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The best canoe packs can make your portaging life much easier (and who wouldn’t want that?!). But finding the right one for your trip might not be so easy, especially with all the different options out there.
We have put this short guide together to help give you some tips on how to choose the right one and the features that might make your canoeing trip a little less of a struggle.
Our Top Picks:
- Granite Gear Traditional 3.5 Canoe Pack (best overall)
- Harmony Barrel Portage Harness (best barrel pack)
- SealLine Black Canyon Dry Pack (best backpack)
Top 5 Best Canoeing Portage Packs Reviewed
1: Granite Gear Traditional 3.5 Canoe Pack (best overall)
- Dimensions: 26 x 21 x 7 inches
- Weight: 1 pound 2 ounces
- Capacity: 57.35 liters/3500 cubic inches
This Granite Gear Traditional 3.5 canoe pack is a lightweight, mid-size option that is designed to fit a range of paddlers with torso lengths from 18 to 22 inches.
This is a durable bag made from tough 210 denier Cordura nylon, which also helps to minimize the overall weight. The drawcord top can make it easier to tightly pack your gear.
A great feature of this one is the ergonomic harness system, which has wide, padded shoulder straps and an adjustable sternum strap for added support and stability. It also benefits from having a padded hip belt, for improved weight distribution, with an adjustable strap that can be tailored to fit waists from 26 inches up to 52 inches.
- Lightweight – easier to carry when loaded
- Ergonomic harness system – helps with weight distribution and carrying comfort
- Durable – tough fabric for abrasion resistance
2: Harmony Barrel Portage Harness (best barrel pack)
- Dimensions: 20 x 12 x 6 inches
- Weight: 1.34 pounds
- Capacity: n/a (barrel: 60 liters)
The Harmony Barrel Portage Harness is a harness that’s designed to work with the Harmony 60 Liter Barrel. It is built to transform the 60-liter barrel (sold separately) into a portage pack.
It features padded shoulder straps that are wide for more comfort and an adjustable sternum strap for easier carrying of loads. Another nice feature is the padded waist belt so that you can distribute weight more easily and stabilize your load.
The back panel is also padded for additional comfort and there’s a built-in load stabilizer to help with heavier gear. The harness also lets you access the barrel (not included) without having to detach it.
- Works in conjunction with the 60-liter barrel – transforms the barrel into a portage pack
- Padded straps – shoulder and waist padding for added comfort
- Load stabilizer – better weight distribution
3: SealLine Black Canyon Dry Pack (best backpack)
- Dimensions: 30 x 18.5 x 12.5 inches
- Weight: 4 pounds 10 ounces
- Capacity: 115 liters/ 7010 cubic inches
This SealLine Black Canyon Dry Pack is a completely waterproof backpack that benefits from having welded seams and a large capacity.
A great feature of this backpack is that it has a built-in suspension system to help make carrying your gear a little easier. The padded shoulder straps and hip straps are designed to make hauling your gear more comfortable, but they can also be removed if you want to use the pack as a dry bag only, making it a pretty versatile choice.
This features a roll-top closure to help keep your contents safe and dry, and it also has compression straps at the sides. Another nice feature is the light-colored fabric inside, which can make it easier to locate particular items.
- Waterproof – keeps your gear dry
- Large capacity – can hold a lot of gear
- Padded and removable straps – for comfort and versatility
4: Chinook Chemun Portage Pack
- Dimensions: 18 x 9 x 23 inches
- Weight: 3.55 pounds
- Capacity: 75 liters/4500 cubic inches (100L/6030 cubic inches expanded)
The Chinook Chemun Portage Pack is a large, lightweight pack that can be a good option if you want to stick to a tighter budget. This one is durable and made from 600 denier HDTEX ripstop polyester.
There’s plenty of room for your gear for an extended trip, with mesh side pockets for water bottles as well as paddle storage. The main compartment has a similar closure to a dry bag to help prevent water from getting inside, but it may not be entirely waterproof so you may want to also use a dry bag or trash bag for added protection.
This features padded shoulder straps and a padded mesh back panel for added comfort. There’s also a sternum strap and a removable padded hip belt with adjustable straps for stabilizing your load.
- Affordable option – budget-friendly pack
- Additional pockets – for storing a paddle, tools, and water bottles
- Padded back panel – breathable padded mesh for improved comfort
5: Frost River Camp Cook’s Kitchen Pack (best canvas bag)
- Dimensions: 19 x 19 x 12 inches
- Weight: 6 pounds
- Capacity: 71 liters/4332 cubic inches (109L/6669 cubic inches expanded)
This Frost River Camp Cook’s Kitchen Pack is a very durable option that is made out of 18 ounce waxed cotton canvas and features solid brass buckles. It has a tough double-layer waxed cotton bottom for added strength and protection from water and damp ground.
