Advice with trip planning

I am planning a solo wilderness trip (probably to Ontario) the summer of '07 (my 60th b’day present to myself!). I am an intermediate to maybe experienced paddler but have never done wilderness tripping. I seek advise:

  1. Should I go with an outfitter or plan and use my own equipment?
  2. Would I be wise to do a shorter warm up trip this summer ('06) with an outfitter to learn the ropes?
  3. Use my own boat or rent one? (I have a Wenonah Vagabond and a Nova Craft Bob Special - both Royalex)
  4. How about locations, Quentico, Wabakimi, Algonquin, Woodland Caribou, other?
  5. Any other suggestions?

    I want a wilderness canoe/camping experience but also lots of fishing! I await your sage advice.

Solo Trip
I don’t know where you are located and so any logistacal problems, but I would definitely do a warm up trip. If one of the Provincial Parks are too far, try something closer to home. This need not be a true wilderness trip. It can be some campground provided you can be somewhat isolated. Go solo and see how you do. Some folks simply do not like it. Better to find out close to home than in the middle of nowhere.

The only park in Ontario that I am familar with is Quetico. It is fairly accessible. I believe Algonquin is as well. I would choose one of them, though I believe Quetico will have the better fishing. Wabakimi and Woodland Caribou will be more “wildernessy” and I wouldn’t choose them as my first “wilderness” experience.

You can use you own equipment, but since this is your first time, I would definately use an outfitter. You may be able to purchase only services such as trip planning or partial outfitting (a few pieces of gear) opposed to full oufitting (everything but your personal clothes).

Assuming you are a U.S. citizen, there may be other advantages to using a Canadian outfitter as well. For instance, you may be able to use entry points not normally available to U.S. citizens, or have a cheaper rate on camping fees.

The big thing is that the outfitter will help negotiate the red tape in taking a trip such as permits, fees, and licenses, and in some cases things like Remote Area Border Crossing (from the U.S. to Canada).

You can definately use your own boat if you like.

The Nova Craft Bob Special should work fine in most any situation. The Wenonah Vagabond will work for most situations though you’ll have to pack light and watch the big water. The advantages of renting are: 1) you don’t have to transport your boat for a long distance there and back; and, 2) The outfitter rents boats that are appropriate for the type of paddling you’ll be doing. I suppose another consideration is that you could rent a kevlar canoe. That means less weight to carry on the portages. Still, it really doesn’t matter. You decide.

Solo tripping is an art. It takes some guys a long time to perfect their technique and gear. Go light. You’ll want to discuss this with your outfitter. Go with his recomendations for fishing tackle - it’ll probablly be a much smaller amount than you are used to.

You nay want to consider the BWCA if you are a U.S. citizen. It may be a little less strenuous and cheaper.

Have a great time. Good Luck!

I second the warm up trip…It has
taken me 3 years of solo tripping to perfect my gear and basic food list…my longest trip has been 21 days…the shorter trips help you hone your gear and learn what you can be comfortable without…I try and take no more than what I need…I have seen just the opposite, where paddlers take as much as they can haul…the more weight the less boat preformance to an extent…if you become at ease in the wilderness the less you need to haul into it…IMHO

First trip a solo trip?
I wouldn’t do it. You should get some tripping experience under your belt before you go on a solo trip. Canoe skill is just a part of it, not even the biggest part. Camp skills, even portage skills, packing skills.

  1. Should I go with an outfitter or plan and use my own equipment?

    This depends on the quality of your gear. If your sleepling bag is one of those cotton and flanel comforters with a zipper, don’t use it. What gear do you have? Makes & models & weights & packed volume?

    Greenhorns tend to pack heavy, twice as heavy with personal gear that never gets used. Even experienced folks fall into the trap. One of my tripping pals for the past 15 years wanted to bring three books for a one week trip. My pack, without food, for 7 - 10 days weighs less than 30 lbs. I’m working to get it lighter, I know people who get under 20 lbs.

  2. Would I be wise to do a shorter warm up trip this summer ('06) with an outfitter to learn the ropes?

    Yes! With an outfitter or a buddy. If you need a buddy, I do several easy-peasy weekend trips from ice-out to late fall. Lots of fishing! Depending on your logistics, you’re welcome to join me on a couple. I’m not the final word on anything, and after being at it for 15 years much of what I do is second nature. Still, there’s much to be learned by going with someone who has the experience. email me if you’re interested, I’m in Toronto and most of my weekend trips are Algonquin or South of there, less than 3 hour drive from home.

  3. Use my own boat or rent one? (I have a Wenonah Vagabond and a Nova Craft Bob Special - both Royalex)

    Depending on the route you take, you might want to rent one. Any problems portaging your own canoes for a couple of kilometers?

  4. How about locations, Quentico, Wabakimi, Algonquin, Woodland Caribou, other?

    Algonquin would be the easiest and safest. I hear the portages in Wabakimi can be nasty.

