Best Canoes of 2023 for Recreational Use
Best Overall - Mad River Adventure 16 Canoe
Best Budget - Old Town Saranac 146 Canoe
Best Premium - Wooden Boat USA Skeena Canoe 18
Even if your last trip in a canoe took place at a 1990s summer camp, it is never too late to jump back into this favorite American pastime.
Canoeing goes hand in hand with our love of camping and hiking in the great outdoors. The canoe industry offers everything from basic canoes for beginners to sleek and sophisticated vessels for more advanced paddlers.
Before you take the plunge to purchase your own canoe, there are a number of important points to consider. You may be surprised by just how many subtle and not-so-subtle differences there are between canoes on the market today, with everything from solo canoes to those equipped with motors.
We will dive into those differences and prepare you with everything you need to know about buying a recreational canoe in 2022, but first, we will tackle and clear up one common point of confusion among those who are new to canoeing and water sports.
Our Favorite Recreational Canoes in this year
Now that you’ve been primed on the basics of buying a recreational canoe, we will highlight our favorite picks for this year.
Are Canoes and Kayaks the Same Thing?
While canoes and kayaks are both used as recreational vessels for paddlers, they differ in a number of significant ways.
Size and Maneuverability
A canoe is bulkier than a kayak and can be difficult, though not impossible, for one person to carry alone. Similarly, they can be difficult, though not impossible, for one person to carry alone.
A canoe comes with more room for storage, which is why many people prefer canoes for a leisurely day on the water, where you may want to access a cooler for lunch and drinks or have plenty of room for fishing gear.
Type of Use
A kayak tends to appeal more to those seeking a more fast-paced adventure, with the ability to paddle solo through rapids and carry less gear (though it is still possible to fish from kayaks designed with rod holders and other great accessories for anglers).
Type of Seating and Paddles
A canoe certainly offers more flexibility and comfort, with the ability to move and adjust seating. A kayak is more of a “snug fit” with your legs inside the vessel. A canoe paddle will have a single blace and requires more effort; a kayak paddle has blades on both ends, and you alternate dipping each end in the water.
Both are popular choices for recreation, and many water sports enthusiasts will invest in a kayak and a canoe.
What Should You Consider Before Purchasing a Canoe?
There are myriad choices available when it comes to canoe shopping, and the decision can be overwhelming if you do not have a framework to narrow the decision.
Once you apply these “filters” to your list, you will be able to shorten it to a manageable group of choices, and then you may decide to prioritize them by price.
Budget often wins when it comes to decision-making, but we would also caution that you do not want to buy the cheapest canoe out there. Make sure you are getting a high-quality vessel that will meet your family’s needs and will, first and foremost, be safe.
Here are the items to consider when canoe shopping:
How Are You Going to Use Your Canoe?
The obvious answer here is “on the water.” We get that. However, there is a big difference between a leisurely Sunday afternoon paddle on your neighborhood pond and a whitewater trip down thrilling and fast-paced rapids.
One of the first decisions to make is whether you are shopping for a recreational canoe (for the aforementioned leisurely day of paddling) or a whitewater (or river) canoe (which is specially designed to maneuver quickly through rapids).
We will assume most reading this article are in search of a recreational canoe; if you think you are ready for whitewater canoeing, check out these tips.
Recreational canoes are designed for stability and safety, with plenty of room for gear. They are ideal for families and anyone new to canoeing, whether they will be used at the neighborhood lake or on family vacations.
They can be heavier than whitewater or racing canoes, built to be especially buoyant for fast-paced paddling. But the extra weight on a recreational canoe is the tradeoff you get for something with more seating and storage room.
(It’s worth pointing out here that storage will always be quite limited in a canoe, so it’s a good idea to have a small dry bag to protect your items.)
What Are the Dimensions of the Canoe?
Considering the length and width (as well as shape and weight) of the canoe also plays into how you will use it. A shorter canoe with higher sides, for example, is a good choice for someone who plans to paddle through rapids.
