Pack recommendations

I am preparing for an August 2008 BWCA visit, which will be a first. Is a canoe pack such as a Kondo pack absolutely necessary? Is it benefical to have one when you are portaging rather than setting up a base camp? What are your favorite packs? Thanks.

absolutely not, in my opinion

– Last Updated: Jan-23-08 8:14 AM EST –

Traditional "canoe packs" work fine, but I don't personally see them as being any better than a good internal frame backpack, and a lot of canoe packs do not come with a hipbelt, so can be much more uncomfortable to carry. Canoe packs are generally supposed to fit in a canoe better, but that all depends upon the pack - I've seen hundreds of canoes loaded for tripping using traditional canoe packs - for the most part, the packs were placed in the canoe in an upright position - i.e top of pack is up. That leaves a lot of the pack sticking up high above the gunnel, and that catches a lot of wind, which is only good if you have a tailwind. I can place my backpacks laid flat in the bottom of the canoe, beneath the thwarts, and have nothing sticking up above the gunnels at all, and that also makes for a better balanced load. Generally, an external frame backpack will be a pain to fit in a canoe well - stick to internal frame style and no isssues.

It really does not matter too much what kind of pack you use - if you already have internal frame backpacks, and they will fit reasonably well in your canoe, why bother to change? Regardless, you will need to use 2 or 3 layers af trash bags as waterproof liners.

A third style of pack is the vinyl "dry bag" type, many of which do include a good comfortable hip belt. Even with the "dry bag", use trash bag liners as insurance.

One advantage the traditional style pack does have, is a larger top opening, so they are a bit easier to load bulky items in, if that matters to you. One disadvantage is the initial cost to purchase them - you can buy 2 or 3 good quality backpacks (if you watch for deals) for the price of one good quality canoe pack. Perhaps the greatest advantage a traditional canvas/leather canoe pack has over the "competition" is rugged durability - which is why the outfitters use them. But my internal fram backpack is now about 30 years? old, and is still in excellent condition, so a lot of the durablility issue goes away if you take good care of your equipment and do not abuse it.

I'm an ultralight style of camper. Several times, doing 10 or 12 day solo BWCA type trips, I've just used a cheapo nylon duffell bag from Campmor(weighs about 12 ounces)for most of my gear, and put my food into a stuffbag (lined with trash bags or Sea to Summit pack liner)so I can have more options to trim my canoe. When I portage, I can just carry the duffell by hand, or kind of toss it over my shoulder, and add the food bag on top and that work's just fine (I can even hook one of the handles over my forehead like a tumpslin, if I want to). I'll also just strap the duffell to a packframe, which I use to carry the canoe on the portage (like a knupack). With a light load, that works for me.

So really, its whatever works well for you, and helps make portaging more efficient for you - best to have everything in a pack or lashed to the canoe, or as nearly that as possible to eliminate carrying loose items by hand.

Bill’s Bag
I use a Bill’s Bag (from NRS) which has shoulder and waist straps. It can be sealed is is watertight. I put my clothes, sleeping gear, etc. in that. I use a blue plastic barrel for my food (30L if going alone and 60L if i need more space) and cooking gear. I have a barrel harness for carrying. While definetly not bear proof, these barrels are water tight and keep smells in so are less likely to attract animals. I leave my barrel on the ground and have never had a problem.

just last night I was rumaging thru my basement gear and took my 28 year old Kelty internal frame backpack out of the plastic garbage sack that was hanging on it like a dusty sport coat.

Talk about memories. I took it on a 10 month around the world backpacking journey back in '79/80. I have offered it up to nieces and nephews to use on trips to Europe, but it has always hung unused awaiting it’s next adventure.

The good news is I have taken up canoeing and I now have a canoe pack that still works… I tried the plastic snaps last night as I was worried they might become brittle for some reason.

Anyway, just a trip down memory lane for me and now an opportunity to utilize some great gear for my midlife pursuit of the watery outdoors.

