backpack selection / canoe portaging

first — what do I need to look for in backpacks for canoe tripping?

second — what else do I need to look for if I’m the one doing the canoe carry?

I have thoughts and ideas, but I lack experience.


far can you carry your canoe ?

A backpack is usually not what you want
Canoe portage packs are lower and wider.

Google Granite Gear, Cooke Custom Sewing,

O heck Piragis catalog is a good place to start

Simpler packs might be okay too

– Last Updated: Sep-14-15 7:55 PM EST –

Packs by Cooke's Custom Sewing and Granite gear are outstanding. However, traditional canoe packs may be cheaper, and might be good enough, especially for shorter walks. Even wilderness guru Cliff Jacobson is happy with traditional packs, and he has a history of portaging farther and more often than most of us. Your mileage may vary.

When it comes to traditional packs, I think that those made by Frost River are better than those made by Duluth (unless Duluth packs come in different grades and I've only seen the lower grades lately, which is certainly possible).

If you use non-waterproof packs, don't forget that you will need liner bags. You can order these from Duluth or Frost River, or you can get them from places that sell plastic bags. I got some really nice ones from Staples Online, but I had to get a lifetime supply as ordering small numbers can't be done there. I can supply a link if you need it.

For portaging your canoe, a yoke with a pair of cushioned pads seems to be preferred by most people, but if you have a lightweight solo canoe, a basic contoured wood yoke will likely be fine. You'll find various yokes advertised in Boundary Water's Journal. I can't think of other good sources right now, other than paddle shops such as Rutabaga.

right now?
I don’t yet know, to be honest.

I have made it a point to park away from the put-in spots and portage to them.

As silly as I may look in my suburban neighborhood, I do intend to “train” by portaging to nowhere with a lap or so around the block. It’s a hilly neighborhood, so it should be effective training.

Next would be the trails on the nature preserve next door to us. Wide trails, but with plenty of obstacles.

portage packs and gear
The choice of portage yokes and packs is subject to a lot of individual preference. For a tandem canoe, I find a simple flat or contoured wooden portage yoke satisfactory. For a solo canoe, sometimes the front edge of a wooden seat frame can function as an impromptu portage yoke. If not, a removable portage yoke can be secured to the gunwales.

I have a number of old Duluth portage packs. I am not immune to the charm and the traditional appearance of canvas and leather, but to tell the truth I doubt if I will ever be taking them on any canoe trips that require portages of any length. I never found leather pack straps comfortable. They do not conform to my shoulders. And canvas is heavy even when dry, and gets heavier still when wet

I prefer packs made of more modern synthetic materials like nylon or Cordura. A canoe pack does not have to have all the fancy features of a backpacking pack. Suspension belts, foam back padding, or internal frames just add weight and often make it more difficult for the pack to conform to the internal contours of the canoe. A sophisticated strap/belt suspension system is really not required for the average canoe portage, and tends to just soak up water when lying in the bilge of the canoe.

I rather like packs like the Granite Gear traditionals. These lack internal padding and have a pretty basic rectangular shape. A pack like the traditional 3.5 does have decent padded straps and a belt but the belt can be removed if only shorter portages are anticipated:

I use a couple of lightweight coated nylon or silnylon roll top dry bags in a pack like this for waterproofing. The newer lightweight dry bags add no more weight than a heavy poly pack liner.

If you plan to carry both the canoe and a pack simultaneously make sure that your pack does not come high enough to interfere with your portage yoke.

The more you walk
the more you want features that are found in backpacks in a canoe portage pack.

My favorite is the out of production Ostrom Packs. I was fitted by Bill Ostrom for three hours in Thunder Bay some years ago. The packs have aluminum internal stays and mine is a big one but very comfortable on 5300 meter portages ( thats over three miles) It was expensive ; over four hundred bucks USD. But its been a great investment.

I like it because it has a hip belt and the pack sway is non existent when hopping from rock to rock. Duluth packs send me flying into loonshit as they dont have bottom stabilization. Moreover I can use the tumpline on my Ostrom pack to shift some stress to other muscles. ( some do frown on the tumplines potential wear and tear on muscles, but my use is intermittent on a sub 50 lb pack)

Packs are very personal. Most all of us started portaging with hiking backpacks and gradually made the transition so surveying your Goodwill store is still a good idea.

its round . . .

consider the

All great advice. If you want even
more check out

Kondos Packs

– Last Updated: Sep-15-15 10:59 AM EST –

Add that company to your list too. They are very reasonable and are nice packs. They always have nice discounts this time of the year. I have Duluth Pack and Cook Custom Sewing packs also. Both are excellent, but a bit pricier than Kondos. Don't be afraid to check E-Bay and classifieds also. Most of these packs last decades with a modicum of care. Here's a link to Kondos:

The reason these traditional canoe packs work better than a backpack is they ride lower on your back so they don't get in the way shouldering and dismounting your canoe. I'll find a picture or two to illistrate. Hope that helps?

Oh, and BTW. If you DO look on E-bay, bargains could be had; or YOU can be "Had." I've seen "Vintage" Duluth Packs that shysters listed at exorbitant prices like they should "Appreciate" like fine wine or real estate!

More than a few good packs/brands out
there. Know you didn’t inquire about yokes…more than a few out there…fwiw I will be purchasing two wood-thwarts(Beans/Wenonah…?), which adjust nicely with no drilling needed, and I’ll be attaching two foam pads(ala SpringCreek) in between = works nicely(have done previously). Then you could also buy some quarterback’s shoulderpads wherever football stuff is sold = works very well, and foregoes the yoke-thing…

For the packs, check out the
NRS “Bills Bags” and Duluth Packs.

I porage my canoe with a home made yoke with nice soft cushy removable pads that my wife and I fabricated.

If you are handy and want to make your own, drop me an e-mail and I’ll send you a few pictures and description of materials.

Like you intend to do, I carry my canoe up and down the road in front of our house and up and down the mountain across from us.

in that way you’ll get a good feel for what you can do and what you can’t

Jack L

Canoe packs work best
Portage packs don’t follow the same criteria as “backpacks” per se. They need to sit low in the boat, have a wide bottom - above any ergonomic considerations. I used to use Frost River or Duluth packs exclusively - tradition and all that crapola. Now I value light weight and have gravitated to nylon packs such as those mentioned above.

thanks all
another great round of advice.

Before this thread I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a canoe pack. :slight_smile:

Thanks for arming me with all of the details.

FWIW, I do have a wooden portage yoke fitted already and it seems to work quite well. I also have some padded shoulder standoffs for it, but I’ve yet to try them.

Thanks again for all of the tips and info