Looking for advice on Canoes

My Partner and I are looking for a good canoe that will last us a long time. We want a tandem canoe that will be great on lakes and day trips but has the ability to do multiday trips. we will mostly use it recreationaly when camping but we want the versatility. We don’t want anything too big, we only have a small truck (ford ranger). We don’t really even know where to start when picking one out. We don’t know brands or styles. We don’t know the benefits of plastic or fibreglass or any other materials. Any information or advice would help.

Thanks, Amy

Start Here:

– Last Updated: Apr-26-14 7:01 PM EST –

There is some pretty good starting info right on this site. Go here...


... and look for pertinent articles on canoes. That will help you a lot.

As to carrying a canoe on your Ford Ranger, that need not be a problem. You can carry as big a tandem canoe as you might ever need on that truck, but you might need to equip it with a decent rack first (either a roof rack on a topper, or a rack similar to what tradesmen use if the truck has an open bed). I dare say that MOST canoers here use vehicles that are pretty similar in size to your Ford Ranger. I'm one of them.

Plastic boats are "cheap", but in more ways than one (they never hold their original shape, and never have any of the good design features of a lot of the more-pricey boats). Okay, I'll qualify that, because Royalex is primarily plastic (also vinyl), and it holds its shape quite well, but it is rather flexible in use (that's sometimes a good thing for brief moments when you are stuck on a log or something, but otherwise, stiffer is better), but it is still a lot stiffer than plastic. So, Royalex is a pretty good material, but not ideal if you don't need impact resistance (as when doing whitewater). Fiberglass, fiberglass and Kevlar, or all-Kevlar boats are lighter, well-designed for each particular boat's intended purpose, but are expensive. There are newer types of composite construction too, which also tend to be expensive. You can save lots of money by finding used ones, but of course that adds to the shopping difficulty. Royalex boats are no longer made by some companies, and won't be made by ANY company in the very near future, but there are a lot of them already out there, and will be showing up on the used market for years to come.

Some of the major brands are Old Town, Wenonah, Bell (used canoes from the defunct Bell Canoe Works and also a handful of current models from the company's new incarnation), Nova Craft, Clipper, and some I can't think of right now. You'll get so many recommendations as to which boat to consider it will make your head spin, but it sounds like a pretty basic, general-purpose tandem will do the trick, and in that case, picking "exactly the right one" is not critical. If you two are not large and/or won't be carrying a lot of stuff, a 16-footer might be ideal. 17 feet is better if you are fairly big people and/or will carry a lot. I doubt that there would be any reason to look for one longer than 17 feet, and 15 feet is almost always shorter than what's ideal, UNLESS both of you are are real lightweights (even then, I'd wager that 16 feet would be better).

Oh, you MIGHT even be happy with an aluminum canoe, but chances are you'll like Royalex or composite better. Aluminum's biggest advantage is that it doesn't ever deteriorate due to outside storage. And speaking of that, wood gunwales can be a long-term maintenance headache on a boat that's stored outside if overhead cover is not complete. Many of us like the feel of wood gunwales otherwise though (easy on the hands and quiet on the paddle-shaft bumps), but the trend is for fewer and fewer boats to have wood gunwales.

Ford rangers rock
I would look at craigslist at the used market for canoes, see what’s in the area. There are good articles here that can answer some of your questions and help you decide on a canoe.

But regarding your Ranger, that has been my main hauler for several years. 18 ft tandem sea kayak, 17 ft Aluminum canoe, 16, 15, and 14 ft boats in various materials and configurations, no problem.

I made a PVC rack for the bed of my truck which extends over the cab, for not much more you could get the same thing in steel sold as ladder racks.

Then if you want to go first class there are these:


Whatever you choose, use nylon straps to tie the boat down and use rope for bow and stern tiedowns. Cam lock straps will keep you from over tightening and damaging your boat but I have been using ratchet straps all along, just don’t over tighten. Under the hood in the two front corners I have a loop of rope tied around a piece of the frame. When I’m hauling a boat let the loop stick up along the edge of the hood and tie the bow down to those. When not carrying a boat the loops ride out of sight. Tie the rear off to the bumper.

