Boundary Waters Catalog Blog

Knowledge Base and Learning Center


Solo Canoeing: Is that for me?

Sometimes, if we are honest, and perhaps more often than not, who knows, we want to experience things on our own. For some of us, we actually want to answer the call to get away all by ourselves and have some time to think. It’s not that we don’t like the company of other folks, it is just that we enjoy both the challenge and the solitude of going it alone.

I enjoy journaling, taking notes and sometimes sketching and water coloring while I’m on a solo canoe trip. I enjoy taking my time with the fire and the food. I find comfort and company in the little things such as how great the coffee (Sun Up Espresso) tastes first thing in the morning. It is a special thing to find yourself in the wilderness with no one else to rely on or turn to for advice.

Since I’m a writer and have been writing on a daily basis for most of the last thirty-plus years I don’t get bored if I’ve got pen or pencil and paper at hand. The views from the campsites in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness are amazing. The wildlife (loons, timberwolves, black bears, chipmunks, pine martens, fishers, garter snakes, mice, not to mention songbirds and raptors and a plethora of other various birds, moose, deer, snowshoe hares and lynx) are never too far away because they live here too. It all makes for some easy subject matter from prose to poetry and somethings in between.

Just like any kind of canoe you may choose to paddle tandem, solo canoes come in a variety of hull shapes and sizes to match your needs. Some people like to use a longer straight shaft paddle when soloing, while others opt for a kayak paddle designed for solo canoeing. Many folks just use their favorite bent shaft canoe paddle and extend their reach. It all works best if you are willing to make sure you have the gear that makes you the most comfortable from the get go.

I enjoy the break from paddling that portages provide and I like to make that walk a few times. That way I can carry my main pack with my canoe and then go back and pick up my food pack, fishing rods and paddles (always carry a spare). Remember on a solo trip, you can pare down everything from how you’d back for a tandem trip or group trip. Cook kit, fuel, stove, food, extra tools, etc. can all be modified for one person. For example, I just take one bowl and one cup and a couple of sporks for my dining needs. Less to carry, less to clean. Sometimes when I’m soloing, I don’t take a tent, I take a hammock with a mesh bug covering. I still take my inflatable sleeping pad for comfort and insulation from the cooler evening temperatures. Both my food pack and my portage pack are smaller when I solo trip and I put one in front of me and one behind. I still take a back up fishing pole and a back up paddle as I mentioned before, but I downsize my tackle to one flat plastic Plano box.

I think it’s important to give yourself more space for reading material, art supplies comfort food, and a sweet camping chair. Or, you can fill in the blanks with some personal items of your own.

What’s your favorite solo canoe? What’s your best solo canoe camping tip or tips? Or do you have more questions about solo canoeing or even solo canoes if you’re looking to purchase one?

Feel free to comment or send us emails with questions. We rent solo canoes and gear and we sell solo canoes and camping equipment.

Note: The images in this blog entry are from @whitepine.productions Jacob White who is currently our Assistant Retail Manager here in Ely, Minnesota.

Ice is Out

Time for canoe tripping. We had a great week of sun and wind and rain. Ice is gone until next winter. It is time for paddling and camping and fun in the Boundary Waters. Start your trip planning today by visiting us online or calling 800-223-6565.

Here’s a quick pic of the first paddle of the season. Remember that we’ve got all the gear you need for canoe camping just a click away. Canoe Trip Essentials can be found here.

We’ve also recently added some new seasonal clothing. You can find new tee shirts and caps online.

Thanks for following our blog. We’ll talk to you again soon.


When will Ice Out Happen?

We don’t know. That’s the answer. As of Monday most lakes averaged somewhere between 15 and 18 inches of ice. It has begun to retreat from the shoreline, however it is still thick enough to keep travel by canoe at a standstill.

Some of the rivers have begun to open up as is evidenced by these two videos that Drew Brockett, our Outfitting Manager took along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Fueled by melt waters, streams and rivers are flowing fast and deep. Some of the wetlands have overcome back country roads and culverts causing flooding.

Currently this is the case with the road that leads to the Mudro Entry Point Boundary Waters Entry Point. For more information on that closure call us at 1-800-223-6565. Currently there are no lakes that are open to our knowledge. We will keep you posted.

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Land of 10,000 Lakes

I had always dreamed of living somewhere close to water.  Close to lakes, to be precise because I grew up near the Rock River in Oregon, Illinois.  Back home I would ride my bike over to the Honey Creek on gravel roads that meandered into town the long way; took me there slowly along the back way.  I could sit there, when I got the chance, for hours watching a bobber or flipping a Mepps spinner over and over again.  I waited for catfish, for bass. Occasionally Dad and I would park our car near the dam in town, walk down the bank and stand on the rocks to cast for walleye in the cool and rushing water.

