Living with our Onak folding canoe

Living with our Onak folding canoe

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Background – 8/23/2017

We’ve owned a beautiful Old Town Penobscot 16 Canoe for a long time. We love it. We’ve camped with it, we’ve paddled with our dog in the middle, we’ve used it on lakes, rivers, and bays. But now that our two vehicles are a Mini Cooper convertible and a Ford Transit [camper van][camper van], we have no way of transporting it. The van could do it, in theory, of course. It has a hitch, but we have no trailer, nor do we want to travel with a 40’ (combined) rig. The van also has a roof, but it’s way up off the ground, and you can’t walk on the it without a rack, and even with a rack the canoe might well interfere with the roof vent.

So we didn’t get to canoe at all last year. oldtown_canoe.jpg

This year we splurged to solve our problem, and bought a folding canoe, by Onak. When it arrived from Belgium it looked like this: onak_arrived.jpg

That’s what it looks like when it’s all folded up for transport. It also has small wheels that let you drag it through an airport when it’s folded up – those aren’t yet attached in that picture.

When it’s assembled into a canoe, it looks more like this:


It’s 15 feet long, but weighs only 40lbs (including the collapsible paddles!), and as you can see, it folds up small.

As for assembly? Our best time is about 20 minutes, way down from the 2 hours it took the first time we tried! But mostly it takes us around 30 minutes – it’s not something we do on a daily or even weekly basis, and there’s some re-learning every time. onak_canoe2.jpg

So it works really well as luggage, but as a canoe? The jury’s still out on that one. It’s the most tippy canoe we’ve ever paddled. We haven’t gone over yet, and we’re getting the hang of keeping it stable, but our Old Town feels like a battleship in comparison. We’re growing used to it, and getting better at staying smooth, but adding an active dog may be the true test.

Transport – 9/1/2017

We weren’t sure where we’d put the canoe in the van, but figured we’d find someplace to stow a 48”x16”x10” box. Somewhat to our surprise, it ended up on the ceiling, where it only barely affects Paul’s headroom.

onak_canoeA.jpg onak_canoeB.jpg

By storing the paddles and aluminum gunwale rails separately, the part that’s on the ceiling only weighs about 26lbs.

First damage – 10/16/2017

Much to our horror, we’ve just realized that the front seat of the canoe has been torn.


We think this resulted at least partly because the zip ties that secure the aluminum poles to the bottom of the seat were just a little loose. This let the poles get out of position in their slots, and they no longer supported the seat so well. Those poles are actually slightly longer than the slots that are meant to hold them. This, along with the slightly loose zip ties, let the poles move from side to side, slipping out of the end-most zip tie.

Perhaps we also also weren’t diligent enough about getting the long seat support straps extremely tight – that might have contributed.

In addition: instead of having traditional thwarts, the Onak has V-shaped contraptions that stabilize the sides and the bottom of the canoe at the same time. One of these V-shaped setups is directly under the front seat. onak_v_shape.jpg

It turns out that it’s really easy to kick that support out of the way if the paddler in front tries to kneel – their feet will surely collide with the aluminum poles. When that happens, the ends of the seat aren’t well supported.

Anyway, we’ve learned our lesson – the paddler in front (almost always Paul) has learned not to kneel, and we’re more careful about getting the front seat tightly fastened.

New end cap buckles – 10/24/2017

The little buckles that are used to fasten all of the straps are very clever, and we assume they’re also very strong. They have one terrible property, however: if you join the two sides without immediately applying tension to the join, or if you join them and subsequently release tension, the two halves of the buckle will most assuredly fall apart, and you’ll need to start over on that part of the assembly.


When under strong tension, they work well – they’re quite difficult to undo without relieving some of the pressure. And because they’re so strong when under tension, their behavior when the strap goes slack is (mostly) excusable when assembling the canoe.

But when folded up, the black endcaps that cover the ends of the white “rolled up” canoe plastic are also held with those buckles. We find it very difficult to get the end caps on quickly, since the straps that goes around the caps keep coming undone as one pushes on the flapping sides of the cap. It’s hard to describe, but that’s okay, because there’s an easy solution. Since overall strengh isn’t as big a requirement when the boat is folded up, we can stop using those buckles.

First, by slipping a standard non-releasing strap adjuster onto those straps, you end up with a cap that stays “cap-shaped” while you install it, without the frustration of having the connector falling apart.


Likewise, putting side release buckles on the long straps that pull the caps together also eases packing – simply connect the buckles and tighten, again without anything falling apart.


Using these four replacements also eliminates any worry that these straps might come undone by catching on something as the canoe is being transported, perhaps in the luggage compartment of an airplane or bus.

Note that the original buckle parts can all stay in place on the straps, so they’ll still be there if you prefer using them one day.

The End (for now)