Vagabond vs. Yellowstone Solo


I'm hoping some of you can share any comparative experiences or knowledge you may have about the differences between the Wenonah Vagabond and the Bell Yellowstone Solo (in royalex).

I'm 6'0" and 175 lbs, paddled up to class 4 whitewater many years ago, getting back into paddling.

Looking for a do-anything solo canoe (girlfriend wants to paddle a kayak) that will be used mostly on flat, slow moving water (for now) but would like to be able paddle it on class I-II whitewater.

I'm looking for Royalex specifically, as I expect to buy a much lighter weight boat for flatwater next year, at which point this boat will be used mostly for fast moving water, plus shallow moving water (read dragging over rocks, etc.) and/or guests & friends.

Will be doing some canoe camping, but I am a very light packer, although will likely be carrying some of the girlfriend's gear as she has her eye on the Swift Adirondack 12 LT (a low volume rec kayak designed by David Yost).

Any advice will be helpful. I'm hoping to buy one or the other within a week. In fact, I was expecting to buy a Vagabond this weekend, but just realized that the Yellowstone Solo is a royalex version of the much admired Wildfire, and am wondering if it's worth the increase in price.

thanks in advance

Both have their issues in fast water

– Last Updated: Jul-14-11 10:29 AM EST –

I paddled a Roylex Vagabond for a few years, and have only test-paddled the Yellowstone Solo.

First, the Yellowstone Solo is NOT a Wildfire, even though the earlier versions even bore that name. Look at the bottom of the stern of a Yellowstone Solo and you will see a peculiar protrusion at the keel line, where the boat's natural rocker actually reverses itself. Don't get me wrong, lots and lots of people love this boat, but I didn't care for how grabby that stern is. Makes back-ferrying a bitch, but surprisingly, in normal turns the boat is a lot more maneuverable than a Royalex Vagagond. C.E. Wilson calls that peculiar stern feature a "skegged stern", and it sure acts that way. Makes straight-ahead paddling easier if your stroke still needs work. Anyway, I thought the Yellowstone Solo was pretty responsive in some ways, and more lively than a Vagabond, but that skegged stern is a total deal-breaker for me. Personally, I'd never consider owning one, but as I said, loads of people just adore this boat.

The Royalex Vagabond is not at all the same boat as the composite Vagabond. It's half a foot shorter, but the biggest difference is that it has no rocker at all (don't believe the catalog specs for the Royalex version). Actually, once in the water with you sitting in the boat, water will pool ahead of you and behind you, but not below you, showing that normal flexing of the Royalex turns the flat keel line into very slight reverse rocker. The Vagabond is fast though, noticeably faster in straight-line paddling than the Yellowstone Solo. It's worse at turning though, and both the bow and stern are very grabby in turbulent whitewater. I found backferrying to be not just a handy skill, but a lifesaver in whitewater with the Vagabond, since the turning ability is just so-so unless sharply leaned. The Vagabond backferries no better than the Yellowstone Solo, but backferrying is more important due to the mediocre turning ability.

The Vagabond feels aircraft-carrier stable, while the Yellowstone Solo feels a bit twitchy to a new paddler. I think the Yellowstone Solo "firms up" a bit more when leaned, but both boats can be leaned without needing extreme skill. Both boats will take on a lot of water in Class II, and I'd not choose either for that kind of paddling if the Class II was more than a quick drop with a pool below. Still, both boats are pretty nice general-purpose boats as long as you stay out of big waves.

I haven’t paddled the Vagabond, but briefly owned a Yellowstone solo. It may just be personal preference, but I weigh nearly 200lbs and I found the YS to be sluggish, sort of slow to turn, and awfully low. I know people claim it can do great in whitewater, but I am very doubtful. By comparison, a bigger boat like the Mad River Guide/Freedom solo is fantastic in moving water, much more fun to paddle, and . . . well . . . just better at everything in my opinion. Especially since you will be getting another boat for flatwater, I’d get something with a bit more moving water ability like the Mad River mentioned, the Wenonah Rendezvous, Wenonah Wilderness (maybe?), Novacraft Supernova.

If available
you should try to get a Wenonah Argosy. Much closer to the Yellowstone than the Vagabond. I paddled all 3 back to back for about 2 hrs with a friend who was doing the same. We both ended up buying the Argosy.

Turning - Vagagond < Argosy < Yellowstone

However the Yellowstone seemed a little unpredictable and sometimes the rear end seemed to just break loose and jump sideways.

