Adirondack Pack Canoes

I’ve really enjoyed paddling my little OT Pack this past year. Now I want to upgrade to a kevlar pack canoe. There aren’t many reviews anywhere on the ones I’m interested in. I’m looking for feedback from owners or folks that have tried the canoes out I’m interested in. In order of preference here they are:

Placid Boatworks Spitfire

Hornbeck 12

Rainbow Boatworks Backcountry 12

Hemlock Nessmuk XL

Vermont Canoe Tupper

Bell Bucktail

Most of my paddling includes fly fishing for brook trout and salmon on smaller lakes and ponds though I do venture onto some bigger windy lakes once in awhile. All of these boats except one are manufactured in upstate New York or Vermont, about a 12 hour drive for me. I’d like to narrow it down so when I take a trip this spring I will only hit 2-3 shops to check out the boats. Any feedback would be appreciated.

Placid Boatworks designs are outstanding, be sure to see them when you go. Easy paddling, efficient, quick, stable. Contact Charlie Wilson at PBW…yeah he may be predjudiced but he can and will answer all your questions honestly and with great knowledge and experience…as will Dave Curtis at Hemlock. Contact them before you go.

Don’t have much experience …
with boats on your list, but spent a couple of hours at the PBW factory last summer and was very impressed with build quality and how the SF and RF paddled. In fact, so much so that I picked up a used Spitfire last month at about half price. This one hasn’t been in the water yet with me in it because the water’s been too hard here.

The SF is probably not the lightest on your list, so it might not be the best choice for getting way back in the backcountry, but it will likely handle better than some of others on bigger waters.

In any case, the PBW factory should be included in your 2-3 stop trip.


Placid Spitfire and Rapidfire
If I had the disposable cash I’d own a Rapidfire right now. I’m 6’2, 260, and felt a bit cramped in the Spitfire and a similar boat that my wife owns, the Bell Bucktail. A smaller paddler may be perfectly comfortable.

IMHO, the Rapidfire would be a bit easier to fish from, being a bit longer with a tad more stability. Placid boats are BEAUTIFULL boats, very light, impeccable worksmanship, and paddle as beautifully as they look.

Adirondack “Pack” boats are made to be paddled with a kayak paddle, but I prefer a single blade and the short time I spent in the boats, I preferred my Zaveral with it, same in the Bell Bucktail.

Corresponded a few times with them and they (I believe it was Charlie Wilson?) were very helpfull and personable.

Here’s a pic of me paddling the Rapidfire and Spitfire a couple years ago. I’d certainly love to find a Placid boat under my Christmas tree next year! WW

I tried the Vermont Tupper and returned it the same day . After paddling

some tippy sea kayaks the canoe was so unstable for me that my trip

lasted about ten minutes . Maybe its my age , am getting older , or my weight,

but I was disappointed . I had read a book about some people recreating the

original pac boats and tripping around the lake region . Seemed like fun

but its not for me .John

Pack canoes
There is one other builder of pack canoes to consider. Cal-Tek, in Kingston MA, builds pack canoes in the molds of legendary designer Bart Hauthaway. Canoes are built low tech, same as Bart built them, but are light and stable designs. They are beloved by their owners, mostly seen in New England. no web site 781-585-5666

Some questions to consider before zeroing in on a pack canoe model.

1- What is your intended use?

Pack canoe tend to be stable (you are generally sitting on the bottom), light to very light weight, have a slow final speed (hit the wall quick with hard paddling) very low effort to paddle below hull speed, easy to maneuver with a double paddle. They were designed to be easy to carry when going from small lake, to pond, to pond, to small lake and to paddle another 5 small lakes after lunch. They are also good for floating and messing about in the pond lilies on a small body of water. Some of the decked ones will handle moderate waves with ease.

2 How fast do you want it to be?

As noted above, pack canoes tend to be slow, especially those based on Rushton designs. The pinched in ends reduce the waterline length. They also tend to require less effort to maintain their speed due to the reduced wetted surface. If you are considering longer paddles or want to keep up with faster canoes, consider more modern designs (no pinch in at ends) and longer lengths.

3- Double vs. single blade.

Both work- don’t want to start the endless debate- there are some considerations for each type. Pack canoes were usually designed to be paddled with a double blade. Some paddlers prefer paddling with a single blade and do fine. Look for width for stability, if intending to use a single blade while kneeling. Lower height in mid section helps when using a double blade.

4- Decked or not?

Using a double blade in a undecked canoe is wet at least some of the time from paddle drips. You can just sponge the drips out periodically and paddle on, but it gets uncomfortable in cold weather. On open canoes, fabric deck covers are available from a few sources to solve the paddle drip issue. The decked canoes suffer less from paddle drip.

5- Weight?

