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9/06/2018 7:15 am  #1

Family of 4....what's your canoe/paddling set up?

So our growing family (w two kids aged 3 and 9) is looking like we might need to upgrade our current set-up of just a single 16.5fter. For the past couple years, we've transitioned back to doing interior/backcountry trips with our kids and it's becoming obvious that we are outgrowing our old tandem set up with two kids and extra gear. This summer, we did  a 10d trip in the park and we quickly learned that our current set up with our 16.5ft plus a solo pelican sit on top kayak is no longer enough.

We're at a crossroads now knowing that the inevitable of needing to get a 2nd boat is looming. I'm somewhat torn if it's possible to make do with an 18.5ft (ie Souris River Quetico) to keep our family in one canoe. I worry that with gear and food that even an 18.5fter won't be big enough for longer trips (5+days). Alternatively, we could just go straight into getting a 2nd canoe and split our kids. Cargo space would then not be an issue. Our friends with similarly aged kids have been paddling with two boats for the past couple of years and it's working great for them.

I'm curious if there are other young families that dealt with this before. I'd love to learn more about your tripping set up.



9/06/2018 8:04 am  #2

Re: Family of 4....what's your canoe/paddling set up?

We saw a family last year that had...I think it was three kids if not four.  They piled into one canoe, and towed a packboat with all their gear.  It was not an arrangement I would have been comfortable with, but it worked for them.  

Thing is, 1) the kids will only get bigger, and 2) they get bored if they are non-paddling passengers.  Therefore, I think a larger canoe is only a temporary solution.  I would recommend a second canoe.  That solves the problem.  (You may find that the adults are essentially solo paddlers until the kids get a little older.)  Also, if circumstances only allowed three of the four of you to go, you can still do the trip with just one boat. 


9/06/2018 10:52 am  #3

Re: Family of 4....what's your canoe/paddling set up?

Agreed with dontgroandaddy - the two boat option is one for the long term.  Pair the strongest paddler with weakest and second paddler with elder child for starters and safety.  This setup will carry you through the next decade or so.

Second option would be a solo canoe instead of kayak as the second boat.  I'd look at a 15' or so for the extra space required for the gear, but this is truly a second option to the preferred two tandems in my mind.


9/06/2018 12:22 pm  #4

Re: Family of 4....what's your canoe/paddling set up?

That's an awkward age spread with the kids. A 9 year old is capable of being a useful 2nd paddler when needed. Not a full time, all day long paddler, but a 'hey I need your help now' as you round a corner into a headwind or other specific times. A 3 year old is should have their own paddle but won't be able to meaningfully help move the canoe. 

When we started family trips, the first trip we did was only 3 days and did that with 2 adults, 3 kids and a dog in our 17' 6" Swift Temagami which is a big boat. We had to leave the Thermarests behind to make it work.

The next year we took 2 canoes with the 2nd canoe being a 14' one we borrowed from the in-laws. I paddled the Temagami with our 6 and 8 year olds while my wife paddled the 14' canoe with our 10 year old. Actually the 6 year old might have paddled with my wife on the way out, but still in the small canoe. that was another 3 day trip. 

The year after we took the Temagami and our 16' cedarstrip Prospector with the same paddler configuration. That was a 5 day trip on Lake Temagami that was originally planned to be 5 days for the Obabika loop but got adjusted when the reality of how fast we could travel with the kids at that age sank in after the first full day of paddling. 

Something you could consider as an interim option is renting a 2nd canoe - either a small tandem or a solo - for next year, rather than committing to buying a 2nd canoe now. 


9/06/2018 7:32 pm  #5

Re: Family of 4....what's your canoe/paddling set up?

We've got the 3-seater Souris River Quetico 18.5.  We've had the canoe for years, and the kids are now 10 and 12 and still comfortably share the middle seat which is quite wide.  Each can paddle on the one side.  We've been on trips with another family that had 5 kids and a dog and they struggled to fit everyone in two canoes, and really only had one adult paddling each canoe.  We took a few of their extra kids in our canoe, and had 4 sitting on the middle seat.  This was a few years ago so the kids were quite a bit smaller.

The canoe is long and wide. As we go on longer trips we actually tend to bring less gear, so our last few trips the canoe isn't even half full.  One 100L portage pack, one 70L portage pack, a 60L barrel and a smaller backpack.


9/07/2018 6:54 am  #6

Re: Family of 4....what's your canoe/paddling set up?

Thanks for the replies so far. The second tandem is a strong case and one that I can certainly justify more than an 18.5fter. Though, part of me is really curious about an 18.5fter and the advantage of keeping our family unit together. I do agree that it would only be a temporary solution (for maybe another 5-7yrs?) but that might just be long enough to justify owning one. 

Ideally, we end up renting a SR Quetico 18.5ft to try out, which we might do if we can squeeze in another trip this Fall. I'll have to see which outfitters carry them as I don't think it's a popular boat in rental fleets.

     Thread Starter

9/07/2018 10:27 am  #7

Re: Family of 4....what's your canoe/paddling set up?

You're in a bit of a tight spot. The 18.5 foot canoe is perfect for you right now. Two tandems will be a lot to portage, and will not be great in rough waters. However, I don't think you'll be able to do a single canoe after the kids are about 13 years old or so... And not because there won't be space (there will be enough space for 4 grown men with the 18.5 quetico if you want that). Kids' desire for independence will be the end of you. A 13-year-old will want to paddle their own canoe, especially for longer trips.

