Canoe packs, also known as portage packs, are a specially designed type of backpack used on canoe trips that require portaging (carrying your gear over land to access the next waterway). Some of the best canoe trips in North America require portaging, often multiple times, so a purpose-made pack is essential. Here’s how to get the right one.
Backpacks vs. Canoe Packs
If you’re going to be spending a fair amount of time canoeing, get a canoe pack instead of a backpack. Backpacks are taller and often have rigid frames, making them sit tall and raising the center of gravity, which makes the canoe less stable and susceptible to wind. They also don’t nest well into the contours of a canoe, they’re hard to waterproof, and their exterior straps, pockets, and webbing loops often snag on your canoe or fishing gear. Canoe packs are much simpler, often with just one large compartment that’s either waterproof or can be lined with a heavy-duty plastic bag. They also fit well inside canoes (and can be squished under thwarts) and ride low on your back so you can wear one while carrying a canoe.
Some canoe packs are minimalist—simply a large pouch with shoulder straps—and others have such features as compression straps, side handles, interior foam pockets, and extension collars with drawstrings to increase load capacity. There are even ones designed specifically for carrying kitchen supplies. Some are made with waterproof material while others are treated canvas, best lined with a plastic bag or using dry sacks inside. Traditionalists often side with waxed cotton canvas, which is water repellent and offers great abrasion resistance, while others prefer waterproof material (like hypalon or PVC).