Towing a pack canoe behind a canoe

We are taking a multi-day canoe trip down a river that at times has fast water, some rapids, deadfall trees, and hairpin turns. The other people going on the trip seem to think it is a good idea to tow and extra (unmanned) canoe behind one of the others for gear storage.

For safety reasons, I do not think this is a good idea, but was wondering if anyone has done this before? There is only one way in, and one way out of this river. We are on our own once we get on the water, and there will be no cell phone coverage.

Terrible idea
How much gear are you taking where you need an extra canoe? Tying things boat to boat is always a bad idea. Especially in moving water. On that note, no one would want a canoe full of gear attached to their person. You should tell the others in your group it’s a bad idea. The potential hazards are aplenty.

lousy unsafe stupid idea
Think of towing a car with a rope and no-one in it, taking corners and needing to stop.

Pack Mule
This is a concept of “pack canoe” that I never thought of. From now on I will picture Nussmuk traipsing across the Adirondacks leading a string of 20 pack boats full of supplies and tools.

Nathan is right
But in case you don’t believe it take a pack canoe, throw in a pile-o-gear and take it down to the local lake and give it a whirl towing it around. You’ll quickly learn what a nightmare towing another boat can be. Now multiply that PIA by a factor of “danger” as you imagine getting the tow line entangled on every twisted feature that tight stream has to offer. Bad idea.

The answer to the riddle of what to do with the excess gear is to leave it at home.

When preparing for a multi-day canoe trip model your gear list after “back packing” NOT “car camping”. Figure out a gear list that is basically identical to a back-packing list with a FEW minor extra-weight luxuries of your choice (like a nice light-weight folding chair for instance) and stick to the list. A multi-day canoe trip down a stream with carries is typically no place for a big ice chest for instance. If you can’t carry ALL your gear and your boat(s) in no more than two carries total you have packed too much. With deadfall, sweepers and some rapids to portage around as you described sooner or later (most likely a few times a day) everything will have to be carried.

As to that pack canoe… those little deckless pack-yaks are no doubt best used as intended rather than as tethered cargo trailers.

Good visual! ;^)

I hear what you are all saying…
I have been to the BW twice, and can fit a weeks worth of supplies and gear in two packs. This group is worried about the adult beverage carrying capacity. Canoes have a large capacity, so I am not sure what they are worried about. I even wanted to have a “test fitting” just to show how much gear you can actually get in a a canoe.

Right now it is 5 guys, 2 canoes + 1 “pack” canoe, and a SOT kayak. I think it might be better if I offered to solo the “pack” canoe, and leave my kayak behind.

yup, a stupid idea
and due to “adult” beverages. Pack something more potent, and lighter, if that’s what ya’ need. Heaven forbid anybody simply enjoy things for what they are.

Double stupid when:
it’s just to carry “the adult beverages”

My adult beverage of choice is my morning cup of coffee when I am on a wilderness trip.

Tell them to leave the booze for when the trip is over and you are sitting on someones front porch rehashing how much fun the trip was and how you nearly got killed but just missed that bad sweeper with some good maneuvering, but would have if you had a loaded canoe sucking behind you and dragging you and it into it.



I have a friend
who mentions bringing a canoe to tow every time we do a river camping trip. I shut it down EVERY time for the very same reasons you’re hearing from the other responses. Magically we always have plenty of food and drink to last the whole trip. One time, there was an entire box of wine that was unopened. He always manages to find some piece of gear he brought that never got used.

You may have to micro-manage their gear lists - cuz even if you’re in the SOT, there should be more than enough space for the necessary gear, including adult beverages in the boats you have.

Supervise their loading of the boats before the launch. Bet you anything the heavy stuff ends up on top of the load instead of down at the bottom of the hull, or they end up bow heavy, etc. Save yourself many headaches later in the day…

Have a fun trip!

I once did it, just on a lake. Never
again. Even after I got the smaller boat snubbed against the back side of the larger one, the total assemblage was only barely workable. As a (mainly) river canoeist, I can’t imagine towing a smaller canoe.

