Cover image for the solo canoe buyer's guide

The Best Solo Canoe for Fun Lake Expeditions

Regardless of whether you’re planning a three-day river paddle or a simple hour or two around the lake, a good canoe has to be comfortable, durable, and easy to cut through the water. We compared nine popular single-rider canoes on these aspects and a number of others, and we think the Old Town Discovery 119 is the best solo canoe you can buy. At 49 lbs and just shy of 12 feet long, it's the perfect size and weight for a stable ride and easy maneuverability. Its three-layer polyethylene hull is also durable and designed to tackle nearly any waters while still providing great comfort. Article Summary

Canoeing is traditionally done by two people or more, but there are solo canoes made especially for the purpose of accommodating just a single person. Solo canoeing is popular among photographers, nature enthusiasts, and simply those who enjoy their solitude – everyone needs some alone time every now and again! Canoeing on your own can be difficult for novices who don’t have much experience, but for those who have been out with others before, going solo can be a great time and a refreshing break.

There are several things about a canoe that can make it a good buy or a bad one. Besides making sure it has enough space and can support your weight, one of the most important aspects to look at is durability. Although you might not be taking your canoe on Class V rapids or other serious waters, you still want it to be tough enough to handle unforeseen circumstances so you’re not abandoning ship because you accidentally clipped an unseen rock. You’ll also want to be comfortable as you paddle; no one wants to have their back kill them because the seating setup is stiff as a board.

While durability and comfort are just two of the top aspects to think about, we took a look at nine popular models in search of the best solo canoe. We considered all types of users during our research, from body size and weight to actual usage like simple lake paddles or long river excursions. We also thought about transport, since the ideal model has to be easy to get around for both cars and trucks alike. After comparing build quality and other specifications, plus reading through actual customer reviews to hear about unique experiences using each model, we’ve determined that the three canoes below are the best for those who want to go solo.

Product image of the Old Town Discovery 119
Product image of the Grumman Solo Canoe
Product image of the Old Town NEXT
Old Town Discovery 119
Grumman Solo Canoe
Old Town NEXT
Rating

4.7/5

4.6/5

4.6/5
Material
3-layer polyethylene
Aluminum
3-layer polyethylene
Length
11' 9"
12' 9"
13'
Width (Beam)
32.5"
29.5"
29"
Depth
13.5"
12.9"
11.5"
Weight
49 lbs
48 lbs
59 lbs
Max Load
450-500 lbs
545-585 lbs
450 lbs
Hull
Bottom: Shallow arch
Sides: Straight
Rocker: Moderate
Unspecified
Bottom: Flat
Sides: Tumblehome
Rocker: Minimum

The best solo canoe overall

Old Town Canoes & Kayaks is a trusted brand in the watercraft community and they have been delivering performance crafts to the public for well over 100 hundred years. In terms of versatility, durable construction, comfort and portability, the Old Town Discovery 119 is definitely in the top tier of independent canoes available on the market. In addition, this canoe is a fantastic value, giving you exactly what you need for less than some of the other comparable solo canoes out there.

This canoe is constructed of durable, three-layer polyethylene molding, vinyl and wood. This should easily be able to handle tough water and a few run-ins with underwater objects here and there, but as always, it’s best to avoid hitting the hull whenever possible. The entire thing only weighs in at 49 lbs (relatively normal but on the lighter side), but it can support a load of around 450-500 lbs, which really shows you how sturdy the construction is.

From end to end the Discover 119 measures 11’ 9″ long, making it a little on the shorter side compared to other canoes, but that also gives it great handling and some versatility in terms of where you can take it. It features slightly flared sides to keep water out without making you reach a long way just to get the paddle over, and its webbed seating is fairly comfortable despite not having a backrest (something to keep in mind if you have back issues, although there are plenty of aftermarket seats available which is what most users end up buying).

Although its seat is minimal, this boat is designed more for seated activities than stand-up. The rounded bottom makes it tip with moderate ease; however, this is also what makes it so easy to paddle and handle extremely well. Customers love the swift handling, durability and strength of this canoe for recreational purposes, as well as slightly more demanding courses.

