Maybe this explains why some people pack light, and some don't

You do see these regional differences in posts on this board.

So my “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to packing is a regional thing - sort of… :wink:


I think it’s a lot more specific than that. If you get into routes that have portages then all of a sudden it is pretty apparent that extra gear is a pretty big hindrance. It is probably pretty easy to plan some routes with minimal portaging both places but on the other hand perhaps both have their challenges if you start linking up different water sheds. Also some of the lighter kevlar canoes might not work so well on rivers with rapids and sharp rock ledges but I suspect there are plenty of places you can canoe where that is not the case. As far as the guiding culture goes in Maine a lot of it is driven by the hunting and fishing culture. Those brookies are hard to catch.

Poling was an important skill that had a lot to do with log drives. I think of it more in that way than something native american. Much of Maine’s land is privately owned although it may be publicly managed so that’s a pretty big difference. Poling works well when attaining on shallow but floatable streams with a solid bottom. There are a lot places those conditions don’t exist or it simply is not necessary.

I’ve never owned a pack basket or a duluth pack. They are kind of cool but prefer the more modern approach. For me it’s less about culture and being prepared for where you are. I’ve paddled inland northern maine pretty extensively, at least 2500 miles there. Never paddled in Minnesota but I’ll renting one of those light kevlar canoe that tracks well (for lakes) if I choose a route where much portaging is involved.

On a personal level the article didn’t work for me. I was the young boy scout “guide” in Maine, not Minnesota and loved trying new routes and did plenty on my own.

Pack for the trip you are doing - I definitely agree with that.

In most respects, I think I am more of a ME tripper than an MN tripper. One area where I probably fall more into the MN tripper category is boat preference - when paddling solo I’ll take my composite Wildfire (or royalex Yellowstone Solo) over over a tandem boat any day - even with a load.

Poling is definitely an important part of canoeing around here. Most of the river trippers that I know are also good polers. Poling is a lot of fun, but I have never done a wilderness trip where poling was the principle way of getting around, and paddling that big tandem boat solo is not something that I want to do.

Not unusual to see pack baskets around here. Never see Duluth Packs - that could be more of a mid-west thing. (Personally, I go with big vinyl dry bags.) I do know a few people with those long stand-up guide paddles.

I have several friends who have become registered ME guides. I’ve never paid for a guided trip myself, not because I have anything against it, I’ve just been lucky to have friends that are happy to lead trips. If there was something that I really wanted to do that I couldn’t arrange on my own, I’d be happy to do it with a guide. For the money a guided trip costs, they better have good meals.

I’ve been going to the BWCA for 35 years or so. I’ve actually seen the methods change over that time as the technology has changed. My first trip was in an 18 foot aluminum canoe. Some of my friends still favor the aluminum canoe to this day. We used to do the kitchen sink approach. On some trips we still do. Even packing full size 7 day coolers. Many years we portaged in kegs of beer because who wouldn’t want a keg of beer in the wilderness. When i bought my first canoe it was a 2nd hand wenonah sundowner 18. Fast but I sold it a 3 years ago after many years of faithful BWCA and Hunting duty. After breaking my back and not getting any younger I decided it was time to part with it. I enjoyed being first to the portages against my buddies in their big aluminum canoes. After my back accident I completely assessed all my gear and replaced what wasn’t “ultralight” or compact. My goal was a sub 30 pack including tent and bag and a sub 15 food pack included cookware. I’ve achieved this. I replaced my Sundowner 68 pounds with a Northwind solo of 24 pounds. I also plan to also purchase a Polaris tandem at 38 pounds. These tweaks came from necessity and the desire to continue wilderness tripping through til I’m 80 then I may have to lighten the load again. I still miss the days of kegs in the wilderness but it has given way to growlers in the wilderness.


One other note, there isn’t a huge need for poling in most of the Boundary Waters. Minnesota is a fairly windy place and the lakes are large and depths on some BWCA lakes exceeds 300 feet. Being windbound is fairly common and the lakes get rough. Standing in the canoe is not going to be your first instinct in those conditions. I usually drop to kneeling for stability. That said on some of the rivers and creeks poling may have it’s place.

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Die-hard polers would tell you that you can move surprisingly fast in deep water standing in the canoe and using the pole in what is effectively a high angle kayak stroke. With sweep strokes and reverse sweep strokes you can turn the boat almost on a dime. Poling is more than just pushing off the bottom, but to your point, I wouldn’t want to be standing in a canoe in the middle of a windy lake. Right boat and gear for the conditions. :wink:

There’s several routes in the Boundary Waters that involve creeks where poling would be ideal. It’s got me thinking enough that I’ve already been checking out the poling manufacturers in Maine and have one already bookmarked for future use. They have a shipping deal with Fastenal a local company in these parts to avoid the high cost of shipping long items.

