Bell Northwind vs Northwoods


I need some advice, being that I am not able to easily put these two canoes together to test. A sad year for Bell Canoes. I am looking to purchase one of these canoes. I just need some advice from those who have experience with them.

Here is my situation: I paddle mostly with my wife, who is 5’ 2" and 105 lbs. I am 6’ 1" and 220 lbs. My son is 3 years old, and my dog is a little french brittany at 36 lbs. We mostly do day trips around the twin cities lakes and rivers, multiple days every week. Once or twice a year we take a trip into the Boundary Waters (BWCA) for 3 to 7 days. We always pack light (one backpack for each of us), and we like to paddle most of the day, if not all day, on these trips.

If we can do all of this in a Northwind, I would be quite happy. A shorter canoe is easier in the woods and it will perform wonderfully on our many day trips. But, I am not sure how long we can expect to be able to carry the family on longer trips. I do paddle with other friends; and, I am sure that BWCA trips would be met with the Northwind, on those occasions. I have also considered the idea of adding or renting a solo canoe or kayak down the road. Once my son can paddle with my wife for our Boundary Waters trips.

It might be helpful to know that most of my time has been in a Wenonah 18’ Jensen from the 1980’s. Thank you for any help you can lend me.

Leaning towards the Northwind?
I think you should get the canoe that is going to work best for you 90% of the time and you can always rent/borrow something different, if you need to, for that once or twice a year you do BWCA or some other long trip.

Not Paddled the Northwoods
But having owned and paddled the 16’6" royalex Northwind, it can handle your needs. Only have a few days in a rented composite (17’6") Northwind, but it is an even better choice. That extra foot gives a bit more space. I too prefer sub 18’ boats on portages. I think the Northwind would be MY choice unless all my trips would be 2 large guys and/or long trips. WW

Black Gold 17’6"

– Last Updated: Jun-13-11 5:57 PM EST –

JDB: Yes I am leaning towards the Northwind. As long as we can do reasonable BWCA trips as my son gets older, this would be my choice. I agree that the single day excursions are the most important, but if I was to learn that the Northwind would not work for BWCA trips. I would go with the Northwoods and live with the portages, and issues around small streams.

Wildernesswebb: It sounds like the Black Gold Northwind would work well for us. I have read on the BWCA board that the Northwoods can get pushed around in the wind. When it is loaded light. It also sounds like others have taken some significant trips in the Northwind. I just wasn't sure with my son in the canoe, what to expect. Especially, as he gets a little older, and needs more room. I have the opportunity to buy either in Black Gold and I need to decide in the next couple of days.

Thanks to both of you.

Here’s a Pic…

– Last Updated: Jun-13-11 7:50 PM EST –

...of the Kev light Northwind we rented. We had the #4 and #3 Duluth Packs in front of and behind yoke lying flat for less wind resistance on a May trip. You could have had them both upright in front of or behind center yoke allowing son and pup in the unused "Compartment." Had it in some big waves and it rode well. I'll throw in a pic of our loaded down Northwind 16'6. Have a great story on the secondary stability of that boat. Water was up and we were on a day paddle with a friends grandaughter amidships. Water was high and my wife planted her paddle into a super-strong eddy. She was literally pulled overboard and the gunnel dipped briefly and returned to center. My "Cargo" clamored into the bow seat and we turned around and retrieved my wife! WW

Too funny
That is a great story. I am still laughing as I write this, and I would have loved to have been there. Thank you for the pictures, along with the description of the pack size. It really helps me to see that this is a good choice for us. From what I am seeing, I think we can balance the canoe and maintain a good waterline with all of us and our gear.

After, having read every internet post that I could during my search for a canoe. With a specific interest in these Bell models. Due to my long love of the canoes aesthetics and design history. I only lacked insight into a long distance trip experience to help make my decision. Since, my only time in a Northwind was long ago for a short period of time. You have been most helpful in filling this need. Thank you.

North: Wind and Woods
It’s helpful to remember that they are pretty much the same boat; the same cross sections, the same rocker with a foot difference in length.

The Wood’s extra foot yields a little more speed and a little more capacity at the cost of a little more skin friction. With two extra entities rattling around in the boat, the room and small stability gain will be nice.

The extra room will postpone the day when dad needs get his own solo. Once that happens, the smaller Wind will be the better boat for a petite wife with young paddler and dog.

I Would Pay Big Bucks…
…to have video of it! My brain still has difficulty processing it! Thankfully, I have “Witnesses,” 'cause nobody would believe that story. WW

It would seem that the benefit of size would be realized while on trips beyond a day. Is this correct? Is there a quantifiable difference in stability? Or, is it so slight as to be a benefit but not one to base a decision upon?

My biggest reservation with a longer canoe is portaging. We tend to pick hard portages to get into more remote areas. A foot doesn’t sound like a lot, but things like this can make a difference. There is also a three pound difference to add to the increased length of lever. Is this over stated in your experience?

