Portaging is described as carrying your kayak from one paddleable spot to another, or to avoid an obstruction.
Doing this, of course, is not the easiest task in the world.
Since kayaks were meant to be taken out on the water, many of them are heavy and awkward to carry. This makes portaging a difficult task for any kayaker.
Unfortunately, portaging is sometimes an unavoidable part of kayaking.
So, is there any way to make this experience less agonizing?
In fact, there is! Today, I’m going to share some of my best portaging tips, as well as 5 of the best kayaks for portaging that you can buy.
I Realized the Hard Way that Portaging isn’t Easy with the Wrong Kayak
Since I retired, kayaking has becoming a favorite hobby of mine during the summer when my wife and I travel to Muskoka, Canada.
Algonquin Park is just a drive down the road from our house, and most of my summer kayak ventures happened on the three biggest lakes within the park. Those days were always fun for me.
But my experience changed when I tried to portage my kayak for the first time. I was with two of my buddies, who wanted to walk from Opeongo Lake to one of the smaller lakes. So, we threw our kayaks on our shoulders and started the trek.
Just a few minutes into the walk, sweat was pouring down my back. I was red in the face, my arms were aching, and my kayak was wobbling like crazy.
Worse than that, once we got to the next lake, we had to go back to Opeongo and get the gear that we had left behind. We wasted so much time, and I ended up with severe back pains for days afterward.
With painful clarity, I saw that my kayak was not meant for portaging.
What Kind of Kayak is Best for Portaging?
The kayak that I had taken on that fateful Algonquin trip was a full-equipped fishing kayak. Just the kayak weighed about 70 lbs., besides my fishing rods, the paddle, and other gear that I had brought along.
Obviously, lugging this through the Algonquin Park was not the best idea.
So, what is the best kind of kayak for portaging?
Realistically, you’ll need a kayak that weighs less than 50 lbs. The more lightweight the kayak, the easier it will be to carry.
Shorter kayaks are also easier to carry, as they’re less awkward to heave on your shoulders. Inflatable kayaks are normally the most lightweight you can find, and tend to be much easier to carry than hard-top kayaks.
The tradeoff is this: shorter, lightweight kayaks usually do not have very good tracking. While they are very maneuverable, they will be slower and less versatile.
Tips for the Best Portaging Experience
Carry Your Kayak at a Slight Angle
Instead of carrying your kayak flat like a board, tilt it slightly so that the back of the kayak is lower than the front. You’ll need to balance so that the kayak doesn’t hit the ground, but this will help you carry it for longer.
Stretch and Rest Your Arms at Regular Intervals
As I found out the hard way, your arms get tired very quickly when carrying something heavy over your head. So, every few minutes, stretch out your arms and let them rest.
First, use one hand to hold the kayak steady while you rest it on your shoulder. Then, stretch the opposite arm by reach up on to the belly of the kayak. After stretching for a few seconds, let that hand drop to your side and rest for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Repeat this process on both sides until you arrive at your destination.
If you feel like you need to, don’t hesitate to put the kayak down and rest for a moment, especially on longer portages. You can also use this time to stretch out your shoulders and back, thus helping to avoid injury.
Take a Slow But Steady Pace
When carrying such a heavy load, your pace will obviously be slower than normal. Don’t try to rush just to get to your destination faster.
Instead, set a slow but steady pace. Keep your balance by taking deliberate steps. Rushing through a portage really doesn’t help, and could lead to injury.
Plan Your Route in Advance
It’s no fun to be lost in the woods with a heavy kayak on your shoulders, or to find out later that you took the long way around when there was a much easier shortcut.
That’s why I highly recommend finding your trail ahead of time and making sure of where you’re going. Portaging on a whim will almost always end badly. If you’re thinking of portaging your kayak, make sure you know the exact route, the type of terrain, and the time it will take to walk across.
Two Trips is Almost Always Better Than One
Especially when you’re carrying a lot of gear, it’s almost always better to carry the kayak in one trip and then return for your gear. This will save you a lot of trouble.
If you want to avoid taking two trips, you’ll need to pack extremely light. Make sure that all your gear fits in one pack that you can carry with you.
Find an Ultra Lightweight Kayak
This is probably the most important tip on this list: get a light kayak! The lighter the kayak you get, the easier it will be to portage.
If you’re serious about portaging your kayak and plan on doing it often, it makes sense to invest in a kayak that is lightweight and easier to carry.
Tools to Help You Portage Your Kayak
A kayak cart removes the headache of carrying your kayak on your shoulders, and allows you to wheel the kayak from one place to another.
This is a great option if the terrain where you’re planning on portaging is flat. However, this is impossible on terrains that are very rough.
