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08/15/2018 11:03AM
I am trying to come up with a basic plan to take my family on our first overnight trip in the BWCA next summer. We have five kids (current ages are 15, 13, 10, 7, and 5). We love to camp, but have only done car camping with the kids. We have taken day trips in the BWCA the last couple of years and that has been the highlight of the kids trip every time.

I am looking for practical advice on gear, routes, logistics, etc. to plan a trip like this. I will be renting the canoes (I assume we will need 2). We should have the rest of the gear. Is it easier to have more small tents or fewer large tents? Food ideas? Thinking we should paddle out maybe 4-5 hours and then do a base camp and daytrips for a total of 3-4 nights.

Advice appreciated.
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08/15/2018 11:19AM
I'd definitely go with 2-3 smaller tents rather than one large tent. Some campsites you might have a tough time finding a tent pad large enough for a 6-8 person tent. Plus, who wants to crawl over 6 other people when going in and out of the tent? You've got enough little Sherpa's to haul some stuff, I'd put the kids in 2 tents and the adults in a 3rd so you can get a little privacy.

Planning on going out of the East side (Gunflint) or West side (Ely) of the BWCA?

08/15/2018 11:28AM
We have taken our day trips out of Sawbill. We did the Kelso Loop this summer and they had a blast. We car camped at the Sawbill campground. But I am open to suggestions on entry points. I just want everyone to love it as much as I do so I am trying to find things the kids would like to see so they have fun. We went looking for the pitcher plants on Kelso, but didn’t see any. They loved the Lilly pads.
distinguished member (435)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
08/15/2018 12:32PM
You could go with two three-person boats but with that crew you might consider three tandems, especially since it sounds like you're not looking to go too far and you kids have some experience. It depends on the 15 and 13 year old - if either of them is good enough to be in stern with a sibling in the bow, you'll enjoy the flexibility of three tandems. It keeps everybody more engaged with the process.

distinguished member(6890)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
08/15/2018 01:09PM
Work closely with an outfitter. Its worth it.

I agree - at least two tents, and I'd also recommend 3.

And the 3 canoe idea is also what I would recommend. Besides some chance of your 15 year old being more likely able to portage a tandem than a triple or quad. it will be more enjoyable.

Biggest challenge - not taking way too much stuff. You'll take too much the first trip, but leave everything behind you can talk your way into.

Sounds like fun!
distinguished member(2310)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
08/15/2018 01:52PM
Do you use a spreadsheet to track your gear? A gear list is a must with so many people coming. Make sure everyone has a pack to carry stuff (even the young ones can carry some stuff even if it's their own). Lawn contractor bags can substitute for expensive waterproof bags but make sure everyone's gear will be dry because a lot of water gets dragged into the canoe which I'm sure you are aware.

Consider buying a dehydrator and making your own meals. The Camping Recipe forum is choked full of information on meals. Check it out.

I like your idea of paddling to a base camp site. Makes your life easier. Check out some Ely entry points if you are looking for something other than the east side.

Have a great trip.
08/15/2018 07:38PM
I have a notebook full of lists. I am trying to figure how you pack 7 sleeping bags anywhere. Would it be reasonable to shove all the sleeping stuff in a plastic tote? I am usually pretty efficient at packing stuff, but with car camping, we don’t have to carry it all with us.
08/16/2018 04:52AM
You're going to need at least 2-3 large portage packs, as made by several companies including Cooks Custom Sewing, (a site sponsor here) and Duluth Packs. They hold a ton of stuff.

If you don't want to spend the $ and purchase them, you can rent them from various outifitters.

distinguished member(2310)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
08/16/2018 08:18AM
Paprika: "I have a notebook full of lists. I am trying to figure how you pack 7 sleeping bags anywhere. Would it be reasonable to shove all the sleeping stuff in a plastic tote? I am usually pretty efficient at packing stuff, but with car camping, we don’t have to carry it all with us. "

No, you will not want to hand carry a plastic tote over portages plus the tote probably isn't waterproof. I would say you need three portage packs (1st for you, 2nd for hubby, 3rd for 13 year old. Food pack can go to the 15 year old) to spread the gear out. Also, if you have larger cheap sleeping bags they don't pack small as compared to down. Upgrading or renting smaller bags will help a lot. Compression bags will help some as well but with down I simply stuff my bag into a small waterproof sack as there is no need to further compress it.
distinguished member(2896)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
08/16/2018 03:26PM
2 canoes likely isn't going to work with that size of a crew. Even if you do 3 person canoes you're still going to have 4 in one canoe which is really going to limit the space you have available for gear. Can the 2 older kids paddle 1 canoe and then you and your wife each paddle another canoe with a younger kid in the bow?

Or possibly bring another adult to paddle the 3rd canoe with the 10 year old in the bow and let the 2 youngest sit in the middle of the tandems.

Having the 3rd canoe is probably going to make your life a lot easier and will help avoid overloading a couple 3 person canoes.