Stability - Vagabond > Argosy > Yellowstone

Argosy and Yellostone were about the same when kneeling but Yellowstone had a higher seat position and seemed twitchy when double-blading seated. Argosy was better even with seat in the high position and was much better with the seat in the lowered position.

I was and am still too much of a novice to compare performance in more complicated manuvers. I do find the Argosy fairly easy to move through Class 1+ rapids where line is apparent, but one good manuver is required to miss sweeper or strainers at the end of chutes. Not sure if I have ever really taken it through a true Class II although there is one 90 degree turn and drop on the Llano that might be close. Made it 3 times and missed once and got stuck on rock and ended up going down the rest of the way backwards.

I think you might find an old thread with my questions and discussions about the 3 canoes (Vagabond, Argosy, Yellowstone) with a littel bit thrown in about Mohawk Odyssey.


I’ve never paddled a YS so I have no input but I’ve test paddled the Vagabond back to back with an Argosy and hands down the Argosy turns better and feels more lively. If all you’re doing is moving water with the potential of WW than the Argosy wins hands down. Heard some people say that the Argosy has poor initail stability and feels twitchy but I, even as a fairly inexperienced paddler then, had zero issues and it felt great.


I guess I’m the odd man out. I found the Yellowstone to be a much sportier canoe in all respects than the Vagabond (both in the rolayex version).

thanks very much
thanks to all for the feedback thus far, esp. mention of the Argosy, which looks like a good contender for my needs.

I’ll search the archives.

If you’re a former class 4 WW paddler
I think you would like the Yellowstone more than the Vagabond, and the MR Guide/Freedom better than both.

The Argosy is maneuverable when flat, but the tumblehomed sides, which will probably release and dump before you reach the rail, may feel uncomfortable to a WW paddler who is used to aggressively heeling a straighter sided or flared hull to turn.

You will get inconsistent advice on any board. Test paddle the boats.

Love my Yellowstone
It’s my “anything-but-real-whitewater” boat. I mostly kneel, so I have the seat high with short seat drops. It’s a little twitchy when you sit until you get use to it. It turns fine IMHO, and its great in easy moving water. If you are going to kneel, get the Yellowstone (or the Argosy or the Guide). If you are going to sit, get the Vagabond.

Owned both…one briefly
I bought a Vagabond a couple years ago and have taken it on one long trip and lot of day trips. I don’t do a lot of canoe camping (more backpacking) and like to think I pack fairly light. I was surprised how quickly a 14’ canoe filled up for a week long trip.

There’s no whitewater around here and I don’t see much on my trips but I thought it would be fun to have a more maneuverable canoe that could handle some faster water, especially with a little load.

I found a good deal on a used royalex Wildfire so I picked it up last fall. It’s a really neat boat and I found it a lot more maneuverable than the Vagabond. It was fun but in the end I unloaded it this spring.

The boat was a lot narrower in the ends than the Vagabond and I’d think would hold considerably less gear, though I’m sure still doable. I usually take my dog along when I paddle and while light (20 pounds) she didn’t have a lot of room in the Wildfire.

Primary stability was considerably less in the Wildfire when compared to the Vagabond. It wasn’t terrible but for the general flat water paddling I do it wasn’t a boat the boat for me. A little too twitchy, especially when leaning it to the rail with a dog in the bow.

If I had any real moving water around here or traveled to where there was moving water I intended to paddle I would have kept it. While not as exciting I find the Vagabond is more my speed. Decent tracking but but can handle tight spots and some moving water. Still enjoyable to paddle but stable enough that I can kick back and fish with the dog.

At least that’s how I see it. They’re both fine boats but serve different purposes for different people.


thanks again
thanks again for all the great advice.

Looks like I need to paddle the boats, if possible.


Vagavond turns into wind and away
from wind with less effort than Yellowstone Solo.

This was determined by me in a back to back to back comparison on the same day in the same condition with a pretty good breeze and a bit of small chop.

Don’t understand …

– Last Updated: Jul-15-11 1:24 PM EST –

... what you're saying, Yanoer. Not saying you're wrong, just that I'm a little confused.

Are you commenting on the intrinsic ease of turning the respective hulls? I'm sort of assuming that's not your point. In fact, I believe most paddlers would probably agree that the YS is the more intrinsically turnable canoe.