Advantages of a 18.5-footer:
1) Very stable, especially with kids
2) Enough space forever
3) Great for rough water. Paddled 2/2.5' waves against the wind on NTL this year with the 5 of us and the dog. It rode on top of the waves beautifully, only a couple of times did we get a bit washed over the bow.  
4) One canoe is much lighter than two canoes. We single-portage. 

1) Young man's desire for independence
2) Sometimes the kids try and kill each other and the snacks are too far away for me to reach in time. 

Our set-up: 
We have 5 kids and a dog. Bought the Quetico in 2010. Also have a H2O prospector. Kids are 6, 8 and 11. Longest trip this year was APP for 10 nights. Space is not really a problem due to the width of the canoe (compared with the 16.5 or even the 17.5). The 18.6 is about 37" wide for about 5 or 6 feet in the middle of the canoe. As a result, we can do the following:
- 3 packs (115L Sloggs and a 60L barrel) right behind the bow seat side-by-side, making a lovely bed/lounging area for 1-2 kids
- 35L Slogg fits under the 3rd seat
- 70L Slogg (and fishing rods) go behind the stern seat vertically.
- dog (70-lb doodle at that) likes to lie at the feet of the person in the stern seat. If no dog, then we put the 70L slogg under the 3rd seat. 

Here's the canoe on the ?last day to show the loading - yellow Slogg is the food bag so it actually fit under the yoke. Usually it's just in front of the yoke. 70L under 3rd seat cause no dog.

Here's two kids sitting on the packs, the oldest is in the 3rd seat. Sometimes, one of the kids (including the 11-year-old) sits in the bow, in front of the bow paddler (we call it the look-out).

Here's a side profile of a fully-loaded canoe (this was early in the trip). 3 large packs, side-by-side. Look at that beautiful low profile hahaha. The 11-year-old (just turned 11 in August) is capable of paddling for about 2-3 hours. I enjoy that time and either lie down on the packs, or I sit in the 3rd seat with my dog. It's heaven!

Sometimes we practice in-water rescues for fun (also known as "Titanic"). One thing to note is that because the Quetico doesn't have a huge rocker, it's actually difficult to pop out of the water (doable with me and my son, but it's hard and there's about 4" water in the bottom). As a comparison, I can pop a Prospector design out of the water by myself (the rocker helps break the seal of the upside-down canoe). I don't think this is a huge issue one way or another, and canoe-over-canoe rescues are no problem at all.

My advice would depend on what kind of trips you want to do in the next 3-5 years: 
1) I recommend Souris River without any reservations whatsoever. The epoxy technique is much more durable than the gel coat and kids abuse canoes. Highly recommended. 
2) If planning longer trips with lots of portaging, I would recommend renting if not gonna use more than 5-7days/year ($50/day). I would buy used (eg Killarney Outfitters sells used 18.5s) if you're gonna trip more than 14 days/year ($750/year rental cost)
3) If not planning portaging, or if going to do shorter trips, I'd just get a second 16' canoe. 


Last edited by Marko_Mrko (9/07/2018 10:29 am)


9/08/2018 7:55 am  #8

Re: Family of 4....what's your canoe/paddling set up?

Love that you put Kon-Tiki on there!

We should have a thread on the forum where we show how we load and trim our boats, like Marko’s Excellent description.

Last edited by Methye (9/08/2018 7:57 am)


9/09/2018 8:30 am  #9

Re: Family of 4....what's your canoe/paddling set up?

Thanks for the detailed post Marko. You make a very compelling case for the 18.5ft'er. Your points are more or less what I expected the 18.5ft'er would offer. My wife also doesn't think that we're quite ready to split into two canoes just yet, despite how our tripping friends are able to pull it off with their boys ages 5 and 9.

Your loading shots provide a tremendous insight into one my questions about this boat and just how much gear it can handle. I know that we have some gear trimming to do to get everyone and everything in one canoe and to the point that we can improve our portaging efficiency. Tho with the 3yr old, we're more realistically looking at double carries at best, which is still an improvement from what we had to endure this summer on our 10d trip where we nearly quad-carried. 

Lastly, funny you recommended Killarney Outfitters for a SR 18.5. I've already been in touch with them since June about possibly acquiring one, hopefully in the next month or so. 

Thanks again.

     Thread Starter

9/09/2018 2:22 pm  #10

Re: Family of 4....what's your canoe/paddling set up?

Nice! Personally, I think the 18.5 is totally the way to go. Faster on the water and when portaging. And lots of space.

My friend got a used Quetico 17.5 from KO. Great shape, really well refurbished.

@methye wow impressive knowledge of explorer lore! Yea, it's the Kon Tiki from Thor Heyerdahl. Amazing book.



9/10/2018 8:28 pm  #11

Re: Family of 4....what's your canoe/paddling set up?

My brother and I took my niece and nephew since they were really small.  All 4 of us in a 17 footer for day trips. A second 16 footer I rented as required. 1 parent or guardian per boat. It’s all about how you load it. I can remember coming out one time from clydegale it was really windy. Me in the back.  70 pound kid in the front. Couldnt keep the nose to wind. Pulled over put a few rocks in the nose,  shifted a pack to in front of the front seat. All balanced. Dropped the rocks at the next portage.

Been a number of years since we had to do that. Forgot the lesson this summer. Same route 18.5 foot rental. 120 pound kid in the front. Tough paddle to wind.  Boat was unloaded , we were day tripping. I should have stopped for a rock or two or moved to the middle seat. I would have been a lot more productive.


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