Updated June 2022
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Buying guide for best canoes

There's nothing quite like getting out on the water, with the sun beating down on you and the wind in your hair. Whether you want to take a relaxed trip from point A to point B, or experience the thrill of whitewater paddling, there's a canoe for you.

The question is, how do you find the best canoe to fit your individual requirements? 

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Canoes with tall sides help keep water out while also increasing carrying capacity. Longer canoes are heavier and therefore can take longer to accelerate to full speed, but they're very quick once they do get going.

Types of canoes

Recreational canoes

Recreational canoes are basic models, designed for paddling on flat water. They tend to favor stability over other features, so while you're unlikely to tip over in a recreational canoe, you might find it hard to maneuver through tight turns. Recreational canoes are usually on the low-end of the price spectrum and tend to be made from plastic – such as high-density polyethylene (HDPE) – or aluminum.

Racing canoes

Racing canoes are high-end canoes designed for taking part in official canoe races. You'll find different types of racing canoes for the two different types of canoe racing: flatwater and slalom. Built with high-performance in mind, these canoes are usually crafted from either fiberglass or Kevlar, both of which are lightweight and extremely durable. Unless you're an experienced canoeist looking to start canoe racing, you don't need to think too much about racing canoes.

River canoes

Specially designed for fast river paddling or whitewater rapids, river canoes are durable and highly maneuverable. They generally feature a lot of curvature in the hull and a relatively flat bottom, both of which help river canoes to turn quickly, but which adversely affect their ability to keep going in a straight line. Since river canoes are usually paddled while kneeling, they have different kinds of seats to help facilitate this potentially uncomfortable position. River canoes should offer places to tie floatation devices, as these help keep the canoe from sinking if it flips or takes on water, bother of which scenarios are fairly common when negotiating whitewater.

Multipurpose canoes

Bridging the gap between recreational canoes and river canoes, multipurpose canoes are crafted to take on calm open water, whitewater, and everything in between. They track through the water better than river canoes and are more maneuverable than recreational canoes. They tend to offer a decent amount of storage space, so they're suitable for longer trips, too. These versatile canoes are ideal if you're not yet sure exactly what you want from a canoe, or you know you want to do a bit of everything, but only have the budget to buy a single canoe.

Considerations for selecting a canoe


Canoes come in a range of lengths, from compact, 10-foot models to massive, 23-foot vessels. Short canoes are quick, agile, and highly maneuverable, but they're not always so good at staying in straight lines, and they lack storage space. Long canoes are fast, stable, and track extremely straight through the water, but aren't very maneuverable. Those around the 16- to 17-foot range tend to be the most popular, as they're quick and fairly maneuverable, but can hold a few passengers and plenty of gear.


The narrower your canoe is, the lighter, more maneuverable, and easier to paddle it is, but the less stable. If you're a beginner or will be paddling across choppy water, wider canoes are preferable to give you increased stability.


You can find canoes in a range of materials, each with its own properties.

  • Plastic: Budget canoes are often made from plastics such as HDPE or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). Plastic canoes are relatively lightweight and durable, but not as much so as those made from high-end materials.

  • Aluminum: Although aluminum canoes are strong and durable, they're falling out of favor due to their heavy weight.

  • Fiberglass: Lighter than aluminum, durable, and easy to repair, fiberglass has long been a popular material for crafting canoes.

  • Kevlar and carbon fiber: Both Kevlar and carbon fiber are extremely lightweight and very strong, so they're perfect for making canoes, though their high cost means they're generally only used to make high-end canoes.
"The term “rocker” refers to the amount of upward curve a canoe has from end to end. Canoes with plenty of rocker are highly maneuverable, but more difficult to keep straight, whereas those with little or no rocker are fast and track well but aren't easy to maneuver."

Hull shape

The shape of a canoe's hull can make a big difference to the way it performs. Most canoes will feature one of four hull shapes.

  • Flat bottom: Since very little of the hull sits below the waterline, flat bottom canoes are maneuverable and agile. They also offer good initial stability. However, they're slow when weighed down with lots of gear and don't track well through the water.

  • Round bottom: Canoes with these hulls are designed for speed and efficiency. Although they don't offer much initial stability (so they can feel "tippy"), they provide exceptional secondary stability, meaning they're unlikely to tip in rough conditions.

  • Shallow-arch bottom: If you want a middle ground between flat and rounded bottoms, a shallow-arch bottom hull is ideal. Both initial and secondary stability is decent and they stay straight much better than flat bottom canoes.

  • V-bottom: Canoes with V-bottom hulls have more pronounced keels than those with shallow-arch bottom hulls. They provide the initial and secondary stability of shallow-arch hulls, but with improved tracking and agility.

Side shape

Some canoes have sides that flare out, which helps to increase stability when you're carrying heavy loads, but makes it difficult to reach the water with your paddle. Others have sides that curve inward (known as "tumblehome" sides), which make reaching the water easier, but can let more water in the boat in rough conditions. Canoes with straight sides provide a happy medium between outward flared and tumblehome sides.


You can spend a lot or a little on a canoe. They vary greatly in price, depending on a range of factors such as the size, material, and quality of performance.

  • Budget canoes that are designed for occasional recreational use start around $300 to $400.
  • High-end models can cost $3,000 to $4,000, or even more for professional racing models.

Some canoes offer a dry storage compartment for carrying items that you don't want to get wet, such as wallets.



  • Think about the kind of trips you intend to take in your canoe. If you plan to embark on long excursions, you'll need plenty of room in which to store all your gear.

  • Decide how many seats you require. Most canoes seat between one and three people – you can find larger models, but they're few and far between.

  • Look into upgrading your seats. Some manufacturers offer aftermarket seat upgrades, or you can buy seat additions. You'll thank yourself for investing in more comfortable seats after a long day of paddling.

  • Consider how often you'll use your canoe. It's not worth spending thousands of dollars on a canoe you'll only use a couple of time a year, but you'll definitely want to spend more if you'll be using it weekly or even daily.
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The gunwales (pronounced


Q. How can I transport my canoe from place to place?

A. You can transport a canoe upside down on top of your car, strapped tightly to the roof rack. It's best to practice this a couple of times before taking it out for a spin, to make sure you know how to properly secure it.

Q. How should I store my canoe when not in use?

A. Ideally, you should store your canoe indoors (in a garage or outbuilding) when not in use, to protect it from the elements. However, if this isn't possible, try to keep it in a shaded area, and use a tarp to keep it dry.

Q. Do canoes have a maximum weight limit?

A. Yes, canoes do have a weight limit. It varies between different vessels and usually depends on the size of the canoe, as well as how many people it's meant to accommodate. Always check the maximum weight limit before taking your canoe out on the water, and remember that it indicates the maximum combined weight of all passengers.

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