Solo Canoe Decisions

-- Last Updated: Jun-20-12 8:00 PM EST --

I want a Solo Canoe, Not necessarily a dedicated solo boat, but I paddle solo, never with a passenger. My primary candidates are as follows. Mad River Freedom Solo, Nova Craft Super Nova, Wenonah Rendezvous 15'8", and L'Esquif Pocket Canyon.

I've been paddling for a few years now, I'm know expert, but I'm certainly no beginner. My current boat a Mad River ME, way too much rocker for me. Its a ton of fun navigating rock gardens and occasionally surfing the tails of some II's and III's in my area however most of those are seperated by painfully long flat water stretches. I've gotten my J-stroke to the point where I can paddle the shorter flat spots just fine, but if the wind blows, I turn whichever way it wants me to. I'm a day tripper, weigh 270lbs, 6'4" and carry probably 50lbs of gear (cooler, folding chair, boombox) Occasional weekend camping trips are a must as well.

So...lets have the cons, as the reviews section tends to cover the pros pretty well. Any more personal info needed to form your opinnion feel free to ask. I don't mind a kneeling seat, however my size 14 feet don't like slipping out from under it when upside down (got trapped in was cold.) Ideally I'd have a seat for flat water and a saddle for fun stuff.


Larger dedicated solos

– Last Updated: Jun-22-12 4:36 PM EST –

The larger dedicated solos in composite, lighter, faster, more expensive, are Colden's Wild and Star Fires, Hemlocks SRT and Eaglet, Sawyer's Autumn Mist, Swifts Osprey, Keewaydin 15 and Shearwater and Wenonah's Argosy and Wilderness.

In rubber, heavier, slower, less expensive, consider Esquif's Echo, MRC's Guide/Freedom Solo, Mohawks Soloo 14 and, again, WeNoNah's Argosy and Wilderness.

The Nova SuperNova meets the 30" plus criteria but is pretty round bottomed, but you should try it too.

All the above are in alphabetical order by Manufacturer, not in any way intended as a rank order. price is a pretty good gauge of quality, nobody's getting rich selling solo canoes.

I maintain a list of all solo canoes vailable with dimensions that you may enjoy; email for an electronic copy.

bon chance, charlie

I forgot
One factor, budget. Ideally 1k thru 1.6 k ,

Weight isnt a huge factor as I don’t portage.

Preferred material would be royalex, my home river runs low and rocky later in summer.

I really like the stability I get from the shallow v of the MR ME and can see that being an advantage with the Freedom, but it seems to be a wetter ride than some other options. I will research the different boata you suggested, thanks

Rendezvous is a similar wet ride in
real rapids too because of its fine bow. The SN wants to spin like a teacup on the flats. Sure you can control it…but its up to you to decide if you want to.

No experience with the Pocket Canyon. Looks like a candidate worth seeking.

The MR FS is more of a touring boat…maneuverable enough for rapids but with a penalty of bath.

Definitely try a Supernova
A rather popular boat around these parts for guys about your size and doing frequently boney rivers. I find that it does pretty well with a decent stroke and do not think it spins like a top, but pretty good for eddys and peel outs in the type of water you are describing; okay on the flats. It will be a drier ride than the MR Freedom Solo, but that boat also will get the job done. I do not care for the Wenonah, and have had no ezperience with the Pocket Canyon


– Last Updated: Jun-21-12 11:02 AM EST –

I have a Supernova, and though it's a bit larger of a hull than a lightweight guy like me needs, I really love it, and like the way it doesn't become sluggish as quickly with increasing gear loads as my other canoes do. If your J-stroke is any good, you'll have no trouble controlling it. I've cruised for hours at a time on flatwater with mine, and would say it's not my first choice for that, but it's very tolerable. For the frothy stuff, it won't spin like a whitewater boat, but it'll pivot and crank tight turns at least as well as any non-whitewater boat I've seen in action so far. Also, even though some say it's too squirrelly for flatwater, for a big guy like you, it will be less squirrely than it is for smaller folks. I've never paddled the Freedom Solo, but it is small enough in comparison that I'm not so sure its handling wouldn't suffer when loaded the way you intend. There's another pretty big basic difference between the the Freedom Solo and Supernova besides the overall size and volume. The Freedom Solo has nearly all of its rocker within three feet of each end, while the Supernova's rocker continues right to the centerpoint, resulting in kind of a rounded, bowl-like zone right at the middle. This looks a bit unconventional, but I've learned to like it.

