How to Choose a Canoe

Once you’ve decided to purchase a canoe, you’ll need to make some decisions to narrow the field of options from the hundreds of models available. Here’s some tips to help you wade through your choices.

Solo or Tandem?

A solo canoe is designed to be paddled by one person and is set up with a single center seat at the proper balance point. Solos may be as short as 10’ for a pack type canoe to as long as 18’ and longer for a very efficient cruising, racing or expedition model.

A tandem is set up for two paddlers and can range from 12’ to 19’ or more. They generally offer greater capacity and stability due to their increased length and width. Hybrid canoes can be paddled as a tandem but have an added third seat so they can be paddled solo as well. Some performance is sacrificed because they tend to be narrow when paddled as a tandem, and wide as a solo, but hybrids are a good option when versatility is required.

Types of Canoes

To help you determine the best length, design, and material, and the optimal stability, efficiency and capacity, consider the following questions:

What type of water will you paddle on? Calm or fast moving rivers? Small lakes or large open bodies of water?

What will you use the canoe for? Fishing, day outings, exercise, racing, overnight camping, or extended wilderness trips? A shorter, deeper, more rockered (curved from bow to stern) and durable canoe would be ideal for moving rivers. Paddling larger and/or more windy bodies of water would dictate a longer, straighter, more efficient, seaworthy, and lighter craft.

Who and what will be in the canoe? Adults, squirmy children, pets, lots of heavy gear? Knowing what will be in the canoe will help you determine the length, design and capacity you’ll need.

Different hull designs offer varying levels of initial and secondary stability. Canoes stronger in “initial stability” (that feeling of tippiness) may be more comfortable for beginners, but its important to realize that “secondary stability” (resistance to capsize when leaned to the side) may be more critical in all but the calmest conditions.

Canoe Materials

Different materials affect the weight, strength, performance and cost of a canoe.

Aluminum is very durable and cost efficient, but heavier, noisier, less efficient, and conducts heat and cold more readily.

There are several types of foam-cored, Molded Plastic constructions: Superlink and Polylink are trade names for Old Town’s less expensive, heavy-duty materials. They have foam cores which provide stiffness as well as buoyancy. They are a good option for the budget conscious paddler where weight is not a concern. Royalex has become a popular material due to its moderate weight, durability and price. It can be used on flatwater as well as in rapids. Royalex is not quite as indestructible as Superlink, but is considerably lighter weight.

Fiberglass allows boats to have finer lines and is more efficient moving through the water. Kevlar is well known for its lightweight, puncture resistance and tear strength. Its use in the construction of high performance, ultra-lightweight canoes is ideal for flatwater paddling but has its limitations for more challenging conditions because it has lower impact strength and abrasion resistance. Kevlar may also be used to create a more durable construction (Wenonah’s Kevlar Flex-core), or can be used in combination with other materials to create stiffer and tougher composite canoes.

Graphite is used to create the lightest weight canoe for performance minded, weight conscious paddlers or racers. The weight savings gained by graphite increases the price making it the most expensive option.

Summing up

The experience and comfort levels paddlers possess are important factors in the choice of a canoe. Reading paddling publications and spending some time in canoes of varying hull designs and sizes will help illustrate their differences and the importance of one characteristic over another. However, the best way to find the right canoe is to paddle them! We offer the unique opportunity to test paddle several models so you find the right boat for YOU. Whether you come to one of our stores or to Paddlefest, our staff will be happy to help make your selection process easy and effective.


Old Forge Locations
Paddlesports, Outdoor Gear and Rental Store
2855 Route 28, Old Forge, NY 13420

Paddlesports Shop: (315) 369-6672 ext. 1
Moose River Trips & Boat Rentals: (315) 369-6672 ext. 2
Outdoor Gear & Apparel Shop: (315) 369-6672 ext. 3

Saratoga Springs Locations

Saratoga Outdoor Gear & Apparel Shop
490 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
(518) 584-3500

Saratoga Paddlesports Shop
251 Staffords Bridge Road on Fish Creek, Saratoga Springs, NY
(518) 584-0600

Copyright Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company. 2014.

Prices are subject to change with out notice. Mountainman is not responsible for typographical errors.