Piragis Northwoods Outfitters
Boundary Waters Canoe Trips
105 North Central Avenue
Ely, Minnesota 55731

Why we do what we do:

If you have questions for our Canoe Camping Expert, please email them in with "question for Cliff" in the subject line!



Dear Cliff, Can't seem to find any "good" comparative info on tripping Solo Canoes. Have about worn out a roylex Bell Wildfire both in the states and on Manitoba's Grass and Hayes Rivers. Have always been a tad concerned about free board when starting a northern trip, but love the boat a lot and it's never let me down. Am considering a trip down the Kazan to Baker Lake and may upgrade to a little more capacity due to food (35 days) and the equipment requirements on the barrens.

All of Ted Bells solos catalog with the same displacement, 340 lbs = 4", which doesn't tell me much. Were I to consider a royalex or blackgold Merlin II, Magic, or the new Rockstar, would that be a significant capacity upgrade with out sacrificing handling, or would you recommend staying with the Wildfire? Then, there are Packboats,,, Your thoughts please.

A: For starters, you WON’T be ahead by going to a Merlin or Magic. You would probably die in a big rapid in either of these boats—and almost instantly in a Magic. The Yellowstone Solo, or in your case, the Wildfire, has more capacity and is more seaworthy than either of these boats. The Merlin is much faster but it doesn’t turn as well and the rather extreme tumblehome at center isn’t ideal in rapids.

If you think you need a bigger solo canoe than your Wildfire (which, incidentally, is the same boat as a Royalex Yellowstone Solo) you might take a hard look at the We-no-nah Rendezvous. This boat is nearly 16 feet long and has 2.5 inches of rocker. This, combined with very flared ends, makes the boat extremely maneuverable. The capacity and speed are certainly greater than your Wildfire. The extra length (16 ft vs. 14 ft) means more room for gear. I haven’t paddled a Rendezvous but I have seen one, and it looks impressive. The YS is really a bit small for the Arctic rivers; my initial thought would be to go with the Rendezvous and a CCS spray cover.

As with any advice, one should always paddle a canoe before he buys it. And this is no exception. I’m guessing Piragis has a Rendezvous in their stable for you to try. If not, I’m sure they could convince We-no-nah to bring one up for their Sunsplash event in the spring. I know nothing about the Bell Rockstar—haven’t even seen one. The bottom line is that you want a boat that provides reasonably good speed, exceptionally good seaworthiness and capacity, and an ability to turn quickly in rapids. A dedicated whitewater boat will drive you nuts on the flat water sections of those big Arctic rivers.

Best to you,


Dear Cliff, I recently purchased the 'Forgotten Skills' DVD and it is great! A question though. Cliff refers to parachute cord as the rope he uses for tents, rainfly, etc. Is he talking about 650 paraline? The rope he shows in his 'bag of ropes' appears to be a thicker diameter. Also, what rope is appropriate for hanging food packs? I think that 650 paraline stretches too much.

A: I’m glad my video has been useful. Stock parachute cord is available in every camping shop and in most hardware stores. It is a parallel stranded nylon that’s covered with a woven nylon sheath—about one-eighth inch diameter, I believe. Camping shops have the product in a variety of colors; you can even get “glow-in-the-dark” cord which is wonderful for tent and tarp guylines. I’m guessing this is the same stuff you refer to as “para-line” (meaning parachute line). I also carry some heavier cord—about three-sixteenths inches—not for strength, mind you, but for ease of use (it’s more snag-free). I can’t advise you on hanging food packs because I never do it. My books have long dissertations on why I—and most experienced paddlers—don’t. There are better, easier, more reliable ways to discourage bears. Indeed, there is a huge disconnect here: “Bears Climb Trees!” Still, if you’re determined, Piragis sells a clever system for hoisting packs into trees. Whether it will discourage a bear is debatable, as you can see from the photos below.

Best to you,





A: First, tent stakes: If you check out page 202 of my book, CAMPING’S TOP SECRETS (2006 edition), you’ll see the stakes that I carry. No one stake will do it all: what works for soft ground doesn’t work in hard ground. That’s why I carry a mix of stakes. If I were limiting my trips to the Quetico, I would bring 6 inch pins and either 12 inch staples or 12 inch arrow shaft stakes. If I need 12 stakes, say, to stormproof my tent, I would probably go with 10, 6 inch pins and 4 staples or arrow shaft stakes. It’s always good to have a few extra stakes anyway. This combo would prepare me for sand and swampy ground, and rocky ground. You can get arrow shaft stakes from Cooke Custom Sewing.

Footwear is a largely personal choice. I can only tell you my preferences, all of which (for me) work quite well for cold spring canoe tripping.
1. Chota Quick-Lace mukluks—for canoeing and portaging. Tennis shoes or Crocs for lounging in camp. For an early spring trip (where I expect rain and cold), I’d nix the Crocs and go with tennis shoes and Tingley over-boots (about $20 at Fleet Farm). Generally, I’ll live in the neoprene Quick-Lace mukluks all day if it’s cold and raining.
2. L.L. Bean boots (Maine hunting shoes). Use them with the Bean pure sheepskin insole.
3. Knee high rubber boots with warm insoles—these work well for spring canoeing. You want a change of shoes for camp. Your change should be marginally waterproof (tennies and Tingley’s, ankle high neoprene booties, etc.)
4. A lot of people on my Canadian canoe trips have sworn by the Chota Quetico Trekker combination—this is an ankle high, lightweight, very porous (quick drying) light hiking boot with a knee high removable neoprene liner inside. This combo gives you the support and traction of a dedicated hiking shoe and the waterproofing and warmth of a neoprene sock. Great combination.

I have had no experience with the Keen shoes so I can’t comment on them.

Rain gear: There’s a virtual dissertation on rain gear in my books CANOEING & CAMPING, BEYOND THE BASICS and EXPEDITION CANOEING. You may want to check out those sections. Lately, I prefer two lightweight Gore-tex jackets. Jacket 1 goes on at the first hint of rain. The PFD goes on top. When rain picks up, jacket two is put on over the PFD. Any rain that gets through PFD 2 is stopped by PFD #1. This combo is very compact, light and versatile. I wear lightweight (unlined) rain pants. Rationale for the system is in my books.

For clothing on a mid-May trip, I’d dress like I was going on an Arctic canoe trip. Day temps could approach freezing with rain. Night temps could dip below freezing. For this, you want 2 suits of wool long underwear—one lightweight suit, one mid-weight suit. You will probably wear one of the suits all the time. Add a light wood shirt, nylon, cotton-polyester or wool pants, a medium weight wool sweater, breathable nylon wind shirt (not waterproof), 2 sets of gloves—one neoprene for paddling in the rain, one wool for camp; 3 hats—rain hat, sun hat, stocking cap, wool or fleece neckwarmer or balaclava and you’re set for a “stormado”. Again, you’ll find the best advice on clothing in my flagship book, EXPEDITION CANOEING.

