Solo Canoe Rcomendations

I’ve decided to get a new canoe. I’ll try to give you as much info as I can.

The canoe will generally be used on slow rivers. Some very short class I/II rock gardens and single drops with waves at the end. Some lake travel and fishing. Sometime in mine and the canoes life we will more than likely end up in the Boundry Waters. Basically in search of a “rec” boat.

My experience is with handmade solo pirogues, a 1980’s vintage 16’ Blue Hole (paddled solo and tandom) and assorted kayaks and other tandom canoes. I consider myself experienced but not great by any stretch. Just an average weekend paddler.

I want a 14’ royalex solo boat. Bench seat so I can switch between kneeling and sitting.

My pirogues work well for solo paddling but are a bit skitish and my Blue Hole catches too much wind.

I’m on a tight budget.

Canoes I’ve found that have some interest:

Bell Yellowstone Solo

Mad River Freedom Solo

Wenonah Vagabond

Mohawk Solo 14

What am I missing? Can you please rate(for rivers vs. lakes) these canoes and your other suggestions?

When I did a search in the Buyers Guide it didn’t come up with any “low budget” options. Seems like there used to be a company called Buffalo Canoes or something that had a solo royalex boat for around $600 new. Any info on this or other boats in cheaper price range? No plastic boats thank you.

The kicker is I will more than likely be ordering over the net and will not have the chance to test these boats. Info on good suppliers would be great.

Thanks in advance,


My experience
I have a Mad River Freedom Solo which has been superb on class I/II rivers - bounces over the rocks with impunity - turns on a dime. I’ve done some lake tripping and found it doesn’t do well in high winds. Weathercocking is a problem, although a front spray cover makes a big improvement.

I paddled lots of other solos and settled on a Bell Magic for lake tripping. It tracks well and is much better in windy conditions. Faster too. My friend Frank just got a Wenonah Prism, which seems to be very similar to the Magic. Jim will be joining Frank and me in the Boundary Waters in May. He has an MR Freedom Solo but just bought a Magic for lake tripping.

I’m reconciled to having at least these two boats which I think will serve me well for both my river and lake trips.


Mohawk Solo 14
I paddled a Solo 14 for a few days recently. I found it entirely competent, though not particularly exciting. My only real complaint is that the boat is wider at the rails than I’m used to, so I barked my knuckles a few times before I learned my lesson, and after that it still felt a little awkward to reach out so far. I think it would haul enough load for week-long camping trips, maybe two weeks if you go ultralight, but it’s definitely not an expedition boat. I didn’t do any rapids, just twisted around the Okefenokee Swamp.

I’ve gone on week-long, lake-and-portage trips with a friend with a Solo 13 (not 14), and the boat was overloaded but still manageable and safe on three-mile-long lakes in 20-mph winds. I also went on short whitewater trips with him, just class I and II, and that was fine, though Royalite/R-84 isn’t as durable as Royalex.

I suspect you would be happier in the Bell, but at more cost. I expect it would be more durable, a little heavier, a little narrower, a little faster. I haven’t paddled it, but I had 11 years in the Bell WildFire, which I dearly loved, but which isn’t a perfect comparison (you might considering looking for a used WildFire).

No knowledge of the Wenonah or the Mad River.

– Mark

I paddle a MadRiver Guide
which is the previous name of the Freedom Solo. A great, high volume canoe that can haul lots of gear and the dog, and does indeed, turn on a dime. Wind gusts blow me all over the river and it is not by any means a fast boat. Just bought a Vagabond that I’ve not seen yet, but paddled one like it. More of a day tripping, straight tracking, little bit faster, lower volume boat. I hope it will work for me, the dog and the small amount of gear I pack along on overnite trips.

good choices
Any of the boats you listed will be fine choices for the river trips you described. None of them would be a fine choice for a Boundary Waters trip, but you could make do with any of them.

You are rightly buying a boat to fit your primary use. So now you just need to fine tune your choice. Do you want the lightest? The one that will carry the heaviest load? The most stable? The one with the prettiest color? The lowest bottom line cost?

Not sure why you would most likely buy over the internet though? Look at the websites for Bell, Wenonah, Mad River and you will find dealers not too far away from you, and I think you’d be much better off going to look at the boats and test paddle if possible. Even just looking, might influence your choice. I’d think that even with the cost of gas and sales tax added, you’d still have a lower total cost than if you order a boat through the web. Some dealers will offer you discounts on paddles, pfds, and other accessories when you but a boat from them - just something else to consider. Unless you were thinking of buying used, but even then, you have to drive to get it, or pay for shipping.

might want to describe your purportions
Height, weight and shoe size can influence a choice one way or the other.

