

Since there is no perfect canoe, I suggest you buy a used canoe. Then you can change your mind and get your money back. Most paddlers have plenty of different canoes in their careers. I buy older ones and fix them up and sell them for more than I paid for them.

My all time favorites out of about 8-9 are a Sawyer Cruiser at 18 1/2 feet and an OT Guide 18 in cedar and canvas.

I agree the Dagger looks like the perfect boat for what you are looking for.

As for the scratches, any used canoe is going to have similar scuffing on the hull, especially along the keel line. Unless that is a deeper crack than it appears to be in the photo, that doesn’t look bad to me at all or needing any repair. in fact that hull looks smoother than my own canoe!

If you’d like, get in touch with me once you buy your canoe. You can PM me by clicking on my avatar. I’m in Pittsburgh too (Forest Hills) and am downsizing and selling some of my hoard of canoe and kayak stuff. I have a very nice 52" FoxWorx wood canoe paddle and a couple of adult sized Astral PFD’s that I bought 3 years ago and only used once or twice (I was on a mission to find one that fit my short torso a certain way and these didn’t quite do it).

You may also want to check out 3 Rivers Outdoors shop in Regent Square for your outfitting, though since you are a backpacker I am guessing you are probably already familiar with them. They sometimes have canoe gear in their used gear consignment department – no PFD’s though, they don’t accept used ones for liability reasons.

I’m also selling a canoe and kayak trailer (set up to haul one or two boats up to 17’ long) that connects to a Class 1 or 2 light duty hitch. It costs about $250 to $300 to have a hitch installed on most cars and light trucks. Though at 61 pounds (lighter than many sea kayaks!) that Reflection is not that bad of a canoe to car top. I used to wrestle an 84 pound plastic Mad River canoe onto the roof of my Subaru on my own but it was an enormous pain that resulted in a few dents to the car and to me (and my chiropractor profited from that.)

I would go with a boat at least 16’ in overall length.

I think all the damage on the Dagger is superficial except the one spot on the bow where the yellow underlayer is showing and that needs to be treated but I think pblanc can walk you through a pretty sime repair. Your family would fit in the Dagger easily (both weight and space).

I think the reflection is the best choice of the two. Especially if you plan to do much soloing in it. I have a friend that owned one and he speaks highly of it.

As far as the rubbed off vinyl over the ABS layer I would add Keeleazy strips at both ends of the canoe, or fiberglass skid plates on each end for protection.

Canoe Skid Plate Kit – KeelEazy

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ok the Dagger vanished. Inquiring minds want to know if the OP got it.

The Tripper is a workhorse and many of my friends in Maine have had one forever as it does a lot of things well… However getting it on the car easily is not one of them.

Yes we did! After all the positive feedback from here and other information I could find, we snagged it. Looks even better in person and that scuff on the keel is very thin. A simple repair and it’ll be good as new. Very happy and will be taking her out for our families maiden voyage tomorrow.

Thanks to everyone!

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Awesome, thanks for the advice! We ended up getting the Dagger and are very happy with it. She’ll be on the water tomorrow!


Congrats! Great find.

I have an old town 133 and it usually house 2 kids, a dog cooler fishing gear and me. It’s a great family boat you can also row it which makes it great for rivers and big water

Sometimes I just want to paddle a Tripper.

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Hi - that kind of wear is pretty typical - at some point you will want to add skid plates (reinforcing and provide an abrasion layer) to the outside of the hull. There are kits for DIY installation.

Buy this canoe. I own two o them or I would buy it. Royalex is the bomb as far as surface makeups are concerned, and they don’t make it anymore. 16 foot works for two people tripping, but 17 foot is better with child/dog. The Penobscot is the Royalex version of the Old Town Canadienne, one of the finest canoes ever designed (by legendary Ralph Frese). I own two of those as well, and would recommend one above all others, but they are very hard to find. This canoe also tracks very well in cross winds on lakes. Book it, and let us know how it goes.