We used this rig on the Green River, UT

It worked well on the fast water and a couple of easy rapids. We had overloaded the T-Cat and it was still incredably stable. ScottB had us do a couple of eddy turns with it and it turned very easy. Only problem was the outer canoe almost went underwater each time because we were so heavily loaded.

If the fast water, some rapids, deadfall trees, and hairpin turns are too much for the T-Cat rig it would probably be to much for a heavily load canoe also unless the paddlers were very good.

If “any” group needs to tow an extra boat of “any” type to accomodate their load of beer; they might want to consider staying home, and drinking.

It would be safer, and the people you would have encountered on the drunken trip will probably be very happy your group was a no show.

Besides, you don’t want “your families” to miss out on all the fun.


votes bad idea
what if the current/wind takes the pack canoe and pushes it around in front of you and it ends up making your boat fishtail stern 1st down the river !! or the towed boat gets hung up and flips you under. where you going to tie off the towline ? to you or to the tow boat? bad, bad idea if you decide to try this on the river , bring a very, very sharp knife to cut the towline in a heartbeat if necessary. i was recently on a trip where we pulled a pak 'yak behind another kayak on a calm,but long ( 3 miles ) sheltered lake…gets very tiring ,fast, paddling for 2 boats. a couple of the other paddlers rode “shotgun” on either side of the towed boat in case it needed to be cut away in a hurry. this would have never worked on a river.

Not a good
idea. I often tow a SOT to carry firewood to a campsite on a slow, open stretch of river (upstream). No matter how it’s tied (long / short)it’s a real PITA. If this rig was going down stream, trying to dodge rocks or whatever, it would be big trouble in a hurry. Beverages and gear don’t do you any good at the bottom of the river and chances are, that’s where thet’d end up.

not just for beverages…
The pack canoe is not just for adult beverages, but for extras like camp chairs, and maybe a little firewood. Still with weight capacities of around 900 lbs. I see no reason why the manned canoes won’t be enough. They are going to have a fun time when it comes to portaging all that stuff.

I did mention a few months ago, when we started planning the details of they trip, that they were going to have to convert to whiskey. That was a no-go.

I am going to do my best to get those facts across, and I think once they see how much they can load no just in theory, but in practice, that the extra canoe will be left behind.

I have an idea!
Get together on a weekend and have them try and portage all the gear they envision bringing PLUS the boats AND beer. Maybe have them walk around their homes a few times for practice with their packs on. I am sure they will reconsider the whiskey then.

Problem solved

– Last Updated: Jun-16-09 9:22 AM EST –

Powdered Beer.


unmanned aqualine drone
Don’t you have more paddlers than boats anyway? Like 5 paddlers in 3 boats and you’re thinking about adding a 4th boat for supplies? Why not just have take a guy out of one of the tandems to paddle the 4th boat and put your best paddler solo in the overloaded tandem – even assign the guy in the SOT to help him out, if need be. I realize this makes it harder to pass the spliff around, but I guarantee you that will be easier than handling a boat with nobody in it.

I’ve done a few relatively short one man/2 boats trips. It’s workable if you’re content to go slow. The key is, instead of a line between the boats, make one end fast to the other boat, leaving only enough slack to let them turn relative to each other. A short board with two holes is helpful. Then run a line from the far end of the unmanned boat to a thwart near you, with a lot of slack in it – this line should lay on top of everything else so that it stays in the boat, but so you can lift it off if needed and exrt force directly on the far end of the towed craft. You may never need this line but it’s helpful in some circumstances, however, be careful that it doesn’t snag up. Basically, it’s trial and error learning how to do it, and what seems impossible at first soon becomes just devilishly tricky.

Reply to Memphis
Yes, I mentioned soloing the extra canoe, and not taking my kayak if they think they need the extra space.

Would really like to take the kayak though. This river is actually better suited for kayaking.