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Portage system suggestions?


Jul 4, 2009
Prince George, BC
I have snagged a slot for the Bowron Loop in late August (vaccination schedule contingent!). I have done the Bowron West Side as far as Babcock Lake before and also some other trips that had modest portages (e.g. Murtle Lake access). The Bowron portages are more notorious for difficulty and cart problems. I have a C-Tug cart with the solid wheels which has worked out fine before. On the Murtle trip I could carry most of my gear in the cockpit so was fine to do the portage in one shot.

I get the sense that on Bowron having all the gear in a loaded kayak is frowned upon: "If using a cart, the weight of cargo in canoe must not exceed 28 kg (60 lbs.). Portages are rugged & may be muddy. You must backpack all gear in excess of the 28 kg limit."

The folks I know up here who have done it are canoeists and they can carry the kitchen sink as needed. For a kayak bringing a portage pack or similar seems problematic as the ones I have looked at are too bulky to add to what needs to be packed away. Possibly with decent gear selection and pruning I might stay within the 28kg limit, since hauling water is not needed.

Any suggestion from those veterans who have suffered through it on what approach might be a best compromise? Also wondering about the cart selection- will the C-Tug be up to it?
Are you soloing the route or are you going with canoeist friends? If the latter, ask your friends if you can stow your portage pack in their boat when you are on the water.

If solo, you have a different situation. The Parks staff will ask you to put all your gear on their scales on the first morning up to the 60 lb limit for carrying in your boat. Everything within that limit is recorded on a laminated card that they will zap-strap to your boat so that, technically, a ranger can stop you on the trail for a spot check. If they find that you have any extra gear in your boat, I suppose they can fine you (or something). I’ve never seen or heard of it happening, but it’s possible. Also, the weight limit is intended to reduce damage to the trails.

So yes, if you are over the 60 lb limit, you’re supposed to carry the excess. If you pack like a backpacker, I suppose you’re good. If not, pack the smallest, heaviest things in a day pack. Note: the rangers are flexible on kitchen items, fishing rods, and axes, which don’t count toward your 60 lbs.

Regarding the cart, the issues are durability and wheel diameter. All the portages (except for the last two) have their nasty, stony, rooty bits. Expect swearing. You’ll want to be sure your cart can withstand the slamming and jolting you’ll subject it to (over the course of ~10 km total). And it helps if the wheels are larger diameter. On my first Bowron I took my Wheeleez kayak cart (the model with pneumatic tires). Much swearing. On my last two trips I took a beefy Western Canoe portage cart with large wheels. Reduced swearing. But I’ve always canoed the route, so stowing the cart is not an issue.

I’ve seen two parties with broken carts. Not a good scene. Again, if you are going with friends, a broken cart is not the end of the world, as you have at least one spare.

But in the end, you’ll have a great trip no matter the hassle with carts. Portaging is all part of the fun. At least that’s what you’ll say in retrospect!

I did the Bowrons on a solo kayak trip years ago. I wound up doing a "two carry" at each portage to keep below the 28kg. But if you can carry more weight (the denser items) in your backpack, you may be able to do a "one carry" with backpack and boat on wheels. Remember, you're not having to carry water!
I used a Paddleboy Heavy Lifter kayak cart, made of stainless tubing and with stainless steel bolts as axles. Rated to 400lb as I recall, but a google search suggests they're no longer made. (Don't be fooled by the CD Heavy Lifter cart, which as far as I can tell is aluminum tubing with the tubing itself as the axles. The problem with these carts is that even the soft plastic contact points from the tires will lathe through the aluminum on extended portages with loaded kayaks.)
Thanks- yes the plan is for a solo trip. Will try to avoid the need to bring a backpack of some description- I have several but they are fairly bulky. I will need to experiment with strapping on the cart- I see lots of pictures of kayaks with carts on the stern. Sounds like I will need to work on my cursing repertoire.
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When I did it, I was amazed at the amount of stress it put on the 2 carts we used and on other carts that I saw on the trip. The problems I mainly saw were the large size of the rockshelves, and roots - and to some degree mud and dips. This would cause impacts on the cart wheels differentially causing stress and frame twisting. So the important features were as Andrew and Philip refer to: wheel size and axle robustness.

