Looking for advice on my next canoe

I currently have an appleby 17 ft aluminum canoe. I am happy with how the canoe handles, but I am thinking about getting a 14 ft composite canoe. For example a old town discovery 133. Or a used wenonah. My question to the community is, do the newer composite canoes handle better than the old aluminum ones? And do you guys think I’ll be happy with either the old town or a wenonah?

The term “composite canoe” is generally applied to a boat that is constructed from a composite of some type of resin and some type of structural fabric or fabrics. A wide variety of fabrics have been used including fiberglass, aramids such as Kevlar, carbon fiber, Innegra, polyesters, Diolan, Dynel, Spectra, and others.

In that sense the Discovery 133 is not a composite canoe. It is a plastic canoe. The only structural material in the hull is polyethylene although the rotomolding process allows the use of three different formulations of polyethylene in the molding process which results in an expanded foam core that provides stiffness and a degree of inherent buoyancy.

Most Wenonah canoes are composite canoes although Wenonah did make and sell plenty of Royalex canoes and now sells some T-formex canoes. T-formex and Royalex are likewise plastic materials the main structural element of which is ABS.

Composite canoes have many advantages over aluminum canoes. Composite canoes can be fashioned with a much wider variety of shapes and generally have much sharper water entry lines which make them more efficient. Many aluminum canoes are made from identical or mirror image halves that are riveted together and the presses required to form the halves are expensive. The aluminum also cannot be bent into sharp angles without weakening it.

Rotomolded canoes like the Discovery can be molded into a somewhat greater variety of shapes, although the rotomolding process again prohibits very sharp angles. The three-layer rotomolded polyethylene canoes tend to be quite heavy, often as heavy as many aluminum boats and sometimes heavier depending on the gauge of aluminum used and the number of ribs. Composite canoes can be made much lighter than either aluminum or rotomolded poly boats of similar size. Composite boats are also typically stiffer than either polyethylene or Royalex canoes and they resist deformation much better than either although they are more prone to crack with a hard impact.

As a general rule a composite canoe will be more efficient than a plastic canoe as a result of being stiffer and often having more hydrodynamically-favorable lines. But there have certainly been plenty of cheap composite canoes made over the years that are real dogs, so that is not an absolute rule.

There is a big difference between a 17 foot aluminum tandem canoe and a 14 foot composite canoe. Most 14 foot composite canoes are going to be solo canoes. What use do you intend for a new boat?


The discovery 133 that you mention is listed as 40.5" wide. Other companies also sell short wide canoes billed as good for fishing, but something short and wide like that is going to take more work to go significant distances and be more difficult to do efficient forward strokes. If you are planning to paddle any significant distance I’d stay away from the short wide canoes. For tandem paddling go with a canoe that is at least 15 ft. If the canoe is for solo use 14 ft is a common length, but solo canoes are typically about 30" wide or less.

Most of my use is I like to go to the local lakes and mostly follow the shore lines and take it easy, and unwind from work. I do not do camping trips at this time, I also sometimes take my girlfriend with me. I usually try to stay in calm waters but might try going down a river this season. I occasionally will go fishing, but not often. I’m usually not out for more than 6 hours at a time.

Aluminum canoes have clunky lines because they cannot be formed into sleek shapes. They are heavy but durable. they tend to be beamy and can carry load. they have flat bottoms and ride over waves. They are slow but get the job done.

Now you have a chance to buy a sleeker faster canoe and you are looking at a short stubby beamy little boat. I would pass on it.

Do you have a particular used Wenonah canoe in mind? Asking whether a Wenonah is a good canoe for your usage is sort of like asking whether a Ford would be right for you. There are many, many Wenonah models.

Something like a 15’ Prospector might suit your needs.

It sounds like you want a tandem that handles well solo.

Coming from a 17’ aluminum, I assume you are looking for something lighter and more efficient.

A short fat heavy plastic boat may disappoint.

What is your budget?

My budget is somewhat limited at the moment, I would probably try and stick around the 1,200 range. I went and looked at some old town plastic canoes in store today, I quickly decided that that was not the way to go. I found a wenonah south fork 15 ft 8 near me. But I do realize that that is also a plastic canoe. I am aiming to have a tandem that is decently efficient and that I can handle well solo.

What did you not like about the three layer poly canoes you looked at? Was it just weight?

I’m far from any kind of expert on canoes as I bought my first and only canoe a year ago used and it was a 14’7” three layer poly tandem that I had hopes to use as a solo most of the time. We are not tiny people and I felt the shorter tandems are really cramped in the bow as a tandem and when turned around sitting in the bow backwards to use solo they are not long enough to ride level without adding a bunch of ballast to the other end.

In my mind 14’7” is not a practical length boat for our needs, but I did find out it was a wonderful boat when I would kneel and kept the weight balanced correctly solo. So I converted it to a solo by removing the seats and putting one back where I wanted it.

IMO it is way harder than I thought it would be to find one canoe in a shorter length to be both a tandem and a solo.

Other than a little heavier than I would like and something I quickly figured out how to work around I haven’t found any problems with the more price friendly poly boat.

$1200 should be enough to get a nice used canoe but may require some patience in this heated market. 16 feet is a good length for paddling both tandem and solo, but that could be modified if the tandem paddlers are less or more heavy than average.

$600 will get you plenty of good used canoes.

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I think you probably need at least a 16 foot canoe to use as a tandem in order to get enough room for the bow paddler. Shorter tandems need to be wider to allow for enough room up front.

I have been using my aluminum successfully on the last few trips, I think I might save up as much money as I can and extend my budget further to try and find a 16 ft Kevlar, or maybe a t formex wenonah, but depends on what comes up for sale and if I like it when I go look at it. Is winter the best time to try and find a good deal on a canoe?

Not sure of your location, but here is a short tandem in your price range. This looks like a Kevlar Fisherman. It is a steal.