The Best Tips On How To Portage A Kayak & What To Avoid

by Jason | Last Updated:   October 7th, 2022
The Best Tips On How To Portage A Kayak & What To Avoid
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If you’re new to kayaking, there’s a good chance you’ll need to know how to portage a kayak. 

And if you’ve been kayaking for a while…

You might need to brush up on your technique to know when and how to portage a kayak safely.

So, in this article, I wanted to spend some time talking you through everything you need to know about portaging your kayak.

But first…

What Does Portage Mean When Kayaking?

The word “kayak portage” is used in kayaking to describe the action of carrying your kayak between two points overland.

But why would you have to do that?

Well, usually, it’s to do with trying to avoid an obstacle in the water that you can’t kayak or canoe through.

The problem with portaging a kayak is that they are designed to be in the water, which makes them pretty tricky when you have to go across the land. 

Not only that, but kayaks can be extremely heavy, which makes them even harder to carry.

So, before I get into how to portage your kayak and a few tips to help you out, let’s first discuss when you need to portage your kayak.

Reasons To Portage Your Kayak

As mentioned earlier, there are going to be times when you will need to portage your kayak to avoid obstacles.

And unfortunately, there are several reasons you’ll need to do this; it’s just an unavoidable part of kayaking.

The question is…

What are the reasons for you having to portage your kayak?

Well, below, I’m going to list a few of these reasons; let’s take a look:

  1. When you need to move from one body of water to another.
  2. When you’ve come across dangerous rapids or unnavigable water.
  3. When you need to avoid an impassable low-head dam, you should always avoid these and never try to kayak over them.
  4. When transporting your kayak from the vehicle to the water body and back again.
  5. When you’re trying to avoid river strainers or sweepers that are blocking the river or can’t be avoided, kayakers can easily get caught in strainers which can become very dangerous because it traps people underwater.
  6. When you need to avoid a low-hanging bridge that you can’t kayak under safely.
  7. When you have a waterfall coming up that you can’t kayak down.

As you can see, there are various reasons you’ll need to portage a kayak for your safety. I guess the next thing we need to discuss is some tips for portaging your kayak.

Tips For Portaging Your Kayak

How To Portage A Kayak

Portaging your kayak is no easy task, but there are a few tips you can use to make your life easier, which is what we’re going to explain in this section:

1. Make Sure You Scout Your Route First

Before going on any kayaking trip, you must thoroughly plan your trip, including your portaging route.

And you can do this in two ways:

  1. Digitally planning your route
  2. Physically planning your route

To digitally plan your route, you can use a map or a GPS to find relevant information about making your portage route.

The other method is to physically check the route, which can be a lot more challenging, especially if you’re planning to kayak somewhere far from home or roads.

But…

It does give you a much better perspective of the portage route and the launching point once you reach the destination.

Another great thing about physically checking the route is you get a rough idea of how long it will take you and where you can stop to take a break.

Always plan ahead!

2. Carry The Kayak With A Slight Angle

If you have to carry the kayak long distances, you should think about having it at a slight angle instead of a flat board.

Having the kayak slightly lower at the rear than at the front will help you carry the kayak for longer.

3. Walk At A Slow & Steady Pace

Carrying such a heavy load is difficult, so your pace isn’t going to be as fast as it usually is. The important thing you have to remember is not to rush to get to your destination; take your time.

Instead of reaching the destination as quickly as possible, set yourself at a steady pace by taking confident steps. Rushing can cause an injury, which won’t help you get to your destination any faster.

4. Take Breaks & Stretch Your Arms Regularly 

When carrying something heavy, like a kayak, for long distances, your arms will start to get tired. And this is why you need to take little breaks and stretch your arms when you need to do so.

Don’t try and power through your struggles by being big and tough; just take the breaks when you need to.

5. Remove The Water From Your Kayak

Adding water weight to your kayak isn’t going to make your life easier when it comes to carrying the kayak. In fact, it will make your life much harder than it has to be because of the extra weight provided by the water sloshing around.

If you have a sit-on-top kayak, you’ll find that you can easily empty it thanks to the scupper holes provided. With a sit-in kayak, you’ll have to pull out the plugs on their drain holes and tip the kayak.

6. Remove Any Gear From The Kayak 

Another way to make your portage experience easier is to remove as much gear from the ‘yak before you try to move it.

