Too many answers to "simple" questions: Getting started

My wife and I are considering getting into canoeing, since were’ in a good location for it.

We’ve been playing the kayak-vs-canoe game and inflatable vs rigid. Neither of us have been in a boat that somebody else wasn’t fully repsonsible for… a few decades. :slight_smile:

We want something tandem. As a very rough categorization what we’ve find is kayaks are a bit lighter than canoes but don’t have as much payload. Canoes are heavier, but have more capacity. Inflatables tend to be a little ligther but also a bit more effort and unwieldy. Since we are looking for at least 500lb of safe capacity, rigid canoes seem to be where we should focus.

We have enough room for storage, and the Jeep can handle it no problem, but it’s apparently a bit more effort to get on and off a) beause of the vehicle height and b) because the canoe weight. A “canoe loader” seems to largely eliminate that.

We are looking for something for “relaxing exercise”; scenic cruising. Not racing, not whitewater, etc.

Any hints, suggestions, ideas, etc. Addiontal pros/cons or corrections to above?


Well, canoes can be very light indeed. They only have a hull, without the deck of a kayak. It depends on what it’s made of and how large it is.
Where will you be paddling? What are you wanting to do with it? Cruising only, or extended camping? Canoes are best for portages and ease of loading, kayaks are best for open waters with wind and waves.
You’ll find a way to get your boat on the rack if you’re serious. I’ve used very small cars and large trucks. I just adapt to the situation.

Thanks for the response, @tjalmy.

We are planning “leisurely river trips”. Sightseeing/photography, and lunch/picnic. Are are in Northern Virginia, and have ready access to the Potomoac and Shenandoah rivers. I doublt we’d be doing anything overnight. The 500lb payload is to give some reserve capacity for two large, economy-sized, adults.

There are a couple of locations relatively nearby for lessons and rental, but we want to have a somewhat good feel for what is best for our situation so we gear the training appropriately.

The wife likes the idea of the inflatable, but I’m more a fan of rigid. Other than a catastrophic failure, the rigid won’t leave you with a slow surprise sinking feeling. :slight_smile: There’s also essentially not setup or tear-down of the rigid, although that’s slightly offset by the effort in loading/unloading.

I can’t think of a better way to get a feel for what’s best for you than to take lessons and try rentals on local waterways. So often the choice is really guided by personal comfort. I’ve never owned or paddled an inflatable, so I can’t weigh in on that.
I’ve got to get up there and paddle the Shenandoah! Lovely area! Perhaps in August…

Loading and unloading a standard canoe should actually be easier than with any other kind of boat, including inflatables if the time you spend is worth anything to you (loading rigid kayaks can also be pretty easy if you invest in rollers, or if you simply lay it on padded bars). As tjalmy pointed out, canoes should be lighter than “comparable” kayaks and in my experience they always are. Of course, real light weight comes with a higher price tag, so the cheapest canoes are also the heaviest (besides being the poorest performers in most cases).

So, let’s say you end up with a moderately heavy canoe, one that’s maybe 65 pounds. How do you lift it onto your car’s roof? The answer is that you don’t lift it up there. Not all at once. Check out the picture below.

That’s not a canoe but the idea is the same, and that’s the position you want the boat to be in when you start loading. Two people can do that while never lifting more than half the weight of the boat any higher than their waist. Put one person on each side of the boat, carry it waist-high, and simply tilt the boat so one end is higher than the roof rack, and then set the boat down (so it’s like the boat in the picture except without that wheeled contraption you see there). From there, you just pick up the low end and slide the boat up the rest of the way. By the time the boat needs to level off on the rack and your hands need to be head-high or so, the boat is balanced pretty well and virtually no lifting force is needed at all. The heaviest lifting of the whole process is with half the boat’s weight carried by each person with their arms down low at their sides, and virtually anyone can do that.

