Help: Advise on canoe purchase

Help: Advise on canoe purchase

I’m looking for advise on what canoe to get for my wife and myself. We will be on class 1 & 2 rivers, and perhaps some lakes (often windy), mostly in Colorado and Utah. I have white water kayaked on and off for almost 50 years (we’re both 67), but have very little canoe experience. I am an intermediate kayaker, with skills enough that I kayaked all of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon a few years ago. So I know how to read water, but am ready to trade in my hard shell for a nice canoe. Any advise?
Specifically, we need a canoe that we will be able to load onto our car into the future as we get older. We’re in pretty good shape now… In June we’ll be on the lower San Juan, and expect good flow around 12,000 cfs. There may be some good sized sand waves and a couple class 3 rapids that we could probably portage if needed. Thanks for any tips!

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Older paddler here (72) who both kayaks and canoes. It might serve all of your purposes to consider an Ally or PakBoat folding canoe (PakCanoe) as a viable option.

Besides being lighter than equivalent length hard shell canoes, they are rugged enough for up to Class 3 whitewater, in fact are used by fishing and hunting guides in Alaska and Patagonia (pretty handy to be able to fly into a remote area in a float plane with your boat in a duffel bag.) The seating arrangements in them can be shifted too, to set up as a solo, tandem or even more paddlers in the longer ones. They paddle just as efficiently as most similar dimensioned and hull design hard shells and actually excel in rough water, where the characteristics of some flexibility and buoyancy they share with rafts makes them more effective. Like rafts, they can catch on rocks and drag in shallow gravel but will also bounce off rocks rather than breaking. The aircraft aluminum frames are strong, as are the skin fabrics (which can also more easily be patched in the field in the rare case of a puncture – they come with patch kits but I have only had to do one patch in all my years with 8 different folding craft, and that was minor and one of the interior inflatable sponson tubes.)

I have been using folding boats (kayaks mainly) for over 20 years and have owned 4 Pakboat models including one (the XT15) that used a similar frame and skin setup as their canoe models. While they do take some time to set up, they can be left set up for a season and car-topped like any other boat. Another advantage is that you can store them in a closet or a shelf in the garage in the off season, packed down. And they can also be transported as airline baggage. I flew to England with my Pakboat Puffin in 2017 and the boat and all the gear and clothing I needed to paddle it (including 4 piece paddle) fit in a standard rolling bag that was under 50 pounds.

You can get spray decks and sprayskirts for them too. Take a look at the video below of folks paddling whitewater in Finland in PakCanoes.

Take a look at them as one consideration. Besides the manufacturer information there are YouTube videos of people using Ally and PakCanoe boats from around the world.

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Thanks for the beta! I’ll look into it… Craig

Found this more recent video too, of a flatwater PakCanoe camping trip in Patagonia, that gives better views of the boats themselves and a sped up clip of the assembly process. You have to fast forward through the long camping shots and gorgeous drone views but it’s a worthwhile view of the boats.

I will add, in terms of durability, I just helped pack and ship an 18’ Ally folding canoe that was over 30 years old and had obviously been used a lot but was still intact. Alv Elverson, who founded PakBoat had been a designer with Ally so the models are similar. Pakboat is a Scandivanian company but has a dealership in New Hampshire and can usually ship from there.

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You will have to make a few choices and tradeoffs. How you primarily use the canoe matters. More river running than lakes? Speed or maneuverability? What kinds/sections of rivers; Smaller lakes, large windy ones or ocean? Day paddles or overnight trips. A shorter canoe tends to work better on smaller rivers, while a longer one is better on many lakes. Weight matters at 67… I’d look at Kevlar/Carbon.

For me, (I’m about your age), My wife & I have multi-day paddled BWCA, Green River (Green River to Moab), and lots of day trips in Newport Beach Back Bay and many large and often windy lakes. We chose a 16’ Navarro Loon. I’ve been very happy with this choice, but there are many others to choose from and your primary intended use matters. Wenonah, Old Town and other manufacturers will have some great recommendations and boats. Check their web sites… and make sure to properly fit your paddles to you and your intended use. Good luck in your search, I’m sure you’ll find the right boat for you and your wife.

Even if it takes a half dozen trys!

Thanks for your thoughts!

Definitely agree with that. Since you are a whitewater paddler I suspect you will end up more on rivers than lakes. So I’d look for a 16-17 foot boat, probably royalex, something like a Penobscot, or an Explorer or a Prospector. If weight is not an issue now, I wouldn’t limit yourself to a light weight boat until you need to. Buy used and trade it out when you need a lighter boat.

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Unfortunately, you have conflicting priorities which is often the case for most of us.

Going from a kayak to a canoe one of the things you will immediately notice is that a canoe, having a much higher profile, is going to be affected by an adverse wind to a much greater extent. Whitewater canoes are necessarily deep and tend to have high stems to try to keep as much water as possible out of the boat. But all that added freeboard is going to be a liability on a windy lake.

