How to Portage a Kayak: Carrying Techniques

Three Recreational Kayakers With Helmets

Carrying Techniques: How to Portage a Kayak

Kayaking is a fun and exciting outdoor activity that can take you to beautiful places and help you stay active. However, there are times when you need to carry your kayak over land, such as when you encounter an obstacle or when you need to transport your kayak from one place to another. This is called portage, requiring specific techniques to make it easier and safer.

Understanding portage is important for kayakers who want to explore different waterways and terrains. Portage carries a kayak over land, which can be done differently depending on the situation. Choosing the right kayak for portage is also crucial, as some kayaks are heavier or more difficult to carry than others. Before portage, kayakers should prepare themselves and their gear and learn the best carrying techniques to avoid injuries and damage to their equipment.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding portage is essential for kayakers who want to explore different waterways and terrains.
  • Choosing the right kayak for portage and preparing yourself and your gear is crucial for a safe and successful portage.
  • Learning and practicing the best carrying techniques can help avoid injuries and damage to your equipment during portage.

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Understanding Portage

Portage is carrying a kayak over land from one body of water to another. It is a necessary skill for kayakers who want to explore different waterways or navigate around obstacles like dams or waterfalls. However, portaging can be challenging, especially for beginners or those with physical limitations.

To successfully portage a kayak, it is important to understand the terrain and plan. Kayakers should research the portage location and map out the most efficient path, considering changes in elevation, obstacles like rocks or fallen trees, and the kayak’s weight and gear.

Kayakers should also be aware of their physical limitations and take breaks as needed during the portage. It is important to use proper lifting techniques to avoid injury, such as bending at the knees and lifting with the legs instead of the back.

Additionally, kayakers should consider using portage carts or wheels to make the process easier. These devices can be attached to the kayak and rolled over land instead of carrying it.

Overall, understanding the terrain, planning, and using proper lifting techniques and equipment can make portaging a kayak a more manageable and enjoyable experience.

Choosing the Right Kayak for Portage

When portaging a kayak, choosing the right kayak is crucial. Not all kayaks are created equal; some are better suited for portaging than others. In this section, we’ll discuss some key factors to consider when choosing a kayak for portage.

Weight Considerations

One of the most important factors to consider when choosing a kayak for portage is its weight. A heavy kayak can be difficult to carry over long distances and can quickly tire out even the most experienced paddlers. Generally, lighter kayaks are better for portage, as they are easier to carry and maneuver.

Size and Shape

The size and shape of a kayak can also significantly impact its portability. Generally speaking, shorter kayaks are easier to carry than longer ones, as they are more compact and easier to maneuver. Additionally, kayaks with a narrower profile are generally easier to carry than those with a wider profile, as they are less likely to get caught on obstacles along the portage route.

When choosing a kayak for portage, it’s also important to consider its overall shape. Kayaks with a more streamlined shape are generally easier to carry than those with a more boxy shape, as they are less likely to get caught on obstacles along the portage route.

In summary, when choosing a kayak for portage, it’s important to consider its weight, size, and shape. A lighter, more compact kayak with a streamlined shape is generally better suited for portage than a heavier, bulkier kayak with a wider profile. By choosing the right kayak for portage, paddlers can make carrying their kayak over land as easy and efficient as possible.

senior male paddler is launching an inflatable whitewater kayak on a small river - Poudre River in Fort Collins, Colorado, winter or early spring scenery

Preparation Before Portage

Before embarking on a kayak portage, it is important to mentally and physically prepare. This section will discuss some physical conditioning and proper lifting techniques that can help prevent injuries during the portage.

Physical Conditioning

Kayak portaging involves carrying a kayak and its gear over a distance, which can be strenuous. Therefore, being physically fit and prepared for the task is important. Regular physical exercise can help build strength, endurance, and flexibility, essential for portaging.

Some exercises that can help prepare for kayak portaging include:

  • Cardiovascular exercises such as jogging, cycling, or swimming to build endurance
  • Strength training exercises such as weightlifting or bodyweight exercises to build strength
  • Stretching exercises such as yoga or Pilates to improve flexibility

Staying hydrated and well-nourished before and during the portage is also important. Drinking enough water and eating a healthy meal beforehand can help prevent dehydration and fatigue.

Proper Lifting Techniques

Improper lifting techniques can lead to injuries such as back strains, sprains, or herniated discs. Therefore, it is important to use proper lifting techniques during the portage.

