A Few Basic Considerations When Portaging Through Your Wilderness Canoe Trip

p92500081So you heard of wilderness canoeing and would like to give it a try because the idea of trading civilization for the wild for several days sounds like the perfect escape you are looking for. But if you haven’t done it there are several things you should consider because wilderness canoeing is more than just your average canoe trip on your favorite lazy river.

Wilderness canoeing can be an entire down river trip where portaging doesn’t exist, or wilderness canoeing can mean portaging several miles over difficult trails to reach your paddling destination. And because portaging is one of the most physically demanding activities in canoeing you might wonder why anyone would do it when other canoeing destinations are much easier to access. Well the answer is that if you want to be among the very few who have paddled remote destinations such as the Adirondacks and the Boundary Waters then you have no choice but to portage because there are no roads or outfitters to provide you easy access. So in other words if you aren’t willing to walk in you will likely never see it.

Here are a few basic considerations for portaging.

  1. It could take twenty minutes for shorter portage or several hours for longer more difficult portages so time manage your portaging wisely and don’t risk portaging  into dark.
  2. Portage difficulty depends on terrain as well as distance so if you haven’t experienced the trip first hand you need to research and careful plan your trip so you know what to expect and are prepared. There are plenty of resources available to conduct your research such as maps and Internet forums. Also be sure the entire group is aware of the challenges and is up for it.
  3. How far into the wilderness is your base camp?  You’ ll be miles from a cell phone signal or medical attention so be sure to let others know the details of your trip and have a plan for the easiest portage route back to civilizaton in case of emergency (or in case you just get sick of it and want to get the hell out).
  4. Your gear might feel light when trying on your packs at home but realize you will factor that same weight with the weight of your canoe and the physical demands of portaging over trees, steep trails and through water and mud, so remember that you can never be too light for portaging and eliminate any gear or food you don’t need.
  5. A lighter solo canoe designed for portaging can mean an additional 40-45 lbs while a heavier canoe can mean an additional 55-65 lbs of weight on your shoulders, and while you might easily handle this extra weight on shorter portages it will seriously slow you down on the longer portages. If you are looking for a new canoe designed for wilderness canoeing consider a lighter solo design. The Wenonah Wilderness is a popular solo canoe designed light for portaging might be my next canoe purchase.
  6. There are many waterproof backpacks options on the market so be sure that you invest in good quality equipment that is meant for extreme portaging activitities. NRS has a selection of high quality waterproof bags and backpacks designed for canoe portaging.

Portaging sometimes offers a challenge you just can’t resist. The images below were taken on a very short but extremely steep portage from Little Fish Pond to Fish Pond in the St. Regis Canoe Area. On this day we left our gear back at the camp and only brought along the essentials…otherwise we would have never attempted this portage and opted for the easier route. This portage is actually much steeper than the photos depict but the advantage was that it was just as steep on the other side so after a brief portage of about 100ft we were able to effortlessly slide our canoes down the trail to the waters edge.

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