If you’re going to head out with a motor on your canoe, a square stern design is your best choice. Such canoes are popular among anglers and duck hunters.
The canoe market has expanded wildly over the past decade. What was once the domain of a few well-known brands is now a thriving industry with brands from around the world selling canoes of all styles, shapes, sizes, and, let’s be honest, prices.
But the old guard are still there. They still make the canoes that made companies like Old Town and Mad River household names – among canoeists at least. So what is it about brands that make them so popular, and how are these young companies managing to compete with the global powerhouse brands?
Our guide to the best canoe brands will look at whether a branded canoe is right for you, as well as which brands are still top of the pile when it comes to making the best canoes for the job.
Quick Answer: Our List of Top Canoe Brands
- Old Town Canoes
- Nova Craft Canoe
- Mad River Canoe
- Sun Dolphin
- Sea Eagle
Why Should You Buy Your Canoe from a Big Brand?
Some of the big brands have been around forever. That doesn’t just mean that it feels like forever, there are companies out there that have been making canoes for hundreds of years and are still going strong.
And there’s a reason for it. These big brands make great boats. They have a track record of it. You don’t go for that long without learning something, or without returning customers after all.
And there’s more to it than great boats.
Think of the canoe market a little like the car market. A quality brand has reliability, they have a build quality you can trust, and they usually offer a warranty package that makes the extra charges worthwhile.
Not to mention, brands know how to make a canoe both functional and stylish.
Are There Any Advantages to Trying Out New and Lesser-Known Canoe Brands?
Just because the big brands have a track record doesn’t mean that they’re the only folks around who know how to make a canoe.
In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that people made canoes and kayaks in their garages at home. With varying results. But many of these smaller companies make boats that are at least as good as some of the bigger brands.
Sometimes, these smaller brands bring out a canoe that’s so left-field that it makes us question their reasoning. But for the most part, they follow well-worn trends in the market.
Often though, the fact that these companies make fewer canoes can play into your hands.
The craftsmanship, especially when it comes to handmade wooden canoes, is much easier to take your time over on a smaller scale production. Before financial pressure transforms canoe companies, they all set out to make the best boats possible, but when you’re making hundreds of boats at a time, things can slip through the cracks.
Price-wise, these smaller brands may be cheaper, or maybe more expensive. That’s non-commital, we know, but it’s true.
The lower production may reduce costs, or it may be that the boats cost more to make per canoe. The extra benefits of a bigger brand also come with drawbacks, and these often balance out the costs.
How Can You Tell a Good Canoe Brand?
With so many brands out there, it can be hard to tell which are good and which you should avoid. That’s why we’ve put this list together, after all.
But how have we chosen between canoe brands and what have we used to decide the brands deserving of inclusion?
Well, for a start there’s the obvious. How good are their canoes? Having paddled canoes from most brands on the market, we have a good idea of the build quality and how the boats paddle.
But then you can add factors like brand loyalty and customer feedback into the mix and you get a sense of after-sales care too. It’s great having a canoe that paddles well, but if something goes wrong and the company doesn’t want to hear from you, then that doesn’t make them a great brand.
Many of the bigger canoe brands sponsor athletes. As a customer, this is a great way to see the canoe in action and understand who it suits, as well as get some first-hand feedback from a real paddler.
But be wary of athlete feedback. Remember, they’ve often got their canoe at a heavily discounted price and it’s in their interest to stay positive about it. But if the brand has quality athletes, they probably make a good canoe.
The Best Canoe Brands
Old Town Canoes
You can’t have a canoe brand list without Old Town Canoes. They’re near enough the first name that springs to mind when you think of canoes and for that reason, they top our list.
Old Town has been making canoes for hundreds of years, with their Discovery range among the most popular for families and canoe schools around the world. Old Town Canoes top several of our lists, including the best solo fishing canoe, best family canoe, and best solo canoe.
Old Town has outlets across the world where you can go and see your canoes. Their range includes tripping, recreational, fishing, family, and white water canoes.
Nova Craft Canoe
From north of the border, Nova Craft canoes make some of the best-known tripping canoes on the market. Their range is among the more expensive on this list, but the refinement makes them a popular choice with experienced canoeists.
Having set up back in 1970, Nova Craft has a long tradition of making canoes using composite materials. They have kept this going today and offer their boats in aramid, for those who need a lightweight tripper.
But Nova Craft isn’t an elitist brand. They make plenty of recreational and family-friendly canoes too. With its ethos founded on reliability for all canoeists, Nova Craft also involves itself with plenty of environmental and ethical organizations.
When it comes to top-end canoe brands, few can outrank We-No-Nah. It’s rare to see a canoeist paddling a We-No-Nah that isn’t committed to being out on the water as frequently as possible.
And that’s because, let’s make no bones about it, they’re expensive.
But the price isn’t unwarranted. These canoes are all handcrafted on the banks of the Mississippi river using top-grade materials.
