What would you look for in a canoe for mostly solo use?

I love sea kayaking but at my age, there’s a point where I’m going to have to back off. The flexibility to work in the cockpit is starting to fade. I always loved touring canoeing when I was younger and would love to get back into several-day camping trips. I’m concidering adding a canoe to the stable. It would need to be suitable to paddle solo with enough camping gear for up to a week. It would be nice to bring a passenger for day paddles with no gear. Wife can’t paddle but I’d take her out on the local river to sight see. But the priority is one person with moderate gear.

Don’t know anything about a boat that would be good for one and for two people. I read that if you have a small two-person boat but paddle it solo, you can sit backwards in the front seat. Never tried it. Once tried to paddle an 18’ Gruman in stiff wind solo in the back seat and it was impossible.

For what lakes, rivers, maybe a bit of mellow white water as in what you would run into doing tourgin. I recall doing some class 1/2 stuff on the Delaware when i was a kid and thought almost any boat would work.

Given these requirements–

What boats would you recommend?

Since I will likely cruise local classifieds looking for a deal, what characteristics would you recommend since I might not find an extact recommend model? Things like size, features, etc.

15-16 foot, a compromise in side height because you want sides high enough to keep the water out, but low enough to prevent issues with wind when paddling solo. I prefer a slightly narrower boat like 33-34 inches because I really can’t kneel for long like many who paddle tandems solo. It should be a symmetrical hull. I prefer a shallow arch hull. Polers would probably have different criteria.

I’ll add I have a Novacraft Bob Special that I use as you describe that is wider than the parameters I said, but works great. I also have a OT Penobscot that is closer to the parameters and does a great job too. Really the biggest requirement is it is symmetrical other than that you can make it work.

I had a Dagger Reflection 15 with a center seat…It did nothing particularly well, but started off as a flat water tandem for my son and I, got moved into cl. 2 ww tandem, then became my son’s first solo paddle/poling boat, lots of . Cl 2, and ended up being my “comfortable day on a river” paddler/poler when my knees had enough of C1 and OC1 kneeling.
Think it was Wenonah that made a “solo plus” model that sounds like your holy grail to me…
Saying you’re older has me thinking looking into a composite boat may be a good move…Penobscot, Reflection…good boats until your bad back needs to haul the thing up a trail and throw it on the rack.
Millbrook boats the Coho, properly outfitted, maybe a bit sportier than you’d want, but a fairly popular boat amongst the paddle/pole/ tripping folks I knew. Souhegan another possibility, slightly shorter, I poled and paddled one in cl 1 and 2,Ed Hayden’s personal boat, and it made me realize what pigs comparably sized royalex boats are. I had a glass Flashback…not putting the wife in that one lol,but I entertained thoughts of 2 or 3 night adventures in that boat, it being such a nimble joy to paddle.

Your opening post sounded exactly like my thoughts last winter. She really wanted a solo rec-kayak for herself and I wanted a canoe to solo most of the time but also use tandem or solo with a non paddling passenger.

I was hunting around for used (almost nothing in both cases due to covid) and even new were super long waits. The end of winter I saw a neighbor had a canoe and I asked him about it and he offered to sell it for what he paid a year before and never used it. $150 for a OT guide 147. It seemed perfect so I bought it. we set it in the snow and tried it and she said no way to the bow seat and to be honest I tried the bow seat and also said no way. I turned the molded bow seat around (tractor style) and moving it even 8” closer to the center in the process thinking the passenger can ride backwards from the old stern seat. That would have worked but without the passenger I needed at least a 5 gallon bucket of water to keep the wind from blowing the bow around when I was seated solo or I had to kneel and my knees couldn’t take it for any amount of time. I tried adding a center bench seat to make it a tandem where the seating was spaced more like a tandem kayak and we would then use kayak paddles. That worked ok but was still no good solo.

I then discovered these beautiful canoes called pack canoes. Kind of a cross between a kayak and a canoe. They are very light have tapered in sides to make them not as wide at the top they have formed seats right at the perfect balance point and foot rests like a kayak and you paddle them with a double blade. They are also not real budget friendly but what I wanted.

I stripped everything out of the OT and made it into what I call a hybrid as it didn’t quite raise to pack canoe level. I worked out my center location seat and it is actually a little higher than a pack canoe would be and better for my old knees and the wide beam of the OT. I added in new thwarts where I wanted them to suit my solo only needs. I found I needed a 160cm paddle and as a backup I carry a short canoe paddle to use when in tight areas.

Other than the fact I come in around 80 pounds with the boat empty it is perfect for my needs and a pleasure to paddle and it was a fun project that cost little and wasn’t a great deal of time once I knew what I wanted.

We ended up buying her a OT rec-kayak off line and she is super happy with that as she can load it on her car and go with her girlfriends. It is only 45 pounds. If I liked the posture of that style boat and could be comfortable in it we would have 2 of them but regardless of the weight I much prefer the canoe. My dream boat is still the pack canoe but in our sometimes shallow river full of sharp rocks it is hard to beat that used heavy duty OT three layer hull. What looks to me as beauty scars on it would kill me to see on an expensive composite boat.

Here is a thread I started on what I did to the 14’7” OT.

I would say about a 16’ tandem with perhaps tumblehome, and then add a center seat could possibly work for your all around canoe. Light weight is a big deal as we age.