I longed for water. We swam in the town pool with enough chlorine to turn your hair green on long summer days.  Those days only made me long for a country full of lakes even more.  Just to be able to sit by one.  To cast a line when I wanted, to jump in when it got too hot.  To listen to its songs after the darkness fell. The lakes were calling.

My dream wasn’t huge… I didn’t have to own property on a lake or a second home/cabin with my own beach.  I just wanted to be nearer to water than I was.  Preferably water that didn’t have its own perfume of “muddy river”.  

For many people, Ely, Minnesota is the personification of that dream.  When they think of such a place as I did during my childhood, they ultimately see a green sign with only three letters: “ELY”.

As I grew older I thought about how great it would be to leave work at the end of the day and go fishing somewhere.  To grab a canoe and just go.  In my mind I saw only water and endless possibilities.  That was my Ely.  More lakes than I knew what to do with.

Somehow I made it here and began life all over again as a husband and then a new father and life itself got busier and busier.  The dream stayed alive, but now that I was living it, it changed to encompass Little League and ballet and church and friends and family and a career and traveling and art and new books and more art and antiques and hobbies and…

The lakes are calling and I must go.  Yes, it is a take off from a John Muir quote, but it is a fact.  A fact of life.  They call.  Loudly.  So now, I answer the call. I go. I just don’t have to go very far.

One of the most exciting things is to go to work with the knowledge that when your work day is over a canoe trip awaits.  Portage packs full, family ready, dog ready, canoes on the van, Zups Polish in the pack, fishing rods and hammocks — check, check, check.  I can hardly wait.

Many times there isn’t time enough to do that. There’s just time enough to go for a paddle, or go for a paddle and bring our fishing rods. To catch our dinner. Many times there isn’t time for that, either, there’s just enough time to take our dog down to the edge of lake on a walk, to get all of our feet wet and to watch the sunset. That’s okay. At night, as I fall asleep, I can still hear them calling. I can fall asleep saying lake names that I have and haven’t been to. There’s a lot of them. More than I can remember… Abinodji, Ahsub, Angleworm, Big Moose, Boot, Cattyman, Confusion, Crooked, Disappointment, Ella Hall, Fourtown, Gabbro, Good, Hula, Isabella, Jitterbug, Kawishiwi Lake, Little Trout, Mudro, North Hegman, Owl, Parent, Parent, Rum, South Temperance, Tin Can Mike, Trease, Unload, Vista, White Feather, Wind, Wood, and Zoo Lake get me started on the long doze.

When I am fortunate enough to be loaded up and the afternoon sun is tattooing its mark on the back of my neck as I stretch my paddle to the campsite up ahead, then I relax and think, how lucky I am to be living my dream.

Do the Lakes call you?  Pick up your phone and call our Outfitting Department today to begin planning your canoe trip in the Boundary Waters. 1-800-223-6565.

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Book Review: Combat to Conservation

Local Ely Author debuts “can’t put down” first book to rave reviews. An intelligent, engaging conversation with the past and the present that delivers on the promise of preservation for the future.

From early childhood memories, to coming of age, to the Marines, Vietnam and a life that followed, Francis Fitzgerald takes us along for the ride.

It opened my eyes to my own father’s experiences in Vietnam that contrasted so violently and beautifully as well as dangerously with his childhood experiences outdoors in the Midwest. It also speaks to the validity and importance of keeping your true self and your dreams safe and secure from things that are far beyond your control. Just as writing this book was instrumental and necessary for Fitz, reading it and experiencing his story was life altering for me. Many times we find ourselves at odds , sometimes extreme, with our surroundings and our fellow humans — in these instances we need to make things simple and remember what is important. Conservation and preservation of the natural all around us can very well become the key to preservation of self.” Tim Stouffer, Creative Director, The Boundary Waters Catalog and Piragis Northwoods Company

In 1970, after growing up in the woods and fields of Southeastern Minnesota, Francis Fitzgerald finds himself as a young Marine in the middle of one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts his country has ever fought. Thoughts of college and becoming a game warden are gone as daily life becomes a battle of survival. Hot jungle sun, monsoon rains, snakes and leeches, and the ever-present threat of enemy ambushes take a toll on a nineteen-year-old’s mind and body. But the biggest battle looms ahead. 

How does one heal the body and soul after living in that unimaginable world? No one is ever the same. Is anything worth the fight anymore? In Combat to Conservation, Fitzgerald explains how wilderness became his closest ally, his medicine, and his only hope. We have both hardcover and paperback editions in stock and online.

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Twenty four hours later

What a difference a day makes. Yeah, we know, this is just a diary how the days are going up here while April turns its pages. If this weren’t happening we’d just be watching mud get softer. April is like that in northern Minnesota. It doesn’t want to give up on Winter and usually continues to make ice despite the calendar.

