How to Choose a Canoe


March 14, 2024


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How to Choose a Canoe

Come summertime, hundreds of canoeists will be gliding over Canada’s many lakes and rivers. In addition to being a great workout, canoeing is a fantastic way to explore new outdoor playgrounds. Paddling enthusiasts can reach otherwise unreachable camping spots, take photos from unique vantage points, and even catch their dinner from the comfort of their watercraft. Interested? Here’s everything you need to know on how to choose a canoe for your outdoor adventures.

In this article, you will learn how to choose a canoe based on the following:

  1. Where Will You Be Paddling?
  2. The right canoe size for your needs
  3. The hull materials available
  4. The essentials to take with you on a canoe expedition
  5. How much a canoe costs

Where Will You Be Paddling?

Before choosing a canoe, ask yourself whether you prefer to navigate smooth, calm waters or whether you’re looking for more of an action-packed kind of experience on fast-flowing rivers. You will also need to determine whether you’re likely to go on short outings, overnight trips, or multi-day excursions, how many people you’ll be paddling with, and how much gear you’ll take with you. The answers to these questions will help you decide whether you should choose a recreational canoe, a tripping canoe, or a river canoe.

Recreational canoes: These are easy to manoeuvre and great for gliding over calm lakes or rivers. Their shape makes them stable and hard to capsize, which allows paddlers to move around a little inside. Recreational canoes are perfect for gentle outings, fishing, or even photography.

Tripping canoes: Similar to recreational canoes, these are designed with multi-day camping expeditions in mind. In addition to being quite stable, they are built to handle a good load of gear.

River canoes: Experienced paddlers looking for a challenge should consider investing in a river canoe. With their increased manoeuvrability, these allow canoeists to tackle fast-flowing rivers, rapids or tight bends with greater ease.

Choosing the Right Canoe Size

The length and width of your canoe will determine how stable it is, as well as how much gear you can take with you. Wider, shorter options will feel much steadier, while long and narrow models were designed to prioritize speed. Here are all the factors to consider to make an informed choice.

Canoe Length

Sixteen-foot canoes are quite versatile, hence their popularity. They offer plenty of room and a good weight capacity, which means they can usually accommodate two adults and the gear needed for an overnight trip or a solo excursion. Longer trips with more baggage will require something longer (17 or 18 feet) so as to maintain good manoeuvrability even with the extra weight.

Canoe Width

Narrower models are faster and glide better. Their shape also allows canoeists to paddle closer to the centre of the boat unencumbered, which means less power is wasted on course correction and more is spent on propelling the canoe forward. As a general rule, wider canoes are more stable, but slower in the water.

Number of Passengers

Will you be paddling alone or with a partner? Ideally, everyone in your canoe should have a seat. Children can sometimes sit on the bottom, but adults are less flexible, and the canoe floor can quickly become uncomfortable on longer excursions.

Weight Capacity

Add up your own weight, the weight of any passengers, and the combined weight of all the gear you plan to bring in order to determine the weight capacity you need for your canoe.

Canoe Weight

Remember that you will need to transport your canoe (including lifting it up to secure it on top of your vehicle, and down again) and carry it to the water. Heavier models can be difficult to handle, so make sure you and your partner can easily lift and carry your loaded canoe, especially if your route includes portages.

Hull Materials

Hull Materials

Before selecting your ideal canoe, check out the various hull materials available as this will influence the weight, durability, and cost of your watercraft.

Plastic (Polyethylene)

Plastic canoes are usually great entry-level options. Durable and impact resistant, they are on the more affordable end of the spectrum. However, they can lose their shape in the sun. If leaving your canoe exposed to the elements is your only storage option, opt for a more resistant three-layer hull. These feature a layer of closed-cell foam stuck between two layers of plastic. While more difficult to repair, these models are a step up from plastic options as they keep their shape better while still remaining lightweight and responsive.

Fibre and Fibre Composite

The hulls of fibre and fibre composite canoes are made by bonding layers of woven fabric with resin. The outer surface is then hardened with a coating gel, which renders it abrasion resistant. Light and efficient, this type of hull is a great option for performance-focused canoeists. Fairly easy to maintain, they only need occasional waxing or buffing to keep them in shipshape condition.


There isn’t a more durable canoe than an aluminum one! Used to navigate calm and slow-moving waters, they are much heavier and slower than other models, which makes them ideal for beginners looking to get their sea legs. Aluminum boats can withstand bumps and scratches, are low maintenance and low cost.

The Essentials to Take With You on Your Canoe Expedition

What to pack for a canoe expedition will vary depending on the weather, the type of outing you’re planning and its duration. However, some essentials should always make the cut, including:

If you plan on camping out, add the following to your packing list:

  • Camping equipment (tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag)
  • Enough clothing (two t-shirts, two long-sleeve shirts, shorts and longer pants, fleece, extra socks)
  • Cooking equipment (cooking stove, fuel, kitchen set, pots and pans)
  • Food
  • Lighter and matches
  • Hygiene products (toilet paper, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.)

Extra tips for the perfect canoe-camping trip can be found here

How Much Should You Spend on a Canoe?

How Much Should You Spend on a Canoe?

Your budget should be a key consideration when choosing a canoe. Aluminum or plastic models can cost between $1,000 and $2,000, while fibreglass and three-layer options start at around $2,000. Performance canoes made of Kevlar or carbon will be at the more expensive end of the spectrum, with models starting at $4,000.

If you’d like to give canoeing a go before committing to purchasing the equipment, many locations will provide rental options ranging from a few hours to several days.


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