What to Look for in a New Canoe (7 Questions You MUST Ask)

A canoe is a canoe is a canoe right? Not even close! If you’re looking to buy a new canoe, the options you’ll be faced with are daunting. If you’re not sure what to look for in the process, you’re likely to end up with the wrong style of canoe which can serve to frustrate you on the water and cost you a lot of extra money needlessly. We can help minimize that risk!

As a general rule, when buying a new canoe consider the purpose (for example: whitewater, lake, or wilderness tripping), size, weight, number of paddlers, hull material, performance, shape and design features, and the price. It is also wise to search out reputable brands with reliable warranties.

Over the years, I have purchased several brand new canoes and would like to help you be equipped with all the right information to make the best choice. It would be a tragedy if you bought a canoe without knowing what to ask the retailer or what to ask yourself.

Let’s take a look at how to approach this potentially daunting task of choosing a brand new canoe for our passion for paddling!


1. What Type of Canoeing Will I be Doing?

One of the biggest mistakes I hear about in my conversations about canoes is that the canoe itself is never the problem – only the skill of the operator. The point is taken and I understand this sentiment, but it’s actually not true. Getting the wrong type of canoe (ie. a kevlar flat water expedition canoe for a river trip down the Nahanni) can end up frustrating the paddler at best, and can end in tragedy for canoe and loss of life of paddlers at worst.

What To Look For In A Fishing Kayak

Most people have no idea that canoes are often built for a specific purpose, and they end up with the wrong canoe for their type of paddling.

Be sure to ask yourself appropriate questions before seriously considering a model. Here are some sample questions to get you started:

Will you be using your canoe for river paddling?

What about bigger white water rapids?

Will you need a canoe for family fun around the cottage dock or a campground?

Or, will you need a fast and efficient lake trip canoe?

Will you be doing portages and carrying your canoe?

Will you be paddling alone or with two people … or three people?

Perhaps you’ll be using your canoe for hunting or photography, or maybe you’ll want to go fishing mostly.

If so, will you want a trolling motor?

These are only some of the questions you’ll want to ask, and they’re all related only to the type of canoeing you’ll be doing.

If you’re unsure, take a look at this chart. You’ll find a brief summary of what to look for in a canoe depending on your purpose.

Choosing a New Canoe

Purpose of Your New CanoeBest Style/DesignBest MaterialMust-Have Features
Fishing, Hunting, Photography, Recreation14-15 foot length with a wide beam and flat bottom with a keel and maybe a square stern for a trolling motorFiberglass and aluminumStability in the form of width and flat bottom shape
White Water River TripsSpecific whitewater design with blunt ends and lots of rockerRoyalex or T-Formex Extreme toughness for banging against rocks in fast water, and maneuverability
Flat Water Lake Trips15-19 foot designs built with very little rocker and very little weight, gently rounded hullUlta-lite kevlar or carbonExtreme lightness for carrying several miles on a trip, lots of cargo capacity, efficient, asymmetrical design for maximizing energy return
Solo Trips11-15 foot designs with a rounded hull shape and one seat near the balance point in the centerRoyalex for fast rivers and Carbon for lake tripsBalanced specifically for one canoeist and lots of tumblehome for easy paddle access to the water and to maximize cargo space
Collection or occasional useClassic Prospector design which is the most iconic design in the worldCedar strip (wood)All wood design with interior ribs and glossy finish – excellent for aesthetics and purist pursuits
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Quiet water fishing would be a perfect activity done in a very stable recreational canoe made of Fiberglass or Aluminum

Fishing, Hunting and Recreation

The canoe you’ll need will be wide for stability and it will have a flat bottom which also adds to the initial stability and the stable feel (won’t feel tippy like you’ll fall over at any moment). It will have a keel which also adds to the stability of the craft. If you think you may want a trolling motor or a small gas motor, a square stern (or at least a motor mount of some kind) may be an option.

The material for overall good performance and durability would be a tough fiberglass or aluminum. They are not considered light, but weight considerations are not the highest priority for those using a canoe mainly for fishing or hunting or family fun at the cottage.

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A Whitewater canoe is different from a recreational canoe in virtually every way. Don’t buy one if you just want to fish on the pond or the lake in front of your cottage

White Water River Canoeing

If you’re serious about running the big rapids, you’ll need a canoe that’s tough. Royalex, T-Formex and a few others will offer that toughness. Those are materials specifically made for whitewater canoes. The design of a whitewater canoe is also very specific to that purpose. It has lots of rocker (think old-style rocking chair rockers) which allow the canoe to be turned very easily.

