The word portage is French for "to carry." While you might not ever have to haul your craft the 17 miles of Canada’s historic Grand Portage pioneered by explorer Alexander Mackenzie, go on any trip where you have to link lakes together, like Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area, and you’ll likely have to carry your canoe, and your gear, at some point. The right technique can make all the difference in terms of safety and comfort. Following are a few pointers to save your back, marriage and more.
Know Your Route
Know your route, so you don’t get lost or portage farther than you have to. Plan ahead with maps so you know when and where the portage trail begins (critical if it skirts hazards like rapids or falls), and what type of terrain you’ll be crossing. Have an idea of the length ahead, the characteristics of the trail, its elevation change, if there are any creek crossings or gates, and any other information that might help, from poison oak to private property lines.
Upon hitting shore, unload your canoe completely, making sure nothing is still tied down to the thwarts or loose on the floor. Also bail out any water. Consolidate gear down to the fewest bags possible. Depending how much gear you have, and how many people, divide up the gear to carry; wear any strapped dry bags or backpacks on both your stomach and back. Don’t overdo it and risk injury; you might need to take more than one trip to carry all your gear. If solo, take your packs first as a scouting trip for carrying your canoe.
Share the Load
Multiple canoe-carrying techniques exist. If you’re just portaging a short way and have a partner, the simplest is to each grab an end of the empty boat, with the person in front calling out obstacles that the stern carrier can’t see. You can carry two canoes using the same technique, one in each hand, which makes walking more balanced (if the trail is wide enough). Note: Don’t drag the canoe as it can cause damage.