Some tips for proper lifting techniques include:

  • Bend at the knees and hips, not at the waist, to lift the kayak
  • Keep the back straight and core muscles engaged
  • Lift with the legs, not the back
  • Hold the kayak close to the body to reduce strain on the arms and back
  • Use a partner or a kayak cart to help distribute the weight and reduce the load on the body

By following these physical conditioning and proper lifting techniques, kayakers can reduce the risk of injuries during the portage and enjoy a safe and successful trip.

Carrying Techniques

Carrying techniques are crucial in ensuring a smooth and safe journey when portaging a kayak. There are two main types of portage: solo portage and tandem portage. Each requires different techniques and strategies.

Solo Portage

Solo portage involves carrying a kayak alone. It can be challenging, especially if the kayak is heavy or the portage route is long. However, with the right technique, it can be done with ease.

The first step in solo portage is ensuring the kayak is properly balanced. The center of gravity should be in the middle of the kayak, and the weight should be evenly distributed. This will make carrying easier and prevent the kayak from tipping over.

Next, the paddler should lift the kayak onto their shoulder. The kayak should rest on the shoulder blade, not the neck or spine. The paddler should use both hands to hold the kayak in place and keep it balanced.

The paddler should take small, steady steps when walking with the kayak. They should keep their back straight and their core engaged to prevent strain or injury. If the portage route is rocky or uneven, the paddler should take extra care to avoid tripping or slipping.

Tandem Portage

Tandem portage involves carrying a kayak with another person. It requires coordination and communication between the two paddlers to ensure a safe and efficient portage.

The first step in tandem portage is to lift the kayak onto both paddlers’ shoulders. The paddlers should stand facing each other and lift the kayak together. They should use both hands to hold the kayak in place and keep it balanced.

The paddlers should take small, synchronized steps when walking with the kayak. They should communicate to ensure they are both moving at the same pace. If the portage route is rocky or uneven, the paddlers should take extra care to avoid tripping or slipping.

In summary, carrying techniques are essential for a successful kayak portage. Proper technique and coordination can make all the difference, whether paddling solo or tandem. By following these tips, paddlers can ensure safe and efficient postage every time.

Pros and Cons of Kayaking Carrying Techniques

Regarding kayaking, portaging is an essential skill that every kayaker must learn. There are different techniques that kayakers use to carry their kayaks over land. Each technique has its advantages and disadvantages. This section will discuss the pros and cons of kayaking carrying techniques.

Three Recreational Kayakers With Helmets

Carrying the Kayak on the Shoulder

One of the most common techniques kayakers use is carrying the kayak on the shoulder. This technique involves lifting the kayak onto the shoulder and carrying it over land. This technique is popular because it is easy to do and requires no special equipment.


  • This technique is easy to learn and does not require any special equipment.
  • It allows the kayaker to have one hand free to carry other gear.
  • It is a quick way to move the kayak over short distances.


  • This technique can cause shoulder and back strain if the kayak is heavy.
  • Balancing the kayak on the shoulder can be difficult, especially in windy conditions.
  • It can be tiring to carry the kayak for long distances.

Using a Kayak Cart

Another technique that kayakers use to carry their kayaks is using a kayak cart. A kayak cart is a small wheeled device designed to carry a kayak over land. This technique is popular because it allows kayakers to carry their kayaks long distances without getting tired.


  • This technique is ideal for carrying the kayak over long distances.
  • It reduces the risk of injury to the kayaker’s back and shoulders.
  • It allows the kayaker to carry other gear with ease.


  • Kayak carts can be expensive to purchase.
  • They can be difficult to maneuver over rough terrain.
  • They require extra storage space on the kayak.

Using a Partner Carry

The partner carry technique involves two kayakers carrying the kayak over land. One kayaker lifts the bow of the kayak while the other kayaker lifts the stern. This technique is popular because it allows kayakers to carry their kayaks long distances without getting tired.


  • This technique is ideal for carrying heavy kayaks over long distances.
  • It reduces the risk of injury to the kayaker’s back and shoulders.
  • It allows the kayakers to work together and build teamwork skills.


  • This technique requires two kayakers to work together.
  • It cannot be easy to coordinate the movements of the two kayakers.
  • It can be challenging to balance the kayak while carrying it.

In conclusion, kayakers use different techniques to carry their kayaks over land. Each technique has its advantages and disadvantages. Kayakers should choose the technique that best suits their needs and abilities.

Safety Measures During Portage

When portaging a kayak, safety should always be a top priority. Here are some important safety measures to keep in mind:

Wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

A PFD should always be worn during portage, as well as during kayaking. PFDs can save lives in case of an accident, and they can also help keep you afloat if you accidentally fall into the water during the portage.

