Best Lightweight Canoes: Ultimate Guide and Reviews

When you think of canoes, you most likely imagine long wilderness journeys, gentle relaxing cruises across open lakes or meandering rivers. Oh, and portages. The dreaded portage, carrying your heavy open canoe across the rugged ground to avoid impossible rapids or to connect lakes together. 
But canoes don’t have to be heavy and cumbersome. In fact, a lot of canoes weigh less than their counterpart kayaks would. We have put together this list of the best lightweight canoes. Whether you’re going tripping or just want a canoe you can bring to the water more easily, we have a canoe for you.

At A Glance: The Best Lightweight Canoes

Best Overall: NovaCraft Prospector 16 Aramid Lite
Best Inflatable: Sea Eagle TC16
Best for hunters and anglers: Old Town Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman
Best for travel: MyCanoe Duo
Best Solo Tripper: Esquif Adirondack
Best Two Person Tripper: Wenonah Escape Ultralight Aramid
Best on a Budget: Mad River Canoe Adventure 14k

Why is Weight Important in a Canoe? 

There’s a lot of moving gear when it comes to canoeing. Even if you’re not heading out on a long trip, you need a canoe that you can carry to the water, or at least remove from the roof of your car and load onto a trailer. 

If you head out on an overnight trip, or a multi-night trip, there’s every chance you’re going to have to portage an impassable section of the river or connect two lakes together. These portages often cross undulating and unstable ground, and even well-tracked portage trails can be long and arduous with a heavy canoe. 

On the water, the weight feels less of a concern. But don’t forget that even though canoeing looks graceful and elegant when done right, you’re still using your body to propel the weight of the canoe, as well as you and all of your gear. On top of this, heavyweight canoes will sit lower in the water, making them more sluggish on tight turns and for finite control.

How to Choose a Lightweight Canoe: Things That Matter

Our list is broken down into different styles of lightweight canoes and this guide will help you to select which canoe is right for you.

Lifetime Kodiak size

Number of Seats

The lightest canoes tend to be those designed for one person. For a start, these usually have smaller dimensions, only needing to fit one person inside, but they also have less internal framework, like seats.

Whether your seats are made from wood with webbing straps, plastic, or nylon bootlace, they are going to weigh something. Every seat you add to your canoe adds extra weight and unnecessary seating is weight you don’t need to carry with you.

Of course, you need the right amount of seats for the number of paddlers, but there are ways around this. Additional removable seating can be added to many canoes. If you occasionally carry an extra passenger, this avoids the need to have a permanent seat adding weight when you don’t need it.  

Dimensions

The larger your canoe, the heavier it will be. Of course, materials will impact this, but as a general rule, more material equals more weight. Dimensions affect far more than just weight, though.

Longer canoes are quicker over the water, the extended keel line helps them to glide more smoothly and track more efficiently. Shorter canoes tend to be easier to maneuver and make tighter turns which is usually the preference of river canoeists. The length also affects space for paddlers, as well as equipment.

Wider canoes are more stable than narrower models and better suited to beginners and families. Wider canoes have higher drag through the water though, and often don’t suit longer trips or trying to paddle against the wind, where speed and efficiency are essential. 

Materials

The material of your canoe has the biggest effect on the weight. The first thing to decide is whether you choose an inflatable or hard-shelled canoe. 

Inflatable canoes are designed specifically to be able to load up into the trunk of your car or bed of your truck, then carry them easily to the water at the other end. If you’re a keen canoe trekker, you might be perturbed by the heightened potential of damage or deflation that comes with an inflatable. These lightweight models tend to be less effective against the wind than hard-shelled models.

Hard-shelled canoes are usually made from rotomolded plastic, thermoformed plastic, fiberglass, or composites. Aluminum and wooden canoes are still in production by certain companies, but for the most part, your lightweight canoe would be made from one of the above materials.

  • Rotomolded plastic is the most affordable material and also the most durable, making them a popular choice for family trips and river journeys. The heaviest canoes on our list are made from rotomolded plastics.
  • Thermoformed plastics are made from multiple thin sheets of polyethylene which are molded around a plug. This method makes a canoe that can challenge fiberglass canoes for weight but has much higher durability and added UV protection from the outer layer.
  • Fiberglass and composite canoes are the lightest canoes on the market. The plastic shell is reinforced with either fiberglass or carbon to give them structure and rigidity without increasing the weight. The extra stiffness makes these canoes more brittle and less suited to rocky rivers. 

Handling and Control

Lightweight canoes sit higher out of the water and produce less drag as you paddle. This makes them faster over the water and more maneuverable in tight spaces too. Lightweight canoes also help to reduce muscle fatigue, with less weight requiring propulsion.

Because lightweight canoes sit higher out of the water, they can have issues with grip and tracking. Boats with limited draft are more heavily affected by the wind and this is a particular issue when you are paddling across, or into, stronger winds, where lighter canoes are often blown around easily. 

