Who is Cliff Jacobsen?

I’ve seen his name mentioned quite a few times on the site and I’m curious to know who he is and what he has accomplished in the world of paddle sports.

Cliff is a Retired School Teacher
He’s a paddler who loves the boundary waters. He has written numerous books and contributes to Canoe & Kayak magazines and others. He is mostly a canoeist, and being only around 5’6" and 150 pounds, I believe he was last paddling a Bell Wildfire composite boat in the Boundary Waters. (I think he prefers the feel/turning ability PLUS he runs the rivers in between the lakes.) He’s an expert on survival camping, and has had some run-ins with bears, moose, etc. He is a genuinely nice guy, and on at least one occasion, he’s “talked” bears out of coming too far into camp. He is armed, but I don’t believe he would ever kill a wild animal unless it was ABSOLUTELY necessary. He’s quite a spiritual guy, too. We talked at length about his experiences while “alone” in the Boundary Waters.

Let me know if you need any more info than this. His books are some of the best…

"try using google"
and typing “Cliff Jacobsen” (with quotes). Then type in “canoe” or “paddle” afterwords no quotes or operators for that term. Or are you just kidding (Trolling?) Or maybe you want to see what we know.

Might be Cliff "Jacobson"
Not sure of spelling…

Both Jacobson and Jacobsen
will get you lots of hits for this guy on google.

Teacher is key
That is interesting to hear about the spirituality discussion.

He seems to have become something of a celebrity in boundary waters circles. He’s lead scout groups and others into the BWCAW for years and shares that experience in his books on canoeing and canoe camping. His teaching talents sure come through in the books. They are long on straight-forward how to information that is easy to digest and add to what you already know. The tone is good natured and encouraging with just enough sterness around the edges to maintain class discipline…and maybe keeping one from doing something foolish out in the wilds to spoil a good trip.

It’s Odd
Several people here have the perception that Cliff is the BWCAW Guru. This really isn’t true. Cliff used to spend a fair amount of time in the BWCAW back when he was a teacher. His interest in paddling is really Canadian Shield Rivers, along with adding in trips to Mongolia, and other more exotic places.

Cliff’s fame comes from his prodigious writings on “How to Canoe Camp.” He’s written a dozen or more books on the topic, and writes How to articles for magazines. In the most recent mag he disparages the whitewater schools because they don’t teach paddlers how to trip. Hmmmm


knowledge always partial
I don’t think anyone claimed to have full knowledge of the man or what his current interests and activities might be.

Apparently he still does some work with outfitters from Ely and also consults on canoe and other gear design.

Not sure about the guru thing :-)! I’ve certainly enjoyed and learned from the books and articles of his that I’ve read.

wasnt he the guy that Invented the Cliff bar?

Cliff’s field notes…

– Last Updated: Jan-22-04 9:15 AM EST –


These are good, a new one comes out every few months. Make sure you read "The voyage of the blue canoe".

Look at the books he has written.
His books are all VERY, VERY WELL written and very easy to learn from. HE IS A GOOD TEACHER.

Go to your local paddle shop. It is almost guaranteed they will have some of his books.

Go to half.com or amazon.com, type his name in under author and then stand back as the volumes spring forth!

I have more of his books than any other author.

Happy Paddl’n!


Cliff is also a guide for the Minnesota Science Museum, leading canoe trips, generally down wilderness rivers in Canada. Not only was he a teacher, he was a junior high earth science teacher. It takes a lot of energy to work with kids of that age and it shows at his presentations. He is full of energy and reminds me of a cross between Gallagher and Woody Allen. :slight_smile: I’ve heard most everything he has to say but I still can’t resist going to a presentation just to see him in action and to laugh a bit. BTW, he will be at Canoecopia in Madison, WI in March. If you’re there be sure to catch his act … errr … I mean, presentation. :slight_smile:

I was fortunate enough to get a paragraph in his book “Boundary Waters Canoe Camping” in the “Advice for the Experts” section.

"Cliff says"
No disputing he is one of the most prolific canoe writers today. His volumes of books however often repeat themselves. If you hang around a group of newbie paddlers you will most likely hear the refrain, “Cliff says”, till it gets on your last nerve.

I do admire the man for being able to make a living paddling, camping and writing about it.

How to tips and techniques only go so far. Sooner or later you have to get out and DO something.

