How To Choose A Canoe For Whitewater: Buyers Guide

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How To Choose A Canoe For Whitewater: Buyers Guide

Buying a canoe - especially if it’s your first - is a really exciting process. With that said, it can also be complicated, confusing, and most importantly, expensive. This is a purchase you want to get right the first time around so you can enjoy years and years of paddling. 

That’s why today, we’re going to teach you how to buy a canoe. Our canoe buyer guides will teach you how to choose a canoe for your unique size, preferences, price range, and more. At the end of this discussion, we’ll recommend a few whitewater canoes that are perfect for anyone - from beginners to seasoned paddlers alike. Let’s not waste any time - here is what you’re going to learn in this canoe buyers guide:

What You’ll Learn In Our Canoe Buyer Guide

  • The Different Types of Canoes
  • How To Size Your Canoe (specifically for whitewater)
  • Which Shape Is Best For Whitewater
  • Choosing Between Different Canoe Materials
  • Which Specific Canoes We Recommend For You

How To Choose A Canoe For Whitewater: Everything Buyers Need To Know

As you can see, learning how to choose a canoe for whitewater isn’t quite as simple as picking one that looks nice and fits your budget. There are tons of different factors to consider. First and foremost, we’re going to talk about three different types of canoes.

The Different Types Of Canoes

The first step when you buy a canoe is considering which of the main styles best suits you. When asking yourself this question, consider your experience level and your goals. The type of water you’ll most frequently paddle in matters, too. Since you came here to learn how to buy a canoe for whitewater in particular, you’ll likely be most interested in a river canoe. But, if you also want a canoe you can take out to the lake and comfortably fish from, you want something more versatile - like a multi-purpose canoe. Let’s breakdown the main styles currently on the market:

Tripping Canoes 

These are called “tripping” canoes or sometimes wilderness canoes as they’re designed for overnight trips. Sometimes, you’ll venture downriver for a few nights - up to a week or longer. You paddle during the day and pull off to the shore to cook and camp for the night. These have the capability of hauling more gear than other styles. As such, they don’t perform as well when not weighed down. They’re typically designed for multiple people to paddle at once.

Sporting/Racing Canoes

Unless your goal is to get out on the water and paddle as fast as possible, the sporting/racing canoe is probably not for you. These are built for speed and thus are much narrower and longer than other styles.

Recreational Canoes

If you just plan on taking your canoe out to the lake for some relaxing paddling and fishing, the recreational canoe is your ideal choice. They’re steady, maneuverable, and easy to control. Sometimes you’ll see these referred to as ‘cabin’ canoes because they really are optimized for the lake house.

River Canoes

Designed specifically for river canoeing, these offer maximum maneuverability in a canoe. These are great for those looking to make sharp turns and move laterally - something you’ll have to learn to do when whitewater canoeing. Many of these are also outfitted with spray skirts to prevent the rapids from splashing water in and filling your boat.

Multi-purpose Canoes

Want a canoe that can do a little bit of everything? Multi-purpose canoes are designed to handle all sorts of water and activities. From gentle lakes to whitewater rapids. With that said, a jack of all trades is a master of none. These aren’t really “great” at any one paddling style in particular. As such, they’re great for beginners who want to learn how to paddle in different types of water.

Which of these is best for whitewater?

So, which of these canoes is best for whitewater river paddling? Well, the river canoe of course. These are not only more maneuverable, but they’re also impact-resistant and abrasion-resistant. If your goal is to choose a canoe for whitewater, you should stick to this style.

Consider The Ideal Whitewater Canoe Size

Now that you know you want a whitewater river canoe - what size should you go with? This sounds like it’s a complicated aspect of buying a canoe, but it really isn’t. There are just a few factors to consider when sizing your canoe:

  • Length - the longer a canoe, the faster you can paddle it. The shorter a canoe, the more maneuverability and weight-savings you’ll enjoy. For river floating, speed isn’t a concern - the currents will help push you along. Most canoes fall somewhere between 13’-20. Consider if you’re going to paddle solo or if you want a tandem canoe. If you want something that is sort of optimized for both, stick with the 15’-18’ range. When it comes to river paddling, we love canoes that are right around 15’.
  • Width - a wider boat is generally regarded as a more stable choice. On the river, that’s exactly what you’ll want. Narrow boats are known for being more prone to tipping over - something you don’t want in any water, but especially whitewater. So, go with a generous width of at least 37”. Some of the best whitewater canoes are over 40” wide.
  • Depth - this spec speaks to the distance between the top of your canoe’s side rails (gunwales) to the bottom (where your feet rest when sitting). The deeper a boat, the better protection from water splashing in. However, the canoe is more susceptible to wind interference.
  • Factor In Shape When Buying A Canoe, Too

    When you think of a canoe, you probably have a pretty simple shape in mind. But as you’ll soon discover, there is a wide range of various canoe shapes out there to consider. You can choose specific hull shapes and side shapes. Which is right for you, though? Let’s take a look.

