For young children, stability is typically the main concern. Kids love to wiggle around in excitement and the last thing you want is a dunk overboard.
Our family started out with a flat profile, flat hull canoe with a keel: great initial stability. It worked well for carrying capacity and stability when we were young and squirming, fishing over the side, and learning to paddle. We even had little chairs in the center of the canoe.
As we grew more comfortable and confident and got into backcountry adventures, we later bought more maneuverable canoes that were swifter and better in choppy waters, but with less initial stability.
It’s important to understand the difference between initial stability and secondary stability when making choices.
There are numerous canoe designs and options and this article isn’t going to delve into them all – just the basics to target family style preferences.
The list below explains more in detail, but a general rule is: flat design is generally better suited for novice paddlers and families. This style is often used in sport and cottage-type canoeing because their stability makes them a good fit for fishing and beginners, though you do give up some speed.
Hull Bottom: Flat
Hull Bottom: Rounded
Keels (not a hull shape but worth consideration)
Recreational: entry level, great starting point, less costly
Touring: for longer ventures, flat and river touring, and long day or overnight trips. Costlier, more options for storage, and typically for those who really want to get into canoeing.
Expedition: larger, tough, large capacity, for multi-day adventure and backcountry trips.
Fishing, whitewater and inflatable are also on the market, but we aren’t really targeting these here.
Canoes can be expensive. Ask yourself, are you just starting out and don’t want to spend a lot, or do you want to make an investment?
Our first canoe was used and very heavy. It worked well, but once our parents discovered how much we loved it, we bought a second one which was more expensive but lasted until now and still goes on the water.
OUR PICK: Kevlar Composite
Fiberglass composite canoes
carrying capacity and length
- Lengths vary from 15′ and longer. The most popular is 15′-17′, the average choice being 16.’
- Longer canoes: heavier (think about loading it onto your vehicle and carrying it around)
- Home storage (if you intend to store in your garage – will it fit?)
- Are you buying a starter canoe and intend to upgrade as your kids grow?
- As they grow, kids will want to paddle from a seat (rather than sitting in the middle). We started with one really stable canoe when we were little, then upgraded to two smaller and faster canoes as we got older.
- Are you day tripping or overnighting?
- Packing your gear for an overnight trip, a canoe that is less than 16 feet might not provide enough gear storage (and may be too heavy, creating a lot of displacement/riding too low in the water). Longer length allows for more room while paddling, and more gear storage.
Try it first
We suggest getting in a canoe with all parties, along with your gear and see how much room you have. The best is to try it on the water.
Maybe consider renting a few different sizes and hull shapes before buying, as noted above
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The Big Sis