WW without tripping
I think Cliff’s discomfort with encouraging WW paddling without teaching “tripping” is based in his concern for the rivers and environments and saftey of the paddlers. He has a strong opinion about people who shred it up on the water and then bring the attitude to shore. Our media and culture promote modern day ‘adventure’ that includes driving vehicles all over sensitive areas and generally obnoxious behavior. If you read his stuff , listen and talk to him, I think you will get the impression that he wants to promote responsible paddling. This includes responsible treatment of the areas that the rivers are part of. He is also concerned about folks who go to wilder places without the skills to take care of themselves and the environment. He has bailed more than a few folks out of trouble. He has lived long enough to see the effects of uneducated behavior on the wild areas he enjoys. And he just loves canoe tripping and wants to promote an art that will be lost if folks don’t pass on the knowledge.

We only know Cliff through Canoecopia and his writing/video/presentations, but he has always taken time to answer our questions and encourage us. He loves the sport and genuinely wants to pass along what he has learned. We don’t always agree with everything, but he’s a great source. BTW, if you have trouble figuring out how to make the gear he describes, he has encouraged people to contact him with their questions. He has said that it’s pretty hard to explain stuff in a short book.

Just my thoughts, I’m not speaking for Mr. J.

just ordered a few new books…
I hadnt heard of him till I read this…thank you.

I am looking forward to reading the several books I just ordered at amazon.com. Its been a cold winter and its starting to get long, this should get me thru spring-hurry! thanks for the info!

happy paddling,


I Thought I Read an Article in C&K…
…last year by Larry Rice that he actually moved to MN after a trip to the BWCAW. I’m sure I recall him stating that he wanted to get closer to the BWCAW because he fell in love with the area. I do disagree with him on hanging food packs. He proposes you just hide your food pack on the ground back in the woods and states he’s never lost a food pack that way. I think he’s just been lucky! But most things about Wilderness Camping he says, I do agree with, like using your tarp INSIDE your tent rather than UNDER it. WW

tarp inside instead of out…
I like that idea, I will try that. thank you


moved to Ely area after retiring
He’s involved with Piragis and enjoys the BWCA. But much of his tripping experience is in the Canadien Shield. There are few trees in many of the areas he camps in. His trip organization is particular and he fesses up when something doesn’t work out the way he thought it would. His opinions/advice are based on lots of experience. He does have strong opinions and is in business, but so far, Cliff seems like the real deal and not just a guy who’s good at marketing.

The idea of taking a drill to modify outfitters’ boats makes sense in the context of his trips. I don’t think an outfitter would get the same cache’ from touting a boat modified by moi. :slight_smile:

BWCAW IS Canadian Shield
I know your point was that he now mostly trips up in Canada, now, the Steel River comes to mind as one of his trips I’c like to do some day. But the BWCAW/Quetico is Canadian Shield, Pamskee. the Canadian shield is a land of granite scoured by the glaciers with very little soil and lots of rock close to the surface. WW

I doubt if it’s luck

– Last Updated: Jan-22-04 6:40 PM EST –

He also recommends air-tight containers for food, and if the outside of the container is kept clean as he say it should be, there should be no food odor, or at least not enough to lure an animal from a long distance (even dogs used in detective work can't smell well-wrapped items more than a foot or two away). Experienced bears know that the pack haning in the tree contains food whether they can smell it or not. They also know what happens when they chew through ropes.

As far as being lucky, consider the fact that Jacobson doesn't make 2 or 3 short trips a year like most canoe trippers. He is out for a total of several months out of each year. He also leads large groups that have a large number of food packs. Now, consider the number of people who lose their hanging packs to bears or who chase away bears that are trying to get the food packs. The fact that Jacobson has been hiding his food that way for so many years without a hitch starts to look very little like luck to me. On the other hand, I can't say I'm ready to try it that way myself. I'd still be inclined to just to a really good job of hanging it, and maybe install a decoy white rope, too.

Oh, and on putting the tarp inside the tent. I see his point, but for a lot of my camping I'd have to disagree with him about what's best. He says tent floors wear out from the inside, and that holes form from the inside. But my most-used tent has a floor that is full of holes which were caused by sharp twigs and stumpy, broken-off seedlings. I know because I often discover one of these things poking up through the floor, and I have to go outside, reach way under the tent and try to eliminate the culprit. A heavy-duty tarp beneath the floor would help to prevent this, though a light sheet of plastic wouldn't help much.