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How To Kayak Camp: Tips For Planning, Packing, Portaging & More

How To Kayak Camp: Tips For Planning, Packing, Portaging & More

Kayak camping is a lovely way to enjoy the outdoors. You pack all your camping equipment in your kayak, paddle across a lake or down a river, and set up camp.

Kayak camping provides access to more remote sections of the outdoors that aren’t accessible by car or by trails. Here are our best tips and tricks for how to kayak camp.

How to plan a kayak camping trip

1. Figure out where you are going

Which river do you want to kayak? Which lake do you want to explore? Are there good beaches to camp on? What maps do you need to navigate there?

2. Plan your gear

Do you already have a kayak and the necessary kayak camping gear, or do you need to rent it?

3. Plan your food

Meal prep before a kayak camping trip is key. You need to know how many days/nights you will be in the backcountry so you can plan how many breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks to pack. Pro tip: better to pack too much food than too little!

4. Plan your poo

Yep, this is something you need to plan. Some river trips and lake camp spots require that you pack your poop out with you. Used Wag Bags stored in a drybag or poop tube are usually the preferred option.

5. Set a shuttle

This isn’t necessary if you are doing an out-and-back trip on a lake, but if you are running a river, or going from point-to-point, you will need to set a shuttle. Some river trips have commercial shuttle services you can hire for a fee. Pro tip: always bring beers for your shuttle driver!

Best kayak camping trips

In general, provincial, state and national parks are going to host excellent kayak camping trips. Most national parks allow camping, but some require camping permits or reservations, so do your research before you go.

Here are some standout kayak camping trips in the U.S. and Canada:

Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario

Algonquin Provincial Park is a popular destination for kayak camping trips in Ontario, Canada. Beautiful scenery, not crowded, and normally good weather (depending on what time of year you go).

Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park has rugged mountains and the cleanest glacial-fed water you will encounter on any kayak camping trip. There are numerous lakes to choose from, including Bowman, Kintla, Swiftcurrent, Two Medicine, and the famous Lake McDonald. The catch? You need to book backcountry camping permits several months in advance.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

It really needs no introduction. Kayaking down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is one of the greatest river trips in the world.

Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho

Located deep in Idaho’s wilderness, the Middle Forks of the Salmon is a highly rated location by whitewater kayakers who appreciate kayak camping trips. The Main Salmon and South Fork of the Salmon are also incredible.

San Juan Islands, Washington

If you’re into kayaking and orcas, this is the kayak camping trip for you. Sea kayaking in the ocean and camping on small islands with otters, seals and bald eagles.

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota

More than 2,400 kilometres of kayak routes, with more than 2,000 camping spots. Plan a trip to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters if you are looking to get away from other people. Chances are, you won’t find any out there.

Kayak camping gear

The lighter your kayak, the more maneuverable it will be. For this reason, it is best to pack as light as possible. That being said, there are a few key pieces of gear that simply cannot be left behind.

Kayaking essentials

Depending on your kayak and trip plans

Camping/backcountry essentials

  • First aid kit
  • Personal Location Beacon (PLB): just in case
  • Map
  • Water treatment system: Aquamira drops, Iodine tablets, gravity filter, etc.
  • Bear spray: very necessary if you are kayak camping in Glacier National Park
  • Sleep system: tent or hammock, sleeping pad and sleeping bag
  • Warm layers
  • Food and cookware
  • Waste system: Wag Bags or a poop tube, or both! Pack it in, pack it out!

Best kayak for camping

Choosing the right kayak for camping depends on a lot of variables. For example, whether you are kayaking on a lake, an ocean or a river makes a massive difference in which kayak you use. Also, your trip duration will make a difference in the length and storage space your kayak will require. The more nights you will be camping, the more storage space you will need.

How to choose the right kayak for a lake kayak camping trip

The key features to look for in a lake kayak are stability and storage space. When the lake gets choppy due to high winds, you will be thankful you chose a long hull with a wide base, providing a stable ride through big waves.

Some kayakers prefer inflatable kayaks , which are easier to pack and transport. But while they excel in packability, they lack in durability. Inflatable kayaks are not recommended in areas with sharp, jagged rocks. The Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Expedition Elite is a lightweight inflatable kayak with enough storage space for multi-day expeditions.

Hard-shell kayaks will be more difficult to transport to and from the lake, as you will need to install kayak racks on your car, but the added durability might be worth it. Additionally, rigid kayaks will tend to be faster on the water than inflatable kayaks. The Hurricane Kayaks Sojourn 135 is a good option for someone looking to pack lots of gear into a stable vessel.

Another option for a lake kayak is a sit-on-top kayak. These are kayaks that do not enclose your legs. Sit-on-top kayaks generally have less storage space, as there are no inside compartments or hatches. Drybags will be clipped on top of the kayak with carabiners or straps.

How to choose the right kayak for a sea kayak camping trip

Sea kayaks will be longer, narrower and faster than lake kayaks. They will also have a rudder and more storage hatches. The main thing to consider when buying a sea kayak is whether you want it to be plastic or composite.

Plastic kayaks will withstand hits against rocks, but will be heavier to carry. Composite kayaks built out of fibreglass or carbon fibre will be faster on the water and lighter to carry through portages, but will crack if they come into contact with rocks. Plastic kayaks are recommended as your first sea kayak. You can then choose to upgrade once you have more experience navigating around rocks.

The Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 is a good option for a plastic sea kayak.

How to choose the right kayak for a river or whitewater kayak camping trip

If you are kayak camping on a river, you will want a river-specific kayak. These will be built with durable plastic, a bulkhead to protect your legs in case of impact against a rock, and technical edges for carving and turning.

Most whitewater kayaks do not come with hatches, but can still be stuffed with gear if you remove the bulkhead and the backband. If you prefer the ease of a hatch, there are several whitewater companies building river kayaks with hatches for added storage on longer expeditions.

The Dagger Katana is a good option if this is what you are looking for.

How to pack a kayak for a camping trip

The main thing to consider when you pack a kayak for camping is which items you will need access to during the day, and what can stay packed away until evening. Anything that won’t be used until dinner or camp should be packed first, in the stern or bow of your kayak. This will leave more space for necessary daytime items to be packed in easy-to-reach areas.

Pro tip: buy one high-quality drybag that fits on your lap to carry snacks, maps and extra layers you may need access to while kayaking.

Figuring out how to pack a sit-on-top kayak can be a bit trickier than packing an enclosed kayak. You will need to attach a carabiner to each drybag, so they can be clipped to the top of the kayak.

How to portage a kayak

The best way to portage a kayak is by having your paddling partner help you, with one person carrying the bow and the other carrying the stern.

One tip for how to portage a kayak solo is to portage in two steps. Step 1: portage all your drybags and gear. Step 2: portage your kayak. Carry it with the cockpit rim sitting on your shoulder.

Because of their lack of cockpit to carry on your shoulder, sit-on-top kayaks can be tricky to portage. The best advice for how to portage a sit-on-top kayak is to do it with a buddy. One person at the bow, one at the stern.

The world’s most significant canoeing landmark isn’t what you think

The world’s most significant canoeing landmark isn’t what you think

Try out this topic at your next campfire discussion—what is the greatest canoe landmark in the world? The more I think about it, the more I come back to the motto of the world’s smallest record store in Toronto, which is: “We’re not big but we’re small.”

