Portaging: What Canoe Would I Like To Carry?

Alex Ortiz
By Alex Ortiz 7 Min Read
7 Min Read
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Hey there, friend! Have you ever thought about canoeing? 🚣‍♂️ If you have, you might also wonder about moving that canoe from one place to another on land. This is what we call “portaging.” Let me tell you a bit about my experiences with it.

Over the many years I’ve been canoeing, I’ve gone on a bunch of multi-day trips. And guess what? Most of those trips required portaging. That means I had to pick up my canoe and carry it over land to get to the next spot of water. It’s like giving your canoe a short piggyback ride!

I’ve had the chance to carry all kinds of canoes made from different stuff. Some were made of plastic, some of fiberglass. I’ve even carried ones made of metal like aluminum, and others made of wood and this super-light material called kevlar.

Now, you might be thinking, “I’d want the lightest canoe if I have to carry one, right?” Well, you’re onto something! Lighter canoes are easier to carry. But wait! There’s more to consider than just weight.

What’s the Best Canoe to Portage?

Your dream canoe? Probably one that’s light as a feather and super easy to move from your starting spot to the end. But guess what? For some, a canoe cart does the trick, making the weight less of a concern.

While many of us dream about super-light canoes made of materials like kevlar or carbon, newbies might get caught up in other details like how cool it looks or how much it costs. After four decades of splashing around, my biggest piece of advice? Prioritize weight!

How Much Should Your Canoe Weigh?

Looking for a sweet spot? Aim for a canoe weighing between 20 and 40 pounds. Imagine carrying something as light as paper! But hold on, there’s a catch. Ultra-light canoes can be delicate and might hurt your wallet a bit more.

I have this sleek Bell Magic solo canoe (now from Northstar Canoes). At 16 feet, it’s only 29 lbs, which feels just right for me. There’s also my 17-foot kevlar canoe, perfect for two paddlers, which is a dream at just 41 lbs!

The Mind Game of Canoe Carrying

Our brains play tricks on us! If you think a huge canoe for three people will be super heavy but then find out it’s lighter than expected, it’ll feel like you’re carrying a balloon! But, grab a 16-foot solo canoe after using a lightweight 15-foot one, and suddenly it feels like you’ve got a boulder on your back. Perspective matters!

How to Lift and Move Your Canoe

So, how to get that canoe on your shoulders? Stand by its center, lift one side, then roll it onto your shoulders. Easy-peasy, right? Once it’s up, walk quickly to make the load feel lighter. Putting it down? Just reverse the steps.

Handling a Heavy Canoe

Got a heavy canoe? Over 70 lbs might feel like a ton! If you’re not a bodybuilder, consider using a canoe cart. But remember, carts don’t work everywhere, especially on rough trails.

Canoe No-No’s for Portaging

If portaging is your thing, here are some materials to avoid:

  • Wood: Sure, wooden canoes are stunning, but they’re also pricey and heavy.
  • Polyethylene (aka Plastic): Cheap but heavy, and often not meant for serious canoe adventures.
  • Fiberglass: Stronger than plastic, but still quite heavy.
  • Aluminum: Durable but on the heavy side.
  • Royalex: Perfect for rough waters but heavy to carry.

The Ultimate Solo Canoe for Carrying

If I had to pick just one? My 26 lb kevlar solo Bell Magic canoe wins! While there are lighter options out there, it’s sturdy and perfect for long trips. Remember, the ideal canoe isn’t just about weight; it’s also about durability and the kind of trip you’re planning.

Are Skin-on-Frame Canoes Lighter or Better?

Skin-on-frame canoes utilize a usually wooden frame overlaid with a watertight lightweight “skin” or fabric. This construction often results in a vessel that is lighter than comparable canoes made from other materials such as Kevlar, fiberglass, or polyethylene.

However, lighter doesn’t always mean better. Skin-on-frame canoes may be less durable than their counterparts, especially if they are significantly lighter. While their lightweight construction can be an advantage for short trips and easy transport (some even foldable for storage in small spaces), they might not be the best choice for longer, more rigorous wilderness trips, especially with heavy gear or pets.

Pros and Cons of Skin-on-Frame Canoes:

Pros:

  1. Lightweight, which aids in easy portability.
  2. Some models are foldable, ideal for those with storage constraints.
  3. Unique aesthetic appeal.

Cons:

  1. Potentially less durable compared to traditional composite canoes.
  2. Might not be suitable for longer wilderness trips or heavy loads.
  3. Often pricier than their weight-comparable counterparts.

Despite the appeal of skin-on-frame canoes, many experienced paddlers, myself included, lean toward the proven durability and reliability of traditional Kevlar or carbon canoes, especially when budget is a factor.

Portaging Tip:

Embarking on a solo canoe trip lasting more than a day or two? Consider splitting your portage into two segments. While it might seem efficient to carry everything in one go, doing so increases the risk of injury, particularly for older paddlers.

I recommend transporting the canoe and a smaller item, perhaps a food barrel, during the first trip. On the return trip, carry the larger gear bags on your back, and use your hands for smaller items like paddles and fishing equipment. Given that many portages are relatively short – many I’ve experienced are 400 yards or less – this method ensures a safer, less stressful experience. A double-trip strategy like this often takes 20 minutes or less, and it’s a small price to pay for the added safety and comfort.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What factors should I consider when choosing a canoe for portaging?

When selecting a canoe for portaging, it's important to consider the weight, size, and material of the canoe. A lighter canoe will be easier to carry, while a smaller size can make maneuvering through narrow trails simpler. The material of the canoe should also be durable enough to withstand the rigors of portaging.

2. Is there a specific type of canoe that is best for portaging?

While there isn't a specific canoe that is universally considered the best for portaging, canoes with a shorter length and lower weight are generally preferred. Canoes designed specifically for portaging often have features like built-in handles or a yoke that make them easier to carry.

3. Can I use any canoe for portaging?

In theory, you can use any canoe for portaging. However, it's important to assess whether the canoe is suitable for the specific portaging conditions you will encounter. Ensure that the canoe is lightweight enough for you to carry comfortably and that it's built to withstand rugged terrain.

4. What is the general weight range for portageable canoes?

The weight of portageable canoes can vary, but they typically range between 35 and 70 pounds. It's advisable to choose a canoe on the lighter end of the spectrum to minimize strain while carrying it for long distances.

5. Are there any recommended canoe brands for portaging?

There are several canoe brands known for producing high-quality canoes suitable for portaging. Some popular brands include Wenonah, Nova Craft, Old Town, and Alumacraft. It's always a good idea to research and read reviews to find a brand that suits your specific needs and preferences.

6. Can I rent a suitable canoe for portaging?

Yes, many outdoor recreation stores or canoe rental facilities offer canoes designed specifically for portaging. Renting a canoe can be a cost-effective solution if you plan to go portaging only occasionally. Just ensure that the rented canoe meets your requirements in terms of weight, size, and durability.

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