Tips: Portaging Made Easy | Canoeroots Magazine | Rapid Media
Tips: Portaging Made Easy Photo: Jonathan Pratt

Experts weigh in on a heavy issue


It’s a popular debate among paddlers: the correct pronunciation of portage. You say portudge, I say portawje. Regardless of your vernacular camp, you likely don’t debate the physical pain portaging can cause. Many would agree that it’s your back that suffers most. Although my doctor and physiotherapist assure me that portaging doesn’t make my back sore.

“Your [portaging] power actually comes from the legs,” says Seamus McCann, of Summit Therapy in Lindsay, Ontario. “Your back is just a stabilizer.” Still, back injury can occur. “But,” says McCann, “that’s from improperly bending down to flip up or lower the canoe.”

It’s why V-shaped trees are a boon to portagers—you wedge and rest the canoe without bending, allowing you to take a much-needed break midway through the trail. Steven Hainer, a family practitioner, concurs with McCann. “If your posture is good, you’re fine. The weight of the canoe,” he adds, “is on your shoulders, not your back.” Ah, yes…the shoulders. I’ve learned to pad them by taping a pool noodle to the yoke.

Former Algonquin Park ranger Chris Waters may have a better technique. He straps his paddles to the thwart and yoke, resting the blades on his shoulders. “That width distributes the weight more evenly,” he says. “And you can hold onto the paddles instead of the gunwales, which means your arms don’t get sore because they’re not spread as far apart.”


 This article first appeared in Canoeroots and Family Camping, Early Summer 2010 issue.  For more expert tips, download our free iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch App or Android App or read it here.


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