As for the Taj Mahal of canoe landmarks? Hands down, it’s sculptor and Naples, Texas’ own Nancy Rubens’ “Big Edge” in Las Vegas. You’ve never seen canoes doing this! Nancy took almost everything under the sun—not yet kitchen sinks—including televisions, small appliances, trailers, hot water heaters, mattresses, aircraft parts and, yes, canoes to make arresting public art. Leaving aside the sociocultural significance of the choice of canoes as a component in a giant ergodynamic sculpture on Turtle Island, if you haven’t seen the visual “explosion” of canoes that is this Nevada landmark then you might want to scope out “Monochrome I” in Buffalo or “Monachrome II” in Chicago. Or check out related and possibly derivative canoe works such as Victoria Fuller’s “Canoe Fan” in Ann Arbor, or Christopher Fennell’s “Waves” in Lewiston, Idaho.

And if the multi-canoe landmark is not your thing, there are many single canoe landmarks worth investigating. Douglas Coupland’s traffic-stopping “Red Canoe” in Toronto is a 30-foot-long canoe in a downtown public park where, apparently, it’s a bit of a thing for Torontonians to affirm their citizenship under cover of darkness. Slightly more obtuse, but no less arresting, each in their own ways, are Isla Burn’s “Carvel” on the plaza outside Edmonton city hall and Illarion Gallant’s “Commerce Canoe” hanging over Bastion Square in Victoria, British Columbia—all landmarks in their own right.

Landmarks can be geographic. Think Grand Canyon, Mount Fuji, maybe even Machu Picchu in southern Peru. Canoeing has its landmarks of this sort as well, and most of these have to do with nasty portages between major watersheds, like Grand Portage, along the Pigeon River near the eponymous town in upstate Michigan. Or a slightly more obscure but nevertheless significant place between Arctic and Pacific waters called The Committee Punch Bowl on the trail between the North Saskatchewan River and the Columbia River on the Alberta/British Columbia border in Athabasca Pass, so named by 19th century Hudson Bay Company Governor, Sir George Simpson.

And, of course, landmarks can be architectural as well, and canoes have their marker buildings too. Happy to hear of yours, dear reader, but my particular favorites are the Canadian Museum of History in Canada’s national capital on the Ottawa River, designed by Douglas Cardinal featuring a grand exhibit hall built in the shape of a big canoe, complete with upended paddles to hold up the roof. Another notable and far more literal interpretation of canoe as architectural form is the roof of Northlands College in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, which might as well be a big beautiful tin canoe repurposed to keep the rain off young scholars in the boreal wilds of the Canadian west. Oh yes, and if you’re looking for something a bit more urban, check out the Hyatt Hotel in Calgary, whose lobby is a giant upturned canoe.

But “greatest” according to whom? Let’s be honest and agree all of these feats of amazing natural and cultural design have a certain subjectivity to them when it comes to calling them out as globally significant.

When I think of canoe landmarks, I think of an outcropping of Precambrian granite on the shore of Cranberry Lake in eastern Ontario where I live. Our home in the Rideau Lakes district is situated in what’s called “The Land Between,” meaning it spans the limestone and clay soils of the Great Lake St. Lawrence Lowlands and the older, harder rocks and acidic soils of the Canadian Shield.

As it happens, the predominant landform experienced on a paddle here is more limestone and clay, more Holstein than moose or wild wolf. We can hear loons calling throughout the seasons and we do hear packs of roaming coyotes howling at the passing moon from time to time but the only physical manifestation of the Shield’s blue-lake-and-rocky-shore is one relatively tiny granite cliff that, for me, is the best canoe landmark of all. Like the world’ smallest record store, it’s not big. But it’s small. That’s mine. What’s yours?

James Raffan is an explorer, author and former executive director of the Canadian Canoe Museum.

Nancy Rubens’ “Big Edge” is made of 200 canoes and is located in front of the Vdara Tower in downtown Las Vegas. |  Photo: Courtesy Las Vegas News Bureau

How To Safely Transport A Paddleboard With And Without A Roof Rack

How To Safely Transport A Paddleboard With And Without A Roof Rack

There are few things as peaceful in life as standup paddling down a crystal-clear river that meanders through a quiet forest. But for many new paddleboarders, there are few things as stressful as figuring out how to get an expensive board onto the roof of a vehicle and then keeping it securely mounted as you speed down a highway.

Whether you’re coming from a canoe or kayak background—where loading the vessel onto the roof can be extremely challenging by yourself—or paddleboarding is how you’re introducing yourself to being on the water, transporting a board ranging from a short surf length to a 14-foot touring or racing board can be perplexing.

The good news is there’s a transportation method for every board and every vehicle. The parking lot of a paddling event is a lesson in vehicle diversity, with everything from two-door Smart cars to giant SUVs to event cargo vans converted into campers, where getting a board off the roof requires a tall ladder and a steady hand.

In this article, we’ll go over a few of the methods you can use to get your SUP to the put-in, as well as some helpful tips for keeping your board, vehicle and other vehicles on the road safe. Once you’ve reached the bottom of the page, you’ll know how to transport a paddleoboard with ease and confidence.

The basics of loading and unloading

The great thing about paddleboarding is that, regardless of the length of board, nearly every model can be lifted onto a car without the help of a second person. There are some exceptions—such as heavier department store-type boards—but the vast majority of paddleboards can be loaded solo. Regardless of which roof rack setup (found below) your car might have, the loading process really starts before you take the board out of the garage or bring it back to your car from the beach.

There’s nothing worse than carrying your board to your car and then realizing you forgot to put the hatch down or left something on the roof. Before you bring your board to the car, make sure the roof racks are in place and the vehicle is clear and ready to have the board put on top. This will avoid you having to lay your board down in your driveway or trying to find a clear piece of grass for it.

The design of your board will determine which direction you point it and whether you lay it face-up or -down, although the basic shape of most boards means face-down is almost always best. Some people think having your board with the fin to the front is a good choice because if it starts to slide out, the fin will catch the straps and keep it from falling off the car. That said, unless you’ve incorrectly tied down the board, the odds of it sliding out are extremely slim. If I’m transporting a board with a particularly pointy nose, I’d rather have that up front to make it more streamlined than the boxy back end.

How To Transport A Standup Paddleboard

How to transport a paddleboard on a roof rack

In this section we’ll go over your first option for transporting a SUP: using a roof rack on your vehicle.

Understanding the parts of a roof rack

In order to figure out how you’re going to mount your board, it’s important to understand the terminology. There’s the roof itself, which is the easy one, but then there are: rails, which some cars have from the factory; crossbars, on which your board or a board rack will mount; mounting feet, which will allow crossbars to be mounted to vehicles without rails; and drip rails, which some cars have and allow for the feet to be mounted.

Think of it like this: the paddleboard sits on a board rack or crossbar cushions, which sit on the crossbars, which sit on the rail or which are mounted to feet which are attached to the car.

Simple, right?

Using the roof rack

With the popularity of crossovers and SUVs, many vehicles now come with built-in roof racks or at least rails, which are designed to mount factory or aftermarket crossbars.

Assuming your vehicle has crossbars, you have two options: you could either just mount the board directly onto the crossbars, or you could use a SUP-specific rack that mounts onto the crossbars and has straps built in. While they can save some time, those SUP racks can be a bit expensive, so most people simply use the crossbars.

If you do mount directly to the bars, it’s important to cover them with some sort of padding. This serves two purposes. First, it protects your paddleboard from getting damaged by the hard metal crossbars. Secondly, it allows your board to dig into the padding, making it less likely to move around while driving. Padding options range from hard foam to branded crossbar pads to something as simple as styrofoam pool noodles, which you can easily cut a slit in to slide them overtop of the bars.

Once your padding is in place, set the board on top in a way that doesn’t allow it to hang too far over the back of the vehicle. Depending on the length of the board, it may need to extend over your windshield and past the back bumper a little bit, but if it’s hanging off more than a couple of feet, it’s a good idea to hang a red or orange flag from the board. Many jurisdictions have laws in place that require these flags for any loads hanging more than 3 or 4 feet from the back of a vehicle.

