1st time BWCA advice

I am planning a trip to the BWCA for the end of June. It will be my brother, our 2 friends and me. We are all in our early 20s and have grown up in Northern MN so I would say we are experienced beginners. 2 of the members have been in the BWCA before with youth groups, but that was years ago. We are looking to do a 3-4 day trip that mostly includes fishing and relaxing. We want to “get away” for a long weekend type thing. I have bought both the Breymer books (east and west). We would prefer something out of the west side because it is closer to our town but neither side is that far. Can I get any suggestions and tips from some more experienced paddlers. We have thought about going through an outfitter but we are all young college kids with out alot of money so we want to save anywhere possible. Any advice from what routes would be good to what types of food to bring would be appreciated. thanks

Have a good time!
Having the Breymer Books puts you on the right track. Pay attention to the planning sections. You might want to pick up a couple more books at the library. Look for a BWCA book by Cliff Jacobson. Be aware you need to secure a permit!! The lottery comes up soon, so get in it if you can.

A route that immediately comes to mind is the Lake One entry to Insula (lakes One, Two, Three, Four, Hudson, Insula). It is outside Ely on the west end of the BWCA. It is a long day to Insula, probably 8 hours +, but you are young. You can handle it. Or you can break up the trip and camp at any of the lakes along the way.

It is mostly paddling. Portages are pretty simple. The only longish one is the last one into insula. The route is very popular. That is good for beginners. When in doubt, follow someone or ask directions.

Insula has good fishing especially for walleye.

You don’t need to go through an outfitter, but one is very helpful for first-timers. Do you need a canoe? You rent just a canoe from an outfitter. When you pick up the canoe, pick their brains. You can ask anything from directions to the entry point, to fishing tips, to good campsites on your route (have your map out), …

You can make do with most any camping equipment you have or can borrow. Most of the recommended stuff is due to weight on the portages, but if you’re young and not making many portages, who cares, right?

As far as food, you can get everything you need from the grocery store. What you want is light weight stuff not in bottles or cans. You also want things that won’t break or get crushed (bagels are better than bread). Avoid buying things that are in the refrigerated section.

They make chicken and tuna now in foil packets. Perfect for Chicken or Tuna Helper meals. Instant oatmeal. Tea. Coffee bags. Trail Mix. Summer sausage. Lipton Rice dishes. Boxed potatos. Fish breading and oil (though don’t count on fish meals - always have a back up). Hard candy. Granola bars. There is tons of stuff on the supermarket shelves!

Have a great time.

I’ll add to my own post. Get some type of back packs. Sometimes you see inexperienced people putting loose stuff in the canoe. That is a major pain! You need to have stuff in packs of some sort.

Duluth type packs are ideal, but you may not have them. Use what you have. Many folks use backpacks. They’re not ideal, but will work.

When I first started out I used army duffle bags - the ones with the back packstraps. They were cheap at the Army/Navy Store. I also bought some other Army Surplus canvas packs. I still own them.

The point is to get the loose stuff together in order to portage and to keep organized.

Get some velcro straps or bungee cords to secure your fishing poles to the thwarts of the canoe (inside the canoe0. This will help keep them from getting damaged. BTW - Take 1/4 the amount of fishing tackle you think you need.

Numbered Lakes / Insula , a trip report
Check out;


This might help out If you plan this trip to Insula Lake.

Water-proof your stuff
If you have no gear, and short on cash, do what we did. Pack your clothes and sleeping gear in a normal duffle. You can use a plastic bag inside the duffle, the duffle protects the plastic from tears, or you can put your clothes inside in individual gallon size ziplock bags.

I now see large zip-locks at Basspro for just such uses. You can obtain an inexpensive dry bag at Wal Mart for about $13 dollars.

All this said because a week in the wilderness with wet gear is no fun at all.

Can we audit your gear?
Just what do you have? 3-4 days is easy.