If the rear bar of your roof rack isn’t close enough to the back end of the car to lean the boat against as shown here, you can simply avoid setting the other end on the ground, so that the slope of the boat is flatter and it contacts the rear bar and not the roof itself. Then the two people can hand-walk their way toward the rear of the boat (and the weight lifted gets less and less as you do that), before pushing the boat all the way onto the rack. If the front bar is closer to the front edge of the roof than the rear bar is to the back edge, you can load more easily from the front end of the car.

You can load this way with one person on each end of the boat, but in that case, one person will need to lift their end up high. That’s still a huge reduction in effort compared to what most people do since only the stronger person needs to lift their end high (what most people do is lift the boat high at both ends and move it onto the rack from the side, but the problem there is that both people need to be fairly strong and fairly tall), but as you can see, there’s really no need for either person to lift their full share of the load any higher than their waist.

Oh, it should also be mentioned that if one of your cross bars can extend out to one side, that will eliminate any problems with leaning the boat against the bar but possibly being in contact with the roof. That method might be what you meant by a canoe loader.

If you shell out for a nice, light canoe, you can use the same loading methods but the whole process will be even easier.

Regarding rentals, I always say this, but it’s a rare outfitter that offers canoes that are anything but the worst you can buy, or maybe just a little bit better than the worst. The typical choices of aluminum canoes or Old Town Discoveries are about the best most rental outfits will offer, and many places don’t even have boats that are that “good”. Renting will probably help you decide whether or not you will like having a canoe of your own, but you are very lucky indeed if you have the option nearby to rent something that’s even a little better than one that will at least get you on the water. If you have the option to rent better boats while deciding what you want, it’s a great idea.

Thanks, @Guideboatguy.

I found several “canoe loaders” that act similar to what you are showing, except you pivot around the vehicle rather than rolling it up. We are pretty solidly on the canoe side of canoe vs kayak. Trying to find the right mix of length vs weight. 14’ seems to be the shortest reasonable tandem. 16 is on the high end for being unwieldy for storage and weight/handling.

Old Town Saranac 146 and Guide 147 are the ones that keep popping up when searching. Paying ~3-5x for a lighter construction is out of the picture. Both the Saranac and Guide are tipping the scales around 80lbs, but the 147 appears to have better/storng material.

Reviews, as always, are “amusing”. “Most stable platform, ever!” vs “Most unstable I’ve ever been on!” :slight_smile:

Infltables aren’t off the table, yet, but I don’t think the argument for portability holds up that well. A rigid canoe in the 14-16’ range, wide, flat hull with no to moderate rocker is where we are currently headed.

All of the places we’ve found for lessons are strongly biased toward kayak, though. They’ll rent canoe, but they train kayak.

I remember when I was a kid, back when people still carried small fishing boats on car roofs, and some people used a special loader where one end of the boat was supported on a pole and the person would pivot the boat around that pole, onto the roof. Maybe they still make things like that, but I don’t think there’s any need for that with a canoe that’s lifted by two people, or even one.

Regarding canoe length, remember that tandem canoes that are about 15 feet long or shorter tend to be more barge-like (there might be exceptions). I frequently paddle with a friend in a her 16-foot canoe, and consider that to be a good length for us, even though we both are very light in weight. Back in my beginning days of canoeing, doing day trips with the canoe club at Purdue University, they had aluminum canoes in both 17- and 15-foot lengths. It didn’t take anyone long to figure out that the 15-footers weren’t as nice as the 17-footers. And think of the average weight of a college-age person back in the 70s. There were about 20 of us in the club and not a single one of them weighed more than 160, so it wasn’t the weight of the paddlers that made the shorter boats less fun to paddle. I think substantially bigger people would appreciate something longer than 15 feet even more.

