solo canoe - small paddler

I am looking for a good fast solo canoe. I am small, 5’3, 125lbs. Have a Bell Wildfire, like it, but am a bit too light for it and find it to be slow. I do flat water, white water, mostly class II.


Maybe Bell or Placid Flashfire.
Small person’s version of the Wildfire.

Wenonah Sandpiper
If I didn’t have so many boats I would have one, but my daughter has one and I just borrow hers.

It would be perfect for your size, is fast and maneuvers beautifully.



Width and surface area

– Last Updated: Jul-08-08 9:49 AM EST –

I would bet that WildFire is too wide for you at 30" max beam, and that you have trouble keeping your paddleshaft vertical during forward strokes.

There are a few hulls with 29" max beam very few hulls significantly narrower. Hemlock's Kestrel is one, at 27.5" by 14'9". It can be rigged for kneeling or sitting.

Placid boatworks makes two hulls at 27.5" max beam, RapidFire at 15' and SpitFire at 12'; both can be rigged for kneeling paddlers.

All three of these hulls have the differential rocker characteristic of touring hulls. If you enjoy the WildFire's performance in rivers, Pb 's FlashFire is 28.5" max beam by 13 feet with the same, rather demanding but rewarding 2.5" rocker at both stems.

Hemlock has a couple larger touring hulls with differential rocker at 28.5" max beam. Savage River has a sit and switch Otegan that is 28.5 by 16'2".

Both Hemlock and Placid use D Yost's shouldered tumblehome, which will help with vertical strokes.

A second consideration is skin friction. As a smaller paddler, and without knowledge about the frequency of your weight-room training, shorter hulls have less skin in the water, and hence, less skin friction. You may find the shorter hulls are more efficient for you.

Towards this end JackL is dead on; shorter is better, but I doubt Sandpiper, at 30" the same width as your WildFire but with less tumblehome, will be an improvement. Worse, it is NLS, no longer sold, so access will be sketchy.

Another option would be a custom stripper made to your specifications. One builder who comes to mind is Marc Ornstein of Dog Paddle in Honeyoe Falls NY.

Hemlock Kestrel?

– Last Updated: Jul-08-08 10:34 AM EST –, "Falcon series"

For a small stripper, look at the Half-Moon here:

Might be too flatwater-oriented for your use.


– Last Updated: Jul-08-08 5:12 PM EST –

Try to find, test paddle, and then "perhaps" buy a used, Bell Flashfire, in decent condition, at a reasonable price.

May be hard to find, but may be worth the effort.
Have seen them for sale on pnet occasionally.

If you are not familiar with that canoe; email me, and I can send you some photos of two of them.


I am small like you barely 5’7" and just shy of 140lbs.

I have had a hard time finding a boat that fits smaller people like us!

I own a Bell merlin II and find the width at the gunnells is still a little too wide for me and wish I had been patient and bought a used Flashfire. I did get to demo one last year and it was a perfect fit for me…I did notice I had to pay very close attention to my strokes to keep it close to straight (my bad stroke technique didn’t help either) but it was very responsive and got that “At one w/ the canoe” kind of feeling.

It’s true there isn’t much out there for us as far as choices out there but we do have wonderful resources in people like Charlie Wilson,Jackl & theBob who will steer you in the right direction.

Hope my opion about the flashfire demo I did last year helped.

I am not as petite as you, but also
find big boats, too big for me. 5’8" and 140 lbs. But, I’m an older guy and have had the fortune to have thebob as a mentor. We paddle together often. I paddle a Mad River Guide on the multi day overnite river trips. A Wenonah Vagabond on day trips. These trips are always with my dog, 40 lb, RockC the Paddlin dog in the bow.

Recently I purchased a Bell Merlin, not a Merlin II for BWCA and big river tripping. Same dimensions basically without any rocker. These boats all work for me. Maybe I’m not particular enough. I think it’s just a matter of learning how to “work with” the canoe I just bought. But, I’m of the old school. I’d rather make it work, than go to the trouble of selling and buying a new canoe.

After paddling a friend’s Flashfire I knew it was a boat for me. Got my own shortly thereafter. I am new to solo paddling and find this boat a joy to paddle. It responds so nicely.

I can’t compare to others well though, as my experience is limited. I have spent short periods of time in the Bell Wildfire, NovaCraft Prospector and Mohawk Odyssey. The Flashfire fits me the best.

Solo canoe for small paddler
I am 5’, 125 lb., and visit the weight room at the gym 3x a week, mainly to stay the same - it is unlikely that my shoulders will get any wider now that I have reached middle age.

I started paddling in a Merlin II (15’). Next came the Wildfire (14’). Then the Flashfire (13’). Finally the Loon Works Solitaire (12 1/2’). I find, contrary to the concept that a longer boat will go faster, that I am able to paddle more efficiently, with less effort, and faster for longer periods of time, with a smaller and narrower canoe.

