ISO: Beginner Canoe Information

Hi All,

I am just getting into canoeing and have a few questions concerning what type of canoe I am looking for. Ideally I would like a canoe that functions suitably in whitewater and flatwater, and to use on short camping trips. So here goes some questions:

  1. Specifically for whitewater is there a material that is preferred, something that can take a little more abuse.

  2. Is there a length that is more suitable for all around canoeing (white and flat)?

  3. I may be limited to buying used due to cost. Are there any hints you can give of what to look for in a used canoe (aside from obvious malformations)

    Like I said, I am brand new to the sport, so any feedback to the questions or just general info will be a big help.

    Thanks alot.

More info, please?
There are many here that are much more qualified to help than me. They’re going to want more info, though. I’m going to take a stab at it anyway based on what I THINK you want.

I think you want a SOLO canoe that can handle MILD white water up to class II. A boat designed for bigger water is going to be lousy on the lakes. Assuming I’m right, you’re going to want a Royalex canoe. Some may suggest that composites will work, too, but those are going to be expensive even used.

Look at the Mohawk Solo 14, the Mohawk Odyssey, the Bell Yellowstone Solo and Bell Rock Star if you’re a bigger guy.

I bought a Bell Yellowstone Solo and love it.

I will be looking for a two man canoe. This type of boat looks comfortable and more versatile.

What types of canoeing is this style suited for?

Forgot to add…

– Last Updated: Apr-13-10 10:46 PM EST –

Any used Royalex canoe is going to have lots of scratches. Buy a new one, use it once, and it too will have lots of scratches. If it's gouged through the outer colored layer, that more of a problem. It can probably be fixed, but I personally wouldn't buy it unless it was dirt cheap.

See if the boat has been stored outside. UV can age Royalex. If the color is faded, stay away. If the boat has wood gunnels, asked if it's been stored in a heated building. Wood and Royalex contract and expand at different rates and should be stored in a heated building. is an excellent place to find a used boat. It searches most of the other paddling sites plus craiglist and ebay. It also searches this site.

I guessed wrong.
A tandem offers lots more choices and are WAY easier to find used. They’ll also be less expensive. I still think you’ll want Royalex. Any boat though, is way better than no boat.


– Last Updated: Apr-14-10 1:12 AM EST –

Of this group, the Penobscot is better on flatwater, the Appalachian is better on whitewater. They are both compromise boats (as are most, to some degree), but coming from opposite ends of the spectrum.

Here's some good reading to get started on...

It does sound though like you are leaning to something like a Prospector design (a category which the Appalachian fits more or less). 16' is a good average length for two people.

But there are other designs that may do just as well or better for you, such as the Mad River Explorer, Bell or Wenonah Spirit II.

Don't get too wrapped up in "the perfect canoe". Shop your used market and get something close to your needs and learn to use it. If all you can find is used Penobscots, consider yourself lucky that it performs pretty well on the flats and can get through some cl2 stuff although you'll be wetter than if you have a Prospector. If all you can find is used Explorers, consider yourself lucky just the same.

But IMO, a used boat as described above is always better than a new Coleman or Pelican, or the like.

Get a Old Towne Penobscot

– Last Updated: Apr-14-10 6:47 AM EST –

out of roylex.
It is the perfect boat for what you want.
If you and your partner are big, get a 17 footer.
If you are both on the sdmaller side, get the 16 footer.

Look for a used one.
I got mine here on P-net classified for $400 and it is in perfect condition


I second the Penobscot. The RX models are really light, fairly fast canoes, that are nice on a river as well as a lake. The Penobscot could be one of the most versatile canoes ever made.

A few things that don’t directly answer your question, but that you might not know:

(1) I don’t think you said what class of whitewater you aspire to run. You can probably bang your way down any Class I rapid without problems, and probably can survive most Class II without disasters. But you’ll be happier if you get a day’s instruction before trying Class II, and I definitely recommend formal instruction (or some coaching from people who know what they’re doing) before you attempt Class III.

(2) Many open boats will need added flotation for Class III, and some boats even for Class II, so that when they take on water, they still ride somewhat high. “Flotation” basically means large bags of air that are strapped into bow and/or midsection and/or stern, to displace water. You can buy the apparatus and install it yourself, or pay the dealer or somebody else to do it. There used to be a dealer in Raleigh who would do this outfitting, can’t think of the name right now.

(3) Most people who canoe in significant whitewater do so kneeling, not sitting. That usually requires a modest amount of padding at the knees, and maybe at the feet. You can perhaps get by with gardener’s knee pads. They cut off my circulation, so I now use Bell Canoe’s T-shaped kneeling pad.

(4) Good advice I once got: “You’re better off putting 50 extra dollars in your paddle than putting 500 extra dollars in your canoe.”

