Canoes are some of the most versatile craft on the water, working equally well on tranquil ponds and lakes as on fast flowing rivers. While they can vary widely in terms of functionality and construction materials, they still retain their classic design steeped in the history of the early wilderness explorers and Native tradition.
Once constructed from dug out logs, modern canoes utilize cutting edge construction material like rotomolded polyethylene, fiberglass, and woven Kevlar. Whether you’re looking for a canoe to paddle through fast moving streams and rivers, a general use recreational canoe, or a canoe for fishing, you’ll need to consider several things to help you pick the right one.
I’ll break down some of the best canoes available now, and explore some of the key features to help you pick the right one for your needs, preferences, and budget.
Quick Answer: 7 Best Canoes
- Best Overall: Old Town Penobscot 164 Canoe
- Best Solo Canoe: Old Town Discovery 119 Canoe
- Best 2-Person Canoe: Mad River Explorer 16 T-Formex Canoe
- Best Tripping Canoe: Old Town Penobscot 174 Canoe
- Best 3-Person Canoe: Mad River Adventure 14 Canoe
- Best Fishing Canoe: Ascend DC156 Canoe
- Best Inflatable Canoe: Sea Eagle TC16 Inflatable Travel Canoe
Best Overall: Old Town Penobscot 164 Canoe
When it comes to sturdy and reliable canoes, Old Town has earned reputation as one of the best – and this canoe is no exception. It’s designed to work well in a variety of situations, from solo paddling to tripping to running fast moving rivers. The canoe features two webbing seats to accommodate 2-person paddling, but also works equally well as a solo craft.
Made from triple-layer polyethylene, the hull can easily withstand the wear and tear of hard use. Old town backs the canoe’s hull up with a lifetime warranty – so you know you’re getting a product the manufacturer stands behind.
The straight keel line and sharp bow reduce friction in the water, while the rounded bottom gives you excellent turning responsiveness. It tracks well in heavy wind and waves and maintains its responsiveness in white water. Aluminum gunwales give you added rigidity and durability, while the nylon webbed seats provide a comfortable paddling position.
With a weight capacity of 1250 lbs. the craft is ideal for 2 paddlers plus gear, and can be carried by its built in molded handles. If your solo paddling, then portaging the canoe by its center yoke thwart is manageable but a little heavy – as the boat weighs in at 75 lbs.
- Length: 16’4”
- Beam: 5”
- Weight: 75 lbs
- Excellent all-around canoe works for a variety of conditions
- Works well as 2-person or solo craft
- Triple layer polyethene construction is tough and durable
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Best Solo Canoe: Old Town Discovery 119 Canoe
If you’re looking for a canoe for solo use, the compact and lightweight Old Town Discovery 119 is the perfect choice. Its built with the solo paddler in mind, and is narrow enough to paddled with a double-bladed kayak paddle.
The triple-layered polyethylene hull is durable and lightweight, weighing just 49 pounds. This makes it ideal for loading and unloading from a roof rack, and light enough to portage with ease. If you’re planning to portage it often you’ll want to add a clamp on yoke – as no center yoke thwart comes pre-installed. Built in carry handles also make it easy to transport the canoe down to the water.
Ash thwarts and vinyl gunwales ensure long term durability, while the webbed seat provides long lasting and comfortable seating.
All in all, the Discovery 119 makes an excellent option for solo paddlers that want the advantages of a canoe with all the convenience of a lightweight kayak.
- Length: 11’9”
- Beam: 5”
- Weight: 49 lbs
- Lightweight canoe for solo use
- Easy to load/unload and portage
- Narrow enough to paddle with double bladed kayak paddle
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Best 2-Person Canoe: Mad River Explorer 16 T-Formex Canoe
Rugged, versatile, and cutting-edge, this timeless canoe from Mad River is not only well-made and practical, it’s also downright jaw dropping. Made from a high-tech ABS laminate called T-formex, the canoe hull is suitable for the most rugged and abusive paddling conditions on the planet.
The 2-seater canoe is designed as close to an “all-purpose” canoe as you’re likely to get, making it perfect for fishing, touring, cruising, or pushing through fast moving rapids. The hull shape gives it stability in a variety of conditions, making standing up while fishing fairly easy. A shaped natural ash yoke runs along the centre of the canoe, making portaging a breeze.
With an 1100-pound weight capacity, the canoe is built to handle two paddlers plus plenty of gear, and features two webbed seats for comfortable long-term paddling. Built-in rear and front polyethylene handles make carrying the craft down to the water a breeze.
