Northern Wilds Magazine
Along the Shore

The canoe vs. kayak challenge

Grand MaraisI’ll be frank; when I first received this assignment, I thought, ‘fantastic! This should go smoothly.’ I planned to research canoes and kayaks, and write the article so that an absolute beginner could read the piece, then simply pick one and get started.

Then I met Jack Stone.

The Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply owner laughed kindly and said what I was attempting to accomplish was nearly impossible.

It’s not simply a matter of selecting the watercraft that’s easiest to paddle, or the boat with the best price point. That’s important, of course, but “your number one concern is what you are going to do with it,” said Stone. “It’s a big subject. It’s a wide subject.”

Stone Harbor in Grand Marais provides BWCAW canoe day trips, as well as summer kayak tours on Lake Superior. | STONE HARBOR

Step into Stone Harbor and the team is trained to start by asking you about your goals. That’s really what determines which watercraft to use.

If your dream is a 10-day trek into the Boundary Waters for camping and complete solitude, it’s best to take a canoe.

“On a canoe trip you can take a lot of gear,” said Stone. “You can’t do that in a kayak.”

But if you have a cabin on a lake, a kayak may be a better choice.

“The beauty of a kayak is that you’re on your own, and you’re paddling at your pace, and you’re on top of the water,” said Stone. “There is a certain wonderful feeling of being one with the boat, and one with whatever lake you are on.”

Perhaps you picture yourself paddling across Lake Superior on a calm day in a kayak.

Stone said, “As a beginner, you’re not going to be sitting out on Lake Superior.” That comes later.

Stone Harbor will take beginners to test sea kayaks on Lake Superior, but only with a trained guide so that people stay safe. In Stone’s eyes, paddling the Big Lake is not for beginners.

One aspect that people talk about a lot is the type of materials used to make the boats. It’s popular for people to want a lightweight craft, but what works for one person, may not work for another.

“Forget what your friends have,” said Stone. “Weight should not be your number one concern.”

Cost is also a major consideration for most people, but it’s not as simple as selecting the most reasonably-priced craft. The cost range is wide. Canoes can start, on average, at $1,000 for the boat, paddles, and a rack, and it goes up from there. Or, you can buy a kayak at a big box store or a used canoe for just a few hundred dollars.

See how this topic is complicated?

So here’s the secret: there are two factors of your purchase that should matter most.

First, try out your boat with whatever, and whoever, you will be in the boat with. That includes your significant other, your fishing gear, your dog, your cat, your hedgehog—well, you get the idea. Always ask for a test run.

Most importantly, “If I can leave people with one thing,” said Stone, “it’s to find a shop that has experience, and staff with patience who will spend time with you. Find people you can trust, and don’t just buy a canoe because the price is right.”

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