Pack canoes are Kayak wannabes

I just re-read an article from 2011 in Canoe & Kayak, 5 Pack CanoesTested.
I´m left wondering who would buy a pack canoe when a kayak is far more versatile, usually cheaper and sturdier, and far more comfortable. The advantage for pack canoes, according to the article, is they can be paddled with either a single bald or double blade. Well, guess what? So can a kayak. The other advantage to the Pack Canoe, according to the article, is the portage-ability. Big deal. On days when a pack canoe is held ashore by strong winds, big waves or bad rapids, the kayak has already packed and left and well on its way to the next portage. Worried about the packability and cargo-ability of the hatches on a kayak? Don´t be. Everything you pack in a decent kayak will arrive dry and on time, as opposed to a pack canoe which will probably swamp or even sink in the kind of winds and waves that a kayak laughs at. The idea that a Pack Canoe is somehow more authentic than a kayak, just because the pack canoe was invented in the Adirondacks a century ago, is puppy crap. The kayak was invented, advanced and perfected in the turbulent oceans and fierce rivers of the far north centuries before the first pack canoe ever waddled down a placid stream in the Adirondacks.

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spell check…single blade (not single bald)

Well, it’s just a matter of having the right tool for the job. No one can rightly claim that a particular boat is always best for any varied set of conditions. I didn’t read the article, but don’t forget that not all articles singing the praise of a particular boat will be written by people who really know how to make the right points (I’d be surprised if it was mainly the paddling options that most people think about when it comes to pack-canoe advantages).

When most people think of pack canoes, they think of small lakes and portages, so why bring up issues like rapids? Besides, I’ve never seen anyone claim that a canoe can replace a kayak in rough, open-water conditions, so by the same token, it makes no sense to ignore the definite advantages of a canoe when it comes to ease of packing your gear (what could be faster than setting your pack on the floor?), or ignoring the fact that canoes are much easier to portage, or pretending that gear that’s not locked away must magically find a way to get wet just because the pack got doused or sat in bilge water for a while (I guess you didn’t know that most canoeists use waterproof packs. Yeah, you can either buy them or make a plain canvas pack completely waterproof with a liner).

Oh, and if you say your gear will arrive “dry and on time” you’ve obviously never been a canoeist on a long trip with kayakers. Sheesh, there’s nothing slower than a kayaker who’s loading or unloading his gear. It’s not something I complain about because I understand the nature of the problem, but it’s hardly something to pretend is not an issue just for the sake of “making your case.”

Oh, and if I’m going to point out that comparison, how about the comparison where a canoeist and a kayaker both need to get in or out at the base of a steep embankment, or enter or exit their boat from a complex tangle of fallen trees? For the tree-tangle situation, an experienced solo canoer will be out of his boat, have his boat dragged through and over the tangle, and be back in on the other side and paddling away before the kayaker figures out what he’s even going step out onto (it’s not just your gear that goes in and out of the boat easier in the case of a canoe).

Don’t forget that pack canoes were (and still are) often used for portaging miles through the woods to isolated ponds, even without the benefit of trails (and that’s where the exceptionally light weight really shines). Twenty-some pounds (or even less) carried on a yoke is hardly noticed on a carry. Forty pounds (minimum) embedded into the top of one shoulder is no fun if distance is involved, and those elaborate yokes made for carrying kayaks comfortably simply miss the point if paddling conditions already are suitable for a pack canoe.

This is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say that a kayak is far more comfortable than a canoe. Usually it’s the other way around, but in any case, if for some reason you don’t like how your seating position feels in a pack canoe, you can change it (look at all the questions asked on this site about experiencing pain or discomfort sitting in a kayak. The answer is always the same (Make some adjustments!). And for people who prefer kneeling, a pack canoe can be set up for that.

And by the way, though you are right about kayaks in serious rough-water conditions, I really have to wonder if you have ever paddled a solo canoe in rough water, and if you did, and if you actually encountered a situation where the boat didn’t ride like a duck over the waves, I have to wonder how heavy you are, because with the right canoe (and in a pack canoe that means not being as terribly overweight as the average American male is nowadays), you simply shouldn’t have water coming over the sides in typical lake waves.

In spite of all that, I’m not saying pack canoes are “better”. I’m only saying that many of your points are a case of painting with too broad of a brush regarding both boat styles.

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I’m a reformed canoeist. AKA “kayaker”. But even with this bias, I’m not fond of carrying my 60lb kayak on one shoulder for more than a kilometer or so for portaging. Carrying a lightweight canoe with the weight evenly distributed on my shoulders for a few kilometers isn’t near as bad. There are pros and cons to both styles of boats.