In detail: [2 kayaks - all gear loaded]

1) wheels and axle - the carts that did the best had 12"[300mm] wheels and solid thru axles or frame. [I saw one bent frame kayak cart quickly pass me, hit a 6" high root on one side, and the wheel rotated 90deg sideways! At the 2nd stop I saw a 12" wheeled open frame canoe cart being repaired using spare paddle halves for the broken frame.] Most obstructions were less than 6"[150mm] so the big 12"[300mm] cart wheels would roll right over them, however smaller wheels would smash and stop. I had with me a lowish PVC partial A-frame cart with solid alum thru axles and 8" wheels and a highish minimal wood A-frame cart [that I designed] with solid steel thru axles and 10" solid wheels. The PVC cart was almost destroyed halfway thru and I used about 100' of line reinforcing and then careful maneuvering thru the whole rest of the trip. It was a constant hassle/frustration/worry and slowed us right down. [I and others have used the wood frame cart for the Bowrons without problem]
As Philip refers to, wheel bearing and bearings is an interesting failure point and I would say that all types have issues: so as overall the portages have some length, pre lubrication and pre corrosion removal will eliminate much of the wear issues. In my case the alum axles for the plastic wheels were ok prior, but the steel axle was smoothed out with some 400grit and seemed to be ok during and after.
Tires - from observation, the solid frame, 12" pneumatic tired canoe carts seemed to handle it all the best - as they were high, and the wheels seemed to even out the roughness of the trails - but as they are so bulky/awkward didn't see any on kayaks.

2) frame - as there are potentially a lot of twisting forces, a solid frame [design and/or materials] will be advantagous. Take some extra line in case reinforcing/repair is required.

3) ties - the cart needs to be firmly [but flexibly a bit] attached under the centre of the kayak [with a little weight to the bow - stern carts nfg if kayak loaded!] with front and back straps/lines that stop the cart from twisting when only one wheel is impacted or moving backwards [even slightly is a hassle] if both wheels hit an obstruction. [Expect to be walking at a brisk pace with the loaded kayak and a wheel immediately drops in a hole.] Camstraps are the simplest - to either deck fittings or simplest under decklines and around front and rear of the coaming.

anyway, some thoughts
All good stuff. Certainly heard that it can be a horror if the trails are wet and muddy. Will take a hard look at a more robust cart. Also reminded of some of Philip.AK's old trip reports- just get a plastic RM boat and drag it around as needed.
Last summer I did the Powell Forest Route, which doesn’t take carts — the trails are too burly — so I had to do old-school portaging. Frankly, while the work was difficult, it was actually less frustrating than managing a boat on a cart.

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How heavy is your kayak? Less than 20 kg is reasonable. Not carrying water so no weight there. Gear - tent, sleeping bag, a change of clothes and the rest would be food. Hiking over mountains, same gear, you don't want to have more than 20 kg so where is the weight problem?

Heavy-Lifter Cart, Current Designs Kayaks - What a complicated design that is! My first, the prototype T-bar, was welded aluminium tubing but it could carry a pack-horse. Certainly no problem with a loaded double dragged through soft sand. The only problem was narrow wheels being a bit buried. Use a stainless steel tube axle and the wheels will break before the cart does. Bearing? What bearings?

As for a PVC cart, all our other ones are, they might do OK with reasonably big wheels on your rough tracks.

The design, note I don't buy when I can design and build as I want reliable gear, not commercial gear -

Attaching - two straps. Down the horizontal fore and aft tube, under the hull down the other horizontal tube and over the top to clip to the start. The other strap running in the opposite direction. Pick the kayak up and the cart stays attached.

