Would you recommend 16 or 17 feet?

I live in an urban area (Chicago) where canoeing isn’t that popular (not a ton of shops).
We’re a family of four: me 190 lbs, sons 7 and 8 at about 65 and 50 lb, and my wife is about 130 lb.

Primary spot will be the local river which has a decent access point 2 blocks from my house and a great one .5 miles away. Also plenty of calm lakes to try out.

Given that I’d prefer something light enough to easily carry solo .25 to .5 miles. Local shop has Northstar Northwinds available for spring delivery, it’s more than I want to spend but I’m sick of waiting and want to get out on the water this year.

I’m back and forth between a 16 and 17 footer, forums here seem conflicted. I can’t predict which of my kids if both will really take to it. I’d assume that 10-15% I’ll be soloing so I thought the 16 makes more sense but I’m not sure how tight that would be with 4. This would not be anything other than day pleasure trip with 4.

How many years do you think I could get out of a 16 footer with my family? I’d like something that gives me a few years to see if they take to it (in which I’d probably buy something smaller and cheaper for them) but is still small enough I can use comfortably by myself. Probably hard to find something that checks all those boxes.

I don’t think it will matter much. It will be cramped with all four of you in either size. My 16’ is OK for myself, my wife and two kids that are only 3 and 5. Even then, they are fighting for space.

I would go for the smaller one and if your kids get into it, get a second boat. If only one does, it is the perfect chance to get a smaller solo canoe to give you a great setup for one, two or three people

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There are always trade-offs. In your case it is the added difficulty of soloing a 17 footer vs a 16 footer against more cramped conditions and lower freeboard in a 16 footer. Given that the kids are only going to get bigger and heavier, I’d opt for the 17 footer. Buy the 17 footer and install a kneeling thwart to ease the soloing experience.


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You live 90 minutes from the best paddling store in the country
Rutabaga in Madison WI

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For 4 people you want the largest canoe you can find. The kids will be capable of paddling their own boat by the time they are about 10 which is soon.

Seventeen feet is a good all around length. You can take the whole family for awhile, and still have a great canoe for two people when they get their own boat. For a half mile portage, consider a canoe cart and put some wheels under your boat.

I like long trips and bringing dogs. We do not portage hardly at all on western rivers. I like canoes 18 feet or more best. I have an OT Guide 18, but used to paddle a Wenonah Odyssey that was 18 !/2 feet. Even those big canoes can be handled solo with some practice.

I went looking for a canoe in 1981 with 4 kids from 3 to 9. Paddled many, studied catalogs, and narrowed it down to 4 17’ models. Ended up with a Wenonah Spirit,. 30 years later and a dozen more canoes in the fleet, the Spirit is still the most trusted canoe i own to use anywhere on any water that does not require wearing a helmet. Go with the 17, you can add a solo later. On the streams you described at 17 will not be that much different to solo.

Light enough to carry .25 to .5 mile suburban… Oh portage no! Get a cart.

Sounds like you’ve got a great spot for getting in the water quickly.
Length and volume vary. I have a fairly narrow 17 foot Clipper Tripper. My first canoe was an exceptionally beamy 16 foot Frontiersman. The frontiersman had much more volume. It tracked by virtue of a full length keel that made it not very manoeuvrable. The Clipper tracks without any keel and can do moderate white water. Although the Frontiersman was a very welcome boat at the time, I infinitely prefer the Clipper.

So, what I’m saying is, get a canoe that you will be happy with now and for years to come. My guess is that you won’t find much difference in the solo handling of the 17 footer but you will be glad of the extra capacity. But that depends on the boat more than the length. You need quite a bit of volume/capacity and a good tracking boat that’s easy to handle. All things being equal I’d go for 17 feet.

Having four of you in one kayak is WAY too dangerous. A husband and 3 kids up on Lake Superior were lost (and drowned) .

Help me understand why you would want to stuff so many people in a kayak that is designed for one person?

@hlub34a OP is making a decision about a canoe, not a kayak.

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4 in a canoe is just fine and lake superior is so far from most paddling that you might as well talk about the Indian ocean

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Hello Brindelin,

I have been in canoes for longer than it is polite to remember. PLEASE NOTE I weigh nearly what you and your wife combined, about 280 as of now. My tripping solo canoe is a Clipper 20’ McKenzie. Shallow arched bottom, no keel, 3 inches of rocker, the gunwales have been replaced twice (aluminum original, aluminum tube replacement, and now glass and cedar), and they were not replaced for aesthetics, but because they were crushed in white water. I am scheduled for a 150 mile on the Colorado river this Thursday for about 10 days.

Take the larger boat, no question, hands down. You at 190 I would further suggest 18 foot minimum. The 18 foot Wenonah, Champlain in a kevlar, magnificent. Not a boat I would white water in, tracks too well, but your family and for several years to come, and the portage weight is easy… The 18 foot Clipper McKenzie in a kevlar also excellent, that one has some rocker and is easy to handle solo or with a load. The Wenonah Spirit was made in an 18 foot version. Orrrr, you want to save money, Find an 18 foot Grumman 17 minimum, or the 18.5 Alumacraft, for an aluminum that is a nice boat.

Knee board or a mid seat just forward of the stern seat, or, the front seat can be used in reverse (no thwart immediately behind the seat)

Myself? I ballast the bow. My water jugs go in the bow, on a long trip that is 20 or 21 gallons of fresh water. My heavier kitchen and repair cases, and even some 25 pound barbell weights that I can afix to the bottom forward centerline. The only time a 20 footer becomes unhandy is wind and zero load but me. Loaded, wind is wind, I’d rather an 18 or 20 loaded in a wind than a 16 unloaded.

I own 4 canoes at present, 20, 20, 18.5, and 17

Boats that are too small you will out grow in just a year or two. 2 feet longer and you will use the same boat for decades.

Or just buy two canoes. One for you and one kid. One for Mom and the other kid. Soon it should be Mom and Dad in one canoe and the kids in the other one.

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