2008 Canoe Review

words by the Editors at C & K
photos by Robert Zaleski and John Bolivar

Though Kevlar and plastic have largely replaced animal skins and cedar strips, canoe design characteristics have remained the same through the ages—if you want to go straight and fast, choose a long and narrow boat with a flat keel line; to negotiate gnarled riverbends and boulder-strewn rapids, go shorter with lots of rocker. Here are a few designs that are new for 2008 and are helping to push the old standards of canoe design to new levels.


Following the lead of recreational and sit-on-top kayaks, canoe hull shapes are trending toward the wide and stable, aimed at getting more paddlers out on the water. New models from Mad River, Native Watercraft, and NuCanoe are available in ding-and-drop-resistant plastic to withstand the rigors of recreational use.

Prior to the recent kayak fishing craze, canoes had long been the craft of choice for paddling anglers. Old Town and other manufacturers are revisiting this trend—making built-in rod holders and fish-friendly accessories standard issue in models like the Osprey Angler (pageTK).

While Royalex, the workhorse hull material that replaced aluminum and revolutionized canoe making in the 1970s, still rules, emerging technology is trending toward lighter, stiffer, stronger—all at a lower price. Esquif’s thermoformed Twintex draws strength from plastic woven between composite fibers, and strikes a middle ground between Royalex and its high-end carbon and Kevlar brethren. Watch for Twintex and other composites from companies like Wenonah to increase impact and abrasion resistance at varied price points.


Establish priorities in boat performance, and start with the categories we’ve listed here.

Recreational canoes are generally shorter than 16 feet, with wide, stable hulls popular with beginners for their ease of use. Their fun-loving cousins, sport canoes, are more a means to an end—like fishing or hunting—and resemble (and might handle like) pick-up trucks on the water. Longer (16- to 17-foot), more slender touring canoes are built to do many things well—maneuver, carry some gear, handle moderate current and waves—but won’t stand out as the best at any one task. Cruising designs are driven by speed and efficiency, leaving maneuverability and stability behind, and perform best with an experienced driver—think Formula One, not family sedan. Wilderness trippers are suited to remote rivers and lakes with a full load of backcountry gear; these big boats are made to haul and track best when loaded.

Limited Edition

Old Town Koru
$4,999. www.oldtowncanoe.com
To commemorate Old Town’s 110th year of canoe building, veteran boat builder Geoff King hand-cut and fitted the cypress gunwales and mahogany and ash decks and thwarts in 50 Old Town Koru canoes. The year-old King design is based on traditional Algonquin and Ojibway hunting boats. History meets innovation even in the gel coat of the carbon hull, inspired by a paint pattern plucked from a 1919 Old Town catalog. With its sharp entry and long waterline, the 17-foot-five-inch Koru is more than just eye candy. Look for it—signified by a brass plate stamped with King’s signature on the bow—at select retailers.

Boundary Waters Ace


$2899. wenonah.com
Regulations in the popular Boundary Waters Canoe Area allow nine campers to a campsite, and only four boats—meaning one canoe will have to haul three people. Wenonah’s Seneca, at 19-feet 4-inches and with three seats, is the solution. Outside the park it eliminates the need for the slow solo-boat in odd-numbered groups, and like all the company’s boats in Kevlar Ultra-light livery lay up, it is fast, fast, fast. Beginners and families will keep up with anyone.

Return of the King

Mad River Reflection

$1,180-$1,580. madrivercanoe.com
The old Dagger Reflection 17 … They don’t make them like that anymore. Well, Dagger doesn’t. But now Mad River does. The two brands share the same parent company, and with the Mad River line lacking a long, light, fast cruising and camping canoe, the Dagger canoe mold was unearthed. The Reflection tracks well but turns when you ask it to, making it a prized chariot on both lakes and rivers. The Mad River version will come in Royalex, with choice of wood, aluminum or Mad River’s ingenious IQ or IQ2 gunwale system with adjustable seats and thwarts.

New Kid on the Block

$799-$1,299. nucanoe.com
The NuCanoe is a fresh and different boat from a startup company, but it has an impressive pedigree. It’s the latest design from Tim Niemier, the visionary founder of Ocean Kayak often credited with kick-starting the sit-on-top kayak revolution. “My goal is to put a billion butts in boats,” he says. Combining features of a sit-on-top kayak and a canoe in a package tailored to sportsmen and beginning paddlers, the NuCanoe may well do just that. The 12-foot craft is a whopping 42 inches wide, making it stable enough to stand in. But the boat’s width at the waterline is much less—only 36 inches with the full 950-pound payload—and that makes it considerably faster and more nimble than its form suggests. The NuCanoe can be paddled solo or tandem, draws only a few inches of water, and can be equipped for anything from touring to fishing and duck hunting.

Lightening the Load

American Traders Trapper LW

$2,765. woodencanoe.com
Cedar-strip canoes are easy on the eyes, but they’re harder on the back than lighter composite boats. Fortunately, American Traders has slimmed its 12-foot Trapper canoe into a 35 or 36 pound version (every hand-built boat is a little different). That’s about six pounds less than the standard Trapper, and comparable to composite canoes of the same size. American Traders’ boatwrights build the Trapper LW with thinner ribs, less epoxy, and some lighter woods. The ribs and planking are cedar, of course, but spruce gunwales replace ash, and cherry takes the place of heavier mahogany in the trim and seats. The result is a gorgeous wooden canoe that’s a cinch to portage and a joy to paddle.

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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