Tandem Canoe Suggestions/Small Rivers?

Hello - I’m sure this question gets asked a lot so my apologies out of the gate.

I’m an experienced sea kayaker but I’m now living in Wisconsin. My wife and I live right off the Plover River and want to get a tandem canoe so that the dog can go with us. The river can be narrow and winding at points that might require portages. We also want to use the canoe on small lakes and the Wolf River.

I need some advice on what kind of tandem canoe to get. We are both small people. I’m 5’9" and 140 lbs. and my wife is 5’5" and 104 lbs.

I’ve seen a lot of Old Town canoes but they seem really heavy and I don’t know if they are good for smaller rivers and streams. It needs to be light-weight so my wife can help portage sections of the river and also help get the canoe up on the car rack. Is smaller better on rivers? Like 12" instead of a 14"?

I have no problems buying used (actually, I’d prefer it).

Any suggestions? I don’t mind paying more for something that fits, but I’m not dropping 2k on a kevlar canoe…

Advice is appreciated!


check local listings
Twelve feet would be exceptionally short for a tandem canoe. Some very small whitewater tandem boats come in that short, but that is not what you are looking for. Actually a fifteen foot length is common for a “small” tandem canoe, although there are some good 14 1/2’ and even 14’ long models that might work for you.

Rather than recommend specific makers and models, I think it would make more sense to check paddleswap dot com, the craiglist listings for boats for the major metro areas that you consider to be within tolerable driving distance, and perhaps the pnet classified ads here. There is a pretty good market in used canoes in the Wisconsin area, so something suitable will probably turn up pretty soon. If you find a listing that sounds workable, I would post another thread asking about that particular model.

For river use, many are probably going to recommend a Royalex boat, but if you are not intending to run significant whitewater and weight is a major consideration, I would probably look for a composite canoe. You probably want something in the 14-15’ long range with at least a bit of rocker.

For two people and a dog
a twelve foot canoe is way too small.

Get a sixteen footer or a seventeen foot one.

Jack L


– Last Updated: May-13-12 6:06 PM EST –

fifteen feet is fine. Actually the two of us tripped for years for up to a week in a fifteen foot boat.

You both are compact. Look at little pocket cruisers like the Swift Mattawa or the Bell MorningStar.

Seventeen feet is not needed and depending on how twisty your streams are can be a PITA.

Wenonahs Aurora is a foot longer at 16 feet but is very amenable to turning or tracking whatever the need is.

Take a look at P net classifieds. You can have kevlar and keep your dough if you wait for something to float by. Also peruse paddleswap which includes craigslist.

There is also a Malecite around on the classifieds. Getting a little longer.

I would advise a 15 to 16 foot royalex canoe. I am a big Wenonah fan the heron or Aurora. Old town penobscot would work or a Dagger legend. I think wenonah is doing a lot of demo days this time of year up North.

go with a 15 or 16 footer
Don’t go 12 ft! Waaay too short. I think even 14 ft. is too short for you. Short canoes are also very wide. That means that they not only don’t paddle very efficiently, they are also harder for smaller paddlers to reach over the side to paddle. Like everyone else said, go for a 15 or 16 ft canoe. 16 is probably better. Manueverability is a function of rocker, not length. For good turning with decently straight tracking, you want about 2 inches or so. Any less, those are dedicated lake canoes. Any more, those are white water canoes.

Wenonah Aurora would be the perfect canoe for you, at least as the stat sheet goes. They are generally favored by smaller people and the geo is perfect for the sort of versatility you are looking for. Another good candidate would be a Nova Craft Bob’s Special. If your “smaller rivers and streams” are also very shallow, you might want to consider a flat bottomed canoe like the Old Town Camper. The Camper can float in only a few inches of water. It won’t be as efficient for lake paddling, but it’s just fine for day trips and other casual outings. Those are just a few specific models to give you an idea of what’s out there, but really there’s a whole bunch of canoes in the 15-16 range that would serve you well.

Thanks for the advice…
…One that popped up recently on craigslist is a mohawk XL-15. The ad says that it is a whitewater canoe. Would that work ok?

Those Winohah canoes are beautiful! My wife refuses to believe that we need a 14-17 inch canoe, so I’ll have some convincing to do. :slight_smile: This suggestion appeals to me if I can find something used.

The flat bottomed boat is intriguing as well. I really need to give this honest consideration I’ll do some research on these suggestions, but all of them are good.

Many thanks to the community! If you are ever canoeing in Central Wisconsin I know of some hidden gems. I’ll try and return the favor for the advice by posting what I know.


WW boats

– Last Updated: May-13-12 11:17 PM EST –

tend to be slow on flatwater as the waterline length to width ratio is low.

The Mohawk XL 5 is a dedicated river runner/ whitewater playboat. With three inches of rocker and its going to be hard to keep it from spinning.

I thought you were looking for something for slow moving rivers. The Mohawk is not it.

However in class 2 or 3 it would be fun for surfing and catching eddies. It is not for the kind of water you would be taking your dog in.

Auroroa in Tufweave Flexcore?
More than 10 pounds lighter than Royalex, not much heavier than Kevlar flexcore, and in my opinion, probably stronger and easier to repair than Kevlar Flexcore. Tufweave is stiffer and easier paddling than Royalex, stands up well to river abrasion. Pretty nice price, too, though you may not see a used example.

If you want Royalex, Wenonah may not be the way to go. Their Royalex is a bit thin in my opinion. Well, never mind my opinion, their Royalex is thinner than what you’ll see on Old Town or Mad River.

Having paddled in that area
16 feet and longer is out.