A ranger is an asset, not a problem.

Some boats to look at
Here are some thoughts on what boats to look for.

First of all, do not get a plastic boat, e.g., poly. Look for Royalex (not Royalite). Royalex is on the heavy side - around 65-70 lbs for a 16- or 17-foot boat - but it’s nearly indestructible.

What models to look for? Try these:

Wenonah Spirit II - 17’

Mad River Explorer - 16’

These boats are popular and quite versatile.

Old Town makes a number of boats in this range. I find them very heavy and stable, but they don’t handle worth a dime.

Any Bell tandem boat in Royalex is a good choice. I’d look for a NorthStar - 16’6".

Good luck!

If there is a Wenonah dealer around,
you might look at certain of their more popular models like the Spirit II or Aurora. I advise against spending extra to get a Kevlar canoe, because some Wenonah models can also be had in Tufweave, a crossweave of glass and polyester that makes a very durable, hard wearing, stiff, and repairable layup that doesn’t cost as much as Kevlar and often proves more long lasting.

I might have also suggested the new Wenonah Boundary Waters, but I’m guessing you may appreciate a bit narrower bow to make reaching over into the water easier.

Old Town comment

– Last Updated: Apr-27-14 8:54 PM EST –

The idea that Old Town canoes "don't handle worth a dime" is almost true, but not completely. The Old Town Penobscot 16 is a really fine hull, with a nicely rounded bottom profile that lends itself to speedy, efficient cruising (certainly speedy as Royalex boats go), and is NOT as stable as most other Old Towns. But as a note to the original poster, this lower level of stability is a good thing, as a boat that's "too stable" is slow and handles ponderously. A bit of a "tippy" feeling is good, and it's worth noting that most canoes that have this attribute also become much more stable when leaned, so once you get some experience, there's no need to worry about falling out of such a boat.

The Old Town Appalachian is another very fine design, geared for river tripping with an emphasis on maneuverability and good handling in moderate whitewater. It may be too maneuverable for the original poster, but perhaps not, since the venerable Prospector design is rather similar, and plenty of Prospectors are used for basic flatwater tripping too.

Anyway, those are two canoes made by Old Town that are loved and appreciated by a great many very fine, discriminating paddlers. There's at least one other recent model of Old Town canoe that's quite fine also, but I can't recall its name, and they are very rare and the OP isn't likely to see one for sale (it's a composite boat - a rare thing to see from that company).

While I'm at it, I can add something to the "any tandem canoe from Bell" idea. I've occasionally heard that Bell's Royalex models are significantly shorter (about HALF a foot shorter (corrected value compared to what I wrote earlier)) than catalog specs say they are (I know for a fact that this is the case for at least some Wenonah models, so it seems reasonable that the same would be true for Bell).

what to buy
Choosing a canoe can be tough. You have to think about what your gonna use it for. For example; if your gonna use it primarily in the Boundry Waters Canoe Area, you want light weight and easy to portage. Sounds like you want one to paddle around the lake while on a camping trip. In that case, you’d want one 16-17 feet long, and about 37 inches wide. There would be 2 of you to carry it to the water, so weight wouldnt be an issue. So basically if your on a budget, get a plastic canoe. If your looking to spend $2000+, get a composite.

test paddle try outs
That first post by Guideboatguy is an excellent synopsis covering all the basics, and I go along with the suggestions so far.

Depending on the part of the country you are in, you may have many brands to chose from, or just a few. Like buying a car, there is no substitute for taking a test drive, or in this case, a test paddle. If you have a local paddle shop on the water, they will likely let you try out some different boats. Your area may have a nearby paddle fest where you can try out many different canoes one after the other, and get some great advice. This is a popular time of year for those. Your local paddle shop would know if there is a paddle fest in your area. Folks on this site would probably know too if you mention your general geographic area.

