Should You Buy a Solo or Tandem Canoe?

canoeist and dog in solo canoe

(photo courtesy of @five2nine_ca)

So you’re shopping for a canoe and you know most of your paddling will be solo. Should you buy a solo or tandem canoe? That’s a good question!

Our friends at provide an environment where anyone can ask paddling questions like this one. The readers are always helpful and ready to give their point of view on topics like: solo or tandem?

We’ve taken a look at their advice and have distilled it here for you, and we added our own two cents worth, too:

The Difference Between a Solo and Tandem Canoe

A solo canoe is a canoe designed to be paddled by one person. And example is the photo at the top of this article. The paddler is on a seat in the center of the canoe for the most control. Solo canoes range in size from 10-16 feet. Shorter ones are more maneuverable, longer ones are better for long-distance tripping.

A tandem canoe has a bow and stern seat for two paddlers. Average tandems range in size from 16-18 feet. Each extra foot makes it a little harder for one person to handle, especially in any wind. As you can see from this photo below, it wouldn’t take much breeze to blow the bow end of this canoe around the lake as it’s above the water line:

canoeist paddling solo in a tandem canoe

The Best of Both Worlds: Buy One of Each!

Are you drawn to solo canoeing most of the time, but have a small child you want to take along? Or you’d like to paddle with another adult now and then?

Several readers agreed your ideal option is to put most of your budget towards a good solo canoe. There aren’t as many of these on the used market, so that might mean buying new. But purchasing new means you’re able to find one that fits you and your paddling needs perfectly.

Then keep your eyes out for a cheap used tandem canoe. If you’ll only use the tandem a couple times a season, you can even consider borrowing one from a friend or renting one from a local outfitter or retailer when you need one.

If You Buy Just One: A 16-Foot Tandem

If it’s not an option for you to buy two canoes—either for budget or space—a 16-foot tandem is a very good compromise. It’s built for two adults, but can be paddled by many canoeists as a solo canoe as well. The exception might be if you’re small and/or light—and brisk winds would blow you around too much.

If you opt for this choice, you may want to make some adjustments to adapt it to solo canoeing for your own comfort.

Should You Use a Single or Double-Bladed Paddle?

Solo canoeists have another option in front of them: should you use a single or double-bladed paddle? This is personal preference. You’ll find people on both sides of the aisle.

Traditional single-bladed canoe paddles work well when you have a good handle on the basic canoe strokes. Of course, when you’re solo, all the steering is up to you. And many canoeists simply prefer a single-bladed paddle. They’re more maneuverable and more, well, traditional.

solo canoeist with single-blade paddle

Some solo canoeists prefer a double-bladed paddle, especially in windy conditions, like the canoeist in the photo at the top of this article. There’s no need for constant corrective strokes and you never need to switch sides. It’s easier to keep powerful momentum in wind and waves.

Double-bladed paddles look just like kayak paddles, except they’re longer. Since you sit higher off the water in a canoe than you do in a kayak, you need the extra length.

Of course, the best of both worlds would be to have both a single-blade and a double-bladed paddle! Keep them both in the canoe with you and use the one that suits the circumstances the best.

What paddle questions can we help you with? Contact our friendly Customer Service team today: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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