Picking a family canoe for river trippin

Ok folks,

So here’s my dilemma, I plan on purchasing a new canoe next Spring/Summer. My question to my fellow paddlers is, can you give any advice on a suitable canoe that a family of four can use. I know that someone is reading this and saying “Well what’s your price range, choice of material and where will you be using it most often?” So to that person, here’s my answer.

I want to keep it in the $1,600-$1,800 range. I am looking for something in Royalex preferably, I canoe often throughout the year and mostly on Missouri Rivers where shallow shoals and gravel bars can be really wear down on a Kevlar canoe. I have no preferences on size and I have looked at three different canoes as a possibility but am open to suggestions. I have narrowed it down to an Old town XL Tripper 20’, Old town Tripper 172, and an 18’ Nova craft Prospector. Also something else I should mention is that I use this for both day trips and multi day/week canoe/camping trips as well.

So if any of you approve or disapprove of these choices, I’d like to hear your opinions, as well as anything I should consider.

Thank you and God Bless,


I had a Tripper 172. A great boat but
heavy. Forget about the XL unless you can afford to hire bearers.

Consider a tandem for adults and gear, and putting one or both kids in rec kayaks. It’s really hard to get even an overnight’s worth of camping gear, two adults, and two kids into a tandem, even a big tandem.

On materials, I have both Royalex and composite. Kevlar will wear only if you buy a boat where the maker has used all Kevlar, so the outer layer is Kevlar. But for the Ozarks, the real problem with FG , composite tandems is they are usually made with a foam core bottom, which can get damaged running over rocks or going over ledges. Foam core is hard to repair.

“Wearing down” the hull

– Last Updated: Jul-19-13 12:01 AM EST –

No one will blame you for choosing Royalex for rocky streams, but if all you will be doing is scraping through shoals (not banging into bigger rocks), you might actually be better off with one of the more sturdy composite layups. You'll leave a lot more of your hull behind on the rocks that you scrape if it's Royalex than if it's fiberglass (or at least fiberglass on the outside) or something like Wenonah's Tuff Weave. One guy I know has a composite Nova Craft Supernova and he's scraped it through rocky shallows pretty roughly at times, and in spite of him being a pretty big guy, the hull looks just fine (with discolored scratches and scuffing but not the gouges and dents that would be there if it were Royalex). I don't know what the hull material is though, only that it's quite lightweight and still very tough.

If you do a lot of scraping you'll eventually need skid plates where the wear is most concentrated, but the day when you need them will arrive sooner with a Royalex boat than with "medium-duty" (not ultralight) composite one.

4 giants or 4 midgets ?
assuming you are talking about two adults and two “little” kids - an 18’ prospector model would work fairly well. if the two kids sit side by side in the center of the boat, you would have room for gear ahead of and behind them. that would work for a few years, but eventually little kids get big and you start running into issues with not enough room, especially if they will want to paddle themselves

I’d recommend getting a used boat for about half of what you would pay for new - then as the kids grow up, buy a second used boat and split up into adult/kid in each boat.

Prospector and Trippers
none are great for your intended use. I can see hernias abounding with the XL version at Round Springs on the Current. The Tripper is actually a narrow boat and if the kids (unspecified) are too big, they have to sit in line. Ergo reduced baggage space.

Prospectors are historically deep hulled boats for deeper rivers… not gravel bar shallow rivers. However I have not seen the 18 foot Prospector from NC, just the shorter ones.

I suspect your parameters were the longest Royalex boats you could find.

How big are the kids? I agree with g2d that you need the XL for carrying overnight gear and people but you would need a winch to get it out of the water. I suggest that you use two boats. We did once the youngest kid was six and could paddle.

At this point, what have you rented?

some suggestions

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If you intend to put your entire family in one boat, you are going to need a large one, and I would suggest 18' as a minimum.

I concur with those who have suggested that instead of buying a new Royalex boat, you spend the time between now and next spring looking for a good composite tandem. Any Royalex boat that you but that is large enough for your needs will be a beast to carry. Experience has shown that even if you have 2 strong adults to load and carry the boat, a heavy boat will be used less. There are a fair number of canoes in the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks area and the regions adjacent to it. Come this fall and winter, the odds are that you will come across something that will suit your needs.

Royalex, in comparison to composite boats, has only two virtues that I can think of. First, it has historically been considerably cheaper than high-quality composite hulls largely because less labor is required to mold them. The price gap may be narrowing, however, since the company that has been manufacturing Royalex for the last few years (Spartech) has been bought out by a larger concern which has announced pending price increases. Also consider the savings in sales tax on a used versus new boat.