I tried out a pack canoe once. I didn’t like it because it was really wide and didn’t paddle well with a double blade. It was, however, insanely light and spun on a dime when you asked while still maintaining decent tracking otherwise. I’d love to find something much more like a typical sea kayak but with a water-tight removable deck that makes loading large bags easier. It might not do as well in open water and big waves, but probably better than your average canoe.

I see I´ve ruffled some feathers. Good. Its time to re-think this whole ridiculous pack canoe farce.
First, I´ve paddled pack canoes from 10 feet to 15 feet weighing from 15 pounds to 40 pounds and haven´t yet found a one of them that can hold a candle to my 35 pound 13 foot thermoformed plastic kayak.

For one long, unhappy and forgettable weekend I even actually owned a Placed Rapid Fire and couldn´t wait to get rid of it after I actually used it. What a pig.

Your biggest concern seems to be portaging. Portaging a kayak is dead easy when you make your own portage yoke and carry the kayak backwards. The back deck is lower than the front deck, so its very easy to see where you´re going. It just seems a little odd to carry a boat backwards, it feels blasphemous, like you are ruining the natural order of the world.

As for portage packs…again no problem. Just lash them to the fore and aft deck and carry the whole thing as a unit. If that´s too heavy, carry the big pack separately then come back for the small pack and the boat. If your packs are that heavy you would have had to do that with a pack canoe, too.

At the end of the portage, assuming you have another portage coming up in a few minutes, just bungee the packs to the decks and take off. If you should capsize for some unfathomable reason, the trapped air in the packs strapped to the decks will quickly whip you back upright, giving you a perfect roll without even having to set up. Imagine doing that with an open top pack canoe, even one equipped with a ridiculous looking pretending-to-be-a-kayak top cover.

Buy a kayak with big hatches so you can shove the packs back in without unpacking. Mine takes a fully packed 70L Seal Line boundary pack in the stern and a 35L in the bow. That´s twice as much as my ultra-light AT backpack carries, so I have room for all the luxuries.

Plan your portage and leave things in the boat that don´t weigh much, like the paddles, pfd and rain fly. they won´t mind getting wet if you get rained on during the walk.

Paddle camping average one thousand miles each year has taught me a few things along the way, one of which is don’t buy a toy to do a serious job.

Lots of great points here, despite the obvious bias.

My solution was to mostly give up on portaging and stay a few kilometers out from the mainland with my sea kayak. Do some large crossings out to islands and the only others to contend with are the cruisers at anchor here and there.

Not many bugs either.

My feathers aren’t ruffled. I’m just amused by a mindset that doesn’t allow for certain tools to be better at certain jobs. There will always be a range of issues to consider, with no one combination of issues having the same best solution as another. Hey, as an example, I used to heat and bend steel with nothing but a carbon arc. At the time, it was my only tool for the job. The amount of heat produced by that method can be truly enormous so it must be the best, right? Well, now that it’s not my only tool for the job, I only use it for those rare situations where it actually works best, and I use an oxy-acetylene torch for everything else. The same principle applies with boats.

You won’t be portaging your boat through the woods with packs tied to it the way you describe. An empty boat is hard enough to control in thick brush, much less one that has many times as much ‘swing weight’.

Oh, and I see that the idea that keeping gear dry means locking it away in hatches suddenly isn’t the only option you know. Seems like it was before. And I will suggest that any kayak big enough to have hatches that can actually swallow up a big pack is probably not a boat that’s all that great for small waters or for schlepping through the woods, and a big pack that’s actually shaped to fit below deck isn’t going to be easy to carry. Everything is a compromise.

Traveling a thousand miles each year obviously means you know what works best for you, and I suppose you should be happy about that. It wouldn’t work best for me, though. In fact, pack boats aren’t best for me either, but you won’t find me using that as an excuse to bash them, just as I don’t bash kayaks even if they aren’t best for the things I do. In fact, there are a lot of different kinds of kayaks, and a lot of different kinds of canoes, all specializing in different uses. You know that.

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yes Sparky, good points…imagine trying to go a few klicks offshore in a pack canoe, you´d crap your pants trying to get back to safety. With a kayak you go farther, faster, safer in more troubled waters and stay out longer where you can enjoy the bug free solitude.
So sure, the pack canoe was designed for safe inland waters, pond hopping about, but its still running a poor second to a real boat.

@Headwaters2 said:

So sure, the pack canoe was designed for safe inland waters, pond hopping about, but its still running a poor second to a real boat.
And a destroyer is a poor second to an aircraft carrier, even on shore patrol. I get it now.

@Headwaters2 said:
yes Sparky, good points…imagine trying to go a few klicks offshore in a pack canoe, you´d crap your pants trying to get back to safety. With a kayak you go farther, faster, safer in more troubled waters and stay out longer where you can enjoy the bug free solitude.
So sure, the pack canoe was designed for safe inland waters, pond hopping about, but its still running a poor second to a real boat.

