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:
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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