Ever find yourself daydreaming about canoeing down reed-lined rivers or paddling out for an early coffee by a pine clad estuary? Then maybe it’s about time you set aside some pennies and invest in your very own canoe. There’s simply no better feeling than the freedom of drifting from place to place at your own leisurely speed.
Perhaps you’re already a seasoned canoeist looking for an upgrade to your current model, or, you’re searching for your first canoe. Either way, you’ll want to invest your money in the best canoe for your specific usage; be that a solo-adventure on fast-moving water or a fun day out with the family.
So how do you know that you’re investing your savings in the right canoe? There are many models out there with various styles and designs. We know it can be a bit confusing, that’s why we’ve done the boring part for you and put together this list of the best canoes in 2020.
The best canoes for beginners in 2021
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|Old Town Saranac 146 Canoe||Recreational||3||$$|
|Wooden Boat USA Skeena Canoe 18||Recreational||2||$$$$$$$$|
|Lifetime Kodiak Canoe||Triple/recreational||3||$$|
|Itiwit X500 High Pressure Inflatable Canoe||Inflatable/recreational||4||$$$$$|
|Intex Explorer K2 Kayak||Inflatable/recreational||2||$|
|Mad River Adventure 14 Canoe||Recreational||3||$$|
|Grumman Solo Canoe||Expedition||1||$$$$$|
|Sun Dolphin Scout SS Canoe||Recreational||3||$|
|Old Town Discovery 119 Solo Canoe||Solo/racing||1||$$$|
Updated in 2021, the new version of this clever folding canoe offers more stability, better overall performance and a much easier set up. As an incredibly practical solution for paddlers with limited storage or transportation space, it really is no surprise that origami canoes are becoming more and more popular. The MyCanoe Duo can be set up on your own in just over 5 minutes and takes only 1 minute to fold away. Plus, once folded it fits into most small cars, and is light enough to be carried by a single person. Once unfolded the canoe is 14.5 ft long with two seats and a weight capacity of up to 480 lbs.
You might be wondering about the durability of this soft-shell canoe – we were too – but MyCanoe claims that the Duo will withstand 20,000 folds. It’s made from a marine-grade polypropylene fabric. And so far, we’ve been loving how well it paddles in choppy and calm conditions alike.
For more information read our full review and video review of the MyCanoe Duo folding canoe.
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Type: Triple/recreationalThe Old Town Saranac 146 is the best canoe for family days out or use on flat water. The extra width makes it almost impossible to capsize while the flat bottom assures maximum stability. It also boasts a weight capacity of up to 750 lbs, which should be enough to carry your picnic gear and keep the kids afloat.
This model comes with two moulded plastic seats, complete with backrests for a full day on the water. The centre bench gives you a cup holder as well as a storage tray, 6-inch dry hatch and under bench storage. You won’t have to worry about keeping your phone and wallet dry in the Saranac 146.
Overall, we think that the Old Town Saranac 146, with its thermoformed polyethene hull and useful storage features, offers excellent value for money.
- Reasonable price tag
- Very stable on flat water
- Lightweight (considering the size)
- Ample storage
- Not suitable for fast flowing or rough water conditions
Designed for gentle paddles on rivers and lakes, the Skeena Canoe 18 from Wooden Boat USA is an attractive wood-striped canoe that blends into natural backdrops. Canoes from Wooden Boat USA are hand-made from high-quality Canadian Cedar and coated with a transparent top layer of fibreglass and epoxy resin which makes the crafts extra durable. The 18 foot Skeena Canoe has two woven seats but it can also be paddled solo. It has a generous weight capacity of 650lbs so you can bring your cooler pack and other gear. This gorgeous canoe also has a slightly rocked hull that makes it easier to manoeuvre despite its length and weight.
- Beautiful design
- Suitable for solo or double paddling
- Very stable
- Heavy (65lbs)
This basic 13 foot canoe is a mid-priced option for beginner paddlers favouring flat and calm rivers and lakes. It has a wide and flat hull making it a very stable canoe for fishing (it also has rod holders near the middle seat), and is capable of carrying up to 27gkg / 600lbs. Two of the three molded seats have quick-release seat backs for extra comfort and it even comes with a transom motor mount bracket to attach a motor (sold separately) if you’re feeling very lazy!
The Lifetime Kodiak Canoe won’t win any prizes for performance and maneuverability. And it’s also rather heavy to move and transport, especially for its length. However, if you’re after a durable and reliable boat for family outings and floating fishing expeditions, then you can’t really go wrong. Plus, it comes with a 5 year warranty and to make transporting it a touch easier, there’s a small wheel on the skeg!
