Canoe float-bag advice needed

Hi all,

I have an Esquif Presage (15’ 11" tandem canoe) that I bought for my wife and me to do camping float trips, mostly on the James River in VA, with class I and II water. I will also be paddling it solo… maybe even more than tandem, on day trips in Class I and II.

Last week I went with some friends on a day trip on a smaller local river where the water was high and fast. I got dumped out once and capsized once, from poor paddling technique (not avoiding branches on the banks) and not leaning into the branches. I was fine in the rapids though.

The second time I dumped, the boat also capsized and was almost full of water. It was not a submarine though, it still maintained some buoyancy, and I was able to swim alongside and guide it to a bunch of small trees downriver where I jammed it in and then had a stable little work area to pivot the stern on a submerged log and just swivel the canoe upright to dump it out. I was pretty lucky there.

But that experience made me think that I should get float bags. Not just for my solo trips, but also for our camping trips. So now I am looking at NRS and Harmony, and now I come to the questions:

  1. Is there a preference for one brand over the other? The Harmony bags look like the attachment points are grommets while the NRS bags look like they have D-rings sewn in. Is one method better? Are one vendor’s bags more robust than the other’s?

  2. I am looking at Harmony lashing kit with pop rivets and plastic clips or semi-circles, that you thread the lashing cord through to make a lacing system which keeps the float bags secure. Will I also need to get some glue-on D-rings so I can double-up the lashing with straps? (I’m going to get some anyway just to have near the seats so I can clip a small dry bag, pelican case, spare paddle, milk-jug bailer etc).

If I will need D-rings in addition to lacing for the bags, how do I rig them? Two on the deck at the paddler-facing end of the bags, and another at each end of the canoe, under the bags? Or do the bow and stern ends of the straps just attach to the carry handles?

I hope these questions make sense.

Also, are there other recommended sources for these supplies than Harmony or NRS?

Thanks in advance for your time and advice.

Eric Zwicky
Richmond VA

Is this one of the new boats molded in T-Formex, or an older Royalex one?_

T-Formex - I just bought it six weeks ago.

The reason I ask is that Esquif has been rather closed-mouthed regarding the exact composition of their proprietary T-Formex material. Royalex had thin inner and outer layers of vinyl bonded to the ABS substrate and most people used a vinyl adhesive to bond anchors into the hull bottom. I would contact Esquif and ask them what adhesives they recommend for this purpose. I do not know if things have changed, but Esquif has been terrible in years past about answering emails. In fact, I have never had them respond to one. I have heard that people have actually had better luck phoning them.

Regarding bags, Harmony Gear sells both vinyl and urethane-coated nylon canoe float bags. The urethane-nylon bags are considerably lighter but more expensive. The Harmony urethane-nylon bags are essentially the same as the bags sold by Voyageur in years past and are of good quality. I haven’t had personal experience with NRS bags. Judging from the website, they appear to be urethane-nylon. I know a number of whitewater open boaters who tried NRS bags in the past and were very unhappy with them, but that was some time ago and the design may have changed.

Anchor points that are sewn in, like the nylon loops on the Harmony urethane-nylon bags, are stronger than grommets stamped into a fold of vinyl at the bag corners. Grommets rip out very easily under much stress. But I would not rely on either grommets or sewn in loops as the primary restraint the bags. You need to rig a “bag cage” of paracord or accessory cord over the top of the bag, with cord crossing back and forth from gunwale level, or just below. This will keep the bag in the canoe. Otherwise, when water enters the boat, it will run under the bag and cause it to pooch up out of the hull where it will be more susceptible to damage and more likely to hang up the canoe. You also need a system to keep the bag restrained in the end of the hull, otherwise it will tend to want to float out toward the center of the boat. A “keeper strap” of 1" wide webbing material works pretty well, running from the pointy end of the bag to an anchor point on the hull bottom at the midline of the canoe. A vinyl patch backed D ring or nylon webbing anchor works well for this purpose.

To secure the bag lacing, you can either attach anchor points to the gunwales using nylon pad eyes or “inch worms”, or you can drill a series of holes through the hull just below the gunwales and thread the cordage through them. I would put the strands of cord no more than 6" apart, and 4" is better still.

Here are some photos taken from the Mike Yee outfitting website that shows end bag cages in canoes fitted for whitewater. There is a central keeper strap and three (instead of one) central anchor points. You may not need a bag cage quite this elaborate but it will perhaps give you the idea:

Thanks pblanc! That lacing system is what I was talking about. I think what you call “inchworms” are what’s in the kit:

So I get those and I get some D-rings that you glue on like a patch:

and straps I can get anywhere but there are these from Harmony:

I also see the MIke Yee site:

I will call Esquif tomorrow and see what they say about glue for T-Formex.

Thanks a lot!


I’ve always been happy with Mohawk bags:

The general set up for a tandem boat is 36’s at the ends and a center bag.

The center bag will make a huge difference in keeping the boat out of the water, but it will be in the way for camping, carrying, or paddling solo. I only put the center bag in my boat when I know I will be in whitewater. The end bags stay in all the time.

Thanks EC Kilson. I will have a look and see which ones will fit my tandem. When paddling solo, I sit in the bow seat backwards, so I think the center float bag would be in the way, but the end bags should fit for sure.


If you plan to use end bags for tandem paddling, just be sure when you construct your bag cage and position your anchors that you leave sufficient leg room for the bow paddler. As Erik said, the majority of tandem end bags are 36" long, or less. That is a measurement of the flattened bag with no air in it in its maximum longitudinal dimension. Bags shorten up from their nominal length when inflated. How much an end bag will shorten in length depends on how “full” the ends of your boat are.

If you don’t have room for the fully inflated bag in the bow, you don’t need to fully inflate it. A well-designed bag cage will keep it constrained.

I have also had good luck with the bags sold by Mohawk Canoe, but they aren’t as light as the urethane-nylon Harmony bags. That makes less difference for a tandem end bag than it does for a long solo end bag or large center bag, however.

@pblanc said:
If you don’t have room for the fully inflated bag in the bow, you don’t need to fully inflate it. A well-designed bag cage will keep it constrained.
Actually, the bow bag in my Mohawk is a 48, folded over and partially inflated. A shorter bag would be better, but that is what I had. Couple of negatives on bags:

They tend to develop leaks much quicker if you leave them in during transport. A lot of people take them out. I find that is more bother than it is worth. I do make sure that are fully inflated during transport so they don’t flap around in the wind, but even so, bags don’t last forever. Last time out I noticed that my center bag had a slow leak.

The bags obviously take up room, so if you sit is the bow, there is less room for your feet. Not as big a deal when you are kneeling, but I find it much less comfortable to sit.