Packsacks VS. Framepacks: Framepacks are lousy in canoes, period.


For Boundary Waters canoe trips, framepacks are kind of worthless, and here's why. Framepacks are made to carry the bulk of the weight on your hips via a waist belt. The reason you want to carry the weight in this way is to reduce the fatigue one experiences when carrying one's belongings entirely on the back, day in and day out. This is what you do when you go hiking. However this is not what is done when on a canoe trip. On a canoe trip, the canoe carries all of the weight for the vast majority of the distance traveled. And, the packs used are different accordingly.

Canoes were developed by the Indians in this area to haul a load efficiently over water and allow for easy transporting over portages. A lot of the portages are shorter, some are really long. But canoes were developed in this region because they fit. Kayaks on the other hand where built by coastal peoples, the Eskimos, out of whale bones and seal skins to sit on the beach, be dragged to the water where the enclosed deck kept the raging seas out of the craft while they paddled out to shoot a walrus and drag it home behind the kayak. That's why kayaks tend to excel in coastal (no portages) waters and canoes excel in wilderness waters like the BWCA and other areas where the lakes are connected by portages. Portaging kayaks is an exercise in grunting inefficiency and paddling canoes in raging seas where you could be turn over easily is not really all that it's cracked up to be. Oh sure, you can portage a kayak and with the proper flotation bags and handling skills, you can eskimo roll a canoe. But neither watercraft is practical when it's out of it's element. And in the BWCA, framepacks are out of place and not practical either.

Frame packs stick out of the canoe. They NEVER lay down quite right without a lot of dinking around and they catch brush in brushy situations which would describe the entire BWCA wilderness on portages. Plus, with a frame pack you never will be able to carry a canoe, unless it's one of those rare framepacks which is designed to carry a canoe. That particular pack STILL resists fitting in 99% of all canoes without a lot of manipulation, planning and cussing.

This brings us to the "blank"- style packsack. (You'll need to fill in a proper town name for the word "blank".) This pack was designed by real experts at the time (with a lot of trial and error - I assume) over 200 years ago to load quickly and then mush down inside the canoe. It basically has remained the same design concept for this whole time and has been around since way before all the legal stuff started back in the 1800's. The packs were and are still simple and named after the famous guy who explored in this area for which a city was also named kind of in this area. I think they should rename that city "Kondos". They make excellent packs and then I wouldn't have to be so friggin' cryptic.

Consider the way a "blank"-style packsack is used in wilderness situations. It is not at all unusual for you to paddle across a lake, hit the portage, throw on the pack, walk about 100 feet over the portage and be on water on the other side. Not all portages are ten miles long and many are quite short. By the time the guy in the other canoe with his frame pack remembers exactly how he fished that framepack (AKA Rubick's Cube) in and out of his canoe, you will be leaning into your shoulder straps of your "blank"-style pack and then on the other side of the portage. THEN, top it all off with the unique ability that you have to carry your lightweight Souris River Canoe Quetico 17 on your shoulders while carrying your "blank"-style pack (because that's what they were designed to do - carry a load AND the canoe). Meanwhile, the guy with the frampack has his last nylon buckle kachinked in place and now he's finally ready to go with that frame pack - for 100 feet. Your canoe is loaded and you are already on the water, paddling 300 feet across the pond and hitting the next portage, and doing the same thing with your canoe and "blank"-style pack. The other guy is still standing on shore messing around while unclipping with his framepack so he can go back for his canoe because he couldn't carry them both. Framepacks interfere with the carrying yoke on a canoe and "blank"-style packs do not. There's a LOT to be said about efficiency when keeping the pack simple. The voyageurs knew this and they carried a lot heavier loads than we do today with all of our modern, lightweight toys. Those guys were carrying wet (non-dried) beaver hides. Let me tell you that I have carried wet beaver hides as well. That's not a light load by a long shot.

Over time, pack makers, and there are many, have developed niceties and improvements such as 1000 denier cordura nylon, nylon straps, padded contoured shoulder straps and the handy-dandy map case. Our Kondos brand #3.5's and #4 packs are all custom built with a waterproof bottom so when your pack is on the floor of the canoe in the rain, your gear is not sitting in the water. Incidentally, Kondos Outdoors also makes beautiful, nostalgic packs of leather and canvas but I don't care for canvas as compared to cordura nylon. Cordura nylon, in my extensive observations as an outfitter, repells water well, doesn't really require any maintenance, resists rotting, and dries really quickly.

