AskDefine | Define portage

Dictionary Definition



1 the cost of carrying or transporting
2 overland track between navigable waterways
3 carrying boats and supplies overland

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. An act of carrying, especially the carrying of a boat overland between two waterways
  2. The route used for such carrying
  3. A charge made for carrying something


to portage
  1. To carry a boat overland

Extensive Definition

Portage refers to the practice of carrying a canoe or other boat over land to avoid an obstacle on the water route (such as rapids or a waterfall in a river), or between two bodies of water. A place where this carrying occurs is also called a portage, while a person doing the carrying is called a porter.
Over time, depending on the importance of the portages, they were sometimes upgraded to canals with locks, and even portage railways. Portaging generally required unloading the vessel and carrying vessel and contents across the portage in multiple trips. Voyageurs would often employ a tump line on their head to carry a load armfree on their back. Small canoes can be portaged by carrying them inverted over one's shoulders and the center thwart may be designed in the style of a yoke to facilitate this.
Portages can range in length from dozens of meters to many kilometers in length (the famous 19 km Methye Portage being a good example), and often cover hilly or difficult terrain. Most portages are the result of elevation changes, either changes in elevation from one body of water to another, or changes in elevation of the land in between. This results in most portages involving some measure of climbing or descending. However some, such as Mavis Grind in Shetland exist on an Isthmus where it is easier or safer to transport a boat over-land than round it. In these cases the climbing or descending required is often minimal.



The Diolkos was a paved trackway in Ancient Greece which enabled boats to be moved overland across the Isthmus of Corinth from the Gulf of Corinth to the Saronic Gulf. The 6 to 8.5 km long roadway was a rudimentary form of railway, and operated from ca. 600 BC until the middle of the 1st century AD.


In the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries, the Viking merchants-adventurers exploited a network of waterways in Eastern Europe, with portages connecting the four most important rivers of the region: Volga, Western Dvina, Dnieper, and Don. The portages of present-day Russia were vital for the Varangian commerce with the Orient and Byzantium.
At the most important portages (such as Gnezdovo) there were trade outposts inhabited by a mixture of Norse merchants and native population. The Khazars built the fortress of Sarkel to guard a key portage between the Volga and the Don. After the Varangian and Khazar power in Eastern Europe waned, Slavic merchants continued to use the portages along the Volga trade route and the Dnieper trade route. The names of the towns Volokolamsk and Vyshny Volochek may be translated as "the portage on the Lama River" and "the upper portage", respectively (the word "volok" means "portage" in Russian, derived from the verb "to drag").

North America

Places where portaging occurred often became temporary and then permanent settlements (such as Hull, Quebec, Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario, and Chicago, Illinois). Sometimes the settlements were named for being on a portage, particularly in North America. Some places so named are:


Portages played an important part in the economy of some African societies. For instance, Bamako was chosen as the capital of Mali because it is located on the Niger River near the rapids that divide the Upper and Middle Niger Valleys.


portage in German: Portage (Kanu)
portage in French: Portage (transport fluvial)
portage in Dutch: Overtoom
portage in Russian: Волок

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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