No cotton clothes if you can manage it. No jeans at all, none. They’ll get wet and stay wet and make your sleeping bag wet and generally suck. Being wet and cold is the worst.

Get dehydrated food. Soupworks is good stuff. Lipton makes some tasty tortelini and just-add-water sauce. Water water everywhere, why carry it? Oatmeal for breakfast. Peanut butter, jelly and tortillas for lunch. Someone is going to suggest MREs. I say they’re wrong. Decide for yourself, if you dare! :wink:

Waterproof everything. Ziplocks and garbage bags.

I applied today for the Lake One entry and exit 2day. With Mudro lake as an alternate thinking I will make the 3 falls loop. I will be borrowing my dads Northwind blackgold canoe and we will probably end up renting another or using an aluminium as our second. I plan to get a couple Duluth Packs b4 we go. I have alot of camping gear maybe not all super light weight stuff but as said b4 we are young. Food and fishing stuff is my biggest question besides route. thanks for all the advice.

Packs and fishing gear
I suggest shopping around and shouldering Duluth packs vs a full harness and hip belt pack (like Granite Gear’s Superior One) before you put your money down. Rent some of each and see if you have strong opinions one way or the other first before you purchase. Packs are a lifetime investment and are the second most expensive investment for canoe tripping after the canoe. Duluth packs have served me well for many years. But as you get older you appreciate packs that make long portages a little more comfortable.

Some suggestions for fishing gear: take a few spoons; some shallow running crank baits (like rattletraps or #5 rattling raps); some deep running crank baits (like #7 shad raps or Storm has some good ones); a stick bait or two (like Storm thundersticks); a couple 2.5" surface baits; some 3 - 4" tube jigs; a long nose pliers; either a kevlar glove or a small short handled landing net; medium-heavy spinning gear for casting or trolling; one spare rod and reel for the group; and the sternman may find a rod holder handy if you do much trolling.

Grain of salt
Please, don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking to be a prick. Everyone starts somewhere, nobody is born with the knowledge and experience.

So far you have 4 guys, 2 canoes, hopefully 2 packs and a pile of random gear of less than stellar quality. My prediction based on this list. You will either have the time of your life or a miserable experience and your buddies will never talk to you again. I hope you have the time of your life. This is actually sounding like my first wilderness trip; not quite as sloppy, but close.

You want a tarp and the rope to rig it up. No polyplastic blue monster if you can avoid it. It’s going to rain on you. A dry place near the fire where you can stand up and watch the weather roll by is key. Better to rent a good one than buy a crappy one. Minimum 15’ of cord for each of the corners and the centre point. A few extra 10’ lengths to trim it. If it’s windy, a tarp can be a wall as well as being a ceiling.

Food should be dry. I’m a dehydrator purist. Why pack water when there’s a gagillion litres just a few feet away? Also, moisture helps food spoil.

Quaker oatmeal for breakfast is as easy as boiling extra coffee water. Sugar and starch, 2 packets/person/day. Wash the mug out with a cup of joe.

Lunches for a weekend can be extravagant. Soak a J-Cloth in vinegar, wrap it around a block of cheddar or similar cheese, ziplock it. A vacu-sealed kielbassa, 2"/person. White flour tortillas. You’ll never taste the vinegar. NEVER pack Wonder bread. Tortillas, pitas, even bagels. Sliced bread will squish and be useless.

Dinners can be freeze dried store bought items.

Fruitsource bars are my new favorite. Them and Cliff bars for snacks and deserts. Unless you have an OutbackOven or something, in which case brownies are the order of the day.

Cooking over the fire is a fool’s game. Nothing sucks more than having to wait an hour for a cup of coffee. Not only that, but I find that people who cook on a fire are more likely to leave one burning unattended all day. Bring a stove.

Fishing is easy. 15# test rig. Don’t overpack the lures, you have to carry that weight.

2 Floating Rapalas.

1 topwater poppper type, jitterbug or hula popper

Some 7-10" purple plastic worms with carolina/texas rig.

