Wenonah Wilderness

-- Last Updated: Dec-04-08 1:13 AM EST --

I will most likely add a solo canoe to my growing fleet this spring and have pretty much narrowed it down to the Wilderness in royalex. What I need and expect is a boat that will take me up & downstream against light current, be durable enough to handle the rocks, turn acceptably enough to explore smaller creeks, and be stable enough to use for photography. I am 6', 240#, and don't expect to carry much weight in gear- 300# max total if ever. Mainly used as a day tripper. I have some fairly long flatwater to paddle as well so tracking is a good thing. I'm a sitter-no kneeling.

What do you think?


I have a Wenonah Prism in Flex Core kevlar that I really like. Very stable for photography, fishing, goose hunting, and wildlife watching. It also paddles great. Give it a look.

My thoughts - for whatever they are wort
I’m 6’2" and with a couple paddles, a water bottle, and pfd, give a canoe a 260 lb load. I took a Wilderness out for a spin this past summer. For sure the boat will be fine for you and your day trip load, but I’m not sure if it would handle 300 lbs well. My Wenonah Rendezvous will easily handle 300 lbs. I found the Wilderness quick to respond and turned well from a seated position, about the same response as I have in my Rendezvous. I had no problem tracking straight with the Wilderness, but if I had fairly long stretches of flatwater to paddle, a Rendezvous does better and is a faster boat on the straights. Compared to the Rendezvous, my impression was the Wilderness requires more little correction forces in your paddling stroke to keep the it tracking straight. I found the stability of the Wilderness comfortable, but then I paddle a Voyager for flatwater. Wenonah rates the stability of the Wilderness as similar to a Voyager. My first impression was the Wilderness had slightly more initial stability than a Voyager, which is enough snapshots but not for tripod and telephoto photography work. And if rock solid stability is something you absolutely need, the Rendezvous might be your boat.

Prism & Rendezvous
I like the Prism but after seeing how gouged up my Spirit II gel coat has gotten I ruled it out in preferrence to a royalex hull. Some of the spots I intend to use this boat in have many large sharp edged rocks.

I have also looked at the Rendezvous and do like the looks of it. One of the negatives is the weight @ 10# heavier than the Wilderness. I also had second thoughts about the need for that much rocker vs tracking. Also wondered about the increased bow height being harder to control in the wind. This choice isn’t entirely off the table though.


other options

– Last Updated: Dec-04-08 10:14 PM EST –

The Wilderness has minimal and symmetrical rocker, so will be a little difficult to use against the current. Other dedicated sit down boats with differential, and significant bow, rocker include Bell's Magic, their new RockStar, and Swifts Osprey and Shearwater.

If dedicated to RX, a horrid material for paddlecraft because it is heavy and oil-cans, the list narrows to RockStar and Swift's Raven.

Focus, I think you will find the
cumulative damage to a Royalex hull just as bothersome as the damage to a composite hull. I have owned several of both kinds, and that’s my experience. Sure, the Royalex seems to slide easier on rocks, but it loses some of its vinyl skin every time, often more than is lost from a gelcoat or skincoat boat. And dents and gouges in Royalex can be harder to remove.

The basis for Royalex is its ability to recover from really hard hits, the kind that bend the hull way, way in. For everything else, if you choose your composite hull intelligently, you get a boat that stands up as well to routine abuse, is lighter, and is easier to rehab.

I never really thought about the repair aspect of royalex but the possibility of a sliced RX hull exists so good point. There is no whitewater in my future, just rocky shallows.

Will have to take a look at the boats CEW suggested and see if they might work out. I just got back from the Doctor and he wants me off work for another 6+ weeks! That will make it very close to 3 months w/out a regular paycheck. Haven’t seen a cent of the disability insurance (fmla) so not sure what to expect dollarwise there. Have high hopes that there will be a decent amount to put towards a new boat though.


I own a Wilderness and really like it. Mine is an ultralight model that I have used to paddle sections of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. I have used it on flat water, quick water, class I and easy class II rapids, up stream, in the wind, and in waves. It has performed very well in all these conditions. If you want a canoe for general canoeing it is a very good boat, very good at different conditions.