Question for anyone… I keep reading about critter resistent plastic containers for food storage. What do you all recommend? I would prefer keeping it simple and inexpensive. Also, do you strap it down to keep prying hands (racoons) from helping themselves?


I have a small backpacking pack that I use for food.

It has a waist belt and it fits me. I the rest of my gear in a granite gear pack. I solo so I carry the backpack and canoe in 1 trip and the granite gear and paddle in another trip. I also use these 2 packs when going with other people. I like the granite gear because it has padded shoulder straps, a waist belt and its lightweight. I used big green Duluth packs many years ago and never really liked them at all. My current system works well for me. Also since I base camp I put a small school backpack in the granite gear pack for day trips.

I have used many different packs in the BW. We currently use an old Duluth pack (no hip belt, wife’s internal frame backpack and another pack without a hip belt. Have used my external pack other times, but that tends to be a bit tight in the canoe and harder to load and unload. Any pack will do as long as it does not “stick” up too far in the canoe where wind might make paddling more work. We lay two down crosswise on the bottom and have one perpendicular to the canoe bottom (up). The portatges aren’t that bad (even longer ones I’ve been on 1 1/2 mile+ +double portage). The only part I would consider kind of hard is the loading and unloading (which is part of the journey) at a rocky portage with a good wind coming at the portage. Use what you have regardless of hip belt, just keep it kind of low in the canoe.

What ever you have.
jpc, use whatever you have or can borrow. No sense in purchasing a pack for what may be your only trip. If you decide you’re going to do this often, then you can decide what works for you.

Personally I prefer some type of canoe pack, but many folks use all kinds of things – russacks, duffle bags, internal frame packs and even external frames. If you’re not portaging much, it doesn’t matter. At worse the portages may be a bit harder and/or you may have to make more trips across.

I would say that you do need some kind of pack, however. You do not want to have loose gear (everything in a pack) and you do not want to use garbage bags as packs. You will, however, want to waterproof your packs. This is easily done by using a heavy duty plastic bag (like a contractors’ trash bag) to line your pack. Fill your pack, roll the liner shut, close your bag.

Did my first solo last august.
I didn’t want to buy a bunch of stuff for just one trip (in case I got scared by myself)so I just used my 3 various sized drybags and 5 gallon bucket w/gamma seal lid for food and cooking stuff, just like I always do overnighting on the river. I rigged up my old camp trails pack frame with straps to hold all the dry bags. Carrying worked fine, very comfortable. Getting it in and out of the boat sucked. It ended up being a huge hassle.

I didn’t get scared, so I’m going back this year with a #3 Duluth Pack, my trusty North Face daypak, a 5 gallon bucket w/ gamma seal lid and a Duluth Pack thwart bag. I can easily carry all my stuff with room to spare. Enjoy your trip, theres nothing better!

why was it a hassle getting in and out of your canoe when loaded? What is a gamma seal lid? I’m pretty new at this and find this website so informing. I decided to use my Oscar cooler (it’s a 12 pack cooler w/handle) as my food container next time I camp. Not planning on using ice just figured it would be an easy way to secure and transport. Any other ideas?

Picking a Pack
I taught Outdoor Living Classes for 30+ years and have used just about every type of backpack and dry pack around. Any standard internal or external frame backpack can be used to hold gear on a canoe trip involving portaging, but they didn’t develop dry packs for nothing. If a standard backpack was great for canoeing dry packs would never have been developed. Forget any idea of putting standard backpacks in heavy duty plastic bags to keep your gear dry. All gear which can be effected by water should be stored in dry bags or a dry pack like the NRS Heavy Duty Bill’s Bags, or Barrels. If you suspect a bear problem in the area you paddle buy a Bear Proof Barrel by Garcia for your food to go in.

