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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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"Top Ten BWCA Gadget List" Revisited by Roger Hahn

This is the time of year when, on occasion, the temperatures rise for a day or two and get all of our minds yearning for spring and that first canoe trip. Of course, we know that Mother Nature is just playing with us and that we're still due for some winter-like weather and another sixty days before the waters of the Canoe Country become liquid again.

What, then, do we do? How do we survive those last sixty days? Easy! We shop! Cruising the aisles of our favorite outdoor stores, surfing online, and dreamily flipping the pages of that stack of mail-order catalogs in our dens.

It's a time for contemplation. Printing out our canoe trip checklist, recalling those chores we'd like to make easier on our next trip, and thinking of gadgets to make our camping trip much more enjoyable.

Some time ago I wrote a top-ten gadget list for the Boundary Waters Journal magazine. And that list was a big hit and generated some great Christmas wish lists for readers (and their lucky spouses). Since it's been a few years I thought it might be time to revisit that list and see how those gadgets have held up and what else might be out there for your next trip.

1. Depth Finders - A few years ago I thought that the hottest thing going in depth finders and fish locators was the Bottom Line Fishing Buddy. And it is still a pretty good unit for Canoe Country travel and fishing. However, many readers have been proclaiming the virtues of the new Vexilar Boundary Waters LC-10. It is powered by eight AA batteries, which will power it easily for a week or more, and weighs less than 3 pounds!

2. Gore-Tex socks - I can't say enough about these! They make any footwear completely waterproof, keeping your feet warmer and more comfortable. You can wear them inside a pair of old tennis shoes and be able to wade in water as deep as you want. For those of you who don't know, this is the way to properly load and unload your canoe. It's easier on the shoreline, infinitely easier on your back, and will save the bottom of your canoe immeasurably. 

3. Aqua Shoes - There are simply hundreds of these new Rafters Cabo Water Shoes - Men's - Special Buywater shoes on the market. You can pick up a cheap pair at any discount store or buy a good pair from most of the major shoe manufacturers. Since the Canoe Country is full of rocks, sticks, roots, and the like I'd recommend a pair that offers full protection of your toes and ankles. Sandals, while extremely popular, don't offer that protection and you are vulnerable for a foot injury which can really impact your trip.

4. Socks - As you already know, or should, is that COTTON IS ROTTEN and your wardrobe should contain no cotton of any kind. This is especially true of your socks. Socks should be wool, synthetic, or some combination of the above. If you haven't discovered the new SmartWool brand of socks you're missing out on some great products. Most good outdoor stores carry them now and they are worth the slightly higher price. Warm, comfortable, and they stay up!

5. Clothing - Many summer-time paddlers have already discovered the new, ultra-lightweight " Ex Officio " style of pants and shirts. Many companies make such apparelSavvy Athena Shirt (Women's) now and it is light, dries in minutes, keeps the sun off your skin, and keeps the mosquitoes away from your precious blood supply. The pants come in zip-off versions which means you can take a week-long summer canoe trip with a single pair of pants! You simply zip-off the legs and you're in shorts! Voila'! The long-sleeve shirts have sleeves that are made to roll up and stay put with the help of buttons and straps. They also come in short-sleeved versions, of course. All I can say is that I now practically live in this type of clothing. After a sweaty portage you are dry in a matter of minutes.

6. Underwear - It wasn't that long ago that we were all in awe of polypropylenePatagonia Capilene 4 Expedition Weight Long Underwear Bottoms - Women's underwear. And it was great stuff. With one great exception. It absorbed odors! Badly. The new Capilene underwear, from Patagonia, come in various weights, does not absorb any odors, and does not absorb any moisture so it dries in minutes. No more clammy undershorts! Plus, they can double as a swimsuit for an impromptu swim on a warm day. With Capilene under your Ex Officio clothing you will always be dry; after a rain squall or a sweaty portage. And, very importantly, you can lighten the weight of your clothing pack by 10 pounds or more! If you don't believe me just weigh your blue jeans against a pair of style pants! (Ladies, sport-bras are made with the same materials now, too. Instant wilderness swimwear!)

7. Sunglasses - A good pair of protective sunglasses, with a strap to prevent loss, is an essential piece of equipment on a canoe trip. I'm convinced that the bottom of our Canoe Country lakes is literally littered with thousands of pairs of sunglasses!

And, if you are a fisherman, and haven't tried polarized sunglasses you are in for a real treat! They cut all the glare from the water and allow you to look into the water. You can see the rocks, trees, weeds, and other clues you need to find more fish. Fish, of all species, are always relating to some sort of structure and the more you know about it the more fish you can find. You'll spend your time more effectively, fishing where the fish are likely to be!