We-No-Nah canoes are being continually updated as they push the limits of the industry. Their range of touring and white water canoes range from Tuff Weave, designed for hard use and endurance, to Aramid canoes, some of the lightest on the market.
Their mantra isn’t bad either. If you’re lucky enough to be a paddler, you’re lucky enough.
Based in Quebec, Esquif was one of the first companies on the market to start using T-Formex, the replacement for the constantly-missed Royalex.
Nowadays, they are making a range of canoes though they still try to retain the passion that drove them to make the first few canoes for friends and family. Their range includes recreational boats, but their real expertise appears to lay in specialist models.
Some of the Esquif touring canoes and white water canoes are considered among the best on the market. Unlike most other brands on this list, Esquif also makes specialist white water canoes – known as OC1 boats. These are used by those who want to take the sport into more advanced environments and chase the kayakers.
Then there’s the other side of the coin. Esquif makes hunting and fishing canoes with square sterns. These are all motor-ready and come in a range of sizes, with the Mallard XL topping our list as the best motor-ready fishing canoes.
Mad River Canoe
Mad River Canoe has probably the most recognizable logo on the Canoe market. But their prowess doesn’t stop at their branding.
Mad River Canoe was one of the first companies to start using Royalex materials, and when the industry had to move on from Royalex, they began exploring new avenues.
Their triple tough plastic canoes now rank among the toughest canoes on the market, while their ultralight aramid compositions compete with the lightest trippers available.
Arguably their standout canoe, the Mad River Explorer comes in a 14 or a 16. These versatile canoes are capable in a wide range of environments, from gentle tripping, all the way to solo white water adventures.
The Silverbirch Broadland is one of the most versatile canoes on the market. The balance of stability and playfulness makes it a popular choice with beginners and enthusiasts alike.
Beyond the traditional style canoes, Silverbirch also makes a range of whitewater OC1 and OC2 style boats. These are designed for the advanced paddler, but for those who need htem they’re viewed as being some of the best on the market.
Silverbirch itself is based in the UK but has made its way across to the US with several outlet stores in the U.S. and a popularity that is slowly gaining traction.
Another UK-based canoe brand, Venture canoes is part of the same company as Pyranha kayaks. These canoes are generally recreational and touring-based, though they are versatile enough to be used in a range of environments.
These canoes, made by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts, are still gaining traction in the U.S.
The Ranger 14 and 16 are designed for heavy-duty use, ideally for families or canoe schools. For more demanding environments, the Prospector series is capable on long trips and in white water.
Venture holds themselves to making canoes for purpose, not for the price. That way, they can keep innovating and working to test out new ideas and new models that take the sport forwards.
Sun Dolphin is a brand better known for its kayaks and other boats than it is for its canoes.
But you don’t make that many boats without learning a thing or two and Sun Dolphin has taken this learning into making some quality and affordable recreational canoes.
The current model, the Sun Dolphin Scout SS, is perhaps the most affordable square-stern canoe on the market. This makes it a popular fishing, family, and recreational canoe.
Sun Dolphin has hundreds of outlets across the U.S., including Walmart and Kmart. This makes after-purchase care more reliable, as well as gives you plenty of opportunity to see your canoe in the flesh before buying it.
Inflatables are in their nature. Sea Eagle has been at the forefront of advancements in inflatable canoes and kayaks, and their range shows this.
The Sea Eagle TC16 was the world’s first patented high-pressure canoe. By utilizing drop-stitch technology, Sea Eagle has been able to inflate their canoes to higher pressure, giving them a better feel and response.
Inflatable canoes certainly aren’t for everyone, but they are increasingly popular among those with limited space for storage or who struggle to transport larger canoes. If you’re looking for a space-saving option, then Sea Eagle is perhaps the best manufacturer of inflatables available.
If you ever canoed at summer camp in an aluminum canoe back when you were younger, then chances are you’ve paddled in a Grumman canoe.
They’ve been there since the start, repurposing aircraft-grade aluminum after the second world war, using their manufacturing know-how to create boats that can be handed down from generation to generation.
Grumman is a mainstay of hardwearing and heavy-duty canoeing, with their selection of aluminum boats used throughout the world by companies and individuals who want a boat that simply will not break.
Sure, aluminum canoes might not be for everyone, and there are other aluminum canoes on the market, but it’s hard to look past Grumman.
LifeTime is a brand that goes beyond canoeing and kayaking. This brand is a plastics brand, making everything from patio furniture to sheds.
They have taken their knowledge of plastics into the world of canoeing and kayaking, creating some of the most affordable recreational boats on the market.
The majority of the LifeTime watersports brand is dedicated to kayaks, with a selection of sit-on-top, sit-in, and angling kayaks available. But they also have two canoes in their roster.
Both of these canoes are recreational, aimed at families who want an affordable and hardwearing plastic canoe.