This review is featured in the August 2011 issue of Canoe & Kayak magazine.

Pack Canoe

Photo: Clark Lubbs

5 Pack Canoes Tested

Canoes have a problem: They’re not always floating. Sometimes you have to carry them. And that can be an issue, especially in the Adirondack region of upstate New York, the birthplace of John Rushton’s legendary pack canoe. The map tells the tale: a scattergun-like array of remote lakes and rivers stretching from New York to the tip of Maine. Every one is a unique and beautiful place to paddle. All you have to do is get there. And therein lies the rub.

Sure, that trusty ol’ tandem may paddle like a rocket, but it’ll feel like a 17-foot sack of bricks on the portage trail. That’s why Adirondack explorers developed the pack canoe—a small, lightweight solo craft that can be used with either single- or double-bladed paddles—more than 125 years ago. These versatile little boats allow anyone to get on the water, anytime, anywhere. The introduction of ultra-light composite materials like Kevlar and carbon fiber has allowed boat-builders to make pack canoes lighter and faster than ever.

So C&K assembled a seasoned crew of local Adirondack paddlers who, collectively, had more than 150 years of paddling and portaging experience. Ages varied from paddlers qualifying for senior benefits to some still regularly carded at the local bar. After mooching a ride from the Mountain Man Outdoor Supply Co., for a two-hour shuttle north from Old Forge, N.Y.—the official start of the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail—we parked our rig at Follensby Pond and starting hoofing it. After linking up 10 sizable “ponds,” as the locals call them, with seven portages in two days, our Northwoods paddling crew wrapped up the trip with a float down the upper Moose River in Old Forge.

We packed light (excluding the PBR and salmon filets) making each portage in one trip, easily shouldering the solo boats from this sleek quiver. Muskrats swam beneath our bows as we watched ospreys dive for fish. Each night we fell asleep to the drone of bullfrogs and the haunting calls of loons. We saw no one. And the only noticeable burden on our shoulders, even on the mile-long rained-out portage to Floodwood Pond, was knowing we would eventually have to leave.

— Dave Costello

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