Solo Canoe Float Bags????

I am looking for some float bags for my solo canoe for light whitewater use…probably a pair for tripping so that I have room for bags and maybe another pair for playing so that I have more floatation when extra space is not needed.

I have a Mad River Freedom Solo which is not a dedicated whitewater canoe.

What size should I get? I see “solo” end bags on NRS but they are 24 inches in depth…my boat is only 14 inches deep??? Are any solo boats that deep???

I would like a set of longer ones…48 inches probably but that seems way too high for use in my boat.



Don’t worry about depth
They are probably quoting the maximum depth, and your canoe is deeper at the stem than at the center.

Flotation bags in a canoe are like a balloon, you put in as much air as needed to fill the space. Generally, you want the bags at least a bit oversized. The final size and shape is determined by the confines of the hull and bag cage, and the amount of air you put in. You can use bags longer than the space you want and crumple up the end in the stem, but obviously having a lot more bag than you need adds weight.

Mohawk ( and Nantahala Outdoor Center ( also sell flotation bags online and you might check them out.

Call Blue Mt. Outfitters, Harrisburg, PA
717-957-2413 They know all the float bag fits. They can tell you which ones and sell/ship them to you as well.


are you sure…
that the NRS solo bags are 24" deep? I haven’t looked at the NRS site, but I don’t know of any true solo canoe that is 24" in the stems. Something isn’t adding up here. For what it’s worth, I outfitted a Mohawk Solo 13 with tandem end bags to increase flotation. That leaves room for gear but will float a solo canoe plenty high for recovery if need be. BTW, for those who do not know, tandem end bags are smaller than solo. Luck.


I’d think about 60 inch 3Dbags front

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and back enclosed in bag cages and keeper straps. I prefer the Mohawk bags to the NRS, Harmony or Bell. The 60" bags are about 51" long when inflated, 72" bags are about 64" inflated. You can make the ends of the cages accessable so for tripping you can put your gear in dry bags inside the cages. You leave a fair amount of air in the dry bags and they become some bit of floation too. The floatation bags will inflate to occupy the remaining space. This is why you don't have to worry about how deep a bag is, as it will inflate to occupy the space provided. Anyways those measurements are for a deflated bag, an inflated one will not be that deep.

I have a 72" 3D bag in front and 60" 3D bag in back of my solo which is a little over a foot longer than your canoe. It looks something like this one from Canoe Colorado:

This topic came up a few weeks ago
The whitewater folks said to use 60-inch bags, and the more casual folks (like me) said to get 48-inch bags.

48-inch bags will leave enough room for a gear pack behind you and another in front of you. They also provide plenty of floatation unless you are in really hard-core whitewater. With a pair of 48-inch bags installed, my supernova’s gunwales barely touch the water if turned upside-down after swamping. On its side, I think it draws about 4 inches. That’s enough to help keep a swamped boat from being pinned, but still makes it easy to have access to your gear (with 60-inch bags, you’ll have to put some gear underneath them).

I wonder if those 24-inch bags you referred to were really just end bags. Those help some, but not enough for whitewater.

Us older and wiser paddlers use 48"
or even 36" bags. I only flipped my 15’ Mad River WW Synergy once in a dozen years, and swamped it once. I would not put up with 60+ inch bags in an open canoe. What’s open about that?!?

Open canoes are for carrying stuff and for being able to reach it when you need it.

I ran the Dolores in CO with gear for two overnights, and only used 36" end bags. I have 48" bags in my 13" Millbrook.

One reason to use giant bags in an open is if you plan to learn to roll it in whitewater. I can roll decked c-1s and kayaks, but I have no desire to learn to roll an open boat. Only a minority of WW open boaters have learned to roll their opens reliably, and they still come up with a bunch of water in the boat which must be dumped, bailed, or pumped out. For what I paddle, I don’t need to roll, and I don’t need 60" float bags in my way.

Here is a quote from the original poster

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"...probably a pair for tripping so that I have room for bags and maybe another pair for playing so that I have more floatation when extra space is not needed."

Hence, it sounds like both whitewater and tripping are on the menu. Hence, for that kind of flexibility only 60" 3D end bags and cages designed to gain easy access into the cage end facing the paddler are necessary. That way with the floatation completely inflated its a whitewater boat that will keep the canoe high and off of obstacles when swamped, and when tripping, gear can be put inside the cage for security (stuff will not fall out if the canoe is dumped), still be easily accessed through the cage ends which can be easily opened, and the floatation bags will fill up the space in the cage not taken by gear. So only one set of bags are necessary, instead of what was envisioned in the original post, and the original poster's stated objectives are achieved.