The next step in mounting the board is tying it down. This is a step that should never be taken lightly as the tie-down straps are all that is keeping your board from becoming a very big and very dangerous flying object.

Rather than simply looping the strap around the rails and over the board (creating an oval of sorts), a much more secure way to mount it is to loop the strap around the rail first and then put both halves of the strap overtop of the board, closing the loop around the opposite rail. This will create an upside down C-shape of sorts, and means both halves of your strap are overtop of the board rather than one on top and one on the bottom.

If you don’t have rails and your bars are connected to the vehicle using mounting feet, simply loop the strap around the crossbar as close to the sides of board as you can get it.

Don’t fully tighten the front strap without first installing and snugging up the rear. The best way to provide even force on both straps is to snug them both up and then fully tighten them.

Can you put an inflatable SUP on a roof rack?

One of the most appealing things about inflatable paddleboards is the fact that they fold down to fit into a (large) backpack. That means loading a board into a vehicle takes about as long as throwing a bag into the truck or hatch of a car. Of course, the tradeoff is allowing 10 minutes of preparation time before and after your paddle to inflate and deflate the board.

The question that often comes up for people using their inflatable boards on a regular basis is whether or not they can be transported on the roof of a car while inflated. The good news is that quality inflatable standup paddleboards today are surprisingly rigid, which means even 12-foot, 6-inch or 14-foot boards can be transported without folding in half like a poorly tied-down mattress.

Keep in mind that you are still transporting an air-filled vessel, meaning something hitting it could result in a puncture. That being said, something hitting your inflatable with enough force to cause a hole would also cause significant damage to a hard board.

How to transport a paddleboard without a roof rack

Many sedans and hatchbacks don’t come with roof racks or rails. While aftermarket roof racks can be installed on just about any vehicle, complete systems can be expensive. But if your car has a smooth roof, don’t worry, you’re not out of luck.

Mounting a paddleboard to the roof of any car is fairly easy. One of the best options for this is a soft rack system from companies such as Sea to Summit. These are relatively inexpensive and have protective pads that sit on the roof and straps that run through the interior of the vehicle to keep the paddleboard in place.

Purpose-built foam blocks are also a good option because they typically have a grippy surface on one side to keep the foam from sliding on the roof of the car and a soft surface on the other for protecting your paddleboard. With the blocks in place and the paddleboard on top, wrap the straps around the board and through the door openings. Make sure to fully tighten the straps before closing the doors.

Keep in mind that the straps will be causing a small gap between the seal of the door and the door frame, so if you’re driving in rain, water will likely permeate the straps and drip into your interior.

How to transport a paddleboard in a truck

Trucks are great for transporting things that fit into the pickup bed, but with most paddleboards ranging from 10 to 14 feet, mounting them is a little more complicated.

Assuming the truck doesn’t have a rack system built in (in which case mounting the board is the same as with any vehicle with a rack), you’ll need to have the board hanging off the back. Close the tailgate and set the board as far into the pickup bed as it will reach. Put some sort of padding over the tailgate and then tie the board down as close to the tailgate as possible using the the tie-down mounts in the bed or on the side rails of the truck.

As mentioned above, if the board hangs past the tailgate by more than a couple of feet, a red or orange marker is highly recommended, and might be required by law.

How to transport two paddleboards

Unless you have extremely wide crossbars, carrying two boards will mean stacking them on top of each other to turn your vehicle into a double paddleboard rack. To do this, load the first board onto the bars as suggested above, typically with the fin at the back of the vehicle. Next, put some padding on top of the first board so the two paddleboards aren’t directly touching each other. Pool noodles or plumbing insulation works great for this because they don’t create much of a gap between the two boards. Offset the boards so the top board sits just in front of the fin of the bottom board.

Understanding how to tie down two paddleboards isn’t much different from one board. Just strap the two paddleboards to the vehicle as suggested above with the straps going all the way over the top of the two boards. Longer straps might be required.

If you have a particularly tall vehicle like an SUV, be cautious entering garages or parking structures. Know how tall the total setup is and pay attention to height restrictions.

Other considerations

To bag or not to bag

Other than inflatable boards, it’s extremely rare for paddleboards to be sold with a bag included. Depending on the length of board and the style of bag, these can cost as much as $300. But is it a worthwhile investment?

A major concern with transporting paddleboards on the roof of the car is the impact of a hot sun. While the vehicle is in motion, the board is being constantly cooled by the wind, but if you’re leaving your board on a car all day at the office in order to hit the water as soon as the work day is done, the hot sun can be damaging. High-quality paddleboard bags have thermal protection to keep the sun rays at bay. An added benefit is protecting your board from rocks and road debris that might fly up and hit it while driving.

Most bags are not water-tight, so expect there might be some water in the bag if you’re driving in a heavy rain. It’s recommended that you leave the zipper open slightly at the back to allow the water to drain out. Keeping the zippers at the back rather than the front is also important because the wind will push the zippers open if they’re at the front of the bag. Paddleboard bags also keep boards protected in garages and sheds, but it’s always a good idea to let the board and bag dry off before storing it away.

Locked and loaded

Another big concern with leaving paddleboards on the roof is how to secure them. Unlike canoes or kayaks, which have easy places to run cable locks through, the simplicity of paddleboards means there are few options for locking them on the roof. Locking tie-down straps aren’t inexpensive, but they’re a must anytime you’re leaving a board on the roof unattended. They have metal-reinforced straps and key-locks on the closure, which should be enough to deter thieves looking for a quick slash and grab.

Review Of Old Town’s New Sportsman Line Of Fully Featured Fishing Crafts

Review Of Old Town’s New Sportsman Line Of Fully Featured Fishing Crafts

In fishing, secrets are hard to keep. Take a buddy to your favorite spot and soon enough the place is blowing up all over the internet. Secrets are hard to keep in the fishing business, too.

I first caught wind of Old Town Canoe’s plans for a new line of boats late last year. But OT’s people kept their lips tight; they were afraid to divulge too much about the project. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement before they would even tell me they had a secret project.

Immediately following the first hints, my mind started to race. I considered all the trends in kayaks. I looked for holes in Old Town’s line. Then I had a eureka moment, “It’s got to be a motorboat!”

Old Town Canoe and sister company Ocean Kayak turn out high-quality, smart fishing kayaks. I knew their next boat would have to be significant. Their last motorized kayak, the venerable Predator MK, came out years ago and needed updating. Mating a Minn Kota trolling motor with a proven Predator hull resulted in a sea-worthy motorboat that was a little too big and bulky to be practical for every-day anglers.

Recent changes in tournament rules now allow electric motors in many events. Competitive anglers looking to stay at the top of the leaderboard are almost forced to go motor power. The market is wide open for a pimped out, high-quality, reliable motorized kayak designed as a perfect platform for bass fishing. Taking in the sport’s landscape and scrolling through Old Town’s line-up, I figured the next logical step would be an ultimate motorized kayak.

My first peek came early 2020. Kayak Angler photographer Jason Arnold submitted images from an undercover photoshoot. “Got to keep these photos under wraps until March,” he warned me.

I opened the file, excited to see the new boat. Ugh! Arnold captured breathtaking over/under images of an angler fighting a fish framed by blue sky and clear green water. Great shot. But the waterline covered the kayak. Ugh! I couldn’t see the boat. But, zooming in to the waterline, I got a glimpse of a propeller.

Even with my suspicious satisfaction and my curiosity further piqued, there were still a lot of blanks to fill in. Those questions were answered a few weeks ago, when Old Town finally pre-released information on their all-new expanded Sportsman line.

