Portage packs were one of the first products that Granite Gear founders Dan Cruikshank and Jeff Knight designed when they started the company 27 years ago. The traditional portage pack design, which had been unimproved for decades, was made of heavy canvas and leather. It had no hip belt or frame, so the load was carried entirely on the canoeist’s shoulders. And when those traditional portage packs got wet, they took forever to dry.
Inspired by their location just outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Knight and Cruikshank brought modern backpack features to portage packs. Instead of canvas, the duo made portage packs from nylon—more resistant to water and lighter. They added well-padded shoulder straps, and, most importantly, a padded hip belt to make a heavy load more comfortable to carry.
Granite Gear’s new Outfitter Series Portage Packs mark the company’s return to producing packs in the United States. The beefy, 500 denier material and reinforcements throughout the packs are made to stand up to the tough life of a commercial outfitter guiding in the Boundary Waters Canoe area. The new designs include two layers of fabric on the bottom and on high-stress points and extra-strong haul loops, which are dyed to stand out so that’s the spot you reach for when you’re grabbing the pack. Plus, they have the suspension system that Granite Gear used to redefine comfort in portage packs: an anatomically cut harness, sternum strap, gear-accommodating arched lid, and a drawstring to hold in the overflow.
The Traditional 4 Pack has side compression straps and a padded hip belt. The Superior One can handle even more load, with compression plus an internal plastic framesheet, and a large pocket between the flap and the pack body for gear you need to get to fast, or wet clothes or shoes you want to keep from soaking the rest of your gear. Not an outfitter? Consider one of the slightly less burly Traditional Series Packs that start at $140. The names are confusing, but the quality is superb. Available fall 2013, $210-$300; granitegear.com.