How to Buy a Canoe

Before buying a canoe, discover how length, material and hull shape can have a major impact when on the water.

July 10, 2019
Man dragging a canoe out of the water.

A week-long camping trip on a roaring river. Battling through white water rapids with friends. A day on the lake with your family. A new canoe can be the beginning of lifelong memories.

But before you start paddling, there are several questions you’ll need to ask yourself. Are you going to use this canoe for day trips or week-long tours? Where are you going to use the canoe? How much gear do you need to bring along?

Pro Tips is here with a guide to help you find the perfect canoe so you can make the most of your time on the water.


Depending on what you plan to do, there are several types of canoes to choose from:

  • Recreational canoes: These are the canoes you want to choose if you plan on flatwater paddling. They are designed with a flat bottom for primary stability. Most often with a straight keel line, recreational canoes tend to not be as agile as other styles.
  • Touring canoes: These canoes are for paddlers looking to make long-distance trips. They have a semi-arched hull offering more secondary stability. Touring canoes are longer than 16 feet, allowing for more storage space and weight capacity for you and your gear.
  • River canoes: If you plan on paddling through rapids and rivers, this canoe is for you. River canoes are made of highly durable materials to handle impacts and abrasions. They will have rocker (how much the hull curves from the bow to the stern) for maneuverability and higher sides. These canoes also flare in the bow and stern to deflect splashing over the gunwales.
  • Fishing canoes: If you’re an outdoorsman planning on fishing or hunting on the water, these canoes offer some major benefits. They can provide exceptional primary stability if you plan to stand while fishing by offering a wide, flat bottom. Fishing canoes can also have a square stern, allowing you to add a trolling motor or small gas outboard motor.


Are you going out on your own? Then you’ll probably want a one-person canoe. These are often between 11 and 13 feet in length, narrower in width and lighter in weight than a tandem canoe.

However, if you want to spend time on the water with family and friends, you’ll want a canoe with seats for two or more people. A two-person canoe will often be at least 14 feet 6 inches long. If you need room for two adults and a third party (maybe a child or dog) you’ll want to go with a longer canoe that is 16 to 18 feet long.

The length of the canoe can impact its performance. A general rule is the longer the canoe, the faster it will be. But it will also be less maneuverable. Short canoes are easier to portage, paddle in windy conditions and load onto your vehicle. Portaging is the act of carrying your canoe on land around an obstacle or from one body of water to another.

The width of the canoe can also make an impact. The wider a canoe is, the more stable it can be. But a wider canoe is slower as it plows through more water.


You’ll find a variety of materials used in the construction of canoes. They can affect the weight, performance and cost of a canoe.

  • Aluminum is a durable and cost-efficient canoe material. However, canoes made of aluminum tend to be heavier and less efficient. Aluminum can also conduct heat and cold more easily.
  • Molded plastics are another cost-effective option. Canoes made of these materials can have a moderate weight and durability. Depending on the plastic you choose, it could be heavier or a little lighter.
  • Fiberglass canoes are very efficient at moving through the water due to their lightweight. But these canoes can be more fragile than some of the other options.
  • Graphite tend to be the lightest materials used in the construction of canoes. These are the most expensive option. Keep in mind graphite canoes tend to be for the serious paddlers going on multi-day trips involving portaging.


The shape of the hull can have a major impact on how well your canoe performs on the water.

  • Arched hulls are more rounded. This can improve the speed of the canoe. However, arched hulls can be less stable, making them a better option for experienced canoers.
  • Flat hulls can be a little slower than other options. But a flat hull increases the stability of the canoe.
  • V-shaped hulls have a raised center line. This helps the canoe track or stay in a straight line, which can be beneficial to beginners.

You’ll also want to consider a canoe’s rocker. When you look at a canoe from the side from bow to stern, you’ll notice the ends sit higher out of the water. This curvature is the canoe’s rocker. The more rocker a canoe has, the easier it can be to turn. The less rocker a canoe has, the easier it will track or stay in a straight line.

The sides of the canoe typically come in two designs:

  • Flared: This is when the hull broadens from the bottom to the top in the bow and stern. This provides protection from wavy conditions to help keep you dry.
  • Tumblehome: This is when the hull is widest just above the waterline and narrowest at the gunwale. While you won’t get protection from waves, this makes it easier for your paddle to reach the water.


There are few other features you’ll want to consider:

  • Gunwales: These are the siderails that wrap around the top of the hull. This helps reinforce the canoe as well as provide a convenient place to grab onto. They can come in plastic, wood or metal.
  • Thwarts: These are structural support bars that run across the canoe. Made of wood, plastic or metal, thwarts can have an impact on if you plan on portaging your canoe. In that situation, you’ll refer to the center thwart as a yoke. Its center position helps increase balance.

Once you find the perfect canoe for you, you’ll need the proper paddle to go with it. Learn how to find the right size paddle for you with Pro Tips.