I know there are other great canoes and others to yet be designed and produced. But, I would prefer not having to sell this one and try and find two canoes down the road. I will do it if it makes logical sense to me. If stability is noticeably better in the Northwoods, and we are really pushing the limit of the size of the Northwind. What do you think?Thank you for your valued input.

I can’t see a foot difference in length
being much of an issue in portaging. Weight is the issue.

…on lesser traveled portages in the BWCAW, shorter is easier to make the twists, turns, over deadfall, etc. Wouldn’t SEEM to make a big difference on paper, but real life…

My wife and I paddle a Northwoods
The Northwoods is a great canoe! We also have a Northwind but the go to canoe is the Northwoods since it has such a glide. The Woods is a Kevlight while the Northwind is a Royalex. Our only trouble with the Northwoods is when paddle with a group we really have ease up or we leave them. The other problem with the Northwoods is if you have to replace gunwales ( bought it used with rotted wood) there almost impossible to find. Had the change out the bad wooden ones for Bell aluminum. I was lucky to find a local shop with the Bell aluminum gunwales.

20 ft board
19 foot long rails are available from Essex Industries and Ed’s Canoe Parts. Ed’s offers a scarf jointed set that ships as a 10 ft package.

Someone should note that their is a lot of grass between a composite NthWind and the RX version, which is really just a RX MorningStarwith a foot long parallel section added, so not a 'Wind at all.

And again, if the team paddles well: on opposite sides, in cadence, top hands across the rails and strokes that end at the torso, N’Woods is a great hull which deserves a better following than it has.

Actually, if the difference in length is
only a foot, that’s 6 inches at each end. Is that so much more trouble on a portage that one should give up a foot of length on the lakes, where it makes a big difference in capacity?

I portaged an 18.5’ canoe in Quetico. A 16.5’ canoe would have been easier in certain places, but more because of lower weight than maneuverability. Unless one is able to do single-carry portages, a scouting trip will show approaches for long boats.

Read a middle post
The OP tends to pick unmaintained portages. Yes that six inches can make a difference.

I have been to Quetico several times and had no trouble as I stuck to mainline routes.

I have also been to other areas with no maintenance and even at fifteen feet there was trouble.

Time to chime in…
…on my own experience during difficult portages. Simply put, I have never been on a difficult, remote, poorly maintained, portage and wished I was portaging a longer canoe.

To elaborate, it gets old really fast fighting the canoe. The question was really rather rhetorical, as I have my own experiences and needs. I like to go to places where I will be alone. I like the challenge of the portage and the joy of having the lake to myself. I like that many others either won’t or can’t get there. It is a feeling of having earned something that required taking something from me. It is just a goofy personal trait, pushing the body and equipment to extremes. Although, it does seem that the mind want’s it more than the body as the years go by. Thank God there is naproxen.

You can be in trouble with any length,
but you can’t convince me that a length difference of only a foot is going to make or break a trip with portages.

Dear G2D come with me
I can show you some portages that are mostly virtual but are portages. The trouble is the last time people passed by was in 1938(unless Keewaydin has adopted the portage…then its still not cleared, but has been traversed more recently)

You really have to, while you can, venture into the boreal forest. 30 percent of it is on its side at any given time. Fires and micro bursts do that to the shallow rooted black spruce.

How much faster…
…is the Northwoods vs the Northwind in a composite form? Are there any hard numbers or percentages? How much more energy output is required to overcome the extra skin effect and to maintain a higher speed? How long can one continue at the higher output?

Let’s look at it this way. If the same amount of energy is put into propelling both canoes. Let’s say at an energy level that can be maintained over a six hour period. How much faster is the Northwoods? Does anybody know? I actually would like to know these numbers.

As for the other, if we follow the logic that longer is better. Then why not 24 foot canoes? Certainly, they could be made light enough to carry compared to the canoes of yore. They could reach higher speeds, and we could hall more stuff. You really can’t have to much stuff (Sorry George Carlin, I couldn’t resist.).

Let’s get back on point. Actual experience with either canoe, would be greatly appreciated. I need to decide tomorrow.

You’re still talking around my point.
just a foot difference in boat length is NOT going to make a crucial difference in whether you can make a portage.

Just a foot. We’re talking about two specific Bell canoes, one a foot longer than the other, and the guy’s trying to decide which one to get. I’m saying that chopping a foot off a canoe is not going to make enough difference on difficult portages.

Now, if you go all the way down to a 14 footer like that portaged by a certain retired lawyer we know, that would be an advantage. Thats 3.5’ shorter. Or, if you do the trip in a Bell Morningside, 15.5’, that’s two feet shorter, and would make a noticeable difference. But a mere foot difference is what we in the scientific community call “neither a statistically nor clinically significant difference.”

I never said that length didn’t make a difference. Only that there comes a point where a length difference is too small to really matter.