Solo Canoe info-Wildrnss, Vagabnd, Prism

Hi all. I am in the market for a lightweight solo canoe and need some specific directed advice from more experienced paddlers.

I am a weak, middle-aged female and cannot lift/carry much, therefore the light weight is a MUST. I am not finicky and do not want to be worrying about hurting my special expensive canoe, just want to go out and enjoy.

I hate sitting low, hence why I don’t want a kayak. Would like to sit on a seat and be more comfortable. I live in Central Oregon and plan on leisure floats on Class I, rivers/paddle trails. I plan on going both up and downstream to avoid need for shuttling.

I will be on lakes, but even so, see myself crusing close to shore and daudling or going on some of the more twisty lake systems. That being said, I do enjoy the feeling of a “nice glide”.

I will do mostly day trips, but want to carry enough gear for 2-4 nights if I get some time off from work. I will need to take my dog (50#) and maybe a small child (65#), but the kids are getting old enough to float in their own boats soon.

I am down to choosing between the Wenohna Prism, Vagabond and Wilderness. Please weigh in if you have paddled these on similar waters and your thoughts. I am planning on getting the Flexcore/Kevlar composite for an extra layer of coverage so I don’t have to be all anxious about scraping across rocks in low waters. Don’t care about scratches, just want durability.

Now, don’t go off on a tangent and talk about all the other boats that might be good. I’m down to the Wilderness, Prism or Vagabond.

I canoed a lot as a kid with my family, but back then there was only one canoe and paddling was just intuitive, so I consider myself a beginner.

I am lining up a demo of these three, but want directed reviews of comparison from this wise community.

Thanks, Jennifer

I just got a Wilderness earlier this year, but have not paddled the other two, so take my observations with a grain of salt …

For what you are describing, I think the Wilderness is the best option of the three. The Vagabond would be pretty cramped with your gear and a dog or child (not sure I would recommend either one in a narrow solo canoe, though). The Prism will be heavier than the others, and it has no rocker so will be less maneuverable than the other two. One advantage of the Prism, if you never kneel, is the sliding seat.

My experience might help
My choice was the Wilderness.

I previously owned a Wenonah Advantage which is very, very close in design to the Prism. I found it quite fast, but it is a hard tracking canoe and turns must be planned far in advance. The Advantage and its tractor seat was too narrow for me to kneel in and I like having that choice, although sitting is my preference.

I test paddled the Wilderness in Annapolis harbor with a 15mph wind and 1-2 feet of chop. Despite a beam wind I found the canoe held its line well, and yet the bow was very responsive to turning strokes. Paddling a single blade I could get about 4 strokes in on one side before switching. I also like the 14 inch center depth, that’s useful if seas get up. The 1-2 foot of chop didn’t faze the canoe, it handled it with ease and gave me confidence in the boat. If you like a canoe in a 15 mph wind with choppy seas, it seems to me to be pretty good choice.

The Vagabond has much the same handling character of the Wilderness, but is shorter and not as deep. Being shorter it should be slightly slower than the Wilderness. The Prism will be the fastest.

Much of my paddling is on narrow twisty swamp streams, but I’m also out on wide, open waters. The Wilderness handles both well. It’s not as fast as my Advantage, but it is still a “fast” canoe.

Step into my office !
I have a Wilderness and my wife has the Vagabond.

We both like them.

With that said, I think they are both too small to be taking a dog and a child in. they are strictly a solo canoe

Both boats are well made, handle well, are very responsive and fun to paddle.

The seats that come with them are high end webbed seats that have a unique feature for changing the angle and height, but paddling sit and switch, we both like tractor style seats, so I changed mine to a sliding tractor style one and am in the process of doing the same with hers.

I am not sure what else I can tell you, but if you have any specific question, don’t hesitate to ask.

jack L

Concur on dog/child
Their addition would really negatively affect handling. A 60 lb dog or child calls for a tandem, after all aren’t they the second person that tandems are designed to handle?

I think you’ll be fine with a dog in any of the above boats assuming it will be for day paddles you won’t be trying to fit both the dog and camping gear. The dog will go in front of the thwart and you’ll need to add weight to the stern to balance the load so the canoe performs properly.


Non tangential response…

– Last Updated: Jul-13-16 7:39 PM EST –

I've owned & paddled the Prism, and Vagabond.
Never had access to the Wilderness, but have studied the specs.

It is my opinion that none of the 3 will satisfy you.
They were not designed to handle you, a 50-60 pound dog, and a 50-6o pound child, and necessary gear for a couple of days.