Ideally I would consider a dedicated solo, and a second boat that’s a tandem. I have a Kevlar Mad River Explorer 16 (doesn’t have tumble home) that I paddled some heeled while single blading and kneeling in the center. My knees can still handle kneeling, but not for long amounts of time. So I also paddled it from the bow seat and facing the stern. It weights 52 pounds.

I picked up an older Curtis Kevlar solo, and that is what I use now when paddling solo and camping. It weights 36 pounds with the extra S-glass for durability on rocky rivers, and is 15’ 8" long.

I bought both used on Craigslist. There are numerous canoe brands and models that could work for you. If you find something just ask folks here about the canoe you are interested in.

I don’t know all the possibilities out there, what I see as common in a light weight tandem is a center carry yoke where the center seat would need to be added. In my case the center seat support I built adds back in the strength of a central yoke/thwart. Some of the hanging center seats I don’t think add enough strength to equal the thwart. I don’t know this as a fact though.

Its also good to know anything with a contoured bow seat is not very comfortable facing backwards. For that to work you really need a bench style seat. Also if there is a thwart in the way when you sit backwards.

I tried alot of different boats and ended up with a dedicated solo and a tandem with the center seat about 18" back from center. The tandem is a Bell Northwind 16rx it takes more horse power to move than the solo. I am on the heavy side so my solo is a swift shearwater. I would strongly suggest going the 2 boat route. Kevlar is really nice for the weight savings.

Happy Paddling

in agreement. Combi canoes don’t do either or tandem well except if both are lightweights and short.

Based on other recommendations (get 2 boats) which I can’t argue with, I would suggest following my recommendation and get an actual tandem with said characteristics first. Use it for your intended purpose until you can add the solo because yes 2 (or 3 or 4) boats are better than one.

Bud, the inward taper you describe on the profile of some pack canoes is called tumblehome. It allows the hull to have sufficient volume for displacement while allowing the paddler(s) to have their paddle more easily clear the gunwales. Also aids in providing secondary stabilty for turning on edge. Other styles besides pack camoes also have this hull profile, including some whitewater models.

My 34 pound 13’ 8” solo canoe has tumblehome, fir example. Not all small solos are pack canoes. A pack canoe has a lowered seat and is proportioned to use a double bladed paddle. Mine has a raised and forward-canted web seat.

16 feet is a length that provides enough room for 2 but is still manageable as a solo. If you purchase a tandem symmetrical hull, when solo paddle it backwards out of the bow seat and adjust trim with gallons of water, available at the launch.

Northstar B16 or Northwind 16 would work. I solo a Northwind 16 and it paddles efficiently for a tandem. However, it is asymmetrical so I added a center seat and paddle it with the bow first.

The weight of the paddlers will play a role in what makes/models work best

Thanks willowleaf. I did know all that but I wasn’t sure the OP is up on all the terms so I opted to describe it kind of simply so if he didn’t understand he could dig deeper.

I sometimes reply to other posters and sometime the OP. You just get a snippet of the OP level of knowledge.

There are a few basic things that are good to know before recommending a canoe.

How much weight does it need to carry? If you are heavy then you need a big solo. If you are light and your wife is small then there may be large solos that work for you solo and let you take your wife out occasionally. I used to take my wife out occasionally in a solo where she’d just sit in front of me on the floor of the canoe.

Do you plan to sit or kneel? Kneeling is more stable so if you plan to sit (which is fine) you need a canoe with a little more stability.

How heavy of a canoe are you comfy lifting and loading? This may be a key factor. Light boats that are easy to load are likely to get used much more than boats you hate lifting and loading. I’d suggest a solo under 40 pounds or a tandem under 45.

I totally agree that it’s best to get a dedicated solo if that’s your main priority. That said, some tandems make much better solos than others. My Northstar Polaris solos quite well (for a tandem) similar to the Northwind 16 mentioned. But you won’t find either one used at a bargain price (like under $2k). The Mad River Malecite is a nice all around canoe that was made for many years and if you can find a used Kevlar one it’s a good choice, some came with an extra center seat for solo paddling.

Just wanted to add that I recently sold a Dagger Reflection 15 to a knowledgeable canoeist who intended for his wife to use it as a solo. While I had it I mostly soloed it, but it would carry two relative light-weights also for day tripping (300 lbs total). That particular boat needs either a third seat or a kneeling thwart for solo work as it is asymmetric.

The boat weighed in at 59 lbs, but even that is too much for me to car top these days which is why I sold it.


Well summarized, TomL! That’s an excellent guide for helping focus on canoes that fit the desired use.

That Shearwater is an awesome craft… never paddled one as I’m on the smaller size, but a while back, paddled with someone on occassion that had one, a great canoe…

I tried many different options from kayaks to various canoes, the shearwater is my never plan on selling boat. Everything else is somewhat fluid. I had a Bell magic that I would not have got rid of but I was about 100# to heavy for it.

Tom is dead on. What boat works is so dependent on paddler size, use,skill level,ect. As long as I was not going to be abusing the boat in creeks or rivers I would stay with a composite for the better handling and weight savings.

Would not use it for whitewater, but a friend is selling a 16’ 6" Wenonah Advantage kevlar solo (only weighs 32 pounds and I can load and carry it over my head or on one shoulder.) One of the faster touring solo canoes out there. New ones are $3000 and this one, in excellent shape, is $1400. Located in western PA.

This little gem has handled everything from monster wind and boat waves on big lakes like Ontario to fast rivers with strong eddies and standing wave trains. It’s also fast, leans nice turns, and paddles well under load

Nice canoes, they remind me of the Wenona Advantage I once owned.

1 Like