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4 Tips for Choosing the Right Canoe

  • 7/12/2016 3:55:00 PM
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4 tips for choosing the right canoe for you | Iowa DNRCanoes are an ancient means of transportation, and originated many times in places like Australia, the Amazon and the northern United States. Today, modern models and materials give paddlers a variety of performance options, and knowing how to pick the right one will help you get the most functional, fun and usable canoe for your needs. Know the tips below to get one step closer to paddling.

1. What It’s Good For

The first thing you should determine when buying a canoe is why you want it in the first place. Do you want to be able to put in for a spontaneous short trip anywhere, or do you plan out long excursions? Do you like the serenity of calm water, or are you all about the challenges of rapids? Determining what type of water you want to paddle will help you make the first choice in buying a canoe: do you want a recreational or touring model? Recreational models are great for those who want to fish, do photography or just mess around in the water, whereas touring models are better for long trips or rough open waters. There are many companies with sub-classifications more specific than this, but these are the two most basic categories.

2. Who Wants a Paddle?

The next choice you should make is whether you want a solo or tandem model. If you always paddle alone, pick the solo version-it’s faster and easier to maneuver alone-but if you want to spend any significant time with someone else in the boat (even a passenger like a dog or young child), consider a tandem. It’s easier to paddle a tandem canoe solo than to paddle a solo canoe in tandem, so many first time buyers go with tandem models if they’re unsure.

3. Where’s the Water?

What water you want to paddle can determine what you should look for in the canoe’s design. If you’re a beginner who wants to paddle lakes, ponds and lazy rivers, look for a model with a wide, relatively flat base, minimal curve from the front to the back, convex sides and a rounded nose. The width enhances stability, minimal curve helps you stay on track, the rounded nose and sides help with staying dry, and the blunt nose will also help you turn the boat with ease. Most recreational models fit this description. If you already know what you’re doing and want to move quickly through rough waters, look for a more slender design with concave sides, front to back curvature and a sharp nose, as these features will help you slice through waves and stay on a straight course. This description fits more touring models, but many individual canoes will have aspects of both these designs.

4. How It’s Made

While first-time buyers probably don’t care as much about how their boat looks, there are some functional implications of the materials used. Wood is classic and beautiful, but these models are expensive, require lots of upkeep and will damage fairly easily. Aluminum is much more affordable, easier to care for and harder to damage, but these models tend to be heavy to portage and loud. This can pose problems for people like photographers who want to move quietly. Single-layer plastic canoes are probably the cheapest option available, but they’re also flexible (which reduces efficiency) and prone to sun damage and warping that can limit their life span. An uncared for single-layer plastic canoe won’t last more than a season unless you’re really lucky, so consider making a larger investment in a more durable material. Multi-layer plastics and Royalex are more stiff and durable, and Royalex is one of the easiest materials to repair, so this can be a good option. However, all plastic and Royalex models will need to be treated with UV spray regularly to prevent sun damage. Composite canoes may also require UV spray, but they tend to be lighter and stiffer than plastic models, although significantly more expensive. Choosing a material depends on your budget, how long you expect to use the canoe and how much work you’re willing to put into maintenance.


In the end, buying a canoe is really about getting a boat that will get used. Try to narrow down what you want to do, how long you want to go, who wants to paddle and your budget, and any salesperson should be able to direct you to an excellent option. Just to be sure, ask if your local retailer offers test floats or showcase days. Similar to buying a car, you might be able to make a more informed selection after trying few models yourself. Professional instruction can also help any level of paddler improve their skills, so consider signing up for a few sessions once you pick your canoe. Good luck and happy paddling!


For more ideas, check out our Iowa Paddling board on Pinterest and our Canoeing and Kayaking pages.