The Old Town Discovery 119 made our top pick because anyone can pick it up, hit the river and have a great experience. It has enough stability and maneuverability to be approachable for beginners, but enough performance and responsiveness to appeal to seasoned watercraft enthusiasts as well. One thing that consumers do recommend for this canoe, however, is a backrest due to the low-profile seat. After that addition, many people claim it’s the best canoe they’ve ever had.

A longer, more durable canoe

If the Old Town Discovery 119 wasn’t such a great deal, we might’ve gone with the aluminum-bodied Gumman Solo Canoe as our first choice. Grumman is one of the most popular aluminum canoe manufacturers out there, and they are well-loved for their durably-made products. In fact, there are just as many used Grumman canoes on the market as there are new ones – that’s a true mark of quality that any brand strives for.

To start, this canoe is almost 13’ long and weighs in at 48lbs – roughly a foot longer than our top pick and just a hair less in weight. This extra length and weight savings contributes to straighter tracking and easier portability, although it can still support a massive 545 load capacity. The Grumman is a relatively narrow canoe, and the straight sides provide stability as well as a little protection from water entry.

The best feature about this boat, and all Grumman canoes for that matter, is durability. Grumman canoes are made of full aluminum bodies, making them arguably the toughest on the market. Grummans that were made in the 70s and 80s can still be found on the used market in near-mint condition – in other words, these things last for a LONG time. The price is pretty far up there for a Grumman – over twice that of our top pick – but the durability and longevity alone is enough to still be a great value.

Unfortunately, there are a few main gripes consumers have with the Grumman Solo Canoe, which is why we’ve chose it second over the Discovery 119. First, because of the aluminum construction, this canoe can be loud if you bump it with the paddle. This can be irritating if you’re taking on rougher waters. Also, since aluminum conducts heat and cold very well, this boat will retain both. If you’re out in this boat in anything outside of moderate conditions, you could be in for a toasty or chilly ride.

Outside of these minor drawbacks, the feedback on the Grumman Solo Canoe is overwhelmingly positive due to the excellent and timeless construction these aluminum canoes feature. If you are an avid outdoors enthusiast and want something you can pass on through your family, this might be the best solo canoe for you.

A comfortable hybrid alternative

Our third choice is actually another model from Old Town: the NEXT Solo Canoe. This model is a bit perplexing from a traditional standpoint, because it is actually a cross between a canoe and a kayak. The combination of these two boat styles has yielded a watercraft that performs well in different waters and is loved by consumers for its versatility and performance.

The first noticeable trait about this canoe is that it has a full seating system with back support, one of the main things that helped secure it into our top three. This is something that can make a huge difference on long rides, especially for those that have pre-existing back issues. The seat itself is fairly comfortable, and it is even removable if you prefer not to have it or if you’d rather replace it with a different aftermarket seat.

The hull of this boat is triple-layered with polyethylene molding, vinyl and wood, just like the Discovery 119, which gives it great durability and makes for a quiet, comfortable ride. Additionally, the tumblehome-style hull makes for easy paddling since you won’t have to stick your paddle way out a wider side. Although you can’t stow as much in this model as our top two (since it has less storage capacity), it is great for tracking straight and fast along longer distances thanks to its sleek profile and 13-foot length.

The only real drawback to this canoe over the others is the weight. At 59 pounds, this is the heaviest boat on our list, and a fairly heavy one when compared to other solo canoes on the market. While this does add to the stability of the boat, it can also make portability more difficult and require more effort to paddle once you’re in the water (although the weight makes it cut through water like a champ). At the end of the day, nine pounds isn’t the end of the world, but it’s something to be considered if you go out often.

Overall, the Old Town NEXT Canoe is a great option for someone who wants a smooth and straight ride, a comfortable seating system, and a great value. Its unique cross-breed design between a kayak and a canoe makes for a fun and easy-to-handle experience.

