OT pack for class 2/3

Would an OT pack handle class 2 maybe little class 3 water? Day trips only 4-8 miles, summer temps, I’m an okay paddler but not super well versed.

If you have to ask, the answer is no.

Oh a reasonably skilled paddler might be able to take it through some non-technical and relatively unobstructed Class II rapids that are not too long. Forget about Class III.

There are several reasons why the Old Town Pack is not well-suited for whitewater paddling. First, it has no outfitting. Nearly 100% of open boaters running significant whitewater paddle in a kneeling position for control and stability. A pack canoe is designed to be paddled from a sitting position, often with a double-bladed paddle. Sure you could put some kneeling pads in it but you would need to be sure that you could easily extract your feet from underneath the seat frame and with a center depth of only 11.5" you may or may not be able to remount the seat high enough to do that.

Second, that lack of depth means that the boat will be more likely to take on water running through standing waves or small holes.

Third, the boat is pretty wide at 32" at center. For a smaller paddler that might make cross strokes on your off-side more difficult. Cross strokes are pretty important when it comes to solo whitewater open boating.

If you look around I suspect you could find a used “old school” whitewater solo canoe that would be much better suited for you if you want to paddle Class II and Class III whitewater.

The Pack was designed as a flat water boat for calm conditions and moderate load (under 275 lbs). As previously noted, someone who knew what they were doing and had properly outfitted the boat with bags, etc, could make it work, but the shape and dimensions of the hull would make the job harder and even riskier than it should be.

Well I’m glad that I bought up a Reflection and OCV. “Properly outfitted” caught me off guard. I won’t change the Pack but want to make sure I have the others reasonably set. What is entailed in a properly outfitted canoe? I will mainly paddle day trips on the upper Potomac and Shenandoah.

If you want to paddle anything more than Class I I would strongly suggest that you set the boat up so that you can safely kneel in it. These days most canoes specifically designed for whitewater use will have some type of foam pedestal or saddle installed that you sit on while kneeling. These have the advantage of posing very little entrapment hazard if the canoe should pin with you in it and the bottom of the hull gets pushed up.

An alternative to a pedestal is a suspended frame seat or a kneeling thwart. These need to be high enough to be able to easily extract your feet from underneath in the event of a capsize. Many stock seats will need to be rehung at a higher level. Also most paddlers who kneel on a seat or kneeling thwart will cant the seat so the front rail or front of the thwart is a little closer to the hull bottom and the sitting surface is angled at around 7 degrees give or take from the horizontal. That way the front of the thwart or seat frame has less tendency to dig into your thighs.

You will want some type of padding for your knees. Some people will use elastic knee pads on their legs but these tend to shift around and are not always very secure. Some will use a removable kneeling pad but if you go for a swim these may float away if they are not secured to the boat, and if they are tied in the cordage presents at least something of an entrapment hazard.

Best is to use pads glued into the hull bottom. I like minicel foam 3/4" to 1" thick for this purpose bonded to the hull bottom with contact cement. The pads should be positioned so that your knees are out toward the chines of the hull for maximal control, but if you are paddling a big boat like the OCV solo, the hull may be too wide to permit that. Minicel can be shaped with Surform tools and sandpaper and you can create shaped cups for your knees if you wish. A lot of boaters will also glue a knee bumper along the inboard side of the pads to keep your knees out where you want them and prevent them from sliding inboard.

On a river if there is any reasonable possibility that you will swim I would strongly suggest supplemental flotation. The integral buoyancy of Royalex and the float tanks in composite canoes is often just enough to keep the canoe from sinking. If the canoe is completely swamped it will ride very low in the water and weigh a ton. It will be more likely to hang up on anything at or below water level and will be very difficult to pull or bulldoze out of strong current. In the days of yore we used styrofoam or truck tire inner tubes. These days most people use air bags made of nylon or vinyl.

Float bags need to be secured in the boat and restrained at or below gunwale level to be of use. This usually require securing them at the stems in some fashion and installing lacing to hold them down into the hull. I like to use 3mm diameter nylon accessory cord for this purpose. Although one can install little nylon “inchworms” or P clips to the inwales I usually prefer to simply drill holes through the hull of a Royalex boat just below the gunwales just large enough to thread the cordage through. I usually also prefer to have a “keeper strap” of 1" wide webbing running longitudinally down the centerline of the canoe from the stem over the bag and down to an anchor bonded to the hull bottom at the inboard end of the bag. A vinyl D ring patch can be used as an anchor bonded to the hull with vinyl cement (or G Flex epoxy). When water enters the canoe it will go beneath the bag to the extent that your “bag cage” allows it to and try to float the bag up out of your hull and away from the stem. The keeper strap helps keep the bag in the end of the boat where it belongs. Many float bags have a little grommet at the pointy end that you can use to tie the bag into the stem, but I have seen many of these tear out.

If your boat does not have them, I would also install grab loops in the hull at the stems. If you need to self rescue with the boat you need to have something to grab onto. A carry thwart or handle is often not well situated to hold onto if the hull is inverted or on its side. Any strong synthetic cord of around 3/8" to 7/16" diameter will work for this purpose. You don’t want to make the loops so long that they drag in the water or that you can easily accidentally get your entire hand and wrist through them though.

Although it is somewhat controversial because of the potential entanglement hazard, I always install painters to the grab loops at both ends of my boat. There is no real consensus on how long these should be. I know some very experienced whitewater boaters who use very short painters that hang freely from the grab loops to just above water level. I prefer painters that are about as long as the length of the canoe or just a little longer. This allows the canoe to be tied up to a tree along the shore if necessary. But longer painters should be secured in some fashion so that the entire length of the rope does not wind up floating in the water in the event of a capsize. I prefer 7/16" kernmantle rope with a floating kern but braided polypropylene will work. I usually secure the looped painter beneath doubled shock cords on the deck plates of my boats that have a big enough deck plate for this purpose. Otherwise I just loop the painter underneath the lacing that secures my flotation bags.

If I take a swim, after getting to the upstream end of the boat I can keep a hold on it with the grab loop or a short length of the painter while keeping most of the painter secured. If I see an eddy that I can swim into but can’t easily push the boat into, I can pay out more of the painter until I can get into the eddy, secure a foot hold and then pull the boat in after me. I have self rescued myself and my boat this way on numerous occasions, and if you ever have the unfortunate experience of having to swim a rapid while trying to rescue two swamped canoes, as I have, it will be impossible to hold onto both of them unless they have some type of painters installed.

There are lots of other outfitting options that you might wish to consider such as knee straps, thigh straps, ankle blocks, foot blocks or adjustable foot pegs. I would make sure that anything you take in the boat is secured in it so it stays below gunwale level such as water bottles, throw bags, dry bags, etc. This usually requires bonding one or more vinyl patch anchors to the hull bottom. Anything secured only to thwarts will float out of a fully soused boat and trail in the water. Such items make it much more likely for the canoe to get hung up on something in the current and will also make a boat over boat rescue of your canoe much more difficult.

The OT Pack is a misnomer as it is not a pack canoe. The seat is pretty low and can be raised for kneeling but the station is too far back to give you good bow control. It IS a good canoe for tight twisty class 1 streams.
Some Class 2 you can sneak through though there is a lot of variation in Class 2. Its possible to have Class 2 requiring not much maneuvering but three foot standing waves. You won’t have enough flotation to keep the boat from swamping in those conditions and getting pinned badly.
The Pack is a fun canoe for the Jersey Pine Barrens!

I have seen people try to run Class II in a Pack and in a OT NEXT. they both ended up in the same place, full of water and right to the bottom.