How to Portage a Kayak

How to Portage a KayakPortaging, or carrying, watercraft over land is necessary when there are obstacles to avoid on a river for example, or to travel between two bodies of water. Sea kayaks, river and white water kayaks may be portaged. When traveling downriver it may be necessary to get out and carry the kayaks to avoid rapids that are beyond the capabilities of the kayakers, areas strewn with dangerous debris or areas that are too shallow to float in. Portaging is an ancient technique that is still difficult.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

How to:

Things You’ll Need:
  • Backpack
Step 1
Pack all of your gear and items into a backpack before heading out on your kayak trip. When portaging, you will remove all the items from the kayak and they will have to fit into this bag.
Step 2
Haul your kayak out of the water, and make sure that the boat is securely on land before you start taking items out to put in the backpack. Put on the backpack and make sure it fits comfortably, all straps adjusted as necessary. It will be hard to adjust once you're carrying the kayak.
Step 3
Bend your knees and keep your center of balance low to the ground. Place your hands on the rim of the kayak cockpit and lift it up and over your head, so that it is upside down.
Step 4
Balance the weight of the kayak over your shoulders. There will be room for your head where the cockpit opening is, but hold the kayak so that it is angled slightly down (the front of the kayak should be higher than the back).
Step 5
Rest one arm at a time as you walk by resting one side of the kayak directly on your shoulder for a bit and then switching. For example, if you want to rest your left arm, rest the left side of the cockpit rim on your left shoulder, holding up the other side with your right arm.

Rest on a routine basis by putting the kayak down. For some this may be every 15 minutes, for others every 25. It all depends on the weight of the kayak and the size of the porter. Whitewater kayaks are much lighter and easier to portage than sea kayaks, which are a real hassle.

Tips & Warnings

Some people use a tumpline, which is a strap that connects from the load to the porter's forehead to help bear the weight of heavy kayaks and canoes, but this can cause neck pain and spinal strain, so is not for everyone.
Shoulder carry straps allow you to carry the kayak sideways like a surfboard or skis in a ski bag, but this method only works for lightweight kayaks.
Don't try to walk at regular speed when portaging. The weight will slow you down anyway, so take advantage of your slower speed to pay extra attention to the terrain. Slipping or tripping while carrying a kayak is dangerous.

Article Written By Naomi Judd

Naomi M. Judd is a naturalist, artist and writer. Her work has been published in various literary journals, newspapers and websites. Judd holds a self-designed Bachelor of Arts in adventure writing from Plymouth State University and is earning a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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