8 Golden Rules of Efficient Portaging

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Experienced Voyageurs pride themselves on being some of the fastest portagers in all of canoe country. It takes more than just grit to get over rocky pathways with breakneck speed. Follow these 8 rules and you too will be cruising over portages in no time!

1. Keep snacks, water purification, water bottles, sunscreen, and maps easily accessible but packed.

These items are needed frequently throughout the day. Store them in a transparent map case that straps onto your thwart in the stern for quick access and portability.

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2. Stow fishing gear while traveling.

Two tell-tale signs of an inefficient canoe tripper is that their fishing gear is a mess on portages, and they bring way too much tackle. Inevitably, fishing lines end up tangled, their tackleboxes tip over, and other gear ends up sprawled out at campsites and portages.

To avoid all this, take the hooks off your lines before portaging, keep your rods Velcro strapped onto the thwarts of the canoe, and stuff your tackleboxes into packs until you’re either at a campsite or you don’t have to portage for several hours. (Or just choose a route with minimal portaging!)

3. Stash water bottles inside portage packs but outside the liners.

Loose water bottles at the bottom of canoes are the bane of many camp counselors’ existence. Some people choose to use a carabiner and strap their Nalgene water bottles to the outside of packs or onto their belts, but that can be hard on the bottles’ plastic lids and thin plastic lid loops. Stashing them in a pack is ideal.

4. Have a plan before you reach the portage.

Consider this scenario: An intrepid group reaches a portage—everyone gets out of the canoes smoothly and quickly, but nobody knows which pack he/she should grab. Thus, discussions ensue about who will carry what across the portage. Amid these discussions, the two youngest in the group begin arguing about which person should take the paddles and which person should take the personal pack. And then frivolous-but-heated discussions arise among others in the group in the vein of, “I carried the food pack last time, so it’s your turn now!” Before long, all the momentum and positivity of the group has evaporated, and valuable minutes have been wasted.

To avoid scenarios like this, make sure everyone knows his/her portaging assignments prior to arriving at the portage. And make sure everyone is capable and comfortable with all the assignments and designations.

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5. Use portage packs with liners and compression sacks inside.

We have seen people carrying gear in school bags, trash bags, and hiking packs. Rather than taking several small bags awkwardly across a portage, why not just take one big organized pack across? Save yourself the hassle and buy or rent for cheap a large portage pack. Put personal items and clothes into two 20-35 Liter dry bags (compression sacks) side by side (think of a jet pack) into a liner inside a portage pack.

Bonus: Put the items into your dry bags in the reverse order you will use them at the campsite so you take them out in the order that you will use them.

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Packing Guide

Making sense of Camp Voyageur’s Clothing and Equipment List and Joe Camper.

See also: Packing for Camp in 5 Simple Steps.

6. Get your boots wet and muddy.

Intrepid novices who try to keep their feet out of the water while docking often end up tipping over the canoe. The paddler in the bow should jump out of the canoe before it hits the shoreline to protect the boat. They should also hold on to it while their partner carefully steps out of the canoe.

7. Ensure everyone helps each other load packs and canoes.

Picking up the heavy packs by their straps and loading yourself alone is hard on your body and gear. To make things more manageable, hand your crewmembers the packs they’re taking on portages and help each other flip the canoes. Your back will thank you. It also builds comradery!

8. Cue the motivational music in your head.

There was a reason the Voyageurs of old used to sing all day long while they toiled furs and other goods across the continent: Songs inspire us and take our minds off the task at hand, which is a good thing when you’re carrying a heavy pack on your back!

Crossing portages can humble you, but— like removing a band-aid— the faster you go the sooner you’re done!

Did you enjoy this post? Check out Common Boundary Waters Canoe Tripping Myths Debunked!

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