How we picked our top three

To outsiders, canoes might seem to have a fairly simple design, but anyone with experience knows that even the slightest variances in size, weight, material, and design can make big differences on long paddles. Given the variability with canoes in general, and especially solo canoes, we wanted to give you options that you could consistently rely upon, transport well and feel comfortable and prepared in. Below are a few of the main aspects we looked at when choosing the best solo canoes.

Material quality and durability

One of the first main aspects we compared models on was the materials used to build them. Canoes are too expensive to be replacing once every few months, which is why material quality and durability is such a huge factor. Also, depending on your skill level and usual terrain for canoeing, you might not just be sitting on a pond during the whole outing and you’ll need something that can withstand some punishment. With this assumption in mind, we compared materials used to craft the canoe and rated them. Full-wood canoes look great and are the most traditional, but they are also the most susceptible to damage if you unexpectedly drag them along a sharp rock beneath the water. We ideally looked for hulls that had some sort of plastic or metal built in, seeing as these would stand up to hitting debris much easier and also be more sturdy through tougher currents or rapids.

Comfort

Everyone has had the painful experience of sitting too long on a hard surface, and the dull ache that follows. There is a lot of variability with the comfort of any given canoe, and you can find seating anywhere from nylon webbing to fully-upright padded chairs situated in the canoe. With that said, the great thing about this aspect is that there are a number of ultra-comfortable aftermarket seats available. As a matter of fact, most users end up buying aftermarket seats regardless of what comes standard. Knowing this, we definitely considered comfort in our scoring of each model, but it wasn’t a top-tier focus.

Weight

There is a pretty good reason tugboats aren’t steered with an oar – they’re too heavy. This logic also applies to canoes, in that the heavier they are, the less maneuverability they will have. On the other hand, going with a canoe that’s too light could sacrifice key stability and durability in the water. Finding the happy medium between weight, maneuverability, and stability is important to having a comfortable, controllable ride. In our research, we’ve found that around 45-55 lbs is the sweet spot, but this also depends on the shaping of the hull and sides.

Ease of use

Ease of use can be boiled down to a few different things, piggy-backing off some of the aspects already discussed above. First, the design and weight of the canoe will determine its maneuverability in different settings, but will also determine how stable it is on the water. A canoe that’s shorter or lighter will be easier to handle and turn in the water, but one that’s longer or heavier would be faster and better at cutting through tough currents (this is a generalization, but for the most part is accurate in our experience). It was our priority to find canoes that would perform well, but could also stand up to the demands of stability for recreational users.

Things to consider before buying

Although buying a canoe is fairly straightforward, everyone’s needs differ. While you might be someone that only goes out every once in awhile, another person might be an avid canoer who paddles out every other day. Or vice versa. Below are a few questions to consider before buying to ensure you buy the best solo canoe for your particular level of activity.

How often will you be hitting the water?

This question is huge. If you’re only going to go out once or twice every summer, you aren’t going to need a $3,000 masterpiece rigged with all the bells and whistles – a more cost-effective and simple canoe will do you just fine. In contrast, if you’re hitting the water consistently with regular frequency, you’ll want to invest a bit more in a durable and comfortable craft that can not only get you where you’re going, but do so with efficiency and sure-footedness.

What type of waters will you be canoeing on?

Identifying the types of canoeing you will be doing will determine a lot of the larger aspects of your boat. If you’re going to be trekking or going on long trips, you’ll need a lot of storage and a hull that is relatively stable with a flat bottom. In contrast, if you’re going to be traveling down fast rivers and looking for the most maneuverability, a round-bottom hull and sharp entry line will help with performance and tracking.

How different aspects of a canoe affect its performance

There’s s a ton of variability in canoe design, and even the slightest variations can affect how the craft performs. We’re going to break down each of the basic components to show you exactly how they affect the performance of a canoe in the water. This way, you can use what you’ve learned here to choose the best solo canoe sizing and design for you.

