Archives for posts with tag: Old Town Canoe


Back in the late 90s I took part in a 2-week canoe trip on the Snake River in the Yukon. Due to logistics and cost, it was not feasible to fly in solo canoes, tandem canoes made more sense. The head trip guide matched up canoeing partners prior to the trip. At the start of the 200 mile canoe trip, my bow partner was not particularly excited about paddling tandem, he made it very clear he preferred to solo instead of tandem and stated his reasons. Firstly, he liked being in total control of the canoe. Ssecondly, he didn’t like dealing with people, and when he had to go tandem he much preferred the back of the canoe and yes I do remember these two points quite well although it was over 20 years ago! Due to his weight being much less than mine, it only made sense that I take the back. Later in the trip after we had entered the Peel River, my bow partner did manage to work out a deal to switch with the only solo canoe on the trip, which was being paddled by one of our guide’s, but when the headwinds picked up, he found his way back into my tandem boat rath

. In fact, we became good paddling friends and enjoyed many future canoe trips together including the Bonaventure and NE Mistissibi Rivers in Quebec.


While my Snake River canoeing partner might not have enjoyed paddling tandem, today’s solo paddlers probably enjoy solo paddling for different reasons such as going on shorter excursions on small bodies of waters & streams and ease of unloading and loading. Old Town’s Topwater Series line of kayaks have become very popular especially amongst fisherman. These sit on top kayaks come in varying lengths, with or without the hands free PDL Drive systems. Topwater kayaks are loaded with lots of accessories such as rod & accessory holders, cushy seat, foot braces, and nice layout for storing and accessing your fishing gear. Not only do they track well, you can stand up and cast from these stable boats. Old Town offers a Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman and the Next13’, both are easily propelled using a kayak paddle and with more carrying capacity then a kayak. Great for short fishing excursions or jump shooting waterfowl, these solo canoes have room to store a few decoys and are great for duck hunting small bodies of water, marshes and streams. When going it alone and weight is an issue, the Solo Sportsman at 56 lbs and Next 13’ at 59 lbs are ideal for handling including getting it on and off of your roof rack.



As I am writing this, I received a request from a family that is going to be in Bar Harbor this summer and requested a guided day trip for their young family. Another trend is more towards shorter excursions from an hour in front of the camp on the pond, sea kayaking for part of a day, and day long trips on a local river then it’s back to creature comforts in the evening. The trend seems to be towards wanting to take part in numerous experiences with the desire to not be removed from electronic gadgets and creature comforts for more than a few hours at a time. I remember in the 90s having no problem with filling multiple 10-day Allagash canoe trips and 10-day whitewater canoe trips here in Maine for teens that included paddling Webster Stream and the East Branch of the Penobscot Rivers. By the early 2000s it was almost impossible to fill a trip that was a week or longer in duration, reasons vary from teens needing to work summer jobs or didn’t want to be separated from their electronics for that long of a period.


This summer we have 13 guided canoe trips on the books through my Canoe the Wild guiding and outfitting business and while four of these guided canoe trips are eight days and longer, the most popular trip tends to be three & four days long. The classic Allagash Canoe trip (which is part of the Northern Forest Canoe) from Chamberlain Lake to Allagash Village requires a week or longer to complete and is over 90 miles. We offer a popular 4-day trip on the upper 3rd of the waterway skipping the larger headwater lakes. Awareness is growing for much needed breaks from screen time and the need to connect outdoors. We’ve had numerus families that have come to Maine for a 8-10-day vacation and part of their time was a 3 or 4-day canoe trip on the St. Croix, Allagash or Penobscot Rivers while the remaining time was spent on the Maine coast in places such as Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Boothbay Harbor or other mid coast destinations. The feedback I often receive is the canoe trip was the best part of their Maine summer vacation due to the fact the kids where engaged on so many levels including activities such as paddling, fishing, catching a frog, building a fire, watching a moose, gathering and sawing campfire wood, tenting out, etc. One family back for their third trip this summer and taking part on our 3-day West Branch of the Penobscot River canoe trip in July stated after their 1st three-day canoe trip with Canoe the Wild on the St. Croix, the kids were disappointed that the trip was over so quickly.