@Guideboatguy got it right in his first post: “having the right tool for the job”.

The comparison you’re making isn’t a fair one, nor is it particularly useful. Although I’ve stated my current preference, I’ve never been against one or the other. I do get a bit ruffled when people try to use boats in conditions they weren’t designed for.

There’s a reason there are so many different shapes and sizes of boats. One size does not, and never has, fit all.

ah, no, not my point at all. Sure, I´m biased to kayaks, but only after a few thousand miles of paddle camping has shown me they are the superior craft.
Yeah, I reluctantly agree, the kayak is not the perfect craft, not even the second most perfect. The fact that it gets the job done with least effort and fastest results is what counts, whether it is perfect or not.
So, in most circumstances, including pond hopping in the ADK or BWCA, the kayak is superb. The pack canoe, especially the ones that are advertised to be fast and other superlative adjectives, are not the perfect choice for ANY thing or ANY scenario. Pack canoes fall short on all counts. They are a dead loser- There is not one single thing they are better at than a decent kayak.
Remember, there are millions of kayaks blithely doing what a few hundred pack canoes WANT to do.
It doesn´t matter if you are 15 feet across a slough, or 15 klicks across a reverse tide raceway, the pack canoe is what it is, an overpriced, open top tub and dangerously inadequate toy that spends most of its time trying to justify its being.
Meanwhile, the kayak has already portaged through the same hellacious, overgrown with tree limbs beating the crap out of you, rock laden where you bark your shins every step, cliffs where you risk life and limb to move from one step to the next, and is in spite of it all soon back on the water going forward, while the pack canoe is resting on the beach waiting for the wind to die down or waiting for someone to get the nerve to put it back in the water and tackle the wind and wave.
Let´s face it, the pack canoe is trying to act businesslike and trying to do a grown up job when it is indeed only a toy.

For pond hopping, the only job you folks seem to think the pack canoe is good for, I heartily recommend the Delta Kayak 12.10. It is perfect for pond hopping. Your pack canoe won’t beat it for speed, won´t beat it for cargo capacity, won´t beat it for safety, won´t beat it for convenience. For weight. For comfort. For adjustability. For prettiness. Nada. Your pack canoe cannot compete, period. And that is just one of a dozen or two dozen kayaks that are available, for better prices better safety and better cargo capacity, than your ritzy, glitzy, over advertised and over hyped pack canoes.

Don´t be made a fool of. Choose to look profoundly and diligently at just what it is the pack canoe campaigns are offering…mostly hyperbole backed up with amateur endorsements from no name people who made their way from one side of a pond to the other and now deem themselves experts.

I don’t own a pack canoe, but on group river trips with a bunch of rec yaks in the 9 to 11’ range, I am always the most comfortable and pain free at the end of the trip when paddling my solo canoe, and it’s definitely easier for me to get in and out of my boat to portage around log jams or too-shallow water.

This obviously proves that solo canoes are superior to kayaks for day trips on twisty, shallow rivers.

You are free to believe that every aspect of your reasoning must apply to everyone else (for example, that top speed over long distances always trumps functional performance at moderate speed for shorter distances, or that no one could possibly be more comfortable in a boat they don’t need to squeeze themselves into), and you are free to believe that no one could possibly justify a pack canoe for reasons that wouldn’t matter to you at all (including such a thing as being able to enter and exit with ease in places where no kayaker would even dream of trying).

Interestingly, you apply your own brand of logic to the weight issue as well, stating that a pack canoe can’t compete with the Kayak you chose as your comparative example even in the category of weight. Hmmm. I happen to think that a 13-foot boat that weighs 41 pounds is an absolute tub by any reasonable definition, because in spite of the narrower width of that boat that you are so fond of, that’s as much as some 14-foot canoes made of Royalex (I once owned a 14-foot Royalex canoe that weighed exactly that amount, and I now own another 14-footer in Royalex that’s a whole lot fatter overall yet weighs just 6 pounds more), and I’m sure that no one ever says that a Royalex canoe is “light”. Okay, for a kayak, 41 pounds is pretty light, but compared to a lightweight canoe of similar length, it’s no less than double what it “should” be, and no amount of hyperbole can get you past that. To some people, being able to stroll through the woods with a boat that weighs somewhere between 13 and 20 pounds is a luxury worth compromising for, and every boat is a compromise, even if in this case you don’t think so. Going beyond that and implying that such a person is a fool doesn’t raise your score either, but maybe I’m the only one who doesn’t think insinuated insults are appropriate here.