Enjoy. Wishing you the best,


Dear Cliff, I'm considering purchasing a folding canoe because they are lightweight (unlike my present 75 and 55 lb roylex boats) and I also like the concept of storing it in a duffle bag, and not having to lug it up and down the basement steps twice a year. I've been paddling canoes since 1979 and now arthritis in my wrists is making it harder to get the boats on and off the car racks. I don't paddle the whitewater much anymore, but do use my to royalex canoes for nature photography and to just blow off steam from the workday!

However, I'm considering a PakCanoe 150 solo for use around home on lakes, though it might get some use on small streams that are not above class II. I'd go out for day trips with two waterproof duffels for foul weather gear & lunch, and my D-SLR and various lenses.
My question has a couple of parts:

a) Have you paddled a folding canoe either causally for a day trip on a lake or stream, or on a wilderness trip?
A: Yes, I’ve paddled folding canoes both on quiet water and in pretty big rapids. All my experience has been with a Pac Canoe 17 (17 footer).
b) If so, what are your opinions regarding durability, stability, hull flexing, paddling comfort and sea-worthiness during rough weather (wind and waves on a lake).
A: You may want to read what I wrote about folding canoes on the Piragis web-site. These canoes are outstanding—extremely tough (tougher than some hard shell canoes) and very forgiving when they hit rocks. Many of the top wilderness paddlers are now using folding canoes (the Pac Canoes are the best) in place of traditional hard shelled boats. These canoes are about as fast as hardshell canoes; they turn as well and they are MORE seaworthy.
c) How would the PakCanoe 150 compare to a Wenonah Prism (which I've used twice before in the Boundary waters on 5 and 10-day trips) as far as sea-worthiness, effort involved in a day's paddling on lakes and the ability to carry gear and supplies for a 2-week solo trip?
A: A folding canoe will be a whole different ball game. Comparing a 15 foot folding canoe to a hot We-no-nah Prism is like comparing a Jeep to a Porsche. The folding canoe is wider, slower and more stable than the We-no-nah. It is definitely not as much fun to paddle. Its advantages are: lightweight, easy portability, excellent durability, carries a huge load, and is extremely seaworthy in big waves and rapids. But it IS NOT a true solo canoe. If you want a folding canoe with more “solo boat” characteristics you should maybe look at a Pakcanoe “Puffin”. The Puffin is a kayak, of course, but you could paddle it with a single paddle. It is extremely light and much easier to paddle alone than the 15 foot Pakcanoe you are considering. You really need to paddle these boats and compare them.
Best wishes,


Dear Cliff, After seeing the Little Bug stove at your school, I ordered one and I have been practicing with it for a few days. It sure works! It’s kind of like cooking over a blast furnace.

The question, which I did not think to ask while we were in school, is whether you have any tips or tricks for dealing with the soot that gets all over the pots (and then the cozies and everything else) when you are cooking over wood. I can remember the problem well from my Boy Scout days, but we didn’t use cozies and we were pretty casual about dirt in general.

Any ideas would be appreciated.

A: Well, actually, no. There’s the old Boy Scout trick of soaping your pots (or using shaving cream) before putting them on the fire. But frankly, I think this makes an even bigger mess. Besides, the pots cook more evenly, and faster when they’re black. I don’t use the cozy system when cooking on a fire—no need to because you already have plenty of available heat nearby. If I’m cooking on a fire or wood stove like the Littlbug, I simply allow the water to boil (per the cozy system), add the ingredients, stir and cover, then set the pot on an insulated pad right next to the stove or fire. Enough heat is radiated to cook the food—and keep it hot—from the fire. There’s no need to use a cozy cover unless, of course, you move the pot some distance from the fire. And then, as you’ve observed, the black soot will make a mess of everything.


Dear Cliff, I've been reading your book Camping's Top Secrets. Great book. Short
on anecdotal fluff and long on cool tips and practical advice.

I do have a question: Your advice on how to use a hatchet is both effective and safe--one person holds the axe and the other drives it into the wood with another piece of wood, but your technique requires two people. When solo canoeing, do you still use an axe? If so, how?

A: The "2 person" procedure works just fine with one person. You simply set the axe very lightly into the end grain, grasp the handle with one hand then use a wood mallet (small chunk of log) to pound the axe head on through. You can use the same procedure with a knife to split kindling. Just start the blade in the end grain, hold the handle firmly then pound the spine of the blade on through the upright log. Naturally, you'll want a fixed blade knife for this--a folder could close on your hand. And a folding lock blade knife will be damaged by this procedure.


Dear Cliff, What the heck kind of footwear do we bring for the BWCA (keeping in
mind that our canoe is Kevlar Flex Core and I have no intention of running
it up on shore before getting out of the thing)?

A: This one's easy: Get a pair of Chota Quicklace Mukluks. These are waterproof, lightweight and very flexible. They reach nearly to your knees. You can fold the tops down for ventilation when you're in the canoe and pull them up when you step out into the water. The soles stick reasonably well to wet rocks and they provide enough
support for portaging. Chota also makes a similar model called the "Breathable Mukluk"--same thing but with Gore-tex uppers. These are lighter and cooler than the others but the tops don't stay up as well. Piragis has them in their catalog and store.

For camp use, I change to CROC'S.



Dear Cliff, I have a Bell Northwoods and a Bell Magic. I really like Bell canoes. I've just purchased an older Bell CJ. I'd never heard of this canoe model before. I don't see it listed among Bell's current models. The former owner told me it was designed to your specifications (?). What can you tell me about this canoe? What kind of water and canoeing is it designed for?

A: The Bell CJ has an interesting history. It began life as a wood-strip canoe
I built with the help of my friends Bob Brown and Darrell Foss. IT was
similar to your boat but had curved back stems and about 3 inches of rocker
at each end. It was my first solo tripping canoe, built around 1979, if I
recall. I sold the design to Old Town who straightened the stems and removed
the rocker (big mistake!). They called it the Old Town CJ Solo. At the
time, it was one of a very few true solo tripping canoes on the market. Old
Town sold only a few dozen CJ's and I got the mold from them and gave it to
Ted Bell who lightened the construction and generally improved the canoe all
around. He named it the CJ Solo and it was Bell's first successful solo
canoe. It has been out of production now for I'd guess about 10 years. It
was a good canoe-high volume, relatively fast and very seaworthy. But by
today's standards it is simply too big for most people, and the zero rocker
and square ends make turning it a chore. Still, it's a nice canoe, though
not in the league with the top Bell's and We-no-nah's of today.

The more you paddle solo canoes the more you come to realize that the CJ is
bigger than you need. I weigh barely 130 pounds and that old CJ is way too
big for me. Indeed, even the Yellowstone Solo or older Bell Wildfire is
marginally too large for me. The little Bell Flashfire is really a more
perfect fit for someone my weight. But, I still prefer the YS because of
its versatility-reasonably fast on the flats, pivots on a penny in rapids
and is very seaworthy in big waves.

Your Bell CJ is a fine old canoe, and a good boat for a beginner. When my
daughters were little I installed two extra seats in it and the girls
paddled it like a tandem canoe. They could really move that boat: my wife,
Sharon and I had a Sawyer Charger (18.5 ft) at the time and the girls could
keep up with us if we didn't push real hard.