Intended use

It all boils down to this. What do you value in your canoe?

For every advantage that a lightweight canoe offers, there are drawbacks. Think about the use for your canoe and whether weight is a priority, or whether you would benefit from a more durable model that perhaps weighs a little more and costs a little less.

The lightest weight models make long trips and portages seem easy and manageable, as well as weighing little enough that you can comfortably load them onto the roof of your car. They are best suited to exploring open water, or meandering rivers that aren’t laden with rocks.


Best Lightweight Canoes

Best Overall: Nova Craft Prospector 16 Aramid Lite

Nova Craft Prospector 16 Aramid Lite

Length: 16 ft. (4.88 m)
Weight: 45 lbs. (20.4 kg)
Material: Aramid Lite Composite
No. of seats: 2

Almost every canoe company has a variety of Prospector on its books. These models are deep-rooted in canoeing history and are among the most popular on the market. The Nova Craft Prospector 16 Aramid Lite is their lightest weight model, though it is also available in aluminum or plastics. 

The Nova Craft Prospector ticks all the boxes to be our best overall model on this list. Its versatile design makes it suited to open water adventures and long, fully loaded journeys, but it’s on the river that this canoe comes alive. The high sides of the prospector give you a drier ride through big waves and long rapids, making for a safer and more enjoyable experience. 

This is a workhorse of a canoe, and with the Aramid Lite model weighing just 45 lbs. (20.4 kg), there are few canoes on the market better suited to lightweight tripping. There’s plenty of load space, too, so you won’t have to scrimp on the equipment you need in camp.

Pros:

  • Versatile design is one of the best on the market
  • Higher ride for drier rapids
  • Extremely lightweight

Cons: 

  • Limited durability
  • High price

Best Inflatable Lightweight Canoe: Sea Eagle TC16

Sea Eagle TC16

Length: 16 ft. (4.88 m)
Weight: 64 lbs. (29 kg)
Material: 1000 Decitex Reinforced
No. of seats:

Sea Eagle is renowned for making some of the more durable and innovative inflatable canoes and kayaks on the market and the TC16 is no exception. Unlike rigid canoes, these pack down to a small package that easily fits into the trunk of your car, so you don’t have to worry about top-loading or trailers.

Unlike historic inflatables, which were often unwieldy and had a habit of folding up, the Sea Eagle TC16 feels like you’re paddling a rigid canoe. The drop stitch technology used throughout the canoe allows you to inflate it to a far higher pressure, improving structural rigidity and stability throughout.

The plastic bow and stern combine with a rudder to give the TC16 a more defined keel and better tracking capabilities, however, the ride height will limit this canoe’s capabilities against the wind. The Sea Eagle TC16 can carry up to three passengers, with removable seats, and is suited to open water and rivers up to class IV. 

Pros:

  • Easy to transport 
  • High-pressure design for a rigid feel
  • Three moveable seats
  • Durable inflatable build

Cons:

  • Limited ability in the wind
  • Flat hull limits finite control

Best canoe for hunters and anglers: Old Town Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman

Old Town Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman

Length: 11 ft. 9 in. (3.5 m)
Weight: 56 lbs. (25.4 kg)
Material: Triple Layer Polyethylene 
No. of seats: 1

The Old Town Discovery comes in a range of sizes, with the 159 and 169 among the most popular recreational and tripping canoes on the market. The 119 Solo Sportsman uses the same high-quality, versatile hull shape and triple-layer polyethylene construction to withstand the hardship that a hunting and fishing canoe has to endure. 

This solo canoe is easy to maneuver from the central seat, a position designed to maximize space, efficiency, and comfort. Of course, long days out fishing and hunting require comfort, too. The central seat has armrests and a fully adjustable back system for all-day comfort, as well as adjustable footrests to keep you firmly in position.

Behind the seat, there are two rod holders, ready for you to stow your lines or trawl behind you as you paddle. The onboard capacity of 354 lbs. (160.5 kg) is impressive for a canoe of this size and there is plenty of room for hunting and fishing equipment, as well as the stability you need to move around to use your gear.

Pros:

  • Comfortable and supportive seating system
  • Specially designed solo hunting and fishing canoe
  • Plenty of onboard capacity

Cons:

  • Fixed seat won’t give you the most efficient paddling position
  • Not the fastest canoe over the water

Best canoe for travel: MyCanoe Duo

MyCanoe Duo

Length: 14 ft. 6 in. (4.4 m)
Weight: 43 lbs (19.5 kg)
Material: Marine Grade Polypropylene 
No. of seats:

The MyCanoe Duo is an origami-style canoe that can be folded down into a package that fits in the hold of an airplane. This incredible concept allows you to take your canoe anywhere in the world with you, as well as stowing it in the trunk of your car and storing it in a cupboard at home. The package comes with a handy carrying handle, so you can get to the water easily.