Breaking down the Sportsman line

While I was expecting one new boat, Old Town has released seven new models, expanding their Sportsman line to four paddle kayaks, four PDL pedal models and three new motorized boats.

Introducing: the paddle and pedal models

On the paddle side, the new Big Water 132 is a Predator-based model that joins the Discovery canoe/kayak hybrid and the popular Topwater 106 and 120 as practical fishing platforms.

On the pedal side, the Salty PDL 120 is a modified Topwater PDL 120 and the Bigwater PDL 132 is based on the flagship Predator PDL 132.

The Sportsman models are capable versions of more expensive and feature-rich Predators. The removable accessory plates on the Predators are replaced with composite gear tracks. The seats are simpler and there is less padding on the deck. The new models offer an easy-entry option for anglers looking for the performance of a Predator at a lower price. All of the models use Old Town’s best-in-class PDL pedal system. The system is completely sealed, precluding any maintenance outside a freshwater rinse. I always carry extra propeller pins and tools in case I hit an obstacle. I’ve never had to use it. In fact, the system is so reliable, Old Town backs the PDL with a five-year warranty.

Joining the no-nonsense Topwater models with their top-of-the-line Predator cousins creates a family of kayaks for any purpose. Old Town brand manager, Ryan Lilly, says the line was developed to meet the needs of a wide range of anglers.

“The Old Town Sportsman line was the result of extensive consumer research,” he explains. Leaning on years of experience and exploiting trends emerging in the modern design, the line captures the latest features and capabilities available in a human-powered fishing platform. Lily explains, “Understanding what motivates fresh and saltwater anglers drove us to develop a line of truly innovative products.”

Introducing: the motorized models

The real excitement is on the motorized end of the Sportsman line. Old Town is releasing three brand-new motorized kayaks powered by modified Minn Kota power plants. Minn Kota, a Johnson Outdoors sibling of Old Town, contributed a 45-pound thrust motor working with Old Town engineers to integrate the motor with the kayak design.

Man casting from fishing kayak
The Sportsman 106 in action. | Photo by: Old Town

The new Sportsman 106 with Minn Kota is a pocket-sized motorboat. Based on the Topwater 106 design, the motor is mounted on a pod that fits through an opening in the deck. The power cables are plumbed through the hull for trouble-free rigging while the oversized rudder is operated with foot pegs for hands-free fishing.

Reminiscent of the system on the Predator MK, the Sportsman 106 pod has a lower profile, almost flush with the deck, for more space in the little boat. At 104 pounds when fully assembled and only 10 feet, 6 inches long, the boat offers one of the lightest, most compact motor options for cartopping and off-grid launches.

Introducing: the Autopilots

But Old Town saved the best for last. In response to the growing demand of tournament anglers and inspired by a new generation of micro skiffs, Old Town and Minn Kota pushed their talents to the limit to design an ultimate motorized, solo-angler fishing machine. The new Autopilot 120 and Autopilot 136 will set the highest mark for kayak performance and functionality.

The completely new boats are purpose built for motor power, the wide-open, padded deck and expansive crate well offer maximum room for fishing. An extra-large rudder controlled with foot pegs facilitates hands-free fishing. Rod holders, cup holders, gear tracks, cubbies, hatches, and a premium mesh and padded seat highlight the fishing features borrowed from other Old Town models. Old Town pulled all the stops to design the topside for total fishability and open-ended customization.

The Autopilot’s most exciting feature is the motor. Lately it seems like everyone is slapping a trolling motor on a kayak. Aftermarket motors use complicated systems with quirky external rigging to bastardize a paddle-minded boat into a motor-powered platform. But no one has a match for the Autopilot system.

The Sportsman Autopilot, with 45 pounds of thrust, can be controlled with an i-Pilot wireless remote. In addition to steering the boat with a rudder, the operator can also turn the engine with a handheld controller. This means the angler can zoom to the fishing hole using the rudder to maintain course, then snake into the tightest structure with the motor control. The Sportsman can go forwards, sideways and backwards without the paddle.

When the fish start biting, break out the Autopilot’s most amazing advancement. Push a button on the remote and the GPS-controlled motor will hold the boat in one place. No anchor or push pole; the motor spins and turns to keep the kayak locked.

Imagine the advantage for tournament anglers. They will be able to not only beat paddlers and pedalers to the best fishing, but also stay on the fish without expending time and energy. For fun-fishermen, the Autopilot series completely removes the challenges of kayak fishing. No worries about wind, current or other obstacles that limit the range of a pedal or paddle boat.

The Minn Kota motors can be powered by a 12V marine battery or comparable lithium-ion battery. Despite the extra cost, significant weight-savings make the lithium-ion option optimal.

The incredible level of functionality is housed in a platform that can be loaded into the back of a pickup or wrestled onto cartop racks. For the quickest and easiest transportation, I recommend a kayak trailer. Carrying the Autopilot on a trailer allows me to leave the battery in the boat, install the seat and motor, and then back the trailer down the ramp and float the boat to the dock.

Man riding out the waves in a fishing kayak.
The Autopilot 120 in action. | Photo by: Old Town

Taking the Autopilot 120 for a test-drive

A week ago, the anticipation finally came to an end when Old Town delivered an Autopilot 120 to the Kayak Angler office. Unwrapping the kayak and assembling the components, I dreamed of goals this boat would realize. I can finally reach distant grass beds I’ve mapped on Google Earth satellite images. I can finally take my 80-year-old dad kayak fishing. My friends were bugging me to borrow the AP120 for upcoming tournaments. But that would have to wait for my first test drive.

On a small, hidden lake, (I was still bound by the non-disclosure agreement) I launched the Autopilot 120 to zoom around and test the systems. As promised, the boat is fast, stable and functional. The i-Pilot remote is easy to learn—I didn’t even read the instructions—and fun to figure out. Combining the motor control with the rudder allowed the kayak to move in ways never experienced in another motor or pedal kayak. The boat is high, wide and heavy; great qualities for performance and sea-worthiness, but impossible to move on a non-motorized boat.

Push a lever and the prop lifts up through the hull for instant shallow-water clearance. It takes just seconds to remove and install the motor. The Autopilot includes a plate to cover the motor well and turn the boat into a paddle kayak.

With the powerful Minn Kota motor pushing the Autopilot 120, the 12V battery provided more than enough range for several days of fishing. After preliminary tests, I’m satisfied the Autopilot 120 will set a new mark for motorized kayaks. The hull is shaped to handle the weight and speed of a motor. Most important, the Autopilot 120 is outfitted with a reliable motor that can go anywhere, hold the kayak in one place and run all day. The whole system is integrated and easy to install.

Zipping and spinning on the little lake, I recalled the first I heard of new boats from Old Town. Recognizing the company’s commitment to make great boats for everyone, I knew the news would be good for the growing army of kayak anglers. From value-priced to pimped out, all-around to purpose-built, and meeting the needs of big water and little water anglers, the new Sportsman line offers a perfect platform for any angler.

As I expected, the top-of-the-line Autopilot 120 and 136 will take motorized kayaks to the next level. Secrets may be hard to keep, especially when they are as big as seven new designs from one of the most respected kayak companies. After months of anticipation, I’m glad the cat is finally out of the bag.



Meet the Old Town Sportsman Line—seven boats, three ways to travel, one passion. Old Town leverages 122 years of boat building innovation with something for every active water-lover.

“The new Old Town Sportsman Line was born from extensive consumer research,” says Ryan Lilly, Brand & Product Manager of Johnson Outdoors Watercraft (Old Town). “Understanding what motivates fresh and saltwater anglers drove us to innovate a lineup of truly amazing products.”