- Removable seat backs for extra comfort
- Has motor bracket
- Very good weight capacity
- Not particularly maneuverable
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New to the Itiwit range in 2020, the X500 High Pressure Inflatable Canoe is an unusual offering on our list of the best recreational canoes. Designed with intermediate paddlers in mind, this open canoe is an excellent option for those wanting the convenience and packability of an inflatable canoe without compromising on performance. It is constructed with a double layer of PVC joined together internally with thousands of polyester strands. When inflated, the result is an extremely rigid structure that looks and performs more like a rigid canoe than an inflatable.
To further elevate it away from its inflatable counterparts, the X500 boasts two wooden seats, a V-shaped hull to limit friction on the water, and wide and stable base and a 250kg / 551 lbs carrying capacity. There’s also an inflatable seat that’s large enough for one adult or two kids, making it the best canoe on our list for family outings on slow moving rivers and lakes. Alternatively, limit your load to two people and fill up the space with gear for overnight canoe camping.
- Glides well
- Packs down into carry case
- Has 4 seats
- Very good weight capacity
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Though this inflatable boat is a ‘kayak’ by title, its open design and lack of cockpit does put it somewhere in the muddled grey area that sits between kayak and canoe. Whatever it technically is doesn’t really matter if it meets your water floating needs! It’s very affordable, highly packable and storable, and is an excellent way to dip your toes into the world of canoeing if you only want to do it very occasionally.
From a technical point of view it doesn’t compare to the other canoes on our list. And it is nowhere near as durable or high performing as any of them. However, when used and stored correctly, this easy to paddle 2 person kayak/canoe will go the distance for a good few years of occasional use on gentle rivers and lakes.
The Intex Explorer can carry up to 400 lbs / 180kg, making it an excellent option for two adults. Plus. there’s just enough space to carry some food and gear for a day on calm water, but anything more than that and you’ll struggle to fit it in. Taller folk may also struggle with the lack of legroom.
- Good value for occasional use
- Adjustable seats
- Good weight capacity
- Not very comfortable for tall paddlers
- Carry bag is a rather flimsy
- Durability could be better
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Type: RecreationalThe Mad River Adventure 14 is the best recreational canoe on our list; it’s best suited to slow-waters or lakes and can carry up to three passengers. The sharp shape of its hull makes it one of the most stable canoes on the market while the 14-inch length makes it easier to handle than longer models. It is, however, slightly heavier than other canoes of the same size.
Our favourite feature is the adjustable and moulded seats which are made with contoured EVA foam and offer comfortable back support for all-day excursions. Mad River has also ensured that the Adventure 14 provides storage space in the hull and stern along with multiple cup holders and handy storage trays.
- Handles well
- Stable design
- Moulded seats
- Heavy for its size
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This streamline aluminium canoe gives you the speed, style, and durability you need to take on any kind of water, from gentle streams to raging rapids. The wide beam and low profile provide stability as well as greater resistance to wind.
Meanwhile, its length and shaped keel allow the Grumman Solo to glide smoothly, even in strong currents. It’s also lightweight and, although the price is rather steep, you can be confident that the Grumman Solo Canoe will withstand the test of time. It’s undoubtedly the best expedition canoe out there.The Grumman Solo is listed as a solo canoe and comes with one bench seat; however, this model can hold up to 545 lbs. Furthermore, users confirm that it’s stable enough for two passengers plus camping gear.
- Sturdy and long-lasting design
- Good handling
- High price tag
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Type: RecreationalThe Scout SS Canoe from Sun Dolphin is an affordable triple canoe for all around use. Its three moulded seats may not provide equal comfort to the Adventure 14 but they do offer multiple built-in cup and rod holders. Its shallow arch and wide hull mean that it handles well on flat or slow-moving waters. And the shorter length makes it fairly easy to strap to a roof rack. What makes the Sun Dolphin Scout SS Canoe even more versatile is the square stern which allows the user to attach an electronic trolling motor.
- Durable material
- Built-in cup and rod holders
- Low price
- Basic seating
Type: Solo/RacingThe Discovery 119 Solo Canoe from Old Town is an agile model designed for rapid movement across the water. Its body is made from lightweight rotomolded polyethene and at only 11 feet in length and 49 lbs it can be carried by just one person. The nylon webbed seat is strong and provides sufficient comfort on short to medium length excursions, without adding to the weight. There’s also plenty of storage space in the front and rear of the canoe.