    Hull Shape

    The hull of a canoe is the part that makes contact with the water. It’s a fancy way to say the bottom. And the hull shape dictates how stable and maneuverable your boat is. 

    When talking about stability, there are two ways to think about it: initial stability and secondary stability. Initial stability speaks to how stable the boat is in flat, calm water. Secondary stability is what someone reading a whitewater canoe buyer guide will be more interested in: this speaks to how stable the boat is in rough water - which is typical of river canoeing. Here are the different types of hulls you’ll see:

  • Flat Bottom
  • Rounded
  • Shallow Arch
  • V-Bottom
  • For whitewater canoeing, in particular, we recommend a canoe with either a rounded bottom. These offer the greatest secondary stability. However, canoes with shallow-arch bottoms or V-bottoms are great choices as well, as they provide a balance of initial and secondary stability.

    One final thing we want to discuss pertaining to the hull of your canoe is the entry line. This is the point where your hull cuts through the water. A sharp entry line is great for calm water as you can slice through the water with ease. But for whitewater, you’ll want a more blunt entry line. This helps brace the canoe for incoming waves and rough water.

    Side Shape

    You should also consider the side shape of your canoe. Canoes that have a flared side are great for whitewater river paddling as they offer enhanced stability - especially when carrying heavier loads along with you. One style we recommend you steer clear of for whitewater paddling is the tumblehome side shape. These will let in too much water when it comes to paddling through whitewater.

    Which Canoe Materials Are Best For Whitewater?

    Not all canoes are created equal in terms of the materials they use. The best materials for your unique preferences depend on a few things - budget, paddling style, and strength. Different materials offer varying degrees of weight, strength, and cost. While some materials are incredibly lightweight, allowing for easy transportation, they sacrifice durability. As you can imagine, the opposite is true as well. You’ll always have some degree of trade-off when choosing your canoe materials. With that said, here are the most common materials modern canoes are constructed from:

  • Polyethylene
  • Kevlar
  • Fiberglass
  • Inflatable (our recommendation)

  • Why Is Inflatable The Best Choice For Most Whitewater Canoers?

    We know you may not have come here expecting to be encouraged to buy an inflatable canoe for whitewater paddling. But hear us out - the inflatable canoe outweighs other materials in our opinion. Here’s why:

  • Easy Transportation & Storage - The worst part of your day on the water? Hauling your heavy canoe back to and from the water. You can expect fiberglass, polyethylene, or even kevlar canoes to weigh as much as 70-100lbs! Alone, this can be daunting. But inflatable canoes weigh under 50lbs when fully inflated - anyone can carry that alone! And the best part is that you can deflate your canoe and easily pack it up in the car and put it away in storage when you get home. This also makes them great for long trips (such as visiting the best fishing spots in the US)
  • Still Durable & Tough -  We know what you’re thinking - there’s no way an inflatable canoe can stand up to the harsh conditions of whitewater. But that’s not true. In fact, a fully inflated canoe can be stronger than industry-leading hard-plastic canoes. Punctures are far rarer than you may suspect.
  • Incredibly Comfortable - Simply put, you can’t beat the comfort inflatable canoes provides. They’re as stable as it gets, too - making them great for shallow water and maneuvering through currents.
  • A Budget-Friendly Choice - Compared to other materials, you get more bang for your buck with an inflatable canoe. The materials, technology, and logistics of these cost far less than a rigid canoe.
  • Great For Whitewater - When we say inflatable canoes are great for whitewater we mean it. In fact, there are quality inflatable boats rated for class 3 whitewater!
  • So, Which Canoe Is Best For Me?

    So, now that you know how to choose a canoe - is there one in particular that best suits this style of paddling? There are tons of great options out there on the market. But to help eliminate any uncertainty, we’re going to recommend some specific canoes that are sure to exceed your expectations. Whether you’re looking to buy your first canoe or upgrade from your current boat, the Grabner Inflatable Canoes are a no-brainer choice.

    Not only will these outperform other styles in whitewater. But, they’re also incredibly versatile - great for lazy days paddling through calm water too. These canoes simply cannot be beaten in terms of portability, durability, reparability, and performance. There is a reason these boats continue to win awards - head over to the page linked above to learn more about what makes them special.

    Wrapping Up Our Canoe Buyer Guide: How to Choose A Canoe That Meets Your Needs

    That concludes our canoe buyer guide - you now are equipped with the necessary information to buy a canoe for whitewater river paddling in particular. Now that you know how to choose a canoe, there is just one thing left to do - head over to our site at Red Beard Sailing and get yours!

    We’re here to help whether you’re looking for an inflatable canoe, a small catamaran, a sailboat, or any other style. We’re proud to offer the best the boating industry has to offer - so shop now and get ready for your next adventure on the water!

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