Need Advice on Canoe Choice, Please

Greetings! I’m new to canoeing and am looking for advice on my first canoe purchase, please. I have a wife and two young boys (currently ages 2 and 4) and I’m looking for a good, multipurpose canoe to take the family out for recreation. I’ll sometimes have my wife along and sometimes it will be just me and the boys. I hope to fish, paddle, and occasionally take the canoe for overnight camping. I live in Kentucky and will generally be limited to fairly calm waters like lakes and slow-moving creeks. Here are my criteria, I think, and I’m asking for advice on what make and model canoe is right for my family:

  1. Stable enough that an excited four year-old won’t put us all in the drink.

  2. Easy-to-medium portage difficulty for one man. I have a small pickup and will be transporting and loading/offloading on my own. (My internet searches have led me to the conclusion that lighter generally means more expensive and this will, of course, impact #3, below.)

  3. I’d like to spend no more than $650 or so on the canoe, not counting accessories.

    I thank you all in advance for your kind assistance.

If what is
recommended is not in your area, the recommendation won’t do you much good. I’d recommend finding a dealer or three in the area, seeing if they have rentals, demos etc… If you find something you like, see if you can get a deal on a leftover rental or demo, or look used for what you decide you liked. I did internet search before I bought my first canoe, but after lifting and paddling several, ended up with the near opposite of what I thought I wanted. $650 is a limiting factor, although you could find a good used canoe for that money. Seats four, portaged by one is another issue as well. Good luck and good times, and happy new year!

Old Town Camper?
I have one, Roylex, not too heavy, about 60 lbs I think. Stable, it was great when my twins where small. We camped with it, fished, dumped it over with our swimming suits on, I still have it. It might be worth a look. Not sure of the price, but it should be close to $650-700

Get over the $650 limit and get a
Wenonah Spirit II. ABS or Tuffweave. Whatever you get for $650 may be much less suitable than the Spirit II, and will have much less resale value.

I lived in Kentucky, and the Spirit II is fine for all the lakes and most of the rivers.

Your $650 limit is tough
$650 limits your choice of stable family canoes that paddle decently to just a few plastic hulls. The Old Town Charles River in polyethylene and the Mad River Adventurer are the two best choices and both are nearly 90# in the real world (both advertised weights are less and seldom seen in production boats). There are single layer plastic canoes from Pelican and others that will get you on the water, but will lead to two things. One is that you will get so tired from lugging around an 80# plus boat that is a struggle to paddle, that you swear off canoeing for ever. Second is that you find out that you and your family love being out on the water but that your canoe is too heavy and paddles poorly and you need to replace it. I hope if you go with a budget beater for the first canoe that you progress to scenario #2 and upgrade to a canoe that will make you smile and your family anxious to get out more often.

Its best to skip that stage altogether and not suffer with a heavy canoe. Your children are young and you will end up doing all the carrying and the bulk of the paddling. Putting a canoe that weighs over 60# back on top of your vehicle by yourself after paddling for several hours is not fun. The 3 seat molded plastic models are especially hard to carry, the fixed center seat is right where you need a yoke, not a seat, to carry the cnoe. 80# on top of your head is a pain for even 50’ let alone a 100 yard carry from water to car.

g2d suggests the best all-around canoe for your usage, the Wenonah Spirit has a balance of

the characteristics that you need with your family. It is a stable, easy to paddle and carry canoe that will serve your needs for a long long time. It is a canoe that you should test paddle and compare all your other choices against. And please, please, don’t buy without test paddling with your whole family aboard in PFDs. We could suggest a dozen canoes at 17’ that would measure within an inch or so in every dimension, but would paddle differently and feel differently with your crew aboard. And lift every canoe you try ,and walk at least a hundred feet with it before deciding you can manage its weight. Putting a heavy canoe on your shoulders with help and setting it down again is far from how it will feel as you climb up a riverbank with it.

The last suggestion is to look very seriously at a sliding front seat for the canoe you buy to make it easier for your young children to paddle as they grow.


Spirit II
Thanks for the input, and since several of you have suggested the Spirit II, I have done some research and have a few additional questions. First, it looks like the Royalex Spirit II (cheapest material) is listed by the manufacturer at 68 pounds. Do Wenonah canoes, like some other brands alluded to in this and other threads, generally weigh in quite a bit heavier in “real life”? What are my odds of finding a good used Spirit II? Thoughts on cost (ballpark, I realize that much depends on age, condition, etc.)? Given my needs is Royalex my best bet? If money were no object, would it be worth it, given my intended uses, to spend more for one of the lighter materials like Tuf Weave or Kevlar? Thanks again for the help.

