Solo Canoe Recommendation for NFCT

As I consider to begin paddling sections of the Norther Forest Canoe Trails next year, I'm trying to determine what my best option would be for a solo tripper.

I'm a bigger guy at 235 and would only be able to paddle the trail in 3-5 day sections. The boat needs to be fairly efficient on the flats and be able to run class II as well. Because of my size, I'm thinking that I should consider a boat at least 14.5" long, if not 15". Cost is a factor and unfortunately I won't be able to spend much more than $1,000 on the boat.

What would you recommend?

buy used
you will probably get more for your money if you buy a used boat. there are many quality boats from various manufactures in the 15-foot range that can handle flats and up to class II. your weight, however, may dictate the need for more volume or length. most canoes in that 15-foot range have an optimum capacity of 150 to 300 pounds. do you already have a nice set of paddles and other needed camping/safety equipment?

got all the necessary gear and currently own an Esquif Canyon, Mohawk Probe and an OT Disco 174, paddles etc. I’ve been eyeing a solo tripper for some time but I’ve finally made the decision to get one. I love the look of the Hemlock SRT and paddled one a few weeks ago but I certainly don’t have the cash to buy one. I’ve also looked the Swift Osprey but again, I don’t have the money to buy new.

Solo Trippers
I own an Old Town Penobscott 15. I like it a lot and think it would be a good choice for you. Unfortunately, they are not made any more. Still, you can find them used.

paddled the penobscot before and its a nice boat but if possible, I’d like to stay away from Old Town. I haven’t been happy with their customer service in the past and would prefer not to buy another OT boat.

that’s why i suggested buying used. are you looking for a composite? have you checked the classifieds on this site?

I paddle a wenonah Vagabond. It is nice on flats and I have run class1 with it a bunch. Never pushed it cause I got it this spring. It is 14.5 feet. In tuff weave it was 950 bucks or so and weighs 45ish pounds. It may be small for you and the gear. I bet a Merlin 2 would be nice but it may be a trick to find one in your range. If I had to guess I bet a vagabond would get it done. have fun good luck

Check out the Nova Craft Supernova… at 14’10 designed as a solo triper for up to and including Class III. Tracks well on the flats and is a comfortable size for us full figured paddlers.

It depends
Hi DDave!

The NFCT is one of my favorite subjects.

I think for you a lot depends on what sort of paddling you want to do, or what part of the trail you are aiming for. Now, while it is true that the only fellow who has thru-paddled the trail apparently did so in a single boat (16’ home built birch), for most of us mere mortals, I think this would be tough.

I think the major NFCT paddling might be broken down into: big lakes, downstream WW, poling, and portaging. So, depending on what you are aiming to do, you might choose your boat accordingly.

My Wildfire seems to be a pretty good all around NFCT boat, although you might want a little more volume. It also is a challenging boat to pole. I think the longer Bells, like a Merlin 2, might be nice on the lakes, but might not be great in Class 2 WW.

Now, MarshallM has set himself up with a nice larger solo boat, and in his hands I believe he uses it for both Class 2 and poling. I think it’s an older OT.

Whatever you decide, let me beg to join you for a section sometime. I am sure that like me you have decided to paddle northeast, to finish with the mighty Allagash, yes?

Solo Canoe Recommendation NFCT
Don’t know anything about your destination. But I’ve owned a 16’ Penobscot for a couple of years now and couldn’t be more pleased. Fast and agile, it executes flatwater and class 1 & 2 just fine. Plus, I weigh in at only a little lighter 195 lbs.

We like our Mowhawk Odessey 14s.
High volume, manuverable, pretty good on flat water. And Mowhawk’s service is great. New is around $800 including shipping. If you need a boat that can haul a load and still manuever in class II, check it out.

How are you?
I’m thinking about doing it in chunks over the next couple of years, though I’d love to give it a shot in one go. If I would have known I was going to get laid off with a bit more advance notice, I conceivably could have done it this summer. The key right now is figuring out what I want/need for a boat. Since I won’t be playing in the ww, I’m not sure how much ww performance I’m going to need versus the lake travel. When I paddled the Hemlock SRT, I absolutely loved it and knew immediately that it could handle an expedition of this magnitude. Like I said above, cost is a serious factor. I have a feeling that I’m going to get a solo boat for my 30th birthday and I want to drop as many hints as I can. I’m not sure if a royalex or composite boat is the way to go.

