What solo canoe for me? So many choices!

-- Last Updated: Aug-03-06 10:40 PM EST --

I've spent countless hours on the net and the archives here on Paddling.net trying to figure out where to start and what I'm looking for in a solo canoe. Unfortunately, the shops near my location seem to cater mostly to kayakers and have few or no solo canoes I can try.

In order of importance, does the following canoe exist?

1) Royalex or similar material to save cost and face when I inevitably drag over a rock. My pockets aren't deep. Used is fine.

2) Efficient enough to pace a friend who's paddling a 16 foot plastic 'yak (the likes of a Carolina 160) when we're not looking for flat-out speed.

3) Maneuverable and poised enough to handle slow moving Class I+ or *very* rarely Class II without shipping gallons of water.

4) Can haul enough gear for the occasional 3 day weekend trip or maybe a little longer with intelligent packing.

I already own a 10.5 foot Daggar Blackwater kayak I enjoy using on bumpy rivers and tooling around creeks (when I don't need to keep pace with anyone) and a trusty old Royalex Mohawk Blazer 16 tandem canoe for taking friends and family out. Now I'd like something more or less in between.

I've had my eye on the Wenonah Prism or Bell Magic as good all-round solo canoes, but their cost and perhaps questionable moving water abilities made me look elsewhere. The Nova Craft Supernova Solo, Wenonah Vagabond and long discontinued Penobscot 15 solo almost fit the bill on paper, but I suspect they might be too slow on flatwater.

I know there's no boat that'll excel at all my criteria, but I'd like to find something that's a good compromise. A less than perfect canoe I can get on the water with is better than the perfect one I don't own or can't afford.

Pipe dream?


Penobscot 16…
Seems like this would work well given your specs. It’s even fairly light @58 lbs. Also makes a pretty good tandem. Though I prefer it as a solo, I am 6’1" and about 250#, YMMV.

I used to solo paddle

– Last Updated: Aug-03-06 11:03 PM EST –

in my Penobscot 16. But that was before I got a dedicated solo boat. The Penob 16 is a good compromise if you plan to tandem as well. But if tandem paddling is not in you plans, consider a dedicated solo.

Others are more expert than I, but a Bell Yelowstone solo might do the trick provided that you are willing to compromise on flatwater speed.


Wenonah Vagabond
I have paddled with others in kayaks on day trips and have found I could keep up well with them especially when using a kayak paddle. I added the footbraces to the vagabond and that helped with paddling and providing more power to the stroke. It’s light and pretty fast for a royalex canoe. However, if loaded with gear it becomes a slug.

I’ve had my Vagabond loaded to the gills with gear on three day trips, and to me it seems to handle very well with a full load. Speed is a little less, but maneuverability doesn’t suffer much at all. I think it’s only real drawback for the stated purposes is that it will probably be a pretty wet ride in heavy Class 2. The Bell Yellowstone is probably a better choice for Class 2, and maybe will handle a little more weight due to the higher sides. But the Vagabond would get my vote overall. It’s fast enough using a kayak paddle.

Dagger Sojourn
14 ft, royalite, pretty fast, handles rough water, wind, and loads very well.

They don’t make them anymore, but you might be able to find a used one.

the 9th listing on this page. It apears to be in Albany NY.

Been there a while. no idea if it’s still available.



– Last Updated: Aug-04-06 8:18 AM EST –

To bo clear, this canoe will see much more flat/calm water use than river, but when it is on moving water, it'll do what my 10.5 ft. kayak can't....carry stuff.

I'm looking for the solo equivalent of what "The_Sojourner" is seeking in a tandem as described in his/her "Wenonah Prospector 16 or Spirit II?" thread. I even live in the exact same part of the country and paddle the same rivers.

So how good/bad is the Wenonah Vagabond on flatwater? When cruising with moderately fast kayaks? There's one for sale around here. I've also read that the Nova Craft Supernova is an excellent WW boat that's also unusually fast on flatwater. Does this hold true?



All are excellent choices
Any of the above canoes will do what you’re asking. I’ve owned the Vagabond, Supernova, and Dagger Sojourn. Of the three the Supernova will handle far bigger whitewater, the Vagabond will turn better than the Sojourn, but one I’d recommend most is the Sojourn for the reasons stated by other posters. I am always delighted with the speed and responsiveness of my Sojourn, and would be even more so if I’d found a bargain like the one listed above in New York. The Sojourn has the capability to outrun pretty much every recreational kayak out there, and can even keep pace with some of the plastic touring kayaks. The Sojourn loves the wind, waves, and can handle Class I whitewater easily. I’ve taken mine through Class II and enjoyed the ride, just not able to snap eddy turns and surf the way I can in my Supernova or Mad River Guide. The Sojourn weighs only 44# and handles well off the water, easy to cartop. It may be a stretch for you to go to New York and get a Sojourn, but it will outperform the Vagabond in all ways except manuverability. On the other hand, if the Vagabond is close by and priced right it will be an excellent canoe for your needs, especially if you pick up the speed with a good double blade paddle to keep up with your kayaker friends.

It sounds to me like you’re first demand of the boat is speed. That being said, count out the Supernova(fast for a whitewater boat translates to “slug” for flatwater boaters). The vagabond is a nice boat, but I think you’d think it too slow. I think the Prism and the Sojourn would make you most happy. They both can certainly handle the “extremely rare” class II and have the speed you’re looking for.

I have only used the Vagabond in coastal gulf waters and inland bays so it’s all flat water with tidal currents in places. For comparison purposes I would say it paddles as fast as a comparable sized recreational kayak. It will not be as fast as a touring kayak.

