Kayaking is hot. From fishing kayaks to sea kayaks to the short, white water kayaks you see folks taking over waterfalls. These little boats are easy to paddle and a fun way to spend some time on the water.
But this is canoe country. Will the kayak replace the canoe on of our lakes and rivers, which we like to think of as their domain? Let’s compare and contrast, and you can tell me what you think.
Kayaks are easy to learn, easy to paddle, and fun to use. Kids take to them quickly as do adults who don’t have a lot of experience on the water. With their low center of gravity they are pretty stable once you get down into the seat.
But, how about packing and portaging a kayak? First, packing a kayak is like putting together a floating puzzle. You must pack into small dry bags and then stuff them into the limited areas under the deck of the boat. And when it comes to carrying all that gear you are going to need a lot of hands for those multiple bags.
Second, portaging a kayak may not be the easiest. The best way to carry the boat is “two-man,” which means one person grabs the bows of both boats and the other grabs the sterns. Good for short distances, tough for narrow 200-rod portages. I realize there are portage yokes made for kayaks. But, when I turn that boat upside down, and put my head inside the cockpit I can’t see a thing.
What are kayaks built for? They are great for big, open water with very few portages. If you are going to do a five-day exploratory of the Apostle Islands sea kayaks are perfect for your trip. It is ideal to pack small dry bags into the hatches and handle them once in the morning and once in the evening. Pull the boats up on the beach at night, no portaging needed.
Canoes will always be the gear haulers and the preferred boats in the Boundary Waters. Big, old Duluth Packs jammed between the gunwhales, and a portage yoke on the middle thwart will be the scene for many years. Canoes are easier to pack, easier to portage, and while the j-stroke takes some time to learn, it is worth knowing how to make a boat track straight.
As an outfitter I have sent groups out with kayaks. And they really enjoyed their trips, portages and all. But for what it is worth I am going to fit the boat to the occasion. Kayak for the big water, and canoe for the Boundary Waters.