Canoe Information


There are general rules of thumb that help in understanding the boat building material relationship to performance. All other things being the same, a stiffer material will reduce the amount of energy you need to expend in moving it through the water. All other things aren’t always the same however so you may find a flexible material used to make a very nicely shaped boat that performs the way you would like it to.

It is likewise often true that with all other things being the same, a more flexible material will be better able to tolerate impact. Again, the same sort of qualifier is needed. There are always specific exceptions to a general rule of thumb.

Stiff, Durable, Economical: Popular since the 1950’s when aluminum became widely available, these boats are still the choice for many rental companies and those who want a durable, no-maintenance craft. You can leave an aluminum canoe in the sun, rain and snow for 20 years without a problem, and aluminum canoes are lighter than they used to be; a 17′ boat weighs 69 lbs. This is the most abrasion resistant hull material in canoe models. Aluminum is used in making the clips and brackets and sometimes frame parts in many collapsible canoes and kayaks. This metal tends to be light for it’s strength.

Flexible, Tough, although Heavy: Polyethylene has become the material of choice for moderately priced, yet durable canoes and kayaks. These boats can take impact but are softer than most of the other hull materials described here and not known for being stiff. They can be more subject to abrasion damage than many other hull materials. They need little maintenance, and they can be dropped, banged, or bent and still spring back to shape although they may retain deformities. They are somewhat sensitive to heat but this can be helpful in bringing them back into proper shape if they have been deformed. A 17’canoe can be 85 lbs. A 16 foot kayak is often over 65 lbs.

Flexible, Tough, Light: Royalex has become the material of choice for moderately light-weight, yet durable canoes. Royalex canoes tend to be molded with more complex shapes than aluminum ones, and they are much quieter to carry and paddle, especially when scraping over rocks. As durable as aluminum, royalex canoes need little maintenance, and they can be dropped, banged, or even bent nearly in half and still spring back to shape with no more than a crease mark. Good all-around boats at just a slightly higher cost than aluminum. A 17′ boat is about 63 lbs.

Stiff, Ultralight, Efficient: Kevlar, carbon and fiberglass combinations make up these sleek craft. Composite boats are the choice for those who want to slice efficiently through the water and for those wanting a boat that is easy to lift onto a car rack and carry over long portages. Though needing more care in handling to prevent damage, composite boats are not delicate and can, with care (and repair, if needed), outlast royalex canoes. 17′ canoes run 40-55 lbs. Expect to pay higher prices for good stiff boats at lower weights.

Wood and Canvas
Elegant, Traditional, Sturdy: For those who have paddled one, there is no comparison to the ease and grace of paddling a well designed and constructed wood and canvas canoe. These boats are works of art, but have also proven themselves to be highly durable, extremely repairable, and just plain fun. A 17′ boat runs 65-80 lbs. They can increase in weight if they absorb water so maintenance is important.

Birch Bark
Elegant, Traditional, Light: These canoes are works of art and history and it is difficult to find people still making them. But they can be light on the water and are thought by many to represent the pinnacle of traditional beauty in a canoe. They are more fragile than many other boats described here but they are also more durable than many assume and can be field repaired more easily than many other boats.

Skin on Frame
Traditional, Light to Heavy: There are many marvelous canoes and kayaks that are built using a skin on frame technology. Some of these are traditional designs such as the Greenland style or Aleutian style kayaks. In some cases high tech construction materials have been used to create lighter boats or in many cases, boats that can be disassembled and reassembled which makes them ideal to take along when a paddling trip is planned on some distant continent or when space is at a premium. You’ll find far more kayaks than canoes built using this method.

Inflatables are like many of the other boats described here in that performance and design characteristics can vary from model to model or company to company. Prices vary from some of the least expensive to amongst the most expensive kayaks in the overall price range. Price is an indication of the construction quality. One exciting feature to inflatables is that the top-end boats can take an incredible beating so they can be great whitewater and adventure options. These boats are great when storage space is limited or when you want to fly to an exotic distant paddling location but bring your own gear.

Wood strip
Stiff, Ultralight, Efficient: Wood strip canoes and kayaks can be gorgeous craft. They are more often made by the home builder than by a boat manufacturer although there are some small reputable companies specializing in this construction technique. Many of the large composite boat manufacturers start with a strip-built boat as the model off which a mould is formed. So the construction method is frequently used in the industry. In finished boats, what we see looks like a gorgeous wooden watercraft but in essence these are fiberglass or composite boats with wood cores.


Canoes are open boats paddled with a single blade. Canoes give a feeling of being on the water with unrestricted movement. They may not be the swiftest craft, but they glide nicely at touring speeds and can carry large loads. These boats range from ten foot whitewater “toys” to near twenty foot touring boats.

From 25 to 85 pounds, and made in many materials and sizes, canoes are a varied craft. With wide, stable canoes, narrow and fast ones, and solo and tandem craft, there is a canoe for almost any purpose. Below is a breakdown of boats by based on shapes or performance. Every boat has a personality and this personality is the result of a blending of shape and material. Your challenge is to find the canoe personality you’d most enjoy spending time with when you are out on the water.

