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Getting the Juice We Need

Here's the rub. To travel into remote areas like northern Labrador and the Torngats, you have to carry everything you could possibly need. Everything.

So, on this trip we're carrying:

7 Woods packs (traditional canvas with leather straps and tumpline),
2 Serratus packs (extra strong nylon),
1 Woods Mason Pack (similar to a Serratus),
1 York Pack (a rigid plastic box with straps attached) and
Andrew Macdonald's Wannigan (a wooden box with a leather tump).

Of the 7 Woods packs, four are used for food, three are for equipment and community gear. The Serratus and the Woods Mason packs carry the clothing and tent for two people. The York Pack protects the generator and some of Geoff's overflow food, the Wannigan will hold the mess kit, pots, and some other stuff Andrew won't tell us about. As well, we're carrying 4 Pelican cases (hard, thick plastic cases that are totally waterproof and dustproof) to carry all the imaging, computing, and communications equipment.

All this weighs in at around 500 kilos. And it must all be hauled, lugged, heaved, and carried. On the bright side, by the end of the trip we will have shed about 200 kilos of that amount (not including what falls off us).

And yet with all this high-tech equipment and modern materials, we rely on fur trade methods of carrying all that stuff: the tumpline and poses. The tumpline is a tapered leather strap used instead of shoulder straps to carry packs: the widest part of the strap is placed across the forehead and the pack rests against the back. Now, there are lots of people out there who swear by the new adjustable shoulder strap and loading systems of today's packs and we have nothing against those systems (so no fiery e-mails, please). It's just that we have found that relying on shoulder straps alone to carry packs is inappropriate to the portage trail because of the much heavier -- sometimes as much as two to three times as more than the contoured back country packs -- and asymmetrical loads

A tumpline keeps the weight squarely on the shoulders and running down the spine: shoulder straps can pull one off balance because the weight is in behind and exerts a force away from the body. The tumpline allowed the voyageurs to carry excruciating loads. And the voyageurs were not big burly guys, most were under 5'6" because they couldn't take up too much room in the canoe. But at a portage, they would load up one pack with the tump then toss one or two more packs, sacks or barrels on top and head off down the trail at a trot with a 100 kilo-plus load!. At the height of the fur trade, almost every portage trail had a least two or three crosses to mark the remains of a voyageur who had either drown before the portage or had ruptured or broken something or things because of a heavy load while on it.

For sure there are some shoulder systems that distribute their load down the spine, but these packs lack the carrying capacity needed for extended wilderness trips. Double packing (carrying two packs on shorter portages) is also easier with a tump because there are no straps to cut into your shoulders when carrying 50 to 70 kilos. More important, because a tumped pack is attached by one strap at the forehead, if you trip or stumble, you can throw your load off to the side to regain your balance instead travelling to wherever the pack decides to take you because you are "lashed" to it. Tumps can prevent serious trip-ending injuries... or worse.

Poses are another voyageur practice. It's a method of maintaining one's energy on the portage trail. Instead of carrying loads from start to finish, the portage is broken into segments -- each one slightly longer than the previous. For instance, say you're at the head of a 1500 m portage. You load up and travel, say, 600 m, drop the pack and go back for the other load. By the time you reach your second load, you have your wind back and are ready to carry. This time, though, you take your load farther than the first, say 800 m out. You drop the back and go back for the first. By the time you reach it, you've recovered your wind again and can take the next load another 500 or 600 m. There you drop it and fetch the second, and take that one to the end, then go back for the your first load. Overall, it takes about as much time as humping the full load in two complete trips and you are not so worn out at the finish. Of course, near the end of a trip we have double packed a portage in one trip because the packs have become lighter and we have been conditioned enough to go that much harder.

It all comes down to personal choice. We certainly don't want to dictate to others how to carry a pack or how far to carry it -- we would never interfere in your right to be wrong! -- so we will leave that to the tech-weenies. But make sure give both methods a reasonable try before defending one over the other. Then we can say "Told you so!"

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