As an example, I can’t use a kayak cart in Algonquin Park because the terrain is too rough, making it just as difficult as portaging on my shoulders.
So, before you invest in a kayak cart, think about where you’ll be portaging to see if a kayak cart is worthwhile for you.
With some kayaks, it’s possible to purchase shoulder straps that let you carry the kayak at your side. This style of carrying is very similar to what one might do with a paddle board or surfboard.
Again, it will depend on the kayak that you have. This is only feasible with kayaks that are extremely lightweight.
While portaging with a yoke is more common with canoes, more kayak yokes are becoming available on the market now.
If you can’t find a yoke for your kayak, there are also quite a few videos on YouTube of how to make one yourself. This will require some effort, but will ultimately make it much easier to portaging your kayak.
Best Kayaks for Portaging
Advanced Elements AirFusion Elite
This inflatable, sit-in style kayak is very lightweight and great for portaging. It has a hybrid aluminum design that gives it very good tracking for an inflatable kayak. It is built for high-performance kayaking at a price that is very reasonable.
This kayak offers stability, a good amount of storage, and a very durable exterior design.
Length: 13 feet
Width: 28 inches
Kayak Weight: 32 lbs.
Weight Capacity: 235 lbs.
Easy to maneuver
Excellent tracking for an inflatable kayak
Setup time is under 10 minutes
Low weight capacity
Old Town Dirigo 106
This lightweight kayak is a hard top, sit-in style that was built for being stable on any kind of water. Its contoured seat and thigh pads make the Dirigo great for long days on the water, and the adjustable foot braces make this kayak fit its paddler perfectly. When seated, you’ll have easy access to a cupholder, dry storage, and a paddle holder.
Length: 10.5 feet
Width: 28 inches
Kayak Weight: 42 lbs.
Weight Capacity: 250-300 lbs.
Small and easy to handle
Dry storage access
Good stability and tracking
A bit heavier than others on our list
Sea Eagle Razorlite 393rl
With this inflatable canoe-style kayak, you won’t have to sacrifice speed for lighter weight. The rigid bow and stern and high-pressure inflation make this kayak just as performance-enabled as a hard-top kayak, with a very low weight.
The company boasts that you can paddle this kayak at up to 6 miles per hour, making it a very fast kayak.
Length: 12.8 feet
Width: 28 inches
Kayak Weight: 33.5 lbs.
Weight Capacity: 500 lbs.
Contoured seats and adjustable foot rests for maximum comfort
Plenty of storage space
Built for speed and agility
Very lightweight with a high weight capacity
Difficult to get dry after use
Flat bottom produces some drag
Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame
Another great installment from the Advanced Elements team, this small, lightweight kayak really packs a punch on the water. Just like the AirFusion, it is made with hybrid aluminum technology that allows it to have the performance of a hard-top kayak. With good tracking and stability, as well as extremely durable material design, this kayak is perfect for high-performance and easy portaging.
Length: 10.5 feet
Width: 32 inches
Kayak Weight: 36 lbs.
Weight Capacity: 300 lbs.
Skeg fin for better tracking
3-layer material for puncture resistance
Small and portable
Anyone over 6 feet tall may have some trouble fitting
Vibe Kayaks Yellowfin 100
This angler kayak is filled to the brim with features for fishermen, but at the same time is relatively lightweight. If you’re planning on both fishing and portaging, I highly recommend this kayak as your best option.
With multiple rod holders, an extremely comfortable seat, adjustable foot braces, and plenty of storage, this kayak has everything an angler could need. However, its size and weight still make it good for carrying to wherever the fishing is best.
Length: 10 feet
Width: 32 inches
Kayak Weight: 57 lbs.
Weight Capacity: 375 lbs.
Good stability and tracking
Great features for fishermen
Small and easier to carry than other hard-tops for anglers
Somewhat small for taller men
Heavier than other kayaks on our list
Choosing the Best Kayak for Portaging
So, after discussing the 5 best kayaks for portaging, which one will you choose?
In my opinion, the inflatable kayaks on our list are the best option for those who are planning on doing a lot of portaging. My favorite is without a doubt the Sea Eagle Razorlite 393rl. It has the lightest weight with the highest weight capacity, and gives you plenty of room for yourself and your gear. It also boasts incredible performance, meaning you don’t have to sacrifice speed or tracking for lighter weight.
That being said, if you’re looking to do a mixture of fishing and portaging, I have to say that the Vibe Yellowfin 100 is your best bet. It has all the features that anglers need, while still maintaining a reasonable weight.
So, when does your next kayak adventure start? Get out on the water with one of these kayaks and portaging will be a breeze!