On my solo long distance canoe trips I use one 6,500 cu. in. NRSHeavy Duty Bill’s Bag which has its own harness but no waist band. I use a trump line to my head to take weight off my shoulders for long portages. In addition I carry a 1,300 cu. in. NRS Tuff Sack and a Clear 610 cu. in. Ricksack. All my gear is secured in the canoe by a bungee system forward of midship. Nothing sticks up above the gunwales. In bad weather or waves I use a spray cover.

Never ever rely on trash bags, or ziplock bags to keep your gear dry. They are tooooooo prone to fail, and when you are 60-200 miles from civilization going foodless or dry clothingless for an extended period can be a life changing experience. Survivorman makes it look so easy on TV, but the real thing is no fun experience!

Every student I have ever taken on survival exercises ends the trip saying, “I am glad I did this, but I never want to have to do it again!”

Be safe and comfortable! Spend the $60.00 for a Bill’s Bag, the $30.00 for a couple of dry bags, and the $60.00 for a Bear Barrel. It will be worth the investment.

Happy Canoeing!


Fav Packs

– Last Updated: Jan-27-08 10:57 AM EST –

I have gone through a few packs. Here are the few that have stood out as winners.

Solo on trips to 5 days: Sealine Boundary Pack 35 plus a 10HD drybag for the camera.

Trips with two to 7 days: Cooke Custom Sewing Pioneer Pack.

Trips with two to four longer than 7 days: Add a Cooke Custom Sewing Deluxe Food Pack.

When I'm feeling traditional: Duluth Pack Northwoods with a waist belt (I had a bunch made up on special order for a retail store I used to work at. My co-workers named the version the BH Special.)

Barrels and Duluth packs
fer me.


Many years ago
I used a Kelty frame pack for canoe tripping. All I had, worked OK I guess.

now I have a Granite Gear Quetico and really like it. Sort of smooshes into the solo boat, no hard or sharp corners, carries pretty well for having a simple foam back panel (also has a waist belt).

In the past I have used a large roll-down closure drybag for food & kitchen, but last fall I obtained a 30L barrel & harness. I like the idea of it being “critter-resistant” and I plan on stashing it off the beaten path on my next BWCA trip for bears. Good secondary seat too.


What was wrong with the pack frame
and dry bag system? Like I said, it worked great as far as carrying most of my gear in relative comfort. I was also used to packing my stuff in the dry bags cause thats how I do it on my frequent river trips. Plus my gear was in drybags and thats a very good thing! But, the pack frame with three bags lashed/ strapped to it wouldn’t fit in the boat so I had to take it apart, then strap it all back together on every portage. That became a pain in short order. It worked, it was just a hassle. The Gamma Seal lid? It’s a two piece lid that snaps onto a 5 gallon drywall type bucket (wally world sells them in designer colors). The center of it screws on and off. It provides a water proof, hard container. Certainly not bear proof, but it’s rodent and bug proof. Check out “Sportsmans Guide” or google "gamma seal. Lots of my paddlin friends use them.

Enjoy your trip, I enjoyed mine and am going back at least twice this year.

A matter of splitting hairs I guess
I now like soft packs because there is mo frame to catch on thwarts, gunwales, or rub om lightweight laminates. Soft packs “smoosh” into a boat’s shape better too. But in the overall picture, there is not much difference.

You say toMAYto, I say toMAHto.


for a soloist there is a diff
backpacking packs are so high that they hit the bottom of the seat…if you lengthen the straps the load is lowered to avoid that but its hardly efficient or good for the body.

Canoe packs are wider and lower.

Minor advantages of traditional

– Last Updated: Feb-04-08 6:00 PM EST –

One small advantage of a traditional pack over a regular backpack is ease of waterproofing your gear. An earlier post said you will need a few layers of trash bags no matter which style of pack you use, but actually, you can get some very heavy-duty plastic bags which are specially made to "fit" a traditional pack (I know they are available for #3 packs, but I'm not sure about #4). You won't need more than one layer with this type of bag, and they tolerate a great deal more abuse than a trash bag can, though Cliff Jacobson recommends using two, so that the inner bag doesn't get as much wear and tear.

