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Camping on the Cheap | Boots for Portaging Your Canoe

Making the right choice in footwear for portages and wet entries while canoe tripping.

It's just a fact: you are going to get wet feet while canoe tripping. I'm not talking about casual day trips on the pond. Canoe tripping requires loading and unloading your canoe, and usually portaging the gear and canoe overland to the next lake.

The BEST way to load and unload your canoe is the "wet foot" method. In other words, the canoe is floating before you add any gear. Unless you are starting at a dock, this requires that you WADE into the water to load the canoe. Likewise, you start and end the portage with the canoe standing in the water, not dragging the canoe from the rocks.

This is the way I was taught - WAY back before ultralight composite canoes were invented. It was necessary to preserve the much heavier aluminum canoes from continuous impact with the rocks, many times per day, day after day, for many summers of use at Scout camps. This method is infinitely more important with featherlight canoes!

I've seen canoe trippers wear everything from sandals to crocs to running shoes to hip boots. Each may be OK in the right situation and climate. But the most common and safest footwear for canoe tripping is the hiking boot. The appropriate hiking boots are ankle high to provide better support over slippery trails, rocks, roots, and fallen logs. The screenshot below is from the Northern Tier High Adventure Base in Ely, Minnesota. This is the outfitting base and jumping off point for hundreds of Scout "voyageurs" each summer. With safety being a top priority when instructing first time canoe trippers, the Northern Tier stocks their most recommended footwear. Follow this link to purchase the boot pictured - and support Scouting in the process! CLICK HERE.

The boots pictured above are NOT waterproof but breathable. Most boots today have waterproof linings. This is NOT what you want for wading in and out of the water, multiple times per day, then slogging through mud on the portage trails. You want and need boots that will let the water drain out.

Here is one of the Program Directors explaining the rationale behind selecting the best boots for canoe tripping:

But what if you have a pair of "retired" hiking boots that you would prefer to use - instead of spending $100.00 or more on a new pair of canoe tripping boots? Most "waterproof" boots are not constructed from waterproof leather but an inner sock constructed with a Gore-Tex or generic impermeable lining.

If you want to get more use out of a worn set of boots, simply turn the lining out of the boot and cut it off! That's what I did in the boots pictured above. You may need to work a little if the lining has been glued into the boot. But it doesn't matter if you gouge or rip the lining since you are going to cut it out anyway. Grab it with a pliers and yank it free! Then cut the liner sock away, leaving the upper layer that cushions your ankles. (I cut just above the black fabric to remove the waterproof lower sock section, then folded the remnants of the lining back into the heel counter.)

If you want to make sure your boots are REALLY porous, drill some holes in the remaining leather! also note that you have removed a thick layer of material from the boots - so you might need to lace the boots tighter and/or wear a heavier pair of socks. (I often wear old hunting socks that I can discard after a week in the mud!)

So that is a CHEAP way to convert an old pair of "waterproof" boots - that would probably get discarded - into a serviceable pair of canoe tripping boots that will survive many more years of wet foot portages.

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