80 pounds is a heavy boat! There are lots of good used boats out there. Just glancing at Richmond craigslist I see an Old Town camper and a couple of Old Town Penobscots (a 16 and a 17) and a 17 Tripper in the 60-65 pound range and 15-20 pounds would make a big difference in making sure you never hesitate to use the boat due to weight…and as stated above the longer boats do everything better. You can load them like GBG says and don’t even worry if you drop them…and you can store them outside if necessary. Try to go longer and lighter than the shorties you are looking at! You don’t hear many positive comments about inflatables and they paddle extremely sluggishly and awkwardly compared to a canoe so unless all you want to do is float downstream on calm days…get the canoe!
I would be looking for a used canoe so that it could be lighter for the price. A tandem that weighs more than 70-75 pounds is just ridiculous. Since Royalex has been discontinued only one company has come up with a decent alternative and that is still relatively untested in the real world. Companies like Old Town just ramped up their polyethylene production. These are heavy canoes.

Look at the craigslist above. Simple canoe that will take you anywhere you describe to be of interest and more. Knocking about on rocks will be OK and at less than 60 pounds it will not be a bear to lift.

There is a used Bell Morningstar in Royalex at Blue Mountain in PA that I would highly recommend, but at 1200 it is a little higher than what you are looking at.

I’ve paddled the Royalex Bell Morningstar and agree 100% that it is a bullseye for what you are looking for…just read the reviews on this site.

@sedges and @toml I haven’t been looking at used because I’m not knowledable enough to have an opinion on quality. I’ve been looking at the shorter 14-15’ canoes because they also tend to be lighter. Even still, hitting 75+ lbs with the plastic. Once you start going well north of $1,000 for the lighter boats, it’s harder to justify “We’re just getting started. Do we really want to spend that much?”

Something closer to 60lbs removes essentially all the obstacles (loading/unloading/storage) that the plastic ones bring. Of course, paying $700 or so for something that ends up not being suitable at all is also painful. Or paying $300-$500 and “Yeah, the sport is awesome, but now I have to buy something more suited to our needs.” Decisions, decisions.

The Old Town Camper in MD seems to tick all the boxes (size, weight, cost, design). I’ll look closer at it.


With used Royalex boats common sense is all you need. Flip it over and make sure the skin is not torn with any deep gashes. Tons of minor scratches are no concern. If the boat has even been folded in half you will know. Send an email and ask if they will take $200 less than asking price…cash. Tell us which one you are looking at and we will look at pics on Craigslist and comment. If I were closer I’d go with you…maybe there is a paddler close by that can help you find a clean used boat. You are not throwing the money away so if you end up hating paddling (seems unlikely!) you can sell the boat and your loss would be minimal if you start with a used boat vs the new plastic shorties which will depreciate quite a bit immediately on the day of purchase. And - you can ask owners of used boats if a test paddle is possible. The Morningstar is indeed a bit expensive for a used Royalex boat.

I’ll try to avoid, “what about this one… and this one… and this one…”, but “what about this one?”
If it’s the Royalex version it’s a good price, assuming that the discoloration is just dirt not abrasion and there are no hidden issues.

@rojhan said:
I’ll try to avoid, “what about this one… and this one… and this one…”, but “what about this one?”
If it’s the Royalex version it’s a good price, assuming that the discoloration is just dirt not abrasion and there are no hidden issues.

From the seller:
It is an old Town Camper and is made of lighter weight royalex. I do not know the exact weight but it is made so one person can lift it to the roof of a car or carry it. The canoe is about 25 years old. We bought it new.

What about this one?

I briefly owned one Royalite canoe; a Mohawk Solo 14. I found it to be light weight, but too flexible for my taste.
I much preferred the stiffness of Royalex, and dealing with the heavier weight was not a big problem. Swore I’d never buy another Royalite canoe, and haven’t.

Why is 10 or 12 pounds more of weight even an issue? Do you plan on portaging a mile to get the boat you buy to the put in?
Didn’t sound like it to me, and you didn’t mention any Boundary Waters style trips where you’re doing portages with names like “Killer”, or “Death walk”.
Plus, you have your wife to assist you.
Seems like a non ; unless you get up into the 65 pound weight range.

