What Canoe Should I Buy? Hard Decision!

Old Town Discovery 119. Could this be my next canoe?
Old Town Discovery 119. Could this be my next canoe?

It’s no secret I’ve been thinking about buying a new canoe for almost a year.  Been saving up a little money on the side to make that new canoe purchase, and I’m getting close to being ready… sorta.  Currently I own an aluminum 17 footer that is over twenty years old and over 86 pounds – I call it my “battle-canoe”, it’s a real beast and takes a beating.

Ever since my folks sold their second home, which was on a secluded Northern Wisconsin lake, I’ve hardly used that old aluminum canoe.  I don’t think I’ve had it in the water in over five years.  It just sits in storage.

Since getting back into the outdoors all hot and heavy I’ve been itching for a new canoe, a smaller canoe, one that is lighter and easier to load on my SUV and portage between lakes in the BWCA.  There are a lot of choices out there that fit those needs.  But in order to really nail down what I want and more importantly what I need in a canoe, I need to ask myself some questions and provide honest answers.

Too Many Lightweight Canoes To Choose From

About a year ago I focused my attention on two canoes, an Old Town Discovery 119, and a Grumman Solo 129.  Both much smaller and lighter than what I currently owned, and both for solo paddling.  The numbers in the names designate their length, 119 is 11 feet 9 inches, 129 is 12 feet 9 inches… you get the idea.

Back in May of this year when I went to the Boundary Waters on a solo canoe trip, I rented and paddled a Nova Craft Pal 16 – and I had to admit it was pretty nice.  It was a tandem canoe that made out well as a great solo tripper.  That got me looking at larger canoes made out of Kevlar that could hold more gear and take on some heavier waters if needed.

And so the search began!

I looked at Wenonah Canoes, and really like the Prism and the Wilderness.  I also looked long and hard at Souris River, the Q16 sounds fantastic.  I also looked at Nova Craft, the Bob Special and the Pal.  I even thought long and hard about getting a Swift Keewaydin 15 pack boat.  All of those canoes are pretty nice, and can fetch a respectable price tag too, as much as $3000!

In particular the Swift and Souris River canoes caught my eye.  They were both functional for what I thought I wanted, and light to lug around.

What Do I Need My New Canoe To Do?

All of the canoes I looked at above, and more that I didn’t not mention, would probably serve me well.  Some are better for canoe tripping than others.  Some have better initial stability, some better secondary stability.  And then some are better for fishing, or gear hauling, bird watching, river tripping, flat water tripping, etc…

But what do I really need my new canoe to do?  What am I going to do with it when I get the time to load it up and head off on some adventure?

The Old Town Next, basically a Pack boat knock off. A little heavier than I would like at 59 pounds, but it can carry a good amount of gear and just looks like fun!
The Old Town Next 13, basically a Pack boat knock off. A little heavier than I would like at 59 pounds, but it can carry a good amount of gear and just looks like fun!

From my house I can be up to any number of BWCA entry points in five hours or less.  I plan to make 2-3 trips per year up to the BWCA and other Wilderness Parks further north.  Having a canoe for those trips would be fantastic so I don’t have to rent one.  But really, the rivers, streams, and small lakes that are closer to home are more than likely going to be my primary stomping grounds for my new canoe.

With that said, in particular the St Croix National Riverway is my back door!  The Wisconsin River is close, as are the Chippewa River and the Black River, to name a few.  All are great for day tripping as well as extended multi-day trips.  There are also a lot of smaller rarely fished lakes in and around my cabin that a smaller sized canoe would be great for.

I guess where I am heading here is that I don’t need a big canoe tandem canoe that can haul a lot of gear.  Nor do I need a larger solo tripper canoe.  Those bigger canoes like I mentioned above cost a lot of money and don’t like to bump rocks, or get dragged over water obstacles that would easily mark up and gouge their finishes.

I need something smaller sized, easier on the pocket book, that can haul what little bit of camping gear I would take along on a solo trip.  It needs to be rugged, fun and easy to haul around, do well on rivers as well as small to medium sized lakes.

Kevlar Is Nice, But I Want A Canoe That Can Take More Of A Beating!

I can very easily rent a canoe for any BWCA trip I go on.  So while it would be nice to have my own canoe to use, and I could save money that way… renting is not going to break my bank account.  And I admit I like the idea of using somebody else’s canoe for Wilderness trips, especially if I do any extended long canoe trips, such as two weeks in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park.

No, I’m not saying I would beat on a rented canoe.  But, I do like the idea of a canoe that I own being able to take a little abuse if the situation called for it.  A Kevlar canoe is light, but they can’t take much and they scratch and get bad gouges.  There are substrates out there that can take more on an ass-whooping!

Nova Craft Fox 12, 45 pounds of fiberglass construction. Could this be my new canoe for river tripping?
Nova Craft Fox 12, 45 pounds of fiberglass construction. Could this be my new canoe for river tripping?

Old Town Canoes are heavy!  But they are made out of heavy duty three layered poly and can withstand some serious hurting.  Of course the Grumman Solo can take some knocks, as it is made out of aluminum.

After some serious soul searching I did decide that I could put up with a canoe that weighed between 40 and 60 pounds – as long as it fit my overall needs!  I’m only forty-four years old after all, fairly strong, and not one to shirk a little extra effort needed to have some fun.

Sure, I could spend more and get a lighter canoe that is a bit more fragile.  Or I could save some money and get a canoe that is fifteen to twenty pounds heavier and take a good pounding if needed.

Back To Looking At Smaller And Heavier Sized Canoes

Of course short canoes tend to not track as well and are slower among other things.  Both would work well enough for the smaller bodies of water I would be on 90% of the time.  Sure, I can haul more gear in a larger canoe, but do I really need to bring more stuff along – I mean, it’s not like the wife is ever going to go along on a canoe trip, I highly doubt that will happen, and if she does I’ll just rent a tandem.

So, I’m back to looking at a couple different canoe options.

  • Old Town Discovery 119 (or the Guide 119 version sold exclusively by Dick’s Sporting Goods)
  • Old Town Pack 12′ (don’t make these anymore, Ryolex material)
  • Grumman Solo 129
  • Nova Craft Trapper 12
  • Nova Craft Fox 14
  • Old Town Next 13 (canoe/kayak combo)

I will admit there are two canoes in the list above that I am eyeing more so over the others: The Nova Craft Fox 14 and the Old Town Next, for various reasons.  Both are different, yet have features that I like.  I’m also toying with the idea of buying an Old Town 119 and converting it into a pack style boat.

So what canoe will I get?  Time will tell.  I’m going to buy this coming Winter or Spring.  So we shall see.  I believe all would work well on the streams, rivers and smaller lakes I would be spending most of my time at.




TD is the owner and publisher of TD All Outdoors. He has been enjoying the outdoors since since he was a child. Over the years he has spent as much time as he can solo wilderness canoe tripping, overlanding, hiking, fishing, bushcrafting, hunting, hammock camping, and more. Aside from this blog, he also own his own coffee brand, www.folklore-coffee.com.

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