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Canoe portage packs upright or face down on a river?

How do you pack your portage packs in a solo canoe on a river camping trip with rapids?

On a recent trip, I used 48" float bags on each end, followed by face-down, tied-in Duluth-style packs. This is in a 14' solo canoe. I think most people don't use extra flotation on camping trips.

My boat was nicely filled except for a little but sufficiently large cockpit area, but having the portage packs face-down also meant they wouldn't stick out and snag.

However, I found it difficult and time consuming to load and unload them: Both needed to be stuffed under a thwart and in addition, the stern portage pack needed to be threaded between seat back edge and stern thwart. Those packs want to assume a sphere shape the more you pack them and their waist lines no longer fit in those tighter spaces. Punching them in the stomach to make them fit with much squeezing may be OK for loading and unloading once a day, but what if you have portages or you have to get to or release packs when your canoe is pinned in a rapid? Another boat in our party was that unlucky.

Alternatively, you can have them upright as they were designed to be used. I tried that for the latter days of the trip and found loading much easier, but they stuck out above the gunwales and left more open spaces.

Comments

  • You pack light - 48" bags in my 14' boat and I wouldn't have room for gear. (I don't pack light.) I use two big vinyl drybags with shoulder straps in my 14' boat. I suppose I could fit two small end bags if I had to.

    I don't use Duluth-style packs, so I can't help on your question of face-up or face-down. I assume that my drybags would have some flotation value, but I have never tested it. I also don't tie them securely into the boat, just clip them to the thwart, so they could easily float out and snag on something. If I ever do anything with more continuous whitewater, I'll have to come up with a better system.

  • I doubt there is a real right answer. I load my bags loose flat and with carry handles easily accessible from above. I have never however carried a bag upright in a solo. I don't want it falling over or contributing to a higher center of gravity
    Unlike most here, my trips are mostly lake to lake involving portaging several times a day. After you have unloaded and loaded five or six times you come to appreciate handy load handles on the packs.
    I have dumped the canoe. The bags float. My conservatism level goes way up when faced with a rapid.. If I run it at all. it will be unloaded unless like on the Missinaibi there is a stretch of rapids that dont have a portage or like the Bloodvein its a chute with a pool at the bottom. When you are a ten day walk from anyone your level of caution goes up.

  • I gave up on Duluth packs many years ago. I do not find that the envelope style packs like the number 3 load efficiently into a canoe. The canvas material is heavy when dry, and heavier when wet. I only use Cordura packs with some type of box style construction these days.

    Having the packs sitting upright loose in the boat is fine for lake travel. In any river situation in which there is any possibility whatsoever of a capsize, which is pretty close to any river situation as far as I am concerned, I do not want any packs sticking up above gunwale level, or able to do so if the canoe becomes inverted in the water. So all my packs are restrained in the hull in some fashion. Anything trailing out of the boat makes it very much more likely to snag and pin.

    In a solo canoe, I will typically use short tandem end flotation bags in the stems. These are typically well under 36" in length when inflated, and if you need a little more room for packs, they do not need to be fully inflated. Just secure the packs, then inflate the bags to take up the space in the ends. You really don't want anything with any weight way out in the stems of the boat anyway, and packs of any size at all won't fit there anyway because the space is too narrow.

    Now I might modify these rules somewhat at times. If I anticipate the need for multiple portages or loading and unloading on a long stretch of otherwise not very challenging water, I might not lace my packs in.

  • like the idea of lashing in packs tight on ww or in rough lake conditions. They actually provide flotation in the event of a capsize. My reality was somewhat different. Often just resorted to a loose tie in when conditions were mild because it was much more convenient. I never understood the appeal of Duluth Packs. Like the cordura packs as well with a plastic trash compactor bag as a liner that is goose necked. Carry packs in boat with shoulder straps down. If you are running a lot of ww consider a pump. Hard to drain a boat with gear tied in. Here's how my buddy Joe did it when we ran the middle fork- used float bags, and took gear in a solo.youtu.be/wCDP_O4Da_o.

  • edited June 18

    @pblanc said:
    Having the packs sitting upright loose in the boat is fine for lake travel. In any river situation in which there is any possibility whatsoever of a capsize, which is pretty close to any river situation as far as I am concerned, I do not want any packs sticking up above gunwale level, or able to do so if the canoe becomes inverted in the water. So all my packs are restrained in the hull in some fashion. Anything trailing out of the boat makes it very much more likely to snag and pin.

    My packs are tied into the boat even if they're standing upright, and they didn't trail out during a capsize, but they do stick out above the gunwales.

  • They would still increase the likelihood that the capsized canoe would hang in the shallows or snag on a rock or strainer if the extend outside the confines of the hull.

  • @pblanc said:
    They would still increase the likelihood that the capsized canoe would hang in the shallows or snag on a rock or strainer if the extend outside the confines of the hull.

    I totally agree, just wanted to clarify the "trailing out" part.

    How important is it to be able to release them when the boat is pinned? Do you have to manhandle your packs somehow when stuffing them under the thwarts?

  • One time while canoeing down a river in spring flood, I capsized and went under a strainer with my dad. It was on the outside of a fast bend and I made a mistake in not aggressively paddling for the inside even before we were in the flow. We were very lucky and much was learned from that experience.

    What about the gear in the boat? Well, I had been foolish and didn't have it tied in. BUT I had things packed into the boat SO tightly that nothing came out! Everything was wedged into place and the only thing we could identify as "lost' was a milk crate my dad had brought along for a seat. He still bugs me about "his lost milk crate", all in good fun. It was a great trip.

    Oh, and the rest of the trip I ran a rope through everything in canoe. Much of the food was soggy though, some had to be disposed of. Like I said - much was learned and little, if any, was repeated.

  • Some of the packs I have used need to be compressed a bit to get them under thwarts. I have a variety of packs, dry bags, and barrels and I try to fit the packs to the boat as much as possible. I have sometimes also repositioned thwarts in canoes in order to better accommodate the packs or barrels that I wanted to use. In general, any canoe that I would consider using for river tripping on a river that involved significant rapids is going to have enough depth that I can usually get a sizable pack or dry bag beneath a thwart. Blue barrels are another story.

    I have helped unpin canoes that had packs and gear lashed inside before. I do not recall it ever being an issue.

  • We use "NRS Bills Bags" and lay them on their sides.
    We keep the smaller dry bags face up since between gully washers, rapids and me in the back "hutting" the paddle across their is usually some water in the canoe

    Jack L

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