First Solo Canoe?

-- Last Updated: Oct-28-16 1:49 PM EST --

I am relatively speaking, a canoeing novice. Main experience is with a recreational canoe (tandem) I've had for 10+ years. I am looking to get a canoe for solo paddling, primarily for day trips. Local waters are primarily slow moving rivers, creeks, and ponds/reservoirs. It would be nice if the canoe could go camping for a night or two a few times a year, but I am not intending to use this boat for week long trips. Also, being able to accommodate a 65 lb dog occasionally would be a plus.

I got to use a Wenonah Vagabond (Royalex model) on a local creek and liked it; stable and forgiving of my errors. However, this is the only solo I have gotten to try out.

I have read a lot about solo canoes, and there are so many options (which is a good thing), that I am having a challenging time narrowing my search to a few models to target for demos. Any ideas, other than the Wenonah Vagabond?

old town
I solo paddle an OT penobscot 16 all the time. It is intended as a tandem , so there is plenty of capacity for gear and the dog.

I have paddled a mohawk 14 and liked it but don’t own one

Whatever you can get your hands on
There are many good solo canoes that won’t dunk the novice

Swift makes the Keewaydin 15 and 14

Hemlock the Peregrine and the Vagabond

Colden the Nomad

Wenonah has a number of canoes but the Vagabond is usually regarded as the most user friendly at first. Try others if you get a chance

Its not very helpful to give you a mantra of many boats that you cant find easily.

Its fine to get a Vagabond if you like it now. Its not going to be your last boat… Boat preferences do evolve and there is no perfect forever boat

Trust yourself.

Very Good Advice
That makes me think that the OP’s next step might be to “go shopping” and then to ask about possible options as those choices become available. No one can easily obtain just any boat that this or that person who’s giving advice has fallen in love with, but it may be possible to narrow down the choice between two or three, once those two or three options are known.

Wenonah Wilderness
If you liked the Vagabond the Wilderness Is a solo canoe that you might like even more. It’s a foot longer and deeper in the center, but handles much like the Vagabond. Might be the better choice if a dog is in the canoe.

Having said that there are virtually an endless number of boats that could fit your needs.

One option is to consider a 15 tandem with a symmetrical hull - flipped around and paddled out of the bow seat when paddling solo. Won’t paddled as efficiently as a solo, but it will be roomy and provide more initial stability.

Consider the weight
I have solo canoed for 50 plus years. There are many good solo canoes but as one ages weight becomes more important. When I turned 70 I bought a Swift Osprey in the carbon fusion layup that weighed 27 pounds. I paid over $3000 for it but I have used it about 5 days a week for the past 4 years. Every time I load or unload it from my truck I think what a great buy it was.

Certainly consider the weight of any canoe you buy if you are or soon will be over 50.


– Last Updated: Oct-28-16 8:39 PM EST –

Based on the limited information provided; I don't think the Wenonah Vagabond is what you need.

I think it would be fine for daytrips, but not carrying you, a 65 pound dog, and gear for 1 or 2 overnights.

If your dog has a mind of it's own, and you can't control it; the Vagabond will NOT seem near as stable as it does with just you aboard.

My wife owns a Vagabond; I have experience paddling one. It is certainly not one of my favorite river boats.

It might be a decent starter boat for you to use for a year or more; to improve your skills, and do a lot of test paddling. Perhaps leave the dog at home; just do day floats with it, not multiple camping overnights.


I agree…
I own two Vagabonds and love them for my purposes, but the dog thing throws a monkey wrench in your search. Unless the dog is VERY well-behaved and willing to sit in the bottom of the canoe all day, ANY low volume solo canoe like the Vagabond will be a poor choice. A 65 pound dog is more or less the same as a 65 pound person, which means that you’re probably better off with a smallish tandem canoe paddled solo. You would at least need a higher volume solo canoe like the Wilderness.

If you leave the dog out of the equation, the Vagabond becomes a pretty good choice. I do three day trips in my Vagabonds regularly, and I don’t scrimp much on camping gear. I find the Vagabond becomes MORE initially stable with a load, as long as the load is very well balanced, and it still handles well. The problem with the dog is that if it moves around, that’s the same as an intermittently unbalanced load, and that’s not good for any low volume solo.

Thanks for all the advice!
Thanks for all the advice everyone! I did neglect to mention that weight is a concern; I am a lady, and want the canoe to be easy to carry on my own. I will use it more if transporting and launching is easy. I can manage carrying and loading my fiberglass tandem (65#) on my own, but it is a PITA.

I honestly don’t mind a sort of laundry list of solo canoes, as it enables me to look at specs and read reviews. I find it challenging to figure out which are beginner friendly (except for the Wenonah Vagabond, as the company states it is for beginners), thus I am soliciting advice from all of you.

My local shop carries Wenonah canoes exclusively, and I am going to need to travel for anything else. I think I will call around to surrounding cities, such as Chicago, and see what is stocked. Not sure why I did not think of that sooner.

I have looked at the Hemlock canoes online, as well as Placid Boatworks, and both look like interesting possibilities. I am in Indiana, so a weekend trip to New York is perfectly viable if I really want to look at either of those options.

The dog in question is actually very well behaved, and does great in my recreational canoe. She knows the drill; if she wants to go, she MUST be still. I completely hear where you all are coming from though, with the comments about a squirmy dog being an issue that might cause a capsize.

In terms of going canoe camping, I have ultralight backpacking gear, and am pretty minimalistic in terms of backpacking style; I imagine this would translate to canoe camping. I am thinking it would be reasonable to put 25-30 lbs of gear (no dog)in a Vagabond sized boat for a weekend? Please tell me if I am way off base assuming this.

