How Big of a Canoe Do I Need? (Simple Answer!)

How Big of a Canoe Do I Need

Do you want to take your family canoeing and get some outdoor fun? Or do you simply want to go for quiet rides on days when you want to relax and catch some fish? No matter what your reason is, getting the right canoe is important to create wonderful and fun memories.

Now, canoes come in different lengths and widths and can be somehow confusing with which one to choose. You do not want to get a canoe that is too small or too big for your canoeing journey. If you are asking yourself, ‘how big of a canoe do I need?’, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about canoes and which one to get for yourself or for the whole family.

Types of Canoes

Canoeing is a fun and relaxing activity that you can enjoy in the company of others or even by yourself if you prefer some quiet time alone. For your canoeing adventures to be more enjoyable, you need to learn about the different types of canoes so you can make the most out of your canoe experience.

River Canoes

Do you love the idea of paddling through rivers and running rapids? If you do, then you might enjoy the river canoes. These canoes are made of very durable materials that can withstand abrasions and impacts. They also have a high bow and stern to fend off splashes. River canoes are designed for easy maneuverability which is why they have more rocker at the very bottom.

Recreational Canoes

If you want an easy ride for bird watching, fishing, or photography, recreational canoes would be perfect for you. Designed for flatwater paddling, this type of canoe is very stable and easy to control. It has a flat bottom so it would be hard to flip over. So, no need to worry too much about falling off your canoe. However, because they are so stable that they tend to be slower than other types of canoes.

Fishing Canoes

As the name suggests, fishing canoes are ideal for hunting in the water and fishing. Jut like recreational canoes, they have a flat bottom so you can stand while you go fishing without worrying about tumbling down. If you want to add a motor to your canoe, you can easily do so because they have a square stern where you can place your trolling motor.

Touring Canoes

If you have a lot of time on your hands and want to try long-distance trips, then touring canoes can be a great option. They are longer than most canoes to make more room for storage and weight capacity. Since you’ll be traveling a longer distance, you’ll be expected to bring a lot of gear with you and certainly more drinks and snacks.

Touring canoes are often considered multi-purpose canoes as they can be used in a lake or whitewater river. They have better maneuverability than recreational canoes.

How to Choose the Right Canoe

How to Choose the Right Canoe

Now that you know the different kinds of canoes, you somehow have an idea of the one canoe that you need to get. However, it doesn’t just end there. There are still many factors to think about especially if you want to get the right size and type. Canoes can be expensive and you don’t want to spend your hard-earned money on the wrong canoe.

Canoe Purpose

Everyone has their reasons for wanting to own a canoe. Knowing your reason and how you plan to use your canoe will help you establish the kind of canoe that you need. So, ask yourself whether you want whitewater paddling, fishing, general recreation, etc.

Do you also plan to use it every weekend, daily, or long-distance trip? How much gear do you need to bring with you? Do you prefer to travel light or you need big storage space? Lastly, do you plan to bring other people with you? If yes, how many?

Your answers to those questions will help you narrow down your options.

Canoe Length and Width

Now that you have answered all the questions above, the next thing you need to decide on is the size or length of your canoe. By now, you’ve answered the question of how many people you’ll be bringing with you. But if you plan on going on your own, then you wouldn’t need a large size canoe.

A one-person canoe will be sufficient for you. This usually has a length of 11 to 13 feet. Compared to a tandem canoe, it is lighter and has a narrower width.

If you wish to bring your family and friends with you then you would need a bigger and longer canoe. For a two-person canoe, it has a length of 14 feet 6 inches. But if you need another space for a kid or your pet, you may opt for long canoes with an average length of 16 to 18 feet long.

The length and width of the canoe have an impact on its stability and performance. Longer canoes are faster than shorter canoes. However, shorter canoes are easier to carry or portage. Long canoes are great for long-distance trips and are stabler.

Another advantage of short canoes over long canoes is that they are lighter so they are easy to transport. In addition to that, they can easily fit in inlets and narrow streams that a long canoe can’t get into.

If you need a stabler canoe, choose something that has a wider width. But if you are looking for something lighter and easy to paddle, the narrow canoe is the perfect canoe for you. However, expect narrow canoes to be less stable.

Apart from length and width, you should also consider the depth of the boat. Deep canoes are better at deflecting water or splashes from getting inside. It also has a better weight capacity. However, they can easily be affected by winds. Canoes with a shallow depth are more prone to getting water inside the boat but can withstand winds better.

Hull Shape

Canoes are made with different hull shapes and the shape of the hull can affect your canoe’s performance on the water. Whether you want your canoe to be fast or stable will depend on the hull shape.

Flat Hulls

Canoes with a flat hull help improve stability but tend to be slower. This is ideal for first-time canoers.

Arched Hulls

They are more rounded and can help make your canoe faster, but the downside is they are less stable. They have less initial stability but offer great secondary stability. This kind of hull shape is recommended for more experienced canoers.

Shallow-arched Hulls

This is in between rounded and flat bottoms. Compared to boats with flat hulls, they stay on track and plow better through the water.

V-shaped Hulls

Another great option for beginners because boats with a v-shaped hull help in keeping the canoe in a straight line and provides better maneuverability.