I am not as picky, experienced, and knowledgable as many on this forum, nor do I have a interest in a particular manufacturer. It sounds to me that the Wilderness will fit your needs very well. If you choose another model I would suggest you get one that will serve you well in a variety of conditions, there are many good ones avalable.

Nothing against the Wilderness
but Royalex seems to be an odd material to use in a boat that is designed for straight ahead.

Some folks have had such straight ahead designs and got entirely frustrated with their performance on twisty creeks.

If you are a creek explorer this seems to be the date from hell.

I suggest the Argosy instead. It will carry you.

Wilderness, Osprey, Shearwater
There isn’t enough difference in rocker on these three to be worth mentioning, 1"-1.5" for the Osprey and Shearwater, and 1.25"-1.5" for the Wilderness. That’s hardly “minimal”. I’ve owned all three of these boats and hundreds of miles on them and the Osprey and Wilderness turn about the same and the Shearwater is just a little bit slower to turn, but hardly noticable. The Wilderness is faster than the Osprey and slower than the Shearwater, perhaps only 1/2 mph difference in the three, hardly noticable. All three are good upriver and down river cruisers and I would rather put 300 pounds into a Wilderness than I would in an Osprey. The Royalex scoots over rocks better, sturdier, so-what-if-you-scratch-it, and costs like a lot less. I wouldn’t subject a $2000 hull to the kind of paddlling the OP is inquiring about.

The Wilderness is available for $600-$1200 and is more stable than the Osprey and about the same as the Shearwater. The Osprey and Shearwater cost about $1200-$2400.

The Argosy is faster, it turns better and it weighs less, and it will reluctantly carry the load, but not a good photographer’s boat IMHO it’s too tippy.

It’s been said recently on another thread that the numbers on the hull don’t mean as much as actually paddling the boat. There are a dozen other factors that can affect speed, manuverability and stability than just looking at a couple of numbers and making a SWAG. Jeez, guys…go out an paddle these boats a little bit before you make off the cuff recommendations, eh? I know you mean well, but a lot of us on this forum put a lot of stock in what you have to say, and generally I won’t argue with you. But, I’d hate to see somebody turned off to a boat because an expert said it has “minimal” rocker and won’t turn and won’t track upstream. How do you know it won’t turn or track upstream? I’m not trying to be arguementative and if I’m saying this the wrong way or if I’m being confrontational I apologize.

mister 123
Sounds like you are pretty satisfied with the Wilderness. I am still leaning heavily towards it and your post is encouraging.

Back to the RX layup. Another good point about beating it up- cheap to begin with. I could almost buy two with what I would pay for one Kevlar UL. I think they make this model in the RX version to appeal to the budget minded as in me. This boat will be used when my Spirit II bow paddler and I don’t have matching days off work. That means roughly 25% of the time so I just can’t justify the higher end $$.


The original post…
had several requirements:

  1. Up and down stream in a light current
  2. Handle rocks
  3. Acceptable in small creeks
  4. Stable for photography
  5. Long flat water to travel

    The Wilderness in Royalex seems to fit the requirements, it is an excellent general purpose boat. My thought process was that it could handle all of those criteria, certainly there are better boats in to go up stream in, better boats for small creeks, more stable boats for photography, and better boats for long flat water.

    The wilderness is a jack of all trades boat that will do what Focus asks. If there is a significantly better all purpose solo boat please recommend it.

Wilderness in RX
I think that if you want a boat to handle rocks than the Royalex is the way to go. I have tried to be very careful with my Wilderness Ultralight and have still done a fair amount of damage to the bottom, nothing really bad but there are places that I lined or portaged that I would have run in a Royalex boat.

Best of luck with your new boat whatever you buy.

great point!
Thanks for your comments, I’ve put quite a few miles on both an Osprey and Shearwater (and love and miss them both) but your feedback gives me a much better feel for the Wilderness…I like longer boats that can also turn.

