I live in a small apartment in downtown Toronto, Canada, so I had a few challenges to deal with when deciding which canoe to buy. I needed flexible storage and transportation options.
I ended up with a Pakcanoe, a skin-on-frame canoe that comes apart and stores or travels in a bag about the size of a hockey duffel. It’s sometimes known as a folding canoe or a collapsible canoe.
We were up at a friend’s cottage this past weekend, and he was nice enough to take some shots of us in action, getting most of the assembly process.
It’s an interesting thing to assemble, and each time we’ve done it, we’ve been headed into the interior of a provincial park, so we didn’t really pause to capture any of it on film.
Everybody who hears about it always wonders about how it all fits together… so here’s how it all fits together.
Get all the poles organized. There are a series of poles that form the skeletal frame of the canoe, much like a standard tent skin stretches over a domed set of tent poles.
Here you can see us assembling the poles — all of the long poles are shock-corded for ease of organization. They have a colored dot and different lengths to help matching up later in the assembly process.
As each pole is assembled, they’re laid out side-by-side for ease of identification. I usually keep all of them lined up on one end, so you can see the different sizes at a glance.
The canoe skin is a heavy synthetic canvas, coated with PVC, very tough. The underside has a few extra abrasion strips where the bottom of the canoe gets the most wear. It is unrolled on the ground next to the long poles.
The longest rods form the gunwales when threaded through the channels at the top edge of the skin.
You don’t need onlookers with beer, but it helps. Once both gunwales are in place, insert the gunwale terminators on either end. This is a bit of a tricky bit, and usually helps a lot to have an assistant pull the middle apart, shaping the gunwales into their intended shape, as you insert the terminators.
Make sure both ends of the gunwales are nice and locked into the terminators, and the top of the canoe will have that classic shape. Pull the ends of the skin up and over the ends of the terminators — it’s fairly important to make sure this is done properly, because it’s not as easy to try and adjust later.
The shortest of the long rods is the keel, and it fits together with two pieces with a series of forks on them, to make a continuous keel line with stems that clip to the gunwale terminators. The other longitudinal rods attach to the forks, and start to flesh out the side walls of the canoe.
One pair of the longitudinal rods will have clips that need to face upwards, and these are the only ones that need to match direction, as the middle clips both have to open on the same side. You’ll know if you do it wrong. Inflate the sides a little (this isn’t strictly necessary, but it helps to keep the structure as you’re assembling the rest).
Once all the longitudinal rods are in place, the cross ribs go in. These are fairly straightforward, but the first one is the trickiest to do. I try and position the top ends first, and then swing the bottom part into the clips. A bit hard to describe, but it’s something you’ll get with practice.
Each cross-brace goes into the canoe in a very similar fashion, and each subsequent one gets easier, since the rest of them hold the shape more and more.
The clips at the gunwales lock with a quick latch, and there are rubber loops for the bottom of the braces that just get stretched in place over the clips.
You can inflate the float tubes by mouth, but my canoe included a super-light pump that just stays in the bag. It makes short work of finishing the extra flotation tubes.
The chairs are the last bit to go in, and they’re the only real point of contention that I have with design. I find them a bit overly complex. I won’t go into detail, because I understand that Packboats has been working on a different, improved design.
It’s a pedestal seat, so it doesn’t act as a thwart (there are enough proper thwarts, and I don’t mind that it’s a pedestal), but it requires strapping in after it clips on, and this doesn’t secure as nicely, or make enough allowances for shifting of weight when getting in. I’ve had them come loose, and had the ‘claws’ digging into the bottom of the canoe fabric, before. This is definitely a recipe for a hole in the bottom, if you don’t notice this. Once they’re in and you’re settled into paddling, though, they’re fine.
A very nice thing about them is that you can adjust the angle for a kneeling position, but this is the adjustment that could make the seat come loose and poke into the bottom. The next time out, I’m going to try to just use a cable tie in a few key places, and I think it will be fine.
The knee pads that came with it are also a bit disappointing — essentially just closed-cell foam pads with two holes and a strap for securing it.
These are two minor disappointments in an overwhelmingly positive experience so far with this canoe.
The decks are fabric, and close off the ends nicely, making it look quite finished and solid. There are D-rings in the appropriate places on the hull-side of the stems, for painter lines. Of course, there are many places to clip throw bags and water bottles to.
If you’re lucky, yours comes complete with a cute girl to test it.
After it’s all done, you add a regular yoke thwart, and have a canoe ready for some wilderness tripping. The structure is sound and will take just under a thousand pounds. It stays assembled until it’s ready to get back to civilization, and is much easier to cart around while assembled than the big hockey-bag affair used to store it.
I hope this helps in terms of how it all comes together, and please feel free to comment or ask questions.
Many thanks to Andrew for taking the photos, and for supplying the wonderful cottage weekend. Hope you had a great birthday!