“Old Town’s new line-up of fishing crafts provides seven different models for sportsmen and women of all abilities and interests. Whether you’re a weekend warrior who loves the access of a small watercraft, an avid angler who demands hands-free fishing, or someone who just wants to take advantage of nearby water access, the Old Town Sportsman Line has a model that suits your pursuits,” Lilly continues.

The flagship model in the Old Town Sportsman Line is the exciting, all-new Autopilot, a state of the art fishing kayak that delivers the ultimate hands-free fishing experience. Available in two sizes, the Old Town Sportsman Autopilot 136 & 120 use fully integrated Minn Kota 45-pound thrust saltwater-safe motors with GPS Spot-Lock virtual anchoring to put the craft exactly where you want it. Controlled with the touch of your thumb using the iPilot remote, your hands remain free to catch fish. In varying tide, current, or wind conditions the Old Town Sportsman Autopilot 136 & 120 will change the way you fish from a kayak.

Also new to the line-up, the Old Town Sportsman 106 Powered by Minn Kota delivers a plug-and-play, easy-to-use motorized kayak experience. This 10-foot, 6-inch hull, based off of the popular Old Town Topwater 106, features a seamlessly integrated Minn Kota electric motor console. Simple and intuitive, the Old Town Sportsman 106 Powered by Minn Kota features an all-new throttle style thrust control for simple forward and reverse maneuvering and speed control. Additionally, the foot brace rudder steering ensures an intuitive hands-free fishing experience. The shorter hull and lower weight make this kayak a breeze to car top and transport.

Built on a legacy of quality and innovation, the Old Town Sportsman line is manufactured in Maine. All models from the Sportsman line boast a lifetime hull warranty and share an impressive array of features. EVA foam floor pads and upgraded breathable seats provide all-day comfort and support whether you’re sitting or standing. At least one forward-facing rod holder and a branded tackle box makes changing your lure or landing a fish a breeze. Full-length accessory tracks paired with intuitive storage options allow for full customization and accommodation of your favorite accessories.

To learn more about the new Old Town Sportsman Autopilot, 106 Powered by Minn Kota, the fun and zippy Salty PDL 120, Discovery Solo 119, or any of the Old Town Sportsman line visit oldtowncanoe.comor demo one at an Old Town dealer near you.

JOHNSON OUTDOORSis a leading global outdoor recreation company that inspires more people to experience the awe of the great outdoors with innovative, top-quality products. The company designs, manufactures and markets a portfolio of winning, consumer-preferred brands across four categories: Watercraft Recreation, Fishing, Diving and Camping.

JOHNSON OUTDOORS WATERCRAFT RECREATIONincludes Old Town canoes and kayaks, Ocean Kayak, and Carlisle paddles. Old Town canoes and kayaks have created genuine watercraft with innovative designs for over 120 years.

Kayak Skirts: When To Use, How To Wear, What To Buy

Kayak Skirts: When To Use, How To Wear, What To Buy

If you’re new to kayaking, you may keep hearing the word skirt or sprayskirt. And you may be wondering, what is a kayak skirt? Depending on the kayaking you’re doing, a kayak skirt can be an essential piece of gear.

How does a kayak skirt work? Well, when you sit in the cockpit of your kayak without a skirt, there is an open space between your body and the kayak shell. If you end up in any kind of rough water, this is where your vessel will take on water. With water in your boat, you’ll lose buoyancy, which will make the boat capsize easier. And if the water is cold, it’ll take all the fun out of kayaking.

The kayak skirt essentially seals this hole, making you and your kayak one solid piece of gear and preventing the majority of the water from getting into your boat.

Do I need a sprayskirt for my kayak?

Whether you need a kayak skirt or not really depends on the kind of kayaking you’re doing. If you’ll be in warm, sheltered, flatwater lakes for the majority of your paddling, you can get away without one. Likewise, if your kayak is a cottage toy where half the fun is tipping and falling out of the boat to go for a swim, then you’re all good.

If you’re just out for calm sunset paddles, sometimes it’s nice to have a skirt to keep yourself warm and dry, but not entirely necessary. A skirt can also be helpful if you have a couple items in your kayak you want to keep dry.

But if you plan on doing some whitewater runs on a river, exploring the choppy Great Lakes, or touring on the ocean, a skirt will make your kayaking experience a safe and enjoyable one. Any time there are waves, chop, windblown water, or rushing river water, using a skirt is essential. If the water is cresting the bow, it’s coming in your boat. And there is a limited amount of water you can have in your boat before you start getting into trouble.

How to buy a kayak skirt

What size kayak skirt do I need?

Just like buying any kind of gear, there will be an endless number of options when you start looking for a skirt. How do you size a kayak sprayskirt? First off, you’ll need to figure out the size of your cockpit. How do you size a kayak cockpit? Great question. The easiest and most surefire way to do so is by contacting your kayak’s manufacturer. Their website will usually have this information on it; just be sure to find your boat model and size. If you have an obscure kayak you can always just measure the width and length of the cockpit and use these measurements to find the correct skirt.

Secondly, you’ll need to make sure the waist size is correct. Think about what you’ll be wearing while paddling so you get the right size.

The way manufacturers size their skirts varies, but if you go to their website they should have decent sizing charts. When they write about “tunnel size” this is the size of the part of the skirt that goes around your waist, while “cockpit size” is the size of your boat’s cockpit.

Neoprene vs. nylon

Kayak sprayskirts are usually made of either neoprene or nylon . There are pros and cons of each. Recreational and touring kayak skirts are often made of waterproof, breathable nylon. Sometimes they’ll have suspenders, which you can adjust for ventilation. These skirts generally have an elastic drawcord that seals around the rim of the kayak’s cockpit. Nylon skirts aren’t completely water resistant, but are comfortable and practical for less extreme kayaking.

Neoprene is used for whitewater skirts and some touring sprayskirts. Neoprene has a lot of stretch to it and creates a very secure and watertight seal to your boat. Some skirts are reinforced to keep them stiff and attached while being pounded with waves. The one hindrance of neoprene is it can get pretty warm and offers no ventilation.

What to think about

Again, depending on what kind of kayaking you’re doing, the way the skirt attaches to your boat becomes important. Many of the recreational skirts use a draw cord. This makes fitting the skirt a bit easier, but has more chance of letting water in.

Whitewater skirts tend to use what is called a rubber rand—a stiff rubber edge that lies flat under the rim of the cockpit. It’s completely watertight and resists being torn off by moving water. Getting the cockpit sizing right on neoprene skirts is essential because of this tight fit.

Best sprayskirt brands

There are plenty of brands manufacturing kayak skirts these days, but the following are some of the best when it comes to quality and functionality:

Kayak skirt reviews

Here are a few sprayskirts our team at Paddling Magazine has reviewed:

How to put on a kayak skirt

The first time you put on a kayak skirt it may seem like the most difficult thing in the world. But it’ll get easier with time and practice. First, with your paddling wear and PFD on, you step into the skirt and get it roughly situated and tightened on your waist. Then you step into the boat.

Sitting in the boat, you’ll need to get the skirt under the rim of the boat behind you. It’ll feel like you’re doing some kind of painful yoga, but you’ll get it. Once it is under the rim at the back, use both hands to push the skirt under the cockpit rim, moving both hands forward (right hand on the right side, left hand on the left side), and work your way slowly up to the front. Be sure the grab handle is on top of the skirt when you get the final few inches at the front of the skirt under the rim. Then tighten up any suspenders or waist adjustments until you’re comfortable.

How to make a kayak skirt

If you’re the DIY type, then you may be wondering about a DIY kayak skirt. And yes, of course you can make your own. You’ll need some sewing skills and sewing equipment, and you’ll need to source your own materials. Whether the time and effort involved will save you any money is totally debatable, but we too love a good challenge.

