Newb Not Sure About Packs


My wife and I do a lot of backpacking and a little casual canoeing/kayaking/floating but are not experienced with long canoe trips. But we do like adventure :slight_smile: We’re planning a 7 day canoe trip at Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit in British Columbia, Canada in June.

I’m having trouble deciding what sorta of packs/bags we should have our gear in.

Options include:

  • Backpacking backpacks we already have w/ garbage bag liners and rain covers
  • Dry-bag backpacks (vinyl roll top bags with a harness, shoulder straps, etc)
  • “Canoe Packs” (classic like made by Frost River or modern as made by Granite Gear)

    Can someone give some insight based on actual experience about what I should probably be going with? We will be 2 people in 1 canoe. The man allows for 60 lbs to be portaged in the canoe and the rest must be on your back. We’ll have a canoe cart. The longest portage is about 2 miles.

    My concerns about our current backpacks basically are

    1.) Keeping gear dry

    2.) fitting in the canoe without being wonky

    My concerns about the Vinyl Dry Bag Backpacks are

    1.) uncomfortable for the portage

    2.) a hot stinky mess inside

    My concerns about the Canoe Packs

    1.) uncomfortable for the portage

    2.) not waterproof

    If I use a canoe pack should I put a liner in it?




– Last Updated: Feb-14-16 8:23 PM EST –

National Ropers Supply.

I have 3: 2 outfitters n a Bills with fore and aft d-ring holdon systems with cam straps.

One large clear vinyl goodie bag

a smaller Pelican with clear top for muh pencils. wuhwuhwuh..

This is expensive. And very comfortable. I am not visually a member of the garbage bag flotilla.

Methodical, precise, constant planning, placing organization for need timing both in and out....absolutely necessary or the entire bag op goes under.


My wife and I do a lot of trips like tha
We use Two NRS “Bills Bags” for all the stuff that we won’t be needing until we stop at night and then we take a few smaller roll top dry bags for day use stuff.

Even though the Bills Bags keep everything dry, we put individual items of clothing in zip lock bags first. The reason being is after each item is in a baggie, you roll it as tight as you can with one corner of the zip lock open . This expels all the air and you finish zipping it while holding it rolled and it ends up shrink wrapped and takes up much less room.

We usually have a separate dry bag for the cooking stuff.

Jack L

datakoll, JackL
Thank you for the responses. I see you both use the Bill’s Bag which is basically the Vinyl Dry Bag Backpack option I was talking about (models also made by Sea to Summit and SealLine that I’ve come across).

In another thread with a similar question ( I noticed that several people said they “used to used Bill’s Bags” but that they were uncomfortable and not actually waterproof. On the flip side all 3 brands of Dry Bag Backpacks seem to get good reviews so maybe these two people are outliers. How are these types of bags on the portage?

The NRS bags don’t withstand prolonged
Submersion and are awkward on two mile portages

For now just get some contractors waste bags and double bag

I have a canoe specific pack or two with internal stays now and Ostrom pack liners that aren’t made anymore but we started with backpacks and heavy duty garbage bag

I never found Bills bag comfy for long portages

I have never found anything "comfy"
on long portages !

The exception to that is our 17 foot Jensen on my shoulders.

jack L

just use your backpacks
assuming that you have enough volume and that they will carry the weight, and that they are in good condition

use 2 or 3 heavy duty trash bags as waterproof liners - twist the tops and double over the twisted parts and rubber band them shut (bring a good supply of extra rubber bands - you’ll need them most likely) - and add an extra layer of protection for your sleeping bags and spare clothes - i.e. put them in waterproof stuff sacks, or stuff sacks lined with a smaller size trash bag. You will get water in the bottom of the canoe, especially if it rains - you don’t want to rely on a single trash bag.

and that is bear country - keep your food in a separate pack and trash bagged to keep smells down - you don’t want your sleeping gear to smell like food!

unless you will be using the vinyl dry bags or traditional canoe packs a lot in the near future, there is no reason to spend the big bucks on them

I have done a lot of canoe tripping - you are correct that dry bags are not the most comfortable choice for the most part - most especially, do not buy any without a very good hip belt to transfer much of the load off of your shoulders

typically, I will use a combination of dry bags and daypacks or backpacks, lining the backpacks with two garbage bags.