I think you'll enjoy your CJ. It won't depreciate any more than it already
has. You will probably be able to sell it for more than what you paid for
it five years from now-that is, if you can bear to part with it.

You'll find some references to the old CJ in my book CANOEING WILD RIVERS
(revised edition). The newer versions of this book (EXPEDITION CANOEING)
reference more recent designs.



Dear Cliff, I have worked at the Sommers Canoe Base for 7 years now, so I am pretty
knowledgeable about packing food, outfitting, and portaging for a group of
nine people and three canoes. I, personally, am accustomed to portaging my
pack (45 lbs) with a canoe (75 lbs). However, I am interested in doing a
solo trip that circumvents the entire Quetico and do not want to have to
double-portage. Is it feasible to be able to pack 14-20 days of food or
should I schedule food pickups along the way (Lac La Croix, Nym Lake, and
Cache Bay)? How many mph would a solo paddler typically be able to do with
a double-bladed paddle and a 15' 6 canoe?

A: Thank you for writing. Frankly, without a food drop, I think you
would have to be a superman to do a 3 week solo canoe trip with just 45
pounds of food and equipment. I'm not sure how you can even balance a solo
canoe with one big 45 pound pack in it. I assume you must have a sliding
seat and can run the seat way back. That said, I'm also assuming you won't
be running any rapids-because if you do, you want to be central in the canoe
and with the slider at the extreme back you won't. I also assume that you
will be sticking to well traveled portages that don't need to be scouted.
If not, then carrying the canoe and pack over first would be a bad plan. We
generally outfit our solo canoes with three packs-one big one at about 35
pounds; a second smaller one at about 25 pounds, and a little day pack at
around 10 pounds. The big pack goes behind the seat. The medium pack in
the bow section just behind foot length; the day pack just behind it, closer
to the paddler. This balances the canoe with approximately 35 pounds at
each end. The big pack contains tent, tarp, personal gear etc.; the medium
pack has the food; the day pack has lunch and immediate needs like rain
gear, camera etc. First trip over the portage I carry the two big packs
together on a tumpline + paddles (60 pounds) so I can see the trail ahead
and look for short cuts to the river. Second trip, I carry the canoe (38
pounds) and day pack (10 pounds)--about 50 pounds.

Now this necessarily requires 2 trips over each portage. Still, I find it a
welcome event to walk back across a wilderness trail, unencumbered by packs
or canoe. Gives me time to stretch my legs and re-tune with nature.

But if single carries are your thing, then go for it. Canoeing is after all
a sport in which the only you need to please is yourself. Still, my hat is
off to you if you can do a 3 week trip with just 45 pounds of gear including
food, cooking gear and shelter. Yes, I think it's possible; and yes, I
could do it; but if the weather turns really sour (suppose it rains solid
for a week?) I would be pretty miserable with that approach. Cal Rutstrum
addresses the issue of "go light" in his book North American Canoe Country.
Essentially, he says (and I agree) that it is a noble goal, but that those
who spend considerable time in the backcountry learn that going too light
can be dangerous, or at best, rigorously demanding if the weather doesn't
cooperate. My advice? Either go for the food drops or consider a double

Speed:I have never used a double paddle for very long. I find them heavy,
awkward and tiring. They are especially awkward on tiny beaver streams
where there is overhanging vegetation. And the big paddle is awkward to
portage. Don't forget you still need a spare paddle, just in case. Still,
you can go very fast if you use a double blade. When Verlen Kruger and Steve
Landick did their 28,000 mile trip together, Steve used a double blade much
of the time. But then he was a serious kayak racer before the trip. Verlen
never used one. Steve switched to a single blade often. He said the double
blade was tiring when used for hours on end, while the bent shaft straight
paddle wasn't. Again, Steve was a competitive kayak racer.

Realistically, you can easily average about 4 miles per hour with a solo
canoe and a bent shaft paddle, when loaded for a long trip. With a long
skinny solo canoe (I assume you have a hot We-no-nah) you might add another
0.3 mile per hour or so. You might pick up another 0.2 miles with the
double blade, if you can wield it continually. I think 4.5 miles per hour
is a reasonable average, this assuming the weather is cooperative and the
wind isn't always in your face. But there are a lot of variables that
shorten the distance, as well you know. I'd say a 30 mile day in lake
country is a very good day. Portages are what really eat up your time. If I
were planning, I'd put the target at 20 miles per day, no more. Even that
might be a handful if there are many portages. Also be aware that drought
conditions in the BWCA have changed the nature of many portages. Some will
be much longer because of shallow muddy ponds that don't have enough water
to float a canoe, etc. Better to plan on the short side than the long side.

Sorry I can't offer more positive advice.

Wishing you the best as you paddle your new dream.

Dear Cliff,
Been looking to make my first solo canoe purchase, and have some questions on Bell canoes. Once read that the Wildfire was your favorite solo canoe was this true? Plan on using canoe in the BWCA mostly, and and was told that a J-stroke was needed to steer straight and a hut stroke would not be efficient with this canoe. Can you give your thoughts ? Love to have a stable canoe to sit in and fly fish on great lakes in the BWCA. What's your take on some of the new Bell canoes for this and can travel efficient and portage great. Would the Yellowstone Solo be better than the wildfire for this purpose. How would you sit up your solo for travel kneepads, sprays, etc..

A: Thank you for writing.
The Yellowstone solo is an evolution of the Bell Wildfire. Both are wonderful canoes, but the Yellowstone is a wee bit better. I find it more predictable in rapids and possibly a little quicker on the flats. The YS has asymmetric rocker and slightly more volume. The Wildfire is no longer manufactured by Bell.

There’s not a solo canoe in the world that will paddle straight if you don’t apply a corrective stroke. You can do this by using a bent shaft paddle and switching sides when needed. In a loaded YS, it’s 3 strokes per side”. If the boat is empty, it’s “2 strokes per side”. If you go to a straighter tracking hull like the Bell Magic or We-no-nah Prism you will might one more stroke per side without switching. In any case, you will have to correct direction on any solo canoe.

Where the YS shines is when you leave the big lakes and go down rivers, streams, twisty creeks and across ponds. The boat pivots on a penny and easily runs rapids through technical Class II, with a paddler and 150 pounds of gear aboard. The YS is a very roomy and comfortable canoe. It is extremely manueverable and a joy to paddle on ponds and in currents. I own two composite YS solo’s and I have spent considerable time in them, and in the Royalex version. Though I prefer the composite layup (much lighter!), the Royalex version is a terrific boat, more so with wood trim. Indeed, the wood trimmed version looks just like the composite. Bell does a beautiful job on the trim work; you can’t tell at a glance it’s Royalex.