We would all like our boats to be as light as possible, but ultra-lightweight canoes do not hold up well in whitewater. If you go with a Royalex tandem canoe, assuming you can find a decent one since Royalex is long out of production, about the lightest tandem you could find that would still be suitable for whitewater is around 60 lbs and most will weigh more. T-formex is a Royalex alternative but canoes made out of this material tend to be a bit heavier still for a boat of comparable size. As for three-layer rotomolded polyethylene canoes like the Old Town Discoveries, light weight is not in their job description.

So a composite canoe might suit you best. Contrary to what some on this messageboard might tell you, plenty of folks paddle composite canoes on Class I and Class II water and if you have kayaked the Grand I have no doubt that you have the skills to do so. But you wouldn’t want the lightweight layups. I would look for something with aramid inner layers and outer layers of fiberglass, preferably S fiberglass, and no foam core bottom or side ribs. That combination of materials proved satisfactory for the construction of whitewater kayaks back in the days before rotomolded polyethylene kayaks existed. You can probably find a suitable composite canoe that would stand up to use on Class I-II water that weighed in the neighborhood of 50 lbs.

As for a specific make or model, I think you would have to refine your priority list a bit for anyone to make a rational recommendation. Many folks who are looking for an all-around canoe that is good for both open flat water and whitewater use sooner or later arrive at the conclusion that they would be best served by having two canoes.

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Thanks for the thoughts!!

Many thanks! Good stuff. I’m not finding a lot for nice used canoes online…

Royalex canoes and their relatives are best for rough water, but they are heavy. You can use a trailer or you can use two people to carry them and load a roof rack from the rear.

I have run a lot of rivers in fiberglass boats. I have had a few Kevlar ones. They can be repaired easily. Duct tape nearly always gets you home. Glass repairs can be made on the beach. Boats in this category are much easier to handle on land. They have complex shapes. There are plenty of good used canoes around.

Wood and canvas canoes are my favorite and they are much tougher than people think. They are classy and have life in them. They are the heaviest of all, so I have always used a trailer to them.

An aluminum canoe might be worth considering. Medium heavy and durable. They have full ends and travel over waves. They can be deep and have plenty of beam. Not as fast as other boats, but on a river it is not that important. They are cheap and last a long time. They can stick on rocks. Most have a small keel which makes turning a little harder.

I’m a 74 year old paddler in upstate NY, and I still paddle from Mar/Apr to Nov/Dec, weather permitting. I have both tandem and solo canoes and a sea kayak, and if you have been a whitewater paddler and pick a hull design that will still turn reasonably you can probably take it anywhere. A 16-18 ft kevlar or fiberglass/kevlar will be light but fairly tough, and depending where you are there are probably outfitters that have a wide selection of canoes available and replace them every year or two and will give you a good price and let you try different canoes until you find the “one” that feels right. I’d look online, but also look for outfitters within a driving distance to go visit, and sporting goods stores that sell canoes, because a lot of those stores take used canoes in trade, and will part with them reasonably.

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Yup - composite canoes are fine for rivers as long as you don’t mind the scratches you are going to get - my compose WildFire on the right.

Red Wildfire, green Yellowstone Solo

It has a few more scratches in it now :wink:

Royalex Yellowstone Solo on the left.

Thanks. Hard to find the used ones!

Thanks; hadn’t thought about outfitter sales!

Also see if you can find canoeist get togethers/rendezvous, which often happen in late Spring. Besides potentially meeting and making friends with other paddlers, attendees often bring used boats to sell at such gatherings and some of the canoe manufacturers will bring demo boats and boats for sale, Great way to be able to test paddle a range of models. I know these gatherings are common here in the East and MidWest but can’t offer any advice on their prevalence in the West, but surely there must be some.

if there are local paddling clubs or canoe outfitters in your area they will usually know about such events.

I’ve just refurbished a vintage Swift Dumoine, Royalex, which had been twisted. The gunwales were replaced (which straightened the hull) and the bow skidplate was repared & extended.

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Looks great - Dumoine is a nice boat. Long-time poster here DaggerMat had a Dumoine that he used as his poling boat - few shots of him in the Dumoine in 2009 on the Salmon River in CT. Seems like a long time ago.



I agree Blissyco7 that used boats can be tough to find - especially for solo canoes and high-demand kayaks. At least round here a tandem canoe is pretty easy to find.

If money is not an object and you are looking at new boats, I would check out a Nova Craft Prospecter in TuffStuff.

I have never seen one in person, but it checks a lot of the boxes you listed. 56 lbs for the 16 foot version.

There is a video on you tube that demonstrates how well this layup holds up to abuse. They intentionally wrap it several times, throw it off cliffs etc. It is kind of hard to watch.