  5. Any other suggestions?

    Know your gear. Be able to set up your site in the dark and rain without getting soaked.

Thanks and keep them coming
All suggestions have been great and welcomed. I am a US citizen and reside in central Illinois. I have been paddling (flatwater and rivers up to class II for about 30 years - but mostly flatwater and slow rivers in Illinois, Missouri, Michigan and Wisconsin.) I have considerable backpacking experience (some sole but most with 1 or more partners.) I was a boy scout leader for 11 years and did some fairly rugged high adventures with my scouts. I have pretty good equipment (North Face, Thermarest, Kelty for example) but much is older and I plan on purchasing new replacement and more equipment in the next year. Equipment more geared toward canoe camping. I am starting a more rigorous excercise routine so I can get back into better packing shape. I have about 18 months to get ready for my trip. I have been researching outfitters in and around the BWCA, Quentico and Wabakimi (these are closer to me in terms of driving distance) - any suggestions? - and am considering a warm up trip in June or July of next year (probably with an outfitter and possibly guided). I am also planning a solo canoe/camping trip in Wisconsin next May as a trial run. And thinking about a short canoe camping trip in the Michigan U.P. in August.

I really appreciate your suggestions. Thanks!

Wilderness Tripping
Wilderness tripping isn’t all that different. You could drive to a campground with all your gear to practice. I’d suggest you first find out if you’ll enjoy being alone. A couple of solo car camping trips wouldn’t hurt.

The hardest thing to learn is packing your gear. You can practice that by loading you gear at home. Sleep out in the backyard and spend some days cooking with your campstove. Get a hand held set of scales and weigh your packed dry-bags. Knowing before hand how much everything weighs helps tremendously when trimming a boat.

I’ve known quite a few outfitters over the years. Their focus is providing trips for mostly inexperienced people. For the most part an outfitter’s gear is no better than the average camper. They aren’t going to be shelling out $600 each for sleeping bags that can get trashed by a client. You’re better off getting your hands on a buyers guide if you feel you need to upgrade your gear.

Since governments are the ones who issue permits it’s always best to contact a government agency first when it comes to questions about permits.

If you don’t know first-aid take a course before going.

Because you’ll be alone don’t take any tools, like an axe, that can cause a life threatening injury. If you feel the need to cut wood a folding pruning saw will do the trick.

Cooking tip: I carry a Century double 12,000 BTU burner propane stove and 4lb. tank in my kayak. Which is good for 7 days cooking two meals a day. It’s bulky but is well worth it. I’ve found that being able to cook my breakfast while making coffee at the same time makes mornings much more enjoyable. Cooking on a single burner that’s less stable isn’t my idea of a good time. If you’re a coffee drinker an insulated French press is the only way to go. I can brew a quart of coffee that stays hot while I kick back to enjoy it.

One more thing. Get a Crazy Creek chair. The one with the high back. When you want to sit back with a good book or magazine it is the best.

Going solo…
If you don’t want to travel too far, try the Flambeau River in WI. From Nine Mile landing to Flambeau River Lodge is 42 miles with free campsites along the way. You will pass an outfitter and bar/campground at the Oxbow and also one other outfitter off W, but for the most part it is remote and within State Forest land. The river starts out fairly easy and gets into more rapids further down the biggest being Cedar and Beaver Dam.

Preparing to solo in Ontario Parks
1) Should I go with an outfitter or plan and use my own equipment?

Sounds like you’ve got a good base of equipmnet to start with. Experience will show the way to what your equipment should evolve to. You’ll be ready for major solo trips in the Ontario Parks when your relaltionship with outfitters is for specific equipment or transportation needs rather than general outfitting packages.

2) Would I be wise to do a shorter warm up trip this summer ('06) with an outfitter to learn the ropes?

I’d recommend hooking up with an experienced group headed to one of the Ontario Parks for a longer trip of a week or more. Be sure to learn everything you can, constantly hone your navigation skills, and find out what’s behind every decision by the leader. This will give you the best introduction to wilderness travel. Then I recommend short solo trips to gain experience. Silvania, the BWCA, or overnight river floats are good places. When you have the confidence to lead a group into an Ontario Park for a major trip, you are more than ready to solo on a major trip into these parks.

3) Use my own boat or rent one? (I have a Wenonah Vagabond and a Nova Craft Bob Special - both Royalex)

Your boats will be fine to start with. But if your goal is major paddling and portaging trips in Ontario Parks, I predict kevlar is in your future.

4) How about locations, Quentico, Wabakimi, Algonquin, Woodland Caribou, other?

I’d add Bowron in early September in British Columbia to that list with its 72 mile one way circuit. During the day you can experiece solitude. You also experience a social aspect at the campsites, and there is a good emergency help responder system there should anyone get into serious trouble.

5) Any other suggestions?

Always think of your safety out there solo. Falls on portages that result in broken bones do happen. Illness can occur out in the middle of nowhere. On a major solo wilderness trip essential gear may well be a satelite phone.

