How to Portage a Canoe with a Canoe Yoke?

People generally avoid unpleasant subjects, which is why people avoid talking about portaging a canoe with a canoe yoke. You can find countless resources discussing popular canoeing topics such as the different types of gear you can use, the different foods, the best and worst canoe routes and even paddling techniques.

Finding information on portaging canoes, however, can be rather elusive despite it being such a prominent and painful aspect of canoeing. You may hear of the brave souls who endure the pain of portaging their canoe with or without a canoe yoke until they arrive at their destination. Once there, the pain finally dissipates and you’re one with nature – ok, ok we can stop right there. Portage is painful, but it is a pain we have to learn to deal with, not wish away, if we are to enjoy canoeing.

There are ways to efficiently portage your canoe with a canoe yoke while greatly reducing and even eliminating the pain involved so you can truly enjoy your canoeing without worrying about what hurts. Let’s discuss the different aspects of portaging a canoe and how to use the canoe yoke as a tool to help you, not hinder you.

First This is How Not to Portage a Canoe

When lifting large and fairly heavy objects, you know, like a 15-foot long canoe, it is probably not a good idea to wear sandals for starters. Beyond the obvious fact that you are more exposed to wicked bug bites and scratches from branches, sandals don’t provide the necessary ankle support for a canoe portage. So leave them waiting for you at home and use sturdy outdoors footwear with good traction.

Lashing paddles together to make a customized canoe yoke is not only a poor short-term fix, it can also be a painful mistake when you wipe out. And yes, we all wipe out eventually. During a wipeout, the lashings tend to shift and results in the canoe falling hard on your shoulders , potentially injuring you and anyone near you. Therefore, make sure you invest in a high quality yoke; it will make your life much easier.

Now, Here are the Proper Portage Techniques

The following portage method will help prevent injuries and reduce any pain normally associated with the transport of a canoe. Some techniques can be done either alone or with a partner as follows:

The Two Person Lift

With this technique, you and your partner will need to place your left arms onto the outer gunnels and the right arms on the inside gunnel. Then, lift the canoe over your head for transporting and place back down.

Two-person lifts are generally used to carry boats for short distances or to lift them up onto car or truck roof racks. This type of lift is also more effective on flatter terrains as portaging with two people can make seeing the trail a little more difficult. If you will be doing a lot of two-person lifts, it may be worthwhile to have your canoe outfitted with both a front and a rear canoe yoke for greater ease and stability.

Two-Person Lift, One Person Carry

This is similar to the two-person lift, but once your partner has helped lift and place the canoe yoke on your shoulders, they can walk away (hopefully because they will be too busy carrying other things). Once you reach the portage area you partner can help you place the canoe back on the floor.

One-Person Lift

This is where you go into solo-mode and despite the common misunderstanding that you need to be strong (although that certainly helps!) this technique has more to do with technique and momentum rather than muscles. The goal is to make the canoe work for you and this is accomplished by first putting the canoe up against your thighs and putting the right hand under the yoke. Then, lift the canoe up and onto your thighs, bring your left hand over the gunnel and balance the canoe on your knees. Once done, try bringing the right hand over the inside gunnel and swing the canoe like a pendulum so that the yoke lands right on your shoulders.

It is important to remember that you are trying to make the canoe do most of the work for you. That means you are not lifting the canoe; the canoe is basically flipping itself over you.

Finally, to place it back down on the ground, you basically repeat these same steps but in reverse order. This technique requires plenty of balance and practice. If it’s your first time lifting a canoe solo, then try learning with an experienced instructor first as injuries can, and often do, occur.

Using A Canoe Yoke And A Tumpline

Using a tumpline is also another useful technique in portaging a canoe. A tumpline is essentially a strap that goes across the crown of the head and keeps the load in line with your spine. Tumplines are especially recommended when there is no canoe yoke in the canoe. In fact, some people even prefer using a tumpline even if the canoe has a yoke as some of the yoke designs don’t feel all that comfortable to some people when trying to portage a canoe.

canoe yoke

There are several advantages for using a tumpline for portaging a canoe. The first being that since a person’s spine is what really bears the weight of a canoe when carrying it, the tumpline helps maintain a better center thwart which keeps the canoe from sliding off while carrying it. The tumpline also helps the person keep a better balance and offers a good armrest as well.

Learn How to Properly Portage Your Canoe to Maximize Your Outdoors Experience

Learning how to portage your canoe the right way will significantly reduce the stress of the anticipation that people go through when planning their canoe trips. In fact, some people will even postpone their trips just so they do not have to deal with the portage issue. But as the above techniques demonstrate, there are practical steps you can take to make your life a lot easier and so you can get on with your trip and enjoy interacting with nature, gliding down river.