wilderness tripping in a kayak?

I was lucky enough to take a two week wilderness trip in the Boundary Waters in October 2010. There were two of us and we paddled and portaged an older Wenonah Sundowner 18’ Kevlar canoe. In Ely you see almost exclusively canoes, not kayaks so I wonder if wilderness trippers take similar trips in kayaks. How would you handle a half-mile portage without wheels? I suppose you’d carry a pack and while double carrying a kayak. What about tripping solo?

Well sure
You can trip in the north woods with a kayak. It’s just not very practical.

Decked boats have great advantages in conditions in which wind and large waves are likely to occur, like the open ocean. Wind and waves can kick up on the larger lakes up in the Boundary Waters, but they are not the predominate characteristic of that type of tripping.

Kayaks are more awkward to portage than canoes, and much more awkward to load and unload repeatedly when multiple portages per day are required. Relatively few people will select a kayak over a canoe for that type of tripping in protected inland waterways.

If you really want to do solo tripping in the Boundary Waters with a kayak, carve yourself a portage pad out of minicell foam that slips into the side of your cockpit and fits the contour of your cockpit coaming. Shape it to fit your shoulder and it will allow you to portage the boat on one shoulder while carrying your paddle in the other and a pack on your pack.

In the kayak, I end up packing many items loose and anything that has to be dry is in a smaller dry bag. It is time consuming to fit the load into the little nooks of the kayak. So, the load is impractical to unload and carry 6 or 8 times a day like we ended up doing on my one trip to the BWCA.

In the canoe, I had two larger packs. Packing the boat is accomplished by dumping the packs into the bow or stern, which takes all of a minute. Much more practical. And I could not carry my sea kayak and a pack at the same time. Even if I got an ultralight sea kayak, it is hard to imagine how I could carry it, foam shoulder pad or no, at the same time as a pack.

So, the practicalities of portaging is, I think, why you don’t see sea kayaks in the BWs.


different locations
We do kayak wilderness tripping at different locations - generally longer open water trips without portages. Just as it would be rare to see a kayak at Boundary Waters, it would rare to see a canoe circumnavigating Vancouver Island.

We’ve done a few portages
As said they weren’t fun. We did three trips across the portage, with one duffel bag w/ pack straps and one light pack. One person took light pack and boat on the carry yoke, the other took most of their gear in the duffel. Return w empty bags and yoke, repeat.

I made a yoke that bridges the cockpit and is attd with a strap over the hull, contact if you want pics.



Sure, why not.
“Wilderness tripping” doesn’t necessarily mean multiple-portage-a-day routes. I’ve primarily been an open canoeist and have always tended to avoid those.

Joe O’Blenis paddled and portaged across Canada in a decked canoe, which isn’t that much different from a big cockpit kayak.

I have done overnights in my kayaks as well as my outrigger. Everything has to packed in small packages. I carry those small packages in a big mesh backpack, like scuba divers use. It can be rolled up small.

Shoulder carries are the pits, so make sure you have a 30 lb. kayak. Alternatively, there are portage yoke gizmos that can elevate the kayak hull over your head while you carry a backpack, and which can even be secured to a frame pack.

Kayakers who want to go on “wilderness” trips, just remember that “portage” is an ancient French word that simply means “I have planned my trip poorly.” But get a canoe just on general moral principles, anyway.

but, I suppose depending on your definition of wilderness, I’m not sure wilderness trips involving a lot of portaging is a good idea by kayak. That’s really not their forte, but not all “wilderness” involves portages.

I see you’re from Calif. I bet there’s a lot of paddling in the Baja, for instance, that most of us would consider wilderness. My friend Tom has done an awful lot along the northern shores of the Great Lakes that covers some pretty wild country. The New England, Nova Scotia, Labrador, coast would certainly qualify and not necessarily require many, if any portages. The list is endless. Some of the Western Rivers cover some pretty wild country and not all involve big whitewater.

Same with the far south… the bayou country can be pretty darned wild.

We can debate the meaning of “wilderness” endlessly and ultimately everyone will probably arrive at their own definitions, but portaging surely isn’t a prime requirement. Its the off season. (Well, for many of us non-Californians anyhow.) Time to break out the maps and start dreaming and planning. Some wilderness requires permits. Not too soon to think about applying for those…

Maine Coast does not require permits
The Everglades does, but you pick it up at the start of your trip.

The Big Bend of FL does…get it early

North Shore of Superior does not…except for Lake Superior Provincial Park and Pukaskwa NP and you just pick it up when you arrive.

Lac Manicougan does not… I can think of tons of trips that can be taken in North America that pass through what is more wilderness feel than the BWCA

You might consider long big rivers like the Yukon…again ideal for a kayak and certainly little populated.

Your chief impediment for real wilderness tripping as in the Artic is flying your kayak to/from your starting point as there often are no roads.

As you have been to the BWCA, why not move up to Lake of the Woods or Lake Nipigon?

Wilderness feel
That’s an important concept to me, though I can’t define it for others.

Frankly, the multi-portage route parks that most kayakers might aspire to – such as the BW, Dacks and Algonquin – really aren’t all that wildernessy. There are usually lots of other folks, and maybe houses and power boats on some lakes. On the popular paddle routes in the Dacks, you are never really more than a few miles from a road.

But I don’t care. I can get a “wilderness feel” two miles off I-95 in Maine, South Carolina or Florida – and in numerous other places too.

