ORIGINALLY developed for the Adirondack region of North America, the pack canoe or pack boat is traditionally a small, lightweight open-top paddle craft designed to be manoeuvrable and easy to carry.
The original concept was for a boat you could literally drop your gear into and go – it was open-topped for easy gear access and usually quite short, wide and stable with a seating position lower to the floor to facilitate paddling with a double-bladed kayak paddle.
These boats were backcountry champions – able to be dropped into a narrow twisty creek and then dragged through thick bush to the next access point. Hunters and fishers have successfully used them for over 150 years.
Like all things in life, we tend to go through cycles and the trusty pack canoe had been forgotten for many years especially with the introduction of the plastic sit-on-top kayaks. However in recent years they have enjoyed resurgence, with designers remembering why these trusty little boats were so popular among outdoors people for many decades.
Certainly in the North American market manufacturers are finding a demand for these craft, particularly among fishers who frequent remote freshwater rivers and creeks. In Australia, though our options are a little more limited, a growing market is here that should drive a larger range of boats.
So why should you consider a pack canoe for your next fishing boat? Here are the top five reasons to put one on your wish list.
First absolutely has to be carrying capacity. Canoes in general are great for carrying gear and pack canoes are no different. Canoes being an open-top higher-sided boat by design have a lot of room to put your stuff in. The abundance of room means you’re not having to second guess yourself on what to leave at home, which also means you’re not having to stow stuff away in 27 different hatches. Even in a short canoe you can easily carry enough gear to go fishing and camping for multi-day trips. From a fishing perspective there is a tonne of room to put your fishing gear, tackle boxes, Esky, milk crate, camera gear and kitchen sink – in fact almost anything you want. Long story short, you can put a lot of stuff in a canoe.
Second is weight. Pack canoes are light – usually less than 20kg – so really easy to haul through the bush or lower down a steep riverbank. This means it’s easier to lift on top of your car or camper trailer. Lower weight makes them nimble and responsive on the water and your paddle strokes translate quickly and easily to the direction you want to go. Pack canoes move surprisingly well through the water.
Third must be stability. Canoes as a general rule are an inherently stable paddle craft – pack canoes are no different. As mentioned, these boats were originally designed for use in rough backcountry creeks, so they have to be stable enough that you can launch them from a steep bank or overhanging log. Want to stand up and cast? No problem, the pack canoe can accommodate that as well. When you consider the room you have to move about inside the boat, it makes for a fantastic fishing platform.
Fourth is versatility. Want to paddle with a kayak paddle, perfect. Want to paddle with a canoe paddle, do it. Want to motor, sure can. Want to sail, sure why not. Pack canoes are one of the most adaptable styles of paddle craft out there and lend themselves to a variety of means of propulsion. Pack canoes are a fusion of the good points of a canoe and kayak, which means you stay dryer, it’s easier to get into than a kayak being less wind affected, and it’s simpler to paddle with a kayak paddle than a canoe. The swiss army knife of paddle craft!
Fifth and possibly most important is comfort. It’s nice to sit in a pack canoe. The seating position is inherently more comfortable than a kayak because you have your butt above your feet. This means you can shift your feet around as you’re paddling along and take a little weight off your poor long-suffering backside. I know you know what I mean by this. Seating options are usually fairly abundant in pack boats and it’s not hard to find one that’s just right.
Being roomier also means, you can shift around more in the pack canoe while you’re fishing and avoid sitting in the same position all day. Pack canoes are also very easy to fit out, with little effort you can have your craft configured with all the modern conveniences to make your time on the water very comfortable.
I hope your appetite is whetted to give these little boats a go, because I believe they are worth considering for your next fishing rig. If you’re looking for more information on pack canoes, we recommend looking at offerings from Wenonah Canoe, Old Town Canoe, Swift Canoe, or closer to home One Tree Canoe Company. Happy paddling!