Boundary Waters gear review – 2010

Coffee and a pristine morning in the Boundary Waters

The summer season means vacation and we are among those who often like to get away by truly getting “away” into the wilderness. Our favorite outdoor adventure in the US isn’t a sandy beach just outside a resort.  No, we head north into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota. We spent a week up there recently and I wanted to post some updates on our experiments with various gear.  (NOTE: You don’t have to buy any gear to camp here – you can use an outfitter. But, we go so often and pack our own food, so it makes sense for us to have our own.) Kel and I overpacked some extra items to see how they held up in the field and help us in planning for future, more adventurous trips.  Here’s what we think is the best camping gear for a Boundary Waters trip.

Our Insula Lake campsite

Best tent – Eureka Timberline SQ 4  Outfitter is still our favorite. It’s a bit heavier in the pack than some other tents, but 3 people can sleep in it easily with a necessary vestibule.  I’d love to see the outfitter model have two doors so you could put a vestibule out the “back” too.  Make sure to put a ground cloth INSIDE your tent too.  It will help with protecting your floor and keeping the water from getting on your sleeping pad and bag.  Our other tents held up well, but I still think the Timberline is difficult to beat. Ours can be seen in the picture of our camp.

Best water purifier – Katadyne Basecamp.  Kel and I are BIG fans of this. Wow. Take an extra filter in case one gets clogged.  We were nervous about water purifying going in because we had such bad luck with ceramics and pumps.  But, we were surprised and pleased how two systems kept all of our water pure for the six days. Just fill up the bag, hang it, and 30 minutes later it has dripped out about 2 gallons of great-tasting water.  And it packs small.

Superior One pack

Best Boundary Waters pack. This is almost a tie, though I lean strongly toward the Granite Gear Superior One as my favorite.  The close second goes to the Boundary Waters Journal Ultimate canoe pack. I’d like to take the latter and use if for personal gear to see, but the Superior One gave me a bitter fitting (low in the canoe and nice on my back on the portage) pack with larger capacity (by 360 sq inches).   I did like how I could get my bigger Eureka Equinox tent and 2 camp chairs in the Ultimate, but my guess is that most folks will like the Superior One better. I’m not a fan of huge packs, so I shy from the Duluth #4 and Granite Gear’s Nimbus packs. You can see that Kel is carrying it easily in the picture of the portage.

Best Food Pack – We passed on the 60 liter blue barrels and recommend you do too. The 60L are quite small and we only saw one out on the trail the whole week.  We froze much of our food before the trip and found that it survived nearly frozen in a BWJ food pack, our choice/favorite.  Now, mind you, we never had temps over 80 in the day and it dipped below 40 a few times at night. But, the barrels aren’t insulated more, so that aspect is a wash. And we’ve never had rodent problems on our trips.  You can purchase a similar pack from Piragis too.

Jayson & Kel on the portage

Take TWO tarps.  One is good for a roof over your work area, but you’ll want one for wind/rain protection too, elements that often come at sharp angles.  Don’t get the cheap-o blue ones. You’ll want to splurge for the nicer ripstop.  The 30+ mph winds we had one day would’ve shredded a cheap tarp.  This 15 x 15 tarp from Piragis may be the only one you need if you can only take one. Our 10 x 12 proved a bit small.  They’re expensive!

Fishing gear:  We over-packed here, and I guess you can’t help that. The smallmouth fishing was so good on an original #11 fire tiger or bleeding shad floating Rapala that most of us just stayed with that or a Heddon tropedo. We did take along jigs and Berkley Gulp leeches for Walleye and spoons for Northerns.  Never used either much. The smallies were hitting and fighting and it was too much fun.  We did see another crew of folks drifting and bouncing jigs on a windy day, picking up some walleye.

Carrying the canoe thru the portage

We had a great trip and survived without injury or argument. Good gear makes a difference in the wilderness and we’re looking forward to our BWCA trip next year too.  If you’re interested in a trip, we’d recommend outfitting through Kawishiwi Lodge and Outfitters and talking with Frank or Nicole there. They can assist you with your trip planning and gear and provide the best chance for a first time visit to this pristine wilderness area. You do need a permit to enter this area, so be sure to plan ahead.

The experience is great. It’s rugged at times and the weather is not always a friend. Canoeing through this wilderness brings you silently close to nature – moose, wolves, loons, and eagles were all our companions.  So were mosquitoes and biting flies, but not too much.  And, how do you get from lake to lake? You carry your gear on the portage (and not all look as nice as the ones in these pictures). So, it IS physically challenging and not all are able to carry heavy packs and canoes. But it is a fantastic chance for renewal and exploration of self, of God and his creation, and of those with whom you depend on in your camp.

Thanks to David Wile for these (and other) wonderful wilderness photos.

  • http://Website David Wile

    Thanks for the photo credit! My wife, Tonya, and I were so blessed to be able to go on this trip with the Linharts. It was, in my opinion, one of the most challenging, yet incredibly rewarding trips I have EVER been on! And let me tell you, the Linharts know how to camp and how to plan! They thought of everything and then some! And if Terry Linhart says, “this is the gear to buy”, know that it has been thouroughly researched and field tested.

  • http://Website Robbie Robison

    Here’s my two cents worth of advice regarding a rodent proof food container. Though the BWJ food pack is a great piece of equipment when you have the room for it, our group has found it to be too bulky to fit in our kayaks. Like many folks in the BWCA, I have had far more problems with rodents than bears. The mice, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, etc have been very troublesome at times. I’ve used a mouse and rodent proof food bag called Grubpack. It’s inexpensive, lightweight and can be compacted as you empty it. It’s made of a flexible stainless steel screen material, and the small furry animals can’t gnaw through it. I bought 3 of these Grubpacks online about 2 years ago. We have used them without food loss on at least 4 Boundary Waters trips. We put our food in resealable plastic bags and then put the plastic bags in the Grubpack. It’s a very reliable animal proof food bag.

    • Terry Linhart

      Robbie – thanks for the great advice and the Grubpack link. I haven’t had much trouble with bears either (though we have heard from nearby campsites that had some troubles). I have yet to have a rodent problem either, but enough folks talk about it that we’re listening. And, kayak packing is a whole different process. I’ll check it out!