The traditional canoe pack is the frameless canvas pack. If we live in the United States, we would call this a Duluth Pack, made by the Duluth Canvas Company. If we are from Canada, we probably know this piece of gear as a Woods pack.

Woods No. 1 and Woods No. 200 Canoe Packs

Duluth Packs

Both of these packs are of sturdy canvas construction with strong leather straps. They are equipped with a tump line to help support the load over portages. Buckles are substantial, and all leather to canvas joints are riveted.

These packs aren't sexy or high-tech, but they are still in use by paddlers all over North America, and for good reason. They are strong and durable, and when they are damaged they can be repaired. Any canvas-repair shop can put on a patch, and leather straps can be repaired or replaced. Modern packs with fancy suspension systems and plastic buckles are often more challenging to fix.

Canvas packs are not designed for backpacking - they are strictly a way of carrying large volumes of gear on wilderness canoe trips. They are essentially a big, open bag with no interior compartments. This means that we are not limited to how you fill it or what you stuff in it. It really is almost impossible to completely fill one of these packs - there always seems to be room to stuff in one final item. These flexible packs also fit well into a canoe - they are the ideal size for sitting crossways in a canoe, and if they aren't overstuffed, they will fit under the thwart or portage yoke. Keeping the centre of gravity of our load as low as possible in a canoe is important in rough weather, and canvas packs help us accomplish this.
Are they waterproof? No way! They aren't designed to be. Any gear that goes inside the pack has to be properly waterproofed before it is put inside. Waterproofing contents rather that relying on the pack to be waterproof gives us some flexibility - after all, a lot of gear doesn't have to be waterproofed. Pots, cups, plates and cutlery aren't worth waterproofing - a little rain or bilge water isn't going to hurt them.

Are there any other acceptable packs? Of course!

For a start, many companies are now duplicating the traditional canvas canoe pack in durable materials like Cordura or heavy nylon.  Many of these packs have more comfortable straps, waist belts and good suspension systems.

Some of these packs even have internal frames, formerly reserved for backpacking gear. These rigid frames help distribute loads evenly, while the traditional shape of the canoe pack is maintained.

There are also many waterproof packs specifically designed for canoeing. Some have very comfortable suspension systems including waist belts, and are quite waterproof. There are some cautions, however. Waterproofing on these packs relies on two things; the material that the pack is made from, and the closure system at the top of the pack. Waterproof material may not be quite as watertight once it has been dragged around on rough granite for a couple of seasons, and closures must be rolled and sealed very carefully to be effective. Still, we use this type of pack for carrying light loads like sleeping bags and clothing.

Seal ® Brand Waterproof Packs

Backpacking packs with internal or external frames may be comfortable for trekking across portages, but they are not practical for canoeing. Capacities are not high enough, and frames are very awkward to fit into canoes.

Increasing numbers of paddlers are carrying their gear in barrels, another good option.