Best Canoes – Buyer’s Guide and Product Reviews

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Canoeing can be a fun and eco-friendly way to experience the country’s waterways at a relaxed pace while enjoying the peace and quiet of nature. But you’re probably wondering how and where to find the best canoe.

Because we all want to get out there and spend more time outdoors, we’ve put together this guide with some tips on what to look for in your next boat. We’ve also included a list of some of our favorites for you to check out.

Quick Picks:

Top 5 Best Canoes Reviewed

1: Old Town Saranac 146 (best overall)

  • Length: 14 foot 6 inches
  • Width: 36 inches
  • Weight: 79 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 750 pounds

The Old Town Saranac 146 is a stable craft that can be great for family fun, fishing, and photography. It’s durable, offers good value, and is easy to paddle, making it ideal for beginners.

This flat bottom boat is made for calm lakes and flatwater rivers, with room for overnight gear. It has two molded seats with adjustable backrests, as well as a bench seat with storage in the center for a third paddler or passenger.

The Saranac also benefits from having a rod holder, cup holder, and even a 6-inch dry hatch. The molded handles in the bow and stern make it easier for two people to carry down to the water.

Features

  • Primary stability - great on flatwater and ideal for fishing and beginners
  • Backrests - increases comfort
  • Good storage - dry hatch and storage in center bench seat

2: Old Town Next Watercraft (best lightweight)

  • Length: 13 foot
  • Width: 29 inches
  • Weight: 59 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 450 pounds

This Old Town Next features a combination of elements from a kayak and a canoe. It’s a lightweight, durable polyethylene boat with a 13-foot hull, making it easy to maneuver both on and off the water. It can also be paddled using either a single or double-bladed paddle thanks to its low profile tumblehome design.

The Next is a solo canoe that’s built for comfort, with a removable Element Seating System to provide back support. There are even foot braces for added stability.

This can be an ideal solo fishing boat, with plenty of space and weight capacity to bring along your gear. There’s even room for your dog to join you.

Features

  • Solo canoe - compact and easy to paddle on your own
  • Comfortable seat - adjustable and padded with back support
  • Low profile - can use either a single or double blade paddle

3: Mad River Adventure 14 Canoe

  • Length: 14 foot
  • Width: 37 inches
  • Weight: 75 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 875 pounds

The Mad River Adventure 14 is a rotomolded polyethylene canoe. This means it has a similar construction to a kayak, which can make it a durable boat for beginners and recreational paddlers.

It has two EVA foam padded seats with adjustable backrests, which are designed to add comfort while on long trips. There is also a center bench seat that can be ideal for a third paddler or a child.

This is a stable craft with a short hull that is built to be easy to maneuver and ideal for flatwater family adventures or fishing trips. Its tumblehome design also means you can use a longer kayak paddle if you prefer, or you can stick to a standard canoe paddle.

Features

  • Rotomolded polyethylene - durable and similar to kayak construction
  • Adjustable backrests - great for improving comfort and providing back support
  • Shorter length - easy to maneuver on and off water

4: Sea Eagle TC16 Travel Canoe (best inflatable)

  • Length: 16 foot
  • Width: 38 inches
  • Weight: 64 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 915 pounds

This Sea Eagle TC16 is an inflatable canoe with space for up to three adults, making it a good choice for family adventures. A great thing about this boat is that it can be deflated and packed down to fit into the trunk of your car - even if you have a small car.

It features all drop stitch construction, which can add rigidity to improve speed and overall performance. It’s stable and can be ideal for a variety of waters, including up to Class IV rapids, making it a suitable choice for both beginners and advanced paddlers.

This craft also features a removable skeg to help with tracking and it is designed to be stable enough to stand up in (if you have good balance), which can be useful for fishing.

Features

  • Inflatable - easy to transport, carry and store
  • Versatile - can handle different types of water
  • High capacity - ideal for fishing, camping, and up to three people

5: Sun Dolphin Mackinaw SS Canoe (best budget)

  • Length: 15 foot 6 inches
  • Width: 40 inches
  • Weight: 95 pounds
  • Weight Capacity: 800 pounds

The Sun Dolphin Mackinaw SS is an affordable recreational canoe that’s made from durable and budget-friendly polyethylene. It has three molded plastic seats, each with a built-in cup holder. The center seat also benefits from having a built-in cooler underneath, which can be ideal for keeping drinks or food cold.

This is a stable boat that can be ideal for family trips or fishing trips. You’ll even find fishing rod holders and a dry storage hatch for keeping your valuables safe.

Another great feature of this craft is that it has a square stern to allow you to mount a trolling motor if you choose (motor sold separately).

This can be an ideal vessel for beginners on flatwater.

Features

  • Budget-friendly - affordable and good value
  • Fishing features - built-in storage and rod holders
  • Square stern - to mount a trolling motor

What Features Should You Look Out For?

Weight/Person Capacity

One of the most important features to look for is capacity. This can be important if you’re looking for a multi-person boat or one that you can take camping.

Many recreational canoes will usually have the capacity for up to three people. This can usually be ideal if you’re looking for a family boat for two adults and two small children. You may even find there’s also room for your dog.

But remember not to go over the maximum weight capacity of the vessel, as this can affect safety and performance.

Most canoes will tend to have a pretty generous capacity, even those that are built for solo paddlers. Think about the amount of gear you want to bring and whether you want your dog or another person to join you.

Weight

If there are two of you, weight may not be as much of an issue compared to if you’re by yourself. Canoes can often be heavy and large so it can be useful to think about how you will transport yours to and from the water and whether you’ll have anyone to help you.