LEAD FREE weights; if we don’t demand them, they won’t make them.

William’s Wobbler

5 of Diamonds

Red Devil

Black Fury, with the feathers

Purify your drinking water. I just isn’t worth the risk. Pristine, pump, boil.

Packs and Fishing
DM gives good advice.

I own duluth packs and some other duluth-type packs with the hip belt, sternum straps, etc. An inexpensive, yet good quality, pack is the Mason Canoe Pack.


As far as fishing tackle, my main stay is a white jig head with white twister tail. The other is a simple red & white (or 5 of diamonds) Daredevel spoon. DM’s suggestions are great, but if I were told I could bring only two lures it would be the ones I mentioned.

Also, your fishing success will dramatically increase with live bait. Leeches on that white jig head or on a slip bobber are great choices. However, transporting live bait and keeping it alive is a pain. I have seldom taken it.

BTW – Mudro is also a good choice.

More thoughts
I hope you don’t mind that I’m psoting so much.

Preacher made many good points. I agree - you need to purify your water some how. Filtering is the easiest and most effective. See if you can borrow a filter. Next, IMHO, would be the chemical purifier like Pristine (Aqua Mira). Make sure you follow the directions for its use. Boiling is not good simply because it takes too long, needs to be cooled, uses a lot of fuel, and the water tastes awful.

I also agree with Preacher about taking a stove. I think a fire is OK for supper. Generally you’ll be sitting around a night time fire anyway. Might as well cook on it.

Breakfast is another matter. Always use a stove for breakfast. I think Preacher made a good point about accidently leaving a fire going. I believe this is most likely to happen if you have a morning fire, so use a stove instead. Another consideration is a cold breakfast.

Of course there is always the possibility that there will be a fire ban. Then you can NOT have a fire and MUST use a stove. Bring a stove.

I, too, agree with Preacher about bringing a tarp. Given the best senario – yes, buy a good quality tarp. However, given your situation as poor college students, I will disagree with Preacher. I think it’s OK to bring a cheapy blue tarp provided you understand you need to bring it back out if it tears to shreds … which also brings up, take duct tape. Duct tape can repair many things, not only your tarp but canoes, tents, shoes, fishing poles, clothes, rain gear, …

Two other thoughts: 1) Fresh fruit. Apples will hold up perfectly for the few days you are out. So will carrots. They are a little heavy, but they are quick, handy, and something you are probably accustomed to eating. 2) There is only one place to park at Mudro – Chainsaw Sisters Parking lot. It is private property. There is a fee. Last season it was (I believe) $2.50/day/vehicle. If you’re on a budget be sure to include that cost. I believe that Mudro is the only entry point in the BWCA that does not have a public parking area.

BTW – you may want to budget a couple dollars for when you take out for atop at Chainsaw Sisters. A fun place. If you enter at Mudro, you need to stop there. Root beer, beer, pizza, burgers - all fairly inexpensive.

Duct Tape, yes
I concede on the tarp. Any tarp is better than no tarp.

Quick tip on Duct Tape. You don’t need a whole roll for a weekend. You likely don’t need any, bring some anyway. I wrap my nalgenes with about 15’ of tape. It doesn’t take any extra space and it’s always at hand.

Oranges and kiwis last the best. On a short trip you could bring any fruit. Fruit rocks!

What type of pants would you recomend if blue jeans are not the answer, something like wind pants? I planned on everyone pitching in on a water purifier. The MSR one that mounts to a Nalgene is $80 between 4 guys we can handle that. I think I will rent packs one guy has 1 duluth pack already then I can try both styles b4 I buy one.

What about poison ivy in that area?

It looks like you’re going to have weather between 50 and 75 F. Could get chilly at night.

Ideally, you want quick drying moisture wicking clothes. 3 Layers. Base layer pyjamas/longjohns, long pants & shirt, sweater or fleece. Shorts too, buying convertable pants is a good idea. And rain gear, a waterproof jacket/windbreaker or a poncho.