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Shipping a 12’ pole is a problem…

The best aluminum poles come from Hayden Canoepole Company. They are light, but some people complain they are noisy (clanking on the bottom) and cold in the winter. I’ve been telling myself that I should order a couple more to have as spares, but I haven’t yet. Not sure if he is even making them anymore. Purists stick to wooden poles.

When you get hooked on poling (be careful or you might) and decided that you need a lightweight boat, check out the Souhegan or Coho from Millbrook Boats. They were designed by Ed Hayden – local poling legend and namesake of the Hayden Canoepole Company. The owner of Millbook boats has talked about retiring, but he is still making boats at the moment – not sure if you can order one. Unfortunately, he has limited information on these boats on his website. Google it and you can see reviews on various message boards.

I’m old school and still prefer books to YouTube. The best poling book is The Basic Essentials of Canoe Poling paperback by Harry Rock. There is apparently a video, but I have never been able to find it.

There used to be a pretty active group of polers around here with regularly scheduled trips and clinics. As we have all gotten older it has kind of died out. Fortunately, there are still some polers around here - we were just talking about organizing a run this fall.

This is the website I found. They ship to the upper midwest using Fastenal. I wouldn’t want an aluminum pole for reasons you’ve mentioned but especially cold. The BWCA can get cold. I’ve used aluminum paddles and they are cold. I did see one company doing fiber glass. I’d lean toward the wood with the metal shoes.

Those are beautiful. I tend to windmill (push with both ends of the pole), which is another reason I like aluminum. Someday I’ll get a nice wood pole.

It says they make the poles double ended.

Btw I checked out Millbrook and he makes some nice canoes. I paddled a Dagger years ago in Northern Wisconsin on the Bois Brule River. Fun canoes. A lot different than what we tend to paddle here. But I am always looking for a reason to add another. The MN companies building tripping boats are Wenonah and Northstar. There’s some Canadian canoes available here such as Souris River. This is what I’m currently paddling. It’s the sweet spot for solo canoes for the lake to lake paddling with rugged portages in between. Mine ended up at 24 lbs.

Merrimack was bought by a Sanborn paddles and moved from Tennessee to MN and there’s a startup canoe builder by the name of Grey Duck that is partners with Rheaume Canoes out of Quebec. I don’t know of any specific whitewater canoe builders but both Wenonah and Northstar do some whitewater layups made from Innegra. It’s tough stuff but there’s about a 30% weight penalty over Aramid.

A few people who l worked with had an annual canoe trip that included a minimal number of pies. As in apple, peach etc. They canoed and didn’t do tons of portages.

I suppose the minimum pie count would have been lowered with more portages…


There are a couple of section of the Bois Brule River on American Whitewater - looks like a nice river.

Lots of Wenonahs and Northstars around here. I have a Spirit II in kevlar. We had it out for a couple of days on Lake Umbagog last spring - didn’t exactly pack light, but no portages.

Erik in the bow, Bill in the stern

A buddy of mine just bought a Northwind. We are planning to do the Allagash in ME in a couple of weeks, and he is going to bring it along. I’d prefer to paddle tandem, but if I’m the odd man out I’ll paddle my Wildfire. First tip on the Allagash for me, so I’m looking forward to it.

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I can tell you from experience that pies don’t hold up well in a dry bag :wink:

I’m also looking to add a tandem to the fold in the next year or so. I’d really like to down size from my old Sundowner 18 that I sold a few years ago. I’ve narrowed down to a Northstar Polaris. I’ll just have to break the bad news to my bowman that he needs to keep his pack under 30 pounds or shed a few pounds from mid drift :joy:. Optimal load is 250-550 and my 28 pound cocker is included in that number. I’d rig it with a paddle thwart in case one of us wanted to fish while the other hung back at the camp. It would come in at the mid to high 30’s in weight. I would order it pretty much as this photo shows.

If you like the Bois Brule check out the St Louis River.

I’ll do class III’s, but IV’s and V’s are definitely above my skill set. Looks interesting though.

Actually the whole NE Minnesota along Lake Superior is full of IVs and Vs rivers. I noticed American Whitewater had them all listed. I’ve done a few IVs and Vs including my first trip to the BWCA in an 18 ft aluminum. Let’s just say we bought our college roommate a new canoe after that little run.

Actually, I don’t know what I was looking at before - there are a lot of nice sections of the St Louis River, and I don’t see a IV/V. Anyway, I’d love to get out there sometime.

This time of the year it’s more tame. Heres a shot when it’s not so tame taking out the bridge at Jay Cooke SP. I think most of their photos of the St Louis were at low water levels.


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