Solo Canoe - There can be only one

I’ve recently have started paddling canoes. I’ve been reading a lot (books, here and whatever else I can find) on paddling. I’m also starting to practice my strokes. I’d like to start camping from a canoe.

I currently have an Old Town Guide 119 (plastic) and a Wenonah Vagabond in Graphite. I’m 6’02" & 225#s. I recently paddled with a friend and he said I make the Vagabond look small. I only had myself and maybe 10 additional pounds in the boat.

I’m on Long Island and would like to start paddling the Adirondacks, Pennsylvania, CT. Presently I’m not really interested in running anything over a class 2 rapid.

Slower moving, more casual, rivers interest me more than lakes.

I like the pretty much worry free plastic construction of the O.T. Guide but I’m not a huge fan of it’s lack of glide. I do like the composite Vagabond but I fear that I’ll break it or maybe it is too small for me.

I really want a single “do all for me” canoe to use. I want to learn that one canoe, I don’t want to keep switching boats. What would you recommend for me?

Lots of possibilities

– Last Updated: Jul-30-13 10:33 PM EST –

You really need not be concerned about breaking a high-quality composite canoe used on non-whitewater streams. You might get some scratches, but catastrophic damage is unlikely, short of a pin, and a bad pin can also do in a Royalex boat. A composite boat will be lighter, stiffer, and typically have a finer cut water with better glide.

The smallest I would go would be a 14' boat. If you do not plan to camp with a very heavy load, the 14' Colden Wildfire might do very nicely. The Wildfire was previously made by Bell Canoe and some were made by Placid Boatworks. You might come across a used one.
Bell also made a similar composite 14 footer called the Yellowstone Solo which, like all Bell Canoes, is not currently in production.

If you think you might need to carry a lot a 15' boat might be a better choice. There are lots of choices. A few are the Swift Osprey, the Swift Keewaydin, the Hemlock SRT and the Placid Rapidfire. Bell Canoe used to make the Merlin II and there are also the 14' 9" Hemlock Kestrel and the 15' 9" Hemlock Peregrine.

Choosing a solo canoe involves establishing priorities that are largely a function of personal preference. Some of the above boats are more maneuverable, whereas others are harder tracking and faster. Any might serve your purpose and are at least worth taking a look at. And there are many other possibilities as well.

Thank you
I am leaning towards a 15’ boat. I quickly googled some of your suggestions and the Swift Keewaydin looks right up my alley. A local Swift dealer is having a demo day on the 17th of August. Looks like I’ll be going to check it out.

Thank you.

Hate to Break
The bubble, but if you are truly smitten by the solo bug, there will always be another canoe as your skills acrue.

A medium-size solo tripper is a great place to start; Swift’s Kee 15 is DY’s latest solo tipper, and a little bigger than the forerunners, so may be perfect for you. It features differential rocker, more in the bow than stern to aid tracking and features lots of tumblehome to ease getting the paddle shaft vertical in the water. The bow rocker eased turning the boat in waves or moving water.

The Wenonah Wilderness is the ssme length and a little wider, but sadly lacks a hint of rocker.

Over time, once you get forward directionality under control you might want more stern rocker to allow more play in moving water.

Never mind me, it’s a progression over time. I’ve a spec sheet of dimensions of all composite solo canoe currently built. Email me at for an electronic copy.

My most often used solo is a Royalex Vagabond, on Ozark streams which are mostly class 1. I’m 5’8" and 175 pounds, and I do quite a bit of multi-day floats. I’ve heard others say the Vagabond doesn’t do well with a load, but my experience has been that it does quite well. I don’t skimp on the gear I take…if I can fit it into the canoe, I don’t worry about the weight.

But you may still want something a little bigger. However, like anything concerning canoes, you have to consider the trade-offs. A bigger canoe might not be as much fun to paddle on day trips, for instance. Which means that you probably won’t ever find the perfect do-everything solo and you’ll end up owning two or more of them (I own five at present, but I use three of them, the others are older “spares”.)

One note…above, somebody talked about rocker. In my opinion, unless you’re paddling very narrow, twisty creeks or frequent rock gardens where you HAVE to do a lot of quick maneuvering, a solo canoe with rocker is unnecessary on class 1 to 2 waters. Solos inherently maneuver pretty well even without rocker unless they are over 15 feet in length, and on most class 1 waters you’re more likely to want to paddle straight and fast than to turn on a dime all the time.

