BLOG 82. Packing Tips For the Boundary Waters
by Cliff Jacobson
I recently took my daughter Clarissa on a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters. It was raining hard when we put in and the temperature was in the forties. But no matter; we were dressed warm, had good rain gear, and everything was secured in waterproof packs. But others were not so fortunate. At one portage, we saw a canoe with an unprotected (soaking wet) sleeping bag on the bottom. Without thinking, I quipped, “Hey, I guess you guys don’t believe in waterproof bags!” A man mumbled back, “We’re on our way out so it doesn’t matter”. As soon as they cleared the portage, my daughter said “Daddy, you were really cruel to that man; they’re doing the best they know how.” “Yeah,” I replied. “The problem is they don’t know how and don’t care to learn!”
An hour later, we found a nice campsite on a high hill, rigged twin tarps and built a cheery fire. Clarissa told me again that I was out-of-line.
It rained almost continually (an ice cold rain!) for the next three days, so we stayed put under the tarps, venturing out only for water and firewood. We were camped along a popular route--canoes cruised by like trains, each searching for a place to camp. We watched them through binoculars. There were wet clothes draped over thwarts, packs with their flaps ajar, unprotected tents and sleeping bags. The show was quite entertaining!
On the fourth day of our trip, the sky cleared—just in time for us to head home. As we rounded a bend, we passed a canoe going our way. Déjà vu—there was a drenched sleeping bag on the floor of their canoe. “Guess you guys don’t believe in waterproof bags,” blurted Clarissa. I stared at her in disbelief—we both broke out laughing!
Admittedly, I’m a belt-and-suspenders man. I pack much the same way for trips in the Boundary Waters as for those on whitewater rivers in Canada and Alaska. It takes very little time and effort to do it right. And when the weather turns sour, the pay-off is huge. Here’s my procedure:
I place rigid and breakable items (axe, saw, eggs, stove, repair and first-aid kit etc.) inside a waterproof barrel or wanigan with a secure lid. Personal gear (clothing, sleeping bag, tent etc.) goes in soft packs. Any soft pack will do if you waterproof it right. The CCS (Cooke Custom Sewing) Pioneer is my favorite (with a tumpline, of course), but I also like #3 canvas Duluth packs.
|Some terrific hard packs. L to R: 5 gallon pail with waterproof gamma lid seal; CCS Quad-Pocket Barrel Pack; CCS foam-lined food pack; EM Wanigan (no longer manufactured); 60 Liter Barrel with Ostrom Outdoors harness; Adirondack pack basket inside #2 Duluth Pack Cruiser (extended flap)|
PACKING A SOFT PACK
I begin by lining each soft pack with a large yellow (now orange) waterproof pack liner, available from Piragis Northwoods Company. The seams of the liner are electronically welded, and the roll and clip closure is 100 percent reliable. The bag is absolutely waterproof even with a compressed load. If you capsize you’ll be glad you have one!
Next, I set a 4-mil plastic bag of similar size inside the yellow liner. Its purpose is to take the abuse of stuffing gear (which can abrade the WP coating of the yellow liner) and to separate the tent—which may be dirty or wet—from clean, dry gear. Alternatively, you can substitute a giant 4-mil plastic bag for the yellow liner (I did it this way for decades)—but only if you are very meticulous in sealing both bags.
Pack in horizontal layers. Why horizontal? Because horizontally placed items form to the curve of your back; vertical uprights don’t.
Pack things in the reverse order you need them.
1.My sleeping pad goes at the bottom of my pack. My rolled foam sleeping pad goes on top. If the route includes serious rapids, I “sandwich pack” my sleeping bag as follows: sleeping bag goes into a stuff sack (which need not be waterproof); this stuff sack goes inside a plastic bag--the mouth of the bag is twisted and “goose-necked” then secured with a loop of shockcord; this unit goes inside a second nylon stuff sack (which need not be waterproof). Note that the waterproof plastic bag is protected on both sides by abrasion-resistant nylon. For lake country canoeing (BWCA), the double-bag security system is over-kill.
2.The stuff sack that contains my extra clothes and toiletries goes next. I prefer to use a zippered CCS food bag instead of a conventional stuff sack for this purpose because the zipper provides easier access than a draw-string.
3. Next: Camp shoes in a plastic or nylon bag.
5. Next: Sweater or jacket and sundries.
6. Next: Tightly roll down the plastic “abrasion liner” then set the tent (sans poles and stakes) on top. Place the stake bag inside the tent pole bag and set the pole bag on top of the tent. Roll down and seal the yellow waterproof bag. If the poles are too long to fit crossways in your pack, set them under the pack flap and secure them as illustrated. Note that your tent—which may be wet or dirty—is separated from the clean, dry gear below.
About Food: One partner may carry the tent while the other packs food. I prefer NOT to pack food in a special pack because: 1) The pack will be too heavy, and possibly impossible to rescue in a capsize; 2) it’s unwise to put all your eggs in one basket. Better to spread good things around. All my food is vacuum-sealed, water and odor proof. I divide food equally among my crew so that the trip can continue if a pack is lost or damaged. Food bags are placed at the bottom of the pack, followed by personal items. The diagram illustrates the procedure.