Tripping/Backcountry Canoes


LOVES Wooden Canoes
The previous posts regarding the OTCA's performance as a tripping canoe got me wondering what the Association might say the best vintage "mass produced" tripping canoes were. Obviously the Chestnut Prospectors and Ogilvys would be included....but what others? And what is it about their construction that makes them better? I'm fairly new to this hobby/obsession after having chanced upon a 22ft Ogilvy at a swap shop.....a very solidly built (and heavy) canoe....but just a joy to load up with family and the 100 lb dog and the kitchen sink and explore rivers in.
Tripping canoes

I've paddled wood/canvas canoes on long trips for many years. I would order the "vintage" tripping canoes I have owned as follows:

17' Chestnut Prospector - best overall

18' Old Town Guide (deepened)

18.5' E.M White Guide (deepened)

The best "modern" w/c tripping canoe I've used is Rollin Thurlow's 17.5" Atkinson Traveler (deepened). It is at least as good as the Prospector, possibly better.
I wouldn't argue with Rub's picks but,

you might want to describe the type of type of "tripping" you have in mind.

ie, far North river travel vs southern creek travel vs BW/Q/Algonqin lake travel, whitewater vs flat water, etc.

And do you have to cover a lot of ground or is it a float?

And how many portages?

My tripping experience has all been in Quetico and an individual outing was never longer than two weeks covering 10-20 miles per day. The conditions there ranged daily from glassy ponds to white-capped scary deep lakes almost too big to see some class 1 or 2 rapids on connecting streams here and there. Many portages...some up to a mile over nasty, mucky terrain. Two 200lb persons per boat...which was always a Mad River Explorer. It's been 15 years since I've been able to embark on such a trip....but we're hoping to get back soon. Nowadays we do our tripping on the swift, shallow creeks and rivers here in North Central Pennsylvania. I'd like to find a vintage project boat of rugged character that is a bit more portable than my Ogilvy "barge". I also have a 17 ft 1931 OTCA with outside stems and half ribs...that I have considered tripping with and thus the inspiration to ask my original question. I understand where the OTCA's tumblehome and showy upturned decks are a disadvantage in the wind and chop. Thanks!
Hi Jimbo,

Are you the Jimbo that posts on 1 or more BW/Q sites?

But, you do realize you are describing very well Joe Seliga's canoes, which were designed/made for just that travel, a wide, deep 17 ft'er with modest rocker.

Alex Comb makes a model, the Gardner Guide, IIRC, a slightly modified a White 18.5 Guide, to make to better suited for BW/Q travel.

Or just stick with Rub's 1st pick, the 17' Prospecter. :)
Or maybe the 17' pleasure model, whichever that is.

Eric Sevareid paddled an Old Town in his "Canoeing with the Cree" adventure... either an Otca or HW--hard to tell from the picture, but he mentions the canoe being an Old Town.

Here's more info on the trip (from Wikipedia):

"Eric Sevareid had an adventuresome spirit from a young age. When he was just 17 years old, beginning several days after he graduated from high school he and his friend Walter Port embarked on an expedition sponsored by the Minneapolis Star, from Minneapolis, Minnesota to York Factory on Hudson Bay. They canoed up the Minnesota River and its tributary, the Little Minnesota River to Browns Valley, Minnesota, portaged to Lake Traverse and descended the Bois des Sioux River to the Red River of the North which led to Lake Winnipeg, then went down the Nelson River, Gods River, and Hayes River to Hudson Bay, a trip of 2,250 miles. Sevareid's book, Canoeing with the Cree, was the result of this canoe trip. The book is still in print."



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Thanks Kathy and Dan,

I'm happy to have three kids attending the Seliga and other outstanding specialty tripping canoes will have to wait....
Fortunately, I enjoy hunting for vintage wooden treasure, and finding the right canoe is part of the fun of this passtime. I was just curious whether Penn Yan, Faber, Thompson, etc etc made tripping boats that would be comparable to the Chestnut.
I am a forester by profession, and so many different species of durable hardwoods become available to me from time to time....osage orange, mulberry, elm, locust, etc. It may sound silly to some of you, but I was toying with the idea of installing locust outside stems and shoe keel, white oak inside stems and gunwales, and a heavier canvas with shellac bottom on my 17 ft Otca project and calling it my tripping/expedition boat. One thing for would be heavy!
Or maybe i'll just keep searching for a Prosector or make a wheelie thingy for the Ogilvy! :)

You don't/didn't say where you live, but, if in the States, the OT Guides are fairly common, in fact I have a spare project if you're looking for a challange, though you would probably be better off starting with something in better condition.

