Types Of Canoes (Beginner’s Guide)

When you think of canoes, you may be only thinking of the one you used a few summers ago when exploring the great outdoors with your family. 

However, there are a wide variety of canoes.

Canoes can vary in material, construction style, and seating capacities. 

This article will cover the different types of canoe materials, hull designs, and seating capacities that are out on the market.

Get ready to learn about what type of canoe would fit you and your family the best.

Canoe Materials

Let’s begin by talking about what kinds of materials manufacturers can use to make canoes.

You’ll see that there are a lot of different types of materials that are used to make canoes.

family on canoe

Birch Bark

Birch bark canoes are classic.

Native Americans have been using birch bark canoes for thousands of years.

Built on a frame of white cedar ribs and planks, manufacturers cover these canoes with birch bark, making these canoes lightweight and easy to steer.

As beautiful and light as they can be, birch bark canoes are very fragile.

Pros:

  • Beautiful: birch bark canoes have a lovely texture and feel to them
  • Lightweight: birch bark canoes are easy to steer, even for beginners

Cons:

  • Lack of Durability: Birch bark canoes wear out very quickly. They are delicate, particularly compared to the other types of canoes on this list, and require constant maintenance.
  • Expensive: Despite their lack of durability, these canoes are incredibly expensive since they are handmade.

Wood and Canvas

Another classic type of canoe, wood and canvas canoes, has been popular since the 19th century when they started replacing birch bark canoes. 

Pros:

  • Beautiful: like birch bark canoes, wood and canvas canoes give off a classic vibe
  • Lightweight: wood and canvas are easy to steer, even for beginners
  • Easy to Repair: Maintenance isn’t as expensive as it is for birch bark canoes
  • Moderately Durable: While less durable than aluminum and other modern types of canoes, wood, and canvas canoes are not as delicate as many would believe them to be
  • Great for flatwater or moderate whitewater

Cons:

  • Lack of Durability Compared to Modern Canoes: Wood and canvas canoes are not as durable as modern canoes made from aluminum, fiberglass, etc.

Wood-Planked

Wood-planked or wood strip canoes are similar to wood and canvas canoes, but the planking is tight, and there are no gaps.

This means there is no canvas layer. 

Pros:

  • Beautiful: like birch bark and wood and canvas canoes, wood-planked canoes give off a classic vibe
  • Suitable for beginners: paddles easily and great for flatwater paddling

Cons:

  • Heavy: not suitable for portage
  • Frequent maintenance: maintenance may be more difficult since manufacturers mainly produced these canoes in the early 20th century, and there are fewer in production now
  • Not suited to moving water: these types of canoes are best for flatwater paddling at resorts

Fiberglass

Fiberglass canoes are a type of composite canoe.

Manufacturers create fiberglass canoes from a mix of fibers and resin.

These canoes come in many different shapes and sizes. 

Fiberglass canoes make for some of the most efficient and maneuverable canoes on the market.

Manufacturers have designed them for flatwater as well as whitewater.

Many canoeists like to use fiberglass canoes because they combine a streamlined design with a great mix of features. 

Pros:

  • Good durability: While they are not as durable as aluminum canoes, fiberglass canoes can last you a decent amount of time. However, you will need to be more careful in protecting them from the elements. You should always store a fiberglass canoe in a shed or someplace away from the sun’s UV rays.
  • Relatively lightweight: Unlike aluminum canoes, fiberglass canoes can be very light. However, at the same time, the weight depends on how manufacturers constructed the canoe in question. Since fiberglass canoes can be so varied, some will naturally be heavier than others.
  • Affordable: fiberglass canoes are generally inexpensive, though not as cheap as most aluminum canoes.
  • Versatile: Though they thrive best in flatwater, they are also suitable for whitewater, although you’d have to exercise more caution.

Cons:

  • Stiffness: Fiberglass is a rigid material, so these canoes are speedy but not good at handling impact. This is why you need to be careful if you plan to use a fiberglass canoe for whitewater.

Aluminum

Aluminum canoes are some of the most durable canoes out there.

By itself, aluminum is not a strong material.

As such, manufacturers mix aluminum with other metals to create a strong material.

Most aluminum canoes are for family trips or other recreational outings that don’t demand too much maintenance.

