Wandering Around Out There With A Canoe On My Head

Gear To Bring Portaging: Packs

by Preston
February 22, 2010

What To Look For:

Anything that carries your gear comfortably will get you by portaging, but there are advantages to specific types of packs. Backpacker style packs will be the most comfortable, being designed to carry the most gear with the most comfort. They’re made with internal frames and usually have lots of neat little nooks and pockets to store gear in different accessible spots. These will do you fine, especially if that’s all you have. Their disadvantage is that they are not designed for canoe travel, and are rarely water proof. There are however, many specific types of packs for canoes, each type being designed to fit inside and get into and out of a canoe easily.

First, is the traditional canoe pack. It is a big, square shaped (usually canvass) pack that is strapped to your back and often has a tump line to fit on your forehead for added support. These are based on the old heavy wooden pan boxes used earlier in the century, deriving from voyageur sacks, them being adapted from the aboriginal carrying methods. (These are options too, if you’re up for it). The benefit to these are the cost (sometimes) the space and the durability. They are not the most comfortable though.

Next there are the water tight packs which ride on your back like a backpack with the more common shoulder straps. The benefit of these are that they are like having a giant dry bag and will usually float after a spill keeping everything dry. However, these too are not as comfortable as a backpack.

Finally, there is the barrel pack – the new pack of choice of most portageurs. This is a harness that holds a barrel in which to put all your gear. It has the same advantages of both the water tight and canoe packs, and it will definitely float. It’s also the most durable. Some will tell you it’s also bear proof, but while I would imagine it might be more resistant than the other options, nothing short of metal is really bear proof.

Ideally, or when the situation dictates, your group can bring a variety of types and pack your gear into the most appropriate pack – fragile items in the barrel, water weary in the water tight and the heaviest in the more comfortable packs.

Why You Need It:

Each pack has their own advantages and disadvantages, but whichever you choose you’ll need something to keep your gear in to haul over the portages. What you don’t want is a bunch of little bags or loose items because it makes things much too difficult to carry over. Some people have even tried carrying their gear inside the canoe, but find out very quickly how difficult that is. Besides, carrying a full canoe can damage it even for a short period.

How You Can Live Without It:

Take 123 trips over each portage.

On The Cheap:

Again, this is where renting can keep your budget down. It costs somewhere between $10-$15 to rent a pack per day, so only after tripping for 20 or so days makes buying cheaper. There’s also borrowing which is even cheaper. Be weary of buying cheap packs though, because you often get what you pay for, and the last thing you want is to be in the middle of nowhere with a torn or broken pack. One definite cost saver is checking out seasonal sales or gear swaps. For barrel packs, save some money and buy a used barrel. A new used 70L barrel will cost somewhere near $60, whereas if you can find a surplus used barrel $10. Just make sure to inspect it so you know it’s water tight, and the lid can open and close easily. You may also have to clean it to remove any scents depending on what the barrel was used for originally.

What Will Make Them All Jealous:

The Cadillac of packs is the Ostrom Voyageur barrel harness. It has different sizes for proper fitting, padded shoulder straps, back panel and hip belt and adjustments up the wazoo. It will cost you a bit ($199 for just the harness), but with how it’s designed and the material used makes it worth it. The other high end option is the Seal Line Pro Pack, which is a water tight and huge (115L), but has extra back shoulder and waist straps that are padded for comfort.

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