Choosing the right canoe

Get familiar with various types of canoe styles and materials when choosing the right canoe for the right paddle.

Kayaking and paddle boarding have become increasingly popular water sports recently. However, canoes and canoeing continue to be a low cost option in which most anyone can participate. According to Michigan State University Extension, now is a great time to get on the water as rivers and lakes are less crowded. It is also a wonderful time to purchase a canoe with many used canoes available and end-of-the-season clearance sales going on. When searching to purchase a canoe, you must decide how and where you will most frequently use it. This will help you determine what style, materials and size you should get.

There are many styles and options to choose from when selecting a canoe. There are tandems, solos, and even three and four person canoes. French voyageurs had canoes that would accommodate as many as 12 paddlers as they traveled the routes of Canada and the Upper Great Lakes. Most canoes today are built for two paddlers and range in size from 14 to18 feet in length. Other passengers can sit between the thwarts, so without much extra gear, an average canoe can hold as many as four people comfortably. Solo canoes are also available and are more slender and balanced for one paddler. The larger canoes built for three and four people weigh more but can handle heavier loads, plus four paddlers can move a canoe at a faster speed.

Canoes today are made of multiple materials including wood, canvas and inflatable material. However, the most common types are made of aluminum, Royalex, plastics and composites such as fiberglass and Kevlar. Canoe materials vary and should be considered for the intended use. The following is a summary of material for the three most commonly used canoes.

For durability and longevity, aluminum is a very good choice. Aluminum canoes are durable in both lakes and rivers, can handle small scrapes on rocks, and are very stable. Many affordable options are offered for canoes of this material. Their greatest attribute is that they require little maintenance and they last for a long time. They can also be stored outside without any cover. The drawbacks of aluminum canoes are they are slow, obtrusive to others, can be hot or cold to the touch depending on the weather, and they stick to rocks instead of sliding over. The two biggest complaints of aluminum canoes are that they are noisy and heavy. Metal makes a loud noise that can be heard from far distances which is often a distraction to others. Most aluminum canoes weigh anywhere from 60 to75 pounds; the older we get the more that weight of these canoes seems to increase!

Royalex canoes are probably the most common types of canoes in use on rivers and lakes today. This material is a popular choice for canoes as it is durable, relatively inexpensive and serves as a good multi-purpose canoe. They come in a variety of colors, makes and price range. The downside of a Royalex canoe is that this material is heavy, limited to certain shapes and needs protection from UV light. Protection from UV light requires a protective coating applied frequently and covering when stored.

Kevlar, a strong and light material used for bullet proof vests, also makes a fine canoe! Most light weight Kevlar canoes are used for lake travel that involves portaging. This is a serious consideration when making long portages where gear has to be carried. It is possible to get a Kevlar tandem canoe that weighs slightly more than 40 pounds, but lightweight Kevlar canoes rarely get used on many rivers because only heavier ones can safely handle the rigors of a rocky river. Therefore, the lighter the canoe the less strength it has. Also, Kevlar canoes are very expensive and require protection from UV light, similar to Royalex canoes.

The 4-H Outdoor Adventure Challenge program incorporates canoeing as one of the challenge activities available to 4-H leaders and youth. Trips down the Manistee River are regular adventures taken by 4-H groups along with training sessions on the river and its shores. Consider getting involved or at least taking a fall canoe trip down a local river—Michigan has lots of wonderful choices! Don’t forget a personal flotation device - and certainly don’t get caught upstream without a paddle! But remember, choosing the right canoe is the first step to any canoeing adventure.

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