What to look for in a canoe?

When looking to buy a kayak, our advice is to always try before one buys.

Would you give this same advice when looking for a canoe, or are height, weight, differences in torso, leg, arm lengths not needed?

Just asking.

canoe fit
A canoe does not have to fit to the same extent a kayak does since it is much less confining.

Still, it is always best to try before you buy whenever possible. One thing that people seem to have disparate opinions about is a canoe’s stability. One person might find a canoe to be quite stable while another might find thee same boat to be quite the opposite.

If it is possible demoing is always a good idea particularly when buying a solo canoe

common elements
Most things are the same. Height and weight are definite factors. Boat weight is always a consideration. Your preferences as to maneuverability/tracking are still a factor. The weight range of your anticipated load still matters. The type of water you intend to paddle is still a major consideration. Etc., etc.

About the only things that are dfferent about buying a canoe are not having to worry about cockpit size, deck height, and buying a spray skirt.

I have a dozen canoes, kayaks, and c-1s
In only two cases did I try the boat before I bought it. Large, distorted people like me may be unable to get into a demo boat without taking a saw to its insides.

I don’t understand why people tell newbies (not referring to the OP) to demo, demo, demo when a newbie is bound to be a poor judge of how demo boats behave. I’m not saying a newbie will always be wrong, but being really, really right is unlikely. The new paddler doesn’t appreciate all the specific differences in hulls and hardware. Demo boats may not be set up properly, so the new paddler and would be buyer has several strikes against him in doing the evaluation.

Identify a good, well-stocked dealer, one that specializes in the kind of canoes you’re interested in. Drive a long way to such a dealer if necessary. If the dealer’s advice makes sense and they want you to demo, go ahead, but don’t put too much weight on the demo experience. Unless your foot goes through the bottom of the boat.

Believe it or not, reading a lot of boat reviews done by professionals can be very helpful. Read John Winters on hull design. Check some other boards like myccr.com and see what they are paddling.

I have had excellent success with no-demo boat selection. Only my Perception Sage c-1 could be called a pig, and we did. “Miss Piggy.” Piggy was used and I knew she wasn’t a good boat, but I couldn’t afford a Noah Atlantis at the time.

Absolutely: try before you buy
What is stable for one person is tippy for another.


The reason for the advice
to demo boats is that there is a psychology involved.

While it seems on paper that the fit is perfect, our heads literally get in the way and for some reason we prefer something that data says is not a good fit.

I had a little friend who should have fit in a solo boat just fine. But he could not wrap his head around it and felt vulnerable and unstable. He wound up in a boat that scientifically was way too big for him.

I bought a Old Town penobscot without trying it and didnt like it. I ended up selling it but made money on it so that was no big deal.

I also bought both my current boats without trying and I love both of them (A Wenonah Jensen 17’ and a 1979 Jensen 16’ solo). I trust Gene Jensen. I love his designs and would confidently buy anything he designed. I read a bunch of reviews before buying and was confident that I was getting a good boat the second time around. I would want to try the boat if i was spending a lot of money on it ($1k+) or if I was buying it new. If its another Craigslist deal, Im fine with just pulling the trigger as long as its a good deal and I could sell it for what I paid. As long as you can sell it for the same you paid there is little/no risk to just buying and trying.

As for the ‘feel’ of the boats, unless you have special concerns (kids, health issues, cold water) I say just spend enough time in any boat and it will eventually feel ok. A 3x27 pro boat felt awful the first 20 hours I was in one. Now its still tippy but im comftortable with that. Same with my round bottom solo Jensen. I flipped it a few times when I first got it, now I love it and have learned a lot in the process. Im much more stable in general, have learned a lot about bracing and leaning into a turn. I advocate that you get a boat above your current skill level so you have something to grow into and challenge you. that statement excludes casual paddlers that have no aspirations of advancing their skills

So I say you can be happy without trying, but read up about what you’re buying. Make sure the hull fits your intended use based on the forums, reviews, talking with a shop/rep, and hull measurements.

Sizing a canoe
Yes, there are things to consider.

Most canoe manufacturers will provide a weight needed to sink a canoe to a particular level in the water, you’ll often see a couple of inches. Somewhere in those charts you can get a sense of the best waterline for the boat to behave well. While a canoe has more windage than a kayak no matter what, getting into a canoe that takes hugely more weight than you are likely to provide just aggravates the issue.

The next question is what type of canoe - pack canoe (paddles double bladed like a kayak), solo canoe intended for single-blading or a tandem that you can paddle solo. I forget your size, but for someone my size (5’3 .5" and 130 pounds) the last option is downright silly. There just isn’t a tandem, single blade canoe made that is small enough for me to comfortably paddle unless I sit Indian style (constantly balanced to one edge while kneeling in the bilge). That is, unless one has appeared on the market since I did this checking with some of the best canoe folks in the east a couple of years ago. Many solo canes have the same problem - I often have to kneel in the bilge of a solo like the Bell Merlin II to get anything resembling a solid stroke.

