Meet The Skin-On-Frame Canoe Cleaning Midwestern Rivers

Weighing barely more than a loaded backpack, the skin-on-frame Wilderness Traveler is a long-haul canoeist’s dream.

The Ultralight Wilderness Traveler; photo credit Paul Twedt

Gear choices do not define my experiences in the outdoors, but undoubtedly what I carry (or carries me in this case) impacts and influences them.

The Ultralight Wilderness Traveler, handcrafted by youth apprentices in the Twin Cities, has immeasurably bolstered our Adventure Stewardship Alliance.

After 540 miles paddled and 5,700 pounds of trash removed from Minnesota rivers, we owe this deceptively durable vessel a debt of gratitude.

Photo credit Michael Anderson

Feel The River: Skin-On-Frame Canoe Experience

As I guided my canoe through a shallow muddy channel, I startled a school of feeding carp. They flopped and smacked around, sending shockwaves throughout the Wilderness Traveler’s translucent nylon skin and wooden frame. I kept going, and felt as each carp muscled its body under the canoe.

This season, the choice to paddle the Wilderness Traveler 1,200 miles on Minnesota’s rivers has been a game-changer. Feeling fish and the water beneath the frame, this vessel defies expectations and harkens to what it really means to “be out on the water.”

Photo credit Jake Armour

Lightweight Canoe: A Portaging Dream

A classic design modifies Rollin Thurlow’s acclaimed Atkinson Traveler. The wooden frame is composed of sinew-lashed white pine, ash, and cedar, complete with cherry trim.

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Copper riveting adds structural security, while the ballistic nylon skin and clear polyurethane seal wraps around the Wilderness Traveler’s skeleton.

The result? An ultralight 17.5-foot-long Wilderness Traveler weighing around 38 pounds that paddles particularly stable when loaded with gear.

Photo credit Michael Anderson

Light, Durable Canoe

We were curious to put the Wilderness Traveler to the test this season with our 2017 Three Rivers Expedition: Canoeing 1,200 miles on Minnesota’s most iconic river ways – the Mississippi, Minnesota, and Namekagon/St. Croix.

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Given the duration (and importance of personal space), we decided to solo our own canoes and have each logged 539 miles to date. We paddled in everything from rock rapids to thick mud, intense storms, dam portages, and wakes from barge traffic.

Did I mention we’ve also employed the Wilderness Travelers as ersatz trash collectors, hauling litter and other hazards from the river as we go?

After the first two legs (Namekagon/St. Croix and Minnesota), we subjected the canoes to carry more than 5,700 lbs. of trash, including 50 tires (from semi to bicycle), countless glass shards, and dangerous metal scraps.

And the boats still float. With only one minor rib repair needed to date, these vessels are holding their own and proving reliable under extreme stress.

Photo credit Urban Boatbuilders

Canoe Built With Meaning

Rounding out the Wilderness Traveler’s character is its origin. Located in St. Paul, Minn., Urban Boatbuilders employs 16-19-year-olds from the local community as boat building apprentices. The non-profit’s mission is to empower youth to succeed in work and life through woodworking and experiential learning.

The eye-catching Wilderness Traveler is market competitive at $1,500 new, and $1,250 gently used.

And if you are into the deeper meaning of things, there is immense value knowing you are supporting the professional and personal empowerment of our next generation.

Learn more about Wilderness Traveler online or contact info@urbanboatbuilders. Learn more about Adventure Stewardship Alliance’s 2017 Three Rivers Expedition or contact

– Our 2017 ‘Packing It Out’ coverage is sponsored by REI.