Need Gear Advice

New poster here. I’ve searched the board for similar posts and haven’t found one -

I grew up paddling flatwater rivers and some Class I-II in Virginia, WV, and North Carolina. I haven’t owned a canoe in about 20 years, but now I’m looking to take my wife and seven year old out this summer for a couple of trips to get them to love the water the same way I remember it. Being older, and frankly, fatter, I need a family canoe that meets our needs -

I’m 320lbs, my wife 160lbs, my son 60lbs and growing. I’m looking for a boat with good primary and secondary stability for wildlife photography and family comfort. I don’t want to have to deal with oil-canning or other in-water distortion, since we’ll already have quite a bit of drag from the weight.

I live in Texas now, so shallow water navigation will be a must. I’d like something that is easy to schlep over the occasional ‘dry spots’ that we get down here.

I’m open to any technology that will work for our needs. Do inflatables offer better shallow water capabilities under load? Are full aluminum hulls more capable of holding shape while bumping rocks along the way?

Thanks for any advice!

A Mad River Explorer
comes immediately to mind.

It is a heavy beast.

Tell ya what, at the very least look at at the Bell Northwind RX. I know I recommend this canoe a lot but it’s because it’s about as perfect a “do everything” canoe that you can find. The RX version is 16’6 inches long, and with aluminum gunwales you wont see any “oil canning”. It’s surprising fast, quite maneuverable, and yet amazingly stabile…and it’s surprising just how shallow the water can be that you’ll glide through. Now, I’m not as heavy as you, but just yesterday I took out the Northwind with my girlfriend in front, our son in the middle, a heavy cooler, folding camp chairs, and photography equipment…I was standing in the rear and “poling” with my paddle through very shallow water and weeds searching for turtles for our son. I do think you’d be very pleased with that boat. The downside is, Bell is going out of business but you can still find a Northwind at most Bell retailers (Rutabaga, etc.). Good luck to you.

If you are near San Marcos
I would suggest you call TG Canoe and Kayaks.

Very experienced retailers and sell boats to people from all over Texas. I was primarily a sea-kayaker (being located on the Tx coast) but went to them when I decided to purchase a solo canoe.

Good luck.


I’m suggesting more carrying capacity.
The Wenonah Champlain, 18’ and 37" wide, sits light on the water and does well loaded on lakes or rivers. Not quite a WW boat but will handle most TX rapids. Can be bought in Royalex or Tufweave.

The Wenonah Cascade, 17.5’ and 37" wide, is more nearly a pure river canoe. Wenonah thinks it’s a WW canoe, but it’s really a freighter that turns well and runs dry on rivers. Fine on lakes, but not speedy.

The redoubtable OT Tripper is a bit heavy, but drags swiftly over wet gravel bars. Great river canoe. 17’ long, 37" wide.

Manufacturers claims notwithstanding, you need a big boat to carry 400 to 600 pounds on shallow rivers. The previously suggested canoes are not small, but they aren’t big either. A Mad River Explorer will wear right through its V bottom on shallow TX limestone gravel.

Similar situation
My wife and I have a similar weight disparity. So far, we’ve settled on an Old Town Camper 16’ RX as our most preferred canoe. It has excellent primary stability and it is light enough for the two of us to car top and carry with ease, which is of particular interest to my wife. I have noticed a little oil-canning and it’s not a fast boat, but we’ve accepted those trade-offs.

There is an older thread from last year on this topic that might have some other useful advice. In it I listed a lengthy breakdown of a number of canoes I’ve taken out for test drives.

Regarding the recommendation above for the Wenonah Champlain. It is an excellent boat. It feels just as stable as our Camper, tracks straighter and moves faster too. If I could afford the lighter kevlar and had room to store an 18 foot boat, I’d possibly have this model instead. We tried one again at this spring’s paddle fest, and once again we liked it the best of the ones we tried at the event.

Good luck in your search for the right boat.

Old Town Tripper
I’ll second g2d’s mention of the OT Tripper as a canoe to consider. It has good primary stability which makes it a relatively non-threatening canoe for taking beginners out, it also has enough secondary stability to handle whitewater, and has enough capacity to carry a big load. The main disadvantage to the Tripper is that it weighs 80 lbs. I’d avoid an aluminum canoe unless you need to have something that can be stored outdoors in the sunshine. Aluminum doesn’t slide over rocks easily and is hot to the touch when sitting in the sun. To be able to glide over shallow areas a large and relatively flat-bottomed canoe is good. I don’t see any advantage to an inflatable in that respect.

At 75#, the Royalex Champlain is a bit
heavy. But I wouldn’t want a Royalex Champlain, because a boat that big with wide expanses of Royalex is likely to be a speck floppy. (The 17’ Spirit II in Royalex doesn’t have this problem.)

Your Camper 16 is quoted as weighing 59 pounds by OT. The Kevlar Flexcore Champlain is 57 pounds. But in my opinion, Kevlar Flexcore is not a good layup for TX conditions. Gravel bars will wear through the gelcoat and start fuzzing the Kevlar.

Here’s the surprise. The Tufweave layup has a claimed weight of 61 pounds. Tufweave, glass fibers cross-woven with polyester fibers, wears MUCH smoother than Kevlar. And though Wenonah claims otherwise, I think Tufweave will be stiffer and stronger than a layup using Kevlar for the outside cloth. Cheaper than Kevlar, too.

If I were buying a really big canoe for gravel bar and ledge rivers, a Tufweave Champlain would be high on my list.

Thanks all for the good ideas
On the subject of wear, if I went Tuff-Tex or Kevlar, how much of a service life would I get out of the canoe with moderate use in gravel conditions? Is it something that would wear through in a few seasons, or is it mostly cosmetic?

Thanks again for the great ideas.

The Mad River Explorer
is a canoe I have paddled a lot in varried conditions. In my opinion you would find it too small for your purposes. 540 pounds is a serious load in the Explorer and it oil-cans grossly.

The canoes discussed below are all higher capacity and I think more likely to suit. Regarding the weight distribution issue standard seat placement will not suit you well. Sometimes a canoe with bench seats can be paddled backwards" with a child very successfuly. To trim slightly down at the rear, the bow seat and probably the stearn seat will need to be moved forward. Relocating seats in most canoes is not too difficult but may require buying new longer seats. A canoe with a sliding bow seat would be a good start. Good luck, feel free to contact me if you get a canoe and want to move seats yourself. I have have done several.