How to Choose Your Canoe

by PennPaddler

madriver_horizon_17The first consideration in choosing your canoe is to determine what type of canoeist you are. It’s getting very common for paddlers to own several types of boats to accommodate a variety of paddling environments. And if you take the leap into canoe camping I would almost guarantee you will have you own collection of boats someday. But for now, let’s get you started on choosing your first boat. First you need to determine what type of paddling you will be doing. Even though you are going to be canoe camping there are still different types of environments to consider. Some like to spend an entire week wilderness tripping the Great Lakes, while others like the lazy rivers, and still others like to hit the faster rivers. You also need to determine how many passengers are going to be in your boat. Are you paddling solo or with a partner? Do you have small children you want to take along? These are all considerations when shopping for a boat.

The design of the canoe dramatically affects the performance of the canoe. For example, the length of the canoe affects more than just the comfort and the amount of gear you can haul. It also affects speed and maneuverability. Longer canoes are faster and are an advantage in flat water and long distance expedition conditions. Shorter canoes are more maneuverable and are an advantage in situations where nimbleness and paddling agility are necessary. Other important design features are symmetry and keel line. They both affect canoe performance dramatically and are considerations when making your canoe purchase. This primer article was written to increase your basic knowledge of canoe designs and to help you in your canoe selection.

Try Before You Buy
Don’t settle for a cheaper boat. When shopping for your boat go to knowledgeable boat dealers, ask questions, and tryotc_discovery_169 before you buy. Many boat shops will allow you to actually test models, and I highly recommend testing as many as you can because you’ll be amazed at the differences in ease of paddling, tracking, maneuvering, and stability between the different models.

Canoe Types
There are many canoe models to choose from and they all offer their own advantages for different types of paddling. Some canoes are made for extreme conditions such as whitewater, and some are designed to perform well under calm paddling conditions while carrying heavy loads of gear. It is often a fine line that separates these categories of boats but once you begin your research, and paddle a few different models, you be able to make the right purchase.

  • Recreational Canoes (All Purpose)
    These boats are generally not considered a high performance boat when it comes to speed or maneuvering, but they do offer stability on the water. This is a great boat for paddling around on lakes or slow rivers with the family. And because of their stability this boat is a great boat to fish from. It’s a great beginner boat, but if you plan to use it on river or wilderness tripping you probably find yourself wanting something with better performance.
  • River Tripping / Touring Canoes (Typically 15′-17′ in length)
    Designed to handle fast-moving rivers and streams, these boats take more getting used to than recreational canoes because they don’t have the primary stability that the recreational boats have. On newer models the hulls are designed without keels and are available in shallow-vee or shallow arched hulls for enhanced performance. These boats are usually designed with a degree of rocker to provide the maximum maneuverability for making quick turns around rocks, ledges and for crossing sharp eddy lines. This type of canoe is an excellent choice for most stream and river canoe camping.
  • Expedition Canoes (Typically 18′-20′ in length)
    Expedition canoes are generally high volume canoes, which means they are capable of hauling heavy loads on long trips. Designed for two paddlers, the moderate rocker and increased bow depth make them a very dry ride under rougher conditions. Unlike smaller canoes, these canoes are most efficient when weighted to compensate for the high amount of water displacement. If you are going to do major canoe trips lasting a week or longer you might want to consider this type of boat.
  • Whitewater Canoes
    These are high performance boats designed for paddling large rapids. Don’t consider this boat if you are planning to canoe camp in luxury. These boats are designed to float through rapids not haul gear. Purchase this category of boat when you advance your paddling skills to class 3 and 4 rapids.

Many of today’s new hybrid boats designs are mashables of different types of canoes. So while doing your research you might discover that a manufacturers river tripping canoe might actually have expedition canoe characteristics, and a touring canoe might have recreational canoe characteristics. This is why it’s important to discuss your purchase with a legitimate canoe dealer who will guide you in the right direction and allow you to try the boat before making your purchase.

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