When paddling a tandem canoe solo, as long as it has web or cane seats and not molded seats, you’ll want to sit in the front seat backwards facing the stern. Place your gear forward of midship to help keep what is now your bow down. The goal is to achieve trim or as close to trim as possible. A couple of deer seasons ago, I know of a deer hunter that headed out across a pond during late October in a 16’ canoe solo but sat in the back seat placing his hunting pack behind him. His bow rode very high in the air which resulted in almost no control and on top of that it was a windy day. The end result was he swamped his canoe, with gun and gear going to the bottom. Fortunately, he was wearing a life jacket and someone spotted his upset canoe and came to his rescue. A diver later that week was able to retrieve his gear and gun.


For short outings on calm water to fish and duck hunt, Old Town’s Discovery 119 Solo Sportsman canoe at 52 lbs may be a good fit when going it alone. Old Town’s Next canoe at 13’ or a canoe 15’-16’ would be a better fit for larger paddlers. For multi day canoe trips and when needing to carry the extra necessary gear. I recommend the Old Town Discovery 158 for an overnight tripping solo canoe. Although almost indestructible, it is heavy at 87 lbs. Old Town’s Discovery 169 may also be a good fit for a larger stronger paddler as a solo canoe on extended trips, weight is 91LBs.


When accessing remote ponds and deadwaters, the Old Town Pack canoe comes to mind. It’s a great boat to carry or drag into a remote area where weight is an issue. Maine has hundreds of small ponds for Brook Trout fishing with no road access and many of these remote trout ponds have canoes, typically old and almost worn out, stashed on the shore for hike-in fisherman. Many retired aluminum canoes have ended up in such a place. I can still hear the echo off a distant hill when something is dropped onto the floor of these very noisy aluminum canoes! Need a little more boat underneath you? Old Town’s Next canoe at 13’ is a step up from the Discovery 119, has a nice fabric seat for solo paddling, carrying capacity of 450 lbs and weights just 59 lbs.


When contemplating soloing down river on extended trips with gear and food, you’ll want a larger canoe with more freeboard and carrying capacity. Old Town produced a 16’ Camper canoe out of Royalex which made for an awesome extended solo tripping canoe, with slight rocker and plenty of room for your gear and only weighing in at 59 lbs. The Camper is no longer being produced as Royalex is out of business. One option in the Discovery Series made of a three-layer polyethylene. When solo canoeing, you’re seated (in the front seat backwards as stated earlier) with gear secured forward so the canoe will trim out easier. With a solo canoe, most of your strokes are happening closer to the center of the canoe while in a tandem canoe, paddling happens from the bow and stern which can be nice for quick maneuvering including side stepping and quick turns. One useful stroke used while solo paddling is the C stroke, which works well when you’re on your knees (use a kneeling pad) near the center yoke. The stroke begins with a draw to the canoe out in front of you just forward of midship, next part of the stroke is the forward then a pry away or what is the tail end of a J-stroke. This is often used to help get the canoe back on track. I find that in whitewater when most of the weight is closer to the center of the solo canoe, you tend to be much drier when paddling class III rapids verses a tandem canoe in the same, the bow does not plunge down as deep over drops. Now don’t get me wrong, tandem canoeing tends to be much easier for getting somewhere quicker as both are contributing to the effort (especially when paddling into a head wind), tandem paddling in an open loaded canoe in whitewater gives you great control when needing to make precise moves such as side stepping and making precise moves around rocks when the bow person utilizes draws and cross draws and the stern paddler uses draws and prys. When paddling through larger waves in a tandem canoe, I like to quarter the canoe somewhat so the wave breaks closer to midship and behind my bow partner. Your bow partner will be drier and thank you for it.



