Canoe Buying Tips: Choosing the Best Material

The material a canoe is made of affects performance, durability, weight, aesthetics and price. Choosing a canoe is a matter of weighing the pros and cons. When considering price think long-term investment. The canoe you buy today may last a hundred years.

WOOD

Though the history of wooden canoes dates back centuries, they’re hardly a thing of the past. Even with space-age materials, it’s hard to beat the feel and aesthetics of wood on water. Most cedar strip and wood and canvas canoes today are handmade by DIYers. The rest are custom-made by woodworkers, and their high price reflects it. Yet, with indoor storage and a small amount of yearly maintenance, your canoe will be a legacy for your grandkids to enjoy.

Pros: The aesthetics, quiet paddling and luxurious feel. With just a few woodworking tools, $1,000 worth of materials, and a hell of a lot of patience you can build your own piece of history.

Cons: If you don’t build your own, it’ll cost you—a lot. Regular TLC and weight are potential deterrents.

Best Use: Voyageurs, cottagers and anyone mad for trad.

COMPOSITES

Manufacturers have long favored the mainstays of the composite scene—fiberglass, aramid (Kevlar and Twaron, etc.) and carbon—in their quest to bring the triumvirate of canoe virtues to paddlers: durable, lightweight and inexpensive. It used to be that you could have two of those characteristics, but not all three. That has begun to change as manufacturers experiment with a variety of new fabrics and resins. The composite canoe category includes the widest range of specs, from $999 cheapskates to $3,500 featherweights. Some manufacturers are now offering composites as river runners and wilderness tripping alternatives to Royalex.

Pros: Exceptional strength to weight ratios. Performance-oriented shapes. Low maintenance.

Cons: Labor-intensive processes and premium materials simply cost more. Generally, lighter means less durable.

Best For: Lakewater trippers, racers, and magazine editors who don’t want to lift heavy things.

ALUMINUM

The popularity of recreational canoeing is credited by many historians to the mass-produced aluminum Grumman canoe of the ‘70s, which took paddling out of the do- main of the handy and wealthy, putting it into the hands of the people. Noble history aside, manufacturing options have come a long way since riveting sheets of aluminum together. Still today, some outfitters, camps and duck hunters prefer its durability.

Pros: Lasts forever. Relatively inexpensive.

Cons: Heavy, cold and noisy. Aesthetically as pleasing as a B52 bomber. Best For: Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty.

Best For: Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty.

PLASTIC

Many less expensive canoes are made by heating and spinning plastic pellets inside a mold in- side a giant oven. Historically, this construction method didn’t allow for sharp and narrow entry lines of more performance-oriented designs, however it’s an inexpensive process creating durable canoes. Expect your plastic canoe to be dragged to the shore and then slide over rocks without complaint.

Pros: Inexpensive. Colorful. Virtually no maintenance required.

Cons: Susceptible to sun damage. Lack of rigidity can lead to poor performance over time. Heavy.

Best For: Recreational paddlers and rambunctious kids. Perfect for a cottage.

SOFT SHELLS

Travel canoes are made of durable and flexible reinforced fabrics like PVC, polyester and nylon. Some require setting up an internal struc- ture, giving form to the fabric; while others are completely inflatable. Many will pleasantly surprise you with their durability, performance and price. Some models are rated for class IV whitewater.

Pros: Fit your canoe in your closet and trunk, or check it on your charter flight. Often lightweight.

Cons: Some assembly required.

Best For: Remote expeditions and city slickers strapped for space.

BG_2016_0.jpgThis article first appeared in the 2016 Paddling Buyer’s Guide. For more great content, subscribe to Canoeroots, Adventure Kayak, or Rapid. You can visit the Paddling Buyer’s Guide online here.

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