Shallow water solo canoe that can handle scraping

My local rivers run shallow in the summer so scraping is a fact of life. I’m looking for a solo canoe for myself and my 55 lb dog. My wish list: durable and/or easily repairable to deal with scraping on rocks. I’d prefer to keep is under 50-ish lbs for loading on the car solo. I don’t need the ability to carry overnight gear and I don’t fish - this is strictly for 10-ish mile day trips with my dog. A bit of a keel to make it less sensitive to wind. My current canoe is an old Royalex Dagger whitewater boat that would be perfect except for it gets blown around by wind too much. It’s awesome on calm days but when a crosswind comes along it’s a pain. I’d like to buy new so I don’t spend all summer looking for a used one. Used boats are in short supply due to Covid. My preference is not to have a fancy kayak style seat - I prefer to kneel with my butt leaning on a thwart and paddle with a single blade canoe paddle. I’m not particularly price sensitive. Cheaper is better but $2500 or so wouldn’t be a deal breaker.

Any suggestions on brand/model?

Curious what you will get for recommendations.

White bottom paint will help hide scratches.

Much will depend on how sharp these rocks are that you will be hitting.

I used to have a OT guide 119 that was cheap enough that I never worried about scraping anything, and it was reasonably light at 45 lbs.

I have a couple canoes coming in soon from slipstream, including a carbon Kevlar wee lassie at 13lbs. I am sure it will get some scraping and am also sure that it will be fine, but the overall structure is much more “flimsy” so I have some concerns about how well it will handling exiting and entering to walk around shallow water

The Old Town Discovery 119 is on my list, mostly because it’s so cheap I won’t feel bad about abusing it. What I’m seeing is that the original with the traditional style seats don’t seem to be available any more. Places near me are carrying an updated model with a fancy kayak style seat and foot rests. It’s still cheap enough (about a grand) that I could buy one and remove the seat and foot rests and glue in some foam to kneel on and add a thwart to lean on if necessary.

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The “conventional wisdom” has been that Royalex boats are best for use in shallow rivers. But Royalex is only available used and prices have been going up.

T-Formex is a Royalex-replacement polymer but you will probably not have an easy time finding a used canoe in that material.

Another plastic alternative is polyethylene. Canoes made of solid thermoformed PE sheet are too floppy for use unless reinforced internally with clunky center consoles and seats with “footers” that extend to the hull bottom to stiffen it. I would avoid them.

Three-layer rotomolded PE canoes have sufficient rigidity to not require an internal “endoskeleton” for stiffening.

Then there are composite and aluminum canoes.

Aluminum holds up pretty well to abrasion but sticks to rocks, is noisy, hot in summer, and cold in winter. It is the most maintenance-free alternative.

Although many have promoted the use of Royalex boats for river use, both Royalex and polyethylene are subject to abrasion. When the outer surface of a Royalex boat has abraded into the inner core, repair becomes somewhat tricky. Three-layer PE boats that have undergone extensive abrasion are even harder to repair since it is rather difficult to get adhesives to bond strongly to PE. I personally know rather ardent whitewater open boaters who were wearing out Royalex canoes within one year of use due to abrasion, but these were guys who went out of their way to find rocks to boof off of.

Composite boats actually hold up to abrasion better than most people give them credit for. I would not choose an ultralight composite boat for the type of use you describe but a canoe with an all-cloth layup could do just fine. Composite canoes are more likely to crack with a very strong impact but they can take some pretty hard hits. The gel coat will abrade and they will acquire lots of scratches on the hull bottom, but they are actually easier to repair than plastic boats most of the time.

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I’ve seen lots of people say they like their 119’s,but I honestly strongly disliked mine. Terrible initial stability. Always felt like it wanted me to go swimming.

It would probably be better with a kayak seat due to the much Lower center of gravity.

I bought mine at dicks about 8 years ago for $400. Sold it for $450 last fall. I would have been pretty unhappy if it had cost a grand

as mentioned above, the Royalex boats hold up well, but I found my Dumoine in Royalite slid off the rocks better, with less abrasion. Good luck finding something in either, I just sold my Reflection 15 after 21 years of beating the snot out of it, and the Dumoine and Encore went as well, Encore in decent shape as my kid knew how to miss most rocks, and the Dumoine, 2 broken gunwales, thwarts and seats broken out as well, but a hull that simply has superficial scratches. The Reflection never needed patching, just got Kryloned every couple weeks, despite hundreds of rock infested whitewater runs and poling exploits.
Note you mentioning a keel. Shallow water and keels don’t go well together. What helps you with windage hurts you in maneuverability i.e…rock dodging.
In the composite boats, a few poling buddies used Millbrooks, Souhegans and Cohos. Both make a good solo plus canoe, and Kaz will throw in an extra layer of glass below the waterline if you want. My old buddy Ed Hayden (poling guru had an extra layer in his Souhegan. The link can also take you to Millbrook boats…“these boats really float” lol.

