There’s a brief but particular full chassis shudder a 2003 Suburu Outback makes when its serpentine belt snaps. So, when the check engine light blinked on a moment later, I knew exactly what was up. My anniversary trip wasn’t going as planned. Then the rain started.

Adirondack Canoe Company’s Boreas
Length 14 ft
Width 26.5 in
Material  Carbon/Kevlar
Weight 24 lbs
Capacity 500 lbs
Price $1,600 USD

A long weekend hiking trip with my partner in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks in upstate New York sounded like the perfect romantic getaway. Google Maps promised a manageable drivetime under six hours. And I’d be able to connect with a local boat builder, whose canoes Paddling Magazine had been trying to get our hands on for years.

Geoff and I enjoyed one glorious hike and stunning sunrise on Cascade Mountain, the 36th tallest peak in the Adirondacks at 4,098 feet, until car trouble—and rain—put a damper on the weekend’s plans. 

After 36 hours knocking around the ice cream shops of Lake Placid awaiting a new belt, we plucked our precious cargo from a hotel parking lot as we were heading back north. It was a black carbon-Kevlar 14-foot solo canoe called the Boreas from Adirondack Canoe Company. Four hours later, the guys behind the counter at Canadian Border Services very apologetically turned us around and sent us back to America. I’d incorrectly filled out the paperwork to temporarily import the canoe. We drove to a distant UPS store to reprint a single black and white page. Ninety minutes after that, standing at the border control counter for the third time in as many days, Geoff asked me to promise not to import any more commercial goods on a vacation.

Woman solo paddling canoe with double blade paddle
Go from lunchtime launch to weekend warrior with ease in the Boreas. | Photo: Wyatt Michalek

After all the trouble to get the Boreas home—the return trip took 10 hours—I was really hoping this boat would be the bee’s knees. The anticipation to get it on the water was high.

Testing the waters

I was not disappointed. Lucky for me, this sweet little 14-footer was just the thing to have warming the canoe tree all fall. At only 24 pounds, it’s basically the weight of the five gallons of ice cream we ate in Lake Placid. My 85-year-old Nana could cartop it solo. I’d just pop it over my shoulder and walk down the street to the lakefront, seven minutes away.

The Boreas is made in the pack canoe tradition—light, low and lively. With its seat resting on the hull of the canoe, my center of gravity is right in the water and super stable. Solo on a big lake, I relish its shallow depth not being buffeted by the wind. It tracks well and keeps up a good speed for its length, but where I find a boat of this size shines is day trips toodling around on a local lazy river while watching for trumpeter swans and Mallards, and leaf-peeping photography as the mornings grew brisk and fall deepened.

Single or double blade customizations

The Boreas can be paddled with a single or double blade paddle. One of the benefits of a small and agile company like Adirondack Canoe Company is they can customize for you.

“If you prefer paddling with a single stick, we will keep the sides higher and mount a traditional seat,” says Adirondack Canoe Company co-founder Simon Gardner. “If your choice is a double blade, we trim the sidewalls, and mount a pack-canoe styled seat and foot braces.”

Gardner calls the two options the Upper Boreas and the Lower Boreas. The Upper Boreas is configured with a traditional canoe seat, caned or webbed, and is 13.5 inches deep, allowing a paddler the option of kneeling. The Lower Boreas is cut to 10.5 inches deep to accommodate sitting on the bottom of the canoe and comes with foot braces and the Seals seat.”The higher depth is too deep to comfortably paddle with a double bladed paddle for most folks,” adds Gardner.

Other specs and features

Released in 2018, the Boreas is Adirondack Canoe Company’s most recent design.

“We wanted to have something a little bit faster, with some asymmetrical rocker—one-and-a-half inches in the stern, a little bit more in the bow. It’s not sporty, but it’s easy to turn. And you can put a little bit more gear in for weekend trips,” says Gardner.

With a capacity of 500 pounds, the Boreas allows for a weekend’s worth of camping gear.

The Boreas joins Adirondack Canoe Company’s other offerings, which include a 16-foot tandem tripping canoe, and the 12-foot Skylight and 10.5-foot Haystack models, which are variations on the traditional Wee Lassie design.

Pack canoes have a proud heritage in the Adirondacks. Small, light, solo canoes are perennial favorites because paddlers often have to walk a quarter-mile or more to get to a shoreline, says Gardner.

“Having something easy to carry in the woods is a winner in the Adirondacks,” he adds. Paddlers will often go on group trips where everyone paddles their own solo canoe, which is slowly becoming a more common sight in other parts of North America too. 

The men behind the operation

If you haven’t heard of Adirondack Canoe Company, Gardner won’t blame you. The boutique boat-building operation was founded in 2013 by himself and co-owner Chad Smith. They make just a few dozen boats a year. Based in Minerva, New York, they’re about an hour south of Lake Placid, on the other side of Mount Marcy, New York state’s tallest mountain.

Smith and Gardner met at Hornbeck Boats, where they worked as boat builders making lightweight pack canoes. Gardner’s experience with Hornbeck’s pack boats goes back even farther. Back to third grade, when Hornbeck Boats’ founder, Pete Hornbeck, was Gardner’s third-grade schoolteacher.

“He knew I liked being outside,” says Gardner. “Even as a young kid, I was always bouncing around in the woods.”

For Gardner’s ninth birthday, Mr. Hornbeck gifted him a canoe. The boat was a nine-foot reproduction of John Henry Rushton’s Sairy Gamp design. The Sairy Gamp was designed in the late 1800s to be a perfect little boat for trips in the Adirondacks. And it was the perfect little boat for a boy to find his calling.

Still, when Gardner graduated from high school, he says he ended up boat building by chance—“I thought I would be a chef.” After spending a combined 25 years learning the craft of building lightweight boats at Hornbeck, Gardner and Smith felt ready to strike out on their own.

“We got to a point where we wanted to branch off and do our thing. It was a little nerve-wracking. We saw the opportunity and decided to go for it,” says Gardner. “We feel there’s still room in this market—and we wanted to make some changes to these little canoes.”

The pair have been slowly building up the business. Both men have day jobs to support their boat building habit—Gardner is a paramedic and Smith works in a fiberglass shop building set pieces.

“At this point, the boat building doesn’t support our two families, but that’s the goal—to be full-time boat builders again.” The duo started with just 10 or 12 boats in their first year and made close to 30 last year.

Most of Adirondack Canoe Company’s boats are made to order. It’s just Gardner and Smith building, and completing a canoe typically takes a couple of days. Orders are ready within two weeks. The standard layup is carbon-Kevlar composites featuring carbon exteriors and Kevlar interiors. The boats have a core material in the hull to add rigidity. Ash is standard for the gunwales, but cherry is an option. Custom colors and materials are of course available upon request, because they can.

The temporary import permit on our loaner Boreas is up this September, and I intend to enjoy this extended rendezvous until then.

Go from lunchtime launch to weekend warrior with ease in the Boreas. | Photo: Wyatt Michalek

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  1. Wow, great article. Answers a LOT of questions I had about Adirondack Canoe Co. I spoke with Chad today and booked an appointment to test paddle his canoes in early May of 2021. Thanks for the links and pictures, too. Looking forward to getting back on the water soon.


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