I'd say you could get by with you, the kid(or you and the dog), and some light weight gear, but not in comfort.

You, the kid, the dog, and gear......NOT.
If you try that; all will be uncomfortable, and will probably end up having an out of boat experience. Any of the 3 canoes will be like paddling a wallowing barge, and lacking in glide, and manueverability.

It is my opinion you would be better served with a small tandem. None of which I will suggest; to avoid being tangential.


Any of those 3 should work (without the child). The Prism felt a bit wide to me when I test paddled one. My lower hand kept bumping the side bulge unless I made a point of stretching my arms out farther. The Vagabond is only an inch narrower, but that might make a difference in how comfortable it is to paddle.

Hopefully the dog will be test paddling with you, though you may need some extra weight along to balance the canoe with the dog in front.

I agree…
though my experience in the Vagabond (own two of them) and the Wilderness (paddled it) is only in the discontinued Royalex versions, I’ve found the Vagabond in Royalex to handle well with a load of camping gear. but throwing the dog and kid into the mix is simply not anywhere near optimal. I’ve actually tried to paddle my Vagabond with my rather smallish wife in it with me, in order for her to get some photographs of me paddling, and it was NOT a good experience. It might be doable with the dog if it’s well behaved, OR the kid, OR camping gear, but not two of the three. Camping gear doesn’t move. Kids and dogs do, and movements of the load in a solo canoe make it very squirrely and likely to tip. Unfortunately, solo canoes are meant to be paddles solo. If you have to choose, though, the Wilderness has to be your best choice simply because it’s a higher volume canoe with higher sides than the Vagabond.

Waterboarded, I’d say Wilderness
I don’t recall if I’ve paddled all three, but I’m familiar with the boats and one can tell a lot from specs.

Before being waterboarded and forced to pick among your trinity of canoes, I’d fully agree that none of those canoes are meant to carry an adult paddler, plus a kid, plus a dog, plus days of camping gear. A solo canoe means what it says.

The Prism is designed without keel rocker to be a fast, hard tracking boat. That means it won’t turn as well as the Vag or Wilderness because they have some rocker. The Prism is also designed to be paddled seated on a tractor seat, and with bent shaft paddles using the Minnesota switch paddling technique. Is that what you want to do? You don’t specify.

Many river paddlers, freestyle paddlers, trippers and just general paddlers like to paddle from their knees, using a single-sided correction stroke, with straight or bent paddles, instead of the sit & switch technique. If that’s what you want to do, the Vag and Wilderness allow much more easily for it, because they have hung webbed sits on which you can kneel or sit.

Said differently and very generally, without reference to paddle skills, the Prism is more of a straight ahead speed canoe for open waters, whereas the Vag and Wilderness are more maneuverable and conducive to turning on twisty streams.

Waterboarded, I’d recommend the larger Wilderness because it has more capacity to hold the unrealistic loads you are contemplating.

For a smaller person without a kid in the boat (but maybe a small dog) I think the Vag might be the better size boat. It would be the lightest of the trinity in comparable layups.

dog, kid, camping
Not All Three at the Same Time. (dog, kid, weekend of camping gear)

Well, thanks for the responses. I appreciate the wisdom. I guess I was not clear enough regarding the “loads” I intend to carry. Let’s forget the kid. They are old enough to paddle themselves. There might be the occasion where one whines she is tired and might need to jump in with me. If that happens, it is likely not to be fun anyway.

Dog, hopefully will be with me a lot. 50# old and likely not to move around too much.

Camping: not as much as I would like as I work too much. But, if given a long weekend I hope to give it a try once or twice on a multiday.

Overall, I want to get out quick and easy for a couple of hours, half a day, enjoy it enough that I will keep doing it. This is easiest alone as I do not have to coordinate with anyone but myself. The dog has an open schedule.

Looks like I’m just going to see how they paddle. I will take dog with me and see how that goes.

I actually tend to switch paddle, but have never really thought about (or know) paddling styles, so that works well for me thus far.

Bring some stuff with you
…to help trim out the canoe if you’ll test paddle with the dog. Empty gallon containers work well, just fill them with water at the put in.

If you are envisioning bringing the dog when you camp, unless you are minimalist camper you might find you don’t have enough room.

If you bring your bulky camping load items with you, loading the canoe with those will give you a good feel for how likely your dog will fit in.

Paddled all three, and…
…the answer is a Heron 15, with a removable center seat, or possibly a Solo Plus.

