Portage of a kayak ?

-- Last Updated: Sep-01-14 9:29 AM EST --

Hi there,

Did a first Kayak-camping trip over the week-end. We had to do several portages from 200 to 1300 between lakes in sometimes rough trails

With a canoe, one would normally carry the boat over the head and the stuff in a backpack (or make a second trip to carry the stuff if it's too heavy).

Since a kayak is lighter, I was expecting portages to be easy. But since our kayaks were all fully loaded and we didnt want to waste time to unpack/repack everything (all that was optimized at the start), the kayaks were in fact quite heavy and, compared to a canoe, much less convenient to carry.

Our best option was to be two persons to carry them on their shoulders (like you would carry a big tree log), but the shape of the kayak makes it really painful on the shoulder after a while.

Using the toggle handles wasn't too conformtable on the hands either (maybe because they are too small ?) and the back one is located in front of the rudder so the boat is constantly rubbing on the side of your leg.

Also, the back hatch being bigger, weight wasn't equally distributed so the person at the back had to spend a lot more efforts.

Anyway, I was just wondering if people could share some ideas on how to efficiently portage a kayak ?

Maybe a lightweight cart would do the trick, although I'm not sure if it would work out with lots of deadtrees/big rocks on the trails.

Post your advice please !

Portaging Kayaks
I have portaged loaded kayaks over the trails at Isle Royale several times (where portage carts are not allowed). Assuming that you have a partner, you can each make a padded shoulder sling, sized so that you can still grab the kayak toggles as necessary (for a change of pace and to vary the muscles used). A cam-strap (load strap) can work in a pinch if you have something to pad your shoulder.

Heavy items such as water can be carried on your back in a lightweight mesh backback like a Stahlsac.

Another method for lighter layups and SOF kayaks is to carry the unloaded kayak on your head. Depending on the volume and cockpit location, it’s often best to carry it with the stern pointing forward (so you can see where you are going, and for the proper balance), with padding on your head and forehead as necessary. This is how the kayaks are traditionally carried in Greenland (and for the portage races in their annual competition).

Greg Stamer

Life vest as padding
I use my life vest as padding for my shoulder when carrying my kayak to a launch site or short portage. I usually carry it at the coaming, but it may help on a 2 person carry of a fully loaded kayak.

Unavoidable tradeoff. Canoes are easy
to load and unload, easier to carry for any given weight. Kayaks are faster on the water, and can cover the lakes when canoes are windblown. But kayaks just are not best for loads and portages.

There weren’t any kayaks in the BWCA when we spent 12 nights there in 1973. There’s a lot more now, but I think they’re peaking.

I made a portage yoke for my …
17 foot Eclipse and posted pictures of it here quite a few years ago.

It consists of a yoke wide enough to span the width of the cockpit and extend several inches over each side, with blocks high enough to keep your head out of the cockpit and then cushy pads on top of them.

You simply place it across the cockpit and then fasten a camlock buckle looped around each end and under the hull to hold it.

It worked good.

You can use a NRS “Bills Bag” to carry your gear at the same time.

Jack L

Timely posting and seek advice, also!
I was invited by a group of canoeists to paddle with them in Killarney Prov. Park next month. As the only kayaker, the portages have me a little worried, although I was assured they are not too bad (45m and 500m). I have a QCC10x, am small framed and 5’3" (and no spring chicken). I’ve been looking at homemade kayak yoke designs online, and tried just balancing the empty QCC on my shoulders (with padding) to find a pivot point for placement of a yoke. It didn’t go very well, and that was in my yard, not a bumpy trail. Should I just beg some help and do a two-person carry after emptying the hatches and lugging all the gear down the trail? Having some back issues, a shoulder carry is not an option. Thanks in advance for any suggestions you may have.

I have always
had my gear stored in drybags in the kayak. When it came time to portage, I was able to pull out the bags fairly easily and come back for them. Light stuff, I left in the boat, alone with paddles, spray skirt, clothes bag, etc.

Carrying a loaded boat is really uncomfortable and I’ve always made an effort to reduce weight whenever possible (much like the back country hikers) so that none of my bags had much over 20 lbs. in them. Loads left inside boats can also shift during movement and have unintended consequences (including injuries).

I would suggest that you look at your stowage and determine if there were things that (a) could be left behind or modified to reduce weight; (b) stored in one of the canoes (we store all shared resources in canoes); © replaced with technology (water, for example can be filtered and a filter/purification system is a lot lighter than a couple of gallons of water).

Good luck,


Thanks, Rick
I appreciate the suggestions. I will be packing pretty lightly by using a water filter, backpacker’s stove, inflatable pad, dried food, solo tent, etc. When I do a “pre-trip practice hatch load,” maybe it won’t be as bad as I think. 'Was just hoping there might be a way I hadn’t thought of to do the portages in one trip!

What about wheel cart ?
Having watch a few videos on the web, I think it can be a good option assuming the trails aren’t too rough. Even then, I would assume it would still be easier to have a person dedicated to lifting/helping the cart when it gets stuck on rocks/roots/dead trees etc.

You have to find one with large enough wheels, but not too bulky to carry in the kayak.On my Kayak, there is a bit of space behind my seat that I never really use for storage. Narrow 12’’ or 18’’ would easily fit.

I wish that were an option
The QCC10x doesn’t have much room behind the seat - just enough for a small lunch bag, first aid kit, and spare water bottle. I do have a homemade kayak cart (PVC) and it’s fine for paved areas and smooth walkways, but it’s much too unwieldy to carry in/on the boat. Thanks, though!