Just like with the water, having gear like sleeping gear, a backpack, a dry bag, or other gear can add to the weight and make it extremely difficult to carry.

Not only that…

But it reduces the chance of equipment falling out of your ‘yak while moving it from one place to another.

7. Making Two Trips Is Almost Always Easier

This is especially true when you have a lot of gear you need to carry with you (even if you’re traveling a short distance). If you have a lot of equipment or you want to bring extra equipment, make your life easier by making two trips instead of one; it will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

If you don’t want to make multiple trips, you’ll have to consider how much equipment you’ll need to bring. Pack everything into one backpack so you can easily carry it with you.

8. Practice Makes Perfect

Do you want to know the best way to get better at portaging your kayak?

Well, as always, you need to practice; it’s the only way to get good at things you’re not used to doing. 

You must remember that kayaks are extremely heavy and will be difficult to carry if you’re not used to carrying them. And the only way you can build enough strength to carry them a long distance is…

Practice!

Try lifting your kayak overhead and walking around the block with it… 

Yes, you might feel a little bit stupid. But when it comes to portaging your ‘yak in real-time, you’ll thank yourself later.

If you practice enough, you’ll start to get much stronger, making portaging your kayak easier; it only takes a little practice.

How To Portage A Kayak?

How To Portage A Kayak

So, you know some of the tips you need for a kayak portage; the question is, how do you actually do it?

Well, in this section, I’m going to break down all the steps you need to follow to portage your kayak from one spot to another safely:

Pack Your Gear: Once you get to your portage location, you need to get out of your ‘yak and start packing your gear. If you have a wearable backpack, you’ll be able to carry it with you; if not, you’ll need to make two trips. 

Position Your Kayak Correctly: It will depend on which arm you plan to carry your kayak with but let’s say you’re right-handed for this example. Stand next to the kayak with your right leg resting against the hull, then bend your legs, ready to brace the weight of your kayak. If you carry it with the opposite hand, rest your left leg against the hull.

Pull The Kayak Up: Hold on to the rim of the ‘yak with either one or two hands (whichever is more comfortable) and position the kayak so it’s resting on your thigh. Your legs should now fully support the weight of the kayak.

Lift The Kayak On To Your Shoulder: Now, place your right hand on the underside of the cockpit on the far side of the opening. Use your other hand on the near side of the rim to stop the kayak from flipping. Once you’re in position, lift the ‘yak onto your shoulders and straighten your legs don’t use brute force or your back.

Walk To Your Next Location: Now you’ve got the kayak on your shoulder, it’s time to start making your way to the next destination. Make sure you take it slow and steady while confidently moving your feet to avoid slipping. 

Putting Your Kayak Down: Once you’ve reached your final destination, you can go ahead and put your kayak down. You must remember the most important thing is to bend your knees and not your back. It will help you avoid damaging your back before you set off on the next part of your journey.

What Not To Do When You Portage A Kayak 

When you’re portaging your kayak, there’s one thing you need to avoid at all costs, and that’s dragging your kayak. 

Dragging your ‘yak might feel like an energy-saving method, but it’s never a good way to transport your kayak.

The reason for this is…

You can cause a lot of damage to your kayak. If you drag it over rocks, tree branches, or gravel, your kayak is prone to:

  • Scratches
  • Dents
  • And other forms of damage

With that being said, it might be possible to drag your kayak across sand or soft grass without damaging it. But if I’m honest, it’s probably best to carry it; you never know what’s hiding below the grass.

Tools To Use That Make Portaging Your Kayak Easier 

Portaging a kayak isn’t easy, but a few tools have been created to make the experience more manageable.

Let’s take a quick look:

Kayak Cart

One of the easiest ways of portaging your kayak is to use specially designed kayak carts. They have big beefy wheels and tires, which makes them great for traveling around rugged terrain.

The downside is:

You have to find a place to store the kayak carts while you’re paddling, which isn’t an easy task when you take a look at some of them. Also, it might be tricky for beginners to know how to use a kayak cart properly.

Skid Plate

Okay, I know I said you shouldn’t drag your kayak, but this isn’t an issue with the right tools. Skid plates (keel guards) were designed to add a layer of protection to the keel of your kayak. When you drag the kayak, the skid plate takes the damage, not your kayak.