While it’s certainly not cheap, the comfort, stability, and durability offered by the T-formex material more than justifies its price tag.
- Length: 15’11”
- Beam: 35”
- Weight: 77 lbs
- Rugged and durable T-Formex ABS plastic laminate
- Ideal “all-around” design is good for a wide variety of tasks
- Stable hull design
- 1100-pound weight capacity
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Best Tripping Canoe: Old Town Penobscot 174 Canoe
The longest canoe in Old Town’s impressive line-up, the Penobscot 174 tracks and glides over the water nearly effortlessly. It’s built with maximum efficiency in mind, making longer journeys much easier on your arms and back. The hull features a straight keel line and sharp bow entry designed to decrease friction in the water – this results in excellent responsiveness and maneuverability.
Boasting a 17 foot and 4-inch overall length, as well as a 1,500-pound weight capacity, this canoe can haul gear like none other. Even when its loaded down with paddlers and equipment, it retains its efficiency and performance in the water.
Compared to the 164 above, the 174 is longer, speedier, and more responsive – it’s geared towards intermediate and more advanced paddlers. The high freeboard helps to keep waves at bay, and provides excellent tracking in the water.
The large weight capacity means you’ll be able to haul 2 paddlers plus tons of gear, kids, or four legged companions.
- Length: 17’4”
- Beam: 36”
- Weight: 83 lbs.
- Long, efficient hull is great for long distance cruising.
- Responsive and maneuverable – performs well in fast moving rapids.
- Impressive 1500-pound weight capacity.
Best 3-Person Canoe: Mad River Adventure 14 Canoe
Stable, comfortable, and suited for slow moving waters, this recreational canoe is the perfect choice when you want to pack in the whole family for a trip around the lake. Its multi-chine hull design is focused on stability, rigidity, and tracking, so don’t expect the nimblest craft in the world.
The built-in bow and stern seats provide you with comfortable and adjustable seating, while the EVA foam keeps your backside from falling asleep while your paddling. Extended decks offer sun and spray protection, and a third center bench seat adds seating for a third paddler.
Made from rock-solid Gen2 high density rotomolded polyethylene, the hull can withstand plenty of rough and tumble action. The design features a relatively narrow tumblehome (the width between the gunwales is less than the overall width of the canoe), which makes it ideal for paddling with either a canoe paddle or a double-bladed kayak paddle.
Its shorter hull means easier transport and loading/unloading, while molded cup holders and trays let you enjoy a nice cool beverage while you cruise!
- Length: 14’
- Beam: 37”
- Weight: 75 lbs
- Third center bench provides seat for third paddler
- Durable polyethylene construction
- Design is focused on stability, ridgidity and tracking
- 875-pound weight capacity
Best Fishing Canoe: Ascend DC156 Canoe
If you’re looking for a canoe built with the express purpose of catching fish from, this nimble navigator fits the bill nicely. It’s built to steer and maneuver with the best of them – and also features a square shaped rear transom for easily mounting a trolling motor and battery.
The durable and dent resistant high-density polypropylene makes it tough enough to withstand anything you’re likely to throw at. It also comes standard with a number of features specifically for anglers – including paddle and fishing rod holders, a built-in cooler under the center seat, and a storage compartment for stashing fishing gear.
Two adjustable locking seats give you plenty of comfort and stability on the water. On minor gripe with the seats is they don’t fold completely flat – so you’ll have to remove them if you need them flat for transport. This is doable but takes a few minutes, so it’s not ideal.
Weighing in at just over 100 pounds, it certainly not the lightest canoe out there, but its stability, durability and utility more than make up for the extra heft.
- Length: 15’6”
- Beam: 42”
- Weight: 104 lbs
- Durable and stable canoe designed for fishermen
- Comfortable and adjustable folding seats
- Square back rear transom for mounting a trolling motor
- Comes with built-in cooler, storage compartment, and fishing rod/paddle holders
Best Inflatable Canoe: Sea Eagle TC16 Inflatable Travel Canoe
When most people think of inflatable canoes or kayaks, they picture those cheapo inflatable pool toys that won’t last for more than a few weeks – this canoe is the opposite of that. It’s about as close to a traditional canoe as you can get, with bow and stern molds that cut through the water, wind, and waves while reducing drag and friction.
Inflating the craft takes between 7 and 9 minutes, while storage and transportation is a breeze. The entire craft folds up to the size of a small suitcase when you’re not using it, so you can easily stash it inside your car’s trunk or backseat.
