Tips For Better Portaging

By on July 12, 2016

Portaging, that act of carrying your canoe and cargo over a trail connecting two lakes, brings fear into the hearts of Boundary Waters newbies and pros alike.  The fact of the matter is that portaging is an intricate part of a Boundary Waters canoe trip.  It doesn’t need to be looked upon as a necessary evil.  Instead anticipate portages with a positive sense of challenge and adventure.  After all, who knows what you might find around the next corner of the trail.

Even with that sense of challenge and adventure, portaging can be hard.  Bugs, distance, elevation gain and decline, heat, rain, and rocks all are part of portaging.  Like any other part of a canoe trip, preparation can make a difference in your portaging.

First, make sure you can read your map.  Planning your canoe country trip route requires consideration of the portages involved.  Many times, canoeists only focus on the distance of a portage (portage length is measured in rods which are about the length of a canoe).  While distance is important, the elevation gain and decline are also key considerations.  Pay attention to the map’s contour lines as you evaluate portages.  Make sure that the people in your party will be able to handle the portages that you choose.  Also, consider the time it will take to portage when planning your trip.  Hilly portages will take longer to cross than flat ones.

Now that your route is chosen, here are some additional tips to make your portaging successful:

  1. Practice lifting up and shouldering a canoe properly.
  2. Have good footwear that provides ankle support and traction.
  3. Use quality canoe packs. Good packs will ride well in the canoe and ride well on your back when portaging.
  4. Consolidate your gear in packs whenever possible. Prior to heading on your trip, think about the portaging you will be doing.  All portages should require no more than two trips to complete.
  5. Have your bug spray, water bottle and a snack ready when you hit the shore.
  6. If the portage is any significant length, study your map before heading down the trail. Few things are worse than taking a wrong turn during a portage.
  7. If your portage requires two trips, carry the heaviest items on the first trip across the portage.
  8. Enjoy the walk back for the next load. Take a drink of water while you listen and look at what’s going on around you.
  9. Try to keep one hand free to catch your self should you fall, particularly on difficult portage trails.
  10. Make sure everyone carries their fair share. Too often, bad feelings can develop quickly if someone is loafing.
  11. Travel across the portage in pairs for safety.
  12. Make sure you inventory your cargo before and after the portage to make sure nothing is forgotten and left behind.

If you are still worried, we always offer free instructions on how to lift and shoulder a canoe and how to efficiently pack for your trip at Williams and Hall.  Just ask us.

Finally, remember to exercise portage etiquette.  Always yield the trail to a person carrying a canoe.  Don’t put your stuff in the middle of the trail.  And remember to say hello, and give your fellow canoeists a smile as they pass by.

Paddle On.  Be Free.