Yoke

You often don’t see a yoke on a kayak; it’s usually reserved for larger boats like canoes. The yoke is the beam that runs across the canoe’s center and can be used to help you carry them. 

And this is thanks to the cross beam having an indentation that fits comfortably around your neck and shoulders.

The great thing is:

Yokes are now being made available for kayakers to make it easier to portage the kayak. Some people are even making their own, so they don’t have to pay a considerable amount for it.

Carry Strap

The final tool at your disposal is the carry strap. Kayak carry straps attach to the stern and bow parts of your kayak. The padded strap allows you to carry it on your shoulder more comfortably.

Using the carry strap doesn’t seem much more manageable than lifting it onto your shoulder, but it makes a difference. Because it doesn’t block your visibility when you’re walking, there’s less chance of injury.

How Do You Pick Up A Kayak By Yourself?

I’ve already briefly mentioned how to lift your kayak, but the thing is:

You must get it right to avoid injury, so I want to explain the best method for a few seconds.

Kayaks are heavy, even if you have a smaller kayak, and if you lift it the wrong way, you can seriously damage your back. So, here’s a quick guide to lifting your kayak:

Lightweight Kayaks

If you have a lightweight kayak, you shouldn’t have too many issues carrying it yourself as long as you’re in reasonable shape.

Here are the steps you need to take:

  1. Start with the kayak on the ground in front of you. The kayak’s bow should be facing in the direction you’re going to travel. You must be facing in the direction you want to travel and standing next to the cockpit.
  2. Bend your knees and squat down.
  3. Grab the near rim of the kayak.
  4. Now slide the kayak onto your thighs while your knees are still bent.
  5. Reach across the opposite side of the cockpit.
  6. Lift the kayak as you stand up and place it on your shoulders. Don’t use brute force; use your legs.

When carrying your kayak, ensure you’re still wearing your PFD (life jacket); it provides a nice amount of cushioning for the kayak to rest on your shoulder.

Larger Kayaks

If you have a larger kayak, you might find it too heavy to carry by yourself. For this reason, you might find it easier to split the weight between two people:

  • Again, point the bow in the direction you want to travel.
  • Have one person stand at the bow and the other at the stern.
  • Bend your knees and grab the handles on the kayak. Many kayaks come with carry handles, but if you’re doesn’t, you can add carry handles without too many issues.
  • Both people straighten their legs simultaneously to lift the kayak up.

With this method, you can carry two kayaks at the same time, which can make life a lot easier. Just make sure you’re both walking at the same speed and communicate while walking with two kayaks.

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

At one point in your kayaking adventure, you’ll have to portage your kayak in the great outdoors at one point in time, which is why it’s a good idea to be prepared.

The first time you carry your kayak will be challenging, but over time, it becomes much easier the more you do it.

I’ve given you more than enough tips to take on the challenge, but if I had to leave you with the most important tip…

It would be to practice lifting and carrying your kayak as often as possible. Everything becomes more manageable with training, which is why it makes so much sense to practice.

Second to practicing, you should take as much time planning the route as possible. The more time you spend preparing the route, the less trouble you will get yourself into.

If you’re interested in more kayaking tips, why not check out this article on how to transport a kayak on a small car?

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is A Kayak Yoke?

A kayak yoke is a semi-curved piece of wood that can help to prevent the kayak from slipping off your shoulder. And this can make it a lot more comfortable to carry your kayak long distances without hurting your shoulder. 

How Do You Portage A Heavy Kayak?

The best way to portage your heavy kayak is to carry it with two people. Kayaks are heavy, and if you’re struggling to carry them by yourself, why not ask your kayaking partner to help you? It’s the safest way of transporting it.

How Do You Portage Inflatable Kayaks?

You can portage your inflatable kayak the same way as you would with any other kayak. The main area of concern is walking into a sharp tree branch and puncturing your kayak. Some people like to deflate their inflatable kayak before they get moving, but it’s up to you if you want to do that.

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Hey, my name's Jason, and before I was a writer, I worked as an outdoor activity instructor where I took groups kayaking and camping. Now I use my personal experiences to share tips and tricks I've learned over the years. For as long as I can remember, I've been passionate about the outdoors, and now I want to share that passion with my readers.