Kneeling in Solo Canoe

I just got into solo canoeing. I did a trip in Algonquin in a rental. Loved it. Just bought a used Shearwater. I took it to Algonquin yesterday for a spin. I had my dog in it. He is OK after about 30 minutes, but very fidgety at first. I had to ride on my knees to counterbalance him. I felt very stable and loved the canoe, but my feet and legs fell asleep. It took me several minutes just to get out of the canoe. I am a big guy with big feet. What do I need, a big kneeling pad?


seat placement
I find much of my comfort for kneeling comes from proper seat placement. Not only am I talking about height from the bottom of the canoe, but angle or tilt of the seat. I know of no magic ruler to determine seat placement but the end result is to have your weight on the seat but also to have your knees contact the hull in such a way that you do not need to use muscles to hold them there.

And yes, a big kneeling pad helps a lot too.

The seat has to be canted a little
with the front edge dropped.

Just like in kayaking fit is all important. The seat probably needs to be raised in the rear. A flat seat that is too low might be impinging your sciatic nerve which supplies feeling to your legs and feet. Those web seats for me are killers…

A nice thick Cooke Custom Pad really helps.

Paddle and outfitting is sometimes the key to enjoyable paddling and less so the particular boat.

also, pants that don’t bunch up
… behind you knees and cut off circulation.

Loose pants and a seat that cants!

I am big with big feet also, but the
more pertinent factor is how much your leg flesh squeezes against itself when you are kneeling. You can get a rough idea of this by just pushing your fingers between your thigh and calf when you are kneeling. To the extent that the tissues are bunched and tight, circulation problems are more likely.

Previous posters mentioned things that may help. Anything that opens the knee angle works in your favor. If you are able to paddle with your foot tops resting against the bottom of the boat, this helps open the knee angle, as compared with kneeling with your toes pointing at the bottom of the boat.

When I was paddling decked c-1, the required kneel was so low that I had to keep a foam pedestal in the TV room, and practice kneeling. In open canoes, this should never be necessary. However, in my late advancing middle age, I find some circulation difficulty even in my open boats. Take a break, extend at least one leg for a while. Thrombosis may be a real issue: take an aspirin a day.

Similar experience with decked C-1s
And age has me in a similar predicament.

I am going to get an exercise ball in maybe 18" dia and spend time kneeling on it in various inflation levels. I have not been stretching my leg muscles as I should, and that makes any form of kneeling uncomfortable.


comments so far…
are all spot on. Here’s a coupla more general comments : Being able to kneel in a solo canoe greatly enhances control. You will be pleasantly surprised on learning how weight shifts with knees can change the paddling experience. Once used to this style you’ll wonder how you ever did w/o it. Kneeling is not a natural posture and takes some getting the legs in shape. It is not pleasant at first but the rewards are well worth the effort. I do a stretching and isometric routine 3 times a week. At the end I put a pad in the floor and gently kneel with the tops of feet flat on the pad, toes pointed back, and butt on heels. This hurts the first few times but really stretches the quads and ankles. Don’t overdo just go very easy at first. Too much too early will just be painful. After a few weeks of gradually increasing the pressure, you’ll start getting in shape and used to kneeling. Once getting the knees and ankles in shape, kneeling in a canoe with canted seat will be a piece of cake. Just remember, be gradual. BTW, I’m 64 and still freestyling on my knees.

Thanks, I will try to play with the seat height and angle. I am about 6’4", 280lbs with size 14 feet. If I am kneeling, I can only put my weight on the seat if I virtually sit on my heels. Just having my feet pointed out straight with my shins flat on the bottom is uncomfortable. With the dog, I couldnt move around and shift positions. He almost made us dump a few times. I dont think it helped that I had several layers of clothes on, and raingear on top.