Now, here’s your problem, as I see it. The YS—and indeed, any of the true solo canoes—are just that, “solo canoes”. They are not fishing platforms. These solo canoes emphasize performance—speed, tracking, turning, capability in rapids—at the expense of a stable platform for fishing. If a fishing boat is what you want then none of the solo canoes you are considering qualify. Sure, you can easily fish out of a YS, but you can’t move around like you can in a boat or flat bottom canoe. But the problem with any canoe designed for fishing is that it will be a dog to paddle on the flats and downright dangerous in rapids. There’s not much of a market for “fishing canoes” so the ones that are available tend to be poorly designed. Here are two good ones: We-no-nah makes a small Kevlar tandem canoe called “The Fisherman”, and Bell makes the Royalex Angler. These are among the best pure fishing canoes out there, and may be more what you’re looking for. But the price you’ll pay is diminished performance on all types of water.

In any case, you should paddle any canoe before you buy it. There’s a huge difference between canoes like the “Fisherman” and “Angler” and the YS you are considering. The YS is a “canoeist’s canoe”; the others are for those who would rather fish than paddle.

I might add that the HUT! Stroke is very efficient in a Yellowstone solo—in any solo canoe. I paddle this way about 90 percent of the time. Anyone who suggests otherwise needs to spend more time in one of these little boats.


?: Dear Cliff,
I've done most of my life's canoeing in the Maine area, but am excited about coming out to the Quetico in late August. In my younger years, I had never heard of giardia and never had trouble drinking water from just about anywhere that looked clean. Now that I "know better", I always filter my water.

However, my crew and I are working hard at cutting down on the gear we plan to bring, and the water filter is currently "on the block". My "research" indicates that we would be safe if we took the precaution of gathering our water on lakes well away from shore. (Let's assume here that we don't want to boil our water or add chemicals.) However, knowing of the debilitating effects of giardia, I'm reluctant to leave the filter at home.

What would you advise for a Quetico trip? To filter, or not to filter?

Thanks for any help you provide.

A: Thank you for writing. At the outset, I need to make it clear that I could never consciously advise anyone not to take a water filter on a canoe trip. That said, I can tell you that I seldom bring one. The waters in northern Minnesota/Ontario that border the BWCA are as good as they get when it comes to bacteria levels. And Giardia is, frankly, more of a designer disease than a real worry. Yes, you can get it. Over the years, I’ve encountered maybe 6 cases of it among participants on my canoe trips. But I’ve outfitted and guided over a 1000 people. If you are careful where you take your water, you shouldn’t have a problem. Indeed, the real problem that paddlers have, as compared to backpackers, is that backpackers have contact with only the water they’ve purified—the stuff in their poly bottles. But paddlers are in constant contact with water—paddling, swimming, washing their faces, dipping their hands in the water etc. Unless you are absolutely meticulous—never touching the water then touching your face etc., your chances of getting a water borne disease aren’t much worse than if you filter your drinking water. Example: Some years ago, we canoed the Bloodvein River in Manitoba. It’s known for beaver activity and Giardia. We brought 2 water filters and filtered our drinking water meticulously. Still, 2 people came down with Giardia. That can only be explained by the fact that paddlers are in constant contact with the water on which they are paddling.

It’s your call, Ed. Like I said, I seldom bring a purifier. The exception is when I’m canoeing in Ontario and will be camping one night in an area where fishermen frequent. Then, I purify the water I take off shore.

Remember: Don’t take water from narrow little streams that suggest beaver activity; avoid shallow rapids (the water is stirred up by the moving water). Water from a deep, sun-lit pool should be taken near the surface and as far from shore as possible. Microbes tend to lurk just below the surface of calm water, out of reach of sunlight. Also, avoid any water that has a greenish color (algae). Tan colored is fine (it’s natural tannin).

Enjoy your Quetico trip.

?: Dear Cliff,

A: Gee, I dunno. I’m no paint expert. But in the old days, when we all paddled aluminum canoes, we would paint the deck plates flat black so they didn’t reflect sunlight. In order to get the paint to adhere, we would wash the deck with vinegar several times, leaving the last “coat” to air dry. The vinegar would slightly etch the metal for a better bond. Still, the decks would chip in time.

Frankly, I think you’ll add a lot of weight if you do this. A better plan is to adopt the procedure we all used years ago—namely just give the hull a good coat of paste wax before you head down river. No need to buff out the wax. This was SOP for running rapids in the days before Royalex canoes.

Good luck,

?: Dear Cliff,
We just bought a canoe from you guys and spent 2 weeks on the BWCA... Anyway, we spent two nights at Ge-be-on-e-quet Lake and heard the most AMAZING sounds We think it was some sort of toad, that would would sing in perfect unison all night long with incredibly pure sound and absolutely perfect unison when changing from one note to the next.

I spent one whole night listening to it, it was such a beautiful sound. I tried to describe it, and the best I could do was... Angels singing or The Northern lights in music.

Like I said we spent two weeks on the lakes, but only heard this on the above mentioned lake. Any idea what we heard? This is driving us nuts.

I could give you a more musically correct description if you'd like, but I figure you know exactly what I'm talking about and are probably laughing yourself silly right about now...

We've listened to hours of toad and frog recordings on the Web, but haven't found anything that reallys sounds like what we've heard, the closest was the Eastern American Toad, but there was no trilling to what we heard.


A: Thank you for writing. Sounds like you had a great time. Sorry, I can’t help you here. There are a lot of neat sounds in nature, and you sure heard one of them. Maybe a naturalist would know. You might try calling a nature center.

All the best,
Note: if anyone has answers to this Musical "Cliff Stumper" please email in: tim@piragis.com

?: Dear Cliff,
In your book ‘Expedition Canoeing’, in Chapter 8, under ‘lights’, you mentioned a flashlight made by Surefire about the size of a marking pen.
Do you know what model? Thanks.

A: SureFire makes a lot of different models. They are all excellent. I have a 6P with the 120 lumen bulb, and an L4 digital lumamax LED. These lights are superb . I see that SureFire just came out with a model that is adjustable for brightness. These lights are pricey but worth it.

?: Dear Cliff,

I am making my first trip to the Boundary Waters next month. I have spend the last six months pouring over your Boundary Waters Canoe Camping book. I have read each page and taken what you suggest seriously. I am the only female going with our boy scout Troop which will consist of three groups of 7. Our group is the EASY group and will travel Moose Lake to Knife Lake. We are using an outfitter and are from Las Vegas.

My question is regarding shoes. I took your suggestion of Bean Boots seriously and purchased a pair because I want good ankle support for portages however, everyone else, perhaps because they have not read your book, is planning on wearing water shows for canoe and portages, then switching to tennis shoes for in camp. My concern is aren't I going to be uncomfortable and hot in these bean boots with wool ,and a thin liner sock, for an entire day of canoeing? Should I canoe in water shoes and change for portages?

Please let me know what you think.

A: Thank you for writing. First off, there are A LOT of portage in the BWCA—like one about every hour. It is rather a mess to contstantly change shoes each time you come to a portage. I think your friends will tire of this pretty fast—and ultimately, not change at all; instead, they’ll keep wearing their water shoes all day. The result will be sore, shriveled feet that have been bruised by the many rocks and roots you’ll be walking on. Yes, if it is very hot outside, the Bean boots with wool socks can get very toasty. Still, this is better than walking a portage in simple water shoes. There is also the issue of bugs. If it’s buggy, you’ll want to be wearing those wool socks. If you have low shoes on and no covering over your ankles you can bit real bad.