Are you looking for very low weight for carries? Hormbeck builds the lightest pack canoes. Some go well under 20 lbs. Many of his canoes are Rushton style, so they will be very stable and somewhat slower. Other builders are dropping down towards Hornbeck’s canoe weights. There are a number now under 30 lbs, and some under 20 lbs. I think one Hornbeck 9’ carbon canoe is under 10 lbs. With very light canoes you have to tie them down at shore to prevent wind damage or loss of canoe.

The PBW spitfire is faster than most pack canoes, as it doesn’t have the Rushton pinched ends. The Bell Bucktail is a nice design that handles a wide weight range. I have never seen or paddled the Curtis Nessmuk. However, from the other Curtis canoes I have seen and paddled I would guess it has good speed and construction strength and is a little heavier than some of the others. The PBW Rapidfire is 15’ long so I don’t consider it a classical pack canoe, but it is very fast and very light for 15’. (Truth in advertising, I just bought one last Fall). I also own three of Bart Hauthaway designs that I bought over the last 25 years.

Hope this helps, have fun looking,


Straight from the horse’s mouth
I’m not in the market for one of these canoes, but it’s good to see no-nonsense info from someone who clearly knows what he’s talking about. I’m not 100-percent sure about pinched-in ends limiting speed by very much, because my 12-foot rowboat is shaped like that and it suddenly “hits the wall” at exactly the speed one would calculate based on the standard hull-speed formula, but what you say seems right based on intuition, nontheless. Still, I can see you’ve experienced a range of boat types, and I find this interesting because Pack canoes have always had a lot of appeal to me, even though I don’t “need” one (the type of traveling they are designed for seems pretty adventurous and fun, but not something there’s a lot of “good” opportunity for around here (we’ve got places in northern Wisconsin that are densely peppered with little lakes, but the terrain is often boggy, and there are no portage trails)).

Good stuff
Thanks for the input. Terry nice pics you’ve got on line. I’m a big boy too and it was nice to see how a big guy fits in a Spitfire. I noticed you had a lot more freeboard with the Spitfire versus the Bucktail. Ret603 thanks for the good input. Yeah, I’m sold on “pack” canoes, they suit my needs perfectly for fishing and traveling the beaverponds and small chains of lakes here in Northern Maine. Lightweight is important, but less than 20lbs and I’d worry about boat fragility. 25-30 is about right. I use a bent shaft paddle half the time and a double blade the other half. Usually the double in rough weather or if I want to make tracks. Love the manuverabilty especially with a double blade. I’ll definitely do some research on the Cal-Tek boats thanks for the lead.

Cal-Tek canoes
Dan Sheehan, the builder at Cal-Tek, will have to be called and asked for brochures. He has no web site and attends few shows or demos. Most of his sales are word of mouth and from ads in “Messing About In Boats”. Cal-Tec canoes are make from fiberglass and polyester resin, which is very old school, but well done and quite functional. If you are a big guy, ask Dan about the Nomad to see if he has the molds for it. The Nomad weights about 35 lbs and is a 12’ decked canoe. When Bart built me my Nomad he referred to it as his large person’s boat, while I would tease him about his fat man’s canoe. It handles weight! The Nomad is very stable and good for fishing. The Rob Roy is Dan’s most popular canoe but better suited for average to smaller folks.

I’m in Southern CT. I weigh about 215 now and weighed 240 when Bart built me my Nomad. If you’re in that weight range or less, and you can get down this way you could try out a few of the Hauthaway/Cal-Tec boats I have as well as my new Rapidfire.

If you are above that weight range I would suggest the Bell Bucktail in Black gold or white gold lay up. It works with a wide weight range. Bell canoe Co. has been sold and moved to WI. They are starting up with a mostly new work force. The product offerings may change, as well as the lay ups and quality control.

All PBW canoes are strong, light and fast for their size, Call Charlie to discuss which model is best for your weight and intended use.

Hornbeck canoes are all over the Adirondack area. One can’t paddle there for long there without running into a few.

While I’m less familiar with Curtis boats, they are very well thought of by their owners. Be sure to check them out also.

If you live in Maine, you could stop at Cal-Tec while heading South, and then make a trip to NY. It would be fun to demo the Cal-Tec canoes, Curtis canoes, Hornbeck’s canoes and the PBW canoes. Hell, that sounds like so much fun that I’d love to join you if I could be forced to leave my checkbook at home.


A friend has a Hornbeck
but she’s not on Hers is the kevlar solo pack canoe, weighs 18 lbs., is very sturdy, she’s had it for many years. That’s about all I can tell you, but she loves it.

Call Hornbeck and talk to them – supposed to be a very reliable company.

One more to Consider
John Dillers WeeLassie,(Savage River boat works.)

John makes a nice boat, and if you contact him he could bring a boat up near you when he is doing the Race circuit in New York/New England; or possible have one of his distributers have one. He has always encouraged me to try his boats at events and they have never failed to impress me. I raced in one of his Competition Cruisers and was pleased with its stregnth wieght Ratio on th ebig water we paddled.