The reason shoe size is relevant is because you said you like to kneel. Some of these boats are better for big footed kneelers than others (you need to be able to readily and reliably get your feet out from under the seat without getting hung up).

Two cents worth…
As a recent purchaser of the Vagabond, I have had it out on the local lake (80a) and river about 7 times in the last month. I found it reasonably responsive when the winds were really howling (30mph gusts), but this experience convinced me to be more cautious with the wind. I have read thru many post on that the Vagabond responded better than canoes with higher bows and sterns and I can see why they said that. That said, I haven’t paddled the canoes you mentioned. I use my Honda van to transport the canoe and I really find this very easy. I just remove the middle seat and it slids right in. I was most insistent on royalex and keeping the weight below 50 lbs. I am pleased that I did not go any heavier as I feel it would be unpleasant loading and unloading it from the top of any vehicle, or in my case, the simple act of portaging it to and from the water or from the backyard to the van. I guess what I am saying is make sure to stick with your own criteria that relects portaging issues, vehicle transportation and river/lake bottom issues. I found the Wenonah royalex scrapes easily, but easier than other manufactures I do not know. Also, I am very happy that I had a footbrace installed. The Vagabond seems to glide nicely, has decent speed, good stability and probably is a good canoe for your needs. Lastly, the Vagabond list for about $925. I bought a new one for $785 and purchased a very lightweight carbon kayak paddle that I am very pleased with. I would recommend a kayak paddle for the Vagabond too. Good luck!

A few Comments

– Last Updated: Apr-06-07 1:58 PM EST –

I won't try to tell you which boat you should get, and as someone already said, you will probably be pleased with any of your choices. I can tell you this much based on my experience. The Vagabond will be the most efficient cruiser of the bunch, but is likely to be the hardest to turn, especially if the boat doesn't have all the rocker it's supposed to have (which can happen on Royalex versions of that boat). It's also pretty lively and controllable in wind, probably the best of the bunch for windy conditions (as long as there are no big waves). However, it will take water over the bow in Class II waves, sometimes a lot of water. The Yellowstone is much fuller toward the ends, and the ends are rounded rather than pointed, and it definitely rides over waves better than the Vagabond. The Yellowstone will also turn a lot better and be more "fun" if you like to make your canoe do a lot of pretty maneuvers. The Freedom has much more volume than your other choices, and will be quite a bit heavier to carry. On the plus side, it can carry a big load and handle big waves, and it turns very nicely, but if you don't need to carry a big load or run a lot of Class II, it may be too much boat. As Duggae points out, it really catches the wind when not heavily loaded (I've paddled 50 yards behind Duggae and gotten advance notice of approaching wind gusts by watching his boat suddenly skate sideways across the river!), but is a joy to paddle otherwise. I can't tell you much about the Solo 14, except that unlike the Vagabond, it is likely to have exactly the amount of rocker the manufacturer says it does, so it might turn a little better than the Vagabond. People who have Solo 14s usually like them a lot, but I think they are only available in Royalex Light or Royalite (not sure which), which is a bit less durable than standard Royalex.

One additional boat you might consider is the Mohawk Odyssey 14. I have one and it's my favorite all-around boat. I did hear a rumor that they are no longer available in standard Royalex, only a lighter version like the Solo 14. In any case, it's a very cabable boat for twisty rivers and light rapids, and it's not a bad cruiser in a compromise sort of way (not as fast as the Vagabond). Though it doesn't go into a headwind quite well as a Vagabond, its manners and handling in the wind are actually even more predictable than a Vagabond, and it certainly never becomes ornery and cantankerous in wind like some larger solos. I'd say it handles Class II waves as well as, and probably better than a Yellowstone, and though it turns very nicely, it doesn't feel quite as lively as a Yellowstone. It'll perform a better backferry, though.

Still Looking
I agree with most of the posts. I get the points although I’d modify the words a bit, e.g. “turning on a dime”. I’d say my Dagger Rival would turn on a dime, but my Yellowstone – no. You can snap an eddy turn with it, but with considerably more leverage than in a more highly rockered boat. And the skeg like stern detracts from the boat’s performance – a feature that I understand was not on the original Wildfire (correct me if I have this wrong).