Try to find good pocket-tandems.

Bell Morningstar – if you can find one

Wenonah Aurora – not my favorite boat by far

Mad River (Dagger) Reflection 15 – excellent boat

Mad River (Dagger) Legand 15 – a de-tuned whitewater tandem

Nova Craft Bob Special – better flatwater

Nova Craft Prospector 15 – better river

Esquif Pocket Canyon – my personal favorite, great for the Wolf.

Royalex is definitely your friend on these rivers. Composite boats are not going to last on the shallow rocky streams.

Not that hard
Convincing the wife should be pretty easy because there pretty much AREN’T any tandem canoes shorter than 14 ft. There aren’t even very many solo canoes that short, with the exception of white water hulls and pack canoes.

Sub-14 ft tandems you might find are either very wide fishing canoes or dedicated white water OC-2’s. I guess you could go with a short, wide fishing canoe if you really want. It’ll have alot of initial stability, which is good for the dog I guess. But it won’t be any more manueverable than a moderately rockered 16 ft canoe, and it will be a whole lot slower and tougher to paddle.

I agree with the others to pass on the XL-15. Mohawk has other models that would work better for what you want. The Odyssey is a 15 ft river runner that would work really well on your smaller rivers and streams and not be a complete slug on flat water. The Intrepid is their river-biased tripping canoe; it has plenty of rocker for moving water and would paddle easier in the flat water than the Odyssey. I think either of those would work for you.

But I still can’t help thinking that the Wenonah Aurora is like tailer-made for your situation. I mean, on paper at least, I guess you wouldn’t know for sure unless you paddled it. An outfitter here in VA even has one on sale - http://www.frontroyalcanoe.com/

The Wolf is the wildcard here.
The whitewater parts of the wolf require considerably more durability and freeboard than the other criteria. That will be a little more weight and windage. That said, there are some 15-16’ Royalex canoes out there that weigh less than 65 in the catalog. (Take your scale with you when you are looking, some canoes seem to gain as much as 8# somewhere between the catalog and the water.)

Test paddle for sure, and look for something that is easy to turn when sitting still. That is, stop the boat on flat water and pivot the canoe 360 degrees using draw strokes at bow and stern. Count your strokes. The canoe for the wolf should spin pretty easily. I would suggest a 16’ Royalex Explorer might be the low end of manouverable for white water. Good Luck.

"Composite boats are not going to last
Mine do. And I use Royalex and composite in alternation. Royalex becomes more of an advantage in serious whitewater.

It’s not clear that he wants to paddle
significant whitewater. There are certainly sections of the Wolf that are Class I-II.

Obviously, any single boat that one intends to paddle on both lakes and significant whitewater will require a very considerable, and to many unacceptable compromise of either flat water or whitewater performance.

The topic of what material is best for river canoes has been rather beaten to death. I too have paddled composite canoes on rocky Class I-II streams and have been quite satisfied with their performance. I also have one full-on composite whitewater canoe (a Clipper Viper) and will soon have another, so even whitewater use does not absolutely preclude use of a composite boat.

It is true that composite canoes are more susceptible to cracking upon sudden impact with rocks, but they can generally be repaired fairly easily. If one anticipates paddling a canoe primarily on swift, shallow, rocky streams then royalex or foam-core poly are no doubt a better choice for the majority of folks than composite (assuming they are prepared to accept the weight penalty), but those materials being softer, tend to die from continuous abrasion, and once worn into the foam core are somewhat more difficult to repair.

14’ or longer
I can attest that the Wenonah Fisherman, which lists at 14’, would do for the OP - assuming not a large dog. Not hard to lift at 57lbs in RX. The 15’ Wenonah Heron would also work.

MorningStar and Aurora may be among the best choices - especially in composite. A 15’ prospector would do.

Anything under 14’ is definitely too small, and there are darned few 14’ boats I would consider for even a small couple.

“Canoe for the Wolf”

– Last Updated: May-14-12 6:23 PM EST –

There's no such thing as "a canoe for the Wolf". It's a long river with all sorts of different conditions along the way. I saw no mention or implication about whitewater paddling in the original post. Also, there's a very long stretch of the Wolf River quite near to the O.P.'s location, and that whole stretch is very slow with convoluted meanders and numerous oxbow lakes connected (or not connected) to the main channel. There's nothing remotely whitewater about it, but "maneuvering in tight quarters" could be a concern among the fallen trees. From the tone of the post, I'd assume that this part of the river is location he's referring to, but perhaps this will be clarified.

Reflection 15
good choice

Royalex is a much better option
for the rivers in the area of the OP. No one asks a generic question about what boat would be best and have the innate ability to skillfully maneuver a composite canoe through shallow rock-gardens, swift and narrow streams, and rock lined shores. If they have to ask, then plastic is the way to go. Plus water level fluctuates fast in that area, so ultra-light boats would die a quick death in the shallows.

Reflection 15 or Bell Morning Star 15’6"
Those would be my top picks, both very nice for your use. The Morningstar may turn just a tad quicker, but you’ll have no trouble maneuvering the Reflection while having a bit better tracking. I have the Dagger version, but it’s now made by Mad River.

When we lived in Wisconsin I remember crossing the Plover many a time and wondering whether it was big enough to paddle. But there were so many nice places in Northern Wisconsin that i just never tried it.


Who said ultra light? Millbrooks are
light, but not fragile like ultralights. Even my old pure fiberglass canoes stood up very well to that kind of river, and worse.

Crumple the bow on a Royalex boat, and then try to fix it. Waste a weekend trying to heat all the grooves out of a Royalex hull.

You aren’t Nermal.