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How to Select a Canoe
written by Bass Pro Shops

Factors to consider before purchasing the paddler's craft.
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 Pond or lake travelers wanting maximum stability and tracking should choose a wide, flatbottom canoe with a keel.

Before World War II, wood and canvas canoes were the only type available. In the years since, many other canoe materials have been developed, but some people still prefer these quiet, responsive canoes over any other. Wood/canvas canoes are fragile compared to modern materials and require proper maintenance and storage to prevent moisture absorption and deterioration.   

Most owners of these canoes treat them with great care and only allow their use on calm water. Wood strip canoes, also called "strippers," are constructed by bending strips of wood and gluing the strips together. After gluing, the surface is covered with fiberglass. Damage to wood strip canoes may be difficult to repair, as well as expensive. 

Aluminum canoes require virtually no maintenance and are usually quite durable. Large dents can be a problem, but smaller ones can often be smoothed out easily. The lighter-gauge aluminum canoes are more easily damaged, but the heavier gauges display amazing damage resistance. Because of limitations in the manufacturing process of aluminum canoes, designs are restricted to wide, flat-bottomed styles. 

The hand-laminated materials, fiberglass and Kevlar, are often classified together because of their similar components and manufacturing processes. Fiberglass canoes are easily repaired and require little maintenance. The lower-cost sprayed-in "chopper gun" fiberglass canoes are usually heavy and not a strong as hand-laid canoes. 

Kevlar is an extremely durable fabric and has a very high strength-to-weight ratio. The material is widely used in aerospace applications and bulletproof vests. Kevlar canoes are generally favored for racing and extended flatwater trips because of their light weight and portability. 

The best polyethylene canoes are manufactured by machine molding crosslinkable polyethylene into the desired hull shape, producing a three-layer laminated canoe that is strong and abrasion-resistant. These canoes slide easily over rocks, and are quiet, stable and durable. Even in cases where damage has been severe, they "bounce back" to the original shape due to the material's memory. Because of their damage resistance, crosslinked polyethylene canoes are a good choice for situations involving rough handling or white water.  They're also a favorite of canoe-rental operators. Many first-time buyers find that the crosslinked polyethylene canoes are a good choice for novices or families wanting a low-maintenance, durable canoe. 

 canoe terms 2

Canoes made of ABS laminate or "Royalex" offer exceptional durability with some weight savings, and compare favorably with polyethylene canoes in memory and abrasion resistance. These canoes can even be bent in half without major damage to the hull. When released, the canoe pops back into shape with very little distortion. Canoes made of ABS laminates are a good choice for situations involving hard use, such as extended wilderness trips and whitewater, or circumstances that might include rough handling over difficult portage trails. These canoes are usually lighter weight than polyethylene canoes and come in a variety of hull designs. 

In addition to material, you will want to consider design features when choosing a canoe.  Since there are a tremendous variety of sizes and shapes available, it is important to select a canoe design that is compatible with the uses you plan for it. 

A major determining factor in the maneuverability of a canoe is its keel. Canoes designed with a keel have a reinforcing ridge along the bottom of the canoe that extends down into the water. This can offer help in tracking on flat water, as well as resistance to drift on windy days. However, a keel also creates resistance to easy maneuvering in a current by increasing drag. Our decision about this design aspect will be influenced by how you plan to use your canoe. Whitewater enthusiasts would not want a canoe with a keel, but pond travelers who like maximum stability and tracking would want a wide, flat bottom canoe with a keel. 

If you will be camping or carrying two or more people in your canoe, select a design that is adaptable to multiple situations and conditions. A canoe 15 to 17 feet long, 35 to 38 inches wide and 13 to 15 inches deep would be sized for a variety of situations. The canoe should have a moderate rocker and a flat or shallow-arch bottom.

 

 For Expert Canoeing Advice . . . 

The associates in Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World's Camping Department can answer your canoeing questions and offer expert assistance with selecting a canoe. 

 

Shop all canoes at BassPro.com

 

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