What is the Right Type of Canoe?


A friend of mine was once offered a free canoe. Why is it that such a theoretically positive word always winds up being a negative one? Even in the 1960’s – which is when it was probably built – it would not have been considered a great boat, let alone one to hoist on your shoulders into the back country. We decided to take it on a trip anyway – it was free after all. Turns out it didn’t lie in the water very well. With gear and two paddlers, it sunk down with only about an inch of clearing, making even the smallest wave a threat to swamp. Even after moving gear to the other boat in our group, it was still a nightmare because it felt as though even one shift of weight would send it over, and it was heavy and awkward to carry. It had a sad little center thwart with shoulder pads for portaging, but they didn’t do much, but the real problem was that you couldn’t get it to balance properly. Did I mention it was heavy? We managed to get this thing through the trip, including a horrible 2,200m portage. Our next trip with this thing was a practice run one afternoon close to home, where we managed to tip this thing over in a shallow river. You can only imagine my horror when after traversing some pretty big lakes on our last trip, we discovered that this thing sunk like a stone with even a small amount of water. If it had actually tipped on our trip… well I don’t want to think about that.

I won’t tell you here what specific kind of canoe to bring, but you should consider a couple of things:

  • A portaging canoe should be able to hold 2 paddlers and all their gear comfortably, and have enough clearing so that it’s not able to tip over without significant effort.
  • It should be light enough to carry by anyone in the group. If the guy who convinced you to bring that heavy canoe twists his ankle, you may not be bringing that boat back.
  • It should be able to withstand several knocks into rocks. It happens to the best of us. I have no proof of this, but I believe there exists some predator rocks that feed on canoe paint and lie in wait for passing canoeists. It’s really the only explanation for the scratches on my boat.
  • It should also be made to be carried. It most likely would have a proper yoke to sit it on your shoulders properly (or some other set up) and should be properly balanced from the carrying point so you’re not fighting it to stay in place. Most portageurs will experiment with different ways to carry over a portage, but a large majority finally conclude that it’s easiest for one person to carry the boat.

Unless you know for sure that the boat you’re bringing meets these requirements, I’d suggest you just rent one. If you get it from an outfitter, they’re not going to rent you something that isn’t right for a portage trip. Very often, you’ll have the choice of paying a little more for a lighter canoe, or save a little money in exchange for a little elbow grease. Normally it only costs somewhere between $30 and $50 a day for a good canoe, and that’s for two people. What makes it even more worthwhile is that if you rent from a local outfitter, you don’t have drive it there and back from home.

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