No Perfect Choice in Solo Canoe - Advice on 4 Choices

I am now almost 60 and a pretty active road cyclist. I really love cycling and it has given me both mental and physical benefits. I have met a lot of people a made some good friends.

A few months ago I started looking at used canoes; the idea being that a couple days a week I can paddle at the lake close my home or on the slow moving section of the river. Some much needed upper body and core to compliment my cycling. Unfortunately I have seen nothing that really fits the bill. And even well used canoes are bringing good money. I did canoe back in my late teens and enjoyed it. But have not done much paddling since other than messing with a rec kayak from time to time.

In addition, to the local lakes and slow moving river, perhaps next summer I would like to paddle through some of the big locks on the Erie Canal for a couple of days. Once again slow pretty flat water. I think that the canal gets a little bit repetitive so a couple days would be plenty. I don’t think I would take a lot of gear - some light summer clothing, small tent and sleeping gear but not much food since there are towns that I could stop in for a visit and some food.

One of my goals was to get a fairly light canoe so I can move it to and from my trucks ladder rack with out a struggle. My feeling is that if going paddling is fairly easy (much like cycling) I will want to do it … but if I have to struggle with a large heavy canoe I will not want to go to all the effort for a couple hour paddle.

Since I am not very experienced I was looking for a fairly easy boat for the lake and slow moving river. Something relatively light weight and around $1,500. I don’t see paddling ever replacing cycling, but rather something to compliment it, so I want to keep the investment reasonable.

After doing a bunch of research and visiting a number of paddling shops I came up the the following solo canoe options. (BTW: I am about 6’ 1" 215 and will turn 60 soon).

1.) Esquif Adirondack - 12’ around 43 lbs. Flat bottom. A lot of primary stability. But I fill up that boat pretty good without any gear.
2.) Old Town 119 - Just under 12’ but . Once again it seems a bit small and the build quality is not near what the Adirondack is. But it is 3 layer PE and around 50 lbs.
3.) Nova Craft Fox 14’ - My local paddling store who I have great respect for; suggested this fiberglass boat (also mentioned the 12’ trapper but I think if I was going 12’ the Adirondack would be perhaps a better choice). The shop is confident that this is the boat for me. But I am a bit concerned about fiberglass given my level of inexperience; and the fact this boat seem like a boat that might be a challenge for the first few months. However, down the road it might be the most rewarding - a fast boat that could respond as my paddling skills improved. This is slightly above budget. But it is pretty light at only 50lbs. I do find this boat very intriguing; and I think within a year I would grow into this boat and come to appreciate the speed and handling that the Fox 14 offers.
4.) Silverbirch Firefly 14. This is a UK made boat in Duralite (high quality 3 layer PE) it is probably the most versatile boat here - advertised as an easy-going touring canoe that runs true but can handle up to class 2. This boat has 2.5" of rocker - where as the other boats have very little. This like the Fox has less primary but a ton of 2ndary stability I would expect it would not track quite as well on the flat water. But it would be great in the river. I don’t think this brand is common in the US but it sure is a nicely made PE boat. It is 56lb a bit heavier than what I hoped but not reasonable compared to some of the 75-80 lb old towns that are common her. I think this is like the Jeep Wrangler of the group - tough and offering me a lot of flexibility to explore different waters if I decide to.

Because of my size I feel that a 14’ solo boat might be a better option. The Fox 14’ is probably the nicest made and challenging boat - and the speed on the flatwater lake really appeals to me - probably why I like road cycling (not gravel or mountain biking). But I don’t know about the fiberglass. I some ways the Firefly 14’ might be the best choice for a start since it is 3 layer PE and offers so much flexibility but might be more of a master of none.

Any experiences, thoughts, recommendations on these 4 boats would be appreciated. Or perhaps something that my research and paddling shops did not uncover?

Pretty much any boat that’s not composite (Glass, carbon, kevlar) will be around 50 or higher, so consider that. I recently went from a 14 footer made from Royalex to a 16 footer made of carbon fiber, and I nearly threw the new one in the air when I went to pick it up the first time. It weighs 29 pounds vs 51 that the old one weighed. Material matters in handling, too. I demoed a glass version of my old canoe, and bought the Royalex version without trying it, and it did not feel or handle the same as the glass one.