No idea. No portage here, no prolonged immersion. Carry bags on back isn’t uncomfortable, contents is moistly double bagged with backpacking or midrange dry bags: sleeping bag, freeze dried food, clothing (3), first aid, electronic go in a Pelican.

I feel the bags are comfortable. Frameless bags are the norm. designing n fabricating a comfortable bag isn’t a problem.

At that level, I assume dryness for contents in a spill and broach. I expect that level is the functioning level.

Garbage bags rip sitting there on the beach. Bill’s and outfitters bags look like they weep water if held underwater . Large bag’s skin thickness probably precludes a really tight fold over gasket. So smaller interior bags.

Is not 'overkill or wasteful redundancy as organization asks for another bag level.

The attachment system is an attempt at logical engineering. Draw yours carefully n allow the drawn idea to gestate over time with dry runs. Placing D-rings is logical. Developing an effective time sequence for strapping bags in and out begs a few dry runs.


– Last Updated: Feb-17-16 8:08 AM EST –

To answer your question above:
We have had ours for years and never once have they leaked.
They were in the bottom of Ally-Pak canoes sitting in several inches of water on a 15 day trip on the Noatak River in the Arctic Circle.
They have been in our canoes on multiday trips on the Suwannee river.
They have been in both our canoes and our kayaks on multiday trips in the Everglades National park on annual multiday trips for the past twenty years.
I could go on and on, but there is no need to.

As far as portaging distances with them: We have used them in the Boundary waters. I have used mine on a goat path like trail in the Adirondacks which is a mountain path, annually for the past nine years
They have never leaked a drop, and I would not want to be using anything else for their intended usage.

That is me. Others might want something else.
If you send me your e-mail, I'll gladly send you a few pictures of them in the canoe.

jack L


– Last Updated: Feb-17-16 9:20 PM EST –

this may be of some help to you. my son and i did the ADK last summer and took way too much gear portaging was miserable. go basic and it will be a lot easier for you. a good mat and sleeping bag or hammock is a must! the ground is unforgiving after a long day trip. a good knife and hatchet, fire steel and water purification. a large sheet of plastic to keep the rain off or tyvek home wrap (much better)can be found at construction sites (ask don't steal) ziplock bag anything you want to stay dry. i used a 2 gallon bag to keep my hiking boots dry and double trash bag everything inside the pack . make a trip plan with a map and details then leave it with a loved one with check in times to call them.
have a great time and be aware of your surroundings. Landmarks, animals etc. one last thing, most bags on the market are quite good but size matters! use the smallest one you can get away with and if your worried about keeping gear inside dry then buy a can of "campmore" spray silicone for boots and spray as you wish. i used this method on my tent something like 12 years ago and it still is waterproof however i sprayed it on dripping wet.

Skip the hatchet
Hatchets are heavy and a PITA to cut wood with. A lightweight folding saw (e.g. Sven Saw) will weigh less and cut through wood like butter.

Your pack with waterproof stuff sacks

– Last Updated: Feb-22-16 8:23 PM EST –

You can use your backpacks and line them with a plastic trash bag (get the thicker 3 mil "contractor" bags from Lowes or Home Depot). Bring a few extra in case one tears.

Your gear that absolutely, positively can't get wet (tent or hammock, clothing, sleeping bag, electronics, etc.) can go into waterproof stuff sacks. Outdoor Research and Sea to Summit make good ones (I've had good luck with Outdoor Research).

That way you have a single layer of protection for everything and a second layer of protection for the gear that can't get wet.

Your backpacks should fit
In most tandem canoes. I do second the suggestions about packing sleeping bags, pads, and clothes in smaller water resistant bags like the Sea 2 Summit. Treat it mostly like a backpacking trip where the boat is carrying the pack more than you are. Look for other options if you are going to be doing this more. I use the yellow NRS packs one is over 20 years old & going strong. I wouldn’t want to submerge any of them but they do their job. They aren’t nearly as comfortable as my Osprey but most portages aren’t really that far and you still need to deal with all of your other ‘stuff’. I’ve never been willing to pony up the money for the Granite Gear of similar.

fit into a Wenonah Solo ( in solo trim) or Rendezvous: one front transverse between paddler and front air bag, 2 stern-bow side by side rear of seat thwart.

