Best Solo Canoe in 2019 (REVIEW GUIDE)


Best Wakeboard for Big Guys

The very idea of solo paddling a canoe can be off-putting to many people. Canoes are meant for friends and lovers, and piloting one alone just seems like a very sad activity. We don’t feel that way about kayaking though, which often involves paddling alone. This incongruence exposes the wrongheadedness in how people perceive canoes, which are really just another means of navigating the water, no different from a kayak.

If you take a lot of canoe trips but come up short paddling buddies, a solo canoe might be the best option for you. My personal favorite for solo adventures is the Old Town 119 Solo Canoe. It can be used with a single-bladed canoe paddle or a two-bladed kayak paddle, depending on your personal preferences. It’s lightweight and has superb maneuverability and secondary stability.

Last update on 2019-10-14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Finding the right solo canoe isn’t all that different from choosing one that can carry two or more people though. However, the importance of some characteristics will be amplified by the nature of solo paddling: weight, maneuverability, and tracking, just to name a few. That’s why it’s especially important to carefully research your choices before making a purchase, and fortunately, I’ve already done the work for you.

Reviews of the Best Solo Canoes

1. Old Town 119 Solo Canoe

Old Town 119 Solo Canoe

The 119 Solo Canoe from Old Town is a much more traditional option for solo paddlers compared to its NEXT brethren. It’s 11 feet and 9 inches long, weighs in at 49 lb, and has a rather ordinary hull shape.

The 119 utilizes a rounded hull that gives it incredible maneuverability but sacrifices primary stability in the process. If you’re new to canoeing or plan to use this on fishing trips where you’ll need to stand up a lot of the time, this might not be the canoe for you. That being said, it has excellent secondary stability – no need to worry about you or your gear going overboard.

Some users have complained that the seat isn’t very comfortable – it’s just some mesh stretched between two pieces of wood. I’m not sure if they were trying to cut weight or if this was a cost-saving measure, but it won’t feel very good after a few hours of paddling and might need to be replaced with an aftermarket seat.

While many of the solo canoes do not have a yoke setup for portaging, I feel like the 119 Solo should have, since it’s a more traditional design. This would have gone a long way in improving its portability. 

The Old Town 119 Solo is a rock-solid option if you’re accustomed to a traditional canoe setup, but would prefer something shorter than can more easily be handled by a single paddler. It’s quite affordable and with Old Town’s reputation, you can be certain it won’t let you down for years to come.

Pros:

  • Super maneuverable
  • Somewhat lightweight
  • Affordable
  • Good secondary stability

Cons:

  • The seat isn’t very comfortable
  • Not very good primary stability
  • Doesn’t come with a yoke for portaging

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2. Old Town NEXT Solo Canoe

 Old Town NEXT Solo Canoe

It doesn’t surprise me one bit that Old Town, the king of canoe manufacturers, has come up with one of the most innovative canoe designs on the market right now.

The NEXT Solo Canoe looks a lot like a kayak, having a full seat with a backrest, foot pegs, and a low profile hull that sits close to the water. While you’re welcome to use a single-bladed canoe paddle, it works equally well with a double-bladed kayak paddle if that’s what you’re comfortable with.

The NEXT’s hull is designed with straight edges and a subtle rocker that tracks much better than some of the other solo canoes out there. When you’re in it, the boat feels incredibly streamlined. The low-profile hull is a double-edged sword though – it gives the NEXT excellent primary stability, but cut downs on the volume available for gear storage.

With its diminished capacity, I cannot recommend the NEXT for multiday camping trips or fishing adventures with a lot of gear.

At 59 lb, this canoe is a little heavier than some of the other solo canoes out there, but that’s to be expected with its 13-foot length. You shouldn’t have too much trouble moving it between your vehicle and the put-in point though.

I can’t shake the thinking that many people that are looking at buying the NEXT might be better off with a kayak though. Since it doesn’t have a lot of storage and paddles like a kayak, would it be better to just have a kayak? Not if you value the ability to portage and the freedom of movement that a canoe brings. In that case, the NEXT Solo might be the perfect choice for your needs.

Pros:

  • Comfortable seat with backrest
  • Paddling style familiar to kayakers
  • Innovative hull design with great tracking and primary stability

Cons:

  • Lower than average storage capacity
  • Heavy for its size

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3. MYCANOE 2.5 Folding Portable Canoe

 MYCANOE 2.5 Folding Portable Canoe

Ever since ORU’s folding kayak was featured on the show Shark Tank, there’s been a renewed interest in collapsible boats. Most of the innovation has been in kayaks, but thankfully, MYCANOE has brought that same level of portability to the canoe market.