Composites are much easier to repair than any of the plastics if you’re handy (Or have a friend that is) with epoxy and glass, so also consider that. I have a glass sea kayak that I’ve bashed off rocks and the bottom more times than I can count, and a keel strip or a quick home repair is all that’s ever been needed.

That said, the only canoe for you is one you’ve demoed and liked. Then consider the weight and any other issues you might have.

Any thoughts on paddling style - single blade vs. double blade, straight shaft vs bent shaft, sitting vs kneeling, traditional style vs. sit and switch? All of the above?

Personally I’d go with the 14’ boats. I am a little bigger that you, and paddle a 14’ Wildfire/Yellowstone Solo, mostly kneeling with straight shaft. Can’t comment on the boats. Never seen the Nova Craft Fox 14 or the Silverbirch Firefly 14. Don’t know that I have ever seen a Nova Craft around here at all, not that that means anything. I have seen a few Silverbirch whitewater canoes.

Yep, which boat you choose can make a big difference in paddle choice and technique. I went from a Yellowstone Solo to a Magic this past summer, and the Magic is a rocket with a double bladed paddle and footpegs. Can keep up with my better half in either of her sea kayaks. The Yellowstone felt too wide to use a double blade even when kneeling. I still use a single blade when I’m just poking around, but if I want to cover distance, the double is my choice.

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I knew very little about canoes a couple years ago and also have been a long time cyclist and I’m 67 bad knees etc. We wanted to get into paddling much like you and she wanted a rec-kayak 10’ as it is what all her friends have and we do lots on our slow moving flat river and inland small lakes here in NW PA. I wanted to be up off the water a little more and the freedom of an open cockpit of a canoe. Around here there are 50 rec-kayaks for every canoe and most of the canoes if not all I see are tandems. A neighbor had a OT Guide 147 he wasn’t using and it was in nice shape and only wanted 150 bucks so I grabbed it thinking I could paddle it solo sitting backwards in the bow seat. That position works if you have enough gear to put in the other end to trim the canoe and when not trimmed the wind will spin you around on a dime. Both ends need to be touching the water to track correctly. At least in a fairly flat bottom canoe.

The first time I tried to lift it on the car top alone I thought what did I get into as at 80# and 14’7” it was a bear. Getting it to and from the car to the water or the rack where I keep it was also a tough solo task.

In bike terms it was more like my tour bike loaded than my light road bike. Once on the water the weight doesn’t mean much it was all the steps in between .

I gutted the seats and thwarts out of the OT Guide and added a center seat with back right where I balanced perfect and made new thwarts from aluminum tent poles I had around and because sitting midway the canoe is wider I got a longer than normal double blade to paddle with 260cm. I bought a strap on folding kayak cart on line for about $40 and built a simple DIY loader to get it on and off the car and those two items made it actually work for me long term.

My ideal dream canoe would be a Swift Pack Boat between 14-15’ and about 35-40 pounds with a tumblehome hull and their fancy seat and foot brace system. But at something like $4k it is way out of my price range and I couldn’t force myself to drag it over some of the rocks and stuff we encounter. Like taking a beautiful road bike down a mountain trail. One thing about a heavy 3 layer hull is they can take a beating.

I’m really happy now that I have things set up and we have a limited season up north and we stay off the water until it warms enough to be safe without expensive wet wear. Don’t forget to get a quality PFD as well.

Here is what mine looks like and how I handle getting it loaded.

If you don’t have a cap on your truck my loader would work great as you could walk it up half way from the ground and then get in the bed and bring it on the rack.


I have owned 2 relatively lightweight composite solo canoes. Both were older Curtis canoes. I sold the smaller. Both cost less than $900. I have kept the 36 pound 15’ 8" solo tripper made of Kevlar and S-glass. It has the heavier layup for rocky rivers. Look at used boats if you can find them in your area. I am a fan of composite boats. I do have a Mohawk 14 made of Royalite a lighter version of Royalex that is in the low 40-pound range. It is the only plastic boat I own. All were bought used. I have owned 5 solo canoes over the years.

Curtis solo tripper.


There is a Swift Keewaydin 15 pack canoe in the classifieds for $2K. Located in New York. No affiliation but it looks like a good buy.

