The Happy Camper: Recreational Barrel Works’ New Heritage Series Gear for 2024

Our regular Monday columnist breaks down the year’s coolest new portage packs. 

The Canadian company Recreational Barrel Works is off to an amazing start for 2024. They’ve released over half a dozen new products for the year. One of the most unique selections is titled The Heritage Series. It includes a line of traditional portage/canoe packs and a wanigan harness—all with a new-age twist.

Wanigan Harness

“Recreational Barrel Works—Wanigan Harness”

A wanigan is a traditional way to haul gear during a portage, where a wooden box is carried on your back by means of a strap looped up to your forehead, or ‘tumpline.’ It is still heavily used by youth camps in Ontario’s Temagami region. I cursed carrying a wanigan when I guided in Temagmi, and swore I would never carry one again. But it wasn’t the tumpline that was the issue; it was the base of the wooden box that kept jabbing into my lower back and spine.

Recreational Barrel Works seems to have solved the issue of lower back pain caused by carrying a wanigan. They’ve added a harness that includes luxurious shoulder straps, a cozy back pad and the obligatory sturdy tumpline. Some conventional Temagmi camp owners may resent Recreational Barrel Works for making changes to such an old-fashioned piece of gear, but, speaking from experience I can honestly say that the poor kids and guides that have to balance that square wooden box over a portage will absolutely rejoice at the changes. Heck, it can even be adapted to fit to other square things, like a camp cooler—ya gotta love that!

There are two horizontal sections of one-inch webbing along with two vertical sections of webbing that hold your wanigan (or cooler) securely through a daisy chain and slip-lock and tension-lock buckles. The harness has four built-in handles to make lifting and carrying—as well as getting it in and out of your canoe—easier. The vertical webbing sections have quick release buckles so you can get quick access into the wanigan. And, the vertical straps work to keep the lid closed and secured.

Coureur 2-Part Canoe Pack

“Recreational Barrel Works—Coureur 2-Part Canoe Pack (Heritage Series)”

I’ve seen a few pack companies throughout the years come up with various designs for how to stack rectangular packs on top of one another for a canoeing trips. The design comes from voyageurs who would stack those packs, stuffed with fur pelts, during their paddles. Modern-day canoeists have dreamed about doing the same over the years and raved about the reintroduction of the design. But the design itself seemed to have disappeared—until now.

Recreational Barrel Works Coureur 2-Part Canoe Packs come with two rectangular shaped sections (52 litres each) that connect together by quick release buckles for portaging and fast separation.

When I saw this new design, I wasn’t looking to replicate a hernia-bound voyageur hauling a pile of pelts across the portage; instead, I envisioned myself storing both sections low down in my solo canoe, and then clipping them together to carry across the portage. One pack would store my food and kitchen kit and the other would store the rest of my gear—perfect!

The packs are made of tough 1000 Denier Nylon, with two-inch webbing that runs down both sides and along the bottom of the pack to secure the load to a tumpline. It also comes with modular shoulder straps that can be quickly attached. 

Both sections of the pack have quick release buckles to close up the lid over a drawstring top. You should use a waterproof liner or a waterproof storage system inside the pack to keep everything dry. Two compression straps keep things easily stored inside the pack and the foam pad makes it comfortable to carry. And there’s a total of six strap handles for you grab onto when lifting the pack into and out of the canoe. A daisy-chain strip along both sides provides additional places to secure the packs.

A real bonus is that the two packs would also make great storage systems for my winter freight toboggan.

Voyageur Canoe Pack

“Recreational Barrel Works—Voyageur Canoe Pack (Heritage Series)”

A paddler’s choice of canoe design differs across Canada. I really like that. You’ve got prospector canoes as the norm in central Canada, streamlined cruiser boats in the west, and traditional chestnut canoes being paddled—and poled—in the east. Those regional differences are reflecting in adventurers’ choice of portage packs, too; case in point, I’ve found a lot of Quebec and Saskatchewan paddlers carrying their gear with a traditional large-volume rectangular-shaped pack. Why? Because it is placed horizontally in a canoe and therefore sits low and safe. It also balances nicely with a tumpline.

Recreational Barrel Work’s new Heritage Line Voyageur Pack was made to match this type of design. It’s a large-volume (120 litre), rectangular pack. It comes with the traditional tumpline, but they’ve added modular shoulder straps to give the pack extra comfort and make it easier to carry. 

The pack is kinda like a larger version of their Coureur 2-Pack System. It’s made of the same tough 1000 Denier Nylon, and has two-inch webbing that runs down both sides and along the bottom of the pack to secure the load to a tumpline. It also has quick release buckles on the lid to close it up, and an expandable drawstring attic. You’ll need to store your gear inside a waterproof liner or a series of separate waterproof containers. The foam back is cozy and 4 grab straps help you load the pack in and out of the canoe. A daisy chain strip, like that of the Coureur 2-Part Canoe Pack, provides additional places to secure the packs.

Also like the Coureur packs, I can easily imagine integrating the Voyageur Canoe Pack to my winter freight toboggan set-up.  

Super Tump

“Recreational Barrel Works—Super Tump”

While some paddlers despise a tump, finding it awkward and uncomfortable, I prefer using a tumpline to help carry my pack across the portage—you just have to wear it properly. It must go slightly above your forehead, not directly on it. Basically, if your head is being jerked back on every step, you’ve placed it wrong. An ideal tump strap is positioned comfortably so it doesn’t pull your head back or slip off. It should pull straight down your spine.

A tump strap can help spread the stress of the load and allow you to use your stronger neck muscles rather than your lower back. It also relieves pressure on your shoulders. A tumpline really comes in handy when ascending a hill.

Recreational Barrel Works already had a tumpline in their gear line up. It’s removable, so you can pack it or leave it at home if you want to. It also has a very unique design—which I think is a huge bonus—that allows for the tumpline to be adjusted while you are wearing it to get the right length for comfort while carrying your portage load. Simply pull the straps forward to tighten the barrel closer to you and create less sag, or release the straps to lessen the strain on your forehead.

But now they have the Super Tump. The new version has five-inch-wide nylon head pad (compared to the old three-inch pad) with a soft fleece side to make it more comfortable to wear. I’m sold on the new one and have already attached it to my pack for the upcoming season.

READ MORE: , , , ,