The Prism is our most popular composite solo canoe. Incredibly versatile, it'll take you comfortably over all kinds of waters. Blending efficiency, stability, capacity, and finesse, it's ideal for cruising with a light load, but also has the volume needed for medium-length trips. Canoe & Kayak Magazine said it well when they wrote, " The Prism is all about glide and speed. It's a lean boat that tracks the best of those reviewed, yet will turn quickly enough, and returns to a stable position more readily than other fast canoes."
The solo canoe Wenonah Prism in ultralight Kevlar weighs just 34-lb. This Prism is a dream for me to portage. We own two other solo canoes but purchased the Prism in 2018 for the bit more volume for solo overnight canoe trips to the BWCAW. By taking one 100-liter drybag pack and placing it aft and sliding the comfortable tractor seat and foot brace all the way forward trims the Prism and gives me the ability to hike the portage trails just once. The Prism has a lake canoe design, tracks straight, but handles well on rivers and streams. Living near the Namekagon river in Northern Wisconsin I frequently paddle the nimble Prism upstream several miles before turning around after a good workout having saved a second vehicle shuttle. How durable is ultralight Kevlar? We have an old tandem Wenonah ultralight Kevlar canoe which we use frequently, the ultralight Kevlar has lasted us two decades by taking care around rocks and gravel bars and storing it in the garage after use.
I purchased my Wenonah Prism (with Flex-Core Kevlar hull, gel coat, and aluminum trim all around) brand new in 1998. I will never sell it unless it's to replace it with another Prism with an ultralight Kevlar or carbon/graphite hull. I can honestly say that after 20+ years of ownership, it's been a perfect marriage. I do have some gripes, but it's difficult to complain about a product that has performed so well for so long. My review is not intended to be an objective scientific evaluation of data, efficiency equations, and other measurable values. This is my own personal subjective opinion after 20 years of ownership and use of the Wenonah Prism.
I really do love my Prism, and it's seen a lot of use over two decades. At times I'm a weekend warrior, and other times more than that. I've used it extensively in the backcountry of the Adirondacks - the Saranac Lake chain, the St. Regis Canoe region, the Raquette River, etc. and it has not failed me in any way. Ever. It weighs in at 44 pounds, and my only regret is that I didn't save a little longer as a 20-year-old and buy it with an ultralight hull to keep the weight down on the portages.
My favorite three qualities are:
Back at camp, I've played around with it plenty of times in my bathing suit, intentionally flipping it over, and I'll honestly tell you that it takes me a bit of intentional effort to capsize. I've never once accidentally capsized my Prism in 20 years of real-world use. This is in stark contrast to my new Swift Keewaydin 14, which I capsized in the first five minutes of ownership! (FYI the Prism and Keewaydin are two VERY different canoes). I was testing the limits of the Keewaydin, and it turned over a LOT quicker than I thought it would, and not nearly with the effort it takes to intentionally capsize my Prism. But more on that later... Granted I am only 160 pounds, but like I've said, stability seems to improve with weight in the boat. Predictable stability is my favorite feature of the Prism. Any canoe will seem tippy to a novice, but anyone even remotely familiar with performance canoes will appreciate the stability of the Prism.
Tracking - This canoe tracks a straight line. If you use a J-stroke, it's so easy to paddle for a mile and not have to switch sides with the paddle. I suppose it should track straight, being that it's 16'6" long and has no rocker, but it definitely does a good job doing what it was designed to do. As a result, maneuverability is the trade-off, but I haven't had any trouble turning. It's only when you compare it to a 14' hull with rocker that you realize what you're giving up in maneuverability, but of course a 14' hull with rocker will generally not track as straight. Doing a 180 in steady wind just takes a little more effort, but that's by fundamental design, so absolutely no complaints from me. I usually use a bent shaft paddle, and it works extremely well with that. Recently I've been using it with a 240cm carbon Werner kayak paddle, and it works well with that also. In retrospect, I probably would have gotten a 260cm Werner (Camano), but the 240 works well using a more horizontal stroke. A shorter paddle would work very well with a vertical stroke if you don't mind getting a little wet.
Capacity - This canoe can handle a load very well. I've never thought twice about loading up a week's worth of gear. I can handle that without a sweat. Again, I'm only 160 pounds, so your body weight may be more of a factor when adding gear. Stability, wind resistance, and tracking even seem to improve with the extra weight.