Regarding the foot-entrapment issue, the Supernova has pretty high sides AND a pretty high seat, noticeably higher than any other solo canoe I've tried so far. I'm comfortable with seats a few inches lower when my size 11-1/2s are tucked underneath, so I'm fairly sure you'll have proportionally more foot room in the Supernova with your size 14s under the seat, but whether your clearance-comfort level matches mine is something I can't know. You could raise the seat from its already-high position. There's available room to do so.

Another thing about the seat. It's positioned so that the boat is trimmed when you have a single large pack in front of you. If you use two packs or often paddle without a heavy gear load, you'll want to move the seat forward so that the back edge of the seat matches the original front-edge location. Just about everyone with this boat makes that change.

Okay, here' more info for comparison purposes and another general comment about the boat. Someone commented about how the Rendezvous slices through waves rather than ride over them (and I've heard that complaint other times), but the Super rides waves very well. Also, the rounded profile is very "non-grabby" and forgiving when side-surfing or hitting really sudden cross-currents. It won't get rolled in those situations very easily (that's not a comparison to any of the other boats in your list, but rather a comparison to a few other general-purpose boats I know).

Okay, more stuff: You asked for "cons". I can think of only two, and of course they must be viewed in "relative" terms. The Supernova is a bit tough to paddle in strong wind, but you are big guy and probably need a big canoe unless you compromise and make your gear-laden trips of secondary importance. Regarding the "squirrelly" handling, yes, it will pivot one way or the other as soon as you relax your attention to correction, and that would drive some people nuts. If maintaining constant control of the boat has become natural for you, you won't fret about this. It only bothers me when I want to take photos on the fly (in the time it takes to put down the paddle and get the camera out of the Pelican box, the canoe has turned to face the wrong direction). On the bright side, in a strong wind it's actually easier to put a squirrelly boat back on course than a hard-tracking one. It's all a bunch of compromises anyway, right?

River or lake canoe?
Which one do you want?

There are a lot of lake canoes that can “get through” class 2 and even class 3 rapids in the hands of a skilled canoeist and be very good trackers on the flats. However, they will not be able to “play” a rapid like a highly rockered WW canoe.

If you want more of a compromise – a decently tracking Royalex canoe with modest ability play a rapid – I’d look at the MR Guide-Freedom, the Supernova and the Mohawk Odyssey 14. I’m not sure how they would feel to you at your size since I’m not, but they all have the rep of being reasonable combo canoes. I’m not familiar with the Esquif.

You won’t like the Argosy

– Last Updated: Jun-21-12 12:04 PM EST –

The Argosy was mentioned as an option. I own a Royalex version, and at your height and weight, you will not like it at all - it'll be wet and squirrelly.

For the record, I'm 5'10", 165 lbs, and my preferred paddling is class 3/4 in whitewater solo canoes. The Argosy is my only flat/moving water boat.

Compared to your ME, or just about any solo WW boat, the Argosy has very little secondary stability, and what stability it does have is not progressive. There's a narrow range of lean where it feels solid, but it transitions from solid to "time for a brace or swim" with almost no warning as you take it further up on edge. It's fast for a river boat and tracks decently enough to allow 6-10 strokes per side with hit-and-switch on calm water, but it will be very wet in anything bigger than class 1+.

eye opening
I researched (via manufacturer website) all the canoes you mentioned. What a difference in the design from one end to the other. I really like the tumblehome featured in a few of those, seems like that would make crossover strokes and heeling the boat a lot more comfortable.

Thank you so much, that was quite a refreshing and eye opening read.

you’ve captured
You’ve got exactly the idea I’d like.

A compromise, tantamount to my wifes Liquid Logic Remix xp10, A jack of all trades boat, but leaning towards playful.

This is has all been very informative,

Thanks to all responders…I’ve much to ponder.


btw, anyone have an idea what a Mad River Me might fetch?

Outfitted for Tandem, with two cane seats, and kneeling pads but no floatation.

