canoes, canoe features, how to buy a canoe
Illustration: Kagan McLeod

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The right canoe is one that can handle the conditions you’ll most likely encounter, and haul your stuff while allowing you to cast or shoot, plunge over a 5-foot waterfall, or stay straight on open water. That means the canoe for you is probably not the one you can pick up secondhand from a neighbor. Here’s a guide to features to consider in a canoe—and how to fine-tune your choice depending on how you plan to use it.

how to buy a canoe, canoe features, buy a canoe
Seven tips to help you buy the right canoe. Kagan McLeod

1. Hull style

A canoe with a traditional style (shown) has a stern and bow that are similarly shaped, tapering to points at each end. An asymmetric hull is more pointed at the bow than at the stern, which lets the canoe glide more efficiently.

2. Beam

Maximum width of the boat.

3. Bow flare

Outward-sloping canoe sides at the bow. Will turn away chop for a drier ride—good for big expanses or whitewater.

4. Gunwales

The top rails of a canoe, which provide support and rigidity.

5. Hull material

Forget aluminum, unless you plan to chain your boat to a pondside tree and leave it there. For a tough, sturdy, maintenance-free craft, there are two choices: cheaper—and heavier and more susceptible to sun damage—rotomolded polyethylene; or the proven Royalex laminate, if you can find one. If you want to get there fast and there are no rocks in your way, consider fiberglass or a composite such as one using Kevlar. These are light canoes—a 16-footer can weigh less than 45 pounds—but they are expensive.

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6. Rocker

A lift of the canoe bottom at the bow and stern. Rockered boats turn more easily.

7. Tumblehome

The inward slope of the side as it approaches the gunwale. Helps keep your hands closer to the gunwale as you paddle.