You gotta love these guys. The first iteration of what would become the Wingman Outfitter was a slightly cockamamie, Huck Finn rig made of 2"x4"s bolted together to coolers for a January hunting excursion on the Bitterroot River in western Montana. When you're in college, any procrastination scheme has merit, right? After the maiden voyage, though, they decided that the thing had potential, and on subsequent trips they kept tweaking and refining, eventually fabricating a steel, and finally, an aluminum version. Which brings us, some years, a college degree, and lots of design tweaks later, to the current product.
I'll admit, I was skeptical. When I first saw pictures, I wrote it off as something you might use on the pond out back, maybe fishing for crappie and having plenty of cold beverages close to hand. Then I watched some video featuring challenging rivers, stand-up fly fishing, big, mobile dogs aboard, and the ingenious transformation from canoe deck to roomy camp table.
The concept is pretty simple. Strap the aluminum frame and carpeted deck roughly midships on a tandem canoe using beefy cam-lock straps. It's easy to shift the frame position to correct for weight distribution, and with a little work, you can use the Wingman on a solo canoe. Outboard, on both sides, drop coolers into aluminum extensions and snap the cooler handles securely to the frame. Fill the coolers, pack the boat, load the dog and head downriver. When you get to camp, the deck and aluminum extension bars turn into a large table for cooking and food prep. The Wingman turns a canoe into a really stable mother ship, capable of carrying fresh food and cold drinks, and accommodating large dogs or standing anglers. Who really wants the raft and all the fussiness it calls for anyway?
The outrigger coolers act to stabilize the boat in turbulence, and can be extended another notch to steady the boat in bigger water or while standing on the platform and fishing. Surprisingly, having bulky, 48-quart coolers outside the hull doesn't hamper maneuverability much, or slow the boat down. I just paddled several days on the Yellowstone River in Montana, through some pretty bouncy water, and kept pace with other canoes no problem. As a side benefit, the Wingman is a serious conversation starter with other floaters, and in camp the large table is a magnet for the cooking and meal prep crew.
The Wingman does call for an awareness of the boat's added width. I found myself tilting my weight to raise a cooler above a boulder here and there, and you don't want to get swept against the bank or into logs where you might get hung up. I would avoid really tight streams or long boulder-garden rapids, at least until I was used to maneuvering with an outrigger. Also, the extension bars can be a little sticky fitting into the frame. Lube with beeswax or light grease to take care of it.
Who can resist an idea hatched in college, put to the test in mid-winter Montana, and morphed into a ground-breaking product that might just change the way we take canoe trips? Check out the website for videos, tutorials, and the rest of the story.
Intel: Outrigger package (deck, straps and coolers) $375; platform size – 42.5" x 23.5"; cooler size – 48 quarts; total weight – 32 lbs; wingmanoutfitter.com
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