I think there is a boat to be built that combines the best features of all the models and reduces each of their deficiencies. I would like to see a company like Esquif build this dream boat in their new twintex material. So, you would have the option of having a MR Guide like boat with about 20 pounds knocked off, but still be as tough as nails. I think there is a market for this kind of boat among owners of the existing solo boats as well as new boat buyers. I have communicated this idea with an Esquif rep who hopefully passed the message on to the chief. I encourage other solo aficienados to contact Esquif and communicate your interests. Bell, Wenonah, and Mad River need some fresh ideas in their boat lines. Perhaps a company like Esquif can shake things up a little.

I have a Yellowstone solo…
and it is my do it all boat. Does class II fairly well,and not a handfull in the wind{I have Bell covers if wind is really bad}. Turns well enough for what I use it for{mostly slow rocky rivers & light short touring}. I like mine. Is a bit lively at first,but it hasn’t throwed me out on any flat water,except on a bad move on my part in class II WW. Good all around boat in my opinion.

Happy Paddling billinpa

Your size???
As was mentioned by Clarion in a post above your weight & height can make a BIG difference in which boat you choose. Shoe size can matter as well – if you go with a stock seat position. One can adjust the seat as needed to accommodate large feet, but some boats will lack real world capacity if you are a larger person.

Carrying capacities listed by many canoe manufacturers should be ignored as a general rule. They’re trying to sell boats and will say anything…

As to the canoes you listed – here’s my 2 cents worth:

At 200 lbs (+/-) and 6’2” tall I’m really too large for my Bell Wildfire RX for anything but day-tripping empty. I enjoy this boat and use it a lot, but it’s really too small for me. Put in some weekend tripping gear and the WFRX becomes a slug. Load it down with a weeks worth of gear and my lard ass and that canoe is reminiscent of a coal barge on the Ohio River. The older Wildfire RX is very close in design to the current Yellowstone Solo, but slightly more maneuverable & playful. The YS was reportedly detuned to be harder tracking – more beginner friendly. Its capacity and behavior under load is probably about the same as the WFRX.

We also have a Mohawk Solo 14 in our family fleet. It has a tad more capacity than the Bell YS, but not much. It’s not nearly has nice handling as the YS though although it is considerably lighter weight on the portage trail. The Mo-So-14 is very full in the quarters and therefore very slow – and the devil itself to try to work your way upstream in. I do think it’s a pretty good beginner’s FreeStyle canoe personally, but at least one very knowledgeable FreeStyle instructor (kayakmedic) disagreed with my assessment in a recent thread regarding this canoe – so opinions vary.

The Wenny Vagabond is an okay little canoe, but it’s not very maneuverable in my opinion. Its handling always seemed lethargic to me. It’s the one canoe in your line-up that always makes me want to yawn…

The MR Freedom Solo has the best maneuverability and over-all performance of the canoes you’ve listed in my humble opinion. If you tip the scale at 200 or greater it would be the no-brainer choice in my opinion.

As has been said by others the list you’ve put together is really a “river canoe”list. None of these boats would be much to brag about as wilderness trippers. But getting a canoe for what you’ll do the most of is the smart way to go.

FWIW, Bell Canoe Works was recently sold, don’t know what quality will be like under new owner. Mohawk also recently sold, quality is an unknown at this point to me – they used to have the best & most friendly customer service in the industry, let’s hope that continues. Mad River was sold some years ago, most people agree that MR is a shadow of it’s former self - lots of grumbling about that sorry outfit. We-no-nah is the best builder of the lot in my opinion and the only brand name you’ve listed still under the same ownership for years. They’ve never offered much in terms of hull designs that excited me very much for the type of paddling I do, but they’ve built the best quality canoes of the companies listed for a long time in my opinion. …and that’s all any of my comments are – just my opinion - FWIW.

Good luck on your choice. - Randall

Here is one for a budget
May be worth a look. I was lookinfg at this one myself, but can’t get down there to see it.

Solo Canoe - Wenonah WWC1, 16’, fiberglass open canoe. Asymetrical deep hull, fast down river paddling on rough streams and lakes, set up with knee pads and a solo seat, good condition, Wt 50 lbs. $250 obo


Contact Phil Kowalski in Wheeling, WV

E-Mail to Phil -


Thanks so far:
Lots of good thought here, Thank you all very much.

I’ll add somethings that I’ve been thinkin about since my first post and that your posts have brought up.