In conclusion, Old Town’s smaller solo canoes and kayaks are easy to handle, well built, comfortable and great on short paddling adventures while exploring smaller bodies of water, fishing or perhaps jump shooting ducks in a marsh at first light. The Topwater series of kayaks are packed with lots of extras to aid you on your fishing adventure. For the longer trips especially when you’re loading the boat with camping gear and more freeboard is needed, you’ll want something bigger such as the Discovery158 or 169 canoe.

One really nice thing about canoe camping is the amount of space you have in a canoe for carrying food supplies, including a cooler. A 70-quart cooler fits nicely in the center of an Old Town 169 Discovery Canoe which is 35” wide at the beam. Canoe camping makes it easy to plan a menu that includes fresh fruits, vegetables, meats & dairy. When planning for an extended trip (five days or longer), plan your menu for your fresh meats, fish, salad ingredients to be consumed early on, and your frozen foods for later in the trip up to seven days (seven days only if you have perfected using your cooler and know firsthand how long your ice will last). Last summer, our ‘freezer’ cooler lasted 8 days on our NE Mistissibi Canoe Trip in Quebec and that was 2 days with temperatures reaching into the middle 80s!


Dinners consist of locally raised rib-eye steaks, wild caught salmon, pork loin, spaghetti with homemade sauce, taco soup, chicken, rice, vegetables & dumplings. Served with dinner are fresh salads/slaws, vegetables, rice pilaf, fresh baked biscuits and baked desserts including brownies & strawberry shortcake. Breakfasts include organic coffee, assortment of regular & herbal teas & hot chocolate, rolled oats, fruit, buttermilk pancakes served with real Maine blueberries & syrup, french toast, ploys, and the traditional Maine guide breakfast of local farm fresh eggs, meat and organic potatoes. Lunches are on the fly and may include make your own wraps with assorted breads, variety of meats and cheeses, tuna, lettuce, pickles & tomatoes. Snack foods including trail mix, beef jerky, carrots, peanut butter, bars, cookies, fruit. For trips that require food beyond the life of your ice, plan on meals such as taco soup, lentil chili or spaghetti with meat sauce using dehydrated hamburger. Chicken and rice with dumplings using canned chicken and mac and cheese with canned ham. For lunch, use canned meats which may include ham, chicken, salmon and tuna along with peanut butter and jelly. For breakfast, canned meats can be served along with pancakes, hot cereal and buckwheat ployes.

Old Town canoe trip meal planning salmon cook food paddle


Depending on your climate and how well you maintain your coolers, it is not uncommon to plan frozen foods for up to a week. We choose inexpensive, well insulated coolers over the pricy, heavier thick-walled, bulky coolers as these don’t fit well and take up valuable space in the canoe. With larger canoe groups, use two coolers and place in separate canoes, one for your fresh foods including cheeses, cold cuts, butter, milk, eggs, cool whip and meats you’ll use up over the first three days and a second cooler as your freezer for extended trip foods including frozen meats such as steaks, fish, pork loins, bacon, sausage & burger, and liquid eggs in a carton. Use frozen gallon sized water jugs over block ice. This keeps your cooler drier as block ice makes for a mess in the bottom of the cooler as it melts. During pre-trip food preparations, be sure to remove food items from their original packaging and place is a doubled-up Ziploc bag, especially with meats to prevent juices pooling up in the bottom of your cooler. Cut out cooking directions from original packaging and include with the packed food items or use a sharpie with portions and basic directions on how to prepare and cook. Assign one person (preferably the one who planned the menu and packed the cooler) for retrieving items from the cooler so as to prevent the cooler from being opened too many times. Be organized, pack you cooler with items you will use near the start of your trip at the top and items you’ll use later in the trip near the bottom. Always be sure lids are securely shut to prevent ice from melting too quickly. You’ll be surprised how quickly ice melts when something is caught in the lid preventing the cooler from being sealed shut.