I recommend the cart be just aft of the cockpit. So, backpack on with most of the gear and a kayak all up say 25 kg shouldn't be too difficult. I said not TOO difficult.
I would not use PVC for trails described above, as it can be brittle. I dropped mine and it broke at the molded joints.
PVC has the advantage of screw having together fittings. Using PVC you can design a rack that can be taken all apart.
I would be more worried about damange to my Kayak if it was loaded with 60 + pounds of weight. (I have a stripper).

We need an aircraft engineer to design a set of wheels built into the hull of a Kayak, like aircraft landing wheels.
It is ust a fantasy of mine. I am in no way sugessting a flaying Kayak!
The Bowron portage trails do seem to be a torture test for carts- the stories here and elsewhere sometimes describe a trail of broken and limping carts. I suspect that the weights being carried at times are extreme- the canoeists can carry a lot and many do, some also taking two weeks to doing the loop. When I did the West side some years ago the canoeists at one camp gave me dinner as they were still trying to get through the food they had, that close to the end.

I'm thinking to bring my cedar strip kayak as it is the biggest and with no skeg has a lot of room. The C-Tug cart fit inside with everything else when I was on the Murtle Lake trip. I'll probably go around the loop fairly fast but the weather there is one reason to have the option to sit out a few days.
We need an aircraft engineer to design a set of wheels built into the hull of a Kayak, like aircraft landing wheels.
It is ust a fantasy of mine. I am in no way sugessting a flying Kayak!
David Winkworth in Australia (Nadgee Kayaks) developed a wheel/cart design where the wheel units slid into a tube epoxied into the kayak aft the cockpit. Wheels slid out for stowage while paddling.
Stainless welded construction so not DIY for most people without welding skills and the right equipment.

See this page from Douglas Wilcox's blog :
Winkworth 1.jpg

Winkworth 2.jpg

Blog comment from 'James'

James22/03/2012, 09:54
Hi Douglas,

I just saw your blog entry regarding kayak rolleys. I thought you may be interested in a system I have recently fitted to my kayak. It was invented by David Winkworth, who was the owner/designer of Nadgee kayaks on the S coast of NSW. He has since sold the business. The wheels are light weight golf cart type, attached temporarily to stainless steel struts. The struts are located in the side of the kayak where a composite tube has been fabricated into position. You then secure the wheels front and rear with cord teathers. You can install it in the water, and then walk the loaded kayak up the beach; assuming no surf. Works on all but the deepest soft sand. Some people have modified the system to use the balloon wheelez tyres. When finished using, the struts are removed and wound together with the teathers and put in a hatch. Depending on your kayak set up, you can put it all in the hatch or secure it on the deck for extended trips. Works more efficiently than trolleys.

Of course, wheels that work for rolling up a beach don't do the job on a canoe portage like the ones described above.

Personally I can't see the appeal of taking a sea kayak on a canoe route with portages. Get with the Canadian tradition! Hump that Royalex Expedition canoe on to your shoulders and get moving! :)
Been there, done that....
Personally I can't see the appeal of taking a sea kayak on a canoe route with portages. Get with the Canadian tradition! Hump that Royalex Expedition canoe on to your shoulders and get moving! :)Been there, done that....

I've done the Bowrons three times, once solo kayaking, once in a solo kayak with my wife and a friend in a double kayak, and once as the bow paddler in a canoe with a skilled canoeist in the stern.

The appeal of the kayaks for me was that I'm simply not that skilled a canoeist. So handling a canoe solo on the big lakes and moving water would have been a challenge. In my experience, it takes longer to convert kayaks from on-water to portage mode, since you have to shift the cargo from the bow and stern compartments and put a lot of it in the cockpit to centre the weight over the wheels and reduce the tendency for the boat to sag. Then you have to reverse the process at the other end. Typically with a canoe, you simply slide the wheels under and you're on your way - much faster. But with a kayak you often make up that lost time in greater on-water speed (of a solo kayak vs a solo canoe) and especially on the bigger lakes in the circuit when they blow up - I was often merrily paddling in my kayak when the canoes were running for shore.
Indeed. I know we’re veering off into kayak vs canoe territory here, but what the heck. I’m originally an Ontario boy, so canoeing was part of the picture growing up. When we moved out to BC at the end of my elementary schooling, I kept up the canoeing thanks to a dedicated outdoor ed teacher at my school, whose name, appropriately enough, was Mr. Woods. He had us practice our canoe strokes on Mill lake in Abbotsford and when we were ready, he took us down the Harrison River. That early exposure to single-blade paddling was a gift, as canoeing is technically more difficult to master than kayaking.