Pros:

  • Sturdy and durable: aluminum canoes will last a long time. You can leave them outside for long periods without a lot of damage. Sun, rain, snow, etc. will not damage this kind of canoe.
  • Low maintenance: Since they are so tough, it’s hard to dent an aluminum canoe. They can survive many rounds of recreational outings.
  • Budget price: Aluminum canoes tend to be the most economical. Manufacturers produced these en masse throughout the 20th century, so getting a used one will not be expensive.
  • Great for beginners, family outings, and flatwater trips

Cons:

  • Weight: Aluminum canoes are amongst the heaviest. As such, they can be hard to portage or move across dry land. Therefore, an aluminum canoe may not be your best bet if you need to portage your canoe for a great distance before you will be using it.
  • Material: If you prefer a quiet canoeing experience, an aluminum canoe may not be for you since it can make sounds echo. The aluminum will also absorb a lot of heat during summer and make touching it uncomfortable.
  • Aesthetic: Aluminum canoes tend to be somewhat “basic” looking. They consist of two metal pieces welded together. 
  • Easy to get stuck on rocks: it can be easy to get stuck on rocks if you’re using an aluminum canoe. This can be frustrating, particularly if you’re a beginner.

Kevlar

A type of lightweight canoe, Kevlar canoes are tough and sturdy.

Made from the same material that manufacturers use to make bulletproof vests, Kevlar canoes offer an exciting blend of characteristics.

Pros:

  • Speed: They are very light, so they can be easy to use, particularly if you’re a beginner.
  • Aesthetic: Since manufacturers use molds to create them, Kevlar canoes come in varied shapes and sizes. 
  • Extremely Lightweight: Kevlar canoes are amongst the lightest canoes out there. They are easy to lift and portage, so they are a great choice if you are going on a trip where you need to walk a lot.

Cons:

  • Pricey: Kevlar canoes are more expensive than canoes made from materials such as wood and aluminum.
  • (Relative) Lack of Durability: Lighter Kevlar canoes are more susceptible to dents.
  • Maintenance: Like fiberglass canoes, you need to protect your Kevlar canoes from UV exposure. Repairs can also be expensive.

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber canoes are another type of canoe.

Similar to Kevlar canoes, they are lightweight.

Made from carbon fiber composites, these canoes have a rigid structure that makes them perfect for racing.

Pros:

  • Great for Racing: If you’re looking to buy a canoe for racing, consider getting a carbon fiber canoe.
  • Aesthetic: Like fiberglass and Kevlar canoes, carbon fiber canoes come in unique designs since manufacturers create them with molds.
  • Lightweight: As with Kevlar and fiberglass canoes, carbon fiber canoes allow for easy portage.

Cons:

  • Sensitive to Impact: If you’re going to use your canoe on a trip where you will expect a lot of impacts, don’t choose a carbon fiber canoe. These canoes are speedy but not good at withstanding impact. They won’t last long if you subject them to too much.
  • Price: Like many other canoes made of composite materials, carbon fiber canoes are pricey. At times, they can be more expensive than Kevlar canoes.

Polyethylene

Manufacturers mold polyethylene canoes from plastic. 

Like Kevlar and fiberglass canoes, these canoes tend to be slippery, so they can slide over rocks easily.

You will not find it hard to row out of a rocky area like you may have with an aluminum canoe.

Pros:

  • Budget price: Polyethylene canoes are pretty inexpensive.
  • Durable: Like Kevlar, Polyethylene is flexible and can take heavy hits.

Cons:

  • Heavy: They are heavier than Kevlar and carbon fiber canoes.
  • Sensitive to the Elements: Like Kevlar and the other modern canoes, these canoes are sensitive to the sun
  • Repair can be more difficult than with composite materials such as Royalex

Royalex

Finally, let’s talk about Royalex.

Royalex is a material that is durable, tough, and light.

Made from different laminations of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) with a vinyl outer skin and a foam cell core, Royalex canoes tend to be in the same price range as carbon fiber canoes.

Like carbon fiber canoes, Royalex canoes are lightweight and built for speed.

They are ideal for whitewater paddlers.

Pros:

  • Reasonable price: in the same price range as carbon fiber canoes
  • Durable: easy to repair
  • Flexible: Different skill levels can use this canoe

Cons:

  • Moderately Heavy: If you’re looking for a canoe that is good for portage, this may not be the best choice.
  • Limited Shapes: Royalex is not strictly a composite material. Manufacturers thermoformed Royalex canoes in a mold, so many Royalex models are blunt-ended and less efficient. In comparison, carbon fiber canoes have sharper bow and stern stems, making them faster.
  • Sensitive to the Elements: As with many other types of modern canoes, Royalex canoes are sensitive to UV rays. They are also sensitive to rapid changes in temperature.
  • Brittle: Your Royalex canoe is not very impact-resistant.
  • Non-Recyclable: If you are concerned about the environment, perhaps you should look into getting another type of canoe. Royalex canoes are non-recyclable.