Speaking of stability
When I was teaching open boating I would have tandem teams each do an “air low brace” (opposite sides of course) and start to rock the canoe back and forth, increasing the angle of the lean until they could take some water over the gunwales. You can do this dolo as well, and will be impressed at how you can achieve high levels of boat finesse with knee control.


more comfort tips
You’ve gotten great advice already. A couple more thoughts…

  • if you can wear skinny shoes like neoprene booties, or if you can take your shoes off and paddle in your socks it will give you feet more room under seat

  • some folks have talked about using a pool noodle under their ankles to help keep your ankle bent a bit (won’t help your legs but might help your feet)

  • I’ve paddled with a dog for many years and the dog will feel more relaxed if it has good footing so you might get a cheap bathroom mat with rubber backing and put it in front of you for the dog (I use two T-shaped kneeling pads butted up against each other so there’s a nice non-slip cushioned surface for both of us)

  • when I was first training the dog in the canoe I kept her on a short leash so I could give her a sharp little correction when she got too fidgety and she now knows the command “settle down”. Like most dogs she’s just happy to know what you want and she hasn’t needed a leash for 8 years and I almost never even have to ask her to settle down (maybe we’re both just mellowing out with age)

  • you can “adjust” your seat height a bit just by adding a seat pad…REI sells an inflatable pad that you can use to raise yourself by up to an inch

  • you can use any kind of foam or padding to experiment with to help you figure out whether your seat height is right or not (for example if you use two or three kneeling pads and find that your boat fits better then you might want to raise the seat half an inch by shortening the seat drops)…as others have said it’s important to get the seat height right so you carry a bunch of weight on your butt and not all on your knees. A 1/4 inch of seat height change can feel quite dramatic.

  • even the experienced folks I paddle with get out of solo boats a bit slowly, and so do I!

  • if you do a high kneeling occasionally (one foot in front of you, the otehr under the seat) you can rest one knee at a time and keep most of the stability gained from kneeling

  • you can solve a lot of problems with beer

Keep practicing
If you don’t kneel very often then you should practice more. You can kneel while watching tv at night. I found that sitting on a basketball and kneeling helped at first.

I use the blue Walmart foam camping/sleeping pad for my boat.

Again - thanks
I am amazed how quickly everyone on this site responded with helpful advice. Hopefully, I will see some of you on the water some day to say thanks in person.

Watch those knees. Don’t abuse them
I love the solo too. Far more beautiful than any kayak or other canoe and much more skillfull. I had to give it up to save the knees. I kayak now but would much rather be in a solo canoe. What are you going to do? It would be foolish…

Heres your solution!
Get yourself a nylon duffle bag and place a heavy duty garbage bag inside it as a liner. Now stuff it with cut up pieces of mini cell foam like those sleeping pads they sell. Fill all the way and tied it off. Now place it in the canoe just behind the center thwart and to the favorite paddling side. Now sit on it in the kneeling position and lean the canoe alittle bit over on your paddling side.

that doesnt last long
a buddha bench is better.

Tried that trick of yours…not enough support. Tried styrofoam peanuts too.

No wonder you hurt!
Pop that seat up to the highest position…as little drop as possible on the rear edge and 1/2 to 3/4 inch on the front edge…

A higher stanced kneel is more comfy than a Canadian style kneel on your heels. The latter requires a winter of watching TV kneeling.

Yes, you definitely need a kneeling pad of some type, but I’ll bet your seat is also too low for comfortable kneeling. I kneel all the time and have never tried a stock solo canoe that was comfortable until I raised the seat. My Yellowstone Solo and Merlin II both came supposedly with kneeling seat drops, but I had to cut them down considerably, raising the seat almost to the rails, before kneeling became entirely comfortable. You might not want to raise your seat quite that high if you like to switch back to sitting occasionally. Kneeling also becomes easier with practice, but as I am now over 60, if I don’t paddle a couple of times a week, I suffer the next time out. The suggestion to practice kneeling when you watch TV is probably a good idea, I just don’t watch TV.


I’m very saddened to lose my solo
I tried these kinds of things but anything that isolates you from the boat causes you lose the control of being on your knees in the first place.