Canoe Country Wilderness Canoeing
by © Lee Hegstrand


Portage Techniques

One mile equals 320 rods and a city block is about 26 rods (a rod = 16.5 feet, or about the length of a canoe). Here are four methods of portaging (look at the contour lines on the map and consider the portage length to judge which method you prefer):

Single pack, double carry:
Carry only one pack the entire distance. Advantages: simple method; avoids frequent lifting of dropped packs. Disadvantages: this method does not allow for load rests as with methods 3 and 4, below, and can be risky as the food pack is left alone for a while as bears can and do ambush these easy sources of food. Assuming that you are carrying three packs per party, the canoe portager carries the remaining third, and to be fair, the lightest pack after the canoe has been portaged. Note: the canoe portager should never wait at the end of a portage to have the packs brought down but instead head back up the trail to help retrieve any packs left along the trail. If all pitch in the work is done quicker. If you are using a Duluth pack, use the tump line (the wide strap attached to the top of the pack) at least part of the portage to relieve the burden on your shoulders. The tump line is placed just above the center of your forehead, centered on your hairline.

Double pack, single carry:
The person carrying the canoe also carries the lightest pack. His partner then double packs by stacking the second pack on top of the first pack. Carrying the canoe and packs in one trip is best if the portagers are able since the time and energy savings are substantial. The portage is taken once rather than three times. A single carry also reduces the problem of portage congestion since this method shortens the time spent on the trail. Try to start a portage by double packing at least.

Carry the heaviest pack about halfway, retrieve the lightest pack and carry to the first pack, pick up the first (heaviest) pack and carry through. Walk to the beginning of the portage again and retrieve the remaining pack. The canoe portager then carries the lightest pack that is lying about portage midpoint, again assuming there are three packs to carry. Advantages: get rest breaks and therefore safer and portagers' idle time is minimized. Disadvantage: sometimes hard to estimate when halfway through the portage and slower than the double pack method.

Carry the heaviest pack for about five minutes and then go back and retrieve a second pack and carry it five minutes past the first pack and then return to pick up the first pack and repeat. The canoe portager helps with packs left along the trail after the canoe is carried through. Disadvantages: slower than a double pack and energy/time is wasted in frequent lifting of packs. Advantages: good method for long portages when the frequent rests are welcome and there is no need to estimate half the portage distance. This is an acceptable method at the beginning of the trip when the food pack is the heaviest and this pack is also left unattended for a shorter time than with methods one and three above. Remember about the hungry bears?

Whatever portaging method above selected, remember what makes portages uncomfortable is not just the weight on your shoulders but also the time the weight is on your shoulders. Those carrying canoes, single packs or even double-stacked packs might consider a "dogtrot", if the trail is smooth, to reduce portage time. On muddy trails (common!) do not swing wide to avoid the mud, such a maneuver just enlarges the trail and increases the muddy area for others. Three more points: portage congestion is an important problem, especially nearer trail heads so, 1) never eat your lunches at the beginning or end of portages, 2) be ready to immediately commence portaging once you land. Gather and pack away all loose items in the canoe before landing. 3.) Pick up trash left along portages, do your part to keep the Canoe Country beautiful.

More thoughts on effective portaging technique.

Entry > Discover Wilderness > Canoeing Information > Portage Techniques



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