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How To Portage A Kayak (Carry the RIGHT way)

Mark Armstrong
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Having to carry your kayak over land to avoid an obstacle in the water is not something you want to do every day.

But sometimes portaging your kayak is unavoidable, especially if there’s a dam on your planned route.

We have put together some tips on how best to portage a kayak, whether you’re on your own or with a paddling partner.

How To Portage A Kayak - PinterestPin

The Best Ways To Portage A Kayak To Make Your Paddling Easier

Plan Your Route

Planning your route in advance of your paddling trip can help you locate potential obstacles before it’s too late. This means you can scout the route for fallen trees, low-head dams, or areas of dangerous whitewater that you want to avoid.

When you’re checking the route, you will also need to scout potential exit points from the river and the re-entry points you intend to use.

It’s a good idea to walk the route you plan to portage to make sure it’s wide enough and safe to walk while portaging a kayak.

Make sure you’re able to get out of and back into the water safely too. You can sometimes use local water maps to check out potential launch spots and take-out points.

Pack A Backpack

When you’re trying to carry a heavy kayak, you probably want the rest of your gear to be as easy to carry as possible.

A backpack can be the ideal accessory for carrying all the gear in your kayak while keeping your hands free for lifting and carrying your kayak.

Make sure your backpack is large enough to carry everything you have that will be loose on your kayak. You might want to practice packing all your gear into the backpack before you head off on your adventure – just to make sure it all fits.

A two or four-piece paddle can be a good choice if you plan to portage a kayak, as these can often be easier to travel with. Some four-piece paddles will often fit inside storage hatches. Two-piece paddles can sometimes be attached to backpacks.

Try An Inflatable Kayak

Hard shell kayaks can be heavy if you’ve got to carry them any distance. This is where inflatable kayaks can be a better choice if you know you’ll have to portage your kayak at some point on your trip.

Inflatable kayaks can be much lighter than hard shell equivalents. They also tend to have a higher capacity than their hard shell equivalents and can often be more suitable for kayaking on mild rapids.

Use A Kayak Cart

kayak cart can often be the easiest way to get your kayak from A to B. However, kayak carts may not be suitable for all types of portaging because of the terrain you may need to cover.

If the ground is relatively flat and wide enough for your kayak cart to be pulled through, it can be an ideal way to portage your kayak.

A kayak cart, such as this Railblaza C-Tug cart, can be a great choice because it can be easily folded down to fit inside a kayak hatch.

How to use a kayak cart

Lift And Carry Your Kayak Safely

Carrying your kayak for a length of type can be tricky. So knowing how to carry your kayak correctly and safely can be important.

If there are two of you carrying a tandem, this can generally be easier than if you are trying to carry a kayak on your own. With a tandem, you and your paddling partner can take one end each, using the bow and stern handles.

However, if you have to carry your kayak on your own, you should first haul the kayak out of the water and pack up all your gear into your backpack. Remember to put the backpack on your back before you try to lift your kayak.

Face the kayak in the direction you want to travel, with the bow facing forward.

Grab the rim of your cockpit (the side that’s closest to you, and carefully lift the kayak up onto your thighs.

Once your kayak is balanced on your thighs, take one hand and move it to the opposite rim of the cockpit and lift the kayak up onto your shoulder as you rotate your body. Make sure your body is facing the direction of travel.

Video: How to Carry a Kayak

There may be times where you need to continue lifting the kayak onto your head if the path ahead is particularly narrow. In this case, you might want to tilt the kayak backward slightly so that you can see where you’re going.

Avoid Dragging Your Kayak If Possible

Dragging your kayak is generally never a good idea. This can damage the hull of your kayak. However, there are some instances that you may be able to drag your kayak if it’s necessary.

Sand or grass can be the best surfaces to drag your kayak. It’s not recommended but these types of terrain can be less damaging than rocks or concrete. Installing a skid plate on your keel might be a good idea if you plan to drag your boat along the ground, as these can usually be replaced once they’re damaged.

If you have a composite or fiberglass kayak it’s not advisable to drag your kayak over any surface. If you do, you could end up with a hole in your boat.

Take Rest Breaks If Necessary

Kayaks are heavy if you’re carrying them for a long time, especially if you are also carrying a lot of gear at the same time.

Taking a rest break while you’re portaging your kayak can make it less strenuous.

If you’re only portaging a kayak a short distance, you may not need to stop for a rest. But if you’re hauling a heavy kayak for over 15 minutes, you may want to stop to give your arms and shoulders a rest.

Stop as often as you need to. Then repeat the lifting process after each rest stop when you’re ready to make a move. 

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