Named in remembrance of Dick Proenneke, a legendary wilderness man who spent 30 years of his retired life living alone in the wilds of Twin Lakes, Alaska, the Wilderness is a solo canoe that can take you far away from it all. Brilliantly designed for extended solo trips it portages well, paddles efficiently, carries plenty of gear and gives a dry ride in rough waters. Its well rounded stability and moderate rocker make it a great down-river boat while inspiring confidence whether on a loaded tour or evening paddle.
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I am way lucky to live within minutes of 3 rivers, Wisconsin, Kickapoo and Mississippi, so I do mostly back water and long river runs, with a few trips each season "up North" (BWCA, etc) I've had it out twice now, and am not disappointed! Just picking it up is a pure pleasure, the weight factor alone of an UL is going to give me a lot more years paddling as I do a lot of solo. Initially (for the first hour or so - as some people had noted, I was not happy with the "tippiness" feel, but seriously, it was all me, and that just disappeared as I settled in.
I don't get real technical about my paddling, but the biggest impression I have so far is that I'm in and have the kind of control I never had with a big monster canoe and that equals a lot more pleasurable paddling.
Conclusion of story (hindsight being 20:20).... Wish I'd bought this year's ago. Only initial deficit, is wishing seat was able to be adjusted "on the fly", but that's minor.
At 6'4" and 240 the boat as it came from the factory was definitely running bow down, so the seat and rear thwart went back 5 inches. The adjustable aluminum seat mount is noisy and even at the lowest setting, I found the boat to be a little top heavy with me in it, so I reconfigured it and dropped the seat two additional inches AND it does not rattle anymore, thanks to a couple of wing nuts and nylon washers.
Now that all the remodeling is done, the boat is a pleasure to paddle. It tracks nicely, handles chop on a lake or light ww ok and it is faster than a lot of kayaks of the same length. It's not a work horse, so do not expect to pile it over the gunwales with gear, but I can take about 100 to 125 lbs of gear and not adversely affect the handling.
At 47 lbs, its definitely a breeze to get up on the roof of the car and if I ever had to portage (not likely) I'm sure that it would be very simple as it seems very balanced. This is probably the boat to have if you do a lot of extended tripping, but as an over night or extended day paddles, it's great If you are lucky enough to find one, I would not hesitate to buy it.
The Wilderness has turned out to be perfect for me in every respect. It is comfortable to paddle, fast enough, turns nicely when heeled, has plenty of capacity, and is a stable platform for all my activities on the water. The seat is a little clunky, but it works well. I usually put my gear behind me in the boat to help trim it a little "bow light".
I do like the tough Royalex material in our rocky Missouri rivers, and the weight is manageable, though I'm starting to see the benefit of a lighter canoe.
My one complaint has been a lack of stability. While I've only actually flipped a couple or three times, I find that I've got very little leaning leeway, and have never gotten past the point of feeling like I have to be cautious.
My Wilderness paddled horribly in its factory configuration, plowing a large bow wave and refusing to respond to anything less than the most exaggerated J-stroke. It weather-veined in the slightest breeze and had no appreciable glide. After a few measurements the seat placement was identified as the culprit. I moved the seat almost 4 inches further from to the bow and it became wonderful craft to paddle; great initial stability and secondary stability that encouraged sharp leaning turns.
It tracked well on flat-water and turned responsively, satisfying my every expectation, but also quickly gave birth to an appetite for increased speed. Don't get me wrong, the Wilderness glides, but on a 4-5 hour day trip it feels like a bit more work than perhaps it should.
Purists cover your ears. I have since purchased and installed new thwarts and a seat, all of which I reduced in length by 15% from stock seat and thwarts. The boat now has increased tumblehome, narrower waterline and gunwales, and it paddles and glides like a rocket. Rocker is all but gone so it tracks like it's on rails, but takes more effort to turn. Initial stability is diminished and I can only describe secondary stability as being different.
I can now brace and heel the boat over to the point of wetting a gunwale if I so desire, which I could not safely or confidently do at the stock width. I enjoyed the properly trimmed wilderness, but now I absolutely love my very, very fast, narrowed Wenonah Wilderness. Hope you enjoy your wilderness as much as I do mine, without having to use a saw.
I have been a little disappointed in the performance of the kevlar/gel coat however as I have found it has scratched extremely easily right through to the kevlar as the coating is very thin (to keep the weight down presumably). I have already had to repair it with epoxy and put patches on bow and stern which do not blend at all. However, it is a lovely looking boat, it gets lots of comments, and the colour blends very well with the reeds around my local waterways. It needs treating with UV coating otherwise the colour darkens over time, although I like the more mellow colour.
I did have the outfitter pull out the metal seat brackets which are an abomination and put in conventional 31/2" drops. Took out the back thwart and set the front drop in the thwart hole, moving the seat back a good six to eight inches to get it away from dead center. reinstalled the rear thwart further back from the seat so it wouldn't press against my back which it did in its original position. The metal seat bracket arrangement is why I would only give the boat an 8 rating and Wenonah would do well to go back to a conventional wood drop system that a true canoer can easily adapt to personal preference. Good boat otherwise, very stable and a joy to lug around and throw up on top of a car.