There may be better resources out there to get this done, but a quick search found these two resources:

Good luck!

What’s So Special About Wooden Canoes And Their Builders?

What’s So Special About Wooden Canoes And Their Builders?

Waiting near the Via Rail train station in Bathurst, New Brunswick, digging down in my pocket scrounging enough change for a cup of coffee, my hand emerged a few bucks richer and with flakes of aromatic cedar shavings.

I was on my way home from visiting Bill Miller, the dedicated canoe builder whose father helped pioneer a style of East Coast river canoe in 1925, and already the memories were falling all over the ground. What’s so special about wooden canoes and their builders is when you leave the shop, you go with a sliver of their craft. The aroma of cedar and varnish, a dusty hat, and a few token brass tacks jingling in my pocket are a reminder of the magic of wooden canoes.

In our world of carbon fiber gunwales, tough stuff hulls, and sub-30-pound canoes, it’s easy to forget the origins of these new-age boats, and to glance over the passing generations who toiled over the crafts we adore.

When Miller built his first canoe, it was off a mold his grandfather, William Vic Miller, had hued out with an ax at his home on the Tobique River in Nictau, New Brunswick. Miller Canoes were designed with a purpose—to pole sportsmen and freight up or down the shallow, swift rivers nearby. This meant a hull wide enough to stand and maneuver from, and enough length and depth to displace heavy loads through rapids.

A wood canoe begins well before the shop. In the case of Miller’s boats, the first stage starts in the woods behind his home. Each time a canoe is purchased, Miller walks to his backyard, chainsaw in hand, studies a cedar which he has often watched grow up, and admires its straight grain and lack of visible knots. When Miller fells what he refers to as “a perfect canoe tree,” the life of another has begun.

From the mill to the planer, every bit of the canoe, save brass tacks and marine varnish, is created in the workshop. Seats are hand fastened and meticulously caned, gunwales are cut from 21-foot spruce or ash tree lengths. Every detail is hand manipulated by an old-time master.

There are still workshops where these experiences are lived on the daily, places such as Headwater Canoes , Bear Mountain Boats , and in Miller’s dusty, 94-year-old shop. There’s a feeling of homecoming here, like a church on Sunday or the river when the level is just right.

I’ve been back to spend time with Bill Miller every year since my first visit some six years ago, and I’ve collected quite the arsenal of treasures from his gold chest of a canoe shop. From handcrafted bird’s eye maple paddles he helped me shape, to a miniature 15-foot Miller I paddle and adore when visiting my family’s home in the Ottawa Valley.

There’s nothing, however, I treasure as much as the little Ziploc bags full of shavings I’ve collected from the shop, or my dusty Miller Canoes hat. For every time I catch their whiff, I’m reminded of life’s important, albeit dusty, places.

David Jackson is a writer and photojournalist living in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

A master of his realm. | Photo: David Jackson

David Hadden Joins Esquif

David Hadden Joins Esquif

Last month, Esquif Canoes of Frampton, Quebec, announced David Hadden joined their team as Director of Business Development. Esquif owner Jacques Chasse is looking forward to working with Hadden to grow Esquif’s presence in the U.S. market.

Chasse says that while Esquif has a strong market presence in Canada, it has limited penetration into the U.S. market. “We don’t cover the U.S. as well as we would like,” said Chasse. He’s optimistic Esquif can move into new U.S. storefronts based on the strength of their canoe designs and the performance advantages of T-Formex, a high-impact ABS plastic laminate aiming to fill the void Royalex left when discontinued in 2013. Chasse sees Hadden as a central part of this push.

David HaddenHadden comes to Esquif with 30 years of experience in the paddlesports industry. He grew up in Vermont as an avid canoeist and landed his first job with Mad River Canoe in 1990. Since then, his career has included roles with Dagger, Wenonah and Current Designs, Walden, Emotion, Heritage and, most recently, Johnson Outdoors. Along the way, Hadden had the opportunity to learn the ins-and-outs of everything from sea kayaks to fishing kayaks, but canoes have always been close to his heart. He’s excited to be back in the world of specialty canoeing at Esquif.

“It’s fun to return to my roots,” he said.

For Hadden, T-Formex fills an essential niche in the world of canoeing. He points out Royalex was a popular material because of its toughness, versatility and performance on the water. “There was a need for Royalex in the past and there’s a need for T-Formex now,” said Hadden. “Hands down, there is no better material for being on a river and moving water.”

The challenge for T-Formex, said Chasse, is reintroducing paddlers to the benefits of the material. When Royalex disappeared, explained Chasse, it left a hole in the market dealers and manufacturers tried to fill with other materials. Those materials had a few years to build momentum while Esquif worked to perfect T-Formex. Now, Esquif is playing catch-up.

“We have to overcome three years of marketing,” said Chasse.

Chasse’s approach to this challenge is to take his canoes to a broader audience by expanding his dealer network in the U.S. “We believe enough in T-Formex that we want to take it directly to paddlers,” said Chasse. “You need boats on the water where they’re proven to be tougher.”

David HaddenThe toughness of T-Formex is something Hadden says serious users are asking for. He’s spoken with livery operations resorting to buying used Royalex canoes online to keep their fleets at full strength. He’s confident there is pent-up demand for Royalex that can only be filled by T-Formex.

Hadden isn’t just enthusiastic about the prospects for Esquif’s new material, he’s excited to see the innovation coming out of specialty canoe manufacturers, including a resurgence of lightweight pack boats and a renewed focus on sporting canoes. Hadden hopes to incorporate the best features from the kayak fishing world, including tackle organization systems and lightweight electric motors, into new canoe designs.

According to Hadden, Esquif’s focus on T-Formex gives the brand advantages over its competitors, even those who use T-Formex in their own designs. Hadden explains Esquif canoes are designed from the ground up with a focus on T-Formex, which is the primary material the brand employs in its designs. This focus allows the Esquif design team to create hulls that are optimized for T-Formex, rather than adapted from composite designs.

The success of Esquif with T-Formex is part of a trend Hadden sees within the paddlesports industry, namely, smaller manufacturers that focus on a specialty aspect of the market have an advantage, regardless of whether manufacturing high-end composite canoes or specialized fishing kayaks. To Hadden, specialization is key.

“The paddlesports companies thriving are the ones bringing consumers a solution to a problem,” he added. “Durability without sacrificing performance and maintaining a reasonable carrying and transportation weight has always been an issue. We believe T-Formex is the answer.”


The Problem with V-Shaped Hulls

The Problem with V-Shaped Hulls

Some whitewater canoe designs appear to be timeless. 

I remember the excitement when another canoe instructor, Curtis Berryman, and I pooled our resources to buy an old Mad River Explorer canoe. At that time, it was the boat of choice for local whitewater canoe trips as well as introducing newcomers to whitewater. 

Affectionally nicknamed the Starship Enterprise, its stable, moderate V hull helped us scrap through a number of misadventures as we pushed our version of the sport of whitewater canoeing. We accomplished, sort of, our first tandem enders in the Starship. A less than joyful experience for the bow paddler since the length of the canoe meant the bow would hit bottom, thus pinning the bow paddler to the bottom of the canoe until we resurfaced again. 

The Starship was our craft for our first attempt at boofing. Mark Scriver and I launched Curtis off a bridge, from the top of our car, in the Starship. Rest assured, the car wasn’t moving. We’re not crazy! 


The Starship Enterprise in action. Photo: Paul Mason

Eventually, my father, Bill Mason, arrived home with the first solo whitewater playboat any of us had seen. Nolan Whitewall’s radically short 14-foot Descender. The Starship was relegated to a tandem-only boat. Over time, its bent gunwales and 100-pound patched hull resulted in it spending more and more time in the old canoe pile.

