Pack canoes

I have started a couple threads in search of info on lighter weight alternatives to my current kayak…a 13 foot, 60 pound SOT. I use a SOT because of a bad knee that doesn’t bend well enough to use a SINK. Several people suggested a pack canoe. I was pretty anti-canoe after paddling a Wenonah Vagabond once, and watching “experienced” canoe folks tip over in fairly benign conditions. I did some looking at the Swift, Hornbeck, Placid Boatworks, and Hemlock websites. Now I’m kind of intrigued by the pack canoes. I sent some questions to the folks at Hornbeck & Swift and got a nice reply from Swift today. I’d love to hear from other Pack canoe owners.

Stability…the tippy thing?

Ease of entry & exit…the tippy thing?

Handling with a 5-7 day gear load?

Handling in open water with wind?

Buying one of these boats would involve about $400 in shipping and would be a “sight unseen” purchase for a lot of $$$$ because I live in Utah with all of these boats coming from the Northeast US and Canada. From the response I got from Swift, these are great boats, but require a little practice to get comfortable in. But not as much as a traditional canoe. They likened a SOT as a 10 out of 10 for stability, and a pack canoe as a 7 out of 10.

So, if you are a pack canoe paddler lend me your wisdom. I’m a 5’5" middle aged female, more Miss Piggy than Twiggy, who likes to paddle multi-day trips on flat water to class I rivers, and medium to large lakes like Yellowstone Lake & Lake Powell.

Fall is a great time to visit the Dacks
Fly out to the Adirondacks rent a car, drive to all the pack canoe manufacturers and demo boats. Mini vacation and test paddling in one.

I was wondering what it was about your experience with the Vagabond that so put you off canoes?

I would think it would be a pretty good choice for someone used to recreational kayaks. Wenonah even suggests paddling it with a double blade paddle.

They weren’t very "experienced"
if they tipped over in fairly benign conditions.

Felt unstable
It had a crazy creek type seat in it that wasn’t very comfortable, no foot braces, felt tippy getting in & out of it, and was hard to keep it straight in windy conditions.

In all fairness

– Last Updated: Aug-24-16 8:27 AM EST –

one tip over I witnessed was benign and the other was in a straight forward class I rapid. The benign event was when the paddler in a solo canoe dropped something in the water and reached to get it and went over. The rapid event was two tandem canoes that went over in small waves. Both of these events ended up in 20-30 minute ordeals with emptying the canoes of water and getting the people back into them.

Maybe I'm over reacting to these events, but since every canoe I've been in seemed like any movement would tip it over, I'm nervous about them. With some reassurance & practice, I would probably be just fine, but I'm still hesitant. That's why I'd love to hear from folks who paddle a pack canoe that can give me real world feedback.

First I suggest you go
look at the website

And in the galleries you will see people in canoes that are not in the drink. Some of the canoes are tipped radically.

Now look at the torsos of the paddlers. They are upright ( not leant over) and the heads are in the confines of the gunwales.

Which leads to the maxim… canoes dont tip people do.

Keeping your head inbounds is paramount. Kneeling increases stability. Some canoe seats are high and paddlers do not pay attention to their head…they reach over the side with their head and look backwards etc…

Sitting paddlers have an elevated center of gravity and are more apt to go over

A Pack Canoe is essentially a deckless kayak with you sitting close to the bottom. A SOT Is like a flat board… a Pack Canoe has a little rounder bottom Initial stability might be a little less. Secondary would be more.

Depending on the size of boat you get it is amenable to longer trips. I tend to stay out for ten days on Lake Superior and the Gulf of Mexico on open ocean like water I use a Placid RapidFire. I paddle it in the ocean in Maine. If it were not subject to the ocean I could go smaller but I like plenty of freeboard for ocean waves.

second the Rapidfire
I have an ever churning stable of paddle craft, but a Rapidfire gets the most use and has for the 10 years I’ve owned it. Look at the Placid Boatworks site to see the weights of the versions it is made in. My 10 year old Rapidfire has wood gunnels and I changed some trim for my aesthetic reasons, making a 28 lb. canoe closer to 31 lbs. I find the Rapidfire most comfortable for my old back. There are 3 seat options and I use the lowest or the mid height seat.

