By Al Kesselheim
I never thought of myself as a portage-wheel paddler, until one recent summer in the Northwest Territories. At the start of a short, rugged carry between lakes someone had left a homemade cart, fashioned out of an old trailer axle and some birch logs. Why not, I thought? So we hauled the loaded boat into place and trundled off across the bumpy ground. On the far side, the canoe slid into the lake and off we paddled. Sweet!
This year, while preparing to through-paddle the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, I gave a lot of thought to portage wheels. In the months before leaving for Old Forge, I procured and tested five sets of portage wheels. The verdict? Well, it depends. Everyone will have their particular needs for portage wheels – from paved roads and parking lots to rough, boulder-strewn trails or deep sand, which is why I've covered a wide range. A few things to consider:
• Ease of assembly and a lack of loose parts is key for repeated use on a long trip. Lose a clip in the mud and you're out of luck.
• Consider the surfaces you'll portage. If a medley of conditions will come up, you'll want a cart that strikes a middle ground in terms of performance on varied terrain.
• Stowability will loom large on longer trips, especially for kayakers. Some of these will fit in a 10" kayak hatch – others, not so much.
• Load ratings should be taken with a grain of salt. Weights tend to get exaggerated on rough ground. It's wise to err on the light side.
• Consider maintenance and repairs for longer outings. Tire patch materials, a small pump, spare loose parts, cleaning the cart after exposure to salt water . . .
• Many water trails involve a variety of portage conditions, some wheelable and others not. Think about portaging the wheels as part of your load when they aren't appropriate.
In the chart below, I rate each cart from 1-5 in four key categories. Mix and match your needs to the strong points of each cart to find the best wheels for you.
This cart performs well on both rough ground and smooth trails or pavement.
Far and away the easiest cart to put together, and the most lightweight and compact.
If pavement is your game, these are your wheels. Wike specializes in bike and walk transport.
Made in New Zealand, the C-tug breaks the mold for portage carts.
This is the stoutest of the bunch.