My only issue with this canoe is a feeling I get with Wenonah in general. I'm not a pro or a competitive paddler, but I use my gear. I use it hard, take care of it, and appreciate it. When I look at the new canoes being produced by companies like Swift, I can't help but wonder if Wenonah is stuck in 1978. I recently purchased a second canoe (one that would be more nimble and maneuverable in rivers), and looked hard at all of the Wenonah solo canoes, but ended up buying a Swift Keewaydin 14. The materials and attention to every minuscule detail with Swift is, in my humble opinion, simply better. I hate saying this. I love my Wenonah. I love the Wenonah company. But when it comes to things like rattling seats that seem kinda cheap, yokes getting bent and stuck on pins, footrests that seen kevlar-taped in place vs. being integrated into the hull construction, the Swift wins in every way. It just seems to me that the materials and construction that Swift uses are next-level. Don't take my word for it - go take a look for yourself. With Kevlar or cherry gunnels and thwarts - or both combined, Kevlar seats that are solid and secure including a genius multi-height seat pod system as an option that's built into the hull rather than looking like it's been taped to the hull with kevlar tape, quick-screw yokes that are solid and functional, ridiculously beautiful emerald, ruby, sapphire, or traditional clear kevlar hull options and multiple carbon hull options, it's hard not to look at Wenonah as old-school and Swift as state-of-the-art. It's not that Wenonah's quality is poor - my canoe has lasted 20 years without a single problem. I wanted to buy a new Wenonah but couldn't walk away from the Swift - and I actually felt bad about not buying another Wenonah as if I was buying coffee from a competitor rather than from my best friend's bakery.
If I won a million dollars, I'd ask Swift to build me a replica of the Wenonah Prism using their carbon construction techniques no matter how much it cost. I wish Wenonah would take a few steps forward. The Prism sold today is essentially the same exact canoe and materials as the one I bought 21 years ago. It's hard to argue with "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", but isn't that what Kodak said when digital cameras came out?
I hope this review helps you. I also hope that it reaches the folks at Wenonah, and I would be more than happy to bring both my Prism and new Keewaydin up their headquarters so I could show them what I'm talking about. I'd love to see Wenonah around for another 50 years at least!
All this being said, I think the Prism is the most well-rounded solo canoe that I've ever used when it comes to stability, capacity, tracking, and overall performance. I'd highly recommend it. It's an awesome canoe. After 20 years of use, I'd give it 2 thumbs up to anyone considering acquiring one. If I had only one canoe to choose from, weighing all factors, it would be my Prism. If you're on the fence about buying one, buy it. The performance is so good that I doubt you will be disappointed.
I have only paddled on flat water so far. The boat tracks very well. It does not require nearly the effort that it does to solo a tandem canoe. Yesterday I picked up a kayak paddle, and that is even better. This boat flys.
So far, my only concern is getting in and out of the canoe. It is a trickier affair than getting in or out of my wider canoes. I would prefer to have the option of kneeling, but the sliding tractor seat makes it a sit down canoe. After seven uses, I am adjusting to that.
I look forward to trying the canoe in heavier wind and chop to see how it feels.
Wenonah craftsmanship is top notch.
I have it in the tuff-weave layup and it is more than manageable to portage. It is holding up well to the numerous dings and scratches it has earned so far. I am not likely to part with it.
This boat is FAST! I GPS'd a 3 mile paddle last night & I was maintaining 4.5 mph easily with a kayak paddle. My max speed was over 6 mph. I switched to a single blade ottertail paddle, and maintained a 4 mph average speed (though I was working harder)You'll have no trouble keeping up with your kayaking friends!
The boat takes waves nicely at an angle or head-on. Taking waves broadside makes it feel a bit skittish. It turns readily, which was a bit of a surprise considering the speed & great tracking.
It is 4" or so narrower at the gunnels than at it's widest, so you don't have to worry about clunking the rails.
The workmanship on the boat is very good, and I like the fact that I can move the seat to balance the canoe after adding a portage pack or a dog.