That’s all I really want from a canoe trip, a wilderness feel in addition the motion pleasure of the sport. I’m not Freda Hofmeyer or Sir Edmund Hillary and certainly not a Sherpa.

You can bring more stuff
in a canoe. I like that aspect. Never been a big ultra light type of guy. Built for comfort, not for speed. You’re going to need a Kayak for certain trips but I just find trips that are suited to my preferred craft - the canoe. It is an amazing craft and can take you many places if you have some skills. Easier to get in and out of too - that gets important after a certain age. You can sleep under a canoe - that can be an advantage sometimes. It makes a great wind break when cooking. You can stand up in it and scout rapids ahead or pick channels in low water. You only need a couple of inches of water to get through places. You can pole a canoe. I know there are some places where a kayak is going to be better in some ways. Still - for some reason I just love canoes.

Thanks, more thoughts
Thanks for the input.

I paddled a solo canoe a lot for almost three years before I started kayaking. I put in many miles in a Wenonah Prism tuff-weave canoe with my dog (since passed away). I did many day trips with a flotilla of kayaks from the local paddle club. I know the joys of canoe paddling especially at launching and take-out.

I never thought much about wet-exiting from my solo canoe as I was always on a river or with plenty of paddle buddies. Now that I have learned to self-rescue and roll my kayak for the conditions I often paddle I see an advantage to solo tripping in a kayak.

Capsizing a canoe during a solo trip could be a dangerous situation. I guess I would feel safer in a kayak. What are thoughts regarding paddling safety?

Clamp on portage yoke for kayaks
is how I’d portage it. They clamp on to the cockpit coaming.

Depends on conditions

– Last Updated: Dec-19-12 6:51 AM EST –

If you anticipate making longish open water crossings in cold water conditions and you have a solid roll, and/or self-rescue ability in your kayak, then a kayak would be safer.

Some of the larger lakes up in the Canadian Shield country can take more than a day to paddle around the perimeter of but can be crossed in an hour or less. Yet the water in those bigger lakes remains quite cold well into summer. A solo canoeist, or a solitary couple in a tandem, capsizing half a mile from shore might well not survive the swim.

Safety is an issue that is true -

– Last Updated: Dec-19-12 7:03 AM EST –

I have to acknowledge that if you have made the decision to cross a lake in cold water and bad weather as a solo paddler and you have a solid roll, kayak is probably safer than canoe. I've never been one for solo trips so this is not as much of an issue for me.

However, safety is largely a matter of decision making. If I'm alone on a trip in a canoe I make different decisions and I keep my self very safe. Generally, if you are patient, the weather will improve and give you the safety margin you need. Patience is key. So the bottom line for me is that with good skills and good decision making suitable to the type of craft and circumstances, both canoe and kayak are very safe.

Canoe Self Rescue
With practice, flotation bags, a paddle float & my GP I’m able to self-rescue my low profile 32# WenVag KUL canoe. Just heavy Velcro my long GP w/float to a mid thwart after flipping it back up and bailing/pumping it, remount similar to a kayak, finish bailing/pumping. Takes longer than a yak though to set it up, so must be dressed for time in cold water and may not be able to do it with a heavy boat. Just thoughts. R

Kayak portage
If the portage trail is relatively easy, a kayak is no problem. In doing things like Bowron Lakes in a kayak, I would carry a set of wheels, and a large backpack for some heavy items, and it worked well. The little stuff in the ends of the kayak would just stay there. A good set of inflatable wheels can go a lot of places, but if there are very steep sections to the trail, or deadfall or large rocks to clamor over, it would be a different story.

Kayak vs. Expedition Canoe
Check out the Kruger Sea Wind and it’s predecessors, the Mad River Monarch and the Sawyer Loon.

I took a Sea Wind and a Monarch to the BWCA last summer. I guess that while these are common in Michigan, they ain’t so common around Ely. My daughter and I paddled and portaged a good long ways. I portaged both canoes and my young daughter portaged both packs…in other words we double portaged everything.

These canoes have the most comfortable portage yokes I have ever used. Just flip over the seat. The design of the boats make them very stable and extremely seaworthy.

Lots of folks commented on how I catamaraned my two “kayaks” together. Made fishing very easy and completely capsize-proof.

Steve Landick could roll one. Most of us, never! But I’m not sure any of my paddling buddies have every flipped theirs in the first place. With added flotation, solo re-entry is possible.

With the large cockpit, we used a pack with two 30L barrels in one canoe, and a large backpack drybag in the other. Loading and unloading all our gear was a two-second affair.

Having a stable, seaworthy, comfortable and efficient canoes made my trip awesome and worry free. I beleive these canoes can be paddled by “intermediate paddlers” in conditions that “intermediate paddlers” should not take their kayaks. Especially their Pungoes :slight_smile:

more thoughts
I’ve read about expedition canoes and got a nice private email from a guy who’s done some amazing trips in expedition canoes. In reality I probably won’t be doing any expeditions but base camping on organized club trips are pretty tame. There was something really fun about navigating the Boundary Waters relatively far from civilization and I want to try another similar trip closer to home.

I guess my thoughts are to do a Bowron Loop type trip or a coastal trip in BC. I already have a Grand Illusion kayak and some backpacker type camping gear so I just need to get a trip on the schedule. In the mean time if I get the opportunity I’ll demo an expedition canoe. I doubt my roll will uncapsize an expedition canoe.


Did a 15 mile day trip
in the BWCA that included a few portages up to 1.1 miles with a Feathercraft Khatsalano. The long portage wore on my shoulder. I carried day supplies in a small backpack