At the beginning of June this year, I went on a five-night canoe camping trip with family members in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), specifically the Shell Lake area off entry point 14.

This was my first canoe trip and my first time visiting the BWCA. Because of that, I had a lot of questions going into the trip.

Normally, on canoe trips, folks have a tendency to pack more similar to a car camping trip because the hikes, or portages, are short and the canoes instead carry most of the weight.

Ultimately, I fell back on my lightweight backpacking experience in preparation for the trip.

The weather forecast was above normal temps with the chance of rain. For the most part we got what the forecast called for but at different times. For most of the trip there was a nice breeze which made the bugs less of an issue, but I still stayed pretty well covered up.

Packing List



Knolling my gear for BWCA


Worn gear for hiking in to first camp


My food for the entire BWCA trip

Not Pictured

Phone, map, canoe, pfd, paddle and little extra bits like spare zip-locks, silica packets and rope.

Post-trip thoughts

With the trip behind me, I do want to record some thoughts about what worked and what didn’t and what I might do differently next time.

  • Keens are up to the job - I love my Keen sandals and thought they would be a good portaging shoe paired with some wool socks. Last minute though, I switched to my trail runners. They were fine, but I think I could have done just fine with Keens. When you don’t carry much weight, concerns about ankle support are unfounded.
  • More food variation - I had a nutritionally complete vegetarian cold-soak meal plan, but it got old fast when I was eating the same thing every day.
  • Don’t skimp on a bear hang - I tried to go minimal by using a thinner line and using a tent stake bag as a rock sack. The bag split after several failed throws (duct tape to the rescue) and the line cut into the branches and my hands because I was trying to hang more than two times as much food as I usually do. Also, using an actual pulley instead of a carabiner might be worth the weight.
  • Camp comforts FTW - Camp shoes, bug sticks, kindle, hammock porch mode all made for a nice camping experience. Hot coffee goes with that as well but…
  • Kick the hot coffee habit - For a basecamp trip, hot coffee and the necessary stove/fuel/mug to do so is worth it, but if I am actively breaking camp each day, cold-soak coffee works just fine and lessens the load.
  • Consider “shoulder season” - Apparently visiting BWCA during the early spring or early fall should be considered. Though colder, the bugs are less bothersome.
  • Stop bring the fishing pole - For two camping trips, I’ve paid for a fishing license and brought a collapsible fishing pole. I don’t like fishing while camping.

Final thoughts

Overall, the preparation all came together nicely and it was a great trip. It was nice to connect with my family in another setting and I hope we do it again someday.