The material used can affect the cost, performance, and weight of your canoe. This is why it is important to consider the material of your preferred canoe. Most canoes are made from the following materials:


Canoes made from aluminum are affordable and durable. They can also conduct cold and heat faster. However, aluminum can make canoes less efficient and heavier compared to other materials.


Fiberglass canoes are lightweight which makes them more efficient in the water. However, one disadvantage of having a canoe made of fiberglass is they tend to be more fragile. So, you have to be extra careful when using them. In contrast, fiberglass is more commonly used for a kayak.

Molded Plastic

If you are looking for an affordable canoe, you can either go for aluminum or molded plastic ones. They are also durable with average weight. How heavy or light your canoe would be will all depend on the type of plastic used.


Graphite canoes are the lightest among all the other materials but are also very expensive. Since it is very lightweight, most experienced paddlers who love going on multi-day trips prefer canoes made from graphite for portaging.

There are some materials that are exclusive to some brands or manufacturers. If you’re familiar with Old Town Canoe, they are one of the oldest canoe and kayak manufacturers. Old Town is known for using CrossLink3 and PolyLink3 which are materials designed for them exclusively.


A canoe’s rocker is the upward curve from end to end that you’ll find in the hull of the boat. The amount curve or rocker that your canoe will dictate how easy it is to maneuver and turn. However, it can be more difficult to stay on track when you paddle through a straight line. If you want a canoe to move faster, then go for something that very little to no rocker at all. These canoes also track better.


Gunwales can be made from metal, wood, or plastic. They are siderails that cover the top part of the hull. They are used to support and strengthen the hulls and as a place to hold or grab on to. Wood gunwales tend to be flexible and though. They feel comfortable to the hands and are easy to repair. However, they may need special care periodically.

Gunwales made of aluminum do not require regular maintenance and are tough. However, they can be a bit loud when hit with a paddle and can be hard to do some repair in case they get damaged. Vinyl or plastic gunwales are cheaper and are maintenance-free. They are also tougher than wood.

When choosing gunwales, go for something strong as they can take a lot of beating when paddling. Also, opt for something smooth so they won’t hurt your hands and protect your paddle from getting worn out.


Thwarts are support bars that run around the sides of the canoe. They can be made of metal, fiberglass, plastic, or wood. If you are thinking of portaging your canoe, choose a center thwart shape as they are easy to carry and have a good balance.

Entry Line

The entry line is a canoe’s hull shape where it cuts across the water. If you prefer rough water, paddling blunt bows are a great option. Canoes with sharp entry lines are easier for paddlers and accelerate quicker.

Number of Seats

The most common canoes are designed for two persons, but there are also single-person canoes, and could be more. Seats should not be too low or too high as it can affect the canoe’s stability and one’s comfortability when kneeling.

Seat Types

The seats on your canoe can also come in different designs and materials. A woven plastic seat allows water to drain so you stay dry. They are durable and comfortable and do not require regular maintenance. Woven cane seats are also a great option. They are very similar to woven plastic but require a lot of maintenance. A seat made of solid plastic is tougher but it doesn’t drain the water and prevent air from circulating making it longer for water to evaporate.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Big of a Canoe Do I Need Frequently Asked Questions

What length canoe should I buy?

It will all depend on how you plan to use your canoe and if you plan to bring other people with you. An average canoe has a length of 16 feet and they are considered the most popular canoes due to their versatility.

Can a family of 4 fit in a canoe?

In general, canoes can fit two people not unless you have a single-person canoe. However, there are several companies that manufacture bigger canoes that can seat 4 or more people.

How do you size a canoe?

To size a paddle for your canoe, you need to bring your boat from the shore to the water and climb inside. Get a measuring tape and measure the space between your chin to the water. Add the measurement you will get to the blade’s length.

Can 2 adults and 2 kids fit in a canoe?

Yes, there are 4 person models depending on the size of the canoe.

What is an average canoe weight capacity?

An average canoe can normally carry around 500lbs. How much weight capacity your canoe could carry will depend on its purpose and design. Apart from the weight of each person, you also need to consider the weight of the gear you’ll be bringing with you. The more gear you have the heavier your canoe would be.

Why are longer canoes faster?

They are faster because of the ratio of width to length since the submerged part of the boat can affect drag.

Is it wise to get a one-person canoe?

If you plan on paddling alone most of the time, it would be okay to just get a one-person canoe. The ride will be stabler since you’ll be seated in the middle. But if you have family or friends you want to bring along, getting a bigger canoe would be ideal. Still, it would all depend on your personal preference. Or why not get two canoes in different sizes and purposes?


Do you now know how big your first canoe should be? Buying a canoe is not easy with all the things you need to consider. But one big factor in choosing one is knowing how big or small the canoe is. You can only come up with that decision once you know exactly how you want to use it, where to use it, whether in flat water or whitewater, or you need something for day trips or maybe week-long tours.

Whether you want short canoes or longer canoes, or a lightweight or heavy canoe, the important thing is you get the right length, know the basic parts that will have an impact on your canoe’s performance, and the number of people who will ride your canoe. Lastly, whichever type of canoe you’ll get, make sure that you and your family will enjoy their adventures in canoeing.

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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