Posted by Truman Proudfoot on 2015 Oct 26th
The summer season has very quickly come to a close, and while the rest of the paddling world is winterizing, or making plans to store their kayak or paddleboard— for the canoeists of the world, the season is just beginning. Clipper’s new “Caribou S” could prove to be the Swiss Army Knife of their line: At home on the lake or on the river, it may challenge your idea of a solo canoe that can ‘do-it-all’.
The Caribou S is the first new solo canoe design from Clipper Canoes in recent memory. The canoe’s classic lines and aesthetic complement its more contemporary performance. On paper, with its longer waterline, reassuring stability, and ample capacity, it fits somewhere between the 15’6 Clipper Solitude, and the 14 Prospector. The traditional shape of the canoe is more akin to a Prospector’s design; but fuller ends and a more casual rocker make it a noticeably straighter and more confident to paddle; bringing it closer to the Solitude in terms of speed and efficiency on quieter water.
I found the Caribou ‘S’ to be an especially engaging boat to paddle on the river. A little bit of rain and the levels on our local run were a treat to put the new Caribou through its paces. In Ultralight Kevlar you can expect the boat to come in around the 40 pound mark, though the standard fiberglass lay-up I had available to test paddle from Clipper was a very manageable 55. For longer portages, a less capable paddler may find the optional removable yoke an accessible way to get you out there— or an optional expedition canoe cart from the manufacturers can make all the difference, depending on the lay-up in question.
On the water, the Caribou S is a confident and stable platform. I found standing and paddling quieter parts of the river to be a fun and engaging way to get some extra versatility out of the canoe, and the fairly pronounced tumblehome ensures even a smaller paddler like myself can take advantage of a quick cross-bow draw, or paddle comfortably on either side without leaning the boat too far off on to its edge under the wrong circumstances. Conversely, on a quiet day at the lake, the Caribou S responds excellently when leaned on its edge for that classic canoe appeal and dynamic, although perhaps not to the same extreme— as the tumblehome can interfere to some extent.
I find the Caribou S straddles the line between a capable, efficient, flat-water tripping boat and the fun and excitement of an unloaded and playful river runner (without too much of a sacrifice either way). Clipper’s optional tractor-seat and adjustable foot-brace is an excellent option for those looking to for a more comfortable and forgiving boat over multi-day wilderness trips (your knees will thank you) —but the time-honoured aesthetic of the hull may call for a more traditional approach to paddling; and the standard wood-web seat, built for kneeling, feels true-to-form and the right fit for a canoe of its design heritage.
The Caribou S is specific neither to flat or moving water, but feels like an excellent balance between the two worlds. One might have a small edge in performance on flat water with a more dedicated canoe (I found it to be easily weather-cocked by the conditions, but otherwise predictable and responsive), and surely that holds true towards its prowess on the river as well. Not all of us are lucky enough to have a fleet of canoes perfect for any individual task… but for someone looking to find a higher volume tripping canoe for a larger paddler, a longer trip, or simply just to enjoy the run of the river and all its twists and turns along the way, The Clipper Caribou ‘S’ may be what you have been hoping to find.