Take a look at the Penobscot 16 or 17
It is out of Rolax which makes it ideal for class I-II.

A friend of mine who is heavier then you paddles one.

He has his outfitted for solo.

Jack L

Swift Osprey
If you don’t mind kneeling there is not a better river tripping solo made. It’s very efficient, manuverable and dry in some pretty big waves.

There’s also one for sale in the classifieds here. Not mine though. I won’t sell mine.

Thank you
I have much to study and check out. I hope to be able to paddle some solos to help my decision.

I am quite smitten with the lines of Swift’s Keewaydin 15, it really blows my skirt up.

Osprey carbon fusion
I bought a Swift Osprey in the carbon fusion layup with graphite kevlar gunnels a couple months ago and have paddled it 20 or so times on both creeks and lakes. It maneuvers wonderfully on the creeks and tracks well on the lakes. Using the sit and switch paddling method I get 4 to 6 strokes on each side using a bent shaft 50 inch graphite paddle.

This boat is very stable and a joy to watch wildlife from using binoculars or consulting a bird ID book. I have not used it for camping but its size would be adequate for a week long trip.

My boat has a fixed web seat. It did not come with the sliding seat and so far the fixed seat is fine. I tend to like a web seat better than a bucket seat that some of my other solos have. The cherry thwarts, carrying handles and seat hangers look real sharp.

The 27 pound weight is the thing I like best about this boat. It is a joy to handle out of the water. My first canoe I purchased in the late 60’s was a 95 pound Herters canoe and at the time I could handle it by myself. Not so in 2013.

Swift’s workmanship is without a flaw. For my purpose I don’t know how I could have a finer all purpose solo.

I also have a Wenonah prism and 2 Sawyer DY Specials that are in pristine condition.

This boat was not cheap but is a joy to handle and paddle.

Osprey Sliding Seat, Swift Layups
My Osprey came with the sliding seat. Since I sometimes paddle it in rapids approaching Class III, I replaced the slider with a fixed pedestal. I agree that the slider is not needed.

My Osprey is the old “Expedition Kevlar”. It’s taken some good hard hits and is pretty well bullet proof. It also weighs some 45 lbs.

I’ve no direct experience with the newer Swift layups but from what I’ve read I’d be surprised if they are nearly as rugged.

That Swift Keewaydin 15 has a strong resemblance to a Magic. :slight_smile:

The closest Swift dealer to me
is very accommodating and have arranged to have both a Swift Keewaydin 15 and an Osprey available to paddle that day.

If your close enough to CT and have interest in either boat they will be available to try Saturday 08-17-13 at Collinsville Canoe & Kayak in Collinsville, CT.

Wenonah encounter big boys boat that glides like you wouldn’t believe

placid rapidfire
The Placid Boats Rapidfire is amazing. I’ve had mine in all kinds of smooth to nasty waters and conditions here in Colorado. Not plastic but it’s TOUGH! Great people to work with, many seat options

You have a great boat, but you should trade for my TUFFWEAVE advantage. I never steer around anything that I can richochete off. Im serious. It was scarred when i got it and has proven to be bulletproof. I’ll trade, plus cash, and Im in NJ. Not joking…

Jesse, Have you got a bench seat in yours?

I would SO love to try a Rapidfire set up for kneeling.

Can’t use the comode they normally install. Oy!

rapidfire seat
Tommy I have the slider, at the time a bench wasn’t available. You can try my canoe anytime, I’m in Colorado come-on over

Swift Raven?
Aside from the weight of the Royalex, what’s not to like?

Do you think I’d have trouble with tracking or glide?

I know a test paddle for me would be best but I can’t do that while I’m slow at work so I come here to pick brains :slight_smile:

not the best for either
IIRC, the Raven was designed as a downriver tripping boat , so I would not expect it to track or glide as well as some of the other boats you will be looking at.

If your preference is for river trips including canoe camping, and running non-technical whitewater, the Raven might not be a bad choice. It has sufficient depth and rocker to be a reasonable choice for straightforward rapids, but its length is not going to allow it to spin on a dime.

It is a roomy canoe and to me feels big when paddling it unloaded, but I am smaller than you. It won’t track as strongly as your Vagabond but it might actually have a higher top speed, but with its greater wetted surface area, it is going to take more effort to get it there and keep it there.

And it is quite a bit of Royalex to tote around if you are planning on doing many portages.