The canoe version of the Remix, huh?
Ooo, that’s a good one. The essense of the Remix is that dropdown skeg - keep up in the rapids, and drop it in the flats to track straight. Two boats in one. Right? The only CANOE I’ve heard about with a similar gimicky double personality is the Millbrook AC/DC which is differentially rockered to play rapids going one way and go down river the other. I don’t have any personal experience with that boat, but it might be worth investigating. Its kind of more of a racing boat than a tripper. But still… Otherwise, I think Charlie’s post hit all the big names I’ve ever heard of - Hemlock, Osprey, Supernova, et al.

He wants Royalex
Some of the canoes suggested above are composite only.

The Swift Raven is another combo Royalex canoe, which would probably fit a big paddler (and which generates a lot of inconsistent reviews).

Small tandems
are the choice of a lot of big paddlers. With 330# in your day trip load I think you would find the Rendivous and Freedom too small. I see 16 foot explorers and prospectors getting a lot of video exposure for big mens solo mixed use canoes. I am a big believer in test paddling before you buy. Good Luck

sort of
The OP said Royalex was “preferred”. The Millbrook AC/DC, although not Royalex, still fits in his pricepoint and the Millbrook s-glass and kevlar layup ought to do fine on shallow rocky rivers, right? I don’t want to pretend I’m some kind of expert here. I only know the AC/DC from reading about it online, so it might not be the best canoe for him. But when he wrote he wanted a canoe like his wife’s Liquid Logic Remix, the dual-use nature of the AC/DC came to mind.

Snagged a Nova
So I got a killer deal on a barely used Super Nova this last Saturday. Hardly a scratch on it and only 700. Sunday was Trip 1 on my home float and what a pleasant surprise. Definitely better behaved than the ME and I had no problem sitting instead of kneeling. I got to catch some eddys and missed a few too. Capsized once and aside from some scratches on my arm and knee, had a wonderful trip. Hit the backwater to the power dam and after I learned what the boat needed from my j-stroke had minimal trouble making a straight line. Very happy so far, now for decent paddle and some custom outfitting. Thanks to all for your input, it was invaluable.

Funny you should say the "ME"
After paddlign our local river i saw the ME i owned 25 years ago on a car entering the parking lot i was in. The same webbing i put in, the same decal, the same D rings. I gave the owner some history about the boat and its travels.

My take on the supernova
I have a Supernova in Kevlar/glass.

It is a big guy boat!. I bought mine to make me a better paddler and it did that. I have also loaded her to the gills with gear and taken her through some class II and one Class II+ light class III with no problems. She also got me down the Buffalo river the Ponca run(lots of fun water) when it was almost closed due to high water. She stayed a lot drier inside than a lot of the other boats.

On the flats… she is faster than you would expect, not a Starship kind of speed but she will get you there without killing you. On any moving water, a pretty good boat.

just visualizing a skeg…seems that it
would drive me crazy not being able to adjust 100% with a J AFTER creating the accelleration with the front part of the stroke. Seems at first to be not a bad idea, but the catch portion of the stroke having to constantly combine a little draw would seem to be tiring and kill some accelleration…maybe not…$.01

Seat and Saddle, Supernova
Hope the Supernova works out for you. Now here’s something I could have mentioned back when the thread was new. You mentioned the combination of seat and saddle being potentially a good idea. Some years ago I saw a Supernova rigged with both a seat and saddle, and I think it was done without moving the seat from its original position. I mentioned earlier that the factory seat position in the Supernova is farther back than what’s normal for a solo canoe. The boat I saw had the saddle right in front of the seat. for this reason I suspect the saddle was just a little farther forward than it should have been, but that would only have amounted to a few inches. I think the saddle might have been removable, but I’m not sure. Whether removable or not, it would have been possible to use the seat with it in place, and to switch from seat to saddle without changing a thing, making a pretty versatile setup.

A saddle like one I have from Mohawk,
or the foam saddle I devised in 1973 (!), can provide for both sitting, legs out front, and kneeling. For easy switching, the thwart helping hold the saddle or pedestal down should cross the back edge of the pedestal, and not cross over the knees. The saddle can be carved to help keep the thighs down, and thigh straps can be included, though for class 1-2 in my Guide/Freedom I don’t need them.

Sitting, legs extended, foot blocks and foam supporting the knees against the gunwales, there is good control, and the boat can be trimmed level. Kneeling, control is increased and the trim becomes a bit bow up, OK for whitewater. Of course, gear can be shoved fore and aft to change trim also.

With a pedestal done this way, one’s butt does not move much at all. It may slide a bit forward for kneeling and back for sitting.