Flat Water Lake Tripping Canoe

Canoes meant for lake tripping have very special design features which are quite opposite to whitewater canoes, so if you buy the wrong canoe for your purpose, you won’t like anything about it! A lake trip canoe is longer than most whitewater canoes since length plays a role in efficiency of travel on flat water.

Weight is a huge consideration since usually one person will be carrying the canoe on his/her shoulders for up to several miles on a canoe trip over rough portage trails. Asymmetrical canoes (shaped differently at the front than at the back) are also more efficient, so they offer the most forward momentum for each unit of energy put out by the paddler.

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A solo canoe is also a very different craft from any other canoe. It’s a great alternative to kayaking and offers the ability to carry lots of gear and animals over extended distances


Solo Canoeing

If you think you’ll spend most of your time alone in a canoe, it would probably be wise to consider a canoe meant for such a purpose. There are solo canoe designs for rivers and the lakes, and they are quite different one from the other. However, they are both meant to maximize the efficiency, safety and overall experience of a single paddler as opposed to 2 or 3 paddlers.

So be sure to speak to your salesperson at the canoe store about your specific type of canoeing in order to properly move in the right direction while considering the next factor in your purchase of a new canoe.

Collector or Purist Canoe

If you’d like a canoe that you could store and display inside your home because of its beauty and warmth, you might consider a cedar strip canoe made by any one of several custom canoe companies. These canoes function well, but they are not excessively light, nor inexpensive.

They can easily cost twice as much as a good kevlar canoe while only excelling in beauty and nostalgic prospector design. I’ve seen cedar strip canoes proudly displayed permanently (except for the annual day trip around the lake) in someone’s gorgeous living room at an expensive lakeside log cabin estate.


2. What is my Budget?

Canoe prices vary greatly, but you’ll likely need at least $1,500 to start shopping for a decent new canoe, and you can easily end up approaching $4,000 or even more if you choose all the best features available for your canoe design.

If this seems a bit on the high side, you may want to consider buying pre-owned canoes since the price is most often closer to half that of a new model. If you’d like to know more about the average price of a new or used canoe, check out our complete guide where we list 48 examples of new and used canoes and their prices.


3. Which Brand Names Are Best? Do They Offer a Warranty?

While there are some lower-end brands whose canoes are not meant to excel in anything other than an attractive price, most other brands with competitive prices also offer models with competitive features, so it’s tough to go wrong.

For example, brands like Coleman, Sports Pal, and Pelican are budget canoes that are typically heavy and inefficient, but they absolutely do fill a niche in the overall canoe market.

On the other hand, the list of higher-end canoes that anyone would be glad to have would involve dozens of brands that include (but not limited to) brands like Swift, Langford, Wenonah, Souris River, Old Town, Mad River, Nova Craft, H2O, and Esquif.

Some canoe manufacturers offer lifetime warranties to the original owner against defects in materials and workmanship. These warranties are important as it reflects a desire to stand behind the value of their product. Make certain to inquire about the warranties that are included in your canoe before you finalize your purchase.

“I was born to paddle. As long as I have a paddle in my hand, I’m more than satisfied”

Mike Cichanowski – Founder of Wenonah Canoes

4. Where Can I Get the Best Deal on a New Canoe?

If you’re looking for a new canoe, you’ll find that some outdoor stores sell some of the brands mentioned above. Sportsman Shows or Outdoor Expos are a great place to find “show only” special deals. Another option would be to visit the manufacturer’s retail showroom. However, to visit a manufacturer, you may have to live in (or make a trip to) Northern Minnesota or Ontario, Canada!

Keep in mind, if you visit Ontario, the province is considerably larger than the state of Texas (about 1.5 times larger) with less than 60% of Texas’ population! Canoe manufacturers have headquarters in all corners of the province other than the extreme north where there are no roads!

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Many of the world’s best-known canoe companies and many custom hand-crafted canoe companies make Ontario their home. You can often get the best deal by visiting them directly to place your order or buying on the spot

Another option that is becoming more popular is to simply build it (features and options) online and pay for it before it’s built. This will give you exactly the features, design, color, and options you’d like without settling for what’s already made. To see an example of this from Swift Canoes click here or visit a reputable canoe manufacturer online to see if they offer this option.

There is a chance you could find a new canoe on Craigslist but the odds are low, so I wouldn’t pin my hopes on finding one other than at a reputable outdoor retailer.