Hornbeck boats are lighter and cheaper. The original Hornbeck 10 1/2 foot design was light, stable, and slow. The newer designs are faster, as he has moved away from the pinched ends of the earlier models (longer water line-more speed).

Swift has many models and are now much lighter and faster than a few years ago. Materials, construction method and size all affects cost. Many have a deck that is, in my opinion, too high (probably to allow easier entry). I find that high deck forces my low paddle stroke (from shoulder repair) a bit higher, making it less comfortable. They have some models with lower decks!

Best advice
Plan a trip to the east and visit them. That way you will be able to try before you buy. Falling out of a canoe is not a fun thing but is expected if you reach outside the gunwale. I do alot of river cleanups and trying to pick up heavy items outside of the “zone” leds to doing a few fish counts now and then.

I own the Old Town Pack-12 canoe
and I love the thing.

Yes, it feels tippy, especially in wind or waves but it has never flipped.

I put foam pads on the bottom for kneeling and to keep me dry and the dog feeling safe.

A duffle-sized dry-bag in bow and stern carries my gear.

And at 12’, I can solo the thing.

The one drawback is that your kayak friends will ask you to haul their ‘oversized’ and ‘heavy’ gear for them.

Isn’t the Rapidfire going to be a little big for a 5’5" female? Seems like a Spitfire would be plenty big enough, but I could be mistaken.

I am a 65+ yo female who had a stroke in October of 2013, and I paddle a Placid Boatworks SpitFire. So far, I’ve had no trouble getting in and out and have yet to tip it, as it’s very stable. Because of the stroke, my balance isn’t what it once was, and if I don’t have any trouble with tippiness, I doubt you will.

That said, if I were planning a 5-7 day trip, I’d lean toward the RapidFire.

different than mine
That’s too bad. It sounds like you tried one that wasn’t ideal. Mine has a simple webbed flat bench seat with a foot brace, which really does help.

Even for as big and tall as I am, and corresponding high center of gravity, the Vagabond has pretty good stability (both primary and secondary). I haven’t paddled mine when there’s been much wind, but yes, I would expect it to get blown around when there is a lot of wind. Using a kayak paddle would help, but wind would create some extra work.

If you could get a try in one with a foot brace and a regular seat it might feel better. But then again, it might not. This is why getting a chance to test paddle is so helpful. Finding a compatible fit between human and canoe/kayak/SUP can be a bit of trial and error. But worth it when you find the right fit.

Good luck in your search.

I am 5’5"

but hauling water and gear for two weeks takes a bit of room.

Archimedes principle says less volume of boat will float it too low for safety.

I dont haul water for fresh water trips but salt water and human ingestion doesnt mix.

feeling tippy vs. actually tipping
I can appreciate how unsettling that tippy feeling can be. I think in a tandem even more than a solo because you’re also feeling the results of someone else’s movements as well as your own.

When I first started paddling I had some of the same concerns. A tippy canoe is tiring, not so much physically, but mentally because you’re always afraid you’re about to take a swim. And true falling in the water is usually benign, it’s still an undesirable hassle (typically).

Here is something a canoeing veteran suggested I try to help overcome my mistrust of the tippy feeling canoe. On a hot day when I wouldn’t mind getting wet he suggested I go out in the canoe and try to tip it over on purpose. Not by flinging my torso over the edge of the canoe (that would almost certainly have landed me in the drink), but by leaning the boat in a controlled fashion as far as I could, while keeping my head and shoulders between the gunwales. Of course the first several inches were easy (that’s the natural sway that makes it feel tippy), but after that I found it takes a surprising amount of effort to get it to go much further. It doesn’t just keep going over. It has a natural stopping point. That’s when I finally understood what secondary stability actually was. Until that moment it was just a concept that I didn’t fully appreciate. It also cured my mistrust of the “tippy canoe” once I recalibrated my fears with reality.

