Canoes: How to Choose a Right Canoe for You


As a canoe buyer, you probably have your own priorities. What is the perfect canoe for you? A glance at the Buyer’s Guide listings will inform you that there are an overwhelming number of alternatives. How do you narrow it down?

The Usage Codes from the Canoe & Kayak Magazine Buyer’s Guide are a great place to start.

Apart from overall recreation canoes, you are going to see specialized boats at both ends of this spectrum. Long, sleek “contest cruising” canoes. Short, super-tough, spin-on-a-dime canoes designed for hard-core whitewater paddling. Extra-wide, ultra-stable “sportsman” canoes. But keep in mind, the more specialized a canoe is, the less flexible it is. A vast majority of buyers are searching for a general recreation canoe, so we decided to focus on that category in this article. It pays to start your search by learning a bit of the lingo, and a few of the fundamental ways in which canoe design and function are interrelated. Take a look at the pic below:

canoe features

Now, we’ll give you basics on how to shop for a canoe:


Canoes in the 16 foot to 17 foot range are one of the most popular. They offer a great combination of speed, manageability and carrying capability. They also remain on track better and hold more equipment. Shorter boats weigh less, are less influenced by winds and are easier to maneuver and transport. They can take you places bigger boats don’t fit, for example narrow streams and inlets. For long touring trips, consider a ship at least 17 feet long for greater stability.


In general, the wider the canoe, the more secure. The narrower the canoe, the more efficient and simpler the paddling. Narrow boats are somewhat more “tippy”, however they are usually lighter and easier to keep on a continuous track.


Deep boats have tall sides, which help keep out water while raising carrying capacity. The taller the sides, however, the more the canoe is going to be impacted by wind. Shallow canoes are somewhat less prone to end, but are more inclined to allow water in.


The amount of upward curve in the hull of a boat from end to end is called the rocker. The contour is best in relation to the rails of a rocking chair. Canoes with a lot of rocker are easier to turn and maneuver, but harder to keep on track when paddling in a direct line. Canoes with little if any rocker monitor better and move faster through the water. Many canoes fall somewhere in between.

Side Shape

Canoe sides that flare out discard waves and improve stability when paddling with heavy loads. Inward curving “tumblehome” sides make it much easier to reach the water, but they can let water in when paddling in rough waves. Straight kayak sides offer you a compromise between both of these styles.

Entry Line

The form of a canoe’s hull where it cuts through the water is called its entry line. Sharp entry lines slice through the water effectively for superior speed and easier paddling. Blunt bows ride up marginally on incoming waves to keep water from slipping across the gunwales — perfect for rough-water paddling.


The very best materials offer a balanced combination of weight, strength and price. The lighter the weight, the simpler the canoe would be to transport and maneuver. The more durable the boat, however, the thicker it is. If you are always portaging, weight ought to be a big consideration for you. If you’re parking next to the put-in, weight’s not a big factor.

Canoes made
from Vinyl: durable, economical, and quiet when bumped with your paddle
from Wood: Light, generally prettier, and requiring higher maintenance
from Aluminum: tough and flexible
from Fiberglass: are known for their stiffness and their sharp entry lines, which offer great efficiency in the water
from Kevlar: are stronger than fiberglass, and about 25% lighter, which is important on long trips and portages

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