Today looks like Christmas all over again. It looks like a card picked right off the shelf from the holiday season section.

After raining about an inch or so yesterday, the temperature dropped and we got a beautiful, soft and silent snow for much of the night. Today, despite the fact the sun is hidden behind the clouds, it feels warmer than it did when the first good soaking rain of the year fell all of yesterday.

These pictures do the talking.

It is a special place to live.

Tomorrow will bring something different.

Enough is enough about that for now. Call us at 800-223-6565 to talk canoe trips and begin planning a paddling adventure for your family and friends.

If you’d like to get a jump start on your summer gear needs, we’ve got some great opportunities for you to save on some items.

Here’s a quick link to our Trip Essentials as well.

Be safe and come see us soon!

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Swans on Open Water

A few days later and the recent snow is melted away. Of course the forecast hasn’t changed, today the rain is falling and deteriorating the determined piles of snow that we have left. I took the short trip out of town to where the river bends into the forest and around the edge of Winton on 169.

The swans had thinned their bevy, but they clung to the same shoreline, now devoid of snow as well. As I held my phone up to capture the same scene from Monday three of them took to the grey skies that held only the pre-meditations of the rain that would soon be falling.

The pair of Canadian Geese were up closer to the road and honked at me several times before they rose up overhead and flew away towards Lake One and the End of the Road about twenty miles away.

After their departure, I crossed to the other side where the flowage was home to a family of Merganzers (both hooded and common) and other Spring waterfowl. The beautiful sound of rolling water accompanied their conversations. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but it sounded like bits and pieces of a song for Spring and a tribute to the toughness of Old Man Winter.

I drove over to where the river exits Shagawa Lake to see if any of the swans had landed over there but instead I found more Merganzers and Canadian Geese.

Since this morning it has rained over an inch and we are expected to get four more inches of what they call “Wintery Mix.” I guess we will see what happens.

Rain on my metal roof sounds like pretty fair music to the ears right now. It is a welcome change. The ground is thawing and the birds who have returned seem happy enough in their dance on the surface. The water temperature can’t be much above freezing but they don’t seem to mind.

It’s a good day to be half way through the week. The Northwoods is singing.

And dancing.


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The Beauty and Cold of Winter Hangs On

It feels like Winter used to feel like in the Northwoods when it would hang about in Ely waiting in the wings, waiting to catch us off guard. We have climbed up and over 50 degrees multiple days and even multiple days in a row since late in February. However, Winter is still with us and the pictures I took earlier this morning tell you all you need to know.

The calendar might say that it is Spring, but the weeks still bring nights below freezing and at least two days of the white stuff that has begun to feel like a house guest that has overstayed their welcome and long ago ceased to bear gifts to placate our nervous energy about when they will be leaving.

The snow is of course, beautiful. It is always unexpected, even though we follow the forecast. The snow is also very welcome as it raises the water table and helps us overcome the lingering drought that the last four years have left us. We don’t want the threat of fire that loomed in the Boundary Waters and the Superior National Forest most of the paddling season last year and indeed materialized both up in Canada and on our side of the border. We’ve had enough of the rampant haze and smoke that clouded our summer and frazzled the nerves in a different way. Snow is good. Moisture is good.

It has been Winter since later in October, though and being used to change in Minnesota, we are ready for some change. Half the year is a big deal. Since the lake waters were hard enough to walk on, there have only been a few nights above freezing when we weren’t making ice. As a result, on April 10th, yesterday, many local lakes still measured three feet of thick hard ice.

The next ten days look to be in the thirties except for one or two and the nights are all expected to be below freezing with the exception of one that only climbs up to 33 degrees. This whole working week is projected to welcome either snow or “Wintery mix.”

It is a place for the hearty and every year some of the heartiest of our friends return early. For a few weeks now the geese and waterfowl and our relatively new friends, the swans have shifted their feet and stood around on ice waiting for open water. The soft edges and slow turns of our rivers have opened with the swift and sure currents. They are sharing these spaces and if anything else could be more beautiful than a freshly fallen snow, it should be the graceful swans.

The growing but fleeting strength of the morning sun was peaking through the heavy clouds just enough to splash a net of sparkling diamonds across the corner of my frame. Mirrored across the shoreline, the bevy or bank of swans stacked up the edge of the riverbank. Off to their left a pair marked their space on the opposite bank, perhaps giving way to a pair of Canadian Geese that ultimately took flight as I snapped off some shots.

It was a good start to the week. It was a change and I guess that’s all I really wanted to see. Not more of the same. We’ll stop walking on water and begin paddling on it soon enough. Soon enough these beautiful birds will take flight and we will take their place on the water, with sunlight until the ten o’clock hour.