The Best Canoe Trip Packs

After your canoe, your canoe trip packs are the biggest investment you’ll make.

best canoe trip packs

The good news is, choosing the right packs only needs to be a one-time purchase. Quality packs that do their job and are well cared for will last many, many years—even decades.

(By the way, packs is plural because even if you’re on a solo trip, you’ll want at least two packs—a separate pack for your food and any toiletries with an odor.)

What to Look For in a Canoe Trip Pack

  • Big! Your goal is to fit all your gear into your packs so you only have to walk each portage once. Or at least in as few trips as possible.
  • No metal frame. When everything you bring on your canoe trip has to fit in the canoe(s), you need them as packable as possible. Packs with metal frames (like some traditional backpacking packs) make it harder to pack tightly.
  • Tough. These packs will get tossed around, slung up into trees, scraped on rocks and branches, and get weather-beaten. The material, straps and stitching need to be tough as nails to endure the rough treatment.
  • Comfortable and supportive. When loaded down, your packs will be heavy. You want comfortable straps and solid support when you’re carrying them over hill and dale on those long portages.
  • Water-proof—maybe. It’s not a deal-breaker. You can also pack everything inside a heavy-duty large garbage bag in the packs. The one thing you don’t want is wet gear!

How You’ll Use the Packs

If you’re with a group on your canoe trip, generally you’ll use your packs in these ways:

  • Food pack. You want all your food in one pack along with a rope system for hanging if you’re in bear country (including the Boundary Waters). Some use bear barrels for their food instead.
  • Equipment pack. For your tent(s), tarp, stove, cooking gear, etc.
  • Personal packs. For your sleeping bags, sleeping pads and clothing. Pack light and you can double up on these—two people per personal pack.

The bigger your packs and the more you can stuff in, the less you’ll need to walk your portages more than once.

best canoe trip packs
(Photo courtesy of Sharon Brodin)

Who Makes Canoe Trip Packs?

These companies all make high-quality packs, including canoe trip packs. They’re all located, not surprisingly, in Minnesota—Boundary Waters country.

Duluth Pack—Camille Poirier filed a patent for the original Duluth Pack in 1882. They’ve been around! Packs from the 70s may not look pretty anymore, but they’re still being used on canoe trips, as you can see in the photo above.

These other three came a hundred years later. They may be the new kids on the block, but they’ve been at it for a few decades now, too, and they know what they’re doing:

Granite Gear—An idea birthed from two buddies on a canoe trip.
Kondos Outdoors—Started by a husband and wife team in Ely, Minnesota.
Cooke Custom Sewing—Another husband and wife team, in Lino Lakes, Minnesota.

You can purchase from any of these brands, knowing you’ll get quality gear that’ll go the distance. They also make and sell other canoe trip accessories. Your investment in good packs will pay off with years of use and enjoyment.

Here’s an informative article on the BWCA.com website about packs. (The post is quite old and many of the links are now dead, but there are still some great tips.)

Do you need paddles for your canoe trip, too?

Read: Canoe Paddles for the Boundary Waters