Essential Checklist for Newbie Wilderness Adventurers

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Essential Checklist for Newbie Wilderness Adventurers

Planning a trip to Ely to get up close with nature? Awesome. However, those new to canoe country adventures might not be entirely sure how to go about doing that.

So, we decided to compile a short list of essential tips for beginners to help increase their enjoyment and make their canoe trip more comfortable. 

Let’s dive right into it:

Get a Kevlar canoe.

Buy or rent a Kevlar canoe. They are like half the weight of old style aluminum and almost half the weight of plastic composites and can drastically change your attitude towards portaging. Their lighter weight not only improve performance on the water but becomes essential when navigating the routes of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Obviously, people don’t normally carry 40 to 50 pounds on their shoulders but it’s so much better than hauling 80 to 90 pounds around. Since the 2000 lakes within the Boundary Waters are connected by portages you must carry not only your transportation (canoe) but everything you need for your trip in portage packs over these portages (many of them are one quarter to a mile or more in length.) We sell new Kevlar canoes and we have an extensive rental fleet each summer if your budget isn’t ready for a new one yet.

Wear a Lifevest and be safe!

Photo above by Eric Glasson

Bring dehydrated/freeze-dried food items. 

If you really want to save up space and volume in your pack and in the canoe focus on packing dehydrated/freeze-dried food items that occupy the least space and don’t weigh much. 

We recommend bringing enough fresh fruits and veggies and frozen meat for just the first day and a half in the woods. Whether or not you are portaging very far, fresh food simply doesn’t last long enough without spoiling and always weighs more. Especially if your trip is longer and you are trying to go deeper into the Boundary Waters, focus on picking specialty food items that come in space-efficient packaging and taste delicious too. Fire or a camp stove and fuel are then a necessity and will add to weight and volume in your pack, but you’ll need a stove and fuel to boil water for your dehydrated meals. This becomes even more necessary during times of a fire ban in the wilderness.

Use waterproof food barrels and Deluxe Food Packs.

Food barrels are basically blue barrels that cut down on food odor and are used specifically for canoe trips. You can use them for storing similar items at home when you are not camping. These barrels have a variety of optional accessories that include carrying harnesses to turn them into comfortable back packs when you find yourself on the portage trails between lakes.

Our specialty store in Ely boasts a variety of food barrels that are available in both small and large sizes, which you can shop in-store or order online. Our Deluxe Food Packs are designed to fit easily into canoes and be carried comfortably. While they are not hard shelled and obviously not as crush resistant and a black bear deterrent like the barrels, they are easy to pack and access and have insulation to keep your fresh items cooler longer.

A fact of life while traveling in the Boundary Waters is that Black Bears live there. The Forest Service recommends that you hang your food packs from the branches of trees at night in the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This is to discourage black bear activity and foraging at campsites and to protect your camping supplies. Food and dirty cookware cannot be left in camp or brought into your tent or sleeping hammocks. In our retail store we sell 3 items that together make an “ala carte” choice for a hanging kit. It consists of a small bag to hold rocks or sand so you can have a weight to through your line up over a branch. Inside the bag comes line of a required tensile strength to hoist and hold your food pack. The second part of the kit is a pulley to assist in hoisting your pack and the third part of the kit that you, again buy separately is a carabiner sufficient to hold your pack in the air.

Pick short and wide portage packs instead of traditional backpacking or hiking packs.

Hiking packs are often too tall and are meant to be carried vertically and not be so wide so that you can fit through more narrow spots. Whereas portage packs are short and wide so you can actually fit a canoe on top of your shoulders. Traditional “envelope” style portage packs hold a lot, have easy entry and not a lot of bells and whistles on the outside. They balance best on your backs when filled and they slip into and out of canoes easily with smooth exteriors that don’t damage Kevlar. They are also big enough to pack other smaller packs inside and ours all have very comfortable padded belts and simple suspension systems. Our online store features some of the coolest portage packs on the market, you can shop online or visit us here in Ely for the best deals. 

Use an inflatable sleeping pad.  Foam sleeping pads are usually 3-4 inches thick to truly be somewhat comfortable to sleep on the ground and they are quite bulky to carry around. Try to get inflatable sleeping pads that are lightweight and easier to carry. Today’s sleeping pads roll up and pack into small spaces easily. They inflate to be nearly as comfortable as a bed at home and definitely make laying on stony ground, roots and uneven ground way more comfortable than they used to. Our best sellers and favorites are NEMO sleeping pads and  Therm-A-Rest -NeoAir Venture Sleeping Pad is also one of the favorite products that our customers turn to. Most are designed for adventurous trips and explorers. They often come with a breath-saving pump sack, field repair kit, and a compact stuff sack. See details and accessories online or in our retail store in Ely, Minnesota.

Photo above by our Guide, Tim Barton

This Essential Checklist is by no means an extensive checklist. It represents a place to start. You obviously need a paddle to propel yourself in the canoe. You need maps, other camp kitchen cookwear and accessories. Our catalog has a Trip Essentials page and our Canoe Trip Outfitting Department at 1-800-223-6565 is always available for your calls and after hours try our informative website. We even have a Trip Check list that outlines what we rent with full canoe trip outfitting and what you need to bring as personal items.

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