When it comes to performance, it’s possible to paddle the Discovery 119 with a single or double-bladed paddle. The Discovery 119 is easy to turn and its aerodynamic shape lets it gain speed quickly. The narrow base does make it slightly more ‘tippy’. Overall, we would recommend the Old Town Discovery 119 for experienced solo canoeists.
- Fast and agile design
- Suitable for different types of paddles
- Good storage space
- Tracking could be improved
Things to consider when choosing a canoe
How will you use your canoe?
The best canoe for you is 100% dependent on your desired usage. The best canoe for family outings or wildlife spotting certainly won’t be the same model as the best canoe for whitewater. Will you be paddling on flat waters or attempting challenging journeys on fast rapids? Canoeing on wide rivers or exploring coastal caves? There are also tandem or triple canoes with storage space and comfortable seats which are ideal for family excursions.
Types of canoe
A recreational canoe is an excellent choice for beginners or family trips as they’re designed to be both durable and stable. They are well suited to paddling at slow speeds, on gentle waters or lakes, and often allow space to carry extra gear or camping supplies.
Whitewater canoes are intended to be highly buoyant and turn fast with a curved bow to stern. They are made from lightweight materials and should be steered from a kneeling position; therefore, the seats are in whitewater canoes tend to be minimal.
Racing or expedition canoes are comparatively longer and slimmer making them easy to steer in a straight line. They can be tougher to manoeuvre and balance.
Shape, width and length
The shape, width, and length of a kayak are the most important things to consider before making your purchase. Ultimately, it’s these three factors which determine the type of environment the canoe can be used in. For example, shorter canoes with high sides (rockers) are swift to gain speed and quicker to manoeuvre. You might opt for this style of canoe if you’re planning to hit the rapids or you already have some canoeing experience.
If you’re taking the family out for a fun paddle or you’re new to the sport then a flat-bottomed canoe is the best option. The wider base provides greater stability although it does limit the acceleration and maneuverability of the canoe/
A longer canoe with a round bottom is exactly what you’d want for building speed on distance paddles. This makes them ideal on wide waterways or ocean canoeing. However, the long shape can make the canoe a little more awkward to maneuver on twisting rivers or narrow waterways. A long canoe is the last thing you’d want for paddling on the whitewater rapids.
It’s worth considering the weight of your chosen canoe as it will affect the way the boat handles in the water. The lighter the better isn’t always the case in terms of performance. A heavier model will sit lower in the water and therefore provide greater stability and resistance to currents and winds.
On the other hand, lightweight canoes require less energy to accelerate and turn. They are more portable, particularly for solo trips, as you’ll need to be able to lift the canoe out of the water yourself for portages or up onto a roof rack.
Also, check the weight capacity of the canoe. Most are able to carry between one and four people but it’s important not to overload the vessel.
The material that a canoe is made from impacts its weight, durability, and price. Fortunately, the best canoes are no longer made from wood, but you’ll still need to consider appropriate material for your usage. Most canoes are made from one of the following materials.
Aluminium: these are usually made with a double sheet of aluminium, blended with a stronger alloy. Aluminium canoes are lightweight, long-lasting, and need very little maintenance. They tend to come with a higher price tag but are so tough that you may never need to buy a replacement.
Composite or fibreglass: made by reinforcing plastic with glass and other synthetic fibres (such as graphite), composite/fibreglass are often the most expensive but also the lightest material for canoe construction. They can be more brittle but are favoured for paddling at speed or over long distances.
Rotomolded polyethene: the most affordable canoes are usually made from rotomolded polyethene. It’s a highly durable type of plastic which makes them a great choice for both recreational and whitewater use. The downside of rotomolded canoes is that they are significantly heavier than fibreglass. Additionally, the fabric can, over time, become deformed due to long exposure to heat and UV rays.
Thermoform polyethene: a compromise between the previous two materials, thermoform canoes are almost as light as their fibreglass cousins but provide the durability of their rotomolded brothers. They have the added value of UV protection in the outer layer. This material generally comes with a mid-range price tag and is also largely recyclable.
It may seem obvious but you’ll want to make sure that there are enough seats for all your passengers but also look at the design and material of the seats. The most comfortable canoes will have moulded seats with backrests and foam padding, this comes in handy on full day trips.
Whether out on the lake for a casual picnic paddle, or on a multi-day expedition through unknown waters, our list of the best canoes in 2021 has something for everyone. And if you’re still no sure if canoeing is the best option for you, then read our guide to canoes vs kayaks to help figure out which is best for you.
Happy cruising, happy paddlers!