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Esquif will be offering the 14’ Echo model with vinyl gunwales this spring, which will add a pound or two from the current wood gunwales but will drop the cost to under $1900, new. That would be a much better option than the four originally listed for what the OP says they want to do.

You’ll meet lots of paddlers who are also cyclists. Being outside, getting some exercise, and appreciating nature without the noise and stink of motorized stuff … it doesn’t get much better!
Of the four boats on your list, my choice is the Nova Craft. For the kind of paddling you describe, I think you’ll find that the improved tracking you’ll get from a slightly longer boat and less rocker is a more important consideration than the turning responsiveness extra rocker offers.
How about a kayak rather than a canoe? There are a lot more reasonably speedy, stable, and not-too-heavy kayaks available, both used and new, in the $1500 price range than there are solo canoes.
Good luck in your search.

Thanks Offshore. A shop a couple of hours away had an Echo and I looked at it - it was ash and was lovely and I fit great. It was about 2,400 which was way above the budget. So I put it back on the rack.

I had driven there to look at the Adirondack 12’ and it was nicely made but it was a bit small for me. So I ruled it out.

I e-mailed the shop and asked if they would be getting a Echo 14’ in with the vinyl gunwales and what the price would be. Thank you for that info - while it might be above budget if the price was a few hundred less than the ash it might be worth stretching the budget by a small amount.


Yes I love to ride outside going to leave shortly for a 28 mile solo ride. Should be mid-50s here in PA.

I think the Nova Fox 14 would be a great boat - especially once I was a better paddler. It would give me room to grow. Just concerned about the durability of the fiberglass. My local shop really believes the Fox is the right boat for me - and she is has been paddling a canoe herself for over 40 years.


I was trained to kneel in Scouts and that is what I did; probably would do the same now. I was thinking bent shaft paddle. Although on most of these boats a double bladed paddle would be worth a try.

My local paddle shop carries Nova and has for years - made in Canada I think the USA dealers are very spread out. Just happen to have one 10 miles from my house. If I was confident in fiberglass I would probably go with the Fox.

Fiberglass isn’t the best for rock hopping, but it doesn’t sound like that’s an important part of your plans. Realistically, it’s highly unlikely that your first boat will be your last (just ask almost anyone on this site!) so if you like your local shop then taking their advice may be the best way to get started.

I don’t understand the concern with FG. I just acquired an old FG canoe and other than fading the hull is in good shape. Unless you physically abuse it , like lose it in the middle of a highway, it will be good for the balance of the OP life.
A friend makes a good living repairing motorised FG boats. The most common repair is a rotted or damaged transom because that part is often wood covered with glass. Motor stress eventually compromises the glass and the wood rots

Since you don’t know if you really like canoeing, I would suggest buying a used boat. Even a smaller tandem boat would work fine.

I agree that your best bet is a used boat. If you are willing to drive a few hundred miles you may find more options.

Will your local dealer let you test paddle their boats? And pick them up? You want to be sure that you are comfy lifting and loading a 50 pound boat…you don’t want to dread loading the boat.

If you are new to canoeing I recommend that you start with a straight shaft paddle so you can learn basic steering and in-water recovery strokes as well as forward strokes.

Since you seem to be in the upstate NY area, watch for some of the older Curtis canoes to turn up. I picked up a fiberglass 25 year old 13’ Curtis Lady Bug in the Rochester area for $900 a few years ago that only weighs 34 pounds and is quite a pleasure to paddle and a breeze to transport. i spotted several other of the Curtis solos in the same price range in PA and NY around the same time.

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I agree that buying used if best if you have the patience. For kneeling with a straight blade, I’d look for a 14’ touring/tripping boat. In royalex something like:

Mohawk Odyssey, Solo 14
Bell Wildfire/Yellowstone Solo
Wenonah Argosy, Vagabond
Mad River Guide/Freedom Solo

The Vagabond is pretty flat, kind of like the Fox (maybe a better option if you would mostly double blade). All the others have either differential rocker or symmetrical rocker of 1-2”. They are all less than 30” wide at the gunnels. There are lots of nice composite versions of these boats.

If you are impatient and want to buy new I’d probably go with the Silverbirch. Looks like a nice boat, but I’m surprised it is 32.5” max width – seems a little wide compared to the boats above. Unless you are going to double blade I’d stay away from the Fox with its flat bottom. Having said that, paddle them and see for yourself.