When I go out fishing with my friends in their SOT kayaks that are between 12 - 16 feet I keep up fine and actually may be a bit faster. Only because I think I have better kayaking paddling techniques than some of my fishing buddies…

In general agreement…

– Last Updated: Aug-04-06 1:02 PM EST –

I'm in general agreement with the previous posts, but thought I'd throw my 2 cents worth in too.

I currently own a Wildfire, Sojourn, and a Vagabond. In the past, I have owned a Prism.
Have paddled the Supernova.

Based on your stated needs; I would immediately rule out the Supernova. In my opinion, the Supernova will certainly carry the load, it will handle class 2 & more easily, but if you're looking for speed, the Sojourn will run off & leave it.

In my opinion, the Wildfire (to a lesser degree) will also leave a Supernova behind (load & paddlers being equal). I am of the opinion that a Wildfire will handle a heavy load better than the Vagabond, and when loaded, will manuever better, and will be faster than a Vagabond. The Wildfire is more manueverable than the Sojourn with or without a load, but not as fast.

Bottom line: A Wildfire is hard to beat as a multipurpose......dayfloat, 2 or 3 day outing, carry a load of camping gear, class 1 to class 2+ boat. It is also a very good looking boat.

I didn't even consider the Prism as it sounded like you were seeking a Royalex boat.


P.S. If that Sojourn is in good condition; it's a steal at the asking price.

I have a Bell Yellowstone (formerly the royalex Wildfire). It comes about as close as any of the other mentioned boats to meeting all your criteria.

Vagabond, Supernova
I’ve got a Supernova & my wife paddles a Vagabond. I would agree with the others that say that a Supernova is not for you if you’re are going to stay on mostly flat water and want to go fast.

The Vagabond is a nice boat, ours only weights 38 lbs so it’s easy to transport, carries a respectable load, and, if paddled with a double-bladed paddle moves along pretty well.

It’s going to be wet in Class II rapids, though, and, unless you’re pretty confident in your skills, the probability of swamping it and turning it over once in while is pretty good.

Swift Raven? NM

I too own a Blazer 16 (1980 vintage) and had a OT Jolt (very similar to your Blackwater) and I’d say your making a smart move to go for a solo Canoe. I’ll throw my 2 cents in for the choices being suggested.

I own or have spent significant time in a Bell Yellowstone Solo, Bell Magic and Dagger Sojourn. As already stated, the Sojourn has the speed edge over the Y. Solo, but doesn’t turn as well, but well enough for your purpose. It has a utilitarian look and the wood outfitting is nowhere near as high quality as the Bell’s.

The Y. Solo, which actually lacks a fair bit of glide, is all about control not to mention beautiful like Bob mentioned. I like to say it’s like a sports car that can handle the twisties compared to the Magic’s straight-line speed being like a musclecar.

The Magic is the hands down fastest of the bunch and can handle a big load, big waves and “it will turn” well enough provided your technique is good, but even a used one may be out of reach if your buying on a budget.

If you are new to solos, it will take some time to get used to sitting in the boat and even more time to outfit it to your comfort and liking. Which ever way you go, I would agree to consider a footbrace it makes every canoe more usable and extracts more power out of seated strokes.


– Last Updated: Aug-05-06 10:27 PM EST –

Lots of good stuff in the responses!....
I agree, if you demo some other flatwater canoes for ~10min...you might change your mind;-)..some are that good, however there are(in addition to the Dagger Sojourn- haven't paddled, but have equated the specs)...have looked at(but not paddled) the Vagabond in Flexcore(a little stiffer than its Royalex hull = efficient).
A few boats to look at in addition, but questionable as to their price tags...but these can cut it in a Royalex layup:

Wenonah Argosy..14'6"
MR Freedom Solo...14'(MR's Royalex is really good...in my experience= not a whole lot)
Bell Yellowstone Solo...14'?"
Wenonah's Sandpiper is a fun boat, but I'm not too sure how it would fair in a current...but might point to Bells' smaller solo-> Flashfire in Royalex...as well...haven't paddled(sadly).


Can’t say enough good things about my Wildfire. It fits your bill pretty well. Some people have a few complaints about the Wildfire like that it’s hard to keep going straight, but I’ve never really had that problem.

Nobody mentioned a Merlin 2 by Bell, but not as they come now. You need to switch out the long seat drops for the short drops to really appreciate how nice a Merlin 2 feels. If I only could own one Bell solo it would be the M2.

But, I own two. A Magic and Wildfire. The perfect combo to do almost anything that I want to do on a wilderness trip, IMHO.

misc thoughts

– Last Updated: Aug-06-06 12:01 AM EST –

I agree with Eric that you should probably shouldn't limit yourself to royalex, especially if you want something with a bit of speed. And you don't have to buy new.

As far as the boats you mentioned, I'd have to suggest that you skip the short Wenonah solos. I know that a lot of people like them, but I think they are all slow enough that you would be disappointed in them (referring to the Sandpiper, Vagabond, and Argosy).

Something that I would strongly recommend, if you don't have to buy right away, is coming to the Raystown gathering the second weekend of October at Raystown Reservoir in Pennsylvania. It's an annual get together that was first organized to give folks who were looking to buy a solo canoe a chance to test paddle a variety of boats. We've always set aside Saturday morning as a time when folks could test paddle as many solos as they could stand. You are limited to what shows up, but so far it has always been a superb selection of solo canoes.

used boats
Yea, I just picked up a Bell Merlin 2 for what you could buy a new Vagabond. It is a good option to hone in on a boat you think will fit the need and look at the classifieds. However, you have to be patient. I hardly see quality solo canoes advertised in the area I live in.