It’s possible to find a good deal on a good canoe on Craigslist. Even if after spending some extended time with the boat you decide it’s not the right one for you, if you get it at a good price, you should be able to resell it and get your money back. You should be able to get used for half or less of the retail price.

Good luck on your search and have fun with your canoe.

Choosing a canoe.
I’d go to the Old Town website and look at the choosing a canoe feature. You will have to decide which type of paddling you do most often. It will then give you a choice of suitable crafts. Read the canoe anatomy feature, lots of good info on how the hull shape will affect performance and can help you with choosing a canoe. From what I’ve read and suits me a canoe with a shallow arch V hull and moderate rocker is the way to go. I’ve read your paddling preference which mirror my own and I believe this will suit you also. Good luck in your search.

I’ll add the Tripper
while its not good for portaging, it’s the most popular canoe for Mainers on rivers.

It handles whitewater well and is skinny enough to have some speed.

Part of its popularity is its stability. Many people pole and hence stand in it… Its the choice for long river trips here and yes its often soloed.

However I believe it may have been discontinued. I believe GBG may have been referring to the Cascade or the Kennebec…both are whitewater tripping boats.

Mentioning the river-tripping boat
I actually was talking about the Appalachian. There was quite a discussion about that boat here a few weeks ago, and that prompted me to read other info about it. Looks like a really nice design to me, and it was interesting to hear how much some people like it, and why.

Could cut the width to 34.5 and still
get capacity and stability. My Tripper was 37 inches, and that was an inch too wide at least, even for a very tall paddler.

Fortunately, there are nice tandems under 35 inches wide, the MR Explorer, the Wenonah Spirit II for examples.

Good comments on OT and Bell
Those are good comments on Old Town and Bell. I didn’t know much about OT and appreciate the mini-education.

As for Bells, I had a composite MorningStar and it was 15’6". A friend has a Royalex model of the same boat and it’s about 15’4". Like most models that are made in both composite and Rx, the Rx version comes in a couple inches shorter. Rx can’t be molded into a sharp point, thus the ends are more blunt, which means the material can’t be extended as far forward as the composite version. I’d be amazed if a Rx version was more than 4" shorter than the composite. In any case, the manufacturer’s info should state the dimensions within an inch of accuracy.

Rx and Tuf-Weave
Good comments on Tuf-Weave. It is indeed very tough, and the gelcoat of course takes a lot of abuse.

But I still think Royalex is the better choice for the OP. It’s tougher than Tuf-Weave and the two layups weigh about the same.

Choosing a boat
Wenonah’s web site also has a good section on boat design that might help you evaluate different boats.

I recommend against a boat that’s advertised as being stable. Not that you don’t want stability, but ads touting stability often refer to initial stability (when the boat’s sitting level). High initial stability usually comes at the price of low secondary stability (when the boat is leaned to the side). High secondary stability is what keeps you from tipping over. As you build familiarity and skill, you’ll get comfortable with a little initial tippiness. You’ll never be safe with a boat that won’t tolerate being leaned at least halfway to the water.

Great comment on OT
I’ve owned a Penobscot 16 for 14 years, and have paddled thousands of miles solo and tandem in every kind of water from Class 2 to open water of large lakes and North Carolina sounds. It is a fantastic and versatile canoe.

Catalog specs

– Last Updated: Apr-27-14 10:41 PM EST –

Off we go on another p-net side discussion. Well, I heard different. I heard to expect the Royalex version to be HALF a foot shorter (edited from what I wrote before - memory failure again). Maybe I heard wrong.

As to the catalog specs, one can't necessarily expect them to account for such things. Go measure a Wenonah Vagabond in composite and Royalex and you will see that the Royalex one is HALF a foot shorter (corrected from what I wrote the first time). Check it on a few different boats as I have, and you'll see the difference is consistent. The catalog won't tell you that. You have to figure it out for yourself. That's why I always believed the people who said this same thing about Bells. But since I wasn't as sure about this as I am for certain other boats, that's why I suggested actually finding out the length to be sure.

