Late-Winter Ice Travel

  Ready or not, here spring comes! Unseasonably warm winter weather has us thinking spring up here at the outfitter. Recent XC ski trail reports (especially up the Gunflint Trail) have been surprisingly decent thanks to the fresh load of snow that we just got a few nights ago. That being said, the extended forecast is looking pretty warm and it won’t be long before we’re swapping out our skis for bikes and toboggans for canoes. When winter temperatures start to climb above freezing, one of the most common questions that we get from winter campers and backcountry skiers is- “What’s the ice like out on the lakes?” The reality is that lake ice, no matter the weather, is never 100% safe. While a majority of winter adventurers make judgment calls on the strength of ice based on factors such as appearance, depth, age, or temperature, there really is just no way to be sure. Currents can impact the thickness and safety of ice in unpredictable ways, the size of the body of water can play a role in determining ice depth, and, according to the DNR, even moving fish populations have been known to bring up warm water from the bottom of the lake. March...

Read more...

Does Lake Superior Freeze?

We get asked about Lake Superior freezing over a lot at the outfitter, so we figured we’d take the time to answer that question here. The short answer is yes, Lake Superior does freeze. Even during milder winters like the one that we’re currently sweating through, you can expect to see ice in harbors and on some of the more sheltered sections of the Lake. The Grand Marais harbor has been freezing on and off all winter long (some brave souls were even out ice skating at one point), and for few days here and there folks have been able to get out and ice fish around the Duluth/Superior area. That being said, ice on Superior is notoriously fickle and comes with its own set of risks regardless of how cold a winter it is. What may feel like an endless sheet of ice-skateable ice in one instance can float away in a matter of hours, leaving a dark blue expanse of open water between you and the shore. Just ask the deer that made local news in early January after spending 18 hours stranded on an ice flow in the Grand Marais harbor (WTIP), or the 26 fishermen that had to be...

Read more...

Tubbs Snowshoes, Altai Hok Skis, Fischer XC Skis, and Yaktrax- When to use them and Why

Winter is fickle and takes many forms in our neck of the woods, so it's best to plan an adventure that works with the conditions rather than against them. Some forms of winter travel are better suited for fresh snow, others for a hard, icier snow-pack. Staying flexible and adapting your trip to the conditions is the surest way to have a good time no matter what mother nature might throw your way.   Snowshoeing is for deep snow  Snowshoes are a winter classic and perfect for exploring rugged terrain in deep snow conditions. Snowshoes have been helping people travel in the winter for thousands of years, and work in the same way as a Lynx's over-sized paw by distributing the wearer's weight over a larger area to keep them "floating" above the snow rather than sinking through it with each step. Trudging through deep snow without snowshoes is known as “post-holing”, an experience that is exhausting, slow, and not especially enjoyable. Be a lynx, not a deer! Snowshoes are maneuvarable in tight situations, making them the best option for exploring sections of the Superior Hiking Trail after a heavy snowfall, venturing off-trail through the woods, or along a frozen river. Lots of...

Read more...

Food Barrels or Food Packs For Your Next Canoe Trip?

In packing food for a BWCA trip there are two main pack styles that are usually used. Either soft sided traditional canoe packs or blue food barrels. We outfit and sell both packs and barrels made by Granite Gear and Recreational Barrel Works. Both options work well and have several advantages and a few drawbacks. It really comes down to preference. On a side note I have used both barrels and food packs on many trips and still use both, but I tend to like using barrels best. Food Barrels Barrels are great. They keep your food dry and also prevent it from getting crushed and banged up. Contrary to some opinions they are not completely bear proof, but they do help reduce the odds of having bear issues and stop any smaller animals from getting your food. We outfit our barrels with an additional locking device that allows you to secure the barrel to a tree. This will keep a bear from being able to take the barrel into the woods and away from camp. It also makes it more difficult and louder for a bear to get in the barrel. One obvious disadvantage to the barrel is the size and bulk of the barrel. They are a ridged container, which...

Read more...

10 Luxury Items For Your Next Canoe Trip

If you are looking to kick back and relax on you next canoe trip consider bringing these 10 luxury items  to make your time at camp more enjoyable. #1 Helinox Camp chair Sitting on the logs around a fire in the Boundary Waters is fine for a short time, but if you’re type that likes to lounge around camp reading a book or drinking coffee then having a nice chair like the Heliox chair one is worth the extra 2 pounds that it will add to the pack #2 Eno Hammock It’s hard to beat an afternoon nap in a hammock on a canoe trip. Eno hammocks are light weight and durable. At most camp site you’ll be able to find a few trees for hanging you hammock. #3 Ripstop Nylon Tarp Those cheap tarps from the hardware store work great for lots of things, but they are not meant to withstand being hung from trees and or used in strong winds.  A Ripstop Nylon tarp like the Eno Pro Fly allows you to hang a tighter and stronger shelter to protect you from the elements. No more dealing with loose tarps flapping in the wind or grommets ripping of tarps as you attempt to...