For packing you will for sure what a canoe pack. They aren't cheap so renting is a good option. They'll make packing, carrying, and stacking gear in a canoe much easier. You can also line them with large contractor garbage bags to make them water proof.

Also consider renting a food pack or barrel.

I'd also suggest 3 tents versus 2.
distinguished member(10367)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished membermaster membermaster member
08/17/2018 05:46PM
Just to reinforce the previous advice:

Everything in canoe packs - do not try to hand carry a plastic tote. The way to pack 7 sleeping bags is to have small, light sleeping bags and put them in compression sacks, then distribute them among several packs. How much do your 7 sleeping bags weigh?

Logistically, portaging is your big new challenge. Plan to double portage, which means you'll walk each portage 3x. In other words, you carry the first load across, walk back, and carry the second load across. A 1/4-mile portage becomes 3/4 miles of walking, two of them with a load. A 1/2-mile (160 rods) portage becomes 1 1/2 miles.

You need to pack so you have the correct number of loads in appropriate weights for whoever is carrying them. The canoes are a load in themselves, so a 3rd canoe, while nice for space, will add weight that must be portaged. The more weight you have to portage, the more difficult it will become to double portage and the more time and effort it will take, limiting the distance you can travel.

Determine how much each can comfortably carry, add them up, multiply by two for double portage, and make sure your gear, including food, canoes, paddles, PFD's, etc. is no more than that.

The most common thing people say about their first trip is they took too much stuff. Try to minimize the number of things you take, as well as their bulk and weight. Taking to much food is a common problem.

I think you'd be best served with a route that has no big water and minimal portaging. East Bearskin may work well for that.
08/17/2018 07:49PM
OK so I will plan on renting portage packs and seeing if my Tetris skills are still in existence. Any route suggestions? Kids want to see moose. Also daytrips, either hiking or canoeing, to see waterfalls or other interesting things would be a plus. Would like to travel 4-5 hours the first day and then set up a basecamp.
I read entering at Poplar and traveling to Horseshoe would be a good plan. Any others are appreciated.
distinguished member(10367)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished membermaster membermaster member
08/17/2018 09:44PM
Poplar to Horseshoe would work well, too. Or you could go on to Gaskin. Also could go to Omega without much difficulty. Lots of options for day trips from any. One of the moose I've seen in BW was on Muskeg creek. Tough portages to get there from Omega though.

East Bearskin will take you out to Canoe - you can day trip from there over to Johnson Falls.

member (30)member
08/18/2018 07:31PM
Also recommending Horseshoe. Just came out today from a two night base camping trip with my five year old daughter and ten year old nephew. We had fun day tripping to Vista and Misquah, and exploring Horseshoe. There are a lot of great day trip options in the area, and the portages are short. Horseshoe is a good place for moose, but we didn’t see any, likely due to our noisy kids. There’s an awesome site on Gaskin (634 on the peninsula) that would be good for a big group, as well! We stayed there last summer and loved it.

Check out Rockwood Lodge and Outfitters on Poplar. They are right on Poplar, super helpful, and will help you with the gear you need!
senior member (100)senior membersenior member
08/20/2018 08:39AM
I travel with my wife, three kids (14-9 YO), her cousin and daughter. We typically travel as far as we can to escape the crowds and then basecamp. It's taken years and selling an old speedboat to get all the gear we need to go fairly light, but I've got some advice to do it on the cheap/comfortable.
Sleeping bags: start scouring ebay for used gear. I got two 1970's Eddie Bauer down sleeping bags for my two daughters at $20/each. I stuff them into a cheap compression sack you can find at menards or walmart. Another trick is to stuff the sleeping bag into a garbage bag, then pull the top shut and sit down on the whole thing with the open part in between your legs, still holding on. it'll smoosh it down and all the air will come out, vacuum sealing it shut. Give it a spin and twist tie shut. That's about as small as you'll ever get a sleeping bag, plus now it's waterproof.
I've also snagged used 115L Sealine Portage Packs on Ebay for $30-$50.

We bring one giant 10x10 tent and divide the poles, fly, and tent between three packs to lessen the weight for each person. We now have two hennessey hammocks, and the older kids often elect to stay in those rather than in the tent with us - but we've found some nights the kids just all want to be in the tent with dad, lol. You can research campsites on the maps section here to see which sites have room. We've only skipped over one campsite in the last few years because there wasn't enough room.

This year I found a 12'x12' Nemo bugout on Craigslist for $100. When we had rain, or the bugs were out in force, the kids sat inside and ate, played cards, etc. It was worth it for the 7lbs or whatever and space taken up in our pack. Small lightweight hammocks and the new style of ultralight camp chairs (found for $30 on Amazon) can go a long way towards making camp super comfortable.