The MyCanoe Duo can be easily assembled in ten minutes, and thanks to the positioning of the folds has the feel of a rigid canoe. The bow and stern are shaped to give you some tracking abilities, while the flat hull makes turning easy. 

This canoe is designed for open water only, with the structure limited for impact on rivers and open surf. The heavy-duty polypropylene construction is designed to withstand regular use though and the canoe comes with a 15-year UV treatment as well as being designed to be folded up to 20,000 times. This means you won’t have to worry about the seams splitting, even if you’re using this canoe daily.

Pros:

  • Easy to store and transport
  • Innovative folding design
  • UV protective
  • Heavy-duty construction

Cons:

  • Affected by wind
  • Open water use only

Best Solo Tripper: Esquif Adirondack

Esquif Adirondack

Length: 12 ft. (3.7 m)
Weight: 42 lbs (19 kg)
Material: T-Formex ABS Plastic Laminates
No. of seats:

When you’re solo tripping, you need a canoe that can take you where you want to go, and that you can easily move around on your own. The Esquif Adirondack is designed for long journeys on open water and up to class II rivers. This canoe is light enough for solo portages, even in the roughest terrain.

Esquif is renowned for making some of the best lightweight canoes on the market, with models like the Pocket Canyon known for being one of the most playful white water canoes available. The Adirondack balances a reasonable length against a deeper freeboard, or depth, to give you a drier ride. A limited rocker profile is used to give you better open water tracking, while still retaining white water maneuverability.

T-Formex ABS is what gives this canoe its lightweight feel, without diminishing the strength. You can haul this boat through the roughest terrain on a portage without fear of damaging it. Alternatively, it’s light enough to lift onto your shoulders if you have a well-walked portage trail handy, or to car-top at the end of your trip.

Pros:

  • Excellent balance of open water and white water 
  • Deeper for a drier ride
  • Lightweight and strong design is great for portages

Cons:

  • Shorter length does limit straight-line speed

Best Two Person Tripper: Wenonah Escape Ultralight Aramid

Wenonah Escape Ultralight Aramid

Length: 17 ft. 6 in. (533 cm)
Weight: 41 lbs. (18.5 kg)
Material: Aramid 
No. of seats: 2

Is any list of canoes complete without a Wenonah? The company renowned for making some of the finest boats on the market now make their two-person, performance touring canoe out of Aramid. With the extra depth that Wenonah has added to this model, you can load this canoe up with all of your equipment and you’ll still be riding high and dry through waves and rapids. 

The longer keel line gives the Escape the best straight-line speed of any canoe on this list, tracking comfortably into even the choppiest of waves. The Escape is actually Wenonah’s second-longest touring canoe. It has a balance of speed and maneuverability making the Escape suitable for open water, as well as streams and rivers.

The Ultralight Aramid model is the lightest in the range, best suited to those who have long portages or difficulty car-topping their canoe. If you are tripping through rough terrain or rocky rivers, there are other models in the range better suited to withstanding these hardships. Don’t worry, though, even the heavier-duty models could find their way onto our lightweight canoe list.

Pros:

  • Excellent straight-line speed and tracking
  • Extra-depth all round for a high and dry ride
  • Really lightweight tripping canoe

Cons:

  • Not suited to rocky rapids or rough terrain
  • Long canoe to load onto smaller vehicles

Best on a Budget: Mad River Canoe Adventure 14

Mad river Canoe Adventure 14

Length: 14 ft. (427 cm)
Weight: 75 lbs. (34 kg)
Material: Polyethylene
No. of seats: 2 +1

The Mad River Canoe Adventure 14 is an all-around recreational canoe. This canoe is suitable for families taking to the water for the first time, or as a second canoe for visiting friends who want to experience the joy of canoeing. The Adventure 14 has all the prowess of the larger model, the Adventure 16, but with extra stability and a more maneuverable profile.

The heavy-duty polyethylene design makes this the heaviest canoe on this list, but this lower cost production also keeps it the cheapest model, too. At just 75 lbs (34 kg), this is far from a heavy canoe, though. A pair of adults will have no issue loading this canoe onto the roof of a car or hauling it into a garage at the end of the day.

The Mad River Canoe Adventure 14 has a pair of padded seats, complete with adjustable backrests and cup holders. In the center of the canoe, there is an additional molded seat, ideal for younger paddlers or an occasional passenger. The hull shape is designed for sheltered water trips, as well as slow-moving rivers and enclosed bays. 

Pros:

  • Affordable, hard-wearing materials
  • Comfortable and supportive seating
  • Versatile design
  • Good tracking

Cons:

  • Heavy compared with other canoes on this list

Moose started his paddling life on the ponds and rivers in the south east of England. He has slowly worked his way north and has spent the last few years working his way through all things Scottish. As well as being a very experienced and knowledgeable coach and guide across Scotland and the rest of the UK, he spent a summer in Norway and a month in Nepal; apparently they weren’t bad.

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