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Ever found yourself standing in the canoe section of your outdoor store, scratching your head, wondering which one to choose?
We’ve all been there, right?
Canoes are a bit like clothes – they come in all shapes and sizes. And just like you wouldn’t wear an oversized shirt on a windy day, you wouldn’t want to paddle an unfit canoe on your adventure.
Let’s dive in and demystify the world of canoe lengths together.
How long are canoes? Canoes range from around 11-feet to 20-feet but you can find them in both shorter and longer lengths. The average canoe that you might find in an outfitter will be around 15 to 16 feet in length.
Average Canoe Length
The average canoe length is around the 16-foot mark, give or take a few inches. This is generally the most popular and commonly-found length of canoe out there because of its versatility and ease of use.
Most canoe manufacturers will usually make a canoe in this standard 16-foot average length, so this size can be pretty easy to come by.
A 16-foot standard canoe will generally be easier to store than some of the longer canoes. It will also usually be easier to carry and generally easier to maneuver on the water.
Most canoes of this length will be able to carry two people plus a child or dog and a small amount of gear for a day trip or overnight adventure. But they can also usually be paddled by a solo paddler with a little experience.
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Canoes will generally be in this standard category if they have lengths from 14-foot 6-inches to around 17-feet.
Anything longer than this will usually be classed as a long canoe.
Standard Canoes From Popular Brands
Old Town Discovery 158 – 15-ft. 8-in., 1,100-pounds weight capacity.
Old Town Saranac 146 – 14-ft. 6-in., 750-pound weight capacity.
Mad River Journey 156 – 15-ft. 6-in., 1,100-pound weight capacity.
Shorter canoes can be more convenient to store than longer canoes. They can also be easier to carry on your own and load onto a car roof rack.
Generally, short canoes range in length from around 11-feet to under 15-feet. Many canoes in this category are solo canoes.
The short length of these canoes can make them easier for one person to paddle compared to long canoes, as they can be easier to control and turn on your own.
Some solo canoes are designed for specific activities, such as whitewater canoeing or fishing.
However, not all canoes in this category are solo canoes. Some canoes can be found in this category that are designed for two people. Some even have room for a third passenger.
Space may be limited for three people in canoe lengths under 14-feet. But canoes of this length could be great for day trips where you need less gear, with the advantage that the canoe has the versatility to be paddled as a solo canoe when required.
Short Canoes From Popular Brands
Old Town Discovery 119 – 11-ft. 9-in., 450-pound weight capacity.
Old Town Next – 13-ft., 450-pound weight capacity.
Mad River Serenade 13 – 13-ft. 1-in., 300-pound weight capacity.
Longer Tandem Canoes
Long canoes are generally over 17-feet in length, though some canoe brands will vary over their definition of long canoes. Many of the canoes in this category are generally designed as touring canoes for longer expeditions.
These long canoes are typically tandem canoes, with most having room for a third or fourth person.
The increased length in these canoes allows for more storage space for camping gear. And the longer length can mean faster speeds over the water, as canoes that are longer are typically faster than shorter, wider canoes.
A longer length also usually means a higher carrying capacity than canoes that are a shorter length.
These lengths of canoes can be better suited to large bodies of water as they can be more difficult to maneuver in tight space. They may also be trickier to paddle, especially for beginners.
And you might struggle more when it comes to storage and transportation, especially if it’s pushing 20-feet, as it may not fit in some garages or on top of a car.
Long Canoes From Popular Brands
Mad River 186 Ultralite – 18-ft. 6-in., 1,250-pound weight capacity.
Old Town Penobscot 174 – 17-ft. 4-in., 1,500-pound weight capacity.
Wenonah Itasca – 19-ft., expedition canoe.
Size And Maneuverability
Generally speaking, the longer the canoe, the more difficult it will be to maneuver in small spaces. This goes for on land as well as on the water. If you plan to navigate narrow streams on your paddling adventures, a long canoe might not be the best option.