New to canoeing with the idea of paddling the entire Missouri, I had no real idea of what canoe to purchase for a trip the length of such a big river, the longest on the North American continent. I decided to look for a boat that was light weight, strong and had good carrying capacity. Fifteen to 17 feet seemed to be the right length and somewhere between 35 and 40 pounds was a weight that I could easily handle with all of the portages and ins and outs of such a journey. After significant research I discovered that Wenonah Prism Kevlar Ultra-Light would be my choice. Proving a very good choice, it fulfilled all my expectations for a touring boat.
The Prism handles well in rough water and high winds while tracking straight and turning easily. With a few professional lessons and practice, the boat responds to all my directions quickly and smoothly. Carrying up to 2 weeks supplies along with 5 gallons of water has little effect on its speed or handling.
During my training sessions on Emigrant Lake nearby my home, on the Klamath River with somewhat faster water then I thought a novice should be paddling and on the Willamette River I found that the Prism quickly inspired confidence. It just feels stable.
I am an old man in my 7th decade and comfort is an issue as my body does not bend easily or sit for long periods in discomfort very well. Neither of these has been a problem. Paddling for 8 or more hours a day still found me feeling ready to go every morning. I have added the Wenonah seat back and cushion which helped a great deal.
Kevlar is: strong but susceptible to scraping wounds. A little more care is required if you want to keep your boat bottom looking good. I do like a clean finish and that requires a little more care on my part.
Now that I am a more experienced paddler and understand boat design and its effect on performance would I choose a different canoe for the same journey? No. I would choose again a We-no-nah Prism.
The Prism is fast -- my GPS clocks it at 4.5MPH without pressing when using the double-bladed kayak paddle, and it has exceeded 6MPH downwind in a current. I generally get about 3.5MPH when using the traditional single-blade canoe paddle. A recent solo trip demonstrated the boat's speed, which surprisingly was almost as fast fully loaded. Incidentally, the Prism handled like a barge fully loaded until I rearranged the gear to improve the trim, after which it was fine; the sliding seat definitely helps the trim, especially when lightly-loaded.
This boat is designed to track extremely well, which means that it is definitely NOT suited for whitewater use as it cannot be turned quickly enough to be safe in a rock-strewn rapid, especially when loaded. However, last week I found myself in big water with a 25MPH wind and two-foot waves (not recommended for any paddlecraft!) and found the boat to be extremely steady and seaworthy. In summary, this is an excellent touring and tripping solo canoe for flatwater use which I would definitely recommend to anyone. If whitewater is your thing, however, look elsewhere as this boat is just not designed for it.
I took a four day solo trip this past spring. The total load I was carrying was about 340 pounds. That included a 70 pound Chesapeake. I was really happy with the way she handled the wind and waves when loaded, and when empty in the evening while fishing. I was real happy with the speed I was able to maintain. I generally use a bent shaft paddle with the sit-and-switch technique. I switch to a straight shaft when I am fishing (trolling) and paddle with a C-stroke then. Both techniques have their place.
I was most impressed with how she rode out waves. On the last morning of my trip there was a 15-20 mph wind that was kicking up waves that were about 1 foot (I don't believe reports of canoeing in 2-3 footers on small lakes, either dumb or not a good guess on wave height) with whitecaps. Things were a bit ticklish when the waves were directly on the beam, but quartering or heading directly into them was fine. I did slow down going into the waves just so that I wouldn't spear them, with unpleasant results.
In the wind it really helps to be properly trimmed. The sliding seat makes that quicker and easier than without. Any high performance hull will tend to have quirks when things are not in trim. I have had the boat out without cargo (just the dog and a small day pack) in about a 25 mile per hour wind (small bay w/o significant waves) and didn't have any problems with directional control. I had to work a bit harder to make her go straight, but I expected that.
I have been satisfied with the turning even without heeling over. You simply use a sweep stroke. Heeling over will allow a quicker turn though.
When I used her to paddle up a small windy river the Prism was clearly out of her element, even with a lot of heeling. The current just grabbed the bow and I couldn't make some curves w/o a few tries.
I guess to summarize this boat I would say that she is a sweet boat that paddles very well light and loaded. When I went on my solo trip I found that I did a lot more poking around off of my most direct route. The Prism paddles so easily that going off of my most direct path was not an issue.
