how to portage a kayak [Answered]

Introduction: How to Portage a Kayak

Portaging a kayak is an essential skill for any paddler who wants to explore new waterways or tackle challenging rapids. It involves carrying the kayak overland from one body of water to another. While this may seem like a daunting task, with the right preparation and technique, portaging can be done safely and efficiently.

In this post, we will outline the proper steps for portaging a kayak, including tips for choosing gear, navigating obstacles, and setting the kayak back into the water. We will also discuss alternative methods for portaging and when they may be more applicable. By the end of this post, you will have the necessary knowledge to confidently portage your kayak and expand your paddling horizons.

Preparing for Portaging

Before beginning a portage, it is important to make sure you have the right gear and have planned out your route. Here are some steps to take:

1. Choose the Right Gear

  • Invest in a sturdy and comfortable kayak cart, backpack, or shoulder strap.
  • Clear out any loose items inside the kayak that may fall out during transport.
  • Make sure your paddle is secured to your kayak to prevent damage during the transport.

2. Clear the Path

  • Find the best path for portaging. Look for an area with level ground, free of obstacles such as rocks, roots, and fallen trees.
  • If there are any obstacles in the way, clear the path ahead of time to avoid any injuries or complications.

Carrying the Kayak

Carrying a kayak can be done solo or with a partner. Here are some tips to make sure you do it safely and efficiently:

1. Removing the Kayak from the Water

  • Choose a location where it is safe to take the kayak out of the water.
  • Approach the shore slowly and carefully.
  • Make sure the kayak is balanced before attempting to lift it out of the water.

2. Solo Carrying

  • Place the kayak on your shoulder or use a shoulder strap.
  • Keep one hand on the kayak to steady it as you walk.
  • Take frequent breaks to prevent fatigue or injury.

3. Partner Carrying

  • Coordinate with your partner to lift the kayak at the same time.
  • Use a shoulder carry or carry the kayak by its handles.
  • Walk in tandem and communicate to avoid any missteps or accidents.

4. Protecting Yourself from Injury

  • Avoid bending over or twisting your body during the carry.
  • Wear comfortable and supportive shoes.
  • Take breaks as often as needed to prevent muscle strain or injury.

Overcoming Obstacles

Portaging a kayak often involves crossing challenging terrain. Here are some tips for overcoming obstacles:

1. Approaching Hills and Inclines

  • Approach hills and inclines at a 90-degree angle to make sure the weight of the kayak is evenly distributed.
  • Take small and deliberate steps to maintain your balance.
  • Use your body weight to pivot and turn the kayak as needed.

2. Navigating Rocky Terrain

  • Look for stable footing, such as large rocks or grassy patches.
  • Use caution when stepping on loose rocks or slippery surfaces.
  • Consider lining the kayak instead of carrying it over rocky terrain.

3. Crossing Bridges or Other Structures

  • Approach bridges or other structures with caution.
  • Check the weight limits of the structure before crossing with your kayak.
  • If you are unsure about crossing a structure, consider using an alternative portaging method.

Setting the Kayak Back into the Water

Once you have successfully carried your kayak overland, it’s time to set it back into the water. Here are some tips to make sure you do it safely and efficiently:

1. Choosing the Right Location

  • Look for a safe and accessible location to put your kayak back into the water.
  • Avoid areas with strong currents or rough waves.
  • Make sure the shoreline is stable and provides enough space to maneuver your kayak.

2. Ensuring the Kayak is Secure and Floating

  • Place the kayak gently into the water, making sure it is level and floating.
  • Double-check to make sure the kayak is stable and not in danger of tipping over.
  • Strap down any loose gear or items to prevent them from falling out.

3. Getting Back into the Kayak

  • Check the water depth to make sure it is safe to get back into the kayak.
  • Position yourself near the cockpit and use a stable surface or partner for support while getting back in.
  • Take your time and use caution to avoid capsizing or injury.

By following these tips, you can effectively complete a portage and get back to paddling in no time.

Alternatives to Portaging

While portaging is a tried and true method for navigating challenging terrain, there are alternative methods that may be more applicable depending on the situation. Here are some options to consider:

1. Lining

  • If the water is shallow and rocky, lining the kayak may be a better option than portaging.
  • Attach a rope to the bow of the kayak and walk alongside, guiding the kayak along the shoreline.
  • Make sure to continually check the depth of the water and watch for obstacles.