Spirit II

– Last Updated: Jan-01-06 8:33 PM EST –

I'd get the Tuff Weave for the use you described. It costs no more than the Royalex.

As far as weight, Wenonah's basic market niche is fast, lightweight canoes. My opinion is that they are not overly optimistic on their published weights.

I wouldn't transfer a lot of the discussion about some manufacturers published weights over to other manufacturers.

Had to update this post to add a caveat, as plaidpaddler said, forget the $650 price cap unless you have one of the following:
a) a lot of time
b) a fair bit of luck
c) a willingness to compromise on the hull you buy so as to avoid the need for a or b.

Bought my …
Spirit II off of Clarion (above poster) and love it. My wife really likes the bow sliding seat so she can adjust it to where she wants. We’ve paddled lakes in 2005 and are gearing up for some river runs this year. It’s Royalex. I can load it myself onto our minivan. It’s a bit harder by yourself ONLY because we haven’t gotten a roof rack yet. (This spring) Hope you find what you’re looking for. Also check this web sites classified ads. That’s where I found ours.

I may be somewhat of a dinosaur, but I like the aluminum canoe as a beginner’s entry level canoe - especialy for families. They need no upkeep and there are no storage concerns.

They tend to be fairly lightweight (75# or a little more). They last forever and can become a family heirloom that is passed down through the generations. Your two-year old may take his two-year old out in it one day.

Someday you might want to upgrade to a “better” canoe, but many people don’t feeling that the old aluminum serves their needs fine. Or they get a new one but hang on to the aluminum to use as a loaner or just because it has become family.

The ones I know of are wide and stable and are the perfect family canoe.

You probably want a 17 footer. You can buy a brand new Alumacraft Quetico 17 for a little over $700. A brand new Grumman 17 is perhaps $850. However, used ones can be found for $350 - $500.

We had an Alumacraft 17 growing up. It was a canoe camping boat, fishing boat, swimming raft, etc. Did it all. That was the early 1960s. My brother owns it now.

My sister and her family wanted a canoe. I helped her select one - a 17 foot Sears aluminum canoe - $350. It has worked very well for them. It is stored in their backyard, chained to their chain-link fence.

Think Used…
…and your budget becomes much more realistic.

Check the classified section, your local paper, the BBs of any area paddling clubs, the local Buy&Sell, mention that you are looking to friends and co-workers…cast you net as widely as possible, keep looking, keep some cash readily available, and you should be able to hit something that’ll suit your needs.

Our Oneida 18, bought from a friend who’d “gone Kavlar”, cost us $350 Cdn. Our BlueWater 16’ Prospector, in Kevlar, cost us $800 brand new - an insurance job, topsides badly scratched in shipping, but we can live with that for the $1600 Cdn saved. Takes patience and a willingness to compromise to some degree re your ‘ideal’ canoe - but you can always pick up a really cheap “hey, it floats…” boat to play with while you lay back in the weeds waiting for the right deal - then resell the flaoter…

I remember Wenonah bragging that
their weights are stated conservatively, so that no customer is going to have a big overage.

I agree that I would prefer the Tuff Weave, but an old Paddler magazine test of the ABS versus Kevlar found that the ABS was significantly more maneuverable, but tracked about as well.

family canoe
Best to buy used, what you see is what you get. Old Town discovery or Penobscot or Mad River Malecite or Explorer. Wenonah sundowner.

Do not believe 75# lbs is light. The lighter the better or the boat will sit and rarely be used. Do not buy a 95# canoe. Your quality family time is worth what it takes to get a useful boat whether it be a pram or a canoe. 16’ minimum, 4 is a crowd in a canoe unless your children promise not to age. Sundowner would be a great choice.

Stability is subjective. Canoes are “tippy”. My fiberglass MR Malecite at 63# holds my 2 teen daughters and 90# coon hound with both paws on the gunnel. First thing to do when you get the boat is to flip it over on the water to get a feel for the hulls inherent stability.

If you have some time and are moderately
handy, you can build a good canoe from plans from JEM and stay in budget.

