I have a saying, “I’d rather spend more time in the canoe than under it.”
We all love canoeing, but not many look forward to the portages. They can be stifling, sweaty, buggy and tiring affairs that feel like more work than they’re worth. They’re well worth it, but here’s some ways I make the necessary portages a bit more enjoyable.
Make your feet comfortable
Good shoes. Always start with your feet. I had a friend who always said the key to comfort and happiness was having comfortable shoes, a comfortable chair, and a comfortable bed. The last two will have other posts devoted to them, but comfortable, supportive shoes are important to any canoehead out there.
Ankle support is a must in broken country, and I’d argue that the risk of twisting your ankle is increased when you’ve got a tripping canoe on your shoulders, so I keep with ankle support even if I was on flat ground.
Choosing a good boot or shoe is an article all to itself, so I’ll just stress the importance of good footwear for the path. If you’re nursing a blister, you’re not enjoying the portage.
Make your burden comfortable
The paddles and miscellaneous should be secured as much as possible so they don’t flop around. Avoid carrying lots of little things by hand. Ideally, a water bottle and a walking stick (if you use one) are the max that your hands should always have to carry. I try not to put too much into the canoe (I used to put PFDs and water shoes and the kitchen sink up there). The canoe is a bulky enough thing to carry without adding to the awkwardness of it.
Make sure your packs and yokes are comfortable, and that you’re not over-extending yourself when you take on a load. Knees and backs have a tendency to tell you when they’re taking on more than they can comfortably handle… sometimes only on the following day. There’s a difference between sticking it out and making the rest of your trip a limping disappointment.
Make your companions comfortable
Any fellow portagers that try to push you faster or further than you’re able aren’t really the sort you should look to for a followup trip. I’ve made that mistake before, on both sides, and all that was needed was open communication between both parties.
Take the time to enjoy the time you have with your friends out there. Make the portage not something to be conquered, but a part of why you’re there.
Make your walk in the woods comfortable
We almost always make portages in more than one trip — one there for each of us (canoe and a personal pack), one back as a nice leisurely walk in the woods, and one with the remainder (personal pack and common pack). We try to diversify as much as possible so the loss of any one pack doesn’t strand us too much (I’ll talk about that one in another post), and as always, we’ve got our personal survival kits on us at all time.
This sort of portage takes a bit more time because of the extra trip, but gives at least a bit of a relaxing walk that allows an appreciation of the path — this is, of course, one of the main reasons we’re out here, so we may as well enjoy it. The walk back lets us be more social, as well, talking about things we’re looking forward to, and things we may have experienced along the way.