2. Dragging

  • If the terrain is relatively smooth and the distance is short, dragging the kayak may be a viable option.
  • Flip the kayak over and drag it by the handles or use a dragging harness if one is available.
  • Take care not to damage the hull of the kayak or any equipment attached to it.

3. Shuttle Service

  • If the distance is too great or the terrain too challenging, consider using a shuttle service to transport your kayak to the next accessible waterway.
  • Research local services or set up your own transportation with another paddler or friend.
  • This option may not be available in all locations or may come with additional costs.

By considering these alternatives, you can choose the best method for navigating challenging terrain while keeping yourself and your kayak safe.

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What gear do I need to portage a kayak?

You will need a good quality kayak cart, a sturdy carrying strap, and a properly fitting PFD.

Can I portage a kayak alone?

Yes, but it’s essential to follow safety guidelines carefully.

How do I balance the weight of the kayak while carrying it?

The key is to keep the kayak balanced center-wise with most of the weight on your hips.

How do I choose the right path for portaging?

Look for easy flat terrains to portage the kayak.

How do I ensure the safety of the kayak while carrying it?

You can use a carrying strap and a kayak cart to reduce the risk of slipping or tripping.

What should I do when approaching steep inclines or rocky terrain?

Take small steps, be mindful of the weight of the kayak and slowly make your way through the obstacle.

How do I set the kayak back into the water?

Look for an area that is shallow enough for the kayak and one from which the kayak can easily glide into the deep end.

What are the alternatives to portaging a kayak?

Dragging your kayak or lining your kayak through shallow water can be used as alternatives.

How do I know if I need to portage my kayak?

If there is an obstacle ahead like a waterfall, a rapid or shallow areas, you’ll need to portage the kayak.

Should I practice my portaging skills before my kayaking trip?

Yes, it’s always a good idea to practice beforehand. It will help you know what to expect, and you’ll be more comfortable when the time comes.

Real experience

Emma had been a kayaker for years, and she was always up for a challenge. She loved nothing more than paddling through rapids and navigating treacherous waters. However, there was one thing she had never tried – portaging her kayak.

Emma had always been intimidated by the idea of carrying her kayak over land. She had heard stories of kayakers getting injured and damaging their boats during portages. However, after talking to some fellow paddlers, Emma decided to face her fear and learn how to portage her kayak.

She researched online and read various articles on portaging. Emma quickly realized that preparation was key. She invested in a kayak cart, carrying strap, and a PFD. She also practiced carrying her kayak over her shoulders, finding the right balance between her hips and shoulders.

When Emma went out on her first kayaking trip after learning about portaging, she immediately came across an obstacle – a series of rapids that she couldn’t paddle down. Luckily, Emma had already studied the area and knew she had to portage her kayak about a hundred meters before she could get back in the water.

Emma calmly and confidently got out of her kayak, put the carrying strap around her shoulders, hoisted the kayak, and started to walk overland to the other side of the rapids. Keeping her center of balance steady and putting one foot in front of the other, Emma walked on a flat terrain till she reached the other end.

As Emma set the kayak back into the water, she realized that portaging wasn’t as scary as she thought it would be. In fact, it was just another aspect of kayaking that she had to learn, and it had opened up new opportunities for her to explore even more challenging waters.

From that day on, Emma always carried her kayak with her on her kayaking excursions. She had become a pro at portaging, enabling her to explore new and exciting places that were previously inaccessible to her. Emma was grateful for the knowledge she’d gained, but even more so for the newfound freedom that came with it.


Portaging a kayak can seem like a daunting task, but with the proper preparation and technique, it can be done safely and efficiently. By choosing the right gear, planning your route, and using the proper carrying techniques, and overcoming obstacles, you can successfully transport your kayak overland and back into the water.

While portaging is the most common method for navigating challenging terrain, it’s important to remember that there are alternatives like lining, dragging, and shuttle services that can be used in certain situations. Ultimately, the key is to choose the method that is safest and most practical for your specific situation.

By following the tips outlined in this post and practicing your portaging skills, you can confidently explore new waterways and tackle challenging rapids on your kayak.

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