60" bags will shed a little more water
… not a great deal more, but some.

Clearly it’s a matter of preference
I don’t understand what you see there that precludes the use of 48-inch bags, especially given earlier discussions with this person regarding how he intends to use the canoe (whitewater in this case is not the stuff from which Mountain Dew commercials are made). That’s what makes me think sometimes the advice here is more about what people use for their own use than what appears “necessary” given the descriptions provided by the O.P.

If the O.P. chooses 48-inch bags, here’s what I do for managing gear. I have a separate set of tie-downs for both of my packs (four D-rings each), which are also used to clip lines securing camera and binocular cases, water containers, etc. The packs and anything else are accessible without disturbing the float bags or going inside the network of lines that hold the bags in place. There’s nothing making things any more difficult than necessary. I won’t say 60-inch bags are bad, just more than what’s needed in this case.

I also have a MR Guide, and I would
find even 48" bags a PITA. The guy’s only going to run easy whitewater. Gaia 36" lightweight Nylon would almost be overkill.

Longer float bags also increase the portage carrying weight, especially when they’re wet on all surfaces.

Most water in my ww boats comes in
where my 30" and my 48" end bags are situated. And from experience, I question, from my own observation on the Kennebec, whether bags really shed that much water. If it comes over the gunwale, most of it is likely to stay in the boat.

Even in “light” whitewater I want my

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boat to float as high as possible when swamped. In Class II rapids there are still obstacles possibly encountered and the boat when filled will be easier to maneuver to a spot where the water can be removed. When the poster is "playing", 60" bags as opposed to 48" bags will displace potentially 35 to 45 additional gallons of water which weigh an additional 292 to 375 pounds. That is much more significant than the one pound more 60" bags weigh than a 48" bags. There are a lot of rivers that, while predominately Class II, have an occasional Class III. Indeed, I took into consideration the original post, that's why I quoted it. The OP can digest all the suggestions and decide how they want to proceed.

If you always paddle the same water
… and know exactly what you’re dealing with, any size bags are probably fine. If you travel to other areas, paddle water you’ve nominally scouted ('cause that’s all you can do) sometimes violate the rules regarding how many people should be in a WW group, then you might consider getting all the bag you can. The downside to 60s is negligible.

60" bags for my Yellowstone Solo
I don’t put them in very often, but I do have them. I would need smaller bags if I was carrying gear.

Float bags
I recently put 54” Gaia bags with a North Water tie-down kit in my MR Guide (similar in most dimensions to your Freedom Solo). Like another poster above I have D-rings in place to hold down my float bags and a separate set of rings that are used to secure gear. The float bags are in the ends (of course) and the gear bags are placed closer to center. I can inflate or deflate a float bag as needed to accommodate larger or smaller gear bags.

Works for me – RK

I’ve paddled whitewater from Georgia
to California and Oregon with 30" end bags. I paddled solo, with nobody to save my ass. I never, never needed any more than 30" end bags, but I would concede that 48" bags would have been OK.

Sixty inch end bags when one is running class 2-3 only indicates a defensiveness that should be treated by Prozac. They are heavy, they get in the way, they are more work to install, and they generate more damaging pressure from heat or reduced atmospheric pressure.

Sixty inch end bags are for class 4 and up. If you aren’t paddling class 4, you don’t need them.

That’s a crock. In actual use, 48" end
bags provide excellent flotation, and there is no reason to put up with the extra cost, weight, useful space loss, and extra installation work associated with 60" or 72" bags if one is not paddling class 4.

What is the point of being an open boater if you are full of air?

What do 60 inch end bags do in class IV that they don’t do in class III? Or put another way, what makes them a uniquely good idea for class IV?

Occasionally, in class 4, more so in
really heavy water and long rapids, 60" bags will provide a little extra margin over 48" bags. Not enough to mandate their choice, but at least enough reason that one might think about using them.

After 35 years paddling in the SE and elsewhere, I haven’t seen any reason that mandates 60" bags, unless one intends to roll.

And, recommend 60" bags to someone who is going to paddle his MR Freedom Solo in easy rapids? There must be an insurance salesman on commission here somewhere.