Solo canoes rated
Iím often asked which canoe is best. Well, that depends on what you plan to paddle. I paddle a wide variety of rivers, so my idea of the perfect canoe is one that works very well under all conditions from open lakes to whitewater to the hairpin turns of the Pine Barrens. I need a lightweight, maneuverable, rugged, efficient canoe that can carry camping gear in whitewater up through class 2, empty with airbags, up into the low class 3 rivers. Thatís a tall order, but a few canoes come close to filling it. From longest to shortest, hereís what I think of all 6.
The Dagger Sojourn is fast and rugged and discontinued. It was best on long river trips where the durability of Royalex is needed. Itís a nice boat, but when I paddled it I took an instant dislike to it. It tracked too well and ďoil caned.Ē ďOil CanningĒ is when the bottom of the canoe flexes up and down with each paddle stroke. With a load of camping gear it should be negligible. Paddled empty, It was annoying and cuts the excellent efficiency of the design way down. There was no way I could make the tight turns of a Pine Barrens river in that boat. Loaded or empty it would turn a pleasant paddle into work. As the Pine Barrens are my favorite place to paddle, that was the kiss of death for this boat. If I start paddling big lakes exclusively or I ever do 300 miles on the Hudson River I just might want to rent one, but I wonít buy one as my primary canoe.
The Mad River Guide was a great canoe. It still is but now it's called the Freedom Solo. If Bell didnít create the Wildfire, I would be paddling a Guide/Freedom Solo. At 57 lbs. I probably wouldnít be portaging it though, at least not in one trip with a pack loaded with gear. Itís a tough, solid and maneuverable boat well suited to whitewater yet itís efficient enough for long trips. It has minimal primary stability and excellent secondary stability. Although itís an intimidating canoe for first timers, the fantastic secondary stability makes it one of the best beginner solo canoes. You usually donít capsize a Guide, you fall off! There are few things that the Guide is the best for. What makes it such a great canoe is that it is second best at just about everything most paddlers want a canoe to do. It has the second narrowest waterline width of the canoes on this page. Only the Wildfire has a slimmer footprint.
The Bell Royalex Wildfire, now called the Yellowstone Solo, is my unabashed favorite of the bunch. It has the highest length to width ratio of all of them and more rocker than most of the others. Long and narrow canoes are generally faster and more efficient in a straight line. Highly rockered canoes turn better. Bell has managed to balance the two just about perfectly. The Narrow waterline combined with the soft chines makes it lean into a turn with very little effort. The tumblehome helps keep the paddle in close for maximum efficiency and control. However, the real beauty of the design is how it all blends together. Look at any of the top 3 canoes upside-down and you will see that they all part the water gradually and bring it back together gradually. The bell does it with all smooth, gracefully flowing lines that cause minimal energy wasting turbulence. The soft chines give it a smooth transition from primary to secondary stability. It feels a bit tipsy, yet firms up as itís leaned.
When I got it I was told it was 38 lbs. Now the web-site shows it at 44 lbs. Whichever figure is correct, it is light enough for me to carry it, and a weeks worth of gear, 3 miles over the fairly rough Lowís Lake to Oswagatchie River portage trail in a single trip. That trail includes a steep climb over a 160 foot esker.
Iím very comfortable in it with 2 weeks worth of food and gear, paddling upper class 2 whitewater. Empty and airbaged even class 3 should be no problem. With a 2í narrower gunwale width than any other canoe on this page itís well suited to women and smaller paddlers.
No canoe is perfect. Bell mounts the seat on the wildfire about ĺ inches too high. I experimented with spacers and then bought Bellís tandem seat brackets and cut them to fit. Dropping the seat just a bit makes a huge difference in the handling of the canoe. Donít go too low or foot entrapment, under the seat, becomes a possibility.
The Mohawk Solo 14 is underrated by many, but it does quite well in the tight twisting turns of the Pine Barrens. Its length to width proportions are not as sleek as the Wildfire or Guide. The Chines are harder so it has decent primary stability for beginners to feel comfortable with, yet doesnít sacrifice too much secondary stability, which is what really counts anyway. The flatish bottom combined with the width gives it a shallow draft. Thatís handy on shallow rivers with frequent sandbars. That extra ľ inch of clearance can mean you have to get out and walk less. The bottom line is that itís a good all around canoe, but not a spectacular performer or particularly efficient.
The Wenonah Sandpiper is a popular canoe in the Adirondacks. Itís lightweight and proportions make it an easy carry on those often-muddy portage trails. Unfortunately, its short length and wide waterline limit efficiency. The sides near the front and rear are too vertical to keep it running dry in rough water. The near flat bottom and hard chines give it excellent primary stability at the expense of secondary stability. It feels rock steady right up to the point that it flips over without warning. Itís a big luxurious pack boat, but I wouldnít want to paddle it a long way or on rough water. Itís great as a packboat on short-medium portages, but it doesnít quite cut it as a long distance or whitewater canoe.
The Mohawk Solo 13 looks like a good idea on paper. It should be a good all around canoe for kids or small women. Unfortuately they didnít shrink the Solo 14 to make the 13, they shortened it. That makes it even wider per inch of length then the 14. Those paddlers small enough to take advantage of the short length are too short to paddle the full width canoe.