I’ve been looking
at the Odyssey for some time and would love to paddle one for a couple of hours. I think based on my weight and the necessity to stand while poling, the 15 might be a better option for me. The big question is, how long will I be out at a stretch? Obviously weekend trips, I think the 14 would do but if I start extending trips to 1 week+would the 15 be a better choice. I don’t know and that’s why I wish I could paddle one first.

I have paddle an SRT a few miles. (read the SRT review) This is undoubtedly the best boat for the job! This can easily handle the load in heavy water and it is not a bardge on flatwater. Also is light enough to single portage. The only problem I can see is poling with the SRT. I kinda think this would be a little tricky, but than again I never tried poling in any boat.

It sounds like a great trip and I may have to add it to my list of waters to paddle.


Thoughts on poling a solo canoe…
Datong Dave,

Looks as though to me that TramperAl is on the right track. Personally, I believe that the fundamental question for you to ask yourself is whether or not that you want to ascend the 8 or so rivers on the NFCT, if going in a northeasterly direction. If the answer is yes, I would opt for a larger 16+ foot canoe that you can pole effectively.

I own an older MRC Explorer and a solo Courier and pole both canoes. The tandem Explorer is an excellent poling canoe but the smaller Courier is only marginal. At 14’ 7", the Courier was the predecessor to the Guide and is essentially a mini-Explorer with a more exaggerated v-hull.

Given that the Courier has a wider beam than most modern solo canoes, I will assume that it may be more “poleable” than most solo boats on the market today. With a beam of about 32 inches, it is fairly tippy to stand in but that is only one of the problems. My experience is that you can’t easily trim the boat by moving forward or backwards which is a major disadvantage. This along with the fact that it’s a smaller canoe that draws more water allows the current to grab the hull which presents challenges for overall bow control while ascending as well as snubbing downstream.

I understand that you’ve had issues with OT, but I’ve solo paddled and poled the Penobscot 16 and have been impressed with its quickness (for a royalex boat) and how well it tracks although I’m not sure how well it would do in whitewater above class II due to the straight keel line. Maybe a similar boat by another manufacturer would be ideal for you.


Many boats out there

– Last Updated: Jul-19-04 10:04 PM EST –

There you go, DDave.

Marshall once again has made me feel better about my having a tough time poling my little 30 inch wide solo boat. At least it is well suited for the lakes and up to Class 1 to 2.

We haven't even talked about the Class 3 WW sections. Going northeast, I am aware of some challenging WW on the Nulhegan (VT), the North Branch of the Dead (ME), and the Moose (ME). None has established portages that I know of. When I show up to paddle one of these, I hope it will be in a WW boat with plenty of help (interested?) along to keep me out of too much trouble. If I pole significant sections, it will likely be in the 36" x 16.5' tandem.

If I manage to section paddle the whole trail in New England over the next several years, well that will be fantastic. To try to do so in a single boat is not something I care to atempt.

That said, I am very happy that you are aiming for the trail, and I know that a solid solo boat at a modest price will get you most anywhere you want to be.

DDave—tried to send you the info
and I’m feeling like Elvis. Return to sender. Here’s my e-mail so you can send direct:

Make sure you put a subject line on it cause this is my spam catcher.

My Vote
I’ve been looking hard at the NFCT for a lot of years now. Even considered attempting parts of it but opted out to run a different route. I do believe the boat you’ll need for this type of a trail would be something like the Mad River Explorer. It’s a very versitale boat, the v-hull is a plus on the flatwaters, is wide enough to pole which you will be looking at, holds a ton of gear, and has a lot of freeboard for the whitewater.

Downside is that it’s heavy just like the OT’s of similiar size. Considering that you’ll be doing a lot of upstream work the pole will be your aid and something of thinner nature will be a bit of a challenge to run with. Just my .02 worth.


I will go with Halfapaddle. I am pleased with my Supernova. It is a good design, handles flat water fine and class II stuff is no problem. With her max load listed at 850lbs. your trip load should be no problem and she falls within your price range.

One boat
I find my Explorer to be a bit of a bear paddling open water solo in a breeze. (unless it’s a tailwind. Other than that I agree with Doug. I do think a boat with less rocker might fare a little better on the lakes. Which leads us back to a boat like the Penobscot. They’re tough as hell. Folks do wild water races in them so they should run the whitewater OK. They’re big enough to pole (does anybody pole one?) and they track reasonably well for the open water.

Talked me into it.