How Big of a Canoe Do I Need? 3 Go Anywhere Canoes

When it comes to buying a canoe for yourself and your family, size truly does matter. You want to make sure that you have enough room for yourself, your family, the gear you need for any activities you might have planned, as well as for any dogs that may be traveling with you. Hey, they are part of the family too!

What you also need to realize is that weight is going to be a big factor in what size canoe you need to buy.

If this is an investment in your family’s vacations for years to come, you also need to factor in that, yes, while we may not want them to, our children will grow up and that includes gaining weight to make up for all those inches they seem to sprout year after year.

How Big of a Canoe Do I Need?

The average canoe can hold approximately 50 pounds per foot of canoe, meaning you need at least three to four feet of canoe per person before gear, depending upon their weight. A 16-17 foot canoe will suit most users.

If you are looking for more information about the type of canoe to buy for you and your family, you have come to the right place. Keep reading for a comprehensive guide on what to consider when picking your first canoe, as well as some options to get you started.

Guide to Choosing the Right Canoe

What are Your Paddling Plans?

It is important to consider many different factors about the style of canoeing you are planning on doing before you consider anything else.

Are you planning on using the canoe for recreation generally, flatwater touring, river touring, or whitewater paddling? All of these different options will change what type of canoe you are needing to buy.

You also need to consider the average length of your trip. Are you just planning on doing day trips? Or, are you planning on doing weekend or even week-long tours in your canoe?

Once you have answered these questions for yourself, you can begin to factor in how many people you will be traveling with as well as how much gear you will need to complete your journey and planned activities.

Choose Your Canoe Type

Now that you have answered these important questions, you get to choose the type of canoe that you will need to successfully master your chosen activities. There are many different types and styles of canoes, but the basic categories are as follows:

Recreational Canoes

These canoes are very easy and perfect for beginners. They are great for flatwater paddling. They are also a great option if you are planning on taking small children or pets out on the water, as they are stable, easy to control, and tough to flip over.

However, if you are the type who craves a technical challenge, you may need to look elsewhere. The same features that make these canoes so stable also make them much less agile than other types of canoes.

Multi-Purpose Canoes

If you looked at the above questions and worried that you might need to buy multiple types of canoes for all of the activities you have planned, never fear! Multi-purpose canoes are here to save the day and your wallet. They can be used for flatwater paddling on lakes as well as doing more technical trips on whitewater.

They have much more maneuverability and capacity than your average recreational boat. Included in the category of multi-purpose canoes are “tripping” canoes, which will have enough capacity to store a lot of gear and supplies for those week-long excursions we mentioned earlier. If you are looking for a canoe that can do it all, this category is for you.

River Canoes

If you are only looking for the thrill of whitewater and are thinking about seeing Youtube videos of some crazy whitewater trips, this is the category for you. River Canoes are specifically designed to be highly technical and up to the challenge of maneuvering some of the most difficult whitewater out there.

These canoes are designed to be impact and abrasion-resistant, which is important as you aren’t going to get through difficult whitewater without a few bumps and scrapes along the way. These also feature higher sides than your average canoe in order to deflect splashes and keep your canoe from filling up with water.

You will also notice a lot of end-to-end curvature on these canoes, and that is called the rocker. The rocker is important because it increases maneuverability, which is so important when traversing a difficult whitewater course.

How Big of a Canoe Do I Need? #boating


Now that we know what type of canoe to look for, let’s get back to our original question: how big should your canoe be? There are three dimensions we can look at here when determining how big your canoe should be.


The average canoe is about 16 feet in length. Given our prior calculation, that means you can safely travel with 800 pounds + of weight in your canoe. This is plenty for the average family of four with two less than full-grown children, and some gear. For day-tripping, you honestly should not need much more than that.

However, you also need to factor in ease of use. Longer canoes are actually easier to maneuver and keep up to speed once you get there, so you may want to opt for a canoe that’s a few feet longer if you think it will help you and your family get where you are going on your day trips.


It is important to remember that the wider the boat, the more stable it is. If you are planning on traveling with small children or dogs, or if you are thinking about fishing from your canoe, you should probably opt for one that is wider than one that is meant to be more technical.

A more narrow canoe will be a bit easier to maneuver and keep on track, so if you are looking for speed and agility in your canoe, you may want to go with an option that is a bit more on the narrow side. Just make sure that your paddling companions have stability and life jackets so that there are no tragedies if the canoe tips for any reason.


Depth in a canoe is the measure of the distance between the sidewalls and the very bottom of the boat. A deeper boat will have tall sides, for instance. A deeper canoe will help increase the capacity for carrying gear as well as keep more water out of the canoe, which is going to be very important for lengthier excursions.

If you are worried about wind and maneuverability, a flatter canoe will be better as it will be less affected by wind.

What Canoe Should I Buy?

Now that we have discussed all of the factors to consider when looking at what type of canoe you should purchase, we have a few options to get you started. We have provided our top pick of a canoe for a family of four, for a couple with a wild side, and for someone who wants to take a long-term excursion downriver in their canoe.

For the Family of Four

Old Town Saranac 160 Family Canoe

This canoe is incredibly stable, which makes it the perfect choice for the average family of four. This 16’ canoe is incredibly spacious for its size. It has three seats and a weight capacity of 750 pounds. It is also a very dog-friendly canoe as the bottom is not too deep for the dog to slide around.

The Saranac 160 is also great because it can hold a lot of gear, meaning you can easily fit that family picnic in a cooler, or the fishing gear when teaching your son how to fish. There are even rod holders for this very thing!

For the Adventurous Couple

Old Town Penobscot 174

This advanced canoe is perfect for the thrill-seeking couple. This canoe is highly responsive and takes on high speed and turns like it owns the water. It also features high sides to keep water from coming overboard.

This 17 footer will also hold a bit of gear, so you can take on that weekend excursion going through multiple stretches of whitewater without worrying about having enough food and gear on hand for the trip. At a lightweight 83 pounds, this canoe is also easy to pull in and out of the water when you’ve earned a much-needed break.

For the Long Haul

Wenonah Spirit II

We have another 17-footer on our list here, as it is the standard that most trippers take. This boat has been around with very little changes to its design for over 30 years. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You can trust this canoe to be by your side for years to come. It was designed for it.

The Spirit two paddles easily and accelerates like a breeze. You won’t get exhausted on your week-long excursion with this canoe.

How Big of a Canoe Do I Need? 3 Go Anywhere Canoes