I was going to buy a canoe pack this past spring, but the intended river trip didn’t pan out (West Branch Susky). Never got around to ordering one. Now that I am about to do so, I was wondering about tumplines. I have never used one. Clif Jacobsen thinks they are a gift from the gods. He poo-poos hip belts as they get wet in the bilges.

But I have reservations. I have suffered a herniated disc and two bulging discs in my neck. Everything is back in place now, but I am concerned about the stress I might place on them if I use a tumpline.

I’m looking for personal experiences, positive and negative regarding tumplines.


I hope this is not as volitile as the “rudder vs skeg” argument.

i tried a tump several times —
all i ever got from it was a headache and stiff, sore neck. gimme a hip belt anyday, even if it is a little wet.

mine are never wet since i simply keep the barrel harness facing UP rather than down in the bilge. seems a pretty simple solution to a wet hip belt?

tumpline vs hip belt
I’ve tried them also and they aren’t for me. If I had previous neck problems, I would not attempt to do it. I’d think a pack with a good harness and hip belt is a better investment if you need to carry a heavy load. But if you still want to experiment and your hands are free on portages, you can use hand lines tied to the top front side of the pack and pull on the lines like a tump to shift pack weight.

don’t do it
Very few people use tumplines correctly. They can really mess up your neck, especially as you get older. I used them when I was young, but stopped when I was about 40.

When using a tumpline you are supposed to be bent at the waist considerably. The weight of the load is primarily on your back, not the tumpline. All the tumpline does is prevent the load from sliding down your back. Few people find this comfortable and would rather be in a more upright position.

I think using a tumpline with shoulder straps is dangerous. If you take a tumble on a portage you have your head strapped to the load. If you are using only a tumline and fall the load simply falls away, not so if you have shoulder straps.

Tumps are not for the occasional user. I you are out there all season long, portaging every day and are in real good condition- fine learn how to a tumpline correctly. I enjoyed it when I could, but would not recommend for the occasional portager.

I use them
Tumplines have been used for centuries and are an efficent and safe way to carry heavy loads.

Natives of all cultures use tumplines over shoulder straps and hip belts. The Voyageurs carried 180 plus pounds of pelts and gear (2 bales @ #90 each) with tumps.

Besides my tripping packs I use one on my canoe. A tump should be placed almost directly over the foretop of the head, not the forehead. Excessive bending isn’t required. Part of the load is transferred through the spinal column. This doesn’t sound like an option for you with prior neck problems. You may want to start with a light load to strengthen your neck muscles. Then work up .


– Last Updated: Aug-17-05 2:01 PM EST –

I had waffled back and forth between traditional style packs and modern materials, and I had more or less decided upon a Granite Gear Quetico. But I was concerned that I was going to give up something important if I didn't have a tumpline. Guess I'll save my neck (healthy at the moment) and risk the ridicule of Clif J.


PS: I sew lots of accessories, so if I want to try a tumpline I can fabricate one easily.

I Like Them
People seem to love 'em or hate 'em, usually no middle ground. I may have weak shoulders because my #4 carries so much easier when I use it; as a matter of fact, I’d rather carry my heavily loaded #4 with a tumpline than a heavy foodpack with a hip belt. The point about leaning forward is 100% correct. Standing straight up, it doesn’t work well. The point about the possible danger if you fall is also valid; I’ve been there, done that, got lucky I didn’t break my neck the way I fell. I don’t do wilderness trips as often as I used to, but I plan on getting a bit more use out of my old #4 with it’s tumpline. That said, I wouldn’t feel comfortable reccomending a tumpline to someone with preexhisting neck problems. WW

Another "thanks"
Interesting to hear the comments about needing to lean forward while using a tumpline. One thing that I have noticed is that when I backpack, using an internal frame bag, the hipbelt seems to make my back feel better (maybe it squeezes my lumbar area and opens up the vertebra). I have come to the conclusion that I don’t want to go the tumpline route. Sorry Clif.


That tumplines have been around for hundreds of years proves their effectiveness, but does not prove that they are the best tool for the job today. Though still in use by many cultures, this may be more due to the fact that a tump can be easily and cheaply made and to a lack of exposure to modern backpack designs. The sherpas humping loads up Everest are using modern packs and frames, not tumps, ever since they were exposed to this equipment from the western climbers. My concern with tumps has always been that they stress the body in a way that we’re not used to or conditioned for, which can result in soreness or injury. Cliffs concern of wet hipbelts are easily dealt with by keeping the belt out of the bilge and by choosing a pack that uses closed cell foam tht does not absorb water. When Jim Kelty added the first real hipbelt to his frame pack, it revolutionized backpacking, and few hikers would choose to leave their hipbelt at home.

Right on
You got it all right on. I use the tumpline all the time. They are MUCH easier that the backpack straps for portaging. No wrestling to get a pack on. No entrapment. Easier carry. I agree that using BOTH a tumpline and backpack straps at the same time is not a good idea.

I’ll continue to use one. However, if someone does not use it correctly, or doesn’t want to use one, or isn’t comfortable in using one, they shouldn’t. I’m a believer that there can be several “right” ways to do something.

Bought a Superior Quetico
The more I thought about tumplines, the less I was inclined to use one - for my neck’s health. Even the illustration in Jacobson’s book shows a hunched-over portager, rather than an upright hominid.

I’ll post a test of the pack in the reviews section as soon as I have a chance to test it.

Thanks to all.


Which side faces up?
Let’s not be too hard on Cliff Jacobson about this issue. First, I’ve seen a number of his presentations and the “wet hip belt” is not something I’ve ever heard him list as a reason for prefering tump lines, and believe me, I’ve heard him give a lot of reasons for his line of thinking. I supsect that if he had used that as a reason, he was referring to situations where the pack sits upright in the boat for the sake of making better use of space. I would imagine that some of those multi-week trips he leads require more packs to fit in the boat than most of us ever need to worry about, and they would have to sit upright to make them all fit. Just a guess, but it seems reasonable.

Don’t Know the Model…
…but the better half bought me a Superior pack over 10 yrs ago with the padded leather straps and I love it and it still looks great and has held up well. WW

Senior Moment!!!
You would think that after giving Piragis my MC number and forking out almost $200 that I would know what brand pack I bought!

It was a GRANITE GEAR Quetico. (GG does make a “Superior” model)

But a Superior was on my “A” list. I liked the “finished” looks of the padded straps, but decided to go with a modern design. Love 'dem bells & whistles!