Read more...

Ice out in the BWCA

The days of winter are getting longer and customers are starting to call about canoe rentals. It is the time of year I start to think about summer. Winter always hangs on longer than expected here in Northern Minnesota, but with minimal ice cover on our lakes this year just maybe spring will be sooner than normal. As of now we have 18” of ice or less on most of the lakes in the Boundary Waters. This is close to half of what we have seen in past years. This is not to say there is not tons of snow in the woods, in fact all the snow we got earlier this winter is part of the reason that we have so little ice. It has been insulating our lakes and slowing ice formation since we got a big storm just after thanksgiving. So, with such a smaller amount of ice on area lakes will we be paddling any sooner this year? In the past couple years we have been left wondering into May if the ice will be off in time for the annual fishing opener on the second Sunday of May. Gunflint Lake is usually one the last...

Read more...

Cold vs. Hot Camping

Hot tenting is a great way to sleep on the ice in comfort When talking with folks about winter camping one common question may be “Are you cold camping or hot camping. This may seem like a silly question if you’re not sure what the difference is. It is winter in Minnesota of course its cold! In the context of this question hot camping refers to bringing a heat source, most commonly a canvas or synthetic tents with a wood burning stove and stove pipe going through the tents. Cold camping refers to not bringing a heat source. Cold campers may opt to sleep in various shelters including tents, tarps or shelters made from snow. So what are the advantages and disadvantages of each? The advantage of hot tenting is clear. It is by far the warmest and most comfortable way to camp in the winter. It provides an extra margin of safety and allows for gear to be easily dried. With proper lighting like LED lanterns hot tents provide a warm place to relax with friends after a long day in the wilderness. With a well stocked stove and a good coal base you’ll be sitting around in your base layers...

Read more...

2020 Boundary Waters Permits

It is that time of year again. Yesterday was the official start of the Boundary Waters permit reservation season. This is the second year of the permit reservations taking place on a new system. So far it seems like the difficulties that happened last season have been fixed. You can go online and reserve your permit in just a few minutes, but if you are having issues we have compiled a how to guide for you to navigate the process. Before continuing any further there are a few pieces of information that are good to understand before visiting the rec.gov website. To start with everyone who enters the BWCA needs a permit, however not all visitors need to reserve a permit. Any visitors that are staying overnight between May 1st and September 31st or using a motor (only allowed in a few areas) are subject to the quota system and thus need to reserve a permit. Day paddlers or those not going during the permit season can enter for free by simply filling out a self issue permit. Once you have reserved a permit you still need to physically pick-up your permit before entering the BWCA. Permits can be picked...

Read more...

Hok Skis in the Boundary Waters

Over the last few days I had my first chance to try a pair of Hok skis, while camping and Lake Trout fishing in the Boundary Waters. During this trip, as with all winter trips, I was hauling a hot tent, camping gear and fishing equipment using sleds. For those unfamiliar with Hok skis they are a short and wide metal edged ski intended to be used in the backcountry. They have a built in skin which allows for easy climbing on hills and a slightly more controlled decent. Additionally they can be set up with universal bindings, which allow a traditional winter boot to be used while skiing. Universal bindings are critical in my opinion for a ski that is going to be used while camping, because keeping traditional ski boots dry and warm while not in use can be difficult. It also cuts down on one less item that needs to be packed in. When I first began winter camping in the Boundary Waters I primarily traveled on snowshoes or my classic skis intended for groomed trails. A few years ago I switched to pair of backcountry skis with a universal binding and quickly realized that I would...

Read more...

Winter Camping and Lake Trout

The Boundary Waters is home one of the largest concentration of native Lake Trout lakes in the United States and the winter is one the best times to target them. As many summer canoe guest know Lake Trout spend their summers in deep water. This is because Lake Trout are a true cold water fish species that require cold and well oxygenated water to survive. This can make Lake Trout tough to catch on your August canoe trip, but it mean they are active and feeding heavily all winter long. Lakes entirely within the BWCAW open to winter trout fishing in early January with Lakes outside or partially outside the BWCAW opening roughly two weeks later. Similar to summer fishing often times anglers can find the best fishing by traveling farther than other fisherman to find less pressured fish. This often means camping and in the winter the challenges of this activity make for a grand adventure. Unlike the summer Lake Trout can be found in just about any depth of water. I have caught them through the ice in as little as 12 feet of water or as deep as 70 feet of water. The structure you find fish...

Read more...