When arriving at your campsite, be sure to place cooler is a shaded location out of the direct sun. Another way to keep your ice longer, is to drape a wet white towel over your cooler. As the towel dries it creates a convection effect cooling your cooler. Re soak the towel as needed. While on whitewater canoe trips secure your cooler using a strap made of rubber, much like a large rubber band that goes around the girth of the cooler. This keeps the lid firmly shut even if the canoe and cooler end upside down in the river! To make a rubber cooler strap, secure a spent inner tube from a large farm tractor. Here in Maine, an inner tube from a logging skidder tire will work well for this. To make the strap, simply cut a cross section out about 2” wide out of the inner tube. On calmer trips, instead of an inner tube strap, we often use river straps with a cam buckle around the cooler that can be attached to your gunwale or thwart.

For trips with lengthy portages such as Webster Stream, the East Branch of the Penobscot and when taking part in shorter sections of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, you’ll want to skip the bulky cooler and go with a soft pack with shoulder carry or back pack style straps. I just purchased 2 deluxe food packs from Cooke Custom Sewing, these durable soft packs are made for canoe camping, have nice shoulder carrying straps and are lined with closed cell foam. We’ll use these packs as produce packs for fruits and vegetables and on shorter canoe trips with long portages as a cooler. While most produce does not need refrigeration, we often place a 2-quart frozen jug a water wrapped in newspaper so as to prevent direct contact with certain fruits & vegetables which can ruin them. On shorter trips with lengthy portaging, I’ll use a smaller soft pack to include steaks, breakfast meats, meat for sauces, cold cuts & sliced cheese. It sure is nice on a guided canoe trip to use these types of foods verses canned, freeze dried or dehydrated options.

Old Town canoe trip meal planning camp stove picnic paddle portage


While there are many options for storing and transporting foods on canoe trips, I like to use 30-liter blue recreation barrels, not only are they water and bear proof, these smaller containers can be distributed amongst the canoes easier (verses large heavy bulky boxes), strapped or tied in with little worry about losing you food in the event a canoe upset.


Here in the Northeast, we do almost all of our cooking over an open fire. You’ll want to research your planned river trip to find out what the regulations are when it comes to open fire and cooking. For example, while the Green River Float Trip in Utah’s Ashley National Forest provides campsites that include picnic tables, benches, tent pads and a fire ring for campfires, the Grand Canyon River Trip in the Grand Canyon National Park requires bringing a stove for cooking and has strict guidelines on fires for warming and aesthetics.


Reflector ovens are quite common but can be bulky to transport unless they are of the collapsible kind. We use food grade aluminum Dutch oven style rectangle baking dishes. This style nestles and stores much easier than the traditional Dutch oven pot which is also quite heavy. First, we preheat the top and bottom over the open fire and remove some coals and place them on a level area. Next, place the bottom section on the coals (no flame to prevent burning), add oil (to prevent sticking) and ingredients. Next place the lid over the top and build a twig fire on the lid. Depending on what you are cooking, biscuits often take about ten minutes while brownies 20 minutes or longer. These baked dishes can be extremely hard to find and we do have a contact in New Brunswick, Canada for these bake style dishes (contact Dave for more info).

While there are certainly many great food options for canoe camping that do not require the use of a cooler and cooking over a campfire, it sure is nice to take advantage when possible by expending your options while on a canoe camping trip.

Testimonial of a Canoe the Wild Guest

“The food was carefully prepared and was delicious! It is amazing what Tammi made for main course and Andrew taught us how to bake on an open fire. Madeline and I baked chocolate cake with chocolate frosting!” -Carrie West, Seattle Washington, 2018 Allagash Canoe Trip

Dave Conley Master Maine Guide and owner of Canoe the Wild, has been paddling the rivers of Maine and Canada since 1985. During the school year, Dave teaches an outdoor education program at East Grand High School in Danforth, ME, host to the annual East Grand Adventure Race. In the fall, guided moose hunts are offered in northern Maine. Contact Dave for More information