Should I be so concerned about weight?
Should I be so concerned about weight? Or, put another way, I really don’t mind 10 or 15 minutes of inconvenience if it means a good day on the water with my family. My question, though, is if I buy a 75 or 85 pound canoe, will I be physically able to manage loading and unloading? I’m 5’10" and 185 and reasonably strong, I suppose. I mean I’m no powerlifter, but… So, for those of you with much more experience, what do you think? Are we talking about inconvenience or torture/impossibility? For example, I can buy an Old Town Charles River, 16’ in Polylink 3 that (according to OT) weighs 85 pounds for $600 at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Or, if I have to have that same canoe 20 pounds lighter in Royalex, I think it ends up costing me about $1000 or so. Will that 20 or 22 pounds make that much difference in loading/unloading? What about noticeable maneuverability differences to a novice like me? Any?

couple of considerations

– Last Updated: Jan-02-06 6:43 PM EST –

How high is your Vehicle? If it is the height of a conventional minivan, I'd say you would not load it more than a couple of times.

Are you going to get aftermarket roof racks? The bars extending out past the roof line makes loading a lot easier. You also don't beat your car up with the loading and unloading.

Basically though, I'd say you will not "want" to load it up and take it out very much. 85 pounds is a lot to load by yourself. Having extension racks and a low vehicle would help, but it would still be a chore.

I have a Toyota Tacoma
4-door pickup. It’s probably best described as one of the bigger “small” trucks. I guess I’m figuring on doing a two-stage load. Get it partially into the bed, climb into the bed myself, and then lift it the rest of the way.

I hadn’t really decided on a roof rack.

My buddy can load his OT 174 on an F150

– Last Updated: Jan-02-06 7:10 PM EST –

He has a home made wooden rack that he uses to haul it. He comes at it from the rear, gets the bow up on the rack and then pushes the canoe forward.

I would not want to try it any other way with an 85 pound canoe. Coming at it from the side without extension racks would lead to bashing up the paint, or worse.

Load from back end of truck
For a short truck like your Tacoma you need to have the rear rack mounted on the bed somewhere from the middle to the tailgate. You walk up to the truck with the canoe on your shoulders and place the bow over the rear rack bar. Squat down slowly till the stern is resting on the ground. Come out from under the canoe and pick up the stern end and push the canoe forward till you can set it down into your gunwale brackets. When your racks are set for your canoe it should take no more than 5 minutes till you are tied down and on the road.

Coming up alongside the truck and loading is much trickier and leaves you more subject to wind as you elevate the canoe. With crossbar extensions you can keep from lifting the entire weight of the canoe, but approaching from the tailgate simplifies the procedure.

There is a weight where each of us goes from comfortable lifting and carrying to struggling. It will of course vary with the individuals strength and stature. I am about your size and have loaded dozens of really heavy canoes solo, but it is a struggle, and i do it only as a demo, or to help those people at the takeout who have just discovered how much harder it becomes after a day of paddling or when the neighbor is not at the takeout like he was in the driveway at home. 60-65# is my B.E.G. for someone your size. The weight is not the only consideration, the bulk of a 17’ canoe along with how much wind it catches while on your shoulders must also be considered.

If you must go with one of the heavier layups due to cost limits, buy or make yourself a good yoke with contoured pads. It will make any canoe feel 15-20# lighter. Good pads can be added to any standard wooden yoke.

On the water there is no difference in handling between a kevlar or fiberglass version of the same hull with a normal load. The difference between 400# and 430# in a Spirit is nothing. Even 300-330# with two light paddlers is hard to tell. There is a noticeable difference between the Royalex and composite versions. Nothing to say the Royalex version is a barge and composite a speedboat, but paddle them back to back and you can tell.


there’s more
than just the loading part. Where will you be putting in/taking out? Launch ramp next to the truck? Off a dock down a ramp? Down a trail then a mud bank?It’s kind of comparing power lifting competition to the worlds strongest man competition. Not just a clean/squat/jerk thing. The lighter the canoe the more places you’ll be able to check out if you want.

I posted a long response to your inquire on the fishing board of this fourm. But for me, I’m going with the Sportspal square stern. It is a butt ugly canoe, it fits my bill, which is similar to yours.

But canoes are like potato chips, you can’t stop at just one. So I’m already looking at a second.

But why the Sportspal–well–cheap, light, and stable.