BLOG 77. MAKE A TUMPLINE FOR YOUR CANOE
Canadians love tumplines. Americans generally consider them torture devices. I just love ‘em! And I wouldn’t own a pack without one. The tump snugs my pack tight against my back and keeps it there—a plus on the level and when ascending hills (it doesn’t work on downhill slopes—the opposite of a hip belt). It takes the weight off my shoulders and transfers it to the strong muscles of my neck. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t stress my neck or hurt at all. I submit that those who badmouth tumplines either haven’t tried them, or they haven’t adjusted them correctly. You can’t just put on a tumpline and go. The strap must be adjusted exactly right for YOU. Every “body” is different and what works for one won’t work for another. Increasing or decreasing the length of the tump strap by as little as half an inch can make a BIG difference in comfort. And so does where you place the strap—it goes about two inches above your forehead, not on it. It should not jerk your head back. The “pull” is directly down from the top of your head through your neck. When I was guiding trips in northern Canada, I always took time at the first portage to show everyone how to fit a tumpline. This paid rich dividends over the long haul. I observed that nine out of ten people who tried the tumpline—and learned to use it right—refused to carry a pack without one. But some people are like the eighth graders I used to teach: if they don’t get it instantly, it’s not worth learning!
On a similar note, I should add that people in underdeveloped countries have, for thousands of years, carried heavy loads on their heads or in packs supported by tumplines. The Sherpa’s rely on tumplines exclusively—and these guys portage heavy gear up mountains for a living. Back in the 60’s, a major pack company gave several high volume mountaineering packs to some Himalayan porters. The porters cut off the shoulder straps and installed tumplines. And of course, African women often carry loads on their heads that weigh nearly as much as them! Need I say more?
What works on packs, works on canoes too. The tumpline described here can be adjusted to reduce the weight on your shoulders from zero to 100 percent. A 50 percent weight reduction is a comfortable way to go. Unlike rigid leather straps, my trampoline-style tumpline won’t strangle you if you step into a hole. It stays on the boat but it can be removed with one hand in seconds. Here’s how to make one:
|Trampoline style tumpline. To remove the tump, reach across your body with one hand and disconnect the front strap (S-hook) and peel the canvas back. That's all there is to it!|
You’ll need a rectangular piece of canvas, two rubber truck straps and four steel S-hooks. Snake the straps through wide sleeves sewn in the head piece, and snap them to holes--or loops of parachute cord strung through holes--in the gunnels, shown in the photos below. Head piece dimensions aren’t critical: mine measures 12” x 18”.
Shortening the loops of chute cord tightens the rubber straps and transfers weight from your shoulders to your head; lengthening the cords does the opposite. I adjust the rig to carry about 60 percent of the weight on my head.
If you tire of the tumpline while portaging, just reach overhead and unhook it--and bear all the weight on your “Minnesota” yoke. You’ll have to set down the canoe to hook up the tumpline again.
In recent years, tumplines have come under fire, largely by Americans who don’t know how to use them and won’t take time to learn. However, “head carries” are the rule in third world countries, though shoulder straps and hip belts were here before Rome. Efficiency is the mother of tradition, as any tump-toting Sherpa will attest. Try a tumpline on your canoe and see if you don’t agree that things go easier when you use your head.