Portaging a kayak is the act of moving it across dry land. While this might seem like an odd thing to do given how well kayaks work on water, sometimes you’ll be confronted by a situation where moving your kayak by land is the only option. If you find your path blocked by a dangerous obstacle like a low-head dam, a section of whitewater you’re not comfortable kayaking through, or even a fallen log, you’ll need to get out of the water and carry your kayak around it.

Thankfully portaging isn’t as difficult as it might seem, all you need is sufficient preparation and understanding of the best techniques to use. To help you out, we’ve put together a guide that makes the whole process easy to understand.

Preparing to Portage

The secret to successful portaging is in the preparation. If you plan ahead, you can make the entire endeavor that much easier for yourself. Below are a few things to take into consideration when making your plans.

  • Plan your route: When setting out on a kayaking adventure, it’s best to have a good idea of where you are going. As you are mapping out your proposed journey, look for obstacles that might require you to portage your kayak and then plan out your portaging route around them.
  • Walk your route: Before you unpack all your gear and start carrying your kayak, walk your proposed portaging route and check for any obstacles that might prevent you from moving forward. Locked gates, fallen trees, and even steps can stop you in your tracks. It’s best to find out about them when you haven’t got a kayak on your shoulder.
  • Pack up your gear: Before heading out on the water, pack all your gear into the backpack you’ll be bringing with you to make sure it’s all going to fit. The last thing you want is to find out some of your vital gear won’t fit in your backpack while you’re trying to portage.
  • Never drag your boat: While dragging your boat might seem like a great low-effort way to move your kayak, it will inevitably damage your hull. Portaging properly isn’t easy, but it’s better than having to buy a new kayak.
  • Bring a trolley: Kayak trolleys are designed specifically to help you move a kayak. If you are going to pack one, just make sure it can handle the terrain. You’ll need chunky wheels and deep tread if you’re going off-road.

Portaging Technique

Step 1: Paddle to the water’s edge and haul your kayak up out of the water. Once your kayak is securely out of the water, pack all your gear into your backpack and put it on. Make sure your backpack is secure, comfortable, and won’t slip off. Bail any remaining water from your kayak so it doesn’t add to the weight.

Step 2: Move your kayak so the bow is facing the direction of travel and stand facing the cockpit of your kayak. With your knees bent, grab the near rim of your kayak cockpit and pull the kayak up onto your thighs.

Step 3: When you have the kayak balanced on your thighs, use one hand to grab the far rim of your kayak’s cockpit and, turning your body towards the direction you plan to travel in, pull the kayak up onto your shoulder. This might be a little tricky the first time you try it, so check out this video that shows you exactly how the technique should look: 

Step 4: Depending on how long you plan to carry your kayak and the width of the route you are taking, you can also move the kayak up onto your head. From your shoulder, pull the kayak up and over your head before resting the weight on both your shoulders. Tip the kayak back slightly so you can see where you are walking. Check out this video to see how this should look: 

Step 5: When portaging your kayak, take regular rests. Put the kayak down and let your arms and shoulders relax every 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the weight of your kayak. When walking with your kayak on your shoulder or head, maintain a slow pace and keep your eyes on your footing.

A Slight Detour

Compared to the joys of kayaking on water, kayak portaging isn’t much fun but sometimes you just don’t have a choice. The secret to making portaging as painless as possible is to prepare in advance, know your route, and use the right techniques. By following our guide you’ll get all the info you’ll need to minimize the time spent carrying your ‘yak and get you back in the water as fast as possible.

About The Author

Pete is the Owner of KayakAdvisors.com. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, he grew up kayaking, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him skiing in the mountains, reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.