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:
- Lightweight, which aids in easy portability.
- Some models are foldable, ideal for those with storage constraints.
- Unique aesthetic appeal.
- Potentially less durable compared to traditional composite canoes.
- Might not be suitable for longer wilderness trips or heavy loads.
- 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.
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.