Solo canoes will tend to be lighter than tandems because they’re often smaller, so these can be less awkward to car-top or portage on your own.

Video: How To Solo Lift And Portage A Canoe

If you’re concerned about weight, an inflatable canoe might be a good idea. These boats can often pack down into a manageable size to fit in your car and can be carried more easily, particularly if you don’t have anyone to help you.

Activity

You’ll probably notice that there are various types of canoes out there, all designed for different activities and purposes. Think about what you want from your canoe and whether you want to explore calm flatwater and rivers or faster moving water.

The type of activity will usually determine the type of boat you need. If you’re a beginner or you want to take a relaxing family trip, a wider boat with a flat bottom can feel more stable. These types of boats can also be more suitable for fishing or photography.

A narrower hull can give you increased speed and tracking, making it useful for longer trips.

You’ll also find canoes designed for whitewater if you’re an experienced paddler looking to take on more challenging conditions.

Parts Of A Canoe

Hull

The hull is the bottom of the canoe. This is the part that will generally determine whether or not the craft has good primary stability or secondary stability. If it has a flat bottom hull then it should have good (primary) stability on flatwater.

Bow

The bow refers to the very front of the canoe. The narrower the bow, the easier it should cut through water.

Stern

The stern is the very back of the canoe. A square stern can be used to mount a trolling motor.

Gunwales

The gunwales are the sides of the canoe at the top. Often, there will be a different material on the gunwales to increase durability and strength. Usually, the seats and other parts or accessories are mounted to the gunwales.

Thwart

Thwarts are thin sections of wood or other materials that form crossbars in the canoe. These are to help reinforce the sides.

Yoke

This can be found in the center of the canoe and features a curved section. The yoke is designed to let you carry the canoe over your head while portaging. The curved section is made to sit around your neck.

Keel

This is generally the protruding line or blade that runs along the bottom of the hull. This can help with tracking and wind resistance but tends to be engineered to protect the hull from damage.

Popular Canoe Brands

Mad River Canoe

Mad River Canoe began back in 1971 when their first canoe was built by their founder, champion canoeist Jim Henry. Since then the award-winning company’s focus has been on designing and building quality canoes. They were also the first to use Kevlar in canoe construction.

Old Town

Old Town has a long history of canoe and kayak manufacturing, with their first canoe being built back in 1898. The company makes a variety of products and the business is based in Old Town, Maine, where it began. The boats tend to be durable and offer good value.

Nova Craft Canoe

Nova Craft Canoe is a Canadian company that started back in 1970. Their first canoes were fiberglass but they now use a variety of materials, including carbon fiber to create advanced canoes that are built for performance. They offer a range of canoes, including whitewater, recreational and expedition boats.

Wenonah Canoe

Wenonah Canoe is based in Winona, Minnesota, and grew from the founder’s passion for paddling on the Mississippi River close to his home. Wenonah canoes tend to be built for performance, often using advanced materials to minimize weight, which can also make them cost more.

Placid Boatworks

Placid Boatworks launched in 2004 in Lake Placid, New York where it is currently based. The company creates modern pack canoes for solo adventures. These boats often feature advanced materials, resulting in ultralight vessels. Some of the models can be pricey.

Sea Eagle

Known for their huge line of inflatable boats, Sea Eagle currently manufactures just one canoe. The New York-based company builds durable inflatables that are designed to be easy to use, portable, and convenient to store. Their canoe features drop stitch technology for more rigid performance and there are various packages to choose from when purchasing.

Sun Dolphin

Sun Dolphin is based in Muskegon, Michigan, and makes a variety of affordable recreational vessels, including kayaks, mostly for beginners. They have two recreational canoes, both with square sterns for trolling motor mounts.


Canoes: Frequently Asked Questions

What’s Better? A Canoe Or A Kayak?
This depends on what you want the boat to do. Kayaks can be lighter, easier to maneuver, and more convenient to transport, particularly if they’re compact recreational ones.

But canoes will generally have a higher capacity, which can make them more suitable for families and camping trips.

What’s The Best Way To Transport A Canoe?
You can transport a canoe on the top of your car using a roof rack and tie-down straps to secure it. Make sure the canoe is centered on top of the roof rack for stability.

You can also use foam blocks or a trailer.

How Many People Can Fit In A Canoe?
Some canoes can fit as many as four people, particularly if two of them are children. Many tandem canoes will have space for a third adult or two children. However, there are some canoes that are designed only for one person.

Is Canoeing Safe?
Canoeing is generally pretty safe if you stick to calm flatwater close to shore. It’s recommended that all paddlers and passengers wear a PFD at all times and try not to lean over the sides.

Video: Canoeing | How to Stay Safe on the Water

You may also want to tell someone on shore where you’re heading and when you hope to return.

What Should I Bring With Me When Out On A Canoe?
You should always wear a PFD when on the water. You should also bring along anything that you might need on your trip, such as a whistle, drinking water, food, and extra clothing in a dry bag.

Other items will likely depend on the weather and length of the trip, for example, you might want to bring bug spray, sun protection or rainwear, and camping gear.


Final Words

If you’re looking for a good all-rounder, the best canoe is the Old Town Saranac 146. It’s very stable, easy to paddle, and has plenty of storage.

Coming in at a close second is the Mad River Adventure 14 with its generous capacity, adjustable seatbacks, and compact length for easy maneuvering.

However, if you’re looking for something a little easier to travel with, the Sea Eagle TC16 can be a great choice. This inflatable boat is durable, quick, and has a ton of space for camping gear.

Remember, our picks may not be the best choice for you specifically. Think about who you want to paddle with and where, as well as whether you want to load up your craft with camping gear or just picnic gear.

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