Checklist: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of July 23-29, 1998
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Checklist: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Checklist: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Question: I am putting together a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and I have a group of novice campers. I'd like to help them by providing a list of items they should bring. Our trip date is August 13, 1998 and we will be out for approximately four days. Any check list or food suggestions you can provide would be great. The sooner the better. Thanks.

Lane R. Johnson
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Adventure Adviser: A-number-one on the top of the list should be a pair of wool socks and a pair of wet shoes. Wet shoes, as opposed to dry shoes, are a pair of old but still intact tennis shoes (not Tevas or thongs) that you can wear during your day on the water. That way, when you come to a portage, you can hop out of your canoe before it crashes to the shore and wade through the water without worrying about twisting an ankle or scuffing your toes. The obvious complement to wet shoes, is a pair of dry shoes that are safely packed in your bag. The general rule is that dry shoes should never come out of the pack until you're on dry ground for the night. This system of wet shoes all day, dry shoes all night, significantly increases comfort, reduces wear and tear on canoes, and best of all reduces chances of injury or hypothermia. The wool sock component keeps your feet as dry as possible because wool naturally wicks water away from the skin. Plus, wool socks dry more quickly and are more comfortable when wet than cotton, polyester, or any synthetic.

Number two on the list is rain gear-a pair of pants and a jacket. It doesn't have to be fancy $300 Gore-Tex raingear, but you should try to avoid the Hefty garbage bag variety as well. Since rain is a misery-inducing element on canoe trips, be sure to have everyone pack their rain gear on the top of their packs and pull it out even at the remotest sign of a light sprinkle. Rain combined with cool northern weather is a bad combination and can cause considerable chill, possibly hypothermia, and a lot of long faces.

Other clothes to bring include a wool sweater, a polypropylene long underwear top and bottom, a swimsuit, a few pair of wool socks, a baseball hat, t-shirts, shorts (nylon are handy because they dry quickly), a pair of army-surplus type pants, a stocking cap, and a waterproof shell. A lot of folks tend to overpack on a canoe trip, but if you are careful and pack all of your clothes in waterproof stuff sacks, you should be able to manage on the basics.

As far as food is concerned, before I leave on my trip, I pre-ration everything and separate it into daily food bags. For example, on the first day I'll pack a bag of oatmeal with condiments and powdered orange juice for the group in one plastic bag, then I'll pack a block of American cheese, power bars, Rye-Krisp crackers, trail mix, and powdered lemonade in a bag for lunch, and finally I'll pre-measure spaghetti noodles, powdered sauce, freeze-dried green beans, and a cake mix for dinner in a separate bag. Then I will put one day's worth of food in a clear plastic sleeve and magic marker it Day 1, followed by Day 2, etc. You get the picture. When I finish the pre-rationing and dividing, I pack it all in a pack reserved for food. It's essential to pack food together for two reasons: it's more efficient, and you'll only have to hang one pack in the trees at night to make sure the bears don't get your peanut butter Power Bars.

Finally, a few essential gear elements are mosquito spray, a bear rope, a plastic tarp, flashlights, thick plastic bags or waterproof stuff sacks to pack your clothes in, a camp stove, maps of the BWCA available at any outfitter in Ely or Grand Marais, a small jackknife, a good book, marshmallows, and a lot of scary campfire stories.

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