Re: What model canoe?
Your Kipawa will work just fine. The ideal NFCT tandem is a red pre-1999 Mad River Explorer in the ‘Kevlar Expedition’ layup, but since those are hard to find (mine is NOT for sale) many paddlers are forced into other choices…
From watching the trail registers near my home in Vermont I have the impression that the single most common tandem canoe used by through paddlers has been the Old Town Penobscot. The trail has been successfully paddled in an aluminum Grumman, a number of Wenonah Minnesota 2s and at least one Minnesota 3, home-built cedar strippers, wood-canvas canoes (both vintage and newly home-built), plenty of Royalex boats, and Kevlar canoes in everything from from ultra-light to expedition weight constructions. I heard a rumor that a birchbark canoe made it as far as Vermont last summer.
The most common serious gear failure paddlers experience is failure of their portage wheels. Bearings burn out and axles bend. Most but not all paddlers are using portage wheels for at least part of the trip. Depending on water levels and paddler skill and tolerance for whitewater and for upstream paddling there can be day-long portages in several locations. One solution is the wheel your boat and gear along the nearest roads. Another is to pay a local outfitter to drive you around (or to drive you to the top of a section of river such as the Androscoggin so you can paddle the section down river, and then get another ride back up…).
Off the top of my head I can think of three groups of NFCT paddlers that have pinned and wrapped canoes on the Saranac River. All three incidents occurred on the short stretch between Union Falls Dam and Clayburg. At least two of these were below Silver Lake Road. For what it’s worth, two of these were Kevlar canoes, and were each ripped in half. The third was Royalex canoe (a Penobscot), and it survived, wrinkled but paddleable. I’ve written previously about the section here
The right boat to paddle is the one you enjoy paddling for long distances and thru rocky riffles and Class II whitewater. I think there has been some tendency for young and robust twenty-somethings – paddling the NFCT on a shoestring budget – to choose 65 lb+ Royalex canoes, whatever they can beg, borrow, or find on Craigslist, and for financially viable retirees and mid-career professionals to choose lighter (and rather pricier) Kevlar boats.
I hope this helps! – Kalmia