Portage packs for pack canoes - 1 or 2?

-- Last Updated: Jan-26-12 4:15 PM EST --

Lots of great online reviews for various canoe portage packs whether Duluth, Granite Gear, Cooke, Sealline, etc. Large enough sizes for multi-days to carry it all and do one carry on the trails. But for pack canoes (like the 11-12 Hornbeck thatI am considering), I am wondering if it really makes sense to have one huge pack to place behind me? Am I better off with 2 smaller packs for weight distribution, but therefore making doubling the carries a high probability? Trips typically 1-2 nights only.

That’s a tough call. For nice boat performance I like to use two packs, but I have yet to do much portaging. I find trim is a lot more adversely affected in something really small like a pack canoe (I sometimes camp out of a 12-foot rowboat that most people think looks like a canoe, and with only one pack, the boat would be way out of trim). Typically I use one large pack and one that’s a good bit smaller. I put the large pack right behind me and the smaller pack a few feet in front of me, so they cancel each other out and balance perfectly via the teeter-totter principle. If using one pack is an option you are considering, it seems to me that you could use two packs while in the boat, and one while on the trail. If you put all your stuff in individual sacks (I can’t say enough about how fast and convenient this is when using the side-zippered sacks by Cooke’s Custom Sewing), it will only take a couple minutes to make the switch between using one pack and two.

Portage bags
I sent you an email. I’m on Long Island and depending where on the Island you are I have a few portage bags you can look at to compare. Personal opinion is for one or two nights you don’t need the larger bag if you think like a backpacker. Consideration also needs to be given to where you plan on paddling, I’m assuming the Adirondacks. This leads to how many and how long the portages will be. With the Hornbeck you’ll also want to consider balancing the load in the boat. With the larger bag you could take some items out of the bag and place them in the boat then put them back in the pack for portages so its not a deal breaker just something to consider. I think it was on the solotripping website where I recently saw a discussion on doing one or two trips over portages. If it wasn’t there its on the ADK forum site. — Ray

Dry bag
In your position, I would probably opt for a largish pack, fill the bottom half with gear, and use a separate dry bag in the top half. In the boat, throw the dry bag up front and the pack aft. Something like this one would be cool, and doubles as a hanging food cache in camp:


I have a similar bag with the purge valve which is useful - in the pack you can suck the air out to compress it, in the boat give it some air for flotation. Wish mine had the fish on it…

I like the NRS "Bills Bag"
It is one large bag with back straps, so you can portage your boat, while it is on your back.

they also make a greast seat around the camp site.

We used them on a 15 day trip in the arctic, and have been using them off and on ever since on overnighters.

They are very tough too.

Jack L

Great idea
this is s great idea. Best of both worlds.

For what its worth
I have never been a fan of river bags like the Bills Bag. I find that it is a PIA to dig stuff out of the bottom of a long narrow and deep bag. Also my experience is they develop leaks. I prefer a more traditional portage pack with a cheap plastic liner, or like suggested above a more expensive dry bag type liner. Just works better all around for me. But, I suspect I am in the minority.

Internal frame pack
Do people avoid backpacker type packs for canoes, like the popular ones from Gregory, Osprey, etc?

The issues with Internal frame backpacks
The issue with most traditional backpacks is the height of the pack when portaging a canoe or pak boat. If you look at portage packs you’ll see they normally don’t extend beyond shoulder height while internal and external backpacks will reach up to mid-head or higher. The lower height is so the canoe can be carried overhead. If you plan on doing two carries at portages you’d be able to use an internal frame backpack as long as you also used dry bags for the gear you don’t want to get wet. Some people have converted external frame backpacks so that the frame will bear the weight of the canoe. There are pros and cons to this method mainly focused on trips and falls while portaging and the ability to easily flip the canoe off as you are falling to prevent serious injury. I’ve never used one of these converted frames so can’t speak to the issue other then making you aware of what others say about them.

Go to the put in at Lake Lila in the

– Last Updated: Jan-27-12 8:52 AM EST –

Adirondacks and watch people with Hornbecks prepare for the portage in.

One pack..because the goal in the Adirondacks is one portage and one only. For a one night or two night trip you do not need two packs anyway.

Now here comes the unbelievable part. Use an internal frame or external frame backpack. NOT a canoe pack. The idea for those light pack boats is to perch them so the seat does not hit your head and use bow and stern lines to balance the boat. A standard canoe pack is too low and wide to accomplish this.
Some people have put adapters on old frame packs to encase the rear thwart in back of the seat as a carry thwart. That takes any risk of hitting your head on the bottom away and holds the boat secure.

I am not a fan of this on traditional solo canoes because the seat is back of center but not far. Add a yoke and there is not enough clearance for the horns on the pack to be able to be free if you miss engagement around the yoke..they can jam between. Pack canoes have one thwart.. and as my RF has snakeskin rails a detatchable yoke is out of the question. So I use the perch method but would consider a Knupac type of arrangement for a single thwarted boat where seat supports are not an issue.

The traditional methods of canoe portaging with two packs that are wide and low is counterproductive with pack canoes with their different seating arrangements.

Dont worry that much about trim. Until you plunk 175 lbs in the stern(which I just did on a two week trip with RapidFire..(a pack canoe) they arent terribly trim fussy

So come to the birthplace of pack canoes and see what the guides do..just backpack on the customers then the canoe is perched on top. You can do that with a 20 lb canoe. You cant do that well with a 80 lb canoe.

There is a thread here with pictures of how its done


Pack Canoe Burden
The idea with Adk pack Canoes is to keep the little boats roughly in trim on the water yet scoot across carries efficiently.

I break my gear into two parcels; camp gear and food, the camp gear occupying the bottom of a medium sized, monocoque or internal framed portage pack, the food in a waterproof bag that fits on top of the gear in the portage pack for portage.

When paddling, the pack goes behind the seat, the food pack in the bow quarters. When I beach in ankle deep water, I step out of the boat, tuck the food bag in the top of the portage pack and slip the pack on. The paddle slips into the boat under the thwarts, I hoist the boat on my shoulder and walk the carry.

At the far end, assuming I’ve found water, I flop the boat in ankle deep, extract the paddle and slip the pack into the stern, take the food bag out and place it in the bow quarters, get in and go.

The packs can be adjusted fore and aft to tune trim.

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As far as carrying I have found that
the traditional way of lashing canoe paddles to the bow thwart and aft of the seat works best to get the boat off my head.

Its a real PITH otherwise on the high water 1.25 mile Attean portage…300 foot ascent and then 100 descent.

Only in this case the paddles used are a breakapart kayak paddle. And a few velcro straps.

Banging my head on the packboat seat has been a specially big bugaboo for me.