The stability is very good for a roundy bottom canoe. If you've never paddled a solo canoe, it's a bit like staying balanced on a bicycle only easier. If you could lower the seat an inch or two somehow I don't think you would ever be able to tip it over unless you tried really hard. Along with it's inherent stabillity it has the ability handle waves without any problem, in fact waves are fun in this boat, you don't feel like you are about to go over at any time and in big power boat wakes that is very re-assuring.
The tractor seat is comfy for hours and hours if you use a gel yak pad on top of it. You can also fit several boat cushions between your back and the rear thwart and it's almost like a lazyboy chair then. The foot braces work excellent, they're very well designed, just replace the wing nuts they give you with self locking nuts or they will come loose and fall off, possibly while on your roof going down the highway which is not good.
The width of 26" at the seat is great because it allows you to access stuff along side the seat pedastal like a water bottle or anything else that can get a little bit wet without hurting it. I bird watch with binoculars and make videos while parked and have found that a 2lb round fishing weight makes a great anchor and takes up little space.
Not that space is an issue because this canoe has lots of it due to it's length and volume, it also tracks well, but is not quick to turn so forget whitewater in the prism. As for speed, my Etrex indicates that it does about 3 mph. at a comfy paddling pace with a kayak paddle. I use a bending branches 240 cm wood paddle which is very light weight and has that small amount of give that is so nice about wood plus it's warmer in the winter to hold onto than aluminum or composite would be.
I have been paddling since I was 15, now I'm 43 and spent some of the most happy hours in this canoe, and it does everything I want it too, almost. The one and only drawback I have found which I was unaware of before I bought it, is that any kind of breeze affects this canoe VERY adversely. If you compare the measurements that wenonah gives for the prism it is about 3" higher at the bow and the stern than the advantage, which people reviewing that canoe say is not affected by the wind so this may be why the prism has problems, at least with a 175 lb load. More weight might help with the wind problem but I haven't tried that yet. As it is it has very high freeboard and very little draft so this translates into sometimes not being able to control the canoe if the wind gets stiff enough. It just blows you sideways like other reviewers have also said. I personally feel this can be down right dangerous in the wrong set of circumstances and it's positively annoying otherwise to say the least. This cuts down on the number of places where I feel I want to use my otherwise fun little canoe. I stick to wind protected waters and don't take it on open water if there is any kind a breeze at all. I wish Wenonah would make a model of prism with less bow and stern height like the advantage for instance, because it really is a wonderful canoe otherwise, every thing else about it is just fine. I may get an Advantage someday simply because of the wind issue, but I just hate to give up that wonderful stability. If it wasn't for that I would rate the Prism a 10. But only, only, because of the wind problem I give it a 9 because I can't use it in places I would like to other wise. But I still love my Prism anyway!
I raised the back of the tractor seat about an inch to make it easier to kneel in, which helps the lower back. If you want to turn on a dime or do whitewater forget the Prism. But if you want a stable, predictable boat you can "cover ground" in and carry a week's or more worth of gear, laughing at the waves, give 'er a try.
On a positive note about the Prism I don't even blink at 3 foot waves. The boat will take them at any angle. I have gotten it to spear waves but I had to really work at it. It carries a large load or a small load fast enough for me to keep up with any tandem and that includes a Minnesota II. It's stable enough to fish out of. For a hit and switch paddler there is nothing better, beginner or expert. If you have trouble getting this canoe to turn try contacting Wennonah. The staff there will be more then happy to give you some tips that really work.
In general the canoe is well made. The wood trim is reasonably well done but not perfect. In general I don't think the We-no-nah canoes are quite as well finished as the Bell canoes but they are satisfactory. On the other hand I wanted a canoe without rocker and Bell doesn't make one.
I took the canoe to the BWCAW in late September. When crossing Brule Lake I was in 2 to 2 1/2 foot waves. At first I was somewhat nervous about this but the canoe handled the waves without any problems at all. I took no water over the bow. The canoe weight is cataloged at 34 pounds and We-no-nah states the wood gunwales will add about 2 pounds. Weighing the canoe on an accurate (balance beam) scale it weighs 35 pounds. Its a dream to portage and a dream to paddle both with steering strokes and with switch side techniques. It does not turn readily (due to its 16'6" length and lack of rocker) unless well heeled over. On the other hand I bought it for the BWCAW not as a white water boat. Due to its light weight I was very careful to tie in to a tree every night, something I never felt necessary with my Grumman canoe!
All in all I have been very satisfied with this canoe.