When purchasing any big-ticket item, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by price tags and variety. As many canoe enthusiasts can tell you, buying a new canoe can be an exciting experience with its fair share of challenges. When purchasing a canoe, buyers must consider a number of factors, including canoe size, length, and material, as this will greatly change what the canoe is best suited for. As a lifelong wilderness canoeist, Monty Cerf, otherwise known as William Montgomery Cerf, has purchased a number of canoes throughout the years and understands how difficult the process can be. Luckily, thanks to the many hours he has spent in canoe stores, Monty Cerf has developed a step-by-step guide for both experienced canoeists and newcomers to use during their next canoe search.

Step 1: Know What Kind of Canoeing You Are Most Interested In

Before purchasing your ideal canoe, you first need to know what kind of paddling you are most interested in. Canoeing involves a wide variety of activities, including recreational flatwater touring, river canoeing, speed canoeing, whitewater paddling, and tripping. If you are interested in tripping in your canoe (going on day trips, weekend tours, or two-week excursions), you must have a rough estimate of the gear you will bring and the amount of storage necessary. Finally, you Must decide if you will be solo-canoeing or if you would like the option to bring friends and family members with you in your canoe.

Step 2: Research the Different Types of Canoes

River Canoes

River canoes are known for their durability and maneuverability as they are made to traverse challenging rivers and rapids. One of the benefits of river canoes is that they are designed to be impact and abrasion resistant and utilize high side edges to avoid taking in water on turbulent rivers. River canoes are also designed with an above-average rocker to allow canoeists to better maneuver around rocks and boulders.

Recreational/ Family Canoes

The most common beginner canoe, recreational or family canoes, are the perfect canoe for flatwater paddling. These canoes are often designed to be highly stable and difficult to flip over. Known for being some of the largest canoes, recreational canoes have plenty of room for the whole family as well as hobby gear. Oftentimes, recreational canoe owners will often use their canoe to birdwatch, fish, enjoy nearby lakes, and for wildlife photography.

Whitewater Canoes

Known throughout the canoeing community as one of the most well-designed canoes, whitewater canoes (as their name suggests) are built to withstand canoeing through some of the most treacherous waterways. Whitewater canoes are similar to river canoes in their durability but also offer owners speed and stability.

Step 3: Understand the Importance of Canoe Dimensions 


William Montgomery Cerf stresses that a canoe’s dimensions such as length, width, and depth are the biggest indicator of its carrying capacity. For this reason, those looking to travel long distances with their canoe will need to consider much larger-sized canoes than someone interested in whitewater canoeing.


A canoe’s length is its single most important feature. Canoes can range from 10 ft long whitewater canoes to more than 22 feet long four-person tripping canoes. A good rule of thumb is that the shorter the canoe, the faster it turns and can maneuver in tight spaces, while the longer the canoe is, the more gear it can carry. However, the average length for a tandem canoe is between 15-18 feet. Although a longer canoe does mean more room to carry gear, first-time canoeists should remember that more weight can also increase the likelihood of tipping.

Width (Beam)

A good rule of thumb when you are looking for a more stable canoe is finding a canoe with a greater width. The wider a boat is, the more difficult it is to rock as it takes up more surface area on the water. A narrower boat will often be more moveable and easier to paddle; however, they are more likely to tip because of their narrow width.


A canoe’s depth is the distance between its side rails or “gunwales” and the canoe’s bottom. Deep boats will have tall sides, often used to keep water out of the canoe and to increase storage space. However, the one drawback to taller siding is that the canoe is more likely to be affected by wind gusts, which causes the canoe to rock and make it more likely to tip.

Step 4: Consider the Canoe’s Materials

Today, canoes come in a wide variety of materials that can affect the canoe’s outer durability, weight, and cost. When purchasing a canoe, researching the most popular canoe materials will help save money in the long run and improve your canoeing experience. Currently, the most popular types of canoe material include:


Fiberglass canoes are known for their resistance to abrasion and their efficiency in the water. Today, fiberglass is one of the most popular materials in canoe production, as the process of molding a fiberglass canoe is relatively simple. Fiberglass construction involves bonding woven fabrics with polyester resin and pouring the mixture into a variety of molds. Overall, fiberglass offers canoe enthusiasts an inexpensive yet quality canoe option.


Today, Royalex is the most popular material for the majority of recreational canoes. Royalex is lighter than other popular materials such as polyethylene, more durable aluminum, and much quieter and tougher than other plastic models of canoes. Unfortunately, as of 2014, the material is no longer being made thanks to the closing of the materials single plant in Indiana. While many canoe enthusiasts still swear by Royalex canoes, first-time buyers should be aware that these canoes are no longer being made and are often quickly purchased in second-hand outdoor co-op stores.