It can be a great choice for cooking equipment, food, or even just as a general pack. A handy feature of this one is the utensil roll that can be snapped onto the pack and has a cover with little pockets for keeping your tools and utensils in place.
The straps are made from buckskin leather and are padded for additional comfort. There’s also a tumpline to help you carry heavy loads.
- Durable canvas – heavy-duty water-resistant waxed cotton
- Quality components – comfortable, resilient, and adjustable leather straps and brass buckles
- Removable utensil roll – ideal for tools and cooking utensils
Types Of Canoe Packs
Modern barrels tend to be made from plastic and can offer a good level of waterproof protection. Because they are a solid material, they can be ideal for keeping items that are breakable or that would otherwise be crushed inside a soft pack.
Many barrels will often require you to use a separate harness so that they can be carried on your back. Harnesses can make it much easier and more comfortable to haul a barrel and they will usually have padded shoulder straps and even sometimes sternum and waist straps for better weight distribution.
A barrel can also be carried inside some other types of packs.
Canvas packs, also known as Duluth packs because of their 19th-century heritage from Duluth, Minnesota, are probably one of the most durable and traditional types of canoes packs.
Cotton canvas portage packs can be heavier than some newer man-made fabrics, such as polyester, because they tend to be thicker for heavier-duty use, often with leather straps and heavy-duty buckles, and other components. This can make them last a long time.
Some Duluth packs will tend to have a wax coating which can give them added durability as well as water resistance, which can help to guard against rips and holes and can help keep your gear somewhat dry.
However, not all of these types of packs will be waterproof and you may need a separate liner.
Baskets are generally similar in shape to barrels but they may offer less protection for your gear. For example, they usually won’t be waterproof. Baskets are a traditional type of portage pack, helping to keep your gear from being squashed.
You can often use baskets inside other types of packs, such as inside a canvas pack, to provide a more rigid structure to protect your gear.
These types can be the more modern choice for canoeists as they can be lighter weight, meaning it can reduce the overall carrying weight when the pack is fully loaded.
Many nylon and polyester packs will tend to have some water resistance, such as a waterproof coating, to help keep the inside dry. Some may also double as dry bags so that you don’t need additional waterproof liners. However, not all nylon and polyester packs will be waterproof.
Top Features To Look Out For On A Portage Pack
Durability can be a top feature to look for since the pack will likely be thrown in and out of your canoe pretty frequently. Tough fabric and strong seams can be important as this can help prevent damage from overhanging trees or simply hauling your heavy gear.
A waterproof pack is not always necessary, as you can use dry bags or you can line the pack with a heavy-duty garbage bag to keep your gear dry. However, it can be a nice feature to have, as it can mean added protection for your equipment and can also mean the exterior of the pack dries quicker.
Size And Capacity
Capacity or volume is often measured in liters or cubic inches. This determines how much gear you can store inside the pack. The higher the number in liters or cubic inches, the more space you’ll have inside.
The size of the pack, or the exterior measurements, will usually tell you how much room it will take up in your canoe or on your back. The larger the dimensions of the pack, usually the larger the capacity – but this may not always be the case, so it can be best to check out both to make sure the pack will suit your needs.
Think about what you want to carry with you and how long your trip might be. You might need more than one pack if you’re on a longer trip and want to separate your food from your clothing and camping gear.
Comfort can be an important feature to look for because this can make it easier to carry. Wide, padded shoulder straps can be a good idea, as this can help to distribute the weight more evenly across your back. Adjustable sternum and waist straps can be an advantage too.
A tumpline can also be useful for very heavy loads, as this traditional strap can help to reduce the weight carried on your shoulders by utilizing your head.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Pack A Canoe Pack?
For a canvas or polyester canoe pack, it can be a good idea to put softer gear at the back, medium-weighted gear at the bottom, and lighter weight gear at the top. Your heaviest gear should be around the middle of the pack for even weight distribution.
Video: Packing For A Weekend Canoe Trip
Are Canvas Bags The Best?
Not necessarily. If you’re looking for a lightweight, completely waterproof bag, you may not want a canvas one. On the other hand, a canvas bag can generally be tougher and can often last longer than a polyester one.
The best canoe pack, in our opinion, is the Granite Gear 3.5 because it’s extra lightweight and also has a good level of adjustability in the straps, as well as thick padding for comfort.
A great runner up is the Frost River Camp Cook’s Kitchen Pack thanks to its quality materials and durability. The removable utensil roll is also pretty handy.
Before you settle on any portage pack, think about what’s most important to you in terms of features. Maybe you value waterproof protection over longevity, for example? Remember to also think about the duration of your trip and how much gear you may need to haul.