Pack Types

We are planning on some long portages on our BWCAW trip and I’m thinking of taking my internal and external frame packs with smaller dry bags inside them. I did a trip with the scouts two years ago, and we used the more traditional type packs. One was a Granite Gear and another more of a Duluth style. We were carrying too much weight to begin with, but those big frameless packs didn’t impress this aging voyaguer much, comfortwise. I think we’ll have a Northwind or Minnesota II canoe.

Any drawbacks to using more conventional back packs as long as were taking fairly minimal and light gear? Thanks.

the only
The only drawbacks to using more conventional back packs (internal and external) is their rigidity when in the canoe. It makes it harder to get them as low as Duluth style packs in the canoe thereby causeing some problems with wind. If upright they are relatively high and if down they take up a bit more room. Personally, I have used both internal and external packs on trips and Duluth packs. Most often it is the lighter weight, big stuff in the Duluth (sleeping bags, tent, Crazy Creeks, etc) and the rest in the more conventional packs (clothing, food, etc). I prefer the food in/attatched to something with a frame either external or internal (even if in a bucket/barrel because that is usually the heaviest, want more support when carrying, and it is a bit of more protection from being squashed. I have found the bigger internals (5000) do take up more room and usually I slide an end under a seat, have the Duluth unright in front of the rear paddler and the third pack (3800 - a smaller internal) perpendicular to the canoe kind of under the middle twart. Loading and unloading the canoe is a bit trickier with frame packs.

External packs need water proof bags for gear attatched to the outside (ie. the traditional sleeping bag tie on at the bottom).

check out

One Other Benefit of Duluth Pack…
…is that it is easier to sling onto your back and off your back at portages. Also, most are all but impossible to carry with a canoe. WW

Canoe compatability
I’d wondered about compatability with portaging the canoe, particularly a solo, where the center seat is going to be back there. I anticipate using a tandem and making two carries for the most part, but on shorter portages being able to carry pack and canoe might be handy. Guess I’ll load them and do some back yard testing, if this back ever straightens out for me.

The ease of loading and unloading, getting them on your back at portages and how they fit into the boat makes a lot of sense. I knew there had to be some functional advantages that resulted in the Duluth pack type design.

Thanks for sharing your experience folks, and letting me think out loud.

Use the Backpacks
If you want to use the backpacks, go ahead. There is nothing wrong with them aside from what has already been mentioned (primarily harder to waterproof, awkward handling, can’t carry a pack and canoe at the same time).

I use more traditional packs for the reasons stated plus the fact that I don’t backpack. If I were a backpacker and wanted to use gear I already had, I wouldn’t hesitate.

One other reason duluth-type packs are used is the tradition of it. They were the perfect pack back before we had all the lightweight gear. The pack had to handle bulk and weight back in the time where standard equipment included canvas tents, cast iron cook gear, canned food, etc. Today with nylon tents, titanium cook gear, and freeze dried food there is less need for them. Of course, the lightweight gear allows you to carry more luxury items. That’s another reason I still use them. :slight_smile:

Granite Gear
I’ll be using my Granite Gear pack for my solo canoe trip across Canada this year. All the reasons in the other responses reflect my own decision.

My model has a backpacking style hipbelt and adjustable suspension. The exact same suspension as they have on there backpacking packs. It should pack down well in my solo canoe from Clipper and is big enough to hold an immense amount of supplies.

Cheers…Joe O’

we do not use Duluth style for 2 reasons. First is that more can go in than you will ever want to carry and second they sit so high in the canoe. We use internal frame packs. Pull out the rain fly and place them face down in the canoe. They sit tight and out of the way. I always line mine with a heavy trash bag and bag all the clothes that go inside. We also use a duffell bag for sleeping pads water bottles the saw and the tent. Food goes in a basket style pack. Other odds and ends go in a daypack. All the gear we take for a week long trip fits nicely in the bottom of the canoe and keeps the center of gravity low, by the way we paddle minn 2’s.

Slick idea
one of our scouts had was the frame on his external pack was the same length as the gunwales were wide… He would hang the ends over the gunwales with the pack hanging down into the canoe. His stuff stayed off the floor so it stayed preety dry.

As for portaging on most of my previous trips we did a single portage. I would strap on my pack (Internal or external as the case might have been) Then grab the canoe and walk. The Scout would grab the PFD’s , paddles , and bailing bucket. And their own backpack. I don’t know if I could do that with a frameless Duluth pack.


– Last Updated: Apr-08-04 5:40 PM EST –

One reason I always preffered to use the canvas Duluth Pack was it's ability to dry out without removing everything.

Canvas is breathable. which allows moisture to escape, whether it's from early morning dew that made it into the pack while breaking camp, or rain.