The summer up north has been unusually hot and dry this year. If it stays like this, the Bean boots will be hot. An option would be to wear good tennis shoes that have good support, but with wool socks inside. Your feet would be wet, of course, but they would be cool. The problem comes when you portage. If you have any long or tough portages you won’t like doing them with wet feet.

Another option is tennis shoes inside Tingley rubber boots. You can kick the Tingley’s off in the canoe and quickly put them on for portages. The down side is that the Tingley’s are often hard to get off when they sweat up inside, and they flop around badly (get stuck in mud) on portages.

There is no perfect footwear. My advice would be to wear those Bean boots while canoeing then switch to Tennis shoes in camp. I would also bring a pair of light, breathable water shoes or sandals just for swimming. The rocks are sharp in the BWCA and you want something on your feet while you swim. I would not let the kids swim bare feet. You’ll be nursing cut feet if you allow it. That was always a rule on our canoe trips.

There’s a lengthy chapter on canoeing with teenagers in my book, CANOEING & CAMPING, BEYOND THE BASICS (The Globe-Pequot Press).

Good luck to you. Have fun in the BW. It’s a great place.

?: Dear Cliff,

I have started canoe camping in my Wenonah Prism after reading your books and have a couple questions.

Can you recommend a brand of fixed blade knife, saw, and ax? I want to invest in these items and don't want to waste money on things that won't last. Also, I have read that a small pressure cooker is a good addition to a camping "kitchen". Do you have any thoughts on pressure cookers?

I wrote a couple months ago asking about the Bell Rob Roy in the 12ft. lay-up. I ended up buying the demo boat when the rep came through Missoula. Cliff, I love this boat. On lakes, it's a bit hard to keep trimmed in the wind. However, with some weight up front it's a great little boat. I have had it on The Blackfoot, Clark Fork, and Missouri here in Montana. It's wonderful to paddle. The 12ft. is a bit of a "lily dipping chick boat" but it suits my purposes perfectly. Thanks for the original info.

Have a good summer leading folks in trips. Sincerely, Kathy

A: Hello, Kathy; thank you for writing. There are a number of good options for knives, but for axes, the Gransfors is absolutely the best and worth every penny. For most uses I recommend the “Wildlife Hatchet”. Piragis NWC has them in stock. My books, CAMPING’S TOP SECRETS (especially) and EXPEDITION CANOEING have a lot of information about knives, axes and saws—important features, things you don’t need, sharpening and maintenance, etc. Everything you want to know about choosing wilderness tools is in these books. Why not check out the info then get back to me if you still have questions.

I might add that a good knife, axe and saw are the key to making a cheery fire on a rainy day. Buy the right tools now and they’ll last a life time and bring you smiles whenever you use them.

I’m glad you like the Rob Roy. It is a neat little canoe or “canoe-yak”. I think it’s really the only “crossover” boat that is suitable for wilderness trips like those in the BWCA.

?: "What is your personal approach to campsite food storage at night? Is a bear bag worth all the fuss and worry? Common sense tells us to, of course, keep food away from the site in food containers. I am currently in debate with my fellow canoeists over this subject. I totally refuse to live in paranoid fear of animals in the outdoors while I'm camping, but I feel I do practice proper respect. I am curious on your feelings of the subject. Thank you." Christian M

A: Hello, Christian: Well, I could write a treatise on "bears and food". Indeed I have. You'll find a full dissertation in the Twentieth Anniversary Edition of my book, EXPEDITION CANOEING. There's a thorough, albeit more abbreviated approach in my books, CANOEING & CAMPING, BEYOND THE BASICS, and CAMPING'S TOP SECRETS. There's a lot to consider, and it's impossible for me to respond appropriately in this short space.

In a nut-shell: Bears are creatures of habit and are operantly conditioned to respond to stimuli. Once they discover a food source-a pack containing food, tin can, food pack in a tree, etc.--they will remember and seek out these sources again and again. Black bears all climb trees. I offer these two enclosed photos as evidence. Teenage bears scramble to the top of a 50 foot tall tree in seconds; mama takes a bit longer. Bears have learned to recognize the ropes that hold food packs, and they chew through them. Once they discover food in a pack they will check out every pack they find, even if there is no food inside and no odor. I've seen bears take apart boxes that contain mining and camera equipment: no food here! The point is that if you want to keep food from bears you must outsmart them. That means keeping a clean, odor-free camp and putting your food where they don't expect to find it. In places the BWCA where camp bears are about, I simply set food packs out in the woods, away from camp and animal trails. In all my years of canoeing, I've never had a problem. Not one! In remote areas of Canada I store my food under my dining tarp. Again, I've never had a problem. Wild bears are hunted and are therefore much more leery of humans than are the "domesticated" BWCA bears.

Trees are small in northern Canada. And the farther north you go, the smaller they get, until there are none at all. Very few campsites contain trees that are high enough to discourage a bear. And remember, BEARS CLIMB TREES. There seems to be a huge disconnect in the human brain regarding this issue. Federal authorities apply a simple solution to a complex problem--"campers here, food way over there in a tree". If a bear gets YOU it's a huge problem. If a bear gets your food it's NO problem. Treeing your food assures the feds that you and your food are separated. It's a simple way to keep humans safe from bear attack. I hesitate to say more because there is so much more to consider; that's why I recommend you read the bear sections in my books.

I never tree my food. Not anywhere. Not ever. I've never had a problem. I don't know anyone who canoes the wild rivers of Canada who puts his or her food in a tree. The only ones who do that are paddlers who go to the BWCA, Algonquin and Quetico. Treeing food simply isn't a viable procedure in most of the north country. I would also encourage you to read the books, BEAR ATTACKS, by Stephen Herrero and BEAR ENCOUNTER SURVIVAL GUIDE by James Gary Shelton. These books provide considerable insight into how bears act and why.

Finally, be aware that virtually all the advice regarding food and bears comes out of western park management. Here, both grizzlies and black bears abound, and the bears use the same trails as thousands of hikers. Campsites are terribly crowded and most of the campers are very inexperienced, and often sloppy with their food. In places like the BWCA and Quetico, paddlers are on the trails (portages) for relatively short periods. Hence, the chance of running into a bear is much smaller than in parks like Yellowstone. The short of it is that what works best for hikers may not be best for paddlers. Anyway, read the background in my books and check out the ones by Herrero and Shelton. At the risk of sounding snobbish I must repeat that I don't know any one who canoes the wild rivers of northern Canada who trees his food. There are better ways to deal with the situation.


PS. Notice the bear in the tree in the photo on the right. Look closely and you'll see a man in the tree on the right taking the bear's picture. This is not a Photoshop photo. One tall tree, isn't it? In the bird house photo, notice how the bear is biting through the rope. Do bears climb trees? Duh!