Warm up trip for 06
Voyagers National Park lies between the BWCA and International Falls. It is easy to access, has good wilderness camping, good fishing - small mouth bass, pike and waleye, and doesn’t have a tight quota system restricting the number of permits authorized. You can paddle around the large penninsula in a week with only two portages. With your experience you could do this trip by yourself. There are some good trip reports on this site about Voyagers. Also, consider doing your wilderness trip in 07 to Isle Royale National Park. One of my favorite wilderness trips involved portaging through the chain of eight lakes inside of Isle Royale! Fantastic wilderness paddling, hiking, camping and fishing. You can get all kinds of good information on Isle Royale online.

take the Vagabond
Based on the experience you’ve listed, I don’t think you will have any problems doing it yourself. You can always quit early if you get tired of being by yourself. The logistics can get complicated, and an outfitter would be a help there, but otherwise, just think ultralight.

At 42lbs vs 58lbs for the two boats you mentioned, it’s a no-brainer for me- I’d take the Vagabond, and since its a solo, it will be a better choice in any case.

You don’t mention the length of your proposed trip, so its not possible to guess how much gear and food you will want to take. there is a big difference in planning a 10 day vs a 30 day trip. The longer you are out, the more important the luxuries and spares become. Also, the time of year influences what you bring, and affects the weight and volume of gear. Cold weather clothing and sleeping bag, vs mid-August can be a big difference. Regardless of how much gear you bring, you want to plan and pack “smart” for portaging. Eliminate “loose” items- everthing should be in a pack for partaging, or lasjhed to the canoe, otherwise, you risk leaving behind or losing some vital piece of gear. Small items can be kept in a fanny pack straped around your seat. For a solo canoe, I’d recommend one large pack, and one small to medium pack, so that you can trim the boat effectively for wind conditions (bow heavy into a headwind, stern heavy with a tailwind). Everything should fit below the gunnel line, to keep a low profile in the wind. The number of packs also depends on your physical condition, as you don’t want a pack too heavy to carry - might mean bringing 3 packs instead of two, and making three carry’s across the portages. Better to go light over the portages if you are travelling solo - less risk of injury. I usually go through a pack/repack/re-repack routine, till I get my gear down to where it needs to be.

I’d agree with the info given above about where to go. Either Quetico or BWCA would be your best bets (there are good guidebooks for both areas, and they will provide info on obtaining permits, recommended routes, maps, etc). You can do a search on this site for numerous postings with lots of useful info covering permits, customs/border crossing , bearproofing your camp, etc. I’d avoid Woodland Caribou and Wabakimi till you get a few trips under your belt. I’d also avoid Voyageurs NP, as that is mostly big water and wind can be a bigger problem there, though wind is going to be an issue wherever you go. Its quite common to get “windbound” for a day, or maybe several days-again, its best to be cautious, and you shouldn’t be in a hurry anyway. The idea is to enjoy your trip, not turn it into an ordeal.

Sounds like you’re on the right track
Because of your location, sounds like the BWCA or Quetico (BTW it’s not “Quentico” - that’s FBI) might be better. Sounds like you have good experience and gear. I wouldn’t rush out to buy new gear just for the sake of new gear. The stuff you have may be very serviceable.

The best thing you have said is that you are getting into shape with this trip as a goal. Good for you! Canoe camping is my motivation for going to the gym, too.

Do you have a place in mind for your Wisconsin trip? There are a number of possibilities. One is the Turtle Flambeau Flowage. It is a good first-timer place, so it might be a bit mild for you. Another is the Manitowish River (decent fishing). Check out hawks Nest Outfitters for info on either of these.

For your short canoe camping trip in the Michigan U.P., I highly recommend the Sylvania Wilderness. It is an ideal place for a first time solo trip – to work out the bugs in techniques and gear. Easy access back to your vehicle if there is a problem. Portages, but easy ones. Guaranteed campsites, so you don’t have to search for an open one. Enjoyable but not strenuous. Check out Sylvania Outfitter for more info.

Other sites
Sorry I’m posting so much on this thread but I just had another thought. You might want to go to/join the Canoe Country Bulletin Board (CCBB) or Quiet Journey particularly if you’re planning on going to the BWCA or Quetico, or the Canadian Canoe Routes forum for Canadian routes. People on these boards can make many suggestions on routes, outfitters, gear, and techniques.

read this winter
I think that most everyone here agrees that practice makes perfect, and that the practice trips are in order. Since it is winter a quick brush up by reading may not be too bad. I ran across a book “Expedition Canoeing” at Border’s. I started flipping through and it was good and very informative. it reminded me of a few little camping things I haven’t thought about in years, but would have been quite troublesome if I would totally forget some of these skills. Books are also so inspiring…I have now been going outside in the 16 degree weather with a homemade firestarter and a match…the bitter wind is inspiration not to screw up making a fire. Just practicing simple skills. I know I carry a lighter (and lots of matches for camping), but “what if…”. Practice practice practice!