I've found that when moisture gets into a nylon pack, it has a hard, if not impossible time escaping on it's own, which promotes mold & mildew. If a canvas pack gets thoroughly wet on the inside it will still dry out on it's own but with a nylon pack you usually have to "dump" some water out, wipe it dry and let it air out before it can actually be called dry again.


Duluths sit high in the canoe?
I don’t get it. They are designed to be below the gunnels. That is one of their strengths. What are you doing, stacking them on top of one another? :slight_smile:

I don’t understand this either
"As for portaging on most of my previous trips we did a single portage. I would strap on my pack (Internal or external as the case might have been) Then grab the canoe and walk. The Scout would grab the PFD’s , paddles , and bailing bucket. And their own backpack. I don’t know if I could do that with a frameless Duluth pack."

Another strength of the Duluth Pack is being able to carry it and a canoe at the same time. If you can also do it with your particular backpack, that’s good. You can’t do that with many of them.

Also, why wouldn’t a scout be able to carry a Duluth Pack and still carry loose items?

Many people I have seen in the BWCA and in poptographs have the Duluth pack sitting upright in the canoe with the flap up to protect against rain. If the pack is 20some inches tall and the canoe is 14 inches deep that is over half a foot above the gunnels. I pull the rain fly out and lay my internal frame pack down in the canoe. The fly keeps out any water in the canoe and it sits below the gunnels. If one were to lay a Duluth pack flat it would be below the gunnels and present no center of gravity issue. This would make more sense than the way I normally see it done. Of course I also see many of those people using bent shaft paddles backwards.

Strengths of traditional packs

– Last Updated: Apr-09-04 5:32 PM EST –

There is more than tradition behind the continued use of Duluth-style packs. Many of these have been outlined here already. The fact that the gear can fit low in the canoe while still taking up less floor space than backpacks is one of the main advantages. I must say I don't understand the one poster's comment that he uses a regular backpack *instead* of a Duluth pack so he can carry the canoe too. Anyone else I've heard from about this agrees that it's easier to carry the canoe while using a pack that doesn't stick up behind one's head.

Portages are not usually all-day affairs, and most people can comfortably carry a lot more weight over a portage than they could when hiking. They also usually don't need the "perfect" pack to carry that load, but as far as the comfort issue goes, I am guessing that anyone who thinks Duluth packs are hard to carry hasn't learned proper use of the tump line. It's a great advantage when walking uphill, and at all other times a slight shift of the head or lightly gripping the line with one's hands can do a lot to redistribute the load between the back and shoulders as one sees fit, and according to which muscles may need a break, without ever breaking stride. Proper use of the tump line is the key to carrying a big load without overstressing the shoulders.

For someone who wants to pack individual dry bags in a backpack, that would work, but the overall package probably will weigh more. Anyway, it is a lot easier to stuff everything in one big waterproof compartment than to figure out how to pack all those dry bags.

For some good tips on using Duluth packs, read some of the stuff by Cliff Jacobson. He also has some good tips that will maintain waterproofness of your pack liner.


I sure hope you give us the run-down on your trip. I've been wanting to go up there in the worst way, but getting enough time off has been problematic for me. I envy you, and hope it goes well.

The reason
I don’t think I could carry a canoe comfortably using a duluth pack is there is no frame. With a regular frame pack there is a hip belt that carries the wieght. The yolk rests on my shoulders and some times on the straps so the wieght is mostly on my hips. I am not saying this is th ebest way, but it worked well for me. If I was going to do more canoe camping I would probobly use a duluth style pack and plan on shorter portages then I have done in the past.

Tump Line…
…makes that #4 a lot easier to carry. I’m a believer in tump lines. WW

I’m a believer, too
I often carry the food pack using only the tumpline.

None of that new fangled tumpline stuff for me…:-).

I remember reading about tumplines in on of my dad’s old Outdoor Life book club books. “The Complete Book of Outdoor Lore” I think it was titled or something like that. I think I actually tried making one for my old scout pack and gave up on it for my lack of handyness at age 10 or 11.

I’ve seen them talked about lately though, maybe in some of Cliff J’s writing. It would sure be fun to play with one, and no doubt they work. But I think I’ll tote less gear and give the internal frame pack my biggest load, besides I’ve got my brother-in-law to carry the food pack!

New fangled. :slight_smile: the liones are old. The set up is to have the pack on with shoulder straps and then use the line. The line should be at the hairline, just above the forehead. Of course, if your hairline is where mine is, that is too far back.

Thanks For the Laugh Mark!

– Last Updated: Apr-17-04 11:22 AM EST –

I'm picturing a friend of mine's hairline, and he would have to wear the tump line backwards arround his neck (LOL)! WW