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Buying a Canoe
Things to consider before you make your purchase
©Outdoor Adventure Canada

Of all our canoeing gear the canoe is the biggest investment and for those who are buying their first canoe it can be somewhat daunting. With prices ranging from approximately $800.00 to $4000.00 you want to be sure you make the appropriate choice.

First of all you need to decide a few things...

What type of trip will the canoe be used for?

This could be a recreational canoe for the lake at your cottage or a more advanced model for wilderness tripping. If you are wilderness tripping the canoe you choose will depend on the type of water you will travel on. There are different considerations for whitewater trips. Certain styles perform better on large lakes and other styles are better suited to running rapids. If you will be portaging quite a bit then you may want to consider models made from lighter materials.

How many people will be in the canoe on the average trip?

If you plan to solo your canoe all the time then you might choose a different size than if you plan to take others and only solo some of the time. It may be that the canoe will never be soloed. This will determine the symmetry and size of canoe that you choose. For example: If you plan to use the boat with two adults and two children but there will be a chance that you will solo once or twice a season then you would look for a model that suited both purposes.

If you plan to tandem and solo the same canoe there are two major design choices. You could consider purchasing a canoe with a symmetrical hull design. This would allow you to turn the canoe around when soloing, meaning that you would sit in the bow facing the stern making soloing less cumbersome. The other option is to purchase an asymmetrical design and having a third seat installed as a solo seat. The extra seat would allow you to sit closer to the center.

If you plan to only solo the canoe then you might want to look at a model that is asymmetrical and a little shorter in length (about 15 feet). These canoes are specifically designed for the solo paddler.

If you are planning to tandem you will probably want a canoe that is about 16 feet long unless you are going on lengthy trips. If you are taking three or more people then you will probably want a 17 foot length model. Symmetrical or asymmetrical will depend on the type of canoeing and your preferences.

What will be the average weight in the canoe?

Consider the weight of your gear and paddlers on the average trip. Some canoe designs are better when they are loaded at a certain weight. The maximum load refers to the amount of weight that a canoe can hold and while maintaining 6" of free board (the height of the canoe remaining above the waterline). The optimum load refers canoe's load capacity for optimum performance. You should buy a canoe with an optimal rating that matches the loads you plan on carrying.

What will be the average trip length?

If you plan to take a canoe on longer trips you will need a larger load capacity than you would if you are buying a canoe just to putter on the lake at the cottage.

What type of material will your canoe be made from?

This will depend entirely on how you will use the canoe. If you are tripping with numerous portages you might want to consider materials such as Kevlar over fiberglass or ABS (Royalex) because Kevlar is lighter. Expedition Kevlar is well suited to wilderness tripping. Ultralight Kevlar is the lightest of materials but is a little more fragile than Expedition Kevlar. Royalex is more suitable for rapids and whitewater because it is more flexible. Fiberglass is economical but very heavy and not the best for lengthy portages. Cedar and canvas are beautiful aesthetic and fairly light but require a great deal of care and maintenance. Aluminum canoes are noisy and have a cold feel but will withstand a good deal of abuse.

What is your trim preference?

Most canoes are available with either wood or aluminum trim on the gunwales. Wood is a little heavier, usually adding about 3 pounds, but has a nicer feel than aluminum. It feels warmer in the cold weather and with a little maintenance will stay beautiful for many years. Wood is also a little more expensive, generally adding about $250.00 to the price. Aluminum is less expensive and lighter but also scratches easily. Aluminum trim feels cold in the spring and fall. Some styles of canoes come with vinyl trim.

Here are other considerations and information that will help you make an informed choice…

What are the differences between asymmetrical and symmetrical canoes?

A canoe has symmetrical hull if both the bow and the stern are the same shape. A canoe with a symmetrical hull has good maneuverability, behaves predictably on the water and has good initial stability when entering or exiting the canoe. Symmetrical canoes are great for accommodating the solo canoeist because it can be reversed allowing the soloist to sit in the bow facing the stern.

An asymmetrical canoe sacrifices initial stability. You have to take greater care getting in and out and moving around but you will have greater secondary stability which means less chance of tipping on the water. Asymmetrical canoes are generally faster than symmetrical models.

Initial stability isn't just about getting in and out of the canoe. Intial stability also refers to how stable the craft is when in the flat position. Secondary stability refers to how stable the canoe is if you lean.

How does the rocker affect the tracking of a canoe?

If the canoe has a straight line keel it has little or no rocker. This type of rocker provides excellent tracking on open water but it is not very maneuverable. An extreme rocker is greatly curved along the keel line from the bow to the stern. It is a very maneuverable canoe but sacrifices tracking. A moderate rocker is what one finds on most canoes. The keel line is mostly flat but curves upwards toward the stern and bow. A moderate rocker provides good tracking and maneuverability. However, if you are running rapids look for a steep rocker.

How does hull shape affect performance?

If the canoe has a flat hull it will have offer great initial stability and provide steadiness for fishing and photography. If the canoe has a shallow arched hull, the canoe won't have as good initial stability as the flatter model but it will have far better secondary stability. A shallow V is sometimes used as a hull shape. It offers performance that is close to that of a shallow arched hull. A shallow V will track deeper so it can get hung up on rocks in shallow water. Round hulls are typically found on racing canoes but they are very prone to tipping.

Why is the shape of the sides and bow important?

If the sides (tumblehome) are flared, curving out from the keel, they will shed the water well and increase stability. Straight sides travel without any curvature and other sides curve upward from the keel and then inward so that the canoe is narrower at the beam or top than at the bottom. The turned in designs are less stable but ease paddling because you don't have to stretch as far. Canoe designs use combinations of all three shapes.

A sharp bow will cut through the water for fast performance. A blunt bow will have more contact with the water.

What about length, width and depth?

A longer canoe will have a faster hull speed, track better and will carry heavier loads than a shorter canoe. Shorter canoes will weigh less and be more maneuverable.

The width or beam has a great effect on canoe performance. A wide canoe beam will be very stable but slow. A narrower canoe is faster but not as stable. A deep canoe will carry more, shed more water and is better in waves, but it is also harder to steer in windy conditions and it weighs more. Deeper canoes are also troublesome on shallow rivers and creeks.

How are the seats constructed?

Seat construction varies between manufacturers. There are metal framed seats with foam padding, molded ABS seats, and wooden seats woven with either cane or webbing. Some seats are on sliders allowing you to configure your canoe as needed and others are fixed. Some manufacturers have added a slight angle to the seat which makes kneeling more comfortable.

How is the yoke constructed?

This is important especially if you will be doing a great deal of portaging. What yoke will feel best depends on your body and preferences. Some manufacturers offer yoke pads or contoured yokes which make portaging more comfortable.

Now that you have an idea of what you need from a canoe and a basic knowledge of how design elements alter the stability and performance it is time to research some canoe manufacturers. Look at styles that suit your needs and rent several different canoes to see what you feel most comfortable with before you buy a canoe. Once you narrow your decision down to a few canoes take some time and discuss your intended choices with fellow canoeists. There is no better resource than people who can give you their opinions from first hand experience.

Note: If you are ordering a canoe, be sure to follow-up on your order shortly after you place it to ensure that the process has been started and leave enough time for manufacture and delivery before your trip.

Written by Brad Wipperman
Photos courtesy Laurie March

masthead photo courtesy




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