5. What Qualities are Most Important for Me?

This is a huge question, and very important. Every canoe will have qualities that are enviable on one hand, but that very quality will make it rank poorly on another metric. For example, a canoe with rocker makes for a good river canoe, but it makes for a bad lake trip canoe. Conversely, a canoe with shallow rocker is excellent for still water tripping because it tracks straight in the water with few corrective strokes, but that same canoe won’t be able to maneuver properly in a river, and can easily get damaged.

So, if durability is your goal, get a tough fiberglass, T-formex or aluminum canoe. If weight is a primary issue, get Carbon or Kevlar. If aesthetics are important, then you need a cedar strip canoe. If rough trips in the extreme wilderness (especially over land) is your thing, then you might consider a collapsible canoe.

And, if racing is important, you’ll have to settle for a very pricy perfectly round bottom canoe that offers the ultimate in speed and efficiency, but it’s incredibly easy to tip. Even veteran racers capsize in an instant of less than perfect coordination during a race.

Other factors that can take the #1 spot on your list of important qualities can include (as mentioned earlier) price, looks, speed, color and name brand.

Remember, most qualities on a canoe will come with the unfortunate condition of sacrificing other qualities, so it’s like most things in life. If you want this, then you can’t have that. Canoes are an exercise in compromise!


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Canoes come in a wide variety of hull designs that offer the paddler very different qualities, so be sure to know what they are before you commit to buying a canoe

6. Are There Different Styles of Canoe?

We’ve talked about the different styles of canoe for different purposes like river canoeing, lake canoeing, recreational canoeing, etc. but I didn’t talk much about hull design. I think this topic deserves a passing mention at this point. There are several different hull designs and some lend themselves better to specific purposes than others. I’ll mention some of the most common designs and why you may want them (or not).

There’s a flat bottom with keel which is the ultimate in stability, but it’s not good for maneuverability or efficient glide. Then, there’s a shallow arch which is better for gliding through the water efficiently, and without a keel, it’s even more efficient.

However, it feels quite tippy and it has very little initial stability (feels tippy at first) but good secondary stability (hard to tip once you get it really leaned over at a 45 degree angle). Finally, there’s a fully round hull shape which offers the best efficiency and speed but the poorest stability. See! Everything is a compromise.

Now, add those hull shapes to canoes with other features like lots of rocker or fiberglass or carbon with no rocker, and you see why the combinations of factors make for an endless variety of canoes that will either suit your needs perfectly or completely frustrate you!

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Canoe Hull profiles play a crucial role in the function of a canoe and they’re just as important a decision-making factor as hull shape

7. Will One Canoe Be Good Enough for Me?

Only you can answer that question, but without writing a whole book on the topic, I’ll say that if you’re only looking to do one very specific activity with your canoe, there’s a good chance one canoe will do the trick. However, if you plan on doing river canoeing and lake tripping, I’m afraid there’s no really good option that will give you the best of what you need in both of those environments.

There are canoes that can be used for multiple purposes, but they won’t be as pleasant to use as the canoes meant specifically for that purpose. For example there are canoes made for tandem lake tripping AND solo canoeing. However, the solo canoeist won’t find it quite as easy to paddle as a dedicated solo canoe, and the shorter length of it will make it less efficient in open water.


What’s the Best Canoe for Beginners?

The best canoe for someone getting started in flat water lake tripping is a Keewaydin 17 by Swift Canoe Company. This is an efficient, durable canoe with differential rocker that offers the most versatility in a lake trip canoe while averaging out all the best features in one canoe.


Final Note on Buying a BRAND NEW Canoe

When you’re speaking with a sales representative about your new purchase, but sure to talk at some length about warranties and return policies. These are not options you’ll typically get when buying a used canoe. Also, inquire about being able to take the canoe onto the water for a test. Most retailers selling new canoes will offer than option, so it’s best to take advantage of it.

When buying new, you won’t have to be worried about scratches, dents or any other damage whether it affects only the looks of the canoe or the actual integrity of the boat. That’s the good news! On the downside, you’ll have to shell out a few more greenbacks to get one.

If you might consider used, you can check out our article on what to look for when buying a used canoe right HERE! I’ve taken advantage of buying used a few times and I’ll share my experience!


Pete Stack

After 40 years of experience canoeing, camping, fishing, hiking and climbing in the Ontario wilderness, Pete is eager to combine his love for the outdoors with his passion to write. It is our hope that his knowledge can be passed on through this site and on Rugged Outdoors Guide on YouTube.

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