Almost 20 years later, I needed one more canoe for a tandem canoe course. Out came the Starship. A little vinegar, acetone and soap cleaned off most of the moss from the hull. Fresh knee pads to replace the squirrel-chewed ones, some airbags and it was ready for the mission.

With our new approach to using the MITH technique (momentum, initiate, tilt, hold), the emphasis is on maintaining tilt while carving turns. The crew in the Starship kept losing their carve, after employing my best coaching techniques… to no effect. I hopped in and tried it.

Gee, I’d like more tilt for this demo, but I can’t make it tilt farther, I thought to myself. It must be because it’s so heavy.

The next time I was out, my daughter, Willa, was with me. An experienced instructor herself, she couldn’t make it carve very well either. We concluded the V-hull, which feels so reassuring and covered up many of our errors in the old days, was now preventing the boat from carving. Tilting resulted in the canoe riding on the flat side of the V. No carve at all! 

We know the way to stop carving is to flatten your boat on the water—which is to say, no tilt. That’s exactly what was happening.  

Whitewater canoe technique has changed, and the demands of our craft have too. Make sure your choice of canoe is enhancing your experience, not sabotaging it.

Paul Mason’s list of canoe courses for 2020 is available at www.canoeinstruction.co.

Oru Kayak Haven Tandem Folding Kayak Review

Oru Kayak Haven Tandem Folding Kayak Review

Once upon a time, people who wanted to sell kayaks just went and built them first. High-tech companies like San Francisco-based Oru upended the tradition by coming up with a kayak concept and crowdfunding it first. Straight from the minds of entrepreneurial designers and the voodoo economics of cyberspace, some truly disruptive creations have emerged since Oru launched its first single kayak and top seller, the Bay, in 2012.

Oru Kayak Haven Specs
Length: 16 ft
Width: 31 in
Weight: 40 lbs
Max Load: 500 lbs USD
MSRP: $1,999

The latest in the lineup of “origami-inspired” folding plastic kayaks is the Oru Haven, a tandem kayak design for friendly waters.

Oru’s base material is white, double-walled corrugated polypropylene, custom-made in Canada and assembled in Mexico. Think plastic signboard material or, as Oru’s spokesperson put it, “the mailboxes you see at the post office, although much more durable and custom created.”

Oru Kayak Assembly

The single-piece hull is pre-creased with lines that quickly folding into kayak shape, then neatly clipping together with neoprene end caps, nylon straps and plastic buckles. It’s thoroughly postmodern, yet bears a remarkable resemblance to its sealskin predecessors in all its translucent glory.

Birthed through an Indiegogo fundraising campaign last fall, the Haven started shipping in early 2019. The Haven fits into Oru’s lineup of four folding kayaks as the only tandem—a wide, open-cockpit recreational design similar to the smaller Oru Beach LT, with the bonus of converting from a single to a tandem and including a new metal rail system for attaching accessories.

Setup is straightforward compared to other folding kayaks. I threw the boxed Haven into my van for a vacation with my kids and hauled it out on a campground beach. Without previewing the instructions or setup video and battling a stiff onshore breeze, I cobbled it together in under an hour, including a trip back to the campsite for snacks. With a little practice, the advertised 10-minute setup is definitely achievable.

Oru Kayak Durability

Oru responds to durability concerns with videos of their kayaks being dragged across rocks and paddled in surf. If needed, field repairs are easy with duct tape or epoxy. The hull has a 10-year UV treatment and is rated for 20,000 folds—theoretically, more than 50 years of daily paddling and folding. And, since it’s 100-percent recyclable, in the end you could throw it in the blue bin to be turned into plastic lumber or an outdoor rug.

I was impressed by the single-piece hull but questioned the durability of the floorboards and fittings.

suitcase-sized folding kayak
The folded Oru fits into a suitcase-sized box formed by its two floorboards, easily carried with a shoulder strap and stowed in the trunk of a car. | Photo: Wyatt Michalek

The rigid orange floorboards, which form the top and bottom of the carrying box when the Haven is folded, invert into the hull during assembly. Ours showed some deep cracks along the seams—an observation shared by some online reviews, which also noted bending and slipping of the metal G-hooks attaching the seatbacks to the hull.

Our G-hooks held up well but required a back-up knot to prevent slippage. On the pro side is the ease with which you could replace any of these parts. Oru stocks replacement parts on its website and stands behind its one-year warranty.

On the water, the Haven performs as you’d expect for an open-cockpit rec kayak with a 31-inch beam. Stability is rock solid, its lightweight hull responds quickly to every paddle stroke, and it tracked straight and stayed dry even in a stiff breeze with small whitecaps.

Oru Tandem Folding Kayak

Versatility is the Haven’s key advantage, converting quickly from a tandem to a single by merely clipping the seat and footrest to different attachment points. For a single paddler, there’s loads of room for gear in the cockpit, but no dry storage. You could also squeeze some gear bags into the bow and stern behind the bulkheads by partially unfolding the ends.

Folding up the Oru looks daunting when you see the mass of its hull spread out before you like a skinned whale and the size of the box you’re supposed to end up with. But once you figure out the subtle twisting motion that nests the two ends together, it practically folds itself, and all the parts stow into the folds. Then you’re on the road with nothing but an empty roof rack and a nagging feeling that you’ve left something behind.

You likely already know if the Haven is for you. Most people who encountered mine either loved it or hated it. Random guy on the beach giving me the thumbs up was definitely a fan. My wife (“What is that thing?”), definitely not. This sort of gut response should make the decision easy. Besides, if you require an ultralight kayak that folds up into the size of a suitcase and converts from tandem to single, the Haven is one of few options.

However, there’s a swath of potential buyers who should give the Haven a serious second look, and that’s anyone considering a regular open-cockpit tandem recreational kayak. For not much more money than one of those 70-plus pounders for which you practically need a boat trailer, the Haven is half the weight, giving it the potential to be much more user-friendly, with the bonus of unprecedented packability and storage.

Build-a-boat. From suitcase to shore in just 10 minutes, the tandem Oru Haven offers excellent portability in a recreational design. | Photo: Wyatt Michalek

Guide To Whitewater Rafting In Jackson Hole—Which Adventure Will You Choose?

Guide To Whitewater Rafting In Jackson Hole—Which Adventure Will You Choose?

Yellowstone National Park. The Tetons. Hundreds of miles of rivers. Wilderness filled with moose, bear, wolves and more. With so many outdoor attractions awaiting, it’s no wonder Jackson Hole, Wyoming is such a popular destination with outdoor enthusiasts. It is especially popular among rafting enthusiasts and those looking for new thrills to experience while on vacation.

Outside of skiing, Jackson Hole is most notable for its rafting trips down the Snake River. This 1,078-mile-long river, which is the largest tributary to the Columbia River, begins in Yellowstone National Park and winds its way down through Grand Teton National Park before arriving just north of Jackson. The real fun begins in an eight-mile section of river gorge and rocky, evergreen-lined shores.

Today we’re giving you the scoop on this fun, family-friendly section of whitewater rafting in Jackson Hole!

Best whitewater rafting in Jackson Hole

If there is one thing this part of the country has no shortage of, it’s rivers. Aside from the Snake River in the immediate vicinity, there are several others within an hour-drive or so to look into as well for whitewater rafting trips.

Snake River

The Snake River is interesting as it provides both calm waters for once-in-a-lifetime wildlife viewing trips and fun sections of rapids. The eight-mile stretch that runs near Jackson Hole ranges from class II to III rapids, with sections sometimes as high as IV during spring snowmelt. This makes for a fun, but safe, trip for beginners and kids.

