Around the Base – BWCA Trip Planning Version 2.0

Around the Base – BWCA Trip Planning Version 2.0

BWCA TRIP PLANNING  Version 2.0 “Stuff”


Last month we talked about the perfect formula for BWCA trip planning.  We talked about developing the objectives of your BWCA canoe trip, the level of difficulty you wanted, the amount of travelling that you wanted, the sites you wanted to see, and the activities that were important e.g. is fishing a big part of the trip?  While the snow is still on the ground and the cold is still around (and both are still around here on Moose Lake), let’s consider the second part of trip planning.  STUFF!

What’s In Your Kit?

You might call it your outfit (old timers), gear, or equipment, but it all boils down to the STUFF you are going to haul into and out of the woods with you on your wilderness expedition.   One day we saw a group of guys (4) coming down the steps to our dock carrying 5 gal plastic buckets.  Well it’s not uncommon to see a group that has perhaps one or two buckets, but when these guys reached a total of 26 buckets, my curiosity was piqued.  “What’s the deal with the buckets?” I asked.  The answer was perfect, “Well, a buddy told us, that this way everything stays dry and you can use the buckets as chairs as well as to put your stuff in.” Hmmm, 26 buckets, they could play musical bucket chairs.!  They stacked them up in the canoe like the beer wagon in the commercials.  I bet the canoes were a little tippy.

These poor guys fell victim to bad advice from a well-meaning, but misguided (not enlightened) buddy, we all have them.  They took a trip 35 years ago and you know, took their stuff in 26 buckets.  OK, so smile and listen politely to any advice, then check it out.  Lots of info online, a buddy that has been coming for many years, an outfitter, the US Forest Service, etc. can provide good usable advice.  Here is some of mine based on more than a few years of observation.

Boundary Waters Comfort and Safety

First, the stuff you take with you will to a great extent, determine the safety and comfort you enjoy while in the wilderness. So, don’t wait until the last minute to get your act together. Plan and organize your stuff a couple weeks ahead of your trip.  This will avoid surprises, like seeing that your therm-a-rest has a hole in it or the mice got into your sleeping bag, or your stove has finally given up the ghost.   So often at our base on Moose Lake, we see parties working late into the evening, much to the delight of the mosquitoes, sorting and organizing their gear.  Better late than never, but easier at home.

Williams and Hall Outfitters Ely MN

Second, how to decide what to bring and what to leave.  This is where your stuff list must fall into sync with your overall trip objectives.  Remember we talked last month about deciding how much work you want to do.  Are you travelling or base camping? Will you be taking a bunch of long portages?  Is this going to be a major fishing expedition?  The answer to these questions will determine how you are going to pack.  So not fishing, then no need to bring fishing stuff, simple as that.  You want to cover lots of ground, see lots of sites, pack light.  There is the whole spectrum of stuff questions.  However, it boils down simply to this one question:  Do I really NEED this?

So ask yourself, will it make me safer?  Do I need it to survive, e.g. food?  Do I really want to carry it? Is it a necessity or a luxury?  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing bad about a luxury or two.  One time on a scout trip I took a cast iron dutch oven as a way of humbling a couple annoying teens. You can justify anything, just picture yourself carrying a folding toilet across a mile long portage. You get the picture. We could go on like this forever, but let me leave you with three pro tips:

Put these under the heading of Common BWCA Mistakes:

BWCA Quetico Ely Fishing

Duplications:  No, we don’t want anybody sharing toothbrushes or deciding who gets to use the spoon and who uses the fork for dinner, we want you to look at the gear everyone is bringing and see if there are overlaps that could be resolved.  Major duplications often occur in the fishing tackle area.  You want enough but you don’t want triples and quadruples of the same lure or 100 jigs that are all the same. Ask yourself this, If I have a good headlamp, do I really need that cool, but heavy mag-light?  If those guys would have asked themselves, how many buckets do we really need?  I am just saying….

Knowledge: If you bring it, know how to use it. You should know how much fuel your stove will need. I sure don’t know.  I can’t count how many times I see guys setting on our deck the night before their trip reading the instructions to their new GPS. In Kevin’s post on First Aid, he talks about knowing how to use what you bring in your kit.  Good advice!

Electronics: Funny thing electronic devices need power to work.  Communication devices require a signal to work as well as power.  So, no  power, no signal, just dead worthless weight in your pack.  Welcome to the woods.  I know it is antithetic to even imagine that there is still one square centimeter on the planet that does not have a cell signal, but alas most of the Boundary Waters is without, although this is shrinking, signals here are not reliable.  So you can knock yourself out and bring portable chargers ( more weight), or solar charging panels (and pray for sun), or like me-bring 3 spare AAA batteries for my headlamp and call it good.

Rain Gear and Foot Gear
Williams and Hall Outfitters Ely MN

La Crosse Burly Boot

Finally, there are lots of ways to spend money on outdoor and fishing gear.  I am, I must confess, a recovering gear addict.  I would say there are 2 areas to pay attention to.  One, bring good rain gear.  Two, make sure your foot gear fits and is well broken in.

So,  bottom line is pay careful attention to the STUFF you are going to bring.  Remember, generally speaking that less is more.  Paddle On!


Paddle On. Be Free.

For more information on BWCA Family Canoe Trips, click here, or call us at 218-365-5837