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In response to your comment: “I’d love to find something much more like a typical sea kayak but with a water-tight removable deck that makes loading large bags easier. It might not do as well in open water and big waves, but probably better than your average canoe.”

Such boats do exist and I currently own two of them: Pakboat folding kayaks. All of Pakboat’s kayaks have a removable deck (seals around the gunwales with heavy duty velcro and ends are secured under fold over flaps) and most can be paddled with or without the deck. Super easy to load with gear. They also weigh half what an equivalent hardshell kayak of similar dimensions does. And, of course, they can be dismantled and stashed in a closet or car trunk or checked as luggage on an airline flight. My 13.5 foot Pakboat Quest 135 weighs 28 pounds. My 12 foot Pakboat Puffin weighs 22 pounds and is already packed in a rolling duffel (that meets the specs for a free checked bag) along with a 4 piece paddle, sprayskirt and all my other gear and paddling clothes to fly with me from the US to England next week - the whole packed bag is 43 lbs… I plan to paddle canals and rivers there – no problem portaging the weirs and waterfalls with a 22 pound boat. Pics are attached (red Puffin and yellow Quest – both are older models but current versions are available as the Puffin Saco and the Quest 150).

I’ve taken the 6 folders I have owned (Pakboats and Feathercrafts) over the past 15 years everywhere I would paddle a hardshell, from seacoast to class II whitewater and everything in between. In fact, a good folder actually performs better than many rigid sea kayaks (which I also own) in very rough water because the hull absorbs some of the force of waves and the inflatable sponsons inside make them very buoyant. People have crossed the Atlantic Ocean and other wide stretches of open water in folding kayaks.

They don’t need to be assembled and dissembled every outing – I set mine up for the season and haul them on my roof rack. And the seats are extremely comfortable (inflatable lowers and back-band type uppers). The older I get, the more I appreciate these ultra light and extremely portable paddling options.

I own a RapidFIre and the snarkiness of the OP is illustrative of the lack of experience with a pack canoe.

The Shadow outruns many in its class and has a 22 inch wide waterline. I cannot sit in a kayak due to a hip condition that prevents me from being comfortable . I can in a pack canoe… Lets see where it has been… The Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of Maine, Lake Superior from Thunder Bay to Agawa, the Adirondacks with portages and Maine with portages… Algonquin with its long portages.

Can’t do that as easily with a kayak… Try seven portages ( unloadings and loadings) and 6 miles of walking with a kayak,

I have maintained that most people do not need a real sea kayak. Its laughable on my lake to find people do use them on a lake that is scarcely half a mile wide and three miles long. It would be one thing if they used them on the ocean ( which is within an hour) but no the boats stay at camp.
Pack canoes are also very good for retired people who have to lift their boats onto their cars and take leisurely Florida spring runs. No one stays twentyish forever.

Pack canoes are not a ridiculous fad. They are a very good tool for some ecosystems and not for others. I use mine on big waters only cause the other part of the equation is ME and I am cautious… I get off when I see whitecaps forming in deep water areas. Not so in shallow waters so much( Everglades)
In the end I don’t really care what the OP thinks as his trip is not my trip.


@Guideboatguy said: “every boat is a compromise, even if in this case you don’t think so. Going beyond that and implying that such a person is a fool doesn’t raise your score either, but maybe I’m the only one who doesn’t think insinuated insults are appropriate here.”

Well, I like a good insult(both giving and receiving one)every now and then myself.(Can’t help it, being from New York and all.) But who cares what anybody else paddles?

Or who blames boat manufacturers/marketers for coming up with slightly embellished hype-jive that help sell their paddle crafts to the great uninformed public?

And yeah, every boat is a compromise in one area or another–Which, besides overt other kayak-canoe paddler snobbery, is the reason why I’ve finally decided to sell all of my kayaks(rec, whitewater and sea) and all of my canoes(both solo and tandem);

From now on, I will exclusively be paddling only very lightweight SUPs and even lighter-weight (8 lb.) Packrafts.

After all, one’s a fool to think of hassling with anything else.

BTW, Headwaters: If you’re going to get “official” about things–Shouldn’t this thread be over on the"Paddlers Place Discussion" board instead of the “Advice” forum? Hmmm :wink:

This is like the discussion of which is better Ford or Chevy pick up trucks. Lots of talk. But no one changes their mind.

More like kayak don’t wannabes.

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The OP is obviously incompetent. My Spitfire is both stable and fast, it can easily keep up with a 17’ sea kayak… BTW I own both a PBW Spitfire and a Swift Saranac 14 kayak. I pick my ride depending on where the days adventure is going to be. Your rant is nothing but a lot of hot air that carries no weight! Perhaps you want to get a hot air balloon!