The “folding canoe” from Ally arrived in a box that fit in the back seat of my Toyota Corolla. I heaved it into my yard and opened the package to see how a canoe could possibly fit inside.
The Ally canoe is not a new product, but it is little known in the United States. With it, you could ostensibly transport a whole canoe on an airplane-based trip or through the Himalaya on the back of a yak — it weighs about 44 pounds packed up — or you could store the canoe away in a closet.
But the advantages really end there. Other than its packability, we found the Ally to be quite pricey at $2,050 and very hard to assemble. It works fine once on the water. . . but to get to that stage? Let’s just start with one detail: This is a canoe that comes with a large mallet in its toolkit. (More on that later.)
In all, there are 40+ pieces to this canoe. This is not a product for those who are not handy, and apparently my girlfriend and I apply as such. After sweating and cursing our way through about two hours of assembly time we were left with a crooked, semi-assembled skin and a lot of left over aluminum pieces.
With bleeding knuckles and a grumpy demeanor I conceded victory to the canoe that day. It would not hit the water the next morning as we’d planned.
I spoke with people at Bergans of Norway, the company that distributes Ally in the United States. The rep explained that, yes, the process is not easy the first time, particularly with a new canoe that has not yet “stretched.”
Fast forward some weeks and my father and I opened the box at the banks of Lake Dillon in Summit County, Colorado. With one failed assembly under my belt, the second attempt marched steadily forward. I easily remembered the flaws of the first try. We spent 15 minutes getting the floor perfectly centered, and within an hour the boat was taking shape.
With the gunwales in place it soon became clear that the mallet was indeed a critical piece to the puzzle. Whacking the aluminum with the mallet the ribs of the boat quickly popped into place. After about two hours of work we had completed the assembly and were hauling the boat to the water.
I have paddled a lot of canoes. I spent my childhood paddling the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for weeks on end and have portaged, fished and nearly flipped more than my fair share of good and not-so-good canoes.
The Ally, for being a completely soft-skinned boat, handled admirably. Once on the smooth water of Lake Dillon the boat moved easily and felt very maneuverable. I did feel the rear seat should be located further back, but all in all I think the Ally is a very solid vessel.
Disassembly was a breeze and we had the boat back in the car in about 20 minutes. All told, the boat passed my test and my next trial would almost certainly go much more smoothly.
My biggest complaints about the canoe are the poor assembly instructions and the lack of markings on the parts. The floor, which is a thick foam pad that lines the skin of the canoe, must be perfectly centered for the assembly to go well. There are no markings to indicate if it is in the right place and eyeballing the location is just plain tough.
I expect that after a little practice assembly is much easier. That said, I implore that anyone who plans to use one of these on an expedition assemble it at least once under ideal conditions — like in the back yard with a sixer — before trying to do it in the field.
Once assembled, the Ally is a vessel worthy of lakes and rivers that I would feel confidant using under tough conditions in the wilderness. Just make sure you have time to put it together first. And don’t forget your mallet when you head off on that trip.
—Sean McCoy is a contributing writer based in Denver.