Wool is good stuff. Synthetics are all the rage.

Cotton soaks up water and holds it tight. On a cold night you’ll be shivering in your own sweat.

No white cotton tube socks from gym class. Wool or synth socks. You will get your feet wet.

Don’t forget a hat with a brim, not a baseball hat, a real hat that makes you look like your grandpa on a tractor.

It’s only 4 days, you shouldn’t get too worried about clothing.

Preacher, what’s wrong with MRE’s
Not looking to start a B&B here, just curious.

my 2 cents
Gottlieb’s Law: Anything that can leak and make a mess will. Ziplock (or double ziplock) anything gooey, runny, sticky, greasy, or oily.

I usually plan non-cook breakfasts. That way you can wakeup, pack up, and get on the water. I often bake cornbread or biscuits the night before and eat those as we go.

Stay flexible and relaxed. Have a good trip.


Summer canoe clothes
Strictly stay away from cotton on cold weather trips because cotton is difficult to dry and sucks the heat out of you. But your trip is the end of June, so you will probably experience some cool weather as well as some pretty warm. So here’s what works for me on summer trips. Twill work pants (like Dickies brand) will dry very fast compared to blue jeans and are rugged enough to take abuse. Take one cotton T shirt for warm days when you want to cool down (splashing water on your cotton T shirt will cool you down fast) and one synthetic T shirt for days you want to stay warmer. Synthetic underwear and synthetic heavy socks. A long sleeve twill work shirt (like Dickies) to keep the sun and mosquitoes from making hamburger out of you but cool enough to wear even in heat. A bandanna and a hat that will keep the sun off your head and neck. Keep your rain suit top handy to serve double duty as a windbreaker. Fast drying swim trunks. Take a fleece hoody for around camp in the morning and evening and to use as a pillow. Take a pair of camp sneakers or light hikers and dry socks along that you change into from your muddy, wet trail boots once you get into camp. If your sleeping bag is a little light for the season consider taking polypropelene long johns - they aren’t much weight for the lot of extra warmth they can give. Short trips I keep the extra clothes to a minimum. Trips of a week or more, I carry a change of clothes, but frequently don’t use everything.

You also asked about poison ivy. You can find it throughout the BWCA and Quetico. Watch for it along portage trails that run in the flood plains along streams, expecially in sandy or gravelly areas. Generally you don’t have to worry about it on trails that head off through the woods and on bed rock.

I gave away a bunch of MREs
My brother-in-law (in the army) got me a case of them. He figured that I camped and that these would be great. They are heavy and the food isn’t very good. One pack also contains all the meals for one day (not just one meal). There is a lot packaging and extra stuff. Though I didn’t buy mine, I believe they are expensive.

If you were to use them, I believe the best way to go about it would to open them up, get rid of the extras, and repack the components by meal rather than by person. Still, this is non-dehydrated food, so it is heavy. Also, you can find much more appropriate stuff on your own whether it’s for taste, weight, or containers/packaging.

If I remember correctly, the following was found in an MRE:

Book Matches (not water-proof, made of cardboard)

Toilet Tissue (not enough to take care of the need and poor quality)

Bottle of Tabasco Sauce (bottles not legal in the BWCA)

Instant Coffee (you can get better stuff yourself)

Instant Drink (terrible stuff that stains your teeth and anything else)

Granola Bar (poor)

Crackers (poor)

Entrée (poor quality and quantity)

Paper packets of creamer, sugar, salt and pepper (not water proof)

A Mint (?)

Peanut Butter (that was OK)

I don’t remember what else. I just remember lots of little … stuff.


– Last Updated: Jan-05-06 10:01 AM EST –

I hate carrying what I don't need. Water is everywhere. I've heard the arguments pro-mre. It's a personal preference.

To be fair, I've never tried them. As posted above, they come with all sorts of extra stuff that I either don't need or if I do need them I pack them sepparately.

I like the biscuit idea
I just might give that a try next time.