If I really need a larger solo, I will get one, but I do want a solo and not a tandem.

Relating to your last question:
I’m not posting this directly below your last question because the discussion is sure to take off once again.

To answer your camping question, just about any solo canoe will handle your load of camping gear perfectly well, and would actually carry twice that amount pretty easily, as long as the paddler’s weight is not on the high end of the scale. And on that note, if your weight isn’t toward the high end, something like the Wenonah Wilderness is almost certainly too big for you. That boat is made for giants (that boat came to be because 250-pound men have somehow become “average”). The same would go for any tandem canoe paddled solo (as a lightweight, I’ve found that there are lots of very large people paddling large canoes that don’t understand what it feels like for a lightweight person to paddle such boats, and it doesn’t take much wind to make a smaller person’s job that much harder).

Regarding the Wenonah Vagabond, that boat is much faster than most people give it credit for being, and it’s beginner-friendly. However, I myself learned to dislike Wenonah’s basic design of a straight-sided taper at both ends (the boat has the profile of an elongated, four-sided diamond when viewed from above). I believe it’s a faster design than the more-curving traditional profile, but it also reduces the volume within the forward and rearward thirds, and it automatically reduces flare, both of which make the boat much more prone to slicing through small, steep-faced waves. A more curving taper (the boat looks more like a very skinny football than a stretched-out diamond when seen from above) makes the wide part of the boat occupy more of its length, and adds volume closer to the ends, and makes it easy to provide some flare, all of which encourage the boat to rise over such waves (I had a Vagabond for a few years, and even with my lightweight self on board, it was much too susceptible to “spearing” small waves instead of rising over them). That may not matter in your case but it’s something worth mentioning. Still, I had plenty of fun with that boat.

If I wanted a boat with similar specs to the Vagabond, I’d definitely check out this one, which is new:

With more rocker than the Vagabond, and the same rocker in the rear as the front, it would be better on winding creeks or quickwater rivers, and I bet that the more-traditional curving profile gives it the kind of advantage in small waves that I described above. Of course, there are lots of other choices. I just thought this one looked interesting.

Hemlock canoe
Once good weather comes, Dave Curtis from Hemlock canoe has a “demo night” every week to try all his excellent boats. Better yet, come to the western Pa solo canoe event in early june. Dozens of solos there to try and many dealers. Closer to you too.

God Luck, Turtle

PS, I own a swift Kee 14 and no way would I want to take a 65# dog in it.

I’ll 2nd the motion
For The Western PA Solo Canoe Rendezvous, the 1st full weekend in June. You’ll find more solo canoes to try out than likely, anywhere else on the planet. You’ll also be able to pick the brains of several manufacturers, designers and other knowledgeable folks. Better yet, it’s free except for a small fee charged for access to the campground where it is held. If you like, you can camp there for one or two nights and fully immerse yourself in the experience.

Thanks for letting me know about the Western Pennsylvania Solo Canoe Event, Turtle; visiting that is a great idea. I did not know about it, and it sounds like a great opportunity.

V design features
produce more available turning response with straight line speed possibly glide than a Phoenix moderation of those functions. The sharp bow is used for turning the boat now not waiting for gravity on the wave top.

If V’s bottom is fatter than the diamond sides then look for chine/edging balance in turning.

Overall the idea is give more downriver to a pond hull.

I have a Rendezvous at 15.5’ The hull takes 3 NRS dry bags, 2 parallel to keel rear of seat, one transverse before feet with Wenonah air bags bow n stern.

A dog in an R is suicidal.

The Solo Plus is 16’ using the same bag setup with max more footroom. Comfortable camping hull for multiday down river trips up to straight down 3’s. For steady 2+ to 3’s an R.

I can lounge in the Solo only kneel in the R. At 6’4" my legs stretch out on the gunwales paddling downwind over the pools.

Thanks Again!
Yep, this seems like a very good idea, and a very doable drive; under 400 miles each way. I am adding a note to my calendar.

I did look at the Phoenix online, and it seemed more fast water than what I think I am looking for. Interesting thoughts about seaworthiness in waves, compared to the Vagabond. Any thoughts on stabilty for a novice who usually sits, rather than kneels?

The local Canoe/Kayak club does a lot of summer trips on our slow moving rivers, but honestly, they are SLOW unless the water levels are really up.

and do bring the dog
its a dog friendly event…

I trust your 65 lb dog is quiet. Mine was not…always switching sides… She felt constrained in a solo canoe and insisted on standing up.

Once I tried her in the rear and that was not good… Standing and turning and I couldn’t see what she was doing.

So she rode in front… Never wanted to lay down even with a pad.

This made the boat bow heavy… not a big deal going upwind and a horrid deal going down wind… Once in a blow of 20 mph the boat kept broaching and I had to paddle with the bow pointed in the wind… Yes backwards

If you can get dog to be quiet in the center of the canoe near your knees/feet so much the better.

I left mine home after trying on several solo trips. Particularly aggravating was when she was too interested in moose.

Get an ankle biter. Dog that is.

Dog Friendly:)
Thanks for letting me know the event is dog friendly. I will think about bringing her.

She honestly is pretty good about lying down or sitting still in the tandem, but that is between people she adores. No idea how it would go in a solo boat, but she is highly trainable, so could likely be successful with some work, even if it was rough at the start. The dog has never encountered a moose though:) On that note, when I was a kid our dachshund did jump out of a flat bottom boat trying to chase geese…

increases stability thru lower center of gravity n more body power/leverage from canoe hull to paddle.

1/2’ lower produces more stability.

Question is where on the #2 drop does sitting compromise your intended path ?