All these things add expense, of course. Ask around and look around to see what people do for the rivers you’re interested in. There’s probably a club or some other community that paddles the rivers close to you, and from them you might be able to get some informal instruction for the cost of beer and pizza.

Finally, a little bit that is directly related to your question: If you fall in love with canoeing, you probably aren’t going to be satisfied with your first boat, no matter what your first boat is, so don’t overthink it. Buy something decent but inexpensive, and use it to learn what you really like. Take it from someone who has owned five.

I’ve used both the Penobscot and the Appalachian on trips, the Penobscot on Class II and the Appalachian on Class III (maybe IV, depending on whom you believe). They’re both excellent boats. If you follow my advice about getting some instruction or coaching, you’ll probably be fine with a Penobscot in Class II.

One option to consider, if you’re sure you want to paddle mainly swift water, is a dedicated whitewater boat. It will be a lot more fun in whitewater than the all-rounder boats people have steered you toward, but it will require more time to master, and it will be a dog on slow water. It will also be smaller than an all-rounder, hence not a good choice if you’re going to pack heavy for those camping trips.

One non-obvious thing to look out for on a used boat is a “hogged” bottom (the bottom curving up slightly towards the sky when the boat is upright, as if to trap a little air bubble underneath the boat). Avoid. If you’re looking at a boat with any wood trim, check for rot, especially at the ends. Make sure the seats and thwarts are firmly mounted.

Good luck with your choice.


Mackinaw. Ewww.
I would not have labeled myself a canoe snob until I clicked on the link to the Mackinaw picture.

But it is true that any canoe is better than no canoe, so if that’s what you can get, it’ll work.

Other posters have identified what you need, a 16’ royalex canoe. They’ve identified a number of good choices in that category. One other boat that I think you should get if you find one is a Mohawk Intrepid.

But don’t stress about it. When I was starting out I paddled an Old Town Camper and an Old Town Appalachian back to back. Now, after hundreds of paddling trips, it shocks me to say, I couldn’t tell any difference between them, and they are hugely different. On this forum, we will discuss fine differences between boats that to a new paddler, won’t mean much.

One of two things will likely happen once you get this boat. Less likely, is that you will fall in love with paddling and will end up buying and selling more boats until you figure out what works best for you. More likely, is that you won’t use the boat much, and it will end up out back against the fence with weeds growing around it. Either way, just get a boat you think will work, and see what happens after that.


Additional Info
Handy thanks for the info, I have been wondering about the flotation aspect.

Also, I am in charlotte, so the majority of my trips will be fairly slow water, however I would like a boat that has the capabilities of taking on cl2-3 waters.

I guees I am just looking for the most well rounded boat.

It looks as though the boats that have been suggested will achieve my goal (i.e. penobscot)

Any additional info is appreciated

Penobscot in Class III
I don’t know that I’d recommend a Penobscot for Class III to an inexperienced paddler. I haven’t tried it, so I don’t know for sure, but the bow is pretty narrow, and I think it will spend a lot of time submerged. You’ll definitely want that instruction I recommended, and you should plan to spend some extra money to get a really good bailer :slight_smile:

I’d push you toward the Appalachian or one of the Mohawk tandems.


I’m with Jack
A beginner is years away from Class 3 whitewater. remember Class # in an open canoe is expert territory and those people Won’t be asking for advice from us too often.

Even I could run a Penobscott down the Watuaga from the dam release which I often hear has three “Class three drops”. My children did it as youngsters in their rec boats so not all “Class 3” is the same. the Nanty is a lot more Class 3 than the Watauga for example.

The Penobscot is a boat that folks keep. If you have him buy a heavy Disco or Explorer TT he’ll lose more money when he sells it.

Funny, the honchos at NOC say the
Nantahala is a beginner river. And unfortunately, there are always a few beginners on it, some of them in Penobscots.

As I’ve mentioned before, a friend twice won the downriver cruising class on the Nanty in a 16’ Penobscot. But he knew how to sneak and where to slow down to avoid taking too much water.

Prospector vs Penobscot
We have a Penobscot 16. It’s a decent boat and served well. We bought a NovaCraft Prospector 16’ and like it a lot better. The Prospector hauls more, handles bigger water and is easier for most people to paddle. Also, we think it’s faster. We found that the Penobscot 16 maxes out at 450lbs. Any more weight than that makes it a barge. Again, just our opinion, but we’ve got a few miles in both. The Penobscot 16 did well in 2’ waves and 35mph wind on lakes when we needed to come in from fishing, but that was pretty much empty. We’ve paddled several Penobscot 17’ canoes and they seem like a better choice for lakes than the 16. Our NovaCraft Prospector has done very well on lakes in light chop and 20mph wind. Wenonah’s Prospector felt like it had more rocker (I think it actually does)and we needed an all round boat. Try several and see what works best for you.

whatever you get
learn to kneel, learn to brace, and you’ll get used to near anything…except that thing you linked us to. Penobscot and Prospectors variations are good, real canoes.