Alhough I do understand the comment that you can beat the bejeebers out of many kevlar boats and I do the same myself (my back/gold Merlin II took two huge hits late this season that brought it to a dead stop…one stump, one rock…I was wondering if I’d see water seeping in but the boat just sucked it up), my take is that you will indeed run certain sections with Royalex that you might otherwise avoid, and heck you can bang a Royalex boat into rocks just for the fun of it.

I think some qualification might be good
You say it will be “a little difficult to use against the current”, but I think it would be good to make it clear that whether that’s the case or not depends entirely on the nature, or “swirlyness”, of the current. When paddling upstream on a fast, wide river like the Wisconsin River, which has a sand bottom and few obstructions (and therefore relatively laminar flow in most places), a straight-tracking boat with good cruising speed will outperform anything else. The boat only knows it’s going forward through the water - it doesn’t care how fast that water is going - you might even be going backward relative to the river bottom during flood conditions but the boat doesn’t care, handling-wise (been there, done that). BUT, on a river with some turbulence, suddenly the hard-tracking boat finds itself “acting” like it’s instantly been been placed on a new heading everytime it hits a little blast of flow from a new angle, which in real life you experience as the bow getting tossed off-course and being swept around because you have forward momentum, and to correct your course relative to the water itself requires a really sharp turn, which the hard-tracking boat doesn’t like to do. In turbulent flow, a boat with more manueverability won’t be “grabbed” as badly by currents from various “wrong” directions, and the bit of “grabbing” that does occur is easier to counteract. Bottom line, whether a boat is good for upstream travel depends entirely on the type of flow, and sometimes a hard-tracking boat is best, and sometimes a maneuverable boat is best.

I’ve only paddled a Rendezvous
for a short time, and while I don’t consider it a true whitewater boat, I agree with DuluthMoose that it is worth considering for up-and-down stream work. It has good capacity and stability, and is not a slug on the lakes. It has just enough rocker and planing tendency so that if you have to work back and forth across a stream, using eddies to work upstream, you should have an easy time of it. The Rendezvous has good tumblehome, enough that using a double blade for upstream or lake work might be tempting.

Eric Nyre has a lot of good info on trimming the Rendezvous for best performance.

Just how twisty.
The water I plan to use this boat on has been navigated by my wife and I in our Spirit II so it isn’t terribly technical so to speak. I think the Wilderness should be as maneuverable or more so. Who knows what the future use may bring but at this point it will be used in the same waters and possibly a larger river (the Rock). I have no experience in any solo canoe so I appreciate all advice.

Wouldn’t a boat with a lot of rocker tend to sit a bit deeper in the water?


Yes, but the Rendezvous doesn’t sit
deep. It is a more versatile boat. Should you ever want to run serious class 2++ whitewater, the Rendezvous can do it. I’ve seen them on the Nantahala. It’s really a whitewater cruiser, not a technical eddy hopper. I didn’t have a pole, so I couldn’t try to see if I could pole it.

My true, all-out, whitewater boats do sit deeper than my other canoes (MR Guide, Bluewater Chippewa), but that isn’t a problem because their high maneuverability allows me to thread through the shallows. The Rendezvous would do that pretty easily.

Large hull bottom
I’ve done Wisconsin River trips with my Spirit 2 loaded with luxury camping gear, food and cold beverages for 3 days, and 7 gals of fresh water = a little more than 550 lbs. As close as I can figure that’s about a 5" draft on that boat and I’ve had to walk over shifting sand bars numerous times while I watch others (especially yakers skim over these flats). In August I did that same Wisconsin River trip in the Rendezvous loaded with food and cold beverages for 3 days, luxury camping gear, and 4 gal fresh water = about 360 lb load. I skimmed those shifting sand bars with the best of them with about a 3.75 inch draft. A Rendezvous is a big boat with a lot of bottom area.

I think I’ll get a…
…Oh man I can’t make up my mind! It is between the Wilderness and the Rendezvous though as they both fit the budget as well. Lots of good info posted here to help with my decision. At this point it’s about a 50/50 tie between the two. A little more rocker/maneuverability just might get the nod as it is probably the most important aspect of the purpose of this boat. Didn’t want that extra 11# to cartop though, although that’s only a couple pounds heavier than my Spirit II.