A canoe that can comfortably take you from big lake waves to remote rivers and only takes up half the trunk sounds impossible. But Pakboats’ PakCanoe 160 makes it happen. This hand-assembled canoe is an ideal wilderness boat that also functions well as a general-purpose day-tripper.
Formed of heavy-duty synthetic canvas coated with high-abrasion-resistance PVC, PakCanoes are held under tension by an interlocking skeleton of tubular aluminum. Inflatable air pockets help make them rigid.
While it took a little sweat and some skinned knuckles to get the 160 put together the first time, we shaved down the straightforward assembly to a lean 45 minutes on our second try. Taking it apart takes less than half that and, disassembled, the 160 stores in a 35- by 17- by 13-inch bag—our publisher thought it was a new cooler sent for review. Don’t worry about having to put it together every time you want to paddle, PakCanoes can ride on the roof while assembled, just like their hard-shelled cousins.
On the water, the 160 is stable, easy to maneuver and gets up to top-speed quickly. There’s plenty of space for several weeks worth of gear if you’re smart about your packing. The seats’ location and height are easy to adjust and the simple foam kneepads are surprisingly comfortable.
Alv Elvestad, who founded Pakboats in 1995, steers those interested in a dedicated tripping boat to the larger 165 or 170 models, but says the 160 is a popular option for those who take shorter wilderness trips as well as longer ones.
“It’s a very seaworthy boat and people feel very comfortable in it because of its stability— it’s designed to deal with the rough conditions that come with long trips.” The flexibility of the fabric hull keeps the boat drier in rough weather and on the river, as the boat flexes and runs over waves instead of through them.
The most common reason people buy PakCanoes is because their packable nature makes them easier—and cheaper—to take to remote regions. “The cost of float plane flights nudges people into using Pakboats on the really remote trips,” says Elvestad.
While he’s used to fielding questions about the durability and reliability of the hand-assembled boats, he says their exploits speak for themselves. PakCanoes have been the boat of choice for decorated explorers on first descents on everything from northern Canadian rivers to tropical Bolivian ones.
“The kinds of trips people do with these boats, you would not take a boat on this type of trip if you couldn’t rely on it,” he says.