What is the best way to portage a canoe?

A canoeist’s opinion on portaging typically falls into one of two categories:

1. It’s a nice walk in the woods that provides a pleasant break from paddling.
2. Someone would be nuts to actually think this is fun!

Bill Mason once said, “Anyone who says they like portaging is either a liar or crazy.”

The trick to making most portages fall into the first category is planning and practice, coupled with a few basic techniques.

To best “enjoy” portaging here are a few things to start with:

  • pick a lightweight canoe; an extra 10 lbs. can make a big difference when you have to carry it for 2 km.
  • pick a canoe with a comfortable yoke; all of our Kevlar rental canoes feature a dee- dish yoke designed for portaging.
  • for extra comfort, try one of our yoke pads; padding can make a big difference!
  • learn the two-person lift to elevate the canoe for a one-person carry; this is easier than flipping it into position.
  • wear supportive footwear, carry a properly fitted pack and don’t try to take too much at once.

Many people feel that portages must be done in “one trip.” To accomplish this safely requires experience, careful packing and good fitness levels. If you can handle the weight, then you will save a lot of time. Taking short, frequent breaks will help compensate for the extra effort.

Most people take multiple trips across portages. There are ways to make this method more efficient, such as the “trip-and-a-half” portage. This requires at least two people and the trippers split into two groups. One group takes their first load, goes to the halfway mark on the portage (or roughly) and sets the load down. They then return to the beginning, pick up the remainder of the gear and cross the entire portage. The second group takes their initial load to the conclusion of the portage, then returns to the halfway point to pick up the gear the first group dropped off. For safety, it’s a good idea to wait for each other at the mid-point then finish the portage together.

Instead of all members walking the portage three times (over-back-over), everyone walks the portage twice (once over, plus two half trips) when using the trip-and-a-half method. This technique is best used on longer portages; those under a few hundred metres are not as tough to slug through in two trips. The time savings on portages over a kilometre can be substantial, plus the walk back to/from the halfway point provides for a nice break and an opportunity to enjoy the forest scenery. You may also want to have a snack along the way!