If my garage grew a little bigger, I might be interested in American Traders Twister, since I don’t have a wooden canoe yet. As stated by other posts, the Flash, Twister, and Solitaire are excellent teachers of good paddling technique, since they paddle well only when you pay close attention to the quality of your strokes. But the narrowness of the hulls make it easier to paddle more correctly.

Good luck finding a new canoe,


PS: I have not been able to water my front garden for three days because a real catbird has a nest with two kittenbirds in a blue spruce in the front of the house. I get dive-bombed by the mom and dad bird every time I stop in the front yard !

An’ yer Loon Works Solitaire

– Last Updated: Jul-09-08 12:06 PM EST –

be a'mighty purty canoo too (even though ah' almost sank it when ah' got inta it de utter week... :>0)

P.S. By de way try some birdnip... woyks well on dem thaar kittyboyds.


Put out a shallow dish of grape jelly and they’ll love you for life!


Thanks everyone for the feed back. I am mulling it all over. I keep thinking a shorter boat will be slower. Would love to try the Flashfire as well as some of the other boats listed. Anyone in Maryland or New York (upstate or Long Island) have one I could try for an hour? Would be willing to leave my car, wallet, etc, as security.

I will also try more upper body workouts, been letting it go a bit.

I have a hard time getting my head around the shorter vessel going faster.

Anyone or New York or Maryland want to try a Wildfire, its a great boat, but I am not getting rid of it anytime soon. I am rather found of that boat.


longer is faster, sometimes
for top speed, longer is faster. narrower is faster, too.

i’m 6’1" and 180 pounds and find a 15-foot Rob Roy suits me fine for coastal tripping, etc.

i paddle a C1 marathon, 18’6", in races.

i think you’ll find that a 14 or 15-footer will be and feel faster than a 13, but that’s top end. you may find that over the course of four or five hours that you get further with a shorter boat. that’s the theory, anyway.

You might…
…consider a Wenonah Prism in Kevlar Flex Core. Only 44 lbs and very nice tracking and glide. If you do a lot of Class II it might not be the best but it will certainly handle it.

Freedom Solo(MadRiver)

– Last Updated: Jul-09-08 5:34 PM EST –

You might wanna hunt down either MadRiver's older "Guide" or their "Freedom Solo"(Royalex)...which is, I ThInK?, their latter day version of the demo. It can do everything mentioned. Maybe big for you....depending on your paddling style. ...But if you see any of above mentioned....give em' a try.


Yup its all about arm length
A vertical stroke is an efficient stroke and in the long run less tiring.

Shorter boats have faster acceleration (less skin friction).

I have an old Flash but I am in Maine. I have other Loon Works boats too and several larger tripping solos. The Flash is comfy for me for arm width but too small for my outings in the bush.

Fit and finish and accessibility
These things often come down to a 240 ponder suggesting a boat that fits himself to someone half his size. That mostly doesn’t work; but folks are proud of their boats, have fond memories of trips, them, and mean well.

The best place to try a Flash might be at the factory where they are made in Lake Placid, NY. You’d be in a new, unscratched hull that hasn’t had the seat moved, and hence misplaced, because someone trips with their dog. The factory can custom fit a boat to your physical dimensions.

The new, infused, Flashes weigh 28 lbs in cherry trim; 24.5 lbs with CobraSox rails, and is stronger and stiffer than the old Bell Black/Gold hulls due to the benefits of closed cavity vacuum infusion.

I am 5’9", weigh 165 lbs and have run class II drops in Flash with 100 lbs of tripping gear aboard. Flash was commissioned from DY by me to fit me in 1994. You may need a deeper seat drop or thicker knee pads to achieve a perfect fit. The thigh length - seat to chine - is one of the critical measurements. Most folks selling a used boat are not in a position to increase seat drop distance.

Shorter is faster
too: it all depends on the engine…

For me at 6’, 170 lbs the FlashFire is a good fit but,

because I also like to paddle as hard as I can for a workout,

I find it just a bit too short, used as I am to the speed potential of

my 15’6" Wenonah Whisper. Otherwise I would have probably bought

a Flashfire, if I would be able to buy one here with an aluminum gunwale.

The WildFire is longer than the FlashFire, but not really faster for me

because it is too big for me.

Too bad I haven’t been able to try a RapidFire – yet

For my wife, who is 5’6", 132 lbs, the FlashFire is a good fit,

might even be a bit smaller for her, length is good enough.

So indeed try a FlashFire!

Another Possibility
A Savage River Wee Lassie set up for kneeling in the reinforced layup might be an option in a shorter boat. It’s 11"6" and faster than I expected.Pleanty of freeboard and rocker for class II.Mine handles my 175#,but would probibly be even better at your weight.They are located in Maryland.