The second advantage of Royalex is that it is somewhat less likely to crack upon hard impact with rocks. This advantage (due to more flexibility) of Royalex has led to all sorts of unsubstantiated myths that Royalex is some sort of indestructible material that is ideal for river use. While Royalex is less likely to crack, it is not very resistant to abrasion, as others have pointed out. If you disbelieve this, buy a cheap ABS cutting board and take a piece of 60 grit sandpaper to it and see what happens. Many whitewater creek boaters have given up on Royalex as a material for whitewater boats to be used on steep, rocky creeks for this reason. Some were wearing out Royalex boats within 6 months.

I have paddled composite canoes on whitewater a fair bit and I believe that a well-made composite boat in a heavy, all-cloth layup is at least as strong as a Royalex one, and definitely more abrasion resistant.

Royalex has some big drawbacks compared to composites. First it weighs quite a bit more than even a fairly robust composite layup that includes aramid (Kevlar) and fiberglass (especially S 'glass). Second, the increased flexibility makes the Royalex boat paddle less efficiently. Third, the Royalex abrades more easily. Fourth, the Royalex cannot be molded into as fine lines as a composite boat can be.

My last suggestion is to come to the Fall Ozark Rendezvous in October were you will likely see and be able to try paddling a variety of boats:


– Last Updated: Jul-19-13 5:14 PM EST –

The Wenonah Champlain might be worth looking into. 18' long, fairly wide but not quite a barge, lots of volume for kids and gear.

Royalex is $1600 or the Fiberglass/Tuffweave is $2k, but you can probably get a factory second/blem for less than that.

Just something to look into.

I also agree that used boats are the greatest thing ever. paddleswap.com is your friend.

Good Advice
Well so far I have read through your comments and suggestions, and am very thankful for your advice. I like the idea of having a canoe that both me and my wife can paddle and let the kids go in separate kayaks, but it boils down to storage and the age of my children. My son is about to turn 9 and would have no troubles with a kayak, but my daughter is 4 and it would be several more years before my wife would feel comfortable with her being in one by herself. I have only room enough for one watercraft and would literally have to rent a storage locker for anything besides that. I would consider the composites or Kevlar, but I would realistically not be able to afford one of those until the year after next. I could, as you all suggested, look for a good used one, however, I don’t know if I would find anything close to where I’m at since Aluminum and Royalex tend to be the trend here in the Ozarks. I have never rented before because I always had my own guide 14’7 that I used. Weight isn’t an issue because I have no reason to portage anything here in the Ozarks. My brother in law builds trailers and was going to put together a small trailer to haul the XL if I got it. I most definitely would like to get a composite or Kevlar someday but that will be a couple more years. I would love to come down for the Fall Rendezvous, since I was born and raised on the lower Current River, and know it like the back of my hand. To get to see and try out so many quality canoes would be worth the experience.

Guess I am the odd man out here - but
I think a Tripper is ideal if you are paddling day trips and the XL is terrific if you have two strong people to wrestle with it. As far as royalex. I own two trippers that are more than 20 years old and they are still cooking along just fine after a LOT of very hard use including running up on gravel shores regularly and lots of white water - some of it while I was learning. You will want to put some kevlar/glass skid plates on the ends. I think the Tripper is the better boat than a prospector for use with the family because the initial stability is better and the secondary is fine. Personally I prefer the prospector for my own tripping use especially in whitewater but the tripper is a great durable boat for any kind of paddling except flatwater tripping with lots of carries. Then I want a narrower composite boat.

with you on the Tripper–great boat, stable, carries loads up to 1100 lbs but a 80 pounds empty weight it is a bit heavy on long portages

Here is an example
of a very high quality tandem composite tripping canoe that can be had at a price less than a new Royalex tandem within reasonable driving distance of you (if you look around):


Canoeranger knows his territory

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(usually portageless). But just ask if you really want to drag a 100 lb boat well clear of the water when its time to load it or camp for a night.'

One of the not so lovely features of the Ozark streams are their incredible inclination to react and overreact to rain. Sometimes just out of the water is not enough. I have seen the Buffalo rise two feet in 10 minutes.

The Tripper would be able to maneuver the Current. The XL would be a bit of a harder boat to maneuver with the usual width of that river. Both were designed with a little more maneuvering room intended but the Tripper is a favorite of polers in tight quarters! Backferrying is a usual skill for Tripper operators.

Personally I love to trip the Current with a composite boat for rivers. The Esquif Mistral was a very nice boat that wildernesswebb lent to us. Its too short for your needs.

With your length constraint I am afraid you have to write off the Current between Baptist and Cedar Grove, the Jacks Fork and the upper part of the North Branch of the White.

