How To Pack for a Canadian Portaging Trip
Portaging might just be the most Canadian of adventures awaiting you this summer. If you’ve never been on a portaging trip (or if it went horribly wrong last time), read on for the essential packing list, tips and advice to ensure your Canadian portage is a trip to remember (in a good way).
First off, for the uninitiated…
Portage: n. The carrying of a boat or its cargo between two navigable waters.
A portage trip, unlike a straightforward canoe trip, lets you access waterways that extend deeper into the wilderness and in many cases are unnavigable otherwise.
Choosing Your Vessel
Your canoe (or kayak) is the one item that will make or break your trip. If you are renting, there are several factors to keep in mind: weight, durability, price, your skill level and the amount of cargo you intend to bring. Kevlar canoes are my favourite choice, despite being quite a bit more expensive than other options. Lightweight and fairly durable, they are well suited to portaging as you will need to carry the canoe on your back for variable distances.
- Test out the comfort of the yoke before your trip to determine if the shape is right and whether you’ll need extra padding for comfort.
- Do not over-pack. I cannot stress this enough. Every unnecessary extra pound you lug along will make itself felt tenfold by your third or fourth portage. Extra weight will also make your canoe or kayak sit low in the water, which increases the risk of capsizing or damage through shallow waters.
- Make sure you learn how to properly tie down your vessel to the roof of your car. If you’re unsure, have one of the rental store staff check it before you head out.
Portage Packing Essentials
Dry Bags: You can purchase these in a variety of sizes at most outdoor adventure retailers. If these seem like overkill to you, just remember that if your boat capsizes, everything is going in with you. If you’ll be away for several days, it’s important to ensure you have at least one set of dry clothes for when you reach your destination. Not to mention keeping valuables such as your phone, camera and GPS safe. On the cheaper end, you can also use reusable, re-sealable plastic bags for smaller items.
Water Shoes: Do not wear your dry-weather hiking boots or running shoes during the portage. Between muddy portage routes, push-off and landing, and paddle drips and splashes, your feet will get wet. Flip-flops are an adequate stand-by, but closed-toe canoe shoes are better suited to some of the more rugged activity your feet are likely to see.
Headlamp: This is one of the most everyday-useful camping/portaging/hiking items you can pack. You should always make sure to plan your portages for well ahead of when the sun goes down. But if you do find yourself paddling after dark–it requires two hands if you hadn’t thought of that–a headlamp is essential. Trying to carry a flashlight through your journey will make the trip hellish. Don’t do it!
Gloves: These are to protect your hands while paddling. Whether your paddle is wood, metal, plastic or otherwise, hours of repeated physical labour will take a toll on hands that aren’t used to such rugged treatment. I find the best type of glove is the form-fitting fingerless kind with a bit of padding, especially around the thumb.
Bug Spray: Depending on the type of water you’re navigating, you may be confronted with high-density bug areas, especially if part of your trip goes through shallower marshy areas. Bug spray will also be critical if you plan to travel in the early morning and early evening. Remember to reapply the stuff as recommended throughout the day, especially on your lower legs where it’s likely to be washed off faster. You’ll want to look for a repellent that contains at least 20% DEET or picaridin.
Polarized Sunglasses: Even if the sun isn’t shining brightly, wearing a pair of polarized sunglasses during your portaging trip is a good idea. The reflective power of the water’s surface will amplify the sun’s brightness much like snow does for skiers.
Microfiber Towel: This type of towel is particularly compact and fast-drying. Microfiber towels have been a huge asset on all my travels, but particularly portaging trips that involve getting wet continuously throughout the day. They wring out very well and can dry in just a few minutes in the sun.
Emergency Blanket: This should be a staple of your first aid kit for a portaging trip. These blankets have a silver metallized side that helps to reflect heat back to the wearer, keeping you warm if you take an accidental plunge in cooler temperatures. This one from MEC can also serve as a suspended tarp to reflect heat from your campfire.
Portaging is one of the best ways to get out and explore the beautiful Canadian wilderness, and making sure you’ve planned and packed appropriately can make all the difference between success and disaster. Happy portaging!
This article was originally published in July 2015 on Anew Traveller.
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