Canoe Packs
My wife and I use Duluth Packs (similar to frost River)and a large Granit Gear canoe pack. Several reasons to use them: 1) they fit nicely in a canoe. 2) being low and wide as opposed to tall and thin they allow you to carry a canoe while carrying a pack. 3) with the plastic bag liner they are completely water proof. 4) cargo capacity is unequaled by back packing bags - tarp, 4 man tent, air mattress, crazy creek chairs, etc, etc will fit. A smaller one is easily hung and used as a food pack. Prices have gone way up over the years for the Duluths but they last forever and are guaranteed for life. You may be able to rent nylon canoe bags from an outfitter and see if they are worth it to you. We used a large vinyl bag and found it to be very uncomfortable. My wife is a former backpacker so she loves all the padded straps and hip belt of the G.G. I prefer the simplicity of the Duluth. One it is adjusted properly and you learn how to use a tumpline correctly they are not uncomfortable.

Good Books
Also, if you are new to canoe camping I would suggest 1(or both)these two books.

Canoe Country Camping: Wilderness Skills for the Boundary Waters and Quetico

by Michael Furtman

Canoeing & Camping Beyond the Basics: 30Th Anniversary Edition

by Cliff Jacobson

General Comments and Waterproof Liners
I agree with those who say that you should probably just use your backpacks. Yes, they don’t make good use of space laying in a canoe, but you already have them. Spring for packs more suitable for canoe tripping if you get hooked on this.

Canoe packs aren’t “wonderful” on portages, but they carry a lot, are good for a large range of load sizes, and as has been pointed out, the comfort level isn’t bad when you get everything set up properly. You aren’t doing the Appalachian Trail.

Standard practice with canoe packs is to use waterproof liners, and this method will work with your backpacks too. Do not use garbage bags. Some good bags have already been mentioned, but to call them “contractor’s trash bags” might lead you down a dead end as very few companies that buy them use them for trash and they are not labeled as such by the suppliers. Make sure they are oversize, especially in length. An extra two feet in length is a good target. The size I use in canoe packs is 28"x48". I quit using 3-mil bags and switched to 6 mils, but 3 mils is okay. Staples has these bags in hundreds of sizes, but it takes real diligence to find what you need on their site because their search feature will only show you the bags most people buy, and will ignore all your attempts to narrow things down to the style you actually want.

To seal these bags, I usually just twist them tightly and secure with a thick string (para-chord). One step better is to twist, then fold over on itself, and tie with string. Rubber bands will work too, but they can’t squeeze the seal as tightly (the 6-mil bags I use require some serious oomph to pull the seal shut).

Great Responses
Great responses by everyone.

Thanks for the info. Here is what I learned.

1.) Backpacking backpacks with a solid liner should be fine for a first timer

2.) The waterproof drysacks with shoulder straps (ie: Bill’s Bag and similar) aren’t submersible

3.) Canoe packs main advantage is volume and the shape of the pack

4.) It’s all about the liner or individual waterproof bags even if you use a Bill’s Bag type bag.

We will be using a 2-wheel portage cart and are allowed to have 60 lbs i the canoe. I think we will use our backpacking backpacks with another back (maybe without shoulder straps) for in the canoe.

You didn’t learn correctly then!
I don’t tear apart what others think are good since that works for them, but now I will.

I hate Duluth Packs, since they hang so low on your back and are very uncomfortable. We used them prior to Bills Bags, and would never go back to them

Our Bills bags have sat in the bottom of a canoe filled with water, and never leaked a drop, and many times they sit in an inch or two and never have leaked.

If the top is folded as it is supposed to be folded, like any dry bag, they won’t leak.

As far as comfy goes, the straps are completely padded, and if you adjust them to you liking, you can portage one all day long.

Good luck on you choice. I don’t much care what you use, but please don’t make false statements by just what you have read here.

jack L

I find the OPs statements completely

Comparing a Bills Bag sitting in a wet canoe or in the rain is not the same as comparing it submerged for 30 minutes while you utilize rescue priorities. People first, boat second, and gear third.

The Bills Bags cannot resist water under pressure… the water is forced in any roll top bag

I can cite references

Here is one

You do best when you double dry bag and not leave anything to chance.