Women's gear, up first
What's the best canoe for a week-long Boundary Waters trip?
I hated carrying 60-plus-pound aluminum boats on portages when I was guiding in the Boundry Waters Canoe Area, so I’m a fan of the Wenonah Minnesota II Kevlar Ultra-light ($2,649; Wenonah.com). The canoe is 42 pounds and 18-and-a-half feet, both of which make portaging and paddling far more enjoyable.
Still, I've paddled lightweight boats that feel too fragile, like you can’t even touch a rock without risking a Titanic situation. But the Minnesota II is nearly bulletproof, which means wrapping it around a boulder or dropping it in the middle of a mile-long portage may dent it but won’t destroy it. More important, it feels stable and fast on the water, and with a maximum width of 35 inches and a center depth of 13.5 inches, you can load it up with fat Duluth Packs. My two small quibbles with the Minnesota II are its sharp V shape in the bow and stern, which limits leg room in the bow. And while the sliding bucket seats are comfortable, they look industrial. (I'd also note that the Minnesota II line starts with the 58-pound, Tuf-weave, Flex-Core version, for $1,799.)
If you’re planning a solo trip, wait until Mad River unveils the MRC Serenade ($1,499 for aluminum, or $1,719 for wood; madrivercanoe.com) on September 15. The Serenade is a 13-foot canoe/kayak hybrid and would be ideal for a one-person BWCA ride. Its solo hull and comfortable center canoe-style seat make it a fun boat to paddle—which you can do with either a single or double blade—and the open hull makes loading, unloading, and portaging a lot easier than a kayak. It's also light (36 to 39 pounds) and relatively petite, so plan a route that weaves through smaller, more protected lakes (that also means you’ll get a better workout from all the portages).
If aesthetics are a factor (and money isn't), you can't go wrong with L.L Bean’s 100th Anniversary Canoe ($7,500; llbean.com). Built for L.L. Bean by Old Town Canoe, it's forest green and constructed from wood and canvas. The cedar-strip design Old Town used is how canoes have been built for more than a century. You'll have to act fast, though—only ten will be produced.