Canoe Hull Designs

Let’s now take a look at the different types of canoe hull designs.

Flat-Bottomed Hulls

Generally speaking, the flatter the bottom of a canoe, the more steady the canoe is.

This means beginners and novices should look for flat-bottomed hulls.

Flat-bottomed hulls are also great for those who want to use their canoes for fishing, since speed wouldn’t be a concern.

Pros:

  • Great for sports
  • Great primary stability
  • Stable, good for fishing
  • Good for novice and beginner paddlers
  • Great for paddling in calm water, since it is difficult to capsize in calm conditions

Cons:

  • Not as swift as canoes with rounder bottoms
  • Not as flexible as rounded bottom canoes. If the weather suddenly changes, you may find it hard to control a flat-bottom canoe

Rounder Bottom Hulls

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a speedy and maneuverable canoe, you should look for a canoe with a rounder bottom.

As such, if you want to use your canoe to explore different places, you should get a canoe with a moderately rounded bottom.

Canoes with a fully round bottom are very rare, but canoe racers sometimes use them on calm water.

Pros:

  • Swift hull
  • More maneuverable than canoes with flat-bottomed hulls
  • Suitable for a larger range of weather and water conditions than flat-bottomed hulls

Cons:

  • Can be harder to balance, particularly for beginners and novices

Canoe Seating Capacity

Finally, let’s now take a look at the different types of canoe seating arrangements.

Solo Canoes

Manufacturers built solo canoes for one person.

They are also known as one-person canoes or one-man canoes.

If you are using a solo canoe, you will be responsible for all of the powering and steering.

You may want to consider using a kayak paddle so you can strike the perfect balance.

That way, you won’t have to switch sides while paddling and will avoid exhausting yourself.

Pros:

  • Lightweight: Solo canoes tend to be light and short. The seat is in the center, so it is easier to make it stable. Since solo canoes are light, this means they are easier to portage as well.
  • Flexible: Solo canoes can come with room to store goods or change where your seat is. This means you can change it into a multi-user canoe if you wanted to. 
  • Give you a great opportunity to practice: Solo canoes give you a chance to improve your powering and steering skills that you may not be able to develop when canoeing with others.

Cons:

  • Not recommended for beginners to canoeing or kayaking: a solo canoe can be hard to balance by yourself

Two-Person Canoe

Most canoes are two-person or tandem canoes.

While one-person canoes tend to be 14 feet long, these canoes range from 16 to 17 feet long.

The two people need to work together to ensure that the canoe is stable and going in the right direction.

The person at the back should be responsible for steering.

On the other hand, the bow paddler, or the person in the front, is responsible for most of the powering.

Steering is easier for more experienced canoers, so the person at the back should be the more experienced of the pair.

Here is a brief guide on how to paddle a two-person canoe.

Pros:

  • Great for building teamwork
  • Have more room for gear and legroom
  • Can be a solo canoe

Cons:

  • Can be more expensive than a solo canoe

Three-Person Canoe

Three-person canoes are very flexible. 

You can turn them into one-person canoes or two-person canoes.

By sitting in the middle seat as you would in a one-person canoe, you can use the other parts of the canoe to store your stuff.

However, this may come at the cost of having to learn how to balance a longer canoe all by yourself.

Pros:

  • Great for building teamwork if you plan to have three canoers at once
  • Have more room for gear and legroom
  • Can be a solo canoe or a two-person canoe
  • Great for families, since children can use the middle seat

Cons:

  • Can be more expensive than a solo canoe or two-person canoe due to length

Four-Person Canoes

Four-person canoes are like three-person canoes, only longer and more expensive. 

The two people at the front and the back are responsible for paddling, with two others (usually children) in the middle.

This means the two paddlers will have to put more effort into steering and powering the canoe.

Pros:

  • Great for families, particularly families with two children, since the children can sit in the middle while the parents row
  • Have more room for gear and legroom
  • Can be a solo canoe, two-person canoe, or three-person canoe

Cons:

  • Can be more expensive than other canoes due to length
  • Can be heavier and more difficult to steer due to length and weight
  • Trips can take longer with this kind of canoe since maneuverability is limited

Conclusion

All in all, there are a wide variety of canoes, from birch bark to Kevlar to Royalex.

In addition to canoes with flat-bottomed hulls, there are also solo canoes, two-person canoes, and four-person canoes. 

You can decide what kind of canoe to buy by asking yourself the following questions: 

  • Am I an experienced canoer? 
  • Where do I want to canoe? 
  • Do I want a heavy or light canoe? 
  • What is my budget?

We hope this guide has helped you understand the different types of canoes out on the market.

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