To this day, I believe that children should be introduced first to canoeing. It’s a better skill progression and it teaches them teamwork, as bow and stern paddler really do have to communicate. Additionally, I would argue that risk management with canoe groups is easier, given that the craft are indeed less seaworthy: as a leader, you tend to be more conservative in your route choices and environmental limits. Also, and this proves yet again that the dangerous part of paddling is what happens on land, kids are far less likely to hurt themselves lifting, carrying, loading, and unloading canoes. Double kayaks are monsters, even unloaded.

Which brings us back to Bowron. Given that Parks has very graciously invested in building and maintaining cart-friendly trails, there is no reason not to take a sea kayak, though as Philip noted above, they are no fun to load, unload, and portage. But you do get a speed edge and increased seaworthiness for that run down Isaac Lake. I think the canoes have the edge in the moving water, especially the Chute, which I first ran with my 12-year old daughter as bow paddler. We hit the eddy line and she put in a heroic cross Duffek that turned us snappily. The crowd on shore cheered as we paddled into the haystacks downstream. It was my daughter’s moment of paddling glory.

Back to the original topic: @eriktheviking , I understand your concerns. I’ll be doing Bowron again this summer. The plan is to have my wife and me in the canoe and my daughter in a short, light plastic kayak (Dagger Alchemy S). Though I have two carts (the ones mentioned above) and so should be fine, the portaging is still something I think about more than other parts of the trip.

It’s no secret that I have a strong derision for unbraced T-framed carts - as stress is concentrated on the leg/arm intersection joints requiring them to be ‘moment joints’. To accommodate the high stresses - height compromise, use compromise, load compromise, speed compromise, or good materials and /or good detail design is required. The two examples shown a few posts above both have that issue and the concern is how well that issue is covered. Of course it can be dealt with and many carts like this perform perfectly acceptably, but it is an issue.

However to me, one simple approach is to not have moment joints present in the first place - as they are not a requirement and their lack allows better/easier accommodation of additional issues: but as I said, that’s my personal view – and there are lots of T carts or aspects of them out there.


. . . the reality is that there does exist a multiple of different types of carts that people have or can buy - big framed to compact, large [or wide] wheeled to small, poor materials to good, simple to complex, light to heavy, cheap to expensive, sleeve to roller to simple bearinged - that can do the basic job of carrying a heavy loaded kayak in challenging conditions.

What’s important is the consideration and accommodation of the relevant issues in the choice made.
I think the canoes have the edge in the moving water, especially the Chute, which I first ran with my 12-year old daughter as bow paddler. We hit the eddy line and she put in a heroic cross Duffek that turned us snappily. The crowd on shore cheered as we paddled into the haystacks downstream. It was my daughter’s moment of paddling glory.

"Have the edge in moving water" - I see what you did there! And yes, I agree that a boat with a bow and stern paddler who know what they're doing will have the edge over a single sea kayak because of their ability to crank turns from either end. My approach to The Chute and suchlike whitish water when in a solo sea kayak is to go into survival paddling mode: you can't spin like a whitewater kayak, but you can cross eddylines just as you would in ocean currents and you can back-ferry at a gentle angle to work around obstacles - the paddling equivalent of a three-point turn. Of course the judges waiting on the banks of The Chute will deny you points due to lack of style when they hold up their signs or fingers, but you'll also (hopefully) be denying them yard-sale video footage for youtube.
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Back ferrying — now there’s an under-appreciated tactic. Apparently it’s not emphasized as much these days in WW solo canoeing because the boats are just so darn turny that it’s not needed. But yeah, it’s definitely a great tool to have.
it takes longer to convert kayaks from on-water to portage mode, since you have to shift the cargo from the bow and stern compartments and put a lot of it in the cockpit to centre the weight over the wheels and reduce the tendency for the boat to sag.
Sag? Bending? BENDING??? What? Are you talking about a folding kayak? My kayaks can not sag.