Many first-time users could be forgiven for being skeptical of a folding boat. They take time to set up, and nobody wants a project at the put-in point. Unlike many skin-on-frame folding kayaks though, the MYCANOE 2.5 is easy to set up and only takes five to ten minutes. Just fold the pieces into place and secure the buckles to lock them together.

It also might be frightening venturing into open water with something that you simply folded into place (and are anxious that could unfold at any moment). Those fears are unfounded though, the MYCANOE is just as solid as any non-folding boat once it’s assembled and it shows through its excellent tracking.

The canoe paddles very well with just one person, thanks to its unique oarlock system. However, it has two seats, which gives you more flexibility compared to many canoes designed for solo travel. It should be noted that the MYCANOE is 14-feet-long, which can be challenging for first-time solo paddlers to turn.

When folded up, the MYCANOE fits into a 37” by 8” by 25” case. That isn’t exactly small, but compared to a 14-foot-long plastic boat, it’s not that bad. It is a bit disheartening that it weighs 52 lb though, heavier than most non-folding canoes. Had they shaved off just a foot or two from its length, it would have been under the 50 lb limit that most airlines set for checked luggage – perfect for overseas paddling adventures.

Having a folding canoe not only saves space in small apartments but also gets you out on the water more. It can be stashed in your car and used anytime you have an hour to spare. That kind of convenience comes at a cost though, and the MYCANOE is a bit more expensive than most solo canoes.

Pros:

  • Folds up into a large shoulder bag
  • Very easy to assemble
  • Tracks well
  • Comes with rowing system for easy solo travel

Cons:

  • Weighs 52 lb, exceeding checked bag limit
  • A little long for solo paddling
  • Expensive

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4. Grumman 12’9” Solo Canoe

Grumman 12’9” Solo Canoe

Aluminum canoes used to be incredibly popular: they’re durable, relatively lightweight, and fairly easy to fix. But they’ve been going out of style ever since plastics engineers have been making better and better composites.

Grumman is one of the last holdouts in the once vast field of aluminum canoes and their 12’9” solo canoe is still a contender for best boat to paddle alone. It has fantastic primary stability thanks to its bulbous hull shape but manages to track well for a short canoe. The hull also holds a lot for its length with a 500 lb capacity that makes this ideal for overnight excursions and fishing trips with lots of gear.

As would be expected with an aluminum boat, it’s nearly bulletproof when it comes to durability. So long as you take even a modicum of care for it, there’s a chance you’ll be passing this boat down to your children or grandchildren. Should something go wrong and it needs a patch, it’s a whole lot easier to do than on a plastic boat. That kind of durability comes at a price though – you should expect to pay about 50% more than with a plastic canoe.

It still has all the downsides of aluminum canoes though, mainly that it causes quite the racket whenever something so much as brushes against it, and it conducts heat and cold quite well. You’ll need to lay down some insulation between your knees and the hull if you’re paddling in cold water and the same goes for it being left out in the sun.

Pros:

  • Incredibly durable construction
  • Over 500 lb weight capacity.
  • Excellent primary stability
  • Great tracking

Cons:

  • Makes a lot of noise
  • Conducts heat and cold very well
  • Expensive

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5. Sun Dolphin Scout SS

Sun Dolphin Scout SS

Okay, this one isn’t actually a solo canoe – it has three seats. I’m including it as one of the best solo canoes because it has all that extra space though. Many of us aren’t strictly solo paddlers and would like the flexibility to carry two extra friends or family members on a few adventures.

The Sun Dolphin Scout SS stands out as a worthy solo vessel simply because it has a well-positioned center seat which makes controlling the boat by yourself easy enough. The canoe is still 14-feet-long, so it will take some practice, but it can be done, especially if you’ve got some paddling experience under your belt.

This canoe is also a great option for anglers looking for a little extra space, of which it has plenty when you’re paddling alone – 765 lb to be precise. It was designed with fishing in mind with six rod holder mounts and it even has a square stern to mount a trolling motor.

The other problem with paddling solo in the Sun Dolphin is that it weighs 86 lb, far too much for most people to carry alone. You’ll need to purchase a cart to go with it if you want to transport it to the put-in point without a struggle.

Also, the plastic seats on the Sun Dolphin aren’t exactly comfortable, so expect to do a lot of standing to prevent your butt and back from hurting.

The Sun Dolphin SS is one of the least expensive canoes you can buy though, so these problems seem rather minor and it’s a great option if you want the flexibility to carry some extra paddlers but mostly paddle solo.