Recreational Canoes are often designed for initial stability but there are enough variations in designs to cater to a wide range of interests. These boats tend not to be great in any category but this doesn’t mean you can’t pursue the same activities as the specialists. Some can handle whitewater, some are good river tripping boats or lake country camping boats for example. They are general purpose boats and you may find that if you own one canoe, a recreation canoe is your best boat.

Touring Canoes are designed to smoothly cut through the water and get you from point A to Point B feeling little resistance. These boats tend to be relatively low volume and less maneuverable than many other canoes. The trade off is toward ease of forward movement. You can find tandem, solo, and even solo/tandem options that invite a tour or extended paddle. These boats are equivalent to a road bike -they invite you to cover distance.

Sport Canoes are for the hunting and fishing enthusiast. They tend to be wider than many other canoes, often are fairly heavy, and relatively flat bottomed. They are working platforms but with that canoe quality of manageable size and the option of sitting high or even standing. Some are square sterned to accept a motor. Many are painted or cast in colors that make it easier to hide from watchful eyes.

Whitewater Canoes are short, deep and highly rockered to promote easy turning. They are a lot of fun in moving water and will help you build great paddling skills. Solo boats give you the freedom to go anywhere you want, but tandem whitewater canoes can’t be beat for the fun (and challenge) of teamwork. these boats are about finesse and precise control in a very chaotic environment. From easy class one or two rapids, to very difficult class four and five, you can run most of it in an open canoe. It takes a lot of forethought and practice, but running whitewater in an open canoe can be the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done.

Wilderness Tripping Canoes tend to be high volume boats, stable with or without a load, and deep for keeping waves out of the canoe as well as to maintain adequate freeboard with a load. Some are designed for whitewater and some for lake country travel so they range in size, length, and shape. Generally, a tandem is 16 feet or longer (sixteen feet is one rod, a measurement unit of boat lengths to a portage). Lake country boats can be quite long, even over 18 feet. The weight of this sort of canoe will vary depending upon construction and size. Solo tripping canoes are shorter than the tandems but 17 and 18 feet is possible if you are really looking to cover a lot of flat water miles.

Racing Canoes are light, stiff and often challenging to turn. These are for advanced paddlers who want to train and race and put in time on the water honing their competitive edge. There are solos for a range of paddler sizes, tandems for paddlers of similar size, and tandems for paddlers of different sizes. These boats come in a wide range of models and designs and they change often as designs are tweaked and materials change. Carl loves racing, has years of experience, and loves to talk racing so if this is a curiosity or a serious interest you can likely learn something here. Carl himself loves to learn and pass knowledge from paddler to paddler so come teach if you like. He’ll listen and share stories of his own.

Freestyle Canoes are a significant division of canoes if only because of the stellar designs that have been created over time. These aren’t often appreciated by entry level paddlers because there is a fairly steep learning curve in gaining control over them. Most of these canoes are solos but there are also some remarkable tandems. This has been a difficult canoe to sell to a mass market because of the paddling skill required but many of them are now known to be stellar tripping boats or as just plain fun and incredibly versatile. Some of the best boat control paddlers of this generation have been involved in creating companies and or designs that have contributed to this group of canoes. Carl has worked with and sold many of these canoes over the years and is always on the lookout for used “classics”.


It’s easy to make a case for the paddle being the most important piece of your paddling equipment. The paddle is an extension of your body and you feel the water with it when controlling your boat. It is your most sensitive link to the water world. It is the tool required to explore the characteristics of a boat. If it is heavy or awkward your experience can be dulled and your perception of a particular boat can be adversely affected. You work with the paddle, expending energy as you lift it and pull on it. The boat by contrast will respond favorably, or not, reacting to your efforts with the paddle. You can adjust for unfavorable hull speed or maneuverability but it is hard to compensate for the paddle. You are immediately aware of it with every stroke.

How do you recognize a good paddle or one appropriate for you? This will vary depending upon a wide range of personal issues including your size and strength, where you paddle, the style of paddling you are interested in and the boat you intend to paddle. We’ll cover a few basics here but bear in mind that the subject is vast and space is limited.

Touring canoe paddles will most frequently have bent shafts to increase forward stroke efficiency. Blade sizes vary and what you chose may depend upon your most comfortable paddling cadence.

Racing blades are often small and or shaped to easily slip in and out of the water. The number of strokes taken during the race can be more important than the power applied per stroke.

Traditional canoe blades are long and relatively narrow. This is primarily due to limitations of materials and technology associated with traditional construction. Paddles were often constructed from a single piece of wood. These fine paddles are associated with sophisticated paddling techniques and tend to excel in deep water.

Whitewater paddles are typically stout, stiff, and have large blades. These qualities enhance predictability and power in turbulent waters.

