The weight of a canoe can be crucial on wilderness trips where several long portages interrupt your time on the water. In Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area, for example, an average trip will see you paddling across a dozen lakes and making at least that many portages carrying a canoe overhead for distances ranging from a couple hundred feet up to a mile.
Wenonah’s Spirit II, a sleek all-purpose canoe made for multi-day trips, is available in several configurations. The Kevlar version weighs a miniscule 42 pounds and costs $2,099; the base model, a 68-pound boat made of a plastic material called Royalex, costs just $1,199. They are the exact same canoe, just made with different materials.
To see if the lighter-weight model is worth an extra $900, I performed a head-to-head test, pitting Kevlar against Royalex on the Mississippi River.
On the water, both versions act pretty much the same. They track and turn well and are comfortable to paddle. Experienced canoeists will notice a bit more responsiveness with the rigid Kevlar model; beginners may feel that the heavier Royalex boat is more stable. The Royalex version also will be more durable and is better suited for river travel where you may hit a rock or two.
On land, as would be expected, the Kevlar boat is much easier to manage. I was surprised how much lighter the 42-pound canoe felt than the 68-pound model, even on short portages. You pay about $35 for each pound dropped with the Kevlar model, but it’s worth it for anyone who will be toting a canoe on land a lot.
In addition to the models I reviewed, Wenonah makes two other versions of the Spirit II: The Kevlar Flex-core model weighs 54 pounds and costs $1,699; the Tuf-weave Flex-core version weighs 63 pounds and costs $1,299.
All the materials have their pros and cons, be it price, weight or durability. Other Wenonah canoes, as well as canoes from other manufacturers, often follow this same model of offering a boat design in several material configurations, thus letting the buyer find the most perfect boat for any given situation.