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How To Portage A Kayak (The Right Way)

Kayaking is a fun outdoor activity, but one of the last things people want to do is carry their kayak from one place to another.  Kayak portage can be very challenging as kayaks are inherently heavy and awkward to carry. 

Portage is carrying a watercraft over land.  There are a variety of cases when you need to portage your kayak, including:

  • Transporting from your car to the water
  • Getting around a rough stretch of water
  • Exploring a remote area
  • Making your way around obstacles that could be dangerous to your boat

This article will talk about some tips to help make your journey over land a little less challenging. Read on to learn about effective ways to get your boat back where it belongs, on the water.

One quick note, this article is focused on rigid kayaks, not inflatables, which are much easier to take with you.

Tips to portage a kayak

Scout your route

Using maps and technology, like GPS systems, it’s pretty easy to scout your kayak portage route beforehand. You may even want to do a dry run without your boat. My wife and I recently wanted to check out a lake in our area that we had not been to.

We decided to head out one sunny afternoon to see about launching our kayaks.  To our surprise, there was no easy access from anywhere. The drop to the lake was steep, and there were large boulders everywhere.  We were pleased we did some scouting before taking our boats with us.

How far are you going?

Following the first tip, scouting, you will have a better idea of how far you need to portage your kayak.  If you are going a short distance, you may carry the boat overhead or by your side.  Otherwise, you may need to invest in a kayak cart.  

Long treks can be taxing on your body, so you try to break it up as much as possible.  You may need to put the kayak down for a bit to catch your breath, and that’s okay.  It’s a good idea to know what you are getting into beforehand.


Okay, this may sound kind of strange, but hang in there with me.  I mentioned earlier that kayaks are heavy and awkward to carry. You might consider practicing at home before trying to carry your kayak over unfamiliar terrain.

You can practice in your yard or neighborhood.  Practice lifting the kayak overhead to get a feel for how to balance the boat.  Try carrying the kayak down the driveway or the street, so you have a good understanding of how to portage the kayak.

Practice carrying your kayak to be better prepared when it comes time to do it for real.

Dump out the water

Water adds extra weight to your boat.  If you use scupper plugs, you can pull the plugs and quickly drain the water.  If you have a sit-inside kayak you can pull the drain plug and empty any extra water from your boat.

Water sloshing around inside your boat adds weight and makes it more challenging to balance the boat. Save yourself a headache and drain the water before you portage your kayak.

How to portage a kayak

Take your gear out

Before you try to portage your kayak, try to get as much gear out as possible.  An easy thing to do is fill up a backpack, or dry bag, with gear, so it’s out of the boat.  This way, you are more balanced. Your kayak is heavy enough, without extra items weighing you down.

It’s also more challenging to balance your kayak load if extra items are loose in the watercraft.  You may end up with items rolling around from side to side, making the portage experience more difficult overall.

Take as much gear out of your kayak as you can before trekking from one place to another.

Use a kayak cart

Kayak carts are convenient for transporting your kayak.  You can use a cart across various surfaces, including sand, gravel, and even bumpy terrain.  Using wheels to portage your kayak can save you time and effort.

Kayak carts are easy to use and can also help if you have back, shoulder, or knee problems, etc.  There is not nearly as much physical effort involved with using a kayak cart than carrying your kayak alone.

Click here for more information about kayak carts.

Carry handles

Many kayaks come with handles on the bow and stern, even on the sides of the kayak.  Handles are a very convenient way to carry your boat.  If you are using a kayak cart, you can have the stern of the kayak on the cart, and you can pull and steer the boat with the carry handle on the bow.

If you have two people and two kayaks, you can grab a handle in each hand and carry two boats at once.

Brute force

If you have the strength to do so, you can toss your kayak overhead and portage your boat that way.  This can get tiring quickly.  It’s an awkward load on your shoulders and back.

How To Portage a Kayak the right way - Men carrying a kayak on their shoulders Pin

This method is not for everyone, and you probably don’t want to go a long distance.  But you don’t need any extra equipment (like a cart), so it’s an inexpensive way to portage.

Share the load

To expand on what I mentioned a bit ago, sharing the load with a partner is a great way to move kayaks.  When you have two people and two kayaks, one person can grab the handles and on the bow of each kayak, and one person grabs the handles on the stern.  You can carry both kayaks at the same time.

Carrying a kayak in each hand can be tough and can be a strain on your back and shoulders.  But this is an effective way to move two kayaks at the same time. This can save you time.

Another option is to carry each kayak individually, with one person on each end. This is much easier, and not nearly as heavy as carrying both kayaks at once, but does take more time.

Wrapping up

Kayak portage doesn’t have to be complicated. If you plan ahead and take some precautions, you will be just fine.  To summarize, take items out of your boat, practice ahead of time, and plan your route for the best kayak portage experience.

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About the author
Steve is the owner of Paddle About, a blog that's all about helping people get out and enjoy nature. He loves to kayak, camp, hike and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not out exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.