Sweepers require something as short as possible. And those hairpin turns on some stretches will find you with an 18 foot boat sideways in a 17 foot wide opening.

That would definately be an option. I guess it helps knowing where to look, I havent spent alot of time researching. Maybe when the kids get back in school and things calm down at work I’ll have time to look at some of the different web sites.

Thanks again for the info I may just contact that person in the next couple of days.


Well, How About This Idea

– Last Updated: Jul-20-13 5:52 AM EST –

Personally, I think the best choice would be an Esquif Mistral 17'5. http://www.esquif.com/en/touring/mistral-17-5/ It will be lighter and paddle better. Start looking for end of season sales this fall.

Also, I think with something along the lines of a Novacraft Prospector 17 or the OT Tripper and a SOT kayak (as g2d suggested) for the son? I also live in SEMO and a buddy just picked up a couple used ones from an outfitter in Emminence for $150 apiece. I think the 17 would be a little easier to handle than an 18-20' boat? And I think if you had to your son could ride on a pad in front of the center yoke and daughter seated on a pad in front of the stern with either of these two.

As far as some other large boats, I've paddled the 18' Wenonah Champlaign and it's a nice boat. In the tuffweave it would paddle better and it will hold up on Ozark streams. But it would be a bit difficult to handle on the upper Current, Jack's Fork, etc. I can see that or any boat greater than 17' being a lot more prone to getting pinned someplace where you just can't get it turned quick enough. That's my opinion backed up with over 35 years of paddling around SEMO. Got to get to work now, but you're welcome to try out a few sub-17' boats sometime if you give me a holler. I live in Piedmont area and am originally from Cape. Take care!

My experience with the Tripper XL

– Last Updated: Jul-20-13 8:27 AM EST –

For what its worth (and you do get what you pay for!) my experience with the Tripper XL is that it is actually very maneuverable in moving water. I was amazed by that on the few occasions when I paddled it in class 2 and class 3 water. The length can limit options here and there on a tight technical low water stream. But, as you say, the back ferry will generally take care of that rare problem. So no, I would not choose it for that situation - although one redeeming quality is it draws very little water if lightly loaded. The weight and storage problems can be an issue. But if you can solve those issues I can't imagine a more stable and comfortable craft for river travel with a family. Very safe boat.

As a dad with 2 kids I understand your needs/wants. You will definitely want at least an 18’ for overnights with the family. If you pack efficiently you may be able to squeeze in the 4 of you for a week. The canoe will be packed however. I don’t agree with the 2nd boat idea because your 9 year old will want nothing to do with his 4 year old sister! At 9 he is ready to paddle hard and you should consider a 3rd seat. This will limit your carrying capacity though. If you and your wife don’t mind moving a 105 lb beast around then go for the XL. If it is too heavy, then look at the Prospector and the Champlain. Not wanting to deal with a kevlar boat is understandable in your situation.

No, what others would be asking is…

– Last Updated: Jul-20-13 3:22 PM EST –

what have you BEEN paddling...and how was it? Guess my stock choices would be 18' NovaCraft Prospector or 17' OT Tripper, maybe Wenonah SpiritII or Champlain. Used would be a better deal, if it's in pretty good condition.

A Wenonah Champlain in Tufweave
would be a very good option, but speaking as one who, in his early years as man, father, and champion bowler, took the family in an 18.5’ Moore Voyageur on river trips, I do not see how even such a large canoe can carry two adults, two kids, and camping gear for several nights on a clas 1-2 river. It’s too much load.

Put the kids in rec kayaks.

Kids and Canoe Tripping
We took our two children on overnight canoe camping trips when they were small, using a Grumman 17’ canoe. However, it was all flatwater with a few easy riffles. As they got bigger, we added a second canoe, a Mad River Explorer, also 17’, to haul everything. Now they have their own families and spend their money renting a house at the OBX for vacations.

My wife and I still canoe.


Thanks to you all
After talking to several of you and some personal emails from a few of you, I have been invited to try out some different models that some of you currently paddle.

After having looked through many used canoe ads, and looking at the inventory of the outfitters in the Boundary Waters area I have come to the conclusion that a good used Kevlar or composite layup would be best for me and my family as we grow. I will then be able to purchase another on down the line when my kids are knowledgeable enough to safely paddle by themselves.

I liked the fact that Kevlar / composites are quite easy to repair, and the fact that you can sand and refinish every 4-5 years to keep looking nice. I can’t with any certainty pick one particular brand/model, but I have narrowed it down to possibly a good used Wenonah Boundary Water II or a Souris River Quetico 18.5 or Wilderness 18.

I hope to see you all next year at the Fall Rendezvous since I won’t be able to make it this year.

Thanks again to everyone that put in your two cents worth,