We picked up new Wenonah kevlar ultralight canoes at the Wenonah Canoe Factory in Winona, Minnesota, this week. Owner Mike Cichanowski (above, left) greeted us. He grew up in Winona, on the banks of the Mississippi. He’s a paddler at heart and has inspired innovation throughout the canoe industry. His company is now the largest producer of kevlar canoes. The plant manager, Mark Amunrud (above, right), gave us a full tour of their production facility, including the composite, Royalex, and polyethylene canoe manufacturing centers.

All Wenonah canoes are made in Minnesota, by people who know and love the Boundary Waters like we do. Throughout the plant, pleasant employees greeted us with helpful info on the construction of their canoes.

We use ultralight Wenonah kevlar canoes because they make portaging a breeze. Most folks who’ve been there know that trading in a 65 or 70 pound aluminum canoe for a nimble 46 pound kevlar makes the difference between a backbreaker portage and a joyful walk in the woods.

Kevlar canoes are made from the same kevlar fibers as bulletproof vests. They are incredibly light and strong – though the kevlar canoes don’t stop bullets.

One of the things that struck us about the manufacturing of Kevlar canoes is the amount of human labor required. Rather than being stamped out or easily molded, the Kevlar canoes require skilled hands at every phase – applying the gel coat, installing the kevlar layup, foam core, foam ribs, seats, and gunnels, and putting on the finishing touches. A video about the manufacture of Wenonah kevlar canoes is at http://www.wenonah.com/.

About six Wenonah Kevlar canoes are born every day. We took the above three home today.

Tomorrow I begin a three or four day solo BWCA paddle with our new Wenonah kevlar Encounter canoe.