Solo canoe capable of camping but also up to class II

Hi all,

I am a relative novice, but not a total beginner, to canoeing. We had an OT Penobscot 16 in the '90s, then moved to PA for 16 years and eventually sold it. We just did calm water with it, having little kids. I did a lot of paddling on the Cowpasture in Bath County VA when I was a kid, and we have taken a lot of outfitter-style day trips on the Brandywine in PA, in both canoes and kayaks.

Now were back in our old neighborhood in Richmond, and got an Esquif Presage for my wife and me to do tandem canoeing. We wanted as close to an all-rounder as we could get, with a focus on camping trips , but also capable of shorter mild WW day trips.

I bought it a month ago but it’s been so rainy that the James River has been too high for floating (for me anyway), but yesterday I took it out solo, with some friends on the South-Anna, much smaller than the James. The river was pretty high and there were some rapids that scared me a bit, but I managed just fine. However I went swimming twice… both times not from the rapids but from tree branches along the bank that I hit sideways. First time the canoe dumped me out but did not capsize. Second time the canoe capsized and filled up with water. I was able to swim it to a quiet eddy and tip it over to dump it out, and get back in. Lost my cooler though.

However I learned from yesterday’s experience that I want to get a smaller canoe for such trips. My wife will not be interested in such rapids, and I think a smaller boat will be more maneuverable for me to paddle solo. I would have been a lot more confident yesterday with a more agile canoe. The Presage (15’ 11") felt too big.

Since the only place close to Richmond is Appomattox Canoe in Farmville, I am looking through their options, and since I want a Royalex boat (or T-Formex today), I am pretty much locked in to Esquif. Not that this is a problem, one of my friends has a Pocket Canyon and loves it, and I already bought the Presage for tandem with my wife.

So with Esquif in mind, I have pretty much two options for solo canoeing on the kind of trip we took yesterday. The Pocket Canyon and the Vertige. The former is 14’ 6" with two seats, the latter is 12’ 10" with a pedestal and is strictly for solo. My friend with the Pocket Canyon always paddles it solo, and does flattish float trips as well as class III, so I am pretty sure I could grow into it. But we already have the Presage for tandem and my wife will never be interested in anything above class I or mild class II, and we are even thinking about a SOT kayak for her. So I might end up with a solo canoe for me and a kayak for her at some point. So tandem is not a “must-have” for my next canoe, in other words, since we already have one.

If the Vertige would be suitable for float trips as well as up to class II, I’m thinking it might work for me as a solo canoe. The only thing that gives me pause is the lack of a typical “seat”, since it has the saddle and thigh straps. Does this ever become monotonous or uncomfortable? With the Pocket Canyon, I could switch from kneeling to sitting every once in a while. With the Vertige, or similar “WW solo” canoe, , I would be locked into the saddle position all the time, which might be uncomfortable during the course of a float / camping trip

So I want to ask advice from the group on these two boats. I should also mention that I am not interested in “creek boats” or “play boats”, just a craft that is small, tough and maneuverable up to Class II rapids.

I realize that was a lot of words, and I thank you all in advance for taking the time to read this, and I look forward to your advice!


Eric Zwicky
Richmond VA

for the most part, as soon as you say “Class III”, you eliminate everything except a solo white water boat.
some other river trippers capable of class II can do some easier III, especially if you have a spray cover - but you are talking of doing C III with a canoe loaded with camping gear ? - I say forget everything but a true white water solo boat. As far as carrying gear, you would want to load your gear into dry bags (with trash bag liners) and place them under the bow and stern floatation bags before you inflate them, then inflate fairly tightly to hold the gear in place - you will need to try to keep the boat evenly balanced from bow to stern, so split the weight evenly between the two dry bags.

do you know that when you are being pushed against a tree or log or rock by the current, the only chance you have of staying upright is to lean TOWARDS that obstruction ? leaning away from the obstruction is a natural reaction, but that will flip your boat almost every time. in faster water, you need to anticipate more, and start your turns sooner than you think - that can help you to avoid those sweepers. and if you flip and are swimming and getting pushed into a strainer, you need to swim aggressively towards it and “leap” up high as you can just as you will hit and grab the highest branch you can - otherwise, you can get pushed under the sweeper and potentially pinned there.

how are your knees ? mine are worn out and hurt if I use my ww boat for a half hour or so - 2 hours and I can barely stand up. there is no real alternative to using a saddle in a ww boat, but I guess you could try hanging a seat in one and see how unstable it will be. ww boats are made to be maneuverable, to spin on a dime - if you are sitting up high, over you will go. At times, on flat water, I will sit on the high end of my saddle and it is very unstable and takes great care and attention to keep form tipping over.

if you change your requirements to no more than class II, you will have more options for a camping capable river tripper.

Thanks Mattt. I think that is a good idea, to tone down my options for class II. I have edited the original post to reflect that.

My knees reflect a youth spent doing tree work, followed by a couple decades of CATV line work (pole climbing). So maybe the Vertige would not be ideal, as I would really want it to be able to support a weekend-long camping trip. But I am still keeping an open mind.

Thanks for the advice on dry bags (I have several that I use for motorcycle camping trips) and for avoiding branches, or how to approach them if I fail to avoid them. I will process and store those tips.

I think that for this year anyway, I will concentrate on becoming a more efficient paddler, as well as outfitting the Presage with end bags and a center bag. NRS seems to have some good options, so does Harmony.



Class II most everything will work. In my heyday I took solo straight keeled kneeling boats down the Buffalo right after flood. Its river reading skills that matter most.
But we all have a learning curve. Something like a Swift Raven or a Wenonah Argosy even will do… The Argosy will be wet on occasion. The Raven does fine up to Class 3 but you have to remember its a “Mack Truck” when it comes to eddies. Its designed for a long trip in the Arctic.
Both of mine are going to Western PA Solo Canoe to be sold
Esquif makes some good moving water boats as that has been their focus for a long time.