We spent 5 days and 4 nights in the Boundary Waters at the end of August. It was the perfect time to go because it was still warm but not too extreme and the crowds were a lot less as they were entering shoulder season.
If you’ve been to the Boundary Waters you know packing light is an understatement. If you haven’t been to the Boundary Waters think “everything you bring in you have to haul around with you”. You can see the 9 things that surprised me in this blog post
This was our first time portaging (carrying everything when you can’t canoe through) and we really wanted to not look like the rookies we were and pack as light as we could. We reworked it 3 times, eliminating more and more stuff each time, and finally got it to where we could carry everything in one trip. We were pretty darn excited! We covered over 55 miles, slept in 3 different camp spots, and portaged 10 times, the longest being 200 rod (1 rod = 16.5 feet, the length of canoe). Check out the overview of our last trip to see more.
Below you’ll see our complete packing list plus the things we’d leave behind next time and the things we’d bring with.
Hiking boots: I have a pair of Keen's that I love. You'll want these if you plan on exploring or portaging a lot. I didn't actually wear mine because the sandals were fine but if you don't have the right sandals, I'd wear these.
Sandals: I have a pair from Columbia that work great for me. You'll want something that can get wet, grip rocks, and handle mud. I'd recommend having a heel strap for sure!
Pants: These lightweight fast drying travel pants are from Duluth Trading Company and holy moley these are my absolute favorite outdoorsy pants ever. For real. They dry super fast, are a great material for moving as well as protection, can be rolled up, and have pockets, and some with zippers to use. I wore these fo 5 days straight and honestly they didn't smell at all :) I just got my second pair and couldn't be more excited!
Sleep pants: make sure it's something warmer for the cool nights
2 Nike shorts
2 tank tops
Zip up hoodie
Long sleeve dry fit
Socks, underwear, bras
Scarf: Always. I always travel with a scarf.
Sandals: Scott loves his Sanuk sandals but they were no good for portaging or the wet, slippery rock. You'll want something with a heel strap for sure.
Hiking pants: He loves his Kuhl's!
Long sleeve dry fit shirt
Socks and boxers
Hiking backpack: We put the dry bag below in the hiking backpack. I carried this one when we portaged.
Dry bag: You can never have enough dry bags! This one was 20 L and we put it in our hiking backpack.
Dry bag backpack: We bought this 115L Sealline backpack from an Outfitter in Ely, MN. It's specific to portaging so it's short and stout. Scott carried this while carrying the canoe. This also doubled as our bear bag. We were happy with its performance and everything stayed dry. It held the majority of our stuff!
Packing cubes: I never take a trip without them. They keep your clothes grouped together nicely so when you reach in to your bag or suitcase you're not digging through everything.
Large Ziplock baggie: We bought this at the Outfitter and used it for the map and other smaller items like toilet paper, a lighter, and our phones
Extra ziplock, plastic grocery and garbage bags: Ideally we would have had dry bags but this variety will do too. It always seems like there's odds and ends that need to be grouped together, preferably in something that will keep water out.
2 ponchos: we took these instead of rain jackets
2.5 rolls of toilet paper
Roll of paper towels
Helle Knife: Scott looovveess this knife
Bear spray: You MUST have this. Probably the most important think you can pack.
Maps: You can buy these in most places near the Boundary Waters. You'll need the one specific to the area you're planning on traveling.
BWCA permit: get yours by clicking the link
2 fishing poles
Box of worms
Box of leeches
Camera gear and electronics
Sony Cyber-shot RX 100 V - we used this camera and our phones for the majority of our photos! So simple and easy to use.
3 Sony batteries
2 Phones- Google Pixel 2 we love our Pixel phones! They take great photos and keep a charge FOR-EV-ER!
Solar panel-This is how we kept everything charged. It worked great to lay out on a rock or bring with us in the canoe.
A lot of people will come better prepared having made their own food or planning out their days. We were looking up ideas in the grocery store. Whoops! We banked on catching fish but also had to bring enough food for if we didn't. We didn't end up keeping any fish and finished almost all of our food. This was the perfect amount!
Loaf of bread - we squished it down to make it smaller and then it seemed endless!
3 instant rice
2 instant potatoes
6 instant oatmeals
Bag of baby carrots
Salami - we had salami and cheese sandwiches before we even got to our first campsite. It was a good way to have something different than the rice and potatoes we were going to be eating but easy to get rid of the perishables.
Cheese - see above. We had salami and cheese sandwiches as our first meal before we even settled at a campsite.
2 shore lunch
6 A&W powder packets
3 200ML varieties of alcohol
2 2.5 liters of water
2 pans one with a lid
2 plastic measuring cups - we used these for measuring water for our food as well as cups to drink out of.
2 plastic bowls
1 convertible bowl- can be a plate or fold up to a bowl.
2 butter knives
For Next Time
More plastic bags or compression bags- they keep things dry and if even one gets a hole in it, it's pretty useless.
Extra tank top for Steph- When it was hot it was hot, it's easy to layer so I'd have brought an extra tank top because my other ones got dirty!
Manual chain saw - You have to find your own wood at the campsites. Usually this means you have to go pretty deep to find anything worth taking. We only had our Swiss army knife which was helpful but still challenging. We were thinking about buying a manual chain saw before we left but didn't and then we both commented how much easier having that would have been. We survived just fine without it but it would have saved us quite a bit of time that would have made getting it worth it!
Here's a breakdown of the cost of our trip:
Williams and Hall (room, breakfast, canoe rental, fishing license): 387.60
Gear (dry bags, paracord, etc.): 217.12
Gas from Michigan to Minnesota: 196.40
Groceries for Boundary Waters: 102.01
BWCA Permits: 32.00