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Tips for First-time Visitors

Planning

  1. Reserve your permit early.  Unless you like crowds, avoid Moose, Lake One, and the other most popular entry points.
  2. A good outfitter is invaluable.  If you don't have one, ask for referrals from other canoeists.  A good outfitter will generally make referrals to outfitters serving other areas of the BWCA if your travel plans take you into those areas.
  3. Rent the lightest canoe you can afford.  You'll be glad you did.  If you own an older, heavier canoe consider leaving it at home.
  4. The number of other travelers which you will encounter is directly related to the number of rods of portaging between you and the nearest entry point.  For most times of the year, you will have to walk to solitude.
  5. Get current maps (both Fisher and McKenzie include revision dates).  Campsites are added and dropped; portages can change.
  6. Go in with specific route plans but be prepared to change them en route.
  7. Don't leave the landing without maps and compass, and a basic ability to use them.  (Try finding a portage landing in the fog without a compass.)
  8. Read Beymer and other books on the area.  Check out websites like this one.  Benefit from the shared experience of others.

Packing

  1. Beware the temptation to bring too much.
  2. Beware the temptation to bring too much.  (It bears repeating).
  3. Everything you bring should be stowable, should have its place, whether in pack or pocket.  Loose gear is troublesome, especially at portages, and will really slow you down.
  4. Exercise caution in lashing gear to the canoe for portaging.  A well built canoe is finely balanced at the portage yoke.  Anything you do to throw off this balance can result in an ongoing struggle with the boat over the length of the portage.
  5. Line your pack with a plastic garbage bag and close it up tightly before you venture onto the water each day.  You may not think it likely that you will ever swamp your boat, but you cannot stop the rain from falling, or from puddling in the bottom of the canoe.  Wet gear makes for a miserable trip.
  6. Keep essentials readily accessible when packing.  At a minimum, raingear should be in an outside pocket where it can be easily reached, when on the water, without moving or turning your pack.  You might also want to know where your insect repellent is stashed.

Camping

  1. Bears are an avoidable problem.  Keep a clean camp and hang 'em high.  (The bear bags, that is).
  2. Strongly consider cooking with gas.  It is far easier, and more dependable, than a wood fire, especially in inclement weather.  The BWCAW has far too many visitors for all of us to be building wood fires.
  3. Practice a Leave-No-Trace camping ethic.  Clean up after yourself and after those who preceeded you.  (There's always one more twist tie to fish out of the fire grate, one more lure snagged in the brush at water's edge).

Canoeing

  1. Start your day early.  End it early.  Early morning generally brings calm water, cooler temperatures, and good wildlife watching.  Afternoons are more likely to bring strong winds, heat, and other people.  It is a far better thing to paddle past an occupied campsite in the morning, with its occupants still abed, than to paddle past an occupied site late in the day, in a frantic search to find an open site before sunset.
  2. Unless you are accustomed to manual labor in its literal sense (labor with one's hands) expect blisters.  Be sure to bring along your treatment of choice.
  3. Drink plenty of water.  Dehydration, especially in summer, is an ever present risk.  Pay especial attention to any children in your party.  (Lemonade and other powdered drink mixes are often of benefit in encouraging sufficient water consumption, in children and adults alike).
  4. Sunburn is also a risk and one which is magnified on the water.  Wear a hat.  Bring sunscreen and use it, especially if wearing shorts.  Make sure any kids do, too.

Portaging

  1. Expect to get your feet wet.
  2. Rocks at or near the surface of the water can rock and roll.  (See #1 above).
  3. Wet rocks are slippery.  A layer of algae makes them more so.  (See #1 above).
  4. The more heroic the effort to keep one's feet dry at a portage, the more likely they are to get wet, and the more heightened the probability of sprained ankles and similar unpleasantness.  (See #1 above).
  5. Your footware should be appropriate for carrying heavy loads over broken terrain.  Save the beachware for camp.  This is not a beach.
  6. A single carry over a portage is almost invariably to be preferred over multiple trips.
  7. Portage landings are only place in the BWCAW where different parties gather.  Use common courtesy; be patient.  It's not the freeway at rush hour.
 


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Last updated on 25 February, 2004