Pros:

  • Friends and family can paddle with you
  • Built-in rod holder mounts
  • Has square stern for mounting a trolling motor
  • Very inexpensive

Cons:

  • Hard to paddle alone
  • Seats are uncomfortable
  • Weighs a lot

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How to Choose the Best Solo Canoe – Buyer’s Guide

If you’re not sold on it already, then let me reiterate that solo canoeing is a fantastic experience – just you, the sounds of nature, and some elegant paddle strokes propelling you through a beautiful landscape. No unnecessary chattering from friends or significant others, and more importantly, no need to coordinate schedules.

While many paddlers suggest that this is a role best filled by kayaks, I respectfully disagree. Canoes are fun in their own right, and can be a much superior platform if your adventures include much portaging, which kayaks are notoriously bad at. These are some of the most important features to consider as you choose your solo canoe.

Hull Design

The first thing to look at when choosing a solo canoe is the hull design, as this will dictate most of the boat’s properties. Most solo canoes will fall somewhere between nine and fourteen feet in length. Longer boats will track better but will be more difficult to turn.  

Another consideration is hull width – wider boats typically have greater primary stability (which is a way of saying that they feel less tippy in rough water). They’re also slower and less maneuverable as they have more surface area touching the water and resisting any changes in motion. Don’t expect to do any races with a wide hull, but they’re great for fishing where you might do a lot of standing up.

The overall design of the hull makes quite a difference too. Boats with tall, straight sides or ones that form a V-shape are going to feel less stable, but they cut through the water much better. They’re not the most maneuverable though, as their blade-like design resists turning. For a more maneuverable canoe, look for something with a rounded hull that can slide into a turn. These will feel tippier as the canoe rolls to the side a little to gracefully complete a turn.

Carrying Capacity and Storage

This shouldn’t be as big of an issue for you as most solo canoes have more carrying capacity than is needed; they only need to carry the weight of one passenger. Perhaps a more important consideration is storage capacity, which is a measure of the canoe’s internal volume rather than how much weight it can carry.

Canoes with a tumblehome design, where the canoe is wider below the waterline than above it, have greater stability but at the cost of storage capacity. Most canoes actually flare out above the waterline though, which makes for a greater internal volume at the cost of stability. This types of hulls are better suited for more experienced paddlers.

Seating

Canoes are not generally known for their comfortable seating, at least compared to their kayak counterparts. Most don’t come with backrests, as canoes are intended to operate in both directions depending on which way the paddler is facing – it’s one of the biggest advantages of a canoe. Many paddlers will actually kneel inside the hull to give themselves a lower center of gravity.

No one wants to take an uncomfortable canoe trip though; if you have a bad back or poor circulation, it’s a good idea to look for a boat that has a comfortable setup.

Canoes with webbing for seats are somewhat better compared to plastic seats, but the best boats will have foam or air-cushioned. Just know that the more complex your seat, the more you’re giving up in terms of flexibility as cushier seats usually limit mobility.

Weight

Not only will you need to paddle this canoe by yourself, but you’ll also need to get it into the water without any assistance. Therefore, most solo canoes are a bit lighter than their tandem counterparts.

Most solo canoes weigh less simply because they’re shorter, but it’s a good idea to check the specs before buying one to ensure that it won’t throw your back out getting it to the put-in point.

A few models contain a yoke, which makes them much easier to carry alone. This is the wooden beam that sits near the front third of the boat and has an indentation that fits around your neck. Just stick your head in and can carry the weight of the boat on your shoulders rather than with your arms.

Admittedly, this carrying process works much better when you have a buddy spotting for you, calling out if you’re about to run into something. But if you’re doing canoe trails that require a lot of portaging, it’s best to find one with a yoke, even if you don’t have a spotter.

My Choice for the Best Solo Canoe

If I only had one pick for the best solo canoe, that would be the Old Town 119.It’s lightweight, sturdy, has plenty of space and provides incredible maneuverability and secondary stability.

While the Old Town 119 is my favorite solo canoe, you might have slightly different preferences and needs.

The Grumman is the most durable of the bunch and if you don’t plan on purchasing another canoe for the next twenty years, this might be a solid choice.

On the other hand, if this is your first foray into the world of solo canoeing, you can’t do much better than the Old Town NEXT. If you’re already a kayaker, than you won’t have much of a learning curve to deal with. The seat is also incredibly comfortable without any upgrades.

If you have a lower budget, the Sun Dolphin Scout SS is a great pick.

No matter which canoe you choose though, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll have a good time. Even a mediocre day on the river beats a good day… well just about anywhere else!

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Last update on 2019-10-14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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