You can read all about the Camper in the reviews section…

Honestly, the pfds & the paddles that come with the boat cheap stuff to me. I don’t see that they add any value whatsoever to the canoe.

The asking price for the 25 year old, Royalite, Old Town Camper is way over inflated in my opinion.
My best offer would be under $400.00, and I wouldn’t offer that without an in person, condition inspection.
I’d tell seller, “You can keep the pfds, and paddles; I don’t want them”!

I admit It was a few years ago, but I bought an Old Town Discovery, in Royalex, near new condition, for $200.00.
Previous owner thought he could fish from it on a Midwestern tourist lake. Everytime he went out he got swamped; sometimes on purpose, by the weekend drunks. His boating days were over.

His wife sold it to me; she said nobody had come by to even look at it but me. She was pregnant. Told me, “I can’t help you load it”! Told her, “No worries lady; I can load it by myself & did”. A few years later, I sold it for hundreds more than I paid for it, and used the money to buy a Dagger Reflection.


The 25yo Camper in Winchester is really hard to tell condition from the photos that were posted, but looks a bit rough.
The $850 (with PFD and paddles) in Maryland is 21yo and looks much nicer from the pics. They’ll go down to $800 on it.

My view is that a poly canoe will run me $700-$1K new, w/out accessories, and they are 20-30 pounds heavier. I’m currently leaning toward ignoring the Winchester one and taking a longer drive to MD.

I totally agree that the closer boat looks questionable and the one in MD looks much nicer. I suggest that you ask for pictures of the bottom of the hull so you get a peek at the entire boat before making the drive. Additional questions you might ask are whether the owner bought it new and if so whether it was “first quality” or a blem (blemish) and you can also ask whether it was stored outside or inside (looks like inside). The reference to new ones costing $1699 is irrelevant - the owner is trying to inflate the value…800 is full price and I might offer 700 cash and the owner would almost certainly be happy to get 700 cash for it. The paddles are cheap (and heavy junk but would work…you would really appreciate entry level wood paddles and they would be much lighter, smoother in the water, and feel much better in your hands. I recommend something like grey owl scouts and you can get a pair for under $100…or look for some used wood paddles. If you tell us your height we can tell you the right shaft length for your paddles. If “experts” chime in and tell you to buy more expensive paddles ignore them. My wife loves her grey owl scout…their least expensive model (and she is always right). If you really like the boat it’s ok to pay the 800…But you should at least get the pfd’s for that price. And let the owner keep the frickin anchor…your job is to act concerned about the holes he put in the boat to attach it…even though there’s no real issue. Always best to negotiate price before you make a long drive because the owner will know you are committed once you get there.

And remember that when you buy a canoe you need to be prepared to transport the canoe. Hope you have a rack and suitable rope or tie-downs…one can often find used Yakima or Thule racks on Craigslist for way less than half the price of new.

I have to throw in my obligatory encouragement for you to add folding “Skin on frame” canoes to your consideration. Even if you keep them set up all the time. folding canoes (like those by Pakboat and Ally) have all the capabilities and cargo capacity of hardshell canoes but are significantly lighter and can be stored and transported in a duffel bag when deconstructed. A 16’ tandem Pakboat Pakcanoe 160 only weighs 53 pounds (the same as the average solo plastic kayak) and has a cargo rating of 760 pounds. A 14’ solo Pakcanoe is only 38 pounds. They are tough and can even be used on rocky streams and moderate whitewater – they are the watercraft of choice for many Alaskan fishing guides since they can be flown in to remote locations on a floatplane. Most models run around $2,000 plus or minus.

In fact, there is a used 16’ Pakcanoe in what looks like new condition that was just posted for sale in the classifieds here for $1100.

Going to look at the $800 (price dropped $50) in Maryland tomorrow. Finished prep for the Jeep to carry. The hood tie-down pads will probably be replaced by a strap on the nearby bolt, but the pad eyes are what I had available.