As for T-bar carts breaking because of the design, I suspect my prototype might (note might) break under a 2 - 3+ tonne load. Except the wheels will have given up long before that and the stress suggested might damage the kayak AND how is someone pulling their kayak on a cart going to exert that force?

Come on Nick, get real, yes it could break given enough force. NO it could never break under the forces available (a human pulling it) if designed properly with the correct materials.

Even the light PVC down-pipe tubing ones survive a lot of abuse.

NOTE - proper design because there are similar designs on the web with a crossbar plus the axle. That fixed cross bar (above the axle) should not be there. Axle only makes it easy to dismantle and fit in the kayak too.
Sag? Bending? BENDING??? What? Are you talking about a folding kayak? My kayaks can not sag./QUOTE]

I didn't express this very well. I didn't mean sag in the sense of hogging and sagging as a ship does in waves. I was referring to the fact that if you have all the cargo and weight in the ends, and your wheels amidships, you're having to support a lot of that weight, as you would with a wheelbarrow. Over the course of a several kilometer portage, that's a pain. If you transfer the weight to the center so that the bow only just tips to the ground, the wheels are supporting most of the weight and it's much easier to pull.
Yah, I have to go with Sandy here - you move all the gear into the ckpt, Philip??

If the cart relatively balances the kayak - the only difficulty would be if there is some angular downward/upward momentum imparted at the ends - like a teeter-totter with big wts at the ends vs one with all the wt in the middle: as the kayak essentially maintains a constant horizontal attitude [ideally with a tallish cart to go thru dips] , it really won't make much diff if the load is distributed in differing [balanced] manners. If the kayak was relatively shallow like a SUP, there could be sagging - or a loaded flat bottomed plastic yak being pulled across the desert in summer, heh heh.

[mind you, if you were doing a lot of slaloming - that could get tiring and difficult. So it might depend if the trail had repeated sharp bends or if one's walk was a little wavy. The alternative of course is that end loaded yaks tend to keep that horizontal attitude and the coffee stable in the cupholders for the designated coffee breaks.]


and T-bar? there are lots out there, they work if issues are accommodated, if yours work - noones to complain.
Why Trolleys Break

There are comments about breaking trolleys. I'm not surprised if people build weak trolleys as shown on the web.

Here are a couple off the web. Undersized tube diameter and over complicated construction. The wheels I use have plain bearing on SS tubing. No grit or sand getting in to the ball races. No wear problems. Pins to retain the wheels so simply pull the pins and off come the wheels for stowage.

This is a really badly designed trolley, the sides will split apart on a rough tow -

Undersized pipe diameter (3/4")

18 expensive unnecessary pieces (Ts, 45 degrees, right angles). That is 36 unnecessary glued joins.

Nearly 10 feet of unnecessary pipe.

Axle - 36″ 5/8th threaded rod - WHY? Nuts and washers etc. to keep the wheels on - WHY?

I appears the wheels are rolling on threaded rod. Wear?

I use a metal tube and SS welding-rod pins to retain the wheels. note above my pin retained wheels.

Here is another totally over complicated one in the same vein -

5 more Ts than needed
Under sized, about half the diameter that should be used
Nuts and expensive threaded rod
Pipe caps unneeded

Unrealistic pricing. Their totals tend to be the price of one of each item, not half a dozen or more.

Ts splitting (or not) width-wise - as my straps go over the kayak possibly pulling the cart apart, they also go under the kayak pulling the cart together. Width-wise stress should be about nil.