Shorter length canoes tend to be easier to turn in narrow rivers and can give you more control when paddling over rapids and rough water.
Whitewater canoes, for example, tend to be short canoes that are often less than 13 feet in length, so they can easily navigate around rocks and over whitewater rapids. Olympic canoe slalom C1 boats are around 11-foot 6-inches in length.
A short length canoe can also be easier to portage on your own. They can be lighter in weight, though this is not always the case, as it depends on the materials used in the construction, as well as how much gear you have.
Canoe Length And Speed
Canoes that are built for expeditions and long trips will generally be longer than standard canoes. This is because a longer canoe will generally move faster over the water than a short canoe.
The long length also means the canoe will tend to track straighter and offer more efficient paddling. Fast and efficient paddling can be an essential feature for expedition canoes as this helps to minimize paddler fatigue on long journeys.
When you think of a racing canoe, you will probably notice that it is very long and very narrow. This is so that it can cut through the water quickly with less drag.
You may find that a touring canoe may also have a hull that is designed for better performance over long distances, such as a shallow V hull. This can help boost tracking performance as well as provide a more versatile level of stability in a wide range of conditions, including open water.
Canoe Width And Stability
The length and width of a canoe will generally affect how it handles in both flat and rough waters. While longer canoes that have a narrow width will perform better on flatwater over a long distance, short boats with a wide hull can offer greater stability.
Many short canoes will tend to be wide compared to their length (length to width ratio). For example, some short canoes will be the same width or wider than some of the long touring canoes.
Short and standard length canoes that are designed for recreational paddling will tend to be more stable on flatwater. This can make them more suitable for beginners than some of the longer, narrower canoes.
Generally, most average canoes will tend to be around 35 to 37 inches in width. Even as some of the lengths increase, the widths will generally stay around the same.
However, there are some shorter canoes that are even wider than the average canoe.
For example, the 13-foot Old Town Discovery 133 is 40.5-inches wide. This is a beginner-friendly canoe that is built for recreational paddling with room for up to three people.
The extra width on the Discovery 133 also allows this short canoe to have a higher carrying capacity than other canoes of a similar length. It can also provide a more stable platform for fishing.
But it might not be the fastest recreational canoe, as the added stability from the width can affect the canoe’s performance and tracking efficiency.
On the other hand, some short canoes have narrow hulls that can allow you to paddle the canoe using a double-bladed kayak paddle.
Hull Design And Stability
It’s also worth noting that it is not just the width of a canoe that will affect its stability. The canoe hull design will also tend to play a part.
A flat bottom will generally improve the initial stability on flat water. A more rounded or shallow V-shaped hull will generally boost the secondary stability in rough conditions. A shallow V hull will also usually improve tracking performance on open water.
Canoe Dimensions And Carrying Capacity
The carrying capacity of a canoe will usually be determined by the canoe length and width. Long canoes will often have a higher carrying capacity than shorter ones, because they will tend to have more physical space distributed across the length.
How much weight a canoe can hold will usually be stated by the manufacturer. There are generally guidelines for how many people the canoe can hold, with a maximum carrying capacity rated in pounds.
For example, a one or two person canoe will generally be able to carry an extra small person or a dog, in addition to gear. However, you may not have a sufficient extra seat to carry an extra person.
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A wider canoe will tend to hold more weight than a narrow canoe of the same length, as the increase in width allows for more volume. This means wider canoes offer a higher load capacity.
Size Does Matter: The Final Verdict On How Long A Canoe Should Be
As you will probably have discovered, canoe sizes vary quite widely to suit different activities and purposes. The average length of canoe that will suit you best is the one that will carry all the gear and people you plan to take, plus is a suitable size for your storage space.
Long canoes can hold more gear and more people, but they can be more difficult to maneuver. A shorter length canoe can be easier to maneuver, with a wider hull to allow for increased stability and volume.
If you’re looking for a versatile canoe that can carry sufficient people and gear, a standard length canoe might be the best option, especially if it’s your first canoe.