Wilderness Canoe Rentals
By Cliff Jacobson
Some of the wildest Canadian rivers are accessible only by float plane. But flights are costly. For example, a DeHaviland Beaver rents for $7.50 Canadian dollars per mile (2012 rates). There's a canoe tie-on and/or air drag charge plus a minimum charter fee. Prices are computed from the air base and return. A Beaver can carry two paddlers, moderate gear, and one canoe on the floats. A 400 mile round trip flight will cost over three grand--enough to buy two new canoes!
What if you could charter into your river and end your trip at a community that had an air-strip and regular commercial flights? That would cut your charter costs in half and save big bucks. The bugger is the canoe: you can't bring it home on a commercial airplane. What to do? Either buy a folding canoe or rent a canoe from a Canadian outfitter .
A decade ago it was all but impossible to rent a "good" canoe in remote parts of Canada. That's changing fast. Outfitters will jump-start your trip by flying rental canoes into remote communities--or, they'll provide a package deal if you rent canoes and charter your float plane through them. The cost varies: About $300 (U.S.) a week on average.
Renting canoes can save you a bundle, but it can be a nightmare. Don't leave home without definitive answers to these questions:
- What canoes do you rent?
Beat-up Old Town 17'4" Discoveries are most common, followed by 17' Old Town Trippers. There are some scattered Coleman's, Nova Craft's and Canadian brands that are unfamiliar to most Americans. Hold out for a "Tripper" or a Canadian Nova Craft-17 if you are going in harms way.
- Does the canoe have a comfortable padded carrying yoke?
Outfitters and canoeists don't always agree on what constitutes "comfortable". My advice? Bring your own custom built yoke with cushy pads. You'll need a cordless drill and bolts to install the yoke. Bring a small saw--you may have to cut the yoke to fit.
- Is a splash cover included in the rental plan?
You'll want a fabric splash cover for big lakes and bad rapids. In 1998, I rented Royalex canoes from a Canadian outfitter for a trip in the Northwest Territories. The canoes had (very nice) one piece splash covers that fastened with laces that had to be painstakingly threaded through small loops. Tall packs had to be set flat on the floor of the canoe because the covers did not expand. There was no access to gear when the covers were laced down.
Our covers were durable and reliable, but we grew to hate them because they were so much trouble. One crew refused to use them at all, even when life-threatening situations loomed ahead. We yearned for the easy accessibility of the three piece expandable covers I designed. Fortunately, we knew what to expect, so we packed everything in packs and wanigans that would fit beneath the tightly tailored covers.
- Knee pads?
Rented canoes usually don't have glued-in knee pads. Those that do, have generically positioned pads which don't fit everyone. I suggest that you bring your own closed-cell foam knee pads and glue them into the canoe. You'll need a pint of waterproof contact cement (I've had good luck with WeldwoodŽ) and a foam varnish brush to apply the cement.
- Moving the stern thwart.
Fitting four or five burgeoning packs into a 17 foot rental canoe is a lot easier if you move the stern thwart back about six inches -- I place it 24 inches forward of the leading edge of the stern seat. You'll need a saw and cordless drill. You'll also want a thwart just behind the front seat (it beefs up the hull and provides a place to secure gear). To save weight, many of today's canoes come without one. Again, you'll need that saw and drill.
- Lining ropes & lining holes.
Your outfitter will neither provide lining ropes nor install lining holes or rings in the canoe. You'll have to drill your own lining holes and bring your own ropes. Drill quarter-inch diameter holes near cutwater (that cordless drill again) through the hull and enlarge them with a rat-tail file to accept a length of half-inch diameter PVC water pipe. Epoxy (the 5-minute stuff works fine) the plastic pipe into the hole and you'll have a low-mounted, watertight fitting. When the epoxy has dried, smooth the rough edges of the pipe with a flat file. You'll need instant epoxy, a large diameter rat-tail file and a small flat file.
- Bring bungee cord.
Bring a couple yards of quarter inch diameter bungee cord so you can "shock-cord" the thwarts and decks as suggested in my books. Yes, you will need to drill holes.
And how will your outfitter react to all this cutting, drilling and gluing on his canoe? Most outfitters don't have the time, energy or knowledge to properly rig a canoe for wilderness travel. Your outfitter will be thrilled at your initiative. Really!
Cliff Jacobson is a professional canoe guide and outfitter for the Science Museum of Minnesota, a wilderness canoeing consultant, and the author of more than a dozen top-selling books on camping and canoeing.
Cliff's Books & DVD's Available from Paddling.net
- Boundary Waters Canoe Camping
- Expedition Canoeing
- Forgotten Skills DVD
- From Here to There: Canoe Basics DVD