First my size and gear since a couple of you asked: 5’10" around 180lbs. 9 1/2" shoe size. Over the years I’ve made an attempt to reduce the weight of my gear and try to keep it simple. My gear generally weighs between 20 and 25 lbs without food and water. Sometimes my terrier goes with, she weighs around 20 lbs. So total load should be around 225 lbs. Add the wife and kids (in their own boats) and it will be between between 250 and 300 lbs. because of the extra gear I carry to keep them happy.

As far as priorities go I would have to say wind. To tell you the truth, if it wasn’t for the wind I would be happy with using my Blue Hole. The slightest breeze makes it spin like a top when paddling solo. Durring the summer here in Iowa the rivers tend to be slow and paddling can be more like stillwater than moving water. The prevailing south wind really sucks sometimes. But I still want to have turning ability and rough water (light class II) capability.

Looks are important. Thats the biggest negative for the Mohawk Solo 14.

Cost is always important. :slight_smile:

One last note. I’d also be perfectly happy with my solo pirogues except for 2 things: #1 negative is I hate to sit on my butt for any length of time (for those that don’t know, you sit and paddle them like a kayak). I’m more comfortable in a canoe where I can move around and switch positions. #2 negative is the lack of initial stability. With a water-line width of 26" or so and the flat bottom/hard chines it jumps sideways with every cast while fishing and is twitchy upon entry. It’s fine while paddling though.

What I want:

Wind resistants: 7-8 (1 thru 10 scale)

Turning: 6-7

Tracking: 3-5 (not a big deal, I use a double bladed paddle)

Weight: 40-50 lbs.

Price: under $1000 ($700 would be better)

Gear capacity: Whatever it takes so it’s not a slug with me and my solo gear.

Thanks again,


Looks interesting Yulester. Too bad its in WV. Also a bit longer than I wanted but I’d love to take a closer look at her.


WildFire weight limit
David Yost designed WildFire for a three week long northern river trip by a 225 lb guy - himself. The rated 340 lbs at the 4" waterline is a real number, although, in RX, maybe one should lop ten lbs off that for additional boat weight.

Height is another issue - those with long legs, particularly thighs, may find the boat too narrow for maximum comfortable knee spread.

Having the knees too close together forces raising the seat, which raises CG, so stability suffers. Basketball players, on average, are less stable paddlers than baseball players. So it goes.

Isn’t it nice that longer limbed folks usually have wider shoulders and can, therefore, get both hands across the rail of a wider boat?

Pretty easy requirements
Watch for a used boat and you ought to be able to get one that works well for you for $500 to $700 pretty quickly. There’s a Daggar Sojourn on ebay now (in Iowa) that you might be happy with.

I bought a used Vagabond for $600, very good condition and that’s a boat I think would meet your needs.

I like the WFRX – BUT…
DY’s design intensions aside under my weight and especially with a hefty load of tripping gear a Wildfire RX sits deep in the water. The deeper is sits under load the more “skeggy” its differential rocker performs. Simply put I just don’t like a sticky stern/lethargic performance. Enjoy it as I do as a day-boat that canoe is just too small for me. That’s my opinion – your mileage may vary.

FWIW, I have deep respect for Mr. Yost and his astounding abilities as a watercraft designer, but I don’t have to like all aspects of everything he designs. Fact of the matter is he’s designed more canoes and kayaks than any other designer – how could everything about all of those designs please everyone? Mission impossible.

  • Randall

To bad C_Brice…

– Last Updated: Apr-08-07 9:22 AM EST –

you don't live in the east. A local outfitter here has some new 06 models mentioned here for under $1000. I don't think they ship but you can call:
717-957-2413 Blue Mountain Outfitters of Marysville,Pa.

Happy Paddling billinpa

I didnt say that the Mohawk Solo Series was a bad FS boat at all.

The stems free up for beginners with a mild heel. What I did say was that it is very hard to force the rail to the water. Under current competition standards this is a requisite. Is it necessary for the everyday paddler?

Not at all. But it can be frustrating for the advancing student to have to put all that work in getting the rail to the water to meet an arbirtary standard.

Most quit and go to a Wildfire.

Now that Yellowstone and Wildfire are discreet it gets even muddier. My understanding is that the Yellowstone composites have differential rocker; a skegged stern.

Didn’t mean to misrepresent your words, a misunderstanding on my part. Sorry about that. - Randall