Questions concerning Bell Canoe Works' Rob Roy:
Have you paddled the Bell Rob Roy? If so did you like it? Would it be a good tripping canoe? I'd like to paddle a lighter craft, (I'm 225 pounds and 6'1"), and like the speed and stability of a kayak, but I also like the portaging convenience of a canoe. The Rob Roy is comparable in price to a Wennona Solo, but sits lower in the water, and I'm able to paddle it with a kayak paddle. My paddling skills in a solo are not such that I'd feel good in the water on a windy day, and with a kayak I do, (I've done so on Superior). I know from research and talking to people that I can get a Duluth pack and behind the seat and a day pack under the rear area (behind the seat). Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

Yes, I’ve paddled the Rob Roy and I like it a lot.  Couple years ago, I was invited to participate in a paddling event in Florida, sponsored by Bell Canoeworks.  I paddled the Rob Roy almost exclusively.  I liked it.  Here are my impressions:
1 The boat is very fast—like VERY fast!  It moves effortlessly and, surprisingly, it turns well.  You just have to learn to lean it on the side-wall and it spins right around.
2 It’s a very comfortable boat for long distance touring.  Admittedly, I don’t like double paddles—I used a single bent-shaft in the Rob Roy.  But the boat does well wither either.
3 Being an avowed canoeist (who can’t warm up to kayaks), I was less than fond of the low seat, which precluded kneeling.  I think that if the Rob Roy had a “proper canoe seat”, hung off the side-walls, with room enough for kneeling, it might be my first choice for a long distance tripper.  For you, with your kayak background and comfort with twin blades, the boat sounds just right.

The really nice thing about the Rob Roy is that it’s easy to load and unload; easy to portage, and there’s lots of room to stretch out and be comfortable.  And, you can pack like a canoeist in “real packs”, rather than have to stuff your stuff into tiny bags at each end of the boat.  Yeah, I like the Rob Roy.  I think you will too.

Thanks for writing.  And may the wind be at your back.  Sometimes.

Questions concerning family sized tripping canoes:
I would like to ask for recommendations for a new family canoe. I truly enjoyed my trip to the boundary waters.  Our family conisists of two adults 180lb 140lb, a growing 65 lb 9 year old and one on the way... I used a Minesota II last  trip.  I liked the speed. I have been considering building a wood strip, something like Gil Gilpatric's copy of the 18 6 EM White. I have also looked at the Souris River Quetico. What recommendations do you have?

There are a lot of fine lake canoes, but my favorites are the We-no-nah Minnesota II and the Bell Northwoods and the smaller Northwind—all in ulatra light Kevlar, of course.  The Souris river is a good boat but it’s not in the performance league with the above mentioned We-no-nah and Bell’s.  And the re-sale value isn’t as high.  The main drawing card of the Souris River is, I feel, it’s lower cost.  And it is strong yet lightweight.  But it’s not as fast and graceful as the other canoes.  If you want to build a canoe, I would suggest a Minnesota Canoe Association design (www.canoe-kayak.org), rather than the EM White copy.  The EM as a fine canoe but built more for big loads than for speed on open water.  If you bring a ton of gear you may like the EM.  Otherwise, the MCA Boundary Waters Cruiser is a far nicer boat.

Questions concerning trail stove care:
Somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of my now cob-webby mind, I recall one of your books describing a method of periodic camp stove maintenance.  I have several stoves in which I burn white gas.  The tip I recall was to burn a small amount (1 tablespoon?) of carburator cleaner mixed in with the regular fuel every (how often) to help keep the stove cheerfully operating for me on my canoe adventures.

Could you repeat that tip?  Do you have any preference or suggestion on a specific (cleaning) product with which to do so?

A capful of carburetor or fuel injector cleaner mixed with enough gas to run the stove will do the trick.  I do this once a year at the end of the season.  Be sure to burn the stove completely dry before you put it away.

Follow up Question and response re: "building a Solo Stripper Canoe":
I was surprised to see your cost estimate for building a solo stripper ($300) in your response to
the 15 year old. I just finished Redbird at a cost of over $1000. Yes it is a 17.5' tandem, but
costs will be similar:

Redwood (which is cheaper here than western red cedar) $225 (1X8X20' planks which I milled to save
money - milled western red cedar will run about $500). Fiberglass cloth - $80 (Raka, which is cheaper than many suppliers). Epoxy resin and hardner (West) runs about $80/gallon and you need more
than a gallon. Then you need the plans ($70), wood for station molds and the strongback ($50), wood for the gunwales, deck, seats (perhaps $100) and finish ($50).

Additionally, I think your should multiply the 100hrs by a factor of 3 or 4 for first time builders.

Well, okay, I am a little low. You can buy a complete solo canoe kit--western red cedar, epoxy, pre-cut rails, thwarts, seats, decks, yoke--from the Northwest Canoe Company (www.northwestcanoecompany.com) in St. Paul, for $750.

If you buy the cedar boards here and cut them to strips yourself (the common practice where I live) and use polyester instead of epoxy, choose inexpensive mahogany trim, your cost will be $400-$500. Sorry I missed the mark here; I didn't realize that fiberglass and resin costs have
skyrocketedsince the Iraq war.

Questions concerning building a Solo Stripper Canoe:
I am 15 years old and love wilderness canoe camping. I have been on several tandem canoe wilderness trips with my father here in Maine. I am interested in building a solo stripper canoe. I read your article "What's new in solo canoeing?" and also your book Expedition Canoeing. You mentioned in Expedition Canoeing that you designed the ideal solo canoe and that the plans were available from the magazine, "Canoe and Kayak". I have searched several issues of "Canoe and Kayak" for ordering information. I even called "Canoe and Kayak but they were unable to help me. Would this canoe be a good one for me to build and can you tell how to get the plans for it? I like reading your books. They are very informative.

I'm impressed! If, at age 15, you have waded through EXPEDITION CANOEING, then I think you're hooked on canoeing for life. And once you get the solo canoe bug, you'll be pestered by it forever.

No, I wouldn't build that old canoe that we sold to Canoe & Kayak 20 years ago. That was the "DF Solo", designed by my old friend Darrell Foss. With some tweaks, it became a popular production boat-the Mad River Slipper which, I believe, is now out of production. Why? Because there are better designs available now. Canoeing, like other sports, continues to evolve.

I think that the very best solo designs are available from the Minnesota Canoe Association. Check out their web-site at www.canoe-kayak.org Then join up. It's not very expensive. You'll get abi-monthly canoeing magazine that's filled with advice from experienced paddlers, plus the opportunity to get building plans for a number of nice canoes. We have members in nearly every state and in Canada. The president, Dennis Davidson, is a friend. He is the sales manager for Bell Canoeworks here in Minnesota. Dennis is a superb whitewater paddler and instructor. He knows boats inside and out.

It's not hard to build a strip canoe. All you need are hand tools, a couple of staple guns and about 100 hours of labor. I suggest you build an epoxy boat. The cost will be a bit higher than polyester, but the canoe will be much stronger. Total cost of building a solo stripper is about $300, depending of course, on how fancy you get. Too bad you're not taking a shop course at school. You could use some of their power tools to make the trim. This would be a perfect project.

