We're pretty committed to covering the newest, most innovative gear here on The Gear Shed, but every now and then there is a product, out for a while, that has evolved over time to set the standard in its class that we feel is deserving of a mention. Such is the Ally Canoe.
Introduced by Bergans of Norway in 1972 and last updated in 2000 with a new bow and stern design, the Ally foldable canoe is a PVC-skin canoe made from an interlocking skeleton of light, tubular aluminum stays and ribs held together with spring-loaded shock cords. The skeleton is laid over a closed-cell foam mat for insulation, floatation and extra layers on the bottom of the boat.
The combination of the stiff but flexible frame and soft but tough skin make this boat superb in fast, technical rivers as well as riding waves—it resists jarring and getting hung up. But it was just as fun in flat water and swift water—with excellent tracking, admirable speed and plenty of carry capacity. The spacious Ally 16.5DR held three adults and a dog on one outing. On another, we packed in a week's worth of camping gear and food as well as a dog and two humans. Even when it sat low because of weight, the Ally's steering was excellent. And it was never sloppy or too flexy on the water.
A folding canoe has advantages, particularly for apartment dwellers and world travelers: it's packable—handy when you don't have an extra 16.5 feet in your apartment's living room or if you want to fly to a remote location with your boat. That's why the Ally has been top choice for paddling expeditions worldwide for decades now.
The disadvantages of the Ally: It's tough to assemble the first time. It took us three strapping paddlers, a rubber mallet (included), multiple re-reads of the directions and voluminous grunting the first time we put it together. Initially the skin is extremely tight around the frame. But we're happy to report that subsequent assemblies were straightforward, no grunting required.
The only thing we didn't love about this boat after multiple excusrions over a month-long period: the hard plastic seats. They're anatomical with fore and aft tilting, but they needed some after-market padding (another piece of closed-cell foam) to make more than a couple of hours on them comfortable.
The verdict: an excellent option if you're in the market for a canoe. Eight models available for flat and technical water. The 16.5 weighs 44 lbs, and holds 835 lbs. Available now, $1,867-$2,387; allycanoes.com.