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Picking the Perfect Canoe Pack

Posted by David Hoole

Picking the Perfect Canoe Pack

It doesn’t matter what you call ‘em… A Canoe Pack, Portage Pack, Duluth Pack, we know what you mean. But do you know what they’re used for, which size would suit you best, and why you should choose one of ours? Read on, we’ll be happy to tell you about ‘em, how they can make your life, and our whole product line better.

Everything we make here at the shop harkens back to a trusty Canoe Pack. We stake our claim of reliability and functionality on them. The same great raw materials (waxed cotton canvas, buckskin padded backstraps, heavy duty full grain leather, and solid brass hardware) used on the canoe packs, along with the know-how needed to put them together, go into our whole line of travel luggage, briefcases, purses, daypacks and accessories. Everything we make is over built like a Canoe Pack.

By definition, a canoe pack is an extra large backpack with shoulder straps (we call ‘em backstraps), and has a tumpline. What’s a tumpline?! Well it’s a long strap connected to the sides of a pack just below the top lid. When placed across and just above the forehead it allows the transfer of weight straight down the spine and gets it off the shoulders. Yes, it’s a bit arcane, but it really does work. If you’ve never tried it, you’ve never known what you’re missing.

The body of a Canoe Pack is intentionally wide and short to keep weight low. In a canoe you’ll appreciate that when the water gets sporty due to wind blown waves or swift current. A low center of gravity provides stability on the water. They also sit low on a back, especially compared to an internal frame backpacking pack. That’s good because you can still portage a canoe on your shoulders while wearing a canoe pack. There’s no frame or structure to any of our packs. That allows the load to better conform to the rounded bottom of a canoe (it also works great in the back of a vehicle for car camping) so you can stow more gear in a given space. Frame packs don't work for beans in a boat. The shapes don’t match (too much wasted space along the sides), plus they’re loud as they bang around, a canvas canoe pack is more streamlined, simpler, and quieter in a boat.

We make two styles of Canoe Packs at our shop in Duluth, MN U.S.A.— Box Style and Envelope Style. Envelope packs are the originals, the front panel and back panel get sewn together so they’re wide and narrow. Box style packs have an extra panel, we call it a gusset, sewn in between the front and back. The pack body is shaped like a box and provides more internal capacity and generally works better with round stuff sacks used by folks today.

Which is right for you?

Old No.7 Pack is sized in the middle for an average set of camp gear. By average, we mean it’s a big pack for a full set of well chosen camp gear. This waxed canvas pack body oughtta be just big enough to get a tent and everything else in one bag. You won’t be able to get too many creature comforts in there, and that’s a good thing. Padded buckskin backstraps take some of the pain out of a long haul, the tumpline will help as well. There is a limiting factor that keeps a camper honest when using a pack that’s just the right size. If everything doesn’t fit, what are you trying to bring this time that you didn’t need last time? 5,216 cubic inch capacity +. Plus means you can add gear out the top and still close the top flap with the long leather flap straps.

Old No. 3 is an envelope style pack in the same size class as its box style brethren the Old No. 7. Envelope Packs are the originals and this is certainly a classic. Streamlined without many buckles, straps and cord so you won’t catch it on brush, branches or gunwales. It was made to be in a canoe and sit flat, where you take it from there is entirely up to you. 5,241 cubic inch capacity plus overstuffing, it’ll get taller and fatter.

The Woodsman Pack is scaled down for smaller loads, perfect as a second pack, or one for the kid to carry. 3,110 cubic inch +. The Lewis and Clark is sized up for larger capacity, perfect for a family or a pair to combine gear into a single pack. 7,862 cubic inch +. The Timber Cruiser and smaller Timber Cruiser Jr. share the same pack body as the Old No. 7 and smaller Woodsman. What’s different is the extra addition of side pockets. Each will hold a 1L round bottle and more. Note that our side pockets are a versatile 2-in-1 design where there’s room to slip narrow objects between the pack body and pocket.

Our Grand Portage Pack is a bit larger than the Old No. 7 with a wider 9” gusset than the standard 6” side gusset found on most of our other box style Canoe Packs. There is also a different top closure with the Grand Portage that allows weather-proof coverage along with vertical expansion to accommodate varying heights of loads. Each of the side panels along with the font and back panels of the pack are left long to wrap the top contents of the pack. The ends are secured with the long leather flap straps across the top in an ‘X’ configuration. It works and allows a custom fit for your contents. 7,484 cubic inch +.

The Camp Cook’s Kitchen Pack is among our most distinctive packs as it’s nearly a square with side pockets. The huge 12” gusset allows this canoe pack to stand up on its own better than most. That’s great for use around the camp kitchen. There’s a removable utensil kit that will help your camp cook’s utensils keep organized, clean, and where they belong. The big deep side pockets have a zip closure and work great for bottles of fuel, water, cooking oil, whatever you want to keep upright and isolated from the rest of your food and gear. Don’t let the name of this pack fool you, it works great to carry regular gear as well as food. 6,669 cubic inch +.

The Isle Royale Bushcraft Packs are among of our most popular canoe packs. The frameless design and robust construction are meant to be used with big loads over short distances. The Isle Royale Jr. and Mini are scaled to work great as a daypack in the field as well as a bushcraft pack to carry kit. The full size pack is quite large. Sized to carry a full set of gear, it’s on the same scale as an expedition backpacking pack. All the Isle Royales have an axe sleeve between the 2-in-1 pockets on the front. They have lash points at the top with a D-ring as well as attachment points on the bottom in the form of lash squares. Cinch cord runs up and down both sides with a slim, narrow sleeve pocket at the bottom to keep stuff from sliding through the lashings. Isle 2,760 cubic inch +. Isle Jr. 1,620 cubic inch +. Isle Mini 1,125 cubic inch +.

The Tregurtha shares a name with the largest ore boat on the Great Lakes. Ships of this type are referred to as ‘thousand footers’ and are classified as bulk carrier freighters. The size and scale allow this pack to live up to its name. It’s HUGE! 9,083 cubic inch +.

Utility Packs offer economy and reduced weight. We’ve replaced the padded buckskin backstraps with cotton pistol belt webbing and removed the extra canvas from the double bottom. The Large Utility is the same size and shape as the Old No. 3 without the premium upgrades. The Medium Utility is sized down with no tumpline, The Small is scaled down again, and also available in Hunter Orange waxed canvas. No tumpline on the Medium, but there is one on the Large.

Pack Baskets - woven for us in the Adirondacks of the U.S.A. Get one with or without a Basket Harness. They pair nicely with a canvas pack. If you choose to run a pack with a basket be sure to round off all the sharp corners and edges or they’ll rub through the canvas in no-time. Pairings as follows: Old No. 7 and Timber Cruiser take a large 20” basket, Woodsman and Timber Cruiser Jr handle an 18”, Nessmuk, Cliff Jacobson, and Vintage Packs can handle the 13” Mini. Isle Royale Jr is not designed around a basket like as the Timber Cruiser Jr is, it’s a bit too narrow. Some have got it to work but that’s not always the case.

Pack Liner - We recommend using these heavyweight plastic bags inside a pack. Yes waxed canvas is water resistant both from rain from above as well as from water sloshing in the bottom of a boat. What a pack liner provides is a bit of buoyancy. If your gear goes in the lake, you’ll want it to float awhile. Sunk packs suck— don’t suck, use a packliner.

We take pride in everything we make. If you’re ever up in our neck of the woods, like on the way to your next canoe country outing, stop by and see us. We are a BWCA Permit Issue Station. We’d love to see you and introduce you to the folks making this stuff during a tour.

Cheers! Happy paddling and portaging to you.