Turning into and away from wind involves three contributory components: (a) the intrinsic turnability of the hull, (b) the wind profile geometry of the canoe+paddler, and (c) the longitudinal distribution of weight within the hull.

If (b) and/or (c) are configured such that a canoe is made easier to turn into the wind, it should be more difficult with that configuration to turn out of the wind -- and vice versa.

So, what would account for canoe V's ability to turn more easily both into the wind and out of the wind than canoe Y, especially if canoe Y is more intrinsically turnable?

(I'm thinking about this as I'm typing.)

Let's assume an identical paddler placement and load distribution within the two boats. I can imagine canoe V having more of a tendency to windcock (or leecock) than canoe Y, which means it would be easier to turn canoe V into (or away from) the wind. However, then it should be more difficult to turn canoe V in the other wind direction than canoe Y.

Let's now make both boats geometrically and gravitationally wind neutral. Neither boat will windcock or leecock. If canoe V had a lower overall windage profile than Y--e.g., if V were actually a kayak--then I suppose it would be more easy to turn canoe V in either wind direction. Since the paddler's wind profile remains the same, this overall windage effect difference must be the result of the hull shape. Is the YS significantly deeper or wider than the Vagabond?

Nothing like over-thinking a simple internet comment while avoiding more serious obligations.

Related Observation

– Last Updated: Jul-15-11 2:39 PM EST –

When I had my Vagabond, one thing I noticed was that when paddling at various angles to the wind, it did NOT behave the same as every other canoe I've paddled, as far as which side of the boat it was best (requiring the least corrective effort) to paddle on. There was something very unorthodox about the relationship between which side I was paddling on and which direction the wind was coming from, and how those two factors affected handling. I'm not saying the boat was difficult to handle in wind, as that was not the case at all. The boat was pretty easy to handle in wind. I'm just saying that of all the canoes I've paddled in wind, the Vagabond was the only one that, when run at certain particular angles to the wind, "broke the rules" regarding which side one should "expect" to be the easier side to paddle from.

I think this illustrates an important point you might be overlooking. There is no such thing as a boat that behaves in a neutral fashion with regard to crosswinds, and it's very possible for a boat to weathercock to various degrees that cannot be explained by the factors you mentioned. A boat that is neutral at one speed will NOT be neutral at some other speed. The faster the boat goes, the greater the pressure exerted by water against the bow, and the lower the pressure exerted by the water atainst the stern. This results in the bow becoming more resistant to sideways forces, and the stern becoming less resistant, as speed through the water increases, which means that the tendency to weathercock increases with speed, but even that, for all I know, may not be a rule without exceptions. I think this is the same effect responsible for the stern sinking lower as you increase speed, and even tiny changes in speed affect the depth to which the stern settles in the water (those of us who paddle over shallow sandbars quickly learn that when trying to gain every last fraction of an inch of clearance to make it over that last downstream edge of a sandbar, you need to reduce your speed to a stop (relative to the water itself) and drift across so the stern doesn't drag). The point is, there are some fluid dynamics which enter the picture, and these are in addition to the factors you were talking about. The problem is, these flowing-water factors change with the speed of the hull through the water so no hard and fast rules apply, excep perhaps if you ignore the degree of those effects.

That's a long way of saying, I don't know the answer to your question (and the statement didn't seem logical to me either). But my Vagabond was peculiar enough in the kind of corrective strokes needed at CERTAIN angles to the wind that I am not ready to assume there's no explanation for what Yanoer said. I suspect the answer may be more complicated than the distribution of windage, waterline depth, and intrinsic turning ability, even if those are the factors which are most obvious and most easy to understand.

I’m talking sitting on the seat, not

– Last Updated: Jul-16-11 12:00 AM EST –

kneeling, not heeling the boat much, the Vagabond was less affected by the wind when turning either into the wind or away from the wind than the Yellowstone Solo for me - 5'6" and 155 lbs. That was my experience. Neither was my boat, so I paddled them as their owners had them set up (different owners).


Speed affecting cockiness
I think that’s right, and I also agree that probably no canoe is truly wind neutral. However, if Yanoer was paddling both the YS and Vag at the same speed, his results are still puzzling. I guess we can just say that the Vag may behave differently in the wind, but that doesn’t imply badly.

I think everyone ideally should test paddle boats in strong winds. But most people probably don’t.

I deliberately did that for two of my seakayak purchases, because I specifically wanted rudderless kayaks that were as wind neutral as possible. So, I rented both for extended periods to paddle them in big blows.