Questions concerning Keels on Canoes:
My wife and I just took delivery on a Wenonah 18' Kevlar Champlain rental boat from Piragis. We went with big and light because our Grumman 17' standard has proven to be a bit small for some of the waves we have encountered on the Columbia River where we live, and light because of my wife's cancer and back surgery she cannot handle helping me load the Grumman anymore and my lower back is not as amenable to doing the canoe "clean and jerk" as it once was.

With that background, we have had the Champlain out twice, encountered 3-5 mph side winds both times and discovered that with the trim we had (nose up a bit, the front seat needs to be back for my wife, she weighs 110, I weigh 225), it would not point into the wind as the wind picked up, even with both of us paddling on the same side.

So here is my question, why not add a keel for better control into the wind? (Yes, I can hear the gasping by the cognoscenti...) Logic: when paddling our Grumman with non-adjustable seats and nose up trim, we can always point into the wind (up to say 10 mph velocity, beyond that we stay on shore and I look for the sailboard). The main cause of this I ascribe to the Grumman's keel, about 144 x 3/4 inch or about 108 in^2 surface, about double that on a sail board fin or kayak rudder.

To test that hypothesis, I intend to tape a suitably long 3/4 deep x 1 inch wide keel to the Champlain and see how it handles, if good then attach a nicely epoxied cedar strip with autobody double backed tape (sticks real good and can be removed more easily than glass and resin).

With all that preamble, my question to you is, does this approach make sense or is the idea of adding a keel (to an otherwise very nice hull line) all wet? Any and all feedback much appreciated. BTW, the idea of adding a keel drew a blank with Wenonah.

NO! You will really mess up a great boat if you tack on a keel. Good canoes don't have keels. Period! None of the Indian canoes had them and neither did the birch bark Voyageur canoes. Straight tracking is achieved by hull design, not by a piece of one by two tacked on to the bottom as an afterthought. There's a very thorough explanation of all of this in my book, EXPEDITION CANOEING.

Here's the low down on the Champlain. It is a VERY BIG boat, with a huge amount of side-wall exposed to the wind. The Champlain is designed to carry monstrous loads confidently in very big water. It would be the perfect canoe for paddling around Lake Superior, for example.

You will not tame this canoe by sticking a keel on the bottom. All you'll do is make it even more reluctant to turn than it is already. And you will reduce its residual sales value to near zero. Good canoes "appreciate"; bad ones do the opposite. Stick a keel on a We-no-nah and you'll live with it for life because no one who knows canoes will touch it.

There are three things you can do to improve performance in the wind.

1. Add weight to the boat. Two packs, each with 50 pounds of "floatable" cargo (wood chunks would be good) should be enough. Place both packs forward of the yoke to balance the boat with your wife aboard. When running into the wind, shove the packs as far forward as possible. This will cause the bow to run lower than the stern--exactly what you want for canoeing upwind. For a tail wind, move the packs back so that the canoe is slightly (one inch is enough) tail heavy. For general canoeing, the canoe should be trimmed dead level. I believe the Champlain has a sliding bow seat. If so, it should be set as far forward as possible to accommodate your wife.

2. Install a spray cover. Cooke Custom Sewing makes the best. A spray cover will cut wind by about half.

3. Install a sliding seat in the stern. This would allow you to move your weight forward to compensate for the light weight of your wife.

What we have here is a "trim problem", not a boat problem. Your old Grumman is less sensitive to wind simply because it is a smaller boat and has less sidewall exposed to the wind.

Questions concerning Tents:
I recently bought a canvas campfire tent and I want to be dry inside. Your past advice was to not put anything under the tent but some 4 mil plastic inside the tent. Is this the same in a campfire tent. The manufacturer recommends plastic underneath the tent but not inside.

A "tent is a tent"--canvas or nylon. The only time a ground cloth should be used under a tent is in winter--to keep the floor from freezing to the ground. In below freezing temps, put the groundsheet under the tent. Frankly, I'm surprised your campfire tent has a floor. The originals never did. Instead, they had snow-flaps: in summer, you turned the flaps in and placed your ground cloth on top. In winter, the flaps were flipped outward and snow piled upon them (in place of stakes) to keep the tent up.

You are asking for trouble by putting a groundsheet under a tent. Yes, the bottom of the floor will stay cleaner, longer. But my experience has been that long, severe rains will get in and you'll have a mess. The only time in summer when I would consider using a groundcloth under the tent is if the tent were pitched on mud and I figured the bottom would become filthy. And then, I would do this only if I had another groundsheet for the inside.

Do you have a separate fly for your campfire tent? You should. Canvas tents tend to drip in heavy rains. A separate fly is the way to go.

Good luck,

Questions concerning Tying Down Packs:
We're a flatwater family...usually paddling local  rivers in Iowa...and  of course our annual trips to the Boundary Waters and Quetico.  I've  been doing this for more than 30 years...now taking my son and his buddy on  their 5th consecutive trip back to Quetico this summer.  Occasionally we  get into some faster water below water falls, etc.  and there's the  occasional time when we get caught out on a big lake when the wind has come  up and our boats are loaded with gear.  This may be a dumb question...but  it's one we have often debated:  Should we tie our packs to the canoe so  we don't lose them in deep water if we capsize?  Is there a  down-side to this?  

Cliff...thanks for all the great articles over the  years.  I spoke with you several years ago when considering taking my  son on his first North Woods adventure when he wanted to travel by Kayak in  the BWCAW.  We did it...and he's now firmly switched to canoe.  We  were fast on the water in those kayaks...and they taught us to leave the  kitchen sink at home....but they were a real bugger on the portages.  It  was a great experience...and now my son and his buddy are hooked on  wilderness canoeing!

There’s a nice discussion about tying in gear in my books “Expedition Canoeing” and “Canoeing & Camping, Beyond the Basics”. You may want to check out the rationale. Basically, for your purposes—the kind of trips you’re doing—tying in gear is a big disadvantage. If you capsize a fully loaded canoe way out in the water, you’ll see why. It’s impossible to salvage a canoe that has packs dangling out. And if you tie them so securely that they act as buoyancy, the procedure will be very time consuming—especially in the BWCA and similar places where portages occur every hour or two. There’s an interesting story (An Heroic Rescue) about a serious capsize on open water and what resulted, in my book, “Canoeist’s Q&A”. Note that if you use a spray cover there is no need to tie in packs because the cover will keep them in the canoe. If you tie in packs you must tie them so securely that they won’t bob out. If you don’t, you’ll have a mess. The realities are this: if the water is cold you will leave your canoe and swim to shore RIGHT NOW!! No way, can you drag a canoe filled with packs with you. If the water is warm, you may ride it out, sort of “swim/backferrying” the canoe to shore. Loose packs will probably be wind-driven to a safe shore, as well. If the wind carries them out to sea, it will blow the canoe there too, and your swimming power won’t be enough to save the day. That’s why you want to travel as close to shore as possible when the wind is up.

