New guy looking for some canoe help.

Hi everyone, Im new here and have found lots of information, much of which is overwhelming. Im looking for a good solo canoe, and want one thats going to last for the next few years. I have some money to spend, so I dont want some cheapo big box store plastic thing.

I plan to do day paddles, as well as some 2-3 day trips with it as well. The hardest part is that Im kinda big. I tip the scales at around 290 currently, and am losing weight. I was interested in kayaking, but after looking around and trying it out, I decided I liked canoeing better.

Ive been looking mainly at Wenonah and Bell, mainly due to the fact they are here in MN and they are available at MidwestMTN, a local shop that I like to support.

the Bell canoes Ive been looking at are the merlin 2, the magic,and the north star or northwind

the wenonah canoes are the Prism, voyager, and the encounter.

Now ive read alot of the reviews on this site, but im looking for more specifics as far as how these boats would hold up with my weight and the weight of the gear i might be packing on a trip… I have all utralight gear for backpacking so its not too heavy stuff…

any help?




– Last Updated: Feb-20-06 12:39 AM EST –

I think the Encounter would probably be a good boat for you.

The Merlin II will probably sit a bit too low in the water once you add your gear, plus I think it might feel a bit small to you. Bell shows the optimum weight as 160-280.

Bell shows the optimum load for the Magic as 160-280 as well. That doesn't mean you can't put more in it, but it will perform best in that range. It's a sweet boat, though.

The Northstar us a reasonable size for a tandem/large solo with an optimum load of 250-550 lbs. The Morningstar is another boat that would work well for you. It's a foot shorter, but has the same optimum load. The Northwind has an optimum load of 350-650 lbs. That doesn't mean that you can't paddle it more lightly loaded, but the other two Bells would be a better fit.

The Prism would probably do okay, although you might want to check with Wenonah to see how it would handle with the total weight you'll have in it.

The Voyager will definitely handle the weight. I've paddled one with about 320 lbs. in it and had plenty of capacity to spare. The question I'd have about it is whether your center of gravity would be high enough that the boat might feel tippy to you.

The Encounter is the only one I haven't owned. A friend of mine owns one and he says it will haul a huge load and have capacity to spare, and is very seaworthy. Efficiency-wise it's about the same as the Prism, if I recall the charts in the Wenonah catalog correctly. That would make it about as fast as the Magic, but with a significantly higher load capacity.

For what it's worth . . .

You might check around. for used…

– Last Updated: Feb-20-06 2:34 AM EST –

...solos, since you'll almost certainly have a clearer idea of what you want in a season or two. Also, it depends on what you envision doing. Caressing rocks on a Class III river after you've had proper trainng is a whole lot different than my poky work on flat water. Speed may be important to you, or stabiltiy. Join a club or class if there's one nearby, to try out different models. I find my Wenonah Vagabond a great solo, but might want a bigger one if I was into tripping. My prior solos were a WNN Sandpiper and an Old Town Pack, both good boats, but I wanted something bigger. Mainly, have a good time!

Mad River Freedom Solo
I have one and everyone who has tried it likes it very much. It has good volume for trips and would handle a large paddler with ease.


Paddling style?
From your question I’d guess it’s too early for you to have any clear preferences but it’s worth thinking about.

Most solo’s have a 30" or smaller beam. That makes it easy to sit in the center and paddle on either side. It also affects the capacity of the boat. Tandems usualy have a 33" or wider beam. Canadians solo their tandems by moving to one side and rarely paddling on the other.

Marathon canoeists, who’s goal is to cover many miles quickly, seem to prefer sitting with their feet out in front of them. As the seat gets higher stability decreases. As the seat gets lower kayaking position is approached with the attendant discomfort (for some of us anyway).

Whitewater canoeists, who’s goal is to remain in control of the boat, prefer kneeling which gives the maximum stability without requiring the low seat. Some folks find that tough on the knees though.

Cruisers often prefer seating that allows both since the ability to change positions makes for maximum comfort. For that you need either a bench type seat hung high enough for your feet to go under when you kneel or some sort of pedestal mounted on the floor. I think the Wenonah pedestal mounted tractor works pretty well for that.

You might also want to check out the Swift Shearwater.

I agree with the Encouter
I think either the Encounter or perhaps the Solo Plus. Those would be the two I’d be looking at. Paddle them both and see which you like better. It may very well be the Solo Plus. You can outfit it as a solo only.

Try them out

I go 255 plus carry about 40 lbs of gear. The prism, voyager, and encounter will all carry that weight and more. You should try them all out with and without your gear load. Each has a different feel. Voyager fits me well for flatwater paddling and has a very sporty feel to it. It’s always a pleasure to paddle it. Contact Ketter canoe and make an appointment to try them out - all should be in their stock. Take rubber boots along as you will have to wet foot on entry and exit.


In my opinion the Merlin II does not have enough capacity for you. The magic is a nice boat, but it would only be a day tripper for you. If you’re thinking about using a Bell tandem as a solo, add the morningstar to your list of boats to try.

Check into the solo plus and the
escapade - I put a drop-in box seat behind the center thwart of my escapade for solo paddling. It has lots of tumblehome to accomodate solo paddling, and will do fine as a tandem. Almost as fast as a solo canoe, but greater capacity and handling for trips.

rivers or flatwater?
Sounds like you’re mostly interested in lake paddling, but if you’re planning on rivers the Hemlock SRT is a heavy-load solo worth looking at.