Portage Pack Sale

As I took stock of my gear at the end of the paddling season, I made a collective “whoa”. I am kind of schizo when it comes to gear. I profess “less is more” and yet my office is bulging with canoe stuff. My camp craft style has evolved too, and I find myself always reaching for my Cooke Custom Sewing portage packs and relegating my canvas packs as “back-up”. I like the warmth and looks of canvas and leather and the simplicity of shoulder straps and a tumpline but on the trail I have been spoiled by the functionality and lightweight of CCS and their 21st century suspension system. Canvas packs are best carried by tumplines.Truth is, as much as I like the idea of a tumpline in theory, in practice I use the shoulder straps and I like a waist belt.

A little aside, 30 years ago my canoe mentor and friend Wally Monkmen was a big fan of tumplines and had spent many years pre-WWII as a canoe freighter in northern Manitoba. With a big square-stern wood canvas canoe, powered by a “kicker” he would haul provisions and supplies to communities off the highway system. Similar to the job bush pilots took over in the 1950‘s and continue to do even to this day.  His stories of hauling kegs of nails,  bladders of gasoline, and sacks of flour were epic. Once, CBC Vancouver had him on the radio reminiscing about the prodigious loads he once carried using a tumpline. When he mentioned a 300 pound load, his radio host scoffed at the 140 lb. old Scot and disparaged his exaggeration.  It got Wally’s back up. He returned uninvited the following day with three 90-pound sacks of crushed stone which at age 64 he portaged, in one load with a tumpline, across the studio floor and dumped on the feet of the cheeky talk show host. So no doubt about it, people carry huge loads with tump lines, but it makes me tired just thinking about it.

Anyway, I had a fight in my head between my practical brain and my nostalgic brain – because I do love canoe gear especially canoe gear steeped in memories of fantastic personal and family wilderness expeditions. But packs are not meant to sit in my office as decorations. They should be out in the bush earning their keep. Plus, I need to take the 80-hour Emergency Wilderness Responder Class to upgrade my guide license. The class requires coin. So on a whim, I posted 4 packs for sale on bwca.com. I have been swamped with inquiries. Rather than responding individually I thought I would post detailed descriptions and photos on this, my blog and refer all interested to here.

Pack #1 is the only “modern” pack of the four. Also the most used. It was made by the now defunct Voyageur Pack Company out of fittingly Portage, WI. I bought it 15+ years ago and it has been on many BWCA trips and a few to the Arctic. It is made of a rugged highly water resistant pack cloth. It has a distinct box shape and was designed so that a tall-neck case of beer fits perfectly, actually two cases one atop the other. The idea being that these heavy cardboard boxes made ideal containers for grub or any objects that you did not want crushed. I used to fill the lower box with the second week of chow and it kept things organized. Stiff boxes are always easier to root around in than limp pack sacks. For over a decade I have been using blue barrels so despite all the memories this pack has become redundant. I did use it with a group last summer. Caution: seams are pulling out on the shoulder straps and they need some work with a needle and thread. The suspension system is also very basic. But hey for $40 this is a rugged and serviceable pack, and when combined with beer boxes very convenient.

Second Pack:  A Frost River prototype #3 (envelope style). Lightweight waxed cotton, pistol belt shoulder straps, leather closure straps and brass buckles a one-of-a-kind, handsome and serviceable Frost River Pack. Essentially new. I have used it to store my winter sleeping bag and as a prop in my office and tested it on one BWCA trip. As all things Frost River – beautiful and functional. This is the lighter weight (10.2 oz?) fabric which actually I believe is plenty heavy duty and nicer to the touch. $80

Third Pack: A Frost River prototype Cliff Jacobson Day Pack. Lightweight waxed cotton, pistol belt shoulder straps, leather closure straps and brass buckles. It is a one-of-a-kind, handsome and serviceable Frost River Pack. Essentially new. I have used it sometimes as classy briefcase on speaking gigs but a little big for that. This is a BIG day pack, almost a hybrid daypack-portage pack. Includes 2 side pockets. As all things Frost River – beautiful and functional. It may not have some of the refinements of the pack pictured on the Frost River website. $70

Fourth Pack. The battle wagon. A classic #4 Duluth Pack Store Heavy Duty Pack. I bought this from my neighbor a few years ago, and I am not sure he ever used it, nor have I. 20+ years old…. complete with leather shoulder straps, a canvas tumpline, the real deal. It has “Meck” written in magic marker on one strap, maybe goo gone would take it off. Other than that, 20 years old but …. “good as new” $110.

Prices do not include shipping. I am speaking at the Midwest Winter Expo next weekend we could make the exchange there, or like a drug deal in some parking lot. Or I will ship USPS but the cost will be your responsibility.

Thanks for your interest. Just taking pictures of these great packs is giving me sellers’ regret.

Frost River #3

Frost River #3


I noticed this delamination when I took the photo


Duluth Pack Store #4


CJ Special


Voyageur Pack company


note seam pull out on strap pads

P1100034 P1100032 P1100038





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