The solos aren’t designed for paddler plus dog or kid. There’s not enough room in the ends for a 65 pound kid or a 50 pound dog to rest comfortably, so you’d have to have them close to you (which inhibits your movement). A boat that’s a little wider in the mid-section will have enough volume throughout that carrying the additional live load won’t be an issue, and if you stay in the 15 foot range, the boat weights should still be manageable (a Heron 15 in Kev/UL is about 36 pounds)

Wilderness is likely

Here we are…

Hope I can ever paddle like that someday!

Good luck
Swede form boats need to be trimmed level so if your dog is in the front ( my dog needed to see my face) your gear has to be heavier than the dog. Bow wow heavy plays havoc with your steering

Solo boats are sized for sizes of paddlers and if you are smaller you need a smaller solo than you three options

Too much a boat means too high a skin surface and friction to overcome.

Hauling the dog will have a major effect on your speed and fatigue. You will have to watch the weather and the winds closely not only for speed but direction

I hauled my 65 dog into LaVerendrye for a week long trip with many portages and some long lakes. In winds I can normally handle the dog STANDING in the front as it was raining and she would not lie down is a lesson I won’t forget. 2 foot waves are not usually a big deal for me going down wind . With dog they were. Dog stayed home after that. Never took her in a solo again.

What size space is your dog requiring ? Not all dogs of same size behave the same

dog space
He is 50# Austrailian heeler, 12 years old. Very compact, so not much space. I think he will sit in the back just fine and chill, enjoying the fresh air and smells.

I am down to the Wilderness and Prism as Vagabond probably too small, plus I lke the idea of a longer waterline.

Once said canoe is bought, I think I am going to work on my paddling strokes.

Front or back
Do whatever works best for you but to my mind the dog should always be in front. For starters I find it enjoyable to watch her but but more importantly I feel I need to know what my dog is looking at and how she’s reacting to it.

If the dog is behind you all you can do is react to whatever they do. If the dog is in front you can see them starting to react to outside stimulus and anticipate their actions (lean over the RH gunwale) before they actually do it. Which means you can either stop them before they get that far or prepare yourself for the weight shift.

Being able to easily reach the dog with the paddle or by dropping to your knees and scooching forward a little is helpful if they’re not listening. A push on the butt with the paddle (or a swat in the case of one of my old dogs) can get them to sit down in a dicey situation when they aren’t inclined to listen.

Also, all my dogs have liked to look forward when in the canoe; so if they were behind me they’d constantly be hanging their head over the side; causing the canoe to be off balance and likely getting in the way of my stroke.


We can be equally contradictory …
… if you ask us for paddle recommendations. I say one bent shaft and one straight shaft. Then learn sit & switch technique with the bent and correction stroke technique(s) with the straight.

They are both fine canoes. Try them out before buying if at all possible. You have to buy a canoe or kayak as much by personal feel as by specs and recommendations.

Also, you are not marrying the canoe. If you find out with more experience that you would prefer some different style hull, you can always sell a popular Wenonah and get something else. Or, polygamously, in addition.

think out of the box
Yeah, yeah, I know you’ve “settled” on your choices. But I have to be a gadfly on folding boat options, especially for us “weak old women” (being one myself.)

My recommendation would be a Pakboat PakCanoe 150. It’s 45 pounds and convertible from solo to tandem, designed to handle another person plus gear as well as just a single paddler. Rugged and versatile, even handles mild whitewater, and used by many wilderness outfitters. in remote locations And you can store it knocked down in a closet, carry it in the trunk of a car or check it as airline baggage.

not best choice for primary use
Pakboat PakCanoes are wonderfully versatile canoes, but I think the Wenonah models that the OP is considering would be more satisfying to paddle for the day trips she has in mind. About 20 years ago I bought a 14ft PakCanoe, thinking it might replace the 14ft royalex solo canoe I had. For something that comes in a duffel bag, the handling of the PakCanoe was amazingly similar to a hardshell canoe. The ribs, however made moving around in the canoe a little less comfortable even with pieces of foam sleeping pad placed over the ribs to give more padding for kneeling. Also it isn’t as easy to quickly mop out sand and mud as in other canoes. I kept the PakCanoe and am very happy with how it worked for a trip to the upper Missouri river and trips to Arkansas, but it didn’t become my primary canoe for more local destinations.

Wenonah canoes tend to have relatively sharp entry lines and will have more satisfying “glide” than a pakcanoe. A PakCanoe could be an excellent choice for a second canoe for the OP, allowing different combinations of kid(s) and dog, but if storage space is not a critical factor and extended travel is not planned then the canoes mentioned initially would be better choices to start with.