When choosing a tripping canoe, it’s easy to get so caught up in the design of the boats that consideration of the best construction material for the intended use can be somewhat shortchanged. Canoes can be built from a surprisingly wide variety of materials, including some you may not even be aware of without doing a little research first. It’s best to keep an open mind about construction materials and avoid tunnel vision on this key component.
A short history of canoe construction is probably in order. The vast majority of canoe history transpired during what could be considered the “wood age.” Every canoe was made of some sort of wood – dugout cedar if one lived in the Pacific Northwest and birch bark virtually anywhere else in North America.
In the late 1800s, canoe builders began to substitute canvas for birch bark, and a new age was born. Wood-and-canvas canoes were the craft of choice until just after World War II, when companies that had been making aluminum airplanes for the war suddenly had excess factory capacity. These new aluminum canoes were a dramatic improvement over wood and canvas in terms of durability, needing virtually no maintenance or repair. Though they were a bit “sticky” on the rocks, their exceptional durability opened up a whole new – and relatively worry-free- world to canoe trippers.
As the pace of technological development quickened, the duration of canoe eras shortened correspondingly. The development of fiberglass advanced sufficiently in the 1960s that boats constructed with quality cloth and relatively resilient polyester resin began to challenge the domination of aluminum canoes. The age of the “synthetic” canoe had begun – and it’s not an age from which we are likely to emerge anytime soon.
The seven boats reviewed here are all made from different materials. Six of them are made out of some sort of synthetic material (technically all plastics, though to avoid confusion they’re not described that way). Two are pure “plastic” canoes (boats that look like what you’d think of as plastic), two are “composites” (fiberglass or Kevlar), and two are “collapsible” (a folding canoe and an inflatable). The seventh canoe, the only non-synthetic entry, is in the lineup just for fun.
Want to jump to a specific canoe?
Ojibwe Longnose, Bark Canoe Store
Charles River, Old Town
Freedom 17, Mad River
Mackenzie 18-6, Clipper Canoes
Seliga, Bell Canoe Works
PakCanoe 16-5, Pak Boats
Pro Pioneer 16, SOAR Inflatables