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Boundary Waters named by USA Today as one of the Top Ten Places to Extend the Summer

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Boundary Waters

Local Fashion: What the Best-Dressed Paddlers Are Wearing This Year by Roger Hahn

When we travel in other parts of the country we have learned to ask the locals where they eat, what the fish are hittin' on, what the best route is to take, and various other questions which only a resident can answer. And, being canoe outfitters and year-round residents ourselves, we have fielded these same questions thousands of times from those coming to visit the Canoe Country.

Our most often asked question, other than ''how do you get to be an outfitter?,'' is usually something regarding our favorite footwear or our choice of rainwear. Consequently I set out to answer the question of what we ''locals'' wear canoeing for those who will be making their first trip to the Boundary Waters and for those seasoned veterans who may be looking for something better.

So let's start from the bottom and work our way up:

Foot wear: I've seen and tried them all over the last twenty-five years and have yet to come up with something I like as well as my trusty old ''Bean Boots.'' These are the rubber bottomed, leather topped boots that L.L.Bean made famous years ago and are now made by numerous companies around the country. True, they can be a little sweaty in warm weather but they provide decent traction and complete water-proofness which allows you to step into several inches of water while loading your canoe. They come in a variety of heights but the 9 inch model is what you'll see on most folks around the portages. You'll fall in love with them when your next trip is plagued by three straight days of rain. (Related Article - Hiking Shoes)

  • Insider's Tip: I put a graphite arch insole in mine which makes them comfortable all day . I prefer Sno-Seal, ''melted'' in with a hair dryer, for complete water-proofness. I still buy mine from Bean as they will resole them for a nominal charge. Teva sandals are my summer back up shoes and Bean style boots, with removable Thinsulate liners, go on my fall trips.

Socks: Many folks think I'm crazy but I wear wool ''rag'' socks year round. They keep my feet comfy and warm and I've yet to have a blister. I buy them with a little nylon in them so they keep their shape and stay up around my ankles. If I do misjudge the depth of the water, or the height of my boots, the wool will still keep my feet nice and toasty. I bring a second pair to wear to bed while the others dry out overnight in the bottom of my sleeping bag.

  • Insider's Tip: When the weather is cool I wear Gore-tex socks, with poly-pro liners, under my rag wools. When it turns cold I replace the Gore-tex with thin neoprene socks for extra warmth. So buy your boots with plenty of room in them.

Pants: Like Bean boots, there are some things you can't improve on. And one of those things is a pair of cotton khaki pants. I buy mine loose, and short, so they are roomy and comfortable and don't drag on the ground after two weeks on the trail. My wife hates my unflattering khakis on me but, like my Bean Boots, I wouldn't leave home without them. My spare pants, which are kept in my pack until needed, are made of lightweight fleece. I generally carry a pair of Patagonia Baggies nylon shorts for the warmer days.

  • Insider's Tip: I avoid blue jeans as I find them too tight for freedom of movement and they take forever to dry after a long, sweaty portage. A lot of folks search for khakis with a button fly as you never know when a zipper will blow out. I buy my khakis from L.L.Bean as they still carry them in 100% cotton.

Briefs: Unless I'm paddling in my nylon Baggies shorts, which have a built-in brief, I wear Patagonia Capilene briefs. They are light and breathable and dry rapidly after a portage without the clammy feeling of cotton. Unlike polypropylene the new Capilene material does not retain the inevitable odors of a week long trip. You'll need only two pair for even the longest trip as they dry overnight after a little rinsing out.

  • Insider's Tip: These briefs double as a swimsuit for a spontaneous dip in the lake. Women should look for ''sport bras'' made of similar materials. They will double as a swim suit, too, and dry in minutes.

Shirts: A cotton t-shirt is generally my first layer during the warmer summer months. It is often followed by another standby, the chamois shirt. This soft cotton classic is long sleeved for protection from the sun and bugs and is made from lighter material for summer trips. My extra layers are a Capilene zip-T neck from Patagonia and a pile jacket for cool evenings.

  • Insider's Tip: You'll still see a great many wool plaid shirts on the portage trails but it's time to put yours in mothballs. The new synthetic fabrics are much lighter and, because they do not absorb water, your sweat is wicked to the outside and you never feel wet. Look for one in a zip-up style as they are so much easier to take off when the temperature changes. My wife says her new jacket, with the built in windproof layer, is much warmer than the others.

Rain wear: I've tried them all, from the cheapest to the outrageous, and am currently using Patagonia's Gore-tex suit. It's expensive, as all Gore-tex is, but has proven itself admirably for the three seasons I've used it. My top criteria for choosing a Gore-tex suit is that it be made of rip stop nylon which makes it light and compact. And the nylon finish won't absorb water like some cloth finishes do. I subscribe to the theory that Gore-tex needs some coddling so I often use a breathable wind suit for daily use and keep my Gore- tex suit in a stuff sack until needed.

  • Insider's Tip: I see hundreds of paddlers every summer who don't bring adequate rain gear. Buy something roomy and durable and completely waterproof. Whatever you buy should have pants to go with the jacket. I have seen countless trips cut short because everyone ''got a little wet.'' With your Bean Boots and full rain suit you'll be catching walleyes while your paddling partners are huddled under the rain fly.


Hats: My favorite hat is still my old, beat-up wool-felt one with a wide brim all the way around and a tie cord under the chin. It sheds the rain and sun better than anything else I've seen. I do give it a coat of Scotchguard now and then but leave it alone otherwise. Look for one you can roll up and stick in your pack without it losing shape completely.

  • Insider's Tip: If you prefer the baseball style cap, as many do, look for one in Gore-tex or waxed cloth. If you don't you'll find your favorite Red Sox cap a soggy mess after the first rain. I carry a fleece headband in my pack for cool mornings and chilly days.

Odds and ends: I generally fish as I paddle so my sunglasses are polarized, durable, and made to stay securely on my face. My rain and cold weather gloves are made of 100% waterproof neoprene and are large enough to fit over a pair of thin poly-pro liners. I generally have two or three bandanas along for nose blowing, sun glass cleaning, and wiping fish slime off my hands. A Leatherman has recently replaced the Swiss Army knife on my belt as it has a needle-nosed pliers for removing hooks. My map is folded in my hip pocket and a small pin-on compass keeps me on track.

Life Jacket: One thing you won't necessarily see on all the locals, but should, is a good PFD (Personal Flotation Device or life vest). Since my wife and I take most of our trips in the late fall, when help is hard to come by, we wear ours every minute we are on the water. In fact, we plan on our vests as one of our layers when packing our clothing. The rest of our shirts and jackets are sized to fit over the life vest so we can shed layers but keep our vests on. You should have a vest that fits comfortably, without chafing or restriction, and wear it at all times.

  • Insider's Tip: My zipper pull is a loud plastic whistle, for emergencies, and I keep a small forceps clipped to the vest so I don-t have to pull out my Leatherman when the bass fishing gets hot and heavy.

So the next time you're out on the trail take a good look around. You may spot one of the locals in their well worn, but simple, gear and basic functional clothing. They'll be packing light, and moving across the portage fast, so look quickly! You may not get a second chance!

This article first appeared in Boundary Waters Journal.


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