With thick and rigid durable drop stitching and a high inflated PSI, the canoe offers a number of features that allow it to perform even better than traditional canoes. It’s completely buoyant and unsinkable, easy to right and reenter on the water, and at 60 lbs. when inflated, it weighs a good 33% less than comparable hard-bodied canoes.
A small removable rear skeg provides excellent tracking in the water, while 2 movable and adjustable inflatable drop stitch seats with backrests provide comfortable support for long-distance paddling. The craft is rated for up to class IV whitewater, making it great for a wide variety of conditions.
- Length: 16’
- Beam: 38”
- Weight: 60 lbs
- Folded size 40” x 24” x 16”
- Max load capacity of 915 lbs
- 33% lighter than traditional hard-shelled canoes of the same class
- Rated for up to class IV whitewater
How to pick the right canoe for your needs
Picking the right canoe for your needs can be a tricky task. With so many styles, construction materials, and price points, choosing the right canoe can seem like an unmanageable job. Let’s take a look at what you need to know to help you make the right choice.
The right type of canoe for you will largely depend on how you plan to use it. While canoes tend to look similar, they actually differ significantly in their functionality and intended use case.
Recreational canoes are made with the casual paddler in mind. They feature large flat bottoms that emphasize stability over agility. They don’t feel tippy as you get in or out, and are usually stable enough to stand up in without much trouble – this is referred to as primary stability. They’re also built to be tough and durable, and can take a pounding without sustaining any damage.
Multi-Purpose canoes are designed to fulfill a number of roles. They’re sort of the jack-of-all trades when it comes to canoeing. They’ll work fairly well for a number of tasks, including fishing, canoe tripping, cruising, and taking on fast moving whitewater. Included in this category are ‘tripping’ canoes, which are wide, deep canoes designed for hauling a large amount of gear for overnight trips or travel.
Fishing canoes are canoes purpose built with the canoe angler in mind. Their hull design is similar to that of recreational canoes, with large, flat bottoms that provide a high level of stability while standing up to cast. They also commonly feature rear square transoms for mounting a trolling motor, and built-in seats for comfortable long-term seating.
River canoes are built for navigating rougher, fast-moving waters, and emphasize turning and maneuverability over primary stability. They have a high level of secondary stability though – which means they don’t feel as stable, but you can lean way over in them before you reach the water.
A canoe’s length has a major effect on how it performs in the water. Generally speaking, the longer the canoe, the more efficient it is in the water, and the better it will stay on course – or “track”. These canoes also have higher weight capacities, and more internal space to stash your gear.
Shorter canoes also catch the wind less, and will be easier to maneuver in tight spaces. They also tend to be lighter, and easier to load/unload from a canoe roof rack or carrier.
Width, commonly referred to as beam, is a canoe’s width at its widest point in the middle. Generally speaking, the larger the beam, the slower and more stable the canoe will be. These will also require more effort and muscular output to paddle quickly.
Narrower canoes will feel more ‘tippy’ but will be easier to maneuver on the water.
The shape of the canoe’s sidewalls also has an effect on its performance. Some canoes flare outwards toward the gunnel, while others are narrower at the gunnel that they are lower down – which makes them ideal for paddling with a double-bladed kayak paddle or a shorter canoe paddle.
Hull shape is another key factor to consider when choosing a canoe.
Rocker refers to the degree of upward curve along the bottom, from one end to the other. A boat with more rocker will turn easier and have a high degree of maneuverability, but will be less efficient over long distances. Recreational and touring canoes tend to have less rocker, as they need to cover long straight-ahead distances with less effort from the paddler.
Freeboard refers to the distance between a canoe’s gunnels and the water line. Higher freeboard will keep you drier in rougher weather, but will pick up more wind. Low freeboard does the opposite.
While canoes can be made from a variety of materials including wood, aluminum, and PVC. The two main materials used to craft modern canoes are polyethylene and composite.
Polyethylene is relatively inexpensive, tough-as-nails, requires little to no maintenance, but tends to be slightly heavier. While they can be made from a single layer of polyethylene, quality manufacturers will utilize a triple layered poly hull. Polyethylene can be susceptible to UV damage, which means you should take care to keep it stored away from direct sunlight when not in use.
Composite can be made from a variety of materials including carbon fiber, fiberglass, and Kevlar. These canoes are typically lighter, offering increased speed and performance over plastic. These boats also hold their shape better than plastic, and won’t warp from too much sun. They’re also easier to patch and repair should they sustain serious damage.