One other thing I was told about these length differences, is that the molds for both styles of boat are the same length, but Royalex shrinks a lot when it cools after being removed from the mold, while composite boats match the mold length perfectly. I think some companies DO account for this shrinkage when first constructing the mold for Royalex models though. I've never measured the length of my Royalex Super Nova, but it's nearly as long as one of my 15-foot boats, and that suggests its length is pretty close to that shown in the catalog.

dealers in your area ?
in general, canoes are more similar than different

a canoe by co X designed for purpose/use “A” will be similar enough to a canoe by co Y or Co Z designed for the same purpose “A”, and if made of the same materials, will weigh in about the same

I’d suggest you just google for canoe dealers in your area, then visit the manufacturer’s websites for those brands - read what they have on the recommended uses for thier boats - choose a model that seems to fit your needs, and then arrange to test paddle those boats - even if it is not a boat you wind up buying.

there was a thread on here a few days back, regarding carrying a Mad River Adventure 14 (or 16) - read that thread - it is a good example of someone who bought the wrong boat - likely it was a pricing decision, and maybe the sales pitch, but the guy found out how hard is was to just pick up that boat and move it someplace, whether it was putting it up on his car rack, or carrying it down to the water. doing a test paddle can help you avoid that kind of mistake - its just as important to find out what you don’t want in a boat as it is to find out what you will like.

after you have done your basic research (i.e. reading the how to choose a canoe info) you can start narrowing down your choices and then asking more specific boat questions - especially about any brands that may have dealers in your area

generally, there are so many possibilities for you, it isn’t worth recommending a specific boat to buy - you may not have a dealer for that boat for hundreds of miles, for exsample.

also, keep in mind, you can always sell a boat you don’t like if you get one like that.

most likely, you could buy a used aluminum canoe in the 15 to 17 foot length range for under $500 used. In my opinion, a 15 footer aluminum boat would be a much better choise that a mad river adventurer boat - better all around, except no cup holders!

for many years, I paddled 15’ Grumman aluminum canoes - used them for local river trips, and 2 week boundary waters trips - those boats are still in very good condition even though they are well over 50 years old - at 69 pounds, a bit heavy but manageable and not bad at all for two people, but maybe heavier than you’d like to load on your car by yourself (or not, depending on your physical attributes)

you will likely find many relatively cheap coleman canoes and others of that type on craig’s list - Old Town Discovery canoes also - disco’s are not bad boats, but very heavy - coleman’s tend to be heavy and floppy, but even they might do for you - but the easier it is for you to use your canoe, the more you will use it - if its too hard to carry and store, you will use it less. Longer boats will be heavier boats also - do consider the weight of any boat you are thinking of buying.

consider where you will keep your canoe - in back yard, in garage, storage lot ? my H.O.A. rules won’t let me keep a canoe in my back yard - so I would have to keep it at the storage lot, on a rack out in the hot sun for 20 or 25 dollars a month or keep my boats in the garage (which I do with 5 boats) - I could not fit an 18’ canoe across the back end of the garage, but my 16.5’ boat fits - I have 3 15-footers on a rack on one side of the garage - any longer, and those boats would be a big pain to get around - so length can make a difference just in storing your boat, as well as its weight adn indoors vs outdoors would affect my choice of materials

Additional comment on storage space
To the O.P., keep in mind that a boat that is too long to fit a rack alongside one wall of the garage WILL fit if hung from the ceiling at a slightly cockeyed angle (the cockeyed angle won’t waste any space up at ceiling height). Not many people use overhead storage, but good hoist systems only take a few hours to put together and they can be tailor-made to solve a multitude of problems. One hoist system I built for a friend even allows the overhead door to travel for a few feet within the space between the boat and the ceiling, so a little extra complexity allowed the boat to fit where many people would have said “it can’t be done”. Plus, the boat goes up and down with a hand-powered winch so a person need not be strong enough to lift the boat to make this work. There are ready-made hoisting systems available too, for non-do-it-yourselfers.