The skin on frame boat is nothing new, in fact, historians agree that they were likely built by prehistoric humans using the inedible parts of animals they hunted. The boats were literally the animal skin wrapped around an animal bone frame held together with sinew. These capable boats were used for transportation down rivers, along coasts, and most importantly as a way to obtain food by fishing. Skin on frame boat designs allowed early humans to create a lightweight, durable, and seaworthy boat from readily available materials.
Fast forward to today and the fundamentals of the designs haven't changed all that much but the materials used are drastically improved. The skins have been replaced by space age fabrics that are perfectly at home on the water and the bone frames have been replaced by long-life metal or composite materials. Better still the lashed together frame pieces have been replaced by modular or folding designs that are marvels of engineering.
So why should you choose a skin on frame kayak or canoe?
Without a doubt one of the most easily observed benefits of a skin on frame boat is the drastic weight savings. Skin on frame boats can often weigh 50% less than their rigid cousins. For example, Pakboats' Puffin Saranac kayak weighs 50% less than even an inflatable kayak of the same size. When you are out for a day, or longer, higher weight boats can take a toll on your muscles. Moreover portaging and general boat maneuvering at put-ins and take-outs is much easier when the boat weighs a mere 29 lbs!
Already know you want a skin-on-frame canoe? Read More about choosing the right PakCanoe.
Portable and Compact
While old skin on frame designs were not anymore portable than rigid designs (and you can build your own skin on frame boat at home), today's professionally built skin on frame kayaks and canoes are ultra-portable. Frames are either modular or foldable or some type of combination allowing these boats to be packed inside of a bag. In fact, most boats available today include the carry bag when you buy the boat. So no strapping the boat to your roof or needing a trailer. Just throw the bag in your trunk or back seat and head to your favorite spot! Our smallest foldable kayak, the K-PAK from Folding Boat Co, can be assembled in less than 5 minutes right at the put-in. Foldable boats are also capable of being checked on most airlines. So take the boat with you on your vacation to the islands or on a back-country expedition!
Skin on frame kayaks and canoes are more durable than you might think. The skins, while having obvious limits, can stand-up to normal use quite well. Sun and abrasion are the two enemies of the skin and so precautions should be taken. Primarily do not store the boat in the sun and don't drag it over sharp rocks. Neither of these things are good for most kayaks and canoes regardless of the design. A little precaution will go along way to getting the best life out of your boat and be sure to follow all guidelines from the manufacturer as designs and materials do vary.
Wee Expert Tip - Pakboats designs their PakCanoes for expedition use, which is reassuring even if your are just out for the day!
The good thing is that if you do meet the odd sharp rock that damages the skin it can often be repaired in the field. The ease of repair depends on the specific fabric used but it almost never requires specialized skills. This can certainly not be said for aluminium or even polyethylene boats. Many of the skin on frame boats at Wee Boats use PVC impregnated fabric skin and we even sell the repair kit. Additionally most boats feature sacrificial keel strips that are designed to be replaced once they wear out. The aluminium frames can be bent by impacts with rocks but these bends can be easily removed by bending the rods and slightly bent frame members are fully functional. Any broken rods must be replaced once a trip has been completed but breaking a frame rod is a rare event.
Skin on frame folding kayaks and canoes have come along way since their prehistoric predecessors but they have retained all of the benefits that make these designs the right choice for so many people looking for a safe and easy way to spend time on the water.
If you need any help at all deciding what type of small boat is best for you, please contact Wee Boats to discuss your small boat needs.