If you are a prescription eye-glass wearer you can buy polarized clip-ons to put over your glasses or have your glasses made with polarized lenses. This is worth every penny! Trust me!

8. Hats and caps - The dangers of too much sun are written about every day in newspapers and magazines. And, truth be told, most of us ignore those warnings. If we wear a hat at all it is usually just a good old baseball style cap. These keep the sun off our forehead and out of our eyes but don't provide proper protection for your face, ears, and neck.

Several companies have jumped on this idea and have come out with some really neat hats. They are usually nylon, making them light, cool, and quick-drying. And, most importantly, they sport very large brims and keep a great deal of sun off your entire head. A quick walk down the aisles of your favorite outdoor store will introduce you to several manufacturers and styles of hats. Do yourself a favor and try a hat with a large brim. You'll be glad you did in later years. Skin cancer should not be taken lightly. And a week of sun in the Boundary Waters will give you a year's worth of unhealthy exposure.

9. Kevlar - The time has come for you to make the switch. Let's face it, you're not getting any younger (at least I'm not!) and you don't always have the time to stay in good enough shape to tote a 70 pound canoe over a 100 rod portage! And why should you? You don't drive a Model A car, do you? You don't live in a sod-roofed house, do you? So why use outdated technology on your vacation.

The difference between picking up and putting down a 40 pound kevlar canoe and a 70 pound plastic or aluminum canoe, hundreds of times, is incredible. Over the course of a week-long canoe trip you will lift over a ton of extra weight! Wow!

Sure, the kevlar canoes require a little more care and are more expensive to rent, but they are worth every penny. Scrimp on your budget somewhere else. Trust me, you'll never go back. And you can smile as you stroll merrily along on your next portage.

(Editor's Note: Be sure to rent the right style of kevlar canoe. They are made in different hull styles; some are long and lean and meant to go fast and straight, while others are made along more traditional lines and are better to fish and explore in. Also, kevlar can be made in different weights; you can rent a kevlar canoe weighing as much as 60-65 pounds! You want the one weighing in the 40 pound range! Be sure to ask!)  Building Your Kevlar Canoe (Book) by James Moran

10. Sleeping bags and sleeping pads - Nothing ruins a good canoe trip like a poor night's sleep. A new sleeping bag, filled with modern synthetic materials, will keep you warmer, period. Even if it should get wet somehow it will dry quickly and keep you warm even if damp. In a water wilderness this is simply essential gear. 


Sleeping pads have made enormous strides in the past ten years or so.  Thermarest Self Inflating Trail Sleeping Pads are the standard by which all others are judged. Lightweight, compact, and comfortable! And they are now made by several companies and in every conceivable size and thickness imaginable. The ground in the Canoe Country is hard so I'd recommend splurging on your mattress. And be sure to buy one that has the new non-skid surface so you can stay on it all night.

11. I know I said ''Top Ten'' but I couldn't leave out the new style of camp chairs. As you know, if you've been to the Boundary Waters or Quetico, there is generally no place to sit. And, after a week, this gets old. Really old.

A cruise down the aisle at Wal-Mart will show you several new folding aluminum and nylon camping chairs. While adding a bit of bulk to your equipment pack I'd have to say that they just might be worth the space. Sitting comfortably, sipping your hot chocolate or tea, after a hard day of paddling and portaging is a real treat. A simple pleasure.

If you want a comfortable seat, without the bulk, you can look at the "Crazy Creek" style of camp chairs. They are small and light and offer you a warm, dry place to sit and some essential back support. I've found they can also be used very nicely inside your tent, on a rainy day. You can also use them in your canoe, on a rock or log or slab of granite, and some chairs even accept your Thermarest mattress for additional comfort.

12. Bread Buddies - Huh? Tired of squashed loaves of bread? Well, go back to Wal-Mart and look for a Bread Buddy. They are plastic ''boxes'' made to fit a standard loaf of bread. While adding a bit of bulk to your food pack you can finally have a sandwich that looks like a sandwich! Imagine that!

OK, so it turned in to my top twelve ... just proves that there are no shortage of new, innovative, lightweight and space-saving ideas when it comes to the great outdoors. I hope you enjoy these suggestions for making your next trip more enjoyable.

Now, don't forget to call your favorite outfitter to reserve that Kevlar canoe and get your permit reserved. Those 60 days will be gone before you know it!


       --article courtesy of BoundaryWatersMagazine

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