Length

One of the most important aspects of a canoe, and one that will make a significant difference in pricing, is the length. Longer canoes tend to travel faster and straighter, but they won’t be as easy to steer as shorter canoes. If you need to make tight turns for things like whitewater and going down swift rivers, a shorter canoe may be right for you.

Width

The width (or beam) of a canoe is a big factor in determining what kind of waters you’ll be able to traverse. A narrow boat will provide easier handling and performance, but a wider boat will be harder to tip and provide more stability for a comfortable ride – especially if you have a fully packed canoe.

Depth

Just like the other components, more depth will take away things like handling and responsiveness, but it will add in other areas. A deeper boat has more carrying capacity, so a deep canoe can be handy on long voyages, and it can also help deal with waves, but it won’t be as quick.

Hull

The hull of a canoe is the outer construction – more specifically: the bottom. The bottom shape of a canoe can make a huge difference in its performance and how easy it is to take out for beginners and kids. There are four main shapes of hull: flat bottom, round bottom, shallow arch and shallow V. A flat bottom will offer the most stability; but the disadvantage to this is that when it tips, there is almost nothing you can do to stop it from capsizing. Round-bottom canoes area easy to tip, but they are difficult to capsize due to the rounded bottom. The two others, a shallow arch and shallow v are in between the flat and rounded bottoms. A shallow arch is a little less stable than the shallow V, but the “V” shape creates more surface area coming into contact with the water, which makes a slower boat.

Sides

The last characteristic of canoes we’re going to look at is the sides. The sides aren’t quite as important as the hull or width, but they can still make a difference. The three different types of sides are flares, which prevent tipping and the entry of water into the canoe; tumblehome, which is better for racing and easy paddling due to its narrow construction; and, lastly, straight sides, which are halfway between the two and doesn’t offer any distinct advantages or disadvantages. Flares are great for stability, but since they extend away from the bottom, they do make it harder to paddle, since you’ll have to reach out over the sides to do so. Tumblehome sides lack the width of flares; so, while they make for easier paddling because you won’t have to reach out over the side of the boat, they don’t give you much leeway in the way of stability or water getting into your canoe.

Other things you’ll need to get started

While finding the right canoe is important, there are a few other things you’ll need to get out on the water. Some of these things are absolutely necessary, and some are just there to make your outing a little bit easier.

First, the most important accessory you’ll need is a paddle. While there is a certain amount of variability with canoes, there is an equal amount of variability with paddles. You might think that the canoe is the most important thing to scrutinize, but the right paddles can make a huge difference in your experience as well. Different weights, shafts, stiffness of the paddle and/or blades, and blade shapes are available to get you moving through the water.

Next, you’ll need a life preserver. This is standard boating/watercraft equipment, and you can find a basic one at any sports retailer. If you’re looking for a more advanced or specialized vest, you’ll have to visit a watersports store or look around online. Having the right life preserver is not only important for comfort, but for safety as well.

If you’re going to be embarking on a trip of any significant length, you’ll need something to carry your food in. Since canoeing can be a bit of a drippy endeavor, something waterproof to keep your snacks in can save you from a soggy lunch. A portage pack is the last accessory you’ll need to get started. Portage packs come in many forms, but they are all waterproof vessels for holding food, drinks and any devices you don’t want soaked with river or lake water.

Wrapping it up

Solo canoeing can be a challenge, an adventure, a return to nature and a way to reconnect with yourself via some time alone with the great outdoors. If you’re up to the challenge, there are a few things you’re going to need, and the most essential piece is a good canoe that has a design specifically tailored to the rivers and lakes you’ll be tackling, and also to your desired level of comfort. Choosing the right canoe isn’t rocket science, but it also isn’t a walk in the park – there are a lot of factors to think about. We’ve chosen models with every type of user in mind, so no matter whether you’re a beginner or expert, or whether you’ll be hitting the water once a year or a hundred times, one of our top three picks should serve you well.

Sources

Canoes: How to Choose by REI
Choosing a Canoe by Old Town Canoes & Kayaks

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