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Gear Guy

What's the perfect canoe for family trips?

As a longtime reader of your column, you have helped me in the past. Now I need your advice again. I'm considering purchasing a canoe for family camping trips, something stable for small lakes and smooth rivers, nothing too extreme. What do you suggest in terms of size, length, and weight? Also, what type of carrying rack will I need for a shell-equipped Toyota pickup? John Springville, Utah

A: Loyal readers always appreciated, John. But, where else can you find one-stop information and disinformation on what to use in the woods? Plus, there's always the chance I'll get abusive with someone.

But, I'll not abuse you today. Plenty of canoes should do what you want. Old Town's Camper Canoe ($950;, for instance, is designed specifically for the sort of leisurely camping trips you describe. It's a beamy 16-foot boat that's very stable and has a 900-pound capacity to hold you, the kids, gear, whatever. Plus, its molded hull stands up to plenty of abuse if you drag it over gravel bars or rocks on a beach. Another good boat for this purpose is Mad River's Explorer. It's a little pricier ($1,300;, in part because it has extra hull detailing, such as a more pronounced V-bottom for better tracking. It also holds a bit more—1,100 pounds. But like the Camper, it's a boat for laden, leisurely trips on lakes.

As for carrying that puppy, you might be able to get by with a simple foam-block canoe-carrying kit. These consist of four big foam blocks that snap onto the gunwales. Put the canoe top-down on the camper shell, then use tied-downs to hold it in place. You can buy a whole kit—blocks and straps, the lot—from Campmor, among other places, for $30 ( Beats investing in a rack, or even finding a rack that's compatible with a shell.

Happy boating!

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