Things I Learned While in the BWCA (Boundary Waters Canoe Area)

Last week I took a 5 day trip up to the BWCA, entry point 22/23, just north of Ely, Minnesota.  I was lucky enough to get an invite from a friend on my team at work.  I am very grateful he brought me and very fortunate to live so close to such a natural beauty.  The Boundary Waters are about 4 hours from my home in Uptown Minneapolis.

The trip was a success, we made a 36 mile loop up into Canada over 5 days without any layovers.  This meant that each day we canoed and portaged to our camp site, set up camp, spent the night, packed up camp the next morning and headed out towards our next camp site.  At first I was a little worried about this, but after the first day it just seemed natural.

Along the way I learned a lot… a lot about camping, canoeing, portaging, Minnesota, and about people in general.  I took note of some of the things I learned while there.  I will probably continue to add to this as I remember them.  These are in no particular order.


  1. Farmers are hard workers, they won’t stop until the work is done
  2. Pick up trash even if it isn’t yours
  3. Birch bark is great fire starter, even when it’s raining
  4. Iodine to treat your water doesn’t taste all that bad
  5. Yoke pads on canoes for portaging are a must
  6. Use the time when it’s not raining wisely for setting up and breaking down camp
  7. Northern Pike are vicious, never stick you fingers in their mouth
  8. Check your feet for leeches and ticks after the last portage of the day
  9. Only bring what you need, the rest is unneeded weight
  10. Bring a machete or something that can chop or cut wood
  11. Leave fire wood for the next hikers that visit the campsite (“Minnesota Nice”)
  12. Beavers do an awesome tail slap when you get too close to them
  13. Syrup on grilled fish tastes great
  14. Northern Pike taste great grilled
  15. Walleye are probably the best tasting fish
  16. Jigging isn’t as boring as I thought
  17. Do not bring any cotton, it takes too long to dry after it gets wet
  18. Wool socks aren’t just for warmth, they dry faster than cotton socks.
  19. Wear sunscreen even if its cloudy and you already have a tan
  20. Drysacks/Drybags are a must – otherwise everything must be in a bag that’s in a bag that’s in a bag.
  21. Keens sandals are worth their weight in gold when portaging and stomping through mud/creeks/rivers/lakes
  22. Keep your shoes dry so that you can warm your feet at night
  23. Bring plenty of carabiners, bungee straps, and tie downs
  24. Leatherman’s are the only tool you need, besides maybe pliers for fish hooks
  25. Tuna pouches with flat bread is a great lunch, but pack one PBJ, you will look forward to it all week.
  26. Bring chapstick with SPF, burnt lips suck
  27. Strap everything down on your canoe to make portaging easier
  28. Keep your camera out and handy, otherwise you won’t take any pictures
  29. A 6 man tent can fit 6 men, if one doesn’t mind laying horizontally below everyone’s feet
  30. Make sure you put everything with a smell in a bear bag and hang it, even the dishes.
  31. Identifying bird calls while paddling is fun and can help pass the time
  32. Rain gear is a must have
  33. Keep your toilet paper in a Ziploc bag
  34. Biting flies suck
  35. If you are tall use long paddles
  36. Fill up your water bottle as soon as it’s empty, purification tablets take time
  37. A Crazy Creek  chair is the La-Z-Boy of canoe seats
  38. Titanium utensil work great for eating and cooking
  39. Leave your deodorant, you don’t need it
  40. Bring enough salt and pepper (or Montreal seasoning)
  41. Bring an extra lunch just in case
  42. Have a well defined route and stick to it, it helps to have a good navigator
  43. Bring an extra paddle
  44. A watch with an alarm is great for waking up early to go fishing or to get out of camp in time
  45. Use a checklist from someone who has experience (I have included one in this post at the bottom)
  46. Swiss Miss  hot cocoa in your coffee makes a great sweetener/creamer
  47. People who work for the DNR or other outdoor organizations are awesome to have along
  48. Challenge yourself while up there, there are many opportunities in the wilderness

Feel free to post some other tips in the comments section below.


The BWCA epic loop we traveled.


Here is the awesome list I mentioned earlier.  This can be used as a general camping/backpacking list as well (thanks Ross).

(If don’t see the Excel Web App below, try using IE9 or Firefox or just click the SkyDrive icon at the top upper right of my blog.  At the time writing this post, Chrome was not rendering this correctly. )


5 thoughts on “Things I Learned While in the BWCA (Boundary Waters Canoe Area)

  1. My friend always says, “Don’t wear your hypothermia uniform” in reference to wearing cotton. BWCA is awesome! I want to go sometime soon, I haven’t been up there for at least a year or two.

  2. It was great meeting you up there Tim.  Hopefully we do it again sometime.  Love the list, keep them coming.  

    1. You too.  Thanks  to you and your bro for contributing to much of my learnings up there.  Thanks for taking all of the pictures too, can’t wait to see them.  If you get them all edited soon and have time I can’t give you access to my server to upload them.  Thanks again, take care.

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