How to Choose a Canoe

A canoe is an investment towards a lifetime of enjoyment and health for you and your family. Here are things to look for when you’re in the market for your own canoe…

canoiests in cedar strip canoes

Canoe Materials to Choose From

Modern canoes are made from a variety of materials. The material used affects the weight, durability and cost significantly. Let’s look at the most common materials used to build canoes:

Aluminum—Practically indestructable and maintenance-free, aluminum canoes are great for knocking around on the lake, for taking a beating, and even for canoe trips. They weigh less then polyethylene (below) and are an affordable option. Their main disadvantages are: They’re noisy, and they’re hot or cold to the touch depending on the air and water temperatures.

Polyethylene—A type of thermo-molded plastic, a polyethylene canoe’s best features are its low price point and durability. However it’s quite heavy and not good for long trips and portaging. They also can become mis-shapen in direct sunlight or after sitting for long periods of time.

This type of canoe is ideal for a cabin or lakehome with casual paddlers. They’ll hold up under rough treatment and provide paddling enjoyment for a low investment.

Royalex—Durable, lighter weight than polyethylene, and priced mid-range, Royalex® canoes have been hugely popular. It’s a great all-around canoe material for recreational paddling, wilderness expeditions and white water canoeing.

Fiberglass—A very common material for canoes, composite fiberglass canoes are moderately priced, fairly durable and low-maintenance. These canoes are easy to repair, but aren’t as durable as some of the other materials. They weigh less than polyethylene and aluminum but more than Kevlar (below).

Kevlar—The lightest and most expensive of the modern materials, but not the most durable as far as impact resistance. Makers combine Kevlar with other materials to increase the strength, but that also increases the weight. Kevlar canoes are great for extended trips with lots of portaging, but keep them off the rocks!

Natural Materials—Some of the traditional materials used to build canoes include: birch bark, wood and canvas, wood strip and wood plank, and skin-on-frame. Canoe enthusiasts still produce canoes from these materials in limited numbers. They all have their advantages (beauty, smoothness in the water) and disadvantages (weight, price, higher maintenance).

For more on canoe materials visit these sites:

Canoe Lengths and Weights

The length of canoe for you depends on how you’ll be using it and where you’ll be paddling. If you plan to paddle alone or on fast-moving rivers, a 10-14 foot canoe will be easiest to handle and steer.

If you plan on long touring and wilderness expeditions on lakes and slow rivers, a 16-18 foot canoe will be best. It will maneuver well with two paddlers, track well on lakes (keep a straight course) and can carry hundreds of pounds of gear.

(Here’s a helpful post on canoe length.)

The weight of your canoe will determine in part how enjoyable it is to use, especially if you plan to haul it up and down off your vehicle and over portages. 65-70 pounds or less is best for carrying and portaging. Be sure you know the weight of any canoe you plan to buy.

Canoe Hull Shape

The shape of the hull can significantly change how a canoe performs. Make sure to select the appropriate hull shape and rocker amount for the type of paddling you’ll be doing!

A canoe with a flat bottom is built for stability. Flat bottoms are commonly found on recreational canoes, and are ideal for beginning paddlers.

As the canoe bottom becomes more round, the canoe loses some stability but gains speed. Canoes with a more rounded bottom are better for longer canoe trips as they move through the water more efficiently.

Rocker is the amount of curvature on the bow and stern of a canoe. A lot of rocker allows the canoe to be maneuvered quickly, but decreases tracking and speed. Heavy rocker is often used in canoes designed for running rivers since maneuverability is more important than speed.

Low-to-moderate rocker is what’s found on most canoes. The less rocker, the straighter the canoe will track and the harder to turn. Touring canoes have enough rocker for maneuverability, but not too much to sacrifice tracking and speed.

Canoe Paddles

A good paddle is durable, comfortable and lightweight. And if it can be beautiful, too, all the better! We’re proud of the handcrafted canoe paddles we make right here at our Bending Branches factory in Wisconsin. Here’s a look at our full line of canoe paddles.

Life Jackets (PFDs)

No canoe set-up is complete without life jackets for your whole family. Read up on PFDs in this post.

Register Your Canoe with Your State

If you live in the US, do an online search for “canoe license in (your state) .” Many states are also now requiring extra documentation for invasive species, which has gotten to be a major problem in many waterways.

Canadian residents, you don’t need to register your canoe or kayak.

For more information from specific canoe makers, we recommend the following:

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