At least for me, finding Canadian canoes/Chestnut's in MN was much harder, and in fact both the Chestnut and Peterborough I have came from out of MN.
I think I've seen maybe 3 or 4 for sale in 10 years on MN.

Chestnut Pal or Chum

I have a Chestnut Pal, 16 ft that I have tripped with alot in Laverendrye, all lake to lake for a week to 10 days solo, and also with a partner.
The Pal makes a good tripper, it can handle most situations and won't kill ya on the carries.

I also did a week in Quetico with my Chum, plus alot of one week trips in Ontario and Quebec, at 15 ft it handled me (215- 6'1") with gear, no problem. It's lite to portage and great for un-loaded evening paddles.

I just bought a 1970's vintage Chestnut Prospector (17') at the assembly, it needs some work but that will wait till freeze up, it is a great canoe to paddle, really moves along solo, and my young lab handled his first outing in it with ease, my wife will even come out with me again (she liked my old Grumman years ago, never warmed up to wood canvas:rolleyes:)

OK, I like the Chestnuts, I'm even on the verge of picking up a Bobs Special this week...never enough Chestnuts
Rollin's 17.5" Atkinson Traveler is as good as it get's. It's a real pleasure to paddle.
For long hauls with lot's of gear I like our 20 foot White. It's a bear on carries though. It begs to be put down after a mile or so.
I have always liked the Chestnuts. They are also well suited for this type of use.
Chestnuts are great for canoe mentioned especially the Prospector, Pal or even Chum....many great modern builders following in this tradition, using actual original Chestnut forms, or from specifications taken off Chestnut canoes....there are several here in Ontario such as Hugh Stewart, John Kilbridge, Jack Hurley and others that list let me add Bruce Smith (also a great paddle maker)....Bruce is a member of the Wooden Canoe Builders' Guild....see my blog for more, and

BTW, Mike Elliot of Kettle River Canoes has written many articles about Chestnut canoes on his fine blog,, with great info on various Chestnut models for backcountry/tripping use.
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For a long trip into the woods the 16' Old Town guide is too shallow and too short. It can't carry enough gear, and is slow on the water.

If you like 16 footers, the real wilderness workhorse is the Chestnut Prospector Fort. It's deep and carries a ton. It's also exciting to paddle empty in big wind and waves :)D) - if you have Bill Mason's paddling skills, that is.
Thank you all for your help. I certainly caught the "bug" you all talk about. I've reconfigured my wood working space just so I can tinker with canoes. The smell of cedar scraps burning in the woodstove.....Bridger the snoring dog at my feet...a nice hearty ale.....doesn't get any better than that!
The "fort" seems like a great one to search for, although it will probably be very difficult to find one in "project" condition. Is that the red canoe with the nice pike on the "close ribbed" post?
I am planning to travel back to Quetico next fall (2011), and will probably take the beast Ogilvy just for fun...who knows, we might meet a friendly moose that could use a ride!
Chestnut Pals catch pike Too!

Here's my Pal with a nice pike it helped me catch in Quebec ;).

I placed the camera (35mm film type back in the day) on a #3 Duluth pack and hit the timer, then pulled the fish out of the water by it's tail and held it real quick for the picture, then placed it back in the water and released it.

Too big to eat on a solo trip.

I like the Chestnut Pal cause it is light enough, around 70lbs, for me to get back there on the portages and big enough for a weeks gear and big bay crossings (not BIG BIG bays, but big if the wind is blowin').


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I think I was the one you referenced who started the otca string. I have to say I've been very pleased with how it has performed now on two bwca trips. On the second trip we did two rescues with swamped canoeists in 2.5-3 foot waves and didn't take in any water at all. I also never felt that the bow and stern profiles were problematic in wind. On paper it would not seem to be a good tripper, and perhaps it was not intended to be that, but I've found it to be as solid for tripping as the 18' OT Guides with which I've done a couple dozen trips.

I also have a recommendation to make. I just discovered Urban Boatbuilders in St. Paul. Their mission is to work with at risk kids in the shop and the promising ones they hire on as apprentices. The quality of their work is excellent and their prices are unbelievable. For instance, they restored a 1911 OT HW that they'll probably be selling for $1,700. I'm looking at a Cheemaun they built from a Rollin Thurlow form for a three week solo I hope to do to kick start a sabbatical next summer. Check them out.
yes, REVCP-- Urban Boatbuilders in St. Paul is a fine organization. They have a great staff and are doing excellent work with at risk youth in the Twin Cities. I started volunteering last year at their Wednesday night open shop (everyone's welcome) and recently joined their board. I swapped molds with them recently --- I'm building a Cheemaun on their mold, while they build an Atkinson Traveler on mine.