Gear review: This Expedition Canoe Cart is da bomb

This canoe cart kills it.

My partner and I just completed the Sayward Forest Canoe Route on Vancouver Island using our shiny new Expedition Canoe Cart by Western Canoe Manufacturing, and let me say that hauling our 17.5′ 72lb Clipper Tripper over those 8 km of portage trails was so much easier than it has ever been.

This cart is built for serious stuff. It features hefty 16″ by 4″ pneumatic wheels; a solid marine-grade aluminum frame with PVC spacers; two 22.5″ by 3″ foam-covered hull support beams; and two 11′ heavy-duty nylon straps, each 2″ wide and bolted to the cart frame, with beefy quick-adjust buckles. I honestly think that if a bomb went off near our trip-loaded canoe, we’d find our Expedition Canoe Cart sitting fully intact in the rubble. It’s that solid.

On the Sayward Route, our cart performed better than we could have expected. It rolled well, even over rooty, rocky terrain; never once caused our canoe to tip over sideways (even though I held my breath a few times); hardly ever let the stern drag on the ground (though we did have to perform a few lifts in some particularly gnarly sections); and allowed my partner to single-handedly pull the canoe, filled with about 50lbs of gear (positioned in the centre, over the cart supports), along almost every trail without my help — except some much-needed boosts up the hills. We even carted over the route’s one “uncartable” trail.

That rocked.

Here are a few images of my partner pulling the canoe. Look at that ground clearance – it’s almost 15″ at the centre!

What’s awesome about this cart

Besides the features mentioned above, other things we like about this cart are:

  • The straps are quick to tighten and loosen, and the buckles hold tight. The straps didn’t slip or require re-adjustment on any of our portages (the longest of which was 2.3 km), even though we didn’t wrap them around the yoke or a thwart for extra support. Impressive.
  • The cart comes apart relatively quickly. The wheels are easily removable with pins, and you can disassemble the aluminum frame, too, so you can stuff bits of it here and there in your loaded canoe. Helpful.
  • The foam pads (four per support beam) rotate to ensure a snug fit against any hull shape. They’re also grippy, not slippy, against the hull.
  • You can adjust the tire pressure to suit the terrain (provided you bring a pump). We didn’t do this, but it sounds cool for the future.
  • It’s made in Canada by good, honest Canadians. In fact, it’s made by the same folks who make Clipper Canoes. Yass!
  • If anything breaks, it would be very easy to fix with parts found in a hardware store. (Whew!)
  • It makes you look like a pro. Our cart garnered a number of wistful gazes and “I-wish-I-had-that” sighs from fellow paddlers. If the envy of other canoe trippers is something you covet, this cart is a pretty sweet way to get it.

What’s not so awesome about this cart

Alas, nothing is perfect, not even a bomb-proof canoe hauler. Here are a few less ideal things we noticed:

  • This cart is heavy: 21 lbs by Western Canoe Manufacturing’s measure. You wouldn’t want to carry it far. But who wants to carry a canoe cart anyway?
  • It’s expensive: $289 Canadian at this writing. But it is worth it. Every penny. (Trust us on this.)
  • It could use a built-in kickstand so you can prop it level and place your canoe directly on it. As it functions now, it rests unloaded with one end tipped up, leaving the strap bolts bared like angry fangs ready to gouge your canoe’s hull if you try to slide or wiggle your boat onto it. We had to perform a multi-step water-to-cart/cart-to-water process that was more time consuming than it had to be.
  • Our canoe often rode crooked on it, rotating either left or right when we commenced motion, even if we aligned everything perfectly at the start. But the angle seemed to hold once we got going, and it didn’t seem to affect the cart’s trail performance or cause the straps to loosen. We eventually accepted it and had no issues.
  • The tires can pop. That didn’t happen to us, but we did meet another party who got a flat and had to devise a MacGyver-like solution. Not much fun, unless you’re into the whole duct-tape-and-fishing-wire thing. We suggest bringing a bicycle tire repair kit and small pump for safety. Also bring the extra wheel washer and pin that come with the cart, in case you lose one.

A potentially useful comparison to our old cart

Last year we did the Sayward circuit using my C-Tug Canoe and Kayak Cart by Railblaza. Let me say that for moving your sea kayak from car to beach and back, this cart is the best – light, durable, packable and reliable. I adore it. But for pulling a 70lb+ canoe over wilderness trails, it is not the best. It had the canoe sitting too low to the ground, which led to lots of cringe-worthy stern-to-ground contact. It was very difficult to pull over varied terrain — even smaller rocks and roots would stop the small, hard-rubber wheels in their tracks and we’d have to lift ‘er yet again. And it provided a much rougher, bumpier ride than we would have liked for our precious canoodle — not to mention our relationship. Also, somewhere along the 8 kilometres of portage trails, the cart’s plastic wheels started to grind away at the stainless-steel reinforced axle, leaving everything covered in a fine white powder. This didn’t instill much confidence in me regarding the cart’s ongoing durability.

Photos of our old cart, below, show how much smaller and lower to the ground it was:

We did consider going cartless and canoe-heading our vessel, Bill-Mason-style, into the sunset, but we’re getting old and rickety, and that’s not really our thing.

So we love our Expedition Canoe Cart. We are 100% converts, and we’re now looking forward to portaging the canoe when we do the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit later this year. (OK, we’re looking forward to it only as much as any two people can actually look forward to lugging a 70lb canoe over endless bug-infested kilometres, but you get the idea!)

For more info on the cart, visit Western Canoe and Kayak – Expedition Canoe Cart w/16″ Wheels. We bought ours from the good folks at Comox Valley Kayaks and Canoes.

Specs

  • What: Expedition Canoe Cart with 16″ Wheels by Western Canoe Manufacturing
  • Where: Western Canoe Kayak, Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada
  • Weight: 21 lbs
  • Size, assembled: Roughly 18″ tall by 28″ wide by 23″ long
  • Wheel size: 16″ diameter by 4″ wide
  • Axle size: 28″ long by 1″ diameter
  • Support beam size: 22.5″ long by 4″ diameter
    (support beam and side frame are together 11″ tall)
  • Strap size: 11′ long by 4″ wide

Ps. When a dragonfly decides to emerge on the strap of your new Expedition Canoe Cart, take it as a sign that everything is unfolding just as it should. 🙂

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