Wow, Thanks

– Last Updated: Aug-24-16 9:59 PM EST –

Lots of good info here. Thanks everyone.

Here are a few pack canoes that have caught my eye.....

On the high end price wise are the Swift Adirondack Pack 13.6, Placid Boatworks Spitfire 13 & Rapidfire, Wenonah Prism & Fusion. All these are in the $2500 and up price range. The Spitfire 13 description says it's fun on flat and moving water and carries a weeks worth of gear. The Wenonah Fusion is a hybrid canoe with a rudder, and the Prism is an all around solo canoe. The Swift & Placid Boatworks canoes are the lightest, and the Wenonahs are 29-34 pounds.

On the lower end of the price range is the Hornbeck Classic 13 & 14, and the Old Town Pack. The Old Town is the shortest and widest canoe. The Hornbeck canoes are light (under 25 pounds). These boats run $1700-$1800

Right now I'm planning a 4 day trip on the Colorado River thru Canyonlands Nat. Park. Potash (outside Moab) to Spanish Bottom. I'll be carrying my water for this trip. I'm figuring my gear will weigh around 80 pounds including food & water. I did this same trip in the spring, and it's my heaviest gear trip because of the water weight.

I've done two trips this summer that involved a short portage and that was the catalyst to thinking about a lighter boat. My SOT has worked really well for all of my trips so far, but 60 pounds is heavy.

A pack canoe that has a good blend of stability, gear capacity, and mild speed would be great. I do have the ability to test paddle the Wenonah Vagabond pretty much anytime, so that may be a good thing to do to give a solo canoe a fair shake.

The Old Town Pack is not a pack

It is short reasonably light and made for bushwhacking between ponds for fishing. It is the standard canoe height seat .

Its just a fat stable slow canoe fine for pond dipping and too short for extended tripping.

Look at Placids website. You want something that with your total weight will not sink below the four inch waterline for best performance.

4 days? You will be booking for sure. The fastest I have done the Green from Crystal Geyser to Spanish Bottom was six…

Those jet boat wakes deserve some respect… so longer may give you more freeboard.

Just something to keep in mind with Adirondack Pack Canoes ( which all are derived from). No one in the Adirondacks carries water. And most everyone in the Adirondacks has to carry sometimes for a couple of miles.

So the gear tends toward a total of 45 -55 lbs. Not 80. You might review " a weeks worth of gear " with that in mind.

If considering a Prism, also consider a
Bell Magic or Northstar Magic. They are slightly lower capacity, but more maneuverable than the Prism and very stable for me at 5’6" and 165 lbs, but I day paddle and don’t carry a heavy load.

In the used market, keep an eye open for a Wenonah Sandpiper, Bell Merlin II, Curtis Lady Bug, Bell Wildfire, Bell Yellowstone Solo, Bell Flashfire, Hemlock Kestral, Mohawk Solo 13. I probably forgot a few.

Of the above boats, I’ve owned all except the Kestral and Solo 13 and still own all except the Wildfire. I enjoy the Lady Bug and Magic the most on Lakes and use the royalex Sandpiper the most on bony streams. The Lady Bug is also a joy on rivers.

Keep in mind that just about any solo canoe can be retrofitted with foot braces and have the seat height adjusted to some degree.

The only pack boats I’ve test paddled are the Rapidfire and Bell Rob Roy, so I don’t have much input on them.

The Wenonah Mini Canak might be another to consider.

Good luck.

There’s a used Placid Shadow in Portland
Oregon on Craigslist.

test paddle
If the Voyager felt tippy, I’d definitely recommend test paddling a Prism or Magic. I’ve had one and paddled the other and both felt like they had less initial stability than the Voyager.

Personally I’m a big fan of the Prism. Of the canoes I’ve tried, it’s one of my favorites.