Portage a kayak

Last summer I took my kayak to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area to do a 7 day trip that involved numerous portages, some up to 180 rods. I knew I would need to carry my 55 lb Wilderness Systems Tsunami 145 and all my gear over these portages. I looked on the discussion forum for information about yolks that could be attached to my kayak but didn’t find anything readily available. So I decided to make my own. I took the bag off of an old Kelty external frame pack and was left with the bare aluminum frame with padded shoulder and hip straps. I tied a 24 (l) x 2 (h) x 0.75 (w) ash board to the top cross member of the pack (just below the frame extender at the top of the pack). I screwed small pieces of wood to the ends of the board to create a barrier to the kayak sliding of the side. I could also strap a large waterproof portage bag to the frame using the straps of the portage bag. With this rig I was able to carry the kayak and about 45 lbs of gear to make the 180 rod portage in a single trip. This worked very well if I left some gear in the back kayak waterproof compartment so that the center of gravity was slightly toward the rear. All I had to do to keep the kayak in place on the pack fram was apply a bit of downward force on the front of the cockpit. One portage the center of gravity was in the front and I suffered trying to hold UP the front of the boat. The rig worked very well on flat portages with good footing. I tried it on a 100 rod rocky/muddy portage between Bule Lake and Cherokee lake and fell down. For awhile I felt like a turtle on its back, but managed to get up. It can be a bit difficult to get the boat up on the frame, but is easy with a buddy helping. I have a couple of digital pictures of what this looks like but this web site doesn’t allow me to post them. If you are interested, contact me and I will send them to you (reduced size so as not to clog mailboxes).

I hope someone else finds this helpful. It was great fun kayaking in BWCA, especially on windy days when waves would have kept canoes shore-bound. The kayaks were also much faster and more fun to paddle than a canoe. In the 7 days we were in BWCA we didn’t see anyone else kayaking. I would recommend that kayakers choose routes with more big water and fewer portages than the one I took (Sawbill to Cherokee to Long Island to Winchell via Kiskadenna to Brule via Cone Lakes back to Cherokee via Cam and Town Lake). Packing and unpacking gear in and out of portage bags was a minor inconvenience, which can be avoided on short portages by having two people just picking up and carry the loaded kayak (by the hull, not the handles).

Why pick up and lug a plastic boat when you could just drag it along or put on a small paddle cart? Especially if the terrain is easy and the ground isn’t too rocky.

Just wondering.


One reason, and probably two reasons

– Last Updated: Dec-29-08 8:29 PM EST –

First, you'd have a hard time using a commercially-made portage cart on a lot of the portage trails (you could build one that would work a good bit of the time, but I don't know how you'd take a carry frame and a pair of 24- or 26-inch wheels with you while in a kayak). "Not too rocky" doesn't describe much of the north country.

Second, if the BWCA follows the same guidelines as is typical for a "wilderness area", wheels of any kind would not be allowed. I bet a quick search would show this to be the case.

Oh, as far as dragging goes, that's a huge waste of energy. It's not something you will do for any distance before realizing there must be a better way, and even a heavy plastic boat wouldn't survive much dragging in that country.

kayak yoke
You might have to make your own. We were in the bwca last summer with a couple of perception america 14.5’s. They have a cockpit so large that it’s almost like paddling a decked canoe. Put on a seals splash deck and your good to go.

We had a 210 rod portage, took us two trips each, one for the kayaks, one for the gear. After that, shorter portages on the next trip, this took way too much time, 210 rods is a long hike.

And I wouldn’t drag a plastic kayak over a long portage trail in the bwca; sharp rocks, bare rocks, roots,and many are not flat, it’s up and over the ridge. As for carts; not allowed…and the trails are to rough anyway.


How longsa . . .
. . . rod?

16.5 feet
I think, but am not sure that BWCA is the only area that still uses that measurement.

Keeps your math skills sharp.

about the length of a canoe