Beginners often overvalue initial stability and tracking. Primary stability is prized to the exclusion of final stability. New paddlers naturally worry about tipping over. Tracking is prized at the expense of maneuverability. Beginners struggle to keep a boat going straight, so overvalue tracking. If you’re a beginner you can still demo canoes, but you should seek opinions from experienced paddlers that may provide a larger perspective. Another alternative to a demo is to rent the model you’re considering from a local outfitter.


Besides paddling in a straight line and staying upright, what other things should you do at a demo?

First, if you’ll frequently paddle the boat with gear, bring along some weight, so you can feel how it performs loaded. Easiest are dry bags filled with water.

Second, test out the maneuverability. Is there an obstacle you can maneuver around? How easy or difficult is it to turn 180°. If you paddle in the north, pretend you’re maneuvering into a challenging landing at a portage.

Third, test out the secondary stability. For most novices that usually means wiggling their hips and watching the gunwales dip a little from side to side. If the canoe is well designed, experienced paddlers will heel the canoe, and the most skilled can put the gunwale on the water. How can the novice simulate what an experienced paddler can do, while avoiding a fish survey? Plant the tip of your paddle blade on the lake bottom in a foot of water. Heel the canoe while leaning on the paddle for balance. Do that a few times and then try not using the paddle for balance. This lets you experience the secondary stability without full consequences.

Last, try to demo in wind and waves. All designers can create designs that work well on flatwater. The real art of canoe design is making a canoe that blends seaworthiness with flat water performance and efficiency with maneuverability.

Is it necessary to demo a canoe before buying one? No, it’s not. With enough advice from experienced paddlers you can make a good choice. There’s no need to spend weekends dodging plastic kayaks at demo events. However, if you feel a demo is necessary, show up early to make sure you have plenty of time to test all the handling characteristics of the canoe. Be prepared to relinquish the boat to others and wait your turn to paddle it again. Last, remember its way more fun to be paddling than agonizing about making a choice.