and keels dont help at all for going straight
They are a real detriment on rivers
Block coefficient (hull shape)determines tracking but a hard tracker isn’t an asset on rivers


I can speak from experience the Wenonah’s Tuffweave layup can handle a lot of abuse. Mine is a 30 year old Rendezvous (no longer made). I don’t know much about their current models other than what I read. I do expect that one of Northstar’s solos in their IXP layup might be even tougher. Like others said though, forget the keel. Handling in wind is more about hull design, trim, and experience.

The Esquif Adirondack looks perfect other than the keel. Light weight (under 40 lbs), enough capacity for me and my dog, low freeboard, T-Formex construction, low price. The downsides are the keel and the fact that the nearest dealer is two states away. The keel is pretty small, like maybe it’s there as much to add stiffness to the hull as to aid tracking, but you guys are probably right that it would drag. They have a Huron 15 which looks like a good option but I can’t tell from the pictures if it has a keel or flat bottom.

EDIT: I see that the Wenonah Wilderness is available in T-Formex and I could probably order one through a local dealer, so this is also an option.

Like having rock skis. Any old boat will do. It could be aluminum, royalex or cross link poly.


Good luck finding a canoe with a keel. Haven’t seen those in years. We love our Wenonah royalex fisherman that is about 20 years old with around 4500 miles on it. In August we are dragging on rocks a lot. It is a tough old boat! Since no one makes Royalex canoes anymore I would look for T-Formex. We just scored a used wenonah royalex solo late last fall but haven’t had a chance to use it yet but certainly looking forward to it. From reviews and specs it sounds like T-Formex is the way to go. Good luck in finding your next river canoe.

FWIW: Also called prismatic coefficient.

Kevlar is the most abrasion resistant, but “fuzzes” up when scuffed. So some makers will put a layer of nylon cloth on the areas that will get the most punishment.

Buying a used kevlar canoe for a rock boat makes no sense.

If it were me I would find a used aluminum canoe. It could be somewhat beat up because it is going to get abused. There are some really good bottom coatings now like Wetlander that make the bottom slippery for sliding over rocks. They are commonly used by drift boaters. Then the alum hull will not stick on rocks. Be ready to get out and wade when it gets shallow.

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I carry a double-blade (kayak-style) paddle in my canoe for long or windy days, alternating with my traditional canoe paddle according to need and mood. Much more flexible and interesting approach, imo.

Stay away from Al… it’s sticky when it hits rocks… and loud.

Lots of good Rx boats out there with lots of life left.

White bottoms make me laugh… make the boat ugly to hide scratches!

Look up Wetlander.

I’m sure the OP is gone by now, and I’m far from an expert but we do run a lot of shallow water solo and my solution to scraping on a budget is to have as much flotation in the boat as possible and draw the least amount water. In my case I bought a used OT Guide 147 that has something like a 800 pound rating and a fairly flat bottom and changed the tandem over to a solo.

Last summer when the water was low I was able to float past a lot of kayaks with lighter people than me in them that were hung up on rocks. Where we live the river rocks are pretty hard to walk on big, slippery and round when lining your boat. The banks in most areas are muddy and steep making lining from the banks hard also.

I carry an aluminum poling pole and that is a great help even when remaining seated. Plus it saves on the paddle. Mine telescopes down to 4’ and I don’t even open it up for prying thru some rocks.

The drawback is a cheap used canoe like mine is it is a little heavy. That’s only an issue when out of the water. I only paid 150 bucks for mine. I wax up the hull a couple times a season and if it wears beyond repair I will have to find another.

For me a big part of the fun is not worrying about the boat. I can tell when I see an expensive boat getting hung up and looks of the people in it cringing hearing the hull scraping. It is supposed to be fun. :canoe:

With my composite boats I don’t worry about gelcoat scratches. Gelcoat is easy enough to repair if the scratches become a problem. I own a 1984 Curtis Kevlar solo tripper. It has abrasion resistant S-glass and gelcoat as the outer layers and is light and rugged. This almost 48-year-old canoe has lots of scratches on the bottom. It has yet to need a gelcoat repair.

Flotation does not make your boat ride higher in the water unless it is swamped.

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