Use Proper Carrying Techniques

Carrying a kayak can be awkward and difficult, but using proper techniques can help prevent injuries. When carrying a kayak, keep your back straight and use your legs to lift the kayak. Avoid twisting or bending at the waist, which can cause back strain. Use a kayak cart or trolley for longer distances to avoid unnecessary strain.

Choose the Right Path

When choosing a path for the portage, consider the terrain and any obstacles that may be in the way. Avoid steep inclines or declines, and choose a wide path for the kayak. Look for a well-maintained path, and avoid overgrown paths with loose rocks or debris.

Check the Weather

Before starting the portage:

  1. Check the weather forecast for the day.
  2. Avoid portaging during heavy rain or strong winds, as this can make the portage more difficult and dangerous.
  3. If the weather turns bad during the portage, seek shelter and wait until the weather improves before continuing.

Stay Hydrated

Portaging can be physically demanding, so staying hydrated is important throughout the process. Bring plenty of water, and take frequent breaks to rest and hydrate. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, as these can dehydrate the body.

Following these safety measures can make portaging a kayak a safe and enjoyable experience.

Kayaking is not about being better than anyone else, it's about being better than you used to be.

Post-Portage Care for Your Kayak

After successfully portaging your kayak, it’s important to take care of it to ensure it stays in good condition. Here are some tips for post-portage care for your kayak:

  • Inspect the kayak: Before getting back on the water, inspect your kayak for any damage that may have occurred during the portage. Check the hull, keel, and bow for cracks, scratches, or dents. If you notice any damage, take care of it immediately to prevent it from worsening.
  • Clean the kayak: After a portage, your kayak may be covered in dirt, mud, or other debris. Clean it thoroughly with a mild soap and water to remove any dirt or grime that may have accumulated during the portage.
  • Dry the kayak: Ensure it is completely dry before storing it. Use a towel or rag to wipe down the entire kayak, including the cockpit and other areas where water may have accumulated.
  • Store the kayak properly: When not in use, store your kayak in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. If you’re storing your kayak outside, use a cover to protect it from the elements.
  • Maintain the kayak: Regular maintenance is key to keeping your kayak in good condition. Check the hardware, such as the screws and bolts, to make sure they’re tight. Lubricate the moving parts, such as the rudder or skeg, to ensure they move smoothly.

Following these post-portage care tips, you can keep your kayak in top condition and ready for your next adventure on the water.


In conclusion, portaging a kayak is essential for any kayaker who wants to explore new waterways and access remote locations. Portaging can be challenging, but it can be done safely and efficiently with the right techniques and equipment.

Kayakers should always plan their route, consider the terrain and obstacles they may encounter, and choose the most efficient path for portaging. It is essential to communicate with paddle partners to agree on the best approach and ensure everyone’s safety.

When it comes to carrying the kayak, there are several techniques to choose from, including the shoulder carry, the hip carry, and the hand carry. The shoulder carry is the most common and efficient way to carry a kayak, but it may only be suitable for some kayakers. A hip carry is an alternative option that may be more comfortable for some kayakers, while the hand carry is best for short distances.

Kayakers should also consider using specialized portage carts or trolleys to make the process easier and more efficient, especially for longer portages or difficult terrain. These devices can help distribute the kayak’s weight and reduce the risk of injury.

Overall, portaging a kayak requires practice, patience, and preparation. With the right techniques and equipment, kayakers can safely and efficiently carry their kayak over land and access new waterways for exploration and adventure.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some effective kayak portage techniques?

Some effective kayak portage techniques include using a kayak carry strap, a kayak cart, and proper lifting techniques. It is also important to scout the portage route beforehand and choose the most efficient path.

How can I make carrying my kayak easier?

To make carrying your kayak easier, you can use a kayak carry strap or a kayak cart. Lifting with your legs and not your back is also important to prevent injury.

What are some recommended kayak carry straps?

Several recommended kayak carry straps include the Yak-Gear Universal Kayak and Canoe Strap, the Malone Auto Racks Deluxe Kayak Carrier Kit, and the Seattle Sports Sherpak Boat Roller.

Are kayak carts worth investing in for portaging?

Kayak carts can be a worthwhile investment for portaging, especially if you frequently portage your kayak over long distances or rough terrain. They can help prevent injury and make the portage process easier.

Can inflatable kayaks be easily portaged?

Inflatable kayaks can be easily portaged, but choosing a kayak cart or carry strap compatible with inflatable kayaks is important. Ensuring the kayak is properly inflated and secured before portaging is also important.

What are some features to look for in a folding kayak cart?

When choosing a folding kayak cart, looking for features such as a sturdy frame, large wheels for rough terrain, and adjustable straps to secure the kayak is important. It is also important to choose a cart that is compatible with your specific kayak model.

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