Wishing you the best,


Questions concerning Paddles:
I am curious about your thoughts on the relative advantages and disadvantages of T grips versus pear grips on canoe paddles, both straight and bent shafts?
Both types of grips have advantages.  For general cruising using a straight or bent paddle, a well-fitting pear grip is the most comfortable and least tiring of all.  My favorite is the ergonomic molded palm grip that’s standard on Zaveral carbon-fiber paddles.  Whitewater is a different ball game.  Here, you want precise control of the blade angle, plus a sturdy hold that won’t let go when the canoe bucks in waves.  For this, a T-grip is the best choice.  Virtually all high end whitewater paddles have T-grips for this reason.  Styles vary from a very straight (cross) T to a rounded top “soft-T”.  Choice is a matter of preference.  I  prefer a fairly straight (90 degree) T-grip when canoeing rapids—again, it’s a matter of preference.  

A bent shaft paddle should have a dedicated (meaning you can only hold it one way) soft pear grip as you will use only the one dedicated paddle face when you stroke.  A whitewater paddle should have identical (symmetrical) sides, and there should be no obtrusive spines down one or both sides.  Spines create noise and turbulence and don’t belong on a good paddle—any paddle.  If one paddle face is different than the other (for example, if there’s a spine on one side but not the other), the paddle will run off center when it’s sliced side-ways through the water.  I can’t emphasize enough that both paddle faces should be identical.  Slalom whitewater racing paddles defy this rule by having a modified spoon blade that creates a dedicated blade face.  The advantage of the curved blade is that it provides more power per stroke—an advantage when racing. But using the back face of a spoon blade is awkward, so these paddles are best used by experts.

For all round use in rapids, an ambidextrous T-grip and identical blade faces are the way to go. On flat water, I prefer a 12 degree bent paddle and a dedicated pear grip.

There’s a pretty thorough discussion about paddles in my books, “Canoeing & Camping, Beyond the Basics”, and “Expedition Canoeing”.

Best of luck, Cliff

Questions concerning PakCanoes:
Steven Schon at Piragis gave me your email address and he said that you have had some experience with Pakcanoes. I am in the early planning stages for a 4 week canoe trip on the Back River in NWT Canada.  I have a 14' solo Kevlar boat that I used on the Coppermine.  I really liked how the boat handled the WW and how it tracked on the big lakes. My problem for the Back River will be getting the boat to (and from Yellowknife from Boulder CO.  I would like to fly to Yellowknife (I drove last time) but shipping the canoe by air would be prohibitively expensive.  Also air charters are also more expensive with a non-folding boat. Paddling on the Back involves crossing a lot of big lakes under possible windy conditions. What is your opinion on how well a Pakcanoe would handle long lake crossings when compared to a solo hard shell boat?  Do you think a Pakcanoe is significantly slower than a hard shell?
We used the 17-foot Pak canoe on two rivers: the Snake in the Yukon (340 miles from Duo Lakes to Fort McPherson) and the Cree River, Saskatchewan (130 miles). We’ve had experience with them on big lakes and smashing rapids.   We found the folding canoe to be about as fast as the hard boats (Dagger Venture’s and Bell Alaskan) in the crowd.  Indeed, the folding canoe was often at the head of the pack.  There really wasn’t much difference in speed or ease of paddling.  The boat never had trouble keeping up with the crowd.

The folding canoe excelled in rapids, especially the kind that have a big hole at the bottom of a ledge.  Here, the boat acts somewhat like a raft, bending skyward at center and popping free, whereas a hard boat might continue to dive and fill with water.  The canoe itself is incredibly durable—much more so than looks reveal.  The Snake River, for example, was a mass of bony rapids and the water was very low.  Every canoe in the party was constantly slamming into rocks, skidding over them and being dragged over them.  We thought we would be shredding that boat to pieces in a matter of hours.  Hardly.  Each night we would turn the canoe over and look for damage.  There was none!  Even the scratches weren’t visible when the boat was wet.  We never used a single patch on that canoe throughout the trip—yet, we seriously damaged the bows of all of our Royalex boats. Indeed, the bow of our Dagger Legend (which is very beefy) split wide open!  It was uncanny how the folder accepted abuse.

Still, I must admit that a hard canoe is more comfortable to paddle than a folder. This is mainly due to the seats, which we didn’t like at all.  However, my friend, Jim Mandle, who is an ACA  FreeStyle and wilderness canoe instructor, and who owns a design and marketing company, re-designed the seats.  The new ones—which should be available by summer—are superb—as nice as in any hard boat.  Jim also developed a locking clip system for the rails, which strengthens the boat still further. I understand that Alv Elvestad, CEO of pakboats, has upgraded the boat with still more useful changes—like reinforced fabric on the gunnels and extra rub strips on the bottom.  In all, the Pac boats are quite amazing.  I wouldn’t hesitate to use one in the Arctic.  In fact, we’re taking one with us on the North Knife River (Manitoba/Hudson Bay) this summer. You may want to click up the www.pakboats.com web-site and read the testimonials.  You may also want to read about what others have to say about these boats in my book, EXPEDITION CANOEING

Do you have an opinion on how well a solo Pakcanoe handles Class II+/III- rapids?
Our experience suggests that the pakcanoe is better in rapids than most hard boats of similar size.  Our 17 footer turned quickly (there are tricks to increase the rocker, if you so desire); it slid off exposed rocks like a rubber duck, and it combined the snappy handling of a good canoe with the forgiveness of a raft. Many times during the Snake River trip, Jim Mandle commented that he didn’t think he could have gotten his inept partner through a particular pitch in a hard boat.  Granted, folding canoes don’t have the precision feel of a fine Kevlar canoe, but they are, in every sense, genuine canoes.  Indeed, they actually handle better than a lot of hard canoes I’ve paddled.   I might add that you will want a spray cover—and Cooke Custom Sewing makes the best.

Are they likely to suffer damage when lining\dragging around rapids or pulling them out of the water at the end of each day?
I think I’ve answered that question.  They seem to take more abuse than hard boats.  The downside, of course, is what will happen in a wrap? I don’t know, but I suspect it could be rather a mess.  You wouldn’t want to wrap one of these canoes. We think the best plan is to use a full spray cover, and DON’T tie in any gear.

If you’re using the canoe on a long, remote voyage, I would bring an extra aluminum stem piece—that’s about the only part that is critical to assembly.  The other aluminum parts can probably be straightened or jury-rigged after a serious accident. I would also double the amount of repair material (skin fabric) and liquid cement.  This way, you would be prepared for the most serious disaster.
Since my current 14' boat meets my gear hauling needs (I am 200 Lbs with 150+ lbs of food\equipment) do you think a Pakcanoe 14S would work or would the 15S be a better choice?
I think you should write Alv Elvestad (info@pakboats.com) and ask his professional opinion on this.  My guess is that the 14 footer would be fine.  I’ve copied Alv on this so he can advice.

Wishing you the best, Cliff