The best paddle for you will depend upon how specifically you adhere to the above categories as well as the skill level you bring to paddling. For example, many people prefer paddles sized for touring but with blades similar to whitewater kayak paddles. Many canoe paddlers gravitate towards paddles blending qualities of the touring paddle with traditional shapes for finesse boat control. A shorter paddle might be easier on your shoulders but a large blade size can accomodate a slower cadence. It is wise to test paddle paddles to make your link to the water a comfortable one! Talk with us about zeroing in on the best paddle for your physique and temperament.

A properly sized paddle will be the most efficient paddle for you. You’ll enjoy it more because you’ll work less and have a better feel for the water. It is therefore important to obtain a sensible fit when choosing your paddle. Variations in paddle length can have more dramatic effects on your paddling effort than variations in blade shape and size. Ignore manufacturer paddle length measurements as you switch from one style of paddle to another. You may take a 63″ paddle in a traditional straight shaft canoe paddle and a 60″ in a straight “Freestyle” yet they are effectively the same length. It is shaft length alone that will determine the proper paddle length for you within any given modelor style.

Your leg length plays no role in choosing a paddle for sitting or kneeling. Our measurement method neutralizes the effect of blade length and shape. Factors such as boat width, seat height, and paddling style will, however, effect your choice of paddle length. Since the forward paddle stroke is more vertical than that used kayaking, the measurement is obtained in a different manner. To properly size a canoe paddle sit on a chair and measure from the chair to your chin. Add 6″ to this measurement to get the proper shaft length of a bent shaft, a straight shaft, or a traditional paddle. Paddling with either a canoe or kayak paddles your hands should be separated by no more than a distance slightly greater than shoulder width apart.

In both canoe and kayak paddling one hand or the other serves as the paddle control hand .In canoeing this may change frequently during a paddling session and it is the top grip that serves as your “Steering Wheel”. In choosing your paddle make sure that the grip is comfortable in your hand.


Let’s say that you have purchased a canoe and are wondering about other gear that you would be wise to be thinking about. Obviously you’ll need a paddle for each paddling station. This means at least two for a tandem. But what else might be necessary?

It’s easy to make a case for the paddle being the most important piece of your canoe or kayak equipment. The paddle is an extension of your body and you feel the water with it when controlling your boat. it is your most sensitive link to the water world. It is the tool required to explore the characteristics of a boat. If it is heavy or awkward your experience can be dulled and your perception of a particular boat can be adversely affected. You work with the paddle, expending energy as you lift it and pull on it. The boat by contrast will respond favorably, or not, reacting to your efforts with the paddle. You can adjust for unfavorable hull speed or maneuverability but it is hard to compensate for the paddle. You are immediately aware of it with every stroke. For more on paddles read this.

A Personal Floatation Device (Life Jacket) is required by law for each person in the boat. You can pick up something inexpensive in order to be legal but a well fitting, comfortable PFD can be really important if not essential. A comfortable well designed PFD may even become that essential insulating layer in inclement conditions if worn underneath a rain jacket. The PFD isn’t likely to save your life if you aren’t wearing it and accidents can happen. We may feel that we have everything under control but how about those other boaters around us? Wind, waves, tricky current, or submerged rocks and logs can all lead to an unexpected capsize. Our word of caution is to be prepared and wear your life jacket.

Car Top Carrier
You’ll want to at least get your boat home. This doesn’t require a major investment however. We’ll have some inexpensive options including foam block sets that can be reused. Sometime down the road you’ll be wise to invest in a safe, less fussy system if you hope to cart your boat to distant places to paddle. There are many carrier systems on the market that have been designed for specific car and truck models and there are some build your own options too. Optional Items

This isn’t an essential but can be very handy for both solo and tandem canoes, especially if you carry the boat yourself. There are clamp-in options for both solo and tandem canoes, as well as permanently installed yokes for tandems. Some are very simple and some are designed to make those long carries much more pleasant. If you plan on traveling in paddle and portage country, a good yoke makes it more possible to carry your canoe through areas with tricky footing.

Extended Use Items
The gear we have listed above is or can be important for everyday use, even if you adventure from your own waterfront property. But many of us use our boats to explore distant rivers, lakes, and streams, or even venture out on multi-day trips. The beauty of the canoe is that you can think of it as the Pickup truck of paddling boats since you can load it up with gear for any kind of adventure.

We don’t want to imply that you need a lot more to get out and enjoy your canoe. You don’t really need more than the common sense sort of items like sunscreen or maybe bug dope, rain gear, etc. that you might bring along on any extended hike. If there is anything that might seem specialized it could be footwear. It is often wise to wear something that stays on the feet but can be immersed in water, so water sandals or shoes depending on conditions. There are many warm and cold weather options and paddlers have favorites so ask around. You may not need more than an old pair of sneakers.

It can be nice to have an extra set of dry clothes waiting for you back at the take-out or carried along with you in a waterproof container.