For those of you wanting to keep your gear drier, there are plastic pack liners as well. Cordura is very water repellant (or at least our's is) but sometimes it's nice to have some extra protection, especially if you are using a fairly worn-out pack you bought used from an outfitter. You can order packliners for your packs here: pack liners

1. This is our most popular-sized pack. It's a 3.5 Kondos pack and also known as the famous "blank"-style pack. I don't know the cubic inches and I also don't care. This pack is a smaller but still a very useful equipment pack or makes a great combination personal gear & some equipment pack. All of our Kondos packs have an inside pocket which is very useful to access stuff you want to get at quickly. The #3.5 is our best selling pack bay far and that should tell you something. Not too big and not too small. Goldilocks would have been a fan of this size packsack. It hauls the perfect load of porridge.
2. This is a side view of the 3.5 Kondos Pack. There is no gusset in the side wall. Note the black grab handle. When I was growing up, I was taught that one always grabs the pack by the ears (sides of the buckled down cover flap) in handling and not the shoulder straps except for when putting the pack on my back. Now, our Kondos packs come equipped with lowered grab handles on each side (lower to allow you to more easily clear the gunwales while loading into the canoe) so you can't screw up and dump all your gear all over the canoe landing by grabbing it by the shoulder straps. Now, the cynical side of me says that that doesn't mean you won't dump your gear out on the ground, however. After demonstrating how to properly pick up a pack to our outfitting customers for the past 30 years, 70% of them pick it up incorrectly a mere 30 seconds after I've shown them how to do it right. Focus? What's focus?

3. This pile of gear I grabbed from shelves in Red Rock just to demonstrate what will go into #3.5 Kondos Pack. There were five Lafuma Sleeping bags, three 72" Thermarests, six canoe seat pads. My hat is there for scale.

Order Pack Liners Here

4. This is what the Kondos 3.5 looks like with gear just tossed inside. Normally, one would plan a bit more when packing, making sure that the sleeping backs or clothing is against one's back and other hard stuff is not there. Notice that there is still room for a bunch of gear. You can also put your gear in a plasic liner bag that we sell to keep the weather from above out. Now, if your pack is fairly new and not one that was beaten to death by an outfitter, it will easily keep your gear dry for a long time. The liner bag is an extra precaution.
5.This is the waterproof bottom. It happens to be a camoflage colored piece of cord-reinforced vinyl. This does a good job in keeping out water, but you may want to seam seal the stitching at the bottom of the pack.
6. Our next most popular pack is the Kondos #4. Sometimes you see this pack overstuffed but it is not so in this picture. To know how much it holds, I took all of the gear from the #3.5 and placed it inside inititally. Order this Pack here
7. Here it's pictured with the gear from the #3.5 Notice all the extra room inside. You could almost put another 3.5's gear inside. This is a big, roomy gusseted pack which is mainly used for hauling bulky, lighter gear like sleeping bags, pads, cook-kits, campstoves, fuel, tarp, saw, and tents.
8. This pack is different from the #3.5 because it has a gusseted sidewall indicated by the yellow, double-ended arrow below. Notice the usual lowered grab handles for easier lifting over the gunwales of the canoe. This pack comes with the same camo, waterproof bottom and inside pockets for things like your matches, compass, camera, small tackle box, etc.
9. Here the same #4 Kondos with the same gear as above but with the addition of TWO, 3-man Alps Outfitter tents. I still had room for more stuff but since I was burning daylight, decided that I should just go with this load. Notice the gusset flaps with the fastex buckle and adjustable strap. When you have someone who can't tie their shoelaces let alone a knot, this a really handy, quick feature for securing your gear. A Souris River Quetico 17 will easily take four #4 packs with room to spare. A Souris River Quetico 18.5 can haul six # 4 packs with room to spare.

10. These are the contoured, padded shoulder straps. They adjust much faster than the old leather-with-buckle traditional design. To snug this pack up to your body size, simply put it on your shoulders and pull down on the bottom straps below the silver buckles.

Order Plastic Pack Liners Here

11. This is not a pack. It's an adult-sized sleeping bag that goes down to 30 degrees F. It weighs about 2.3 lbs. If your sleeping bag is twice as big as this bag, you ought to get another. Smaller is better - means less packs to lug over the portages.
12. Here's the same bag with my cap attached for scale. Those "Mart" bags really take up a lot of room. We stock bags even smaller than this!

Order Lafuma Sleeping Bags Here

So that's "blank"-style packsacks in a nutshell and why you should not consider taking frame packs on a Boundary Waters Canoe Trip. You'll need to figure how many of each you'll need for your trip, but usually we figure one #3.5 for each two people (friendly people) and a #4 for equipment. That leaves a Red Rock Super Pack for food and you are set.

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