Cheaper options
If price is a concern, you can usually find an Old Town Discovery 174 for a song.

They are heavy, hard to repair, and not the highest performance, but the 174 is the same shape as a Penobscot, and a decent boat for the used price - I wouldn’t pay more than 500 for one. The Discovery 164 is also good, but less common.

Nova Craft SP3 is the same thing, and in my experience much better. Try to find an outfitter model Prospector 17 - should be well under 1000 used.

In Royalex, the Appalachian was mentioned. I also like most Royalex Prospectors from Bell, Evergreen, Novacraft, Esquif, and Wenonah. All are a little different, with the NC being markedly bigger in volume, and the Esquif being more playful in whitewater and the bell, evergreen and wenonah being the most traditional in their lines.

I also considered your issues…
Over the winter, I purchased a used Wenonah Solo Plus. The canoe ad was on pnet, but I learned of it via word of mouth thanks to Ness, Queen of P-Net photography and all-around cool chick.

The boat is 16.5’ with available seating for two, should you find yourself with a paddling partner. I purchased this one because it is designed for solo paddling, and sufficient to ferry canine and gear. You mentioned “all-around” ability and although I have only a couple of days paddling at this writing, I’ve biked and backpacked long enough to know that with a little outfitting to suit my personal peculiarities (of which my wife will tell you there are many)and my 4-legged cargo, I am going to have a long and mutually beneficial relationship with this tan and green Tuffweave, wood-gunwhaled, cane-seated beauty.

I’m used to paddling kayaks, mostly in the 12-14’ range, so on rivers the 16.5 feet of canoe takes a bit of maneuvering, much like driving my F-150 extended cab in daily traffic. Nothing terrible, some of it character-building, and easy to get used to. I won’t be kneeling, so a couple of footpegs and a seating surface easier on my damaged tailbone will greatly improve the comfort, which is very adequate right now. The paddle that used to be in my 17’ runabout, a square bladed Caviness that is too short, with a shaft parallel to the face, and a wedge insert, will provide a large upgrade possibility.

The boat tracks well, turns slowly and in open water with a headwind, is low enough to not completely suck. I did learn about the benefit of a double blade, although I am proud to say that no double blade has, nor will it ever, be employed as a means of propulsion while I am piloting. I am actively searching for “the right paddle”.

My uses for this canoe are much like yours, I wanted something that I could paddle solo, with my dog, and carry enough gear to go camping for up to a week if I decide to punish myself in that way. With no disrespect to tandems, I would rather stick needles in my eyes than paddle as part of a tandem. I hate to dance too. I’m a function first person, and frugal when the mood rarely strikes. A canoe offered me seating for four when added to my family fleet of two kayaks, plus the dog. For what it’s worth, I assimilated a decade of backpacking and biking sensibility to my paddling, and see the ability to take the boo, a guitar, a camera, and a camp chair along on a paddle as uber-luxury. Add to that the fact that my son and his grilfriend can join us on a day paddle is a nice benefit.

As for why I chose the Solo Plus, admittedly, I did not search high and low for canoes. The Boo is almost ten, and I want to get as much quality time with him as I can. I’m not big on shopping, although I love to visit EMS occasionally and drop a few hundred on gear, or visit the Joe Walsh web site and add some James Gang music and guitar picks to my collection. What I do enjoy is meeting and listening to experts, both real and perceived. I wade thru literature and web sites, visit shops or shows and learn from people who do and know. I was fortunate to have attended Raystown last fall and benefitted from the wisdom of a warm, friendly, funny, and highly eclectic group of paddlers, (nearly all unabashed Canoeists), who allowed me to jump in and out of a few of their prized possessions and graciously schooled me in some canoe basics. This kind of insider information launches you to the head of the class while others assimilate lots of information, good and bad, before plunking down the cash with their fingers crossed. Being at Raystown and listening to canoeists banter for a weekend is like going to Canoe College if you listen. I learned a lot.

As wisely mentioned above, new canoes become scratched canoes pretty quickly if rivers and lake beaching is in your future, let someone else avail you of a cherished part of their fleet. There’s junk out there, so look carefully and ask questions, but go used and quality rather than plastic and cheap. You will pay roughly the same or a little more, but you will have the comfort of knowing someone took good care. If they are anything like Bill and Sandy, you’ll have an adventure, and a nice story hanging in the garage with your canoe all winter.

Good luck!