River trip canoe recommendations

Looking for a tandem canoe for 4-7 day river trips that can handle some whitewater (mostly Class I, up to Class II) but also work for calmer stretches. Don’t plan on on big water. Have done trips similar to lower Green river with no problem, but had more difficulty on the San Juan with borrowed canoes. Already own a canoe for lake travel, but want something for the rivers. Don’t know a lot about design except from what I’ve read, but thinkning something with the following:

-15-17’ length

-moderate rocker

-shallow arch

-straight side


-rounded stem

Does this sound about right or should I think something else on any of those?

Also, what manufacturers should I go towards or avoid? Have looked at Mad River, Old Town and Wenonah.

Any help would be appreciated.

Lots of choices

– Last Updated: Mar-27-15 3:26 PM EST –

Your descriptions of use puts your best choice right in the middle of one of the more crowded design categories. There are many different models that would work well, and there's probably at least one, often more, from every major builder.

People with suggestions will surely do better if they know what your price limitations are. One possible reason is that Royalex boats are no longer made (unless one or two companies really built up their stockpile of Royalex before it became unavailable). So most likely you'll be looking for used boats, but if not, there are some durable composites being made now which can take quite a bit of abuse, but they aren't cheap.

The only thing I'd say at this point is that unless you are paddling in really tight quarters or both paddlers are pretty small, a 15-footer is likely to be a bit small. Years ago I had the chance to do tandem trips in 15-foot and 17-foot canoes of the same basic design, and the 15-footers were slugs by comparison. Granted, the boats in that situation were unsophisticated aluminum models, but for average loads and average-sized people, I think you will find 15-footers to be a little bogged down and sluggish when carrying a load (though still likely useable).

Off the top of my head, one brand I'd add to your list would be Nova Craft (there are other good brands too, but Nova Craft design tends to lean toward general-purpose boats that are traditional and proven, so it comes to mind right away in this case).

With Royalex becoming unavailable,
your shopping may be more difficult. Of course you can buy used.

Although heavy, the Old Town Tripper is good for your needs. Large capacity, fairly agile for so large a canoe. I owned one and was able to use it solo as well as tandem.

I encourage you to peruse offerings from Novacraft. They have a new laminate which approaches Royalex in durability and may be a bit lighter. They also have a variety of designs in different materials and layups.

I’m sorry you had difficulty on the San Juan. The significant rapids can all be snuck or portaged with patience. All in our party ran Government with no problem, except for one tandem that relaxed too soon entering the leftside eddy below the rapid. Maybe you had a higher water level; we had ~1800 cfs.

Price range
I’ll take quality over price any day, but hoping to not go beyond $1500 for new. I’ve been looking at used, but not sure if the model is right for what I want. Still trying to determine if the design I think I need is the right design. I should have said composite or plastic instead of Royalex, some of the books I’ve read through listed Royalex. Regardless, seems like I should probably lean towards that over kevlar.

Low CFS on the San Jaun
The San Juan was running around 500 when we went and was a constant battle to avoid rocks. I had heard only good about it, but from trips with a larger flow.

Do the design features I listed sound right?

Your design criteria will be fine

– Last Updated: Mar-27-15 5:36 PM EST –

Yes, your idea for the general design is the right place to start.

It looks like you should consider shopping for a used boat. The new tough composites are way beyond your price range. You can get new plastic canoes for less than your target price, but Royalex would be so much better than plastic, and the used market is where to find Royalex boats now.

That said, a plastic (some kind of polyethylene) boat isn't out of the question. It's just that they are heavy, some of them don't hold their hull shape very well (that doesn't bother some people at all though), and you won't as easily find plastic examples of many of the nicer designs. Once again though, you might want to check out Novacraft. They have plastic versions of their 15', 16', and 17' Prospector models. I have no familiarity with the plastic boats made by Novacraft, so I don't know if perhaps they retain their shape better than other brands. Their overall reputation for quality is good, and I wouldn't expect their plastic boats to be as crappy as most of the other ones out there. And their Prospector is a fine river-runner design (look for the "SP3" designation to indicate plastic construction, possibly under "outfitter canoes" on the Novacraft website).

Oh, when it comes to plastic boats, it's best to stay away from bargain brands like Rogue River, or any of the other extra-cheap canoes likely to be found at big-box stores. The cheap brands are especially bad at retaining their shape.

In thinking about major canoe brands, I have little experience shopping for a boat that I can't get through a local dealer. Most people aren't that lucky. I don't know your situation, but when it comes to buying new boats not sold through big-box stores, you might need to do some checking to find out how you get your boat shipped to you, and how that affects price.

This will get me started
Thanks for the info. I may need to expand my budget if I go with a new canoe. I’ve been looking for used, but not a huge market where I live, so I might need to be patient for right now.

Is there a standard these days for the material for a canoe to do the trips I described? Again, I’m more into quality than the cost as long as I’m not going extreme for a beginner/intermediate paddler.

Yeah, your criteria are relevant and
sufficiently broad. The stem needn’t be ww broad. Just somewhat blunted like on a Tripper.

A used Dagger Dimension would be nice, but they’re rare, especially in good condition. Dagger Legend is less agile, not much faster, but could do the job, and there might be a new Mad River Legend around somewhere.

Try to avoid 500 cfs trips when you’re tandem with camping gear, and your canoe will last much longer.

Royalex WAS the standard.
Now that no new canoes are made of Royalex, each company that has a replacement uses a material of their own design. Therefore, I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “standard” material for running rocky rivers anymore. The closest thing to “standard” right now would be polyethylene.

Novacraft’s new, durable composite to replace Royalex is called “TuffStuff”. They have a video showing canoes made of TuffStuff being abused, but some of their other hull materials are much more durable than a lot of people would expect. I know a person who has an older Novacraft made from their “Blue Steel” material, and though quite light weight, it seems to tolerate abusive contact on rocks quite well.

Clipper has had a very durable composite hull material for several years. I can’t recall what it’s called, but it wouldn’t be hard to look up on their website. It’s surely not cheap, and Clipper canoes aren’t readily available across much of the country. They have some river runners, including their version of the venerable Prospector.

Wenonah has had a material called “Tuff Weave” for a long time. I’ve heard nothing but good about how well it holds up to rocks. It’s not available on all of their boats, but would likely be an option for anything that could be called a river runner. River runners are not the specialty of Wenonah, but they too have Prospectors, again, their own interpretation of the design.

I’m too ignorant about the finer points of the various composite hull materials to give much advice here, but since you asked the question, this might get you started until someone who knows more chimes in.

I appreciate the information. This puts me much further along than before, thanks again.

Nova craft Prospector 16
Works nicely as an all round boat for 2 older people who aren’t in great shape anymore. Handles well for us in Class I & 2 and hauls a load well. Also use it on small lakes for fishing with me as the trolling motor.

My feeling is that a 17’ - 18’ Canoe
is the way to go for tandem river tripping. The extra length is all in the belly of the boat which significantly increases the load carrying capacity and which enables you to load the canoe without getting up above the gunwales too much with gear which is safer and easier. Also, a longer hull, everything else being equal, will float over gravel bar runs and other shallow situations that much better because it has less draft than a shorter hull (assuming all else is equal). One disadvantage is weight - but if that is not a huge problem for you then I would steer you to a longer hull. Personally I believe any disadvantages to a longer hull are significantly outweighed by the advantages.

Hemlock, Eagle, Swift’s DuMoine or Prospector 16 if one really thinks those rounded stems have any value.