If you like really orderly packing systems, another advantage of a traditional pack in the #3 size is that you can get side-zippered stuff sacks from Cooke's Custom Sewing which stack horizontally in the pack. This makes organizing your gear very easy, and makes packing and unpacking take mere seconds, with no fussing around getting things to fit "as good as they did the first time" after a partial unpacking job. Of course you can use any kind of stuff sack in any kind of pack, but these stuff sacks fit in the pack so easily and perfectly with no wasted space that they are simply a joy to use. If you are ever packing up in the rain or in a big hurry you will love this system.

Oh yeah, any kind of pack can be laid horizontally so it is below the gunwales if you choose, so that's not a feature which can be called an "advantage" of backpacks. In fact, if lay your traditional pack in the boat that way, it will rob you of less lengthwise boat space than a backpack, making proper trimming the boat with the pack load easier (there's a bit more leeway in where you can put the pack).

I'm not sure if anyone has mentioned this, but what really robs your time on the portage trail is doubling back for gear. If you can haul your gear and boat in one trip, that will more than make up for any dilly-dallying on the water. You won't be able to carry your boat AND your pack if you use a backpack - they stick up too high. This is one big advantage of traditional packs.

Some traditional packs break with tradition when it comes to the straps. Our own Duluthmoose uses a brand that has a very nice strap and belt system, but I don't recall which one.

As others have said though, whatever gets your gear over the portage in a way that you are happy with will do.

pack recom.
From all the feedback you have already received you know it isn’t necessary. But I would ask how many portages will you make and how often? External frames are a real pain in a crowded canoe. Several reasons have already been discussed. Lets just say you will spend more time arranging things to fit with external frames, which add up if you have several portages in one day. I use a Knu-Pak Portage Fame to haul my canoe on long portages but I usually set the packs in loose and lay the frame on top to lash in. I should explain that the portage frame has Y forks on the top of the frame to cradle your canoe on a portage. You carry the weight of the canoe on the backpack not setting on your shoulders. All packs should be lashed in so you won’t loose them if you turn over. (it’s just like a seat belt when driving)

On our honeymoon in '77 we used what we had. I had an old external frame, a large trappers basket, and some sort of day pack I can’t even remember. We went in to Crab Lake from my uncle’s place on Little Long and got along just fine. (but then we were 20 something and on our honeymoon :>) Now I’m 54 and want things as smooth as possible. I love my Granite Gear Superior 1pack. It’s huge, fits the canoe easily and is extremely comfortable to carry. My wife wouldn’t give up her Cooke’s food pack, which she affectionately calls the kitchen. But if I could have only one pack item period, it would unequivocally be my Knu-Pak portage frame and EZ-Tripper side load dry bag. (it’s good enough for the Seals)

And while you’re at it Cooke’s Tundra Tarps are light as a feather and worth every penny.


Just a question
about the Knu Pac…how do you escape if you slip and fall with the canoe on top of you…its easy to roll out and throw the canoe with a traditional pack.

Where I travel, rescue is days away unless I can get a view of the sky and a signal for my sat phone.

no real difference for the most part -
“about the Knu Pac…how do you escape if you slip and fall with the canoe on top of you…its easy to roll out and throw the canoe with a traditional pack.”

While I don’t have an “official” Knu-pack, I have my own home-made versions, pretty much the same thing. Normally, if I fall or get stuck in the mud, I just lift the boat up and off the forks, and “toss” it to the side.

I think there has only been one time when that didn’t work, when one of the forks got tangled up in the seat frame on my solo boat after I fell - I had to undo the hip belt, and sort of crawl out from under the frame, leaving it tangled up in the seat frame. Awkward, but not all that hard to do. That gets “compensated” for, by being able to carry the canoe with one hand on the rope, and one hand carrying a paddle to use like a walking stick, for balance, if I start to slip, or to prevent a slip, which is something that happens all the time; that’s on the plus side, to offset the one time I had to undo the hip belt to get out from under.