Good things come in medium-sized packages. Isn’t that the age-old wisdom? It's certainly true of the PakCanoe 170 by Pakboats. Rolled up, this 58-pound folding canoe measures about the size of a large camping cooler, but it’s a gateway to untold miles of adventure.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the 170 has a rich and proud history on northern rivers in Canada and Europe, and has become a go-to model for paddlers who want bombproof reliability on fly-in adventures.
Pakboats claims that with practice you can set their canoes up in 30 minutes. However, in our experience, you should factor in double the time. Thirty minutes to set up the canoe and 30 more to field the questions of gawkers who invariably wander over to ask what it's made of, how long it takes to build and if they can touch it. If you’re using this canoe solely to fly into isolated northern rivers, you’ll find your set-up time much improved.
Constructed out of an ultra-tough PVC fabric skin paired with aluminum ribs and shock-cord poles to create gunwales and chines, the PakCanoe’s soft shell is a boon in rough conditions, riding up and over rapids and swells instead of barreling through. “The skin actually makes the boats more seaworthy,” says Pakboats founder and designer Alv Elvestad. “Paddlers who have these boats and use them on heavy whitewater and in stormy water tell me they feel more comfortable, and that they’ll go out in the PakCanoe when they’d rather not be out in a hard shell canoe.”
In our experience, this flexibility in the hull translates to a small loss of glide efficiency on the flats, however we’ve never had trouble keeping pace with our trip mates. While the smaller PakCanoe models—the 150, 160 and 165 (www.rapidmedia.com/0619)—are favored amongst trippers, weekend warriors and city dwellers alike, most 170s are taken home by serious expedition paddlers. And it’s no wonder— there’s more than 900 pounds of carrying capacity in its voluminous depths, room for weeks worth of gear and food. Factor in the cost savings of flying in and out a folding boat compared to strapping a hard shell canoe to a float and it’s possible the 170 could pay for itself on its maiden voyage.
Whether running technical whitewater, navigating large swells or being attacked by hungry wolves (www.rapidmedia.com/0620) the PakCanoe 170 thrives in tough conditions. While Elvestad says there are many standout expeditions that have used the 170, one that still resonates with him years later is Jim and Ted Baird’s 220-mile Kuujjua River trip through Arctic Canada’s Victoria Island. It was a grueling trip that involved dragging the partially loaded canoe for 25 kilometers, navigating whitewater and surviving 10-foot ocean swell. Though equipment broke down the brothers fixed it on route, and successfully finished the trip ahead of schedule.
When Elvestad started manufacturing folding boats two decades ago there was a fair bit of skepticism regarding durability but, he says, much of that has since disappeared. As for the remaining dubious few, he says they just need to look at the evidence. “We have boats out there that are 20 years old still in use, they’ve proven over time that they can take a beating,” Elvestad says. “If you look at the track record it’s impossible to argue that these are anything but incredible boats for an expedition.”
WEIGHT: 56 lbs.
CAPACITY: 910 lbs
MATERIAL: PVC skin
LEARN MORE: www.pakboats.com
This article was originally published in Canoeroots, Volume 15 • Issue 3. Read this issue.