Gros Ventre River

A short 41-minute drive northeast of Jackson will bring you to the Gros Ventre River. One particularly fun whitewater area is a five-mile stretch below Slide Lake. This section offers class III and IV rapids for an extra exciting time. You will need to take out at the Teton National Park boundary, however, as rafting is prohibited within the park.

Greys River

Located 44 minutes southwest, the Greys River also offers class III to IV rapids. Check out the six-mile length near Little Greys River, which includes several fun rapids, including one named Snaggletooth.

Hoback River

If you’re seeking an extended tour on the river, head southeast an hour to the Hoback River. A bit tamer than the others listed above, this 20-mile section in Sublette Teton county ranges from class I to III. An overnight trip is not out of the question here and there are plenty of campgrounds nearby as well if you are looking for overnight accommodations that are a little less rugged.

Rafting companies in Jackson Hole, WY

With the awesome whitewater opportunities the Snake River provides, there is no shortage of rafting companies based in Jackson Hole. Here are some of the top-rated ones in town.

Sands Whitewater & Scenic River Trips

Being in business for over 50 years, you can rest assured that these folks know the Snake River in this area like the back of their hand. Sands offers eight-mile whitewater rafting tours of the “Grand Canyon” (as the Snake River Canyon is referred to as) in two different raft sizes. All of their whitewater tours run for about three hours.

Sands offers three to four launch times each day, depending on the time of year, and the rafting season typically runs June through September.

For specific dates, you can contact them at 866-312-4957.

  • 14-person raft – $65 for kids (6 to 12), $80 for adults (13+)
  • Eight-person raft – $85 for adults and kids (6+) alike

Dave Hansen Whitewater & Scenic River Trips

If you’re looking for a company that even the locals agree is the best, check out Dave Hansen. Voted as the “Best Rafting Company” in Jackson Hole for seven consecutive years, the staff here will ensure you have a blast and stay safe too as you take in the scenery and run thrilling rapids through eight miles of the Snake River Canyon.

Each whitewater trip generally runs around 3.5 hours.

  • Standard raft (10 to 14 people) – $87 for adults, $70 for kids ( to 12)
  • Eight-person raft – $93 for adults and children (6+)
  • Dave Hansen also offers combo whitewater and scenic float trips in both the standard rafts and eight-person vessels. Call them at 307-733-6295 for more details.

Barker-Ewing Whitewater

Barker-Ewing offers an array of trip options, from standard whitewater rafting trips to hosting wedding parties and family reunions. Be sure to check out their package trips as well, including a Continental Breakfast Scenic Float & Whitewater Rafting trip and a Wildlife & Whitewater Combo.

Call for more details at 307-733-1000. Trips usually run from late-May through September and last three to 3.5 hours altogether.

  • Standard raft – $87 for adults, $70 for kids (6 to 12)
  • Small boat – $93 for adults and kids (6 to 12)

Mad River Boat Trips

Mad River offers three different boat sizes, making your experience on the Snake River a little more customizable. All of their trips are available from mid-June through mid-September and run between three and 3.5 hours in length. For just a little extra, you can also enjoy a riverside lunch with some trips.

Call 1-800-458-7238 for details.

  • Classic raft (16 people) – $86 for adults, $65 for kids (6+)
  • Small boats (eight people) – $99 for adults and children (8+)
  • Super small boats (six people) – $115 for adults, $99 for kids (10+)

For a more comprehensive list of rafting businesses in the area, check out this article from the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce.

Raft trips in Jackson Hole, WY

Whether you’ve never been whitewater rafting in your life, have experience under your belt and are looking for something with more thrills, or are somewhere in between, there is a whitewater rafting trip in Jackson Hole for you!

Continental Breakfast Scenic Float & Whitewater Rafting

If you’re looking for the best of both worlds, you can’t go wrong with this trip through Barker-Ewing. Enjoy a light breakfast of “cereals, croissants, fresh fruits, orange juice, hot chocolate and coffee” before you get off to an early start.

Next, you’ll head just south of the Grand Teton National Park boundary to begin your scenic viewing portion of the trip. You’ll enjoy wonderful views of the Teton mountains along the way as well as get a chance to view bald eagles, moose, bears and more. After this seven-mile portion of the trip, you’ll head back to the boathouse to get ready for your eight-mile-long whitewater adventure.

Prices range from $115 to $143.

Small Boats… Big Adventure!

For some heart-pumping fun from the get-go, try one of Mad River’s small boat tours. When it comes to whitewater rafting, the smaller the boat means the more action you get. You can expect to get wetter and wilder on this tour where you will be expected to do some real paddling.

With some quiet areas interspersed among the eight sets of rapids, you may be able to see some wildlife along your route as well, including glimpses of river otters, bald eagles and osprey. The small boat trip will run you $99 per adult and per child (8+).

Small Boat, Big Ride

For the ultimate adventure-seekers, there are the extra small rafts of Lewis & Clark River Expeditions. Boasted as the smallest guided boats in Jackson Hole, you will feel like you’re on a roller coaster as you tackle the rapids of the Snake River in their 13-foot boats.

Depending on water levels, you may also be able to take a dip in the calmer portions of this section of the river. The minimum age for this trip is 8 to 10 (depending on water conditions) and prices range from $80 for kids (8 to 12) and $88 for adults.

Jackson Hole overnight rafting trips

Unfortunately, overnight rafting trips are no longer offered by the few local companies that used to do so.

However, if you really have your heart set on an overnight trip and don’t mind that it’s not whitewater or rafting, check out these canoe/kayak overnight trips nearby.

Jackson Hole whitewater rafting prices

As you can see from the above sampling of local guided rafting companies, whitewater-only trips will run from about $70 to $115. Since all the tours are around the same time frame of three hours, prices are mostly dependent on which size of boat you decide to take. The smaller the boat, the higher the price of the trip.

For combo trips of whitewater rafting and scenic floating, you can expect to pay anywhere from $115 to $225, depending on the length and type of tour it is (wildlife-viewing, included breakfast or lunch, etc.).

When to go whitewater rafting in Jackson Hole

In general, late-spring through early-fall is the best time to go whitewater rafting in Jackson Hole. If you will not have younger children with you and want to avoid crowds, shoot for May or June. Temperatures will be on the rise and the rapids will still be bigger due to snowmelt from the mountains.

If you have kids with you, August and September may be your best bets. The season will be winding down and there shouldn’t be any concerns about potentially dangerous rapids for younger kids as the waters calm down during the summer months.

What to wear whitewater rafting in Jackson Hole

Preparing for a whitewater rafting trip is exceptionally easy. Here are a few things you will want to wear and keep in mind.

  • Synthetic clothing. During the warmer months of July and August, a bathing suit will work just fine. Just be sure to avoid cotton clothing at all costs as it easily soaks up water. Many outfitters will offer wetsuits for rent during cooler times.
  • Many companies also offer splash jackets at no extra charge. Be sure to check into this if you don’t have a rain coat, fleece or other water-resistant jacket with you for unexpectedly cold days.
  • Secure shoes. Whether you want to wear tennis shoes you don’t mind getting wet or sandals is up to you, but rafting companies will require them to be some type of shoe with a heel strap so they do not come off. Some outfitters also offer neoprene booties to rent as well.
  • A change of clothes for after. You will be on a bus for about 40 minutes back to Jackson after your trip. A set of dry clothes to change into is more than a good idea.
  • Sunglasses, hats and sunscreen during the warm months. As with the shoes, make sure your sunglasses are secured with a strap.

No matter what level of thrills you are looking for, a whitewater rafting adventure in Jackson Hole is sure to please!