If you want a recreational canoe your family can enjoy, you cannot beat a flat-bottomed canoe. This kind of wide-based vessel will keep you stable, though you may not be maneuvering many thrilling rapids.
If you truly plan to go the distance, a longer canoe may provide the speed you want. Whether that means ocean canoeing or taking it out on a wide river for a full day of paddling, the longer canoe with the rounded bottom will help you increase speed, as long as you will not be faced with any sharp twists and turns. Shorter canoes are built for maneuvering those.
The most popular and commonly used canoes are in the 16-to-17 foot range.
Why Does Weight Matter?
Weight factors into the performance of a canoe and your ability to carry it, but that is not the only reason you need to consider weight.
For a larger recreational canoe intended to fit a small family, you should be paying attention to the vessel’s capacity. A canoe may be built to fit three people, but if your son is an NFL linebacker, that maximum number of people may change!
The canoe weight itself will vary based on sizes and materials. In general, a heavier canoe will sit lower in the water and will be more stable and resistant to the wind and the currents. A lighter current may be more susceptible to wind and currents, but on the plus side, it is easier to carry and launch.
What Materials Can I Choose from in a Canoe?
If you are thinking back to that beast of a canoe at your childhood summer camp, you will be relieved to know that most canoes have moved past wood, embracing the technology of newer materials available in canoe construction.
Today most canoes are made of:
- Aluminum: These incredibly lightweight canoes are popular not only for their weight but also the fact that they require only minimal maintenance. The only drawback when it comes to aluminum canoes is the price. However, if the canoe will be a long-term investment, aluminum (blended with a stronger alloy in construction) is probably your best bet.
- Fiberglass or Composite: This type of canoe is created when plastic is reinforced with either synthetic fibers or glass. The result is a material that is durable and lightweight, and paddlers who desire speed for long-distance canoeing often choose these.
- Rotomolded polyethylene: For those on a more limited budget, a canoe constructed of rotomolded polyethylene may be a better fit. This is essentially a durable plastic. The drawbacks are that it will be a heavier canoe than its composite competitors, and it is less able to withstand the effects of heat and UV rays over time.
- Thermoform polyethylene: Hitting a sweet spot between composite canoes and those made of rotomolded polyethylene, the vessels made of thermoform polyethylene are durably but lighter than the rotomolded choices. They also boast UV protection, are generally recyclable, and are offered at a mid-range price for those who cannot break the bank and want a quality canoe.
What About Seats and Rails?
When canoe shopping, you will likely be focused on the canoe’s length and weight, but do not overlook the seats and the rails.
You want to be sure that these items are well constructed and durable; seats that are molded and include backrests will provide the most comfort on long paddling trips.
Gunwales, the side rails, should also be of durable enough material to withstand wear and tear. You want them to be smooth enough to create a comfortable grip in your hand and also strong enough to stand up to contact with paddles.
Other Things to Know When Choosing a Canoe
While canoe shopping, you will hear the term rocker, and if a rocking chair springs to mind, that is the exact mental image you can use for comparison. “Rocker” in reference to a canoe means the amount of upward curve, in the vessel’s hull, from end to end. This shape looks much like the rails of a rocking chair, hence the name.
When it comes to canoes, rocker affects the maneuverability and speed: little or no rocker and you will move through the water faster; more rocker and you will be able to turn and maneuver better. Usually, the ideal is somewhere in between.
Even the entry line—the place where the hull cuts through the water—is designed in different ways to affect the canoe’s ability to tackle different waters. A sharp entry line is designed for speed, as you cut through water quickly, but a blunter bow is better for paddling rough waters.
Try Before You Buy
No amount of research or information can replace simply experiencing the “feel” of a particular canoe.
If you can take one out for a test run—either with the permission of a dealer or by borrowing that model from a friend—it will help you decide if that particular canoe not only suits your budget but also feels good to you on the water.