Kevlar – yes kevlar canoes are what you want for your next BWCA wilderness canoe trip. They are lighter on portages. But remember that nobody ever drowns on a portage. So don’t assume that all kevlar rental canoes in the BWCA are created equal. A lot of people are reticent to rent kevlar canoes for a whole host of reasons. Here are a list of the top concerns that I’ve heard over the last 25 years of renting kevlar canoe for rugged boundary waters canoe trips:
- kevlar is too fragile and will puncture easily
- kevlar canoes are tippy
- they are fast but won’t turn in a wind
- don’t have much freeboard when loaded
- you have to “wet foot” canoe all the time.
Here is a list that corresponds with the above list to address each point:
- Not if it is made by Souris River. Yes, Wenonah, Bell, and all other canoes are fairly fragile.
- Not if it is a Souris River Quetico 17 or 18.5. Yes, Wenonah’s and Bell’s are tippier with the exception of Wenonah’s Boundary Waters which is stable but an odd canoe on the water. Bell’s are always a little on the jittery side.
- Souris River’s are fast with a load and without a load plus their stability doesn’t change even when their load does. They are properly designed to turn in the wind. Wenonah’s (MNII) is a retired racing canoe with no rocker. Wenonah, with their racing roots, doesn’t know how to make a canoe not go straight. That’s great until you get caught in a crosswind with their associated low-freeboard. Bells are much better handling than Wenonahs, but they feel jittery when empty and stabilize when loaded. A truly great canoe never changes handling/performance characteristics. – that’s the SR Quetico 17.
- Wenonah builds a bunch of different canoe models which tend to be somewhat obscure on the Boundary Waters front. I don’t see those models and aren’t familiar with them by name, either. But, they do build some high bow, low side and low stern design in the main of the models used by outfitters to the boundary waters. The high bow is sharp and slices the waves. It also maintains the straightest course from point A to point B which makes it fast, right? Well, it also does the “A & B” thing in the “up and down” line. In rough water, it becomes a submairne because it’s skinny hull refuses to rise up and go over the top of the wave. So, do the math: You are in a skinny canoe with a 20″ bow charging into a 24″ wave. What’s going to happen? You’re gonna get 4″ of water in your lap for every wave you dive into with your Wenonah. Now add in the fact that your rental Wenonah has 7 days of gear in it and you at 200 lbs. are all wedged in the front of that canoe. How high do the oncoming waves need to be to end up in you lap, now? The answer is less than 24″ . After loading up your loaded canoe with water that you really didn’t want, what happens when you get stuck in a crosswind with a canoe that fights you in turning in 24″ waves? What happens when water comes over the side? Does the canoe sit even lower at that point? When do you begin bailing? None of this is a problem with a sensible canoe like Souris River’s Quetico 17 or 18.5 three-man. They rise up and over the waves due to their non-racing hull design. High and dry is always better than fast and underwater.
- Souris Rivers are significantly tougher than Wenonahs and Bells. Those two canoes are downright fragile in rugged country and the rule of thumb is that Souris Rivers rent four times more than Brand X kevlar canoes and Brand X requires 4 times more repairs after every trip out. Now, we never want to see you ram shore with ANY canoe, but if you bump something with a Souris River kevlar, oh, well. Continue paddling, no need to dig out the duct tape.
If you think I’m making this up about Souris River Canoe, as an outfitter, what do I care if the canoe handles well in 3.5 foot whitecaps or treats my customers well? I could VERY easily open up any other line of kevlar canoes for rentals and they would cost me less and get the job done well enough with less effort on my part. Every year, I get the price sheets for Brand X kevlar canoes sent to me. From a business standpoint, I would be best served to get the job of renting kevlar canoes done as cheaply as possible. Souris Rivers cost me significantly more per canoe than any Brand X models and are a pain for me to get down from Canada. Souris Rivers don’t have the marketing in the US that Brand X kevlars have. In fact, because of brand recognition, it is easier to connect with a customer over Brand X kevlar canoes than it is with Souris River Canoes. Sounds like a better business decision would be to switch brands of kevlar canoes.
And, yet…we stick with them exclusively. Go figure, eh?