If you are closer to my size, the pack canoe provides the easiest way to get a good fit. Note that many pack canoes really don’t behave well with a single blade - it isn’t just a cheap shortcut. They are also smaller and a lot easier to carry. You generally get them set up with a seat inside, rather than set up for kneeling.

The other overlooked issue with going to a canoe is that of learning the strokes. Single blading means that either you sit/kneel and switch, keep switching sides to keep the boat going straight, or get a solid J-stroke and its variations. Both are more work than the double blading that you are used to from a kayak, and there is distinct learning curve to getting the J-stroke. I also find that the J-stroke has a phase that can be a bear on my joints.

This is all stuff to think about if you want to use the canoe for longer trips - basically how much time do you want to put into learning how to manage the canoe on the water? If the answer is hardly any and you are used to a kayak, you’d probably be happiest with a pack canoe.

If you want to get very serious about canoeing, maybe do some freestyle, there is another inventory if things to think about like whether the hull is symmetrical or assymetrical. But I suspect that is not what you are thinking about.

Well, there also are folks who can’t get
near a salesman without losing their sense of direction. Even with an honest salesman. People can err either way.

I did make somewhat of a mistake on my first solo canoe, a 13’ MR Compatriot. It was too small for me, and not light enough on the water for class 1-2 whitewater. Now I only need a good look at a canoe’s hull and specs to know whether it is potentially a good fit for me. Can’t expect newbies to manage that, but in the age of the internet and Google, buying without trying is much easier. Unlike with kayaks, if a canoe is the right size, outfitting can be tweaked to suit.

Cars are one area where I have to try. Can’t live with bad ergonomics for the height-challenged for 200k. But Honda always seems to come through.

I don’t think
height, weight etc are nearly as important when purchasing a typical recreational or tripping canoe as they are when purchasing a kayak where a close fit to your body is critical. Far more important is the kind of use you expect to put the canoe to.

It sure matters for solo canoes for me.
One that’s too wide or too long sure doesn’t seem as much fun or efficient for me to paddle as one that’s sized right.

Getting a solo canoe optimally outfitted for fit an comfort can be just as challenging as getting a kayak outfitted for fit and comfort.

For someone that only takes a few lazy day trips a year, it’s not as much as an issue.

Fit is classically important in both
For canoes the optimum width is that where you can reach over the gunwales with both hands to plant a vertical stroke and also where you can plant a knee in each chine for max control and stability.

Now most paddlers sit so the knee placement is moot but they still should be able to get a vertical paddle plant.

Height does play a part in canoeing as the head has mass .The taller paddler might want a wider boat. In this case God usually grants longer arms to accomodate.

Granted flatwater canoeists do not have to wear their boats as a pair of pants. "Pant fit " is essential for kayakers.

I know my paddling sucks in a 30 inch wide canoe and control is a breeze in a 24 inch wide DragonFly. Measurements at the gunwale.

That said paddler mindset plays a major part.

Yes it does matter
Certainly for solo canoes, and I am speaking from experience as well as advice from people like CE Wilson (the guy who developed the hulls for Flashfire and that series).

I have a Bell Merlin II, granted I haven’t gotten into this year. Nor have I had more than a few sessions at managing a canoe properly, but they have been with top canoe folks like Karen Knight. There have been some real time issues. But I do get the Merlin out on local evening paddles once in a while, and at times have to kneel in the bilge to manage it well and get a proper stroke. It is too big for me and I encounter related issues.

I have paddled regular sized people tandem canoes solo, in my younger days. It took fairly little wind issues to make it unwise to be out of sheltered areas with it because control was such a bear.

Are you a larger person? If you are a larger person than many women, it is less of an issue. If your canoe time is largely in tandems, it would also be less noticeable because they are going to be barges with just one person anyway.

Try before you buy–best advice
You’ll find that just as with test driving kayaks, canoes also have different “feel”. For years I lusted after a Grasse River classic XL and finally got one. Paddled it off and on for a year and a half and never got comfortable in it. Always felt like I’d go swimming if I so much as sneezed in it. Finally sold it to a more appreciative paddler. Moral of the story—don’t buy a boat that you’re not comfortable in…

Celia, I am your size with the exception
of being an inch shorter. Being of similar stature, your information is has been quite informative to me.

Thanks to all for your information. It’s will be taken into consideration, should I choose to purchase a canoe.

P-netters to the rescue again!