Portaging with a group and kids is what will slow you down. Make sure, when packing up bags, that everyone has a couple of bags they can carry, have them carry the same load each portage. Talk about the plan for what everyone will do when you hit the portage. COUNT how many bags you have, and COUNT before you leave each portage to make sure you haven't left anything. Try to have as little loose in each canoe as possible. For her first couple of trips, my youngest was in charge of carrying paddles and the fishing gear.

We consistently reach that "un-fun" part of every trip, where we talk through with the kids, "not every part of an adventure is fun, otherwise everyone would be out here!".

For food: my youngest sitting next to me said, "BRING A LOT OF FOOD". I pack all the food into seperate 2 gallon ziplock bags labeled Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner for each day.
Breakfast: Shelf-stable (pre-cooked) bacon reheats nicely with very little grease. Hungry Jack dehydrated hash browns in the carton are the best. Pancakes, of course, granola, dehydrated eggs (OvaEasy). Lunch: We usually pack one ziplock with a bunch of things to eat over the 11am-3pm lunch hour, lol. Summer sausage, gorp, jerky, crackers and cheese, pistachios, candied nuts, dehydrated/candied fruit, etc. Dinner: lots of recipes on here. Steaks the first night, I've found that I LOVE freeze dried veggies (they reconstitute so easily and taste fresh). Instant mashed potatoes (Idahoan) mixed with peas, bacon bits, pre-cooked packaged chicken, topped with instant gravy was a huge hit this year. Knorr rice/pasta medleys are great side-dishes.

Go in early to mid week to avoid crowds and get on the water early to find a good site. Don't over-extend yourself on that first day your first trip with kids. Each year they'll be able to do more and go further. More than anything, HAVE FUN!! The more fun and comfortable the family is, the more likely they'll want to come back. Now my oldest wants to go hardcore and see how far he and I can go it alone. He wouldn't have gotten to that point if his first few trips were roughing it and over-extended.
senior member (100)senior membersenior member
08/20/2018 09:20AM
Ensign is an easy/fun first trip - that was my youngest's first at 4 years old. We elected to get the tow (boat ride) up Moose to the portage early in the morning, and then canoed back, which was a tough but doable paddle with the wind in our face. One easy portage from the tow up Moose and you are in Ensign.

I know a lot of people poo-poo the number chain, but they are popular lakes for a reason. Kawishiwi Lodge/Lake One Outfitters is right on Lake One, very family friendly, and Lake One/Lake Two/Lake Three all have some really nice sites.
distinguished member(650)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
08/20/2018 03:57PM
Compression sacks and down sleeping bags are life savers. I have a big, fluffy Big Agnes Lost Ranger down bag, and with a compression sack, it packs down to the size of a volleyball. I would think twice, then thrice about taking a synthetic fill bag anywhere ever again, unless it's my North Face summer bag that I take on summer river trips in Tex and Ark.

Take lots of snacks. I have found that most of the time, whenever someone gets the grumpies or the angries on an outdoor trip, it generally ties in with a long time since calories were taken in. As you know, you'll burn a lot more calories when you're hiking or paddling than you do at work or at home. The typical meal times and amounts probably won't work well. Kids, with higher metabolisms and smaller fuel tanks, especially need to eat more frequently. If one of the kids starts acting whiny or upset, chances are good that they need to eat. Having GORP or granola bars handy (ie, not in the bottom of the big food bag) will save your life. They might also appear to have two hollow legs at dinner time. At least that's the way I was on my first hiking trip. I might have eaten 6 or 8 hot dogs and never got full.

If someone complains that they are hungry or thirsty, it's probably past time to address that issue, so take it seriously. I'd keep the water filter in an easy access bag as well. Or get everyone their own filter bottle and they can just dip in the lake and drink as they like.

I know you fully understand this concept; a proper BWCA trip isn't car camping. There are no bathrooms, showers, sinks, quick trips in the car back to civilization. If you lose, drop, break something, you have to do without it until the trip is over. If everyone truly understands that ahead of time, it'll be a more pleasant trip. The key is to make sure the kids grasp the idea that a quick retreat isn't always possible when you're camping away from the car. They'll probably like the idea... it just makes it easier to deal with a crisis when everyone knows the crisis was a possibility from the outset.

A lot of the campsites I've seen would more easily accommodate one large tent than they would 3 smaller tents. But just as many are more suited to smaller tents. You should be able to find a suitable site either way.
member (32)member
09/29/2018 02:59AM
We have done a few 9 person family trips. We prefer 2, 3 man canoes and 1, 2 man for the 9 of us and stick our 7& 10 yr old in the middle seat together of a 3 man. Plenty of room for your 5 and 7 year olds. Less canoes, less to Portage and more paddling power per canoes with the young ones. Just got to get them in sink paddling or will be bumping paddles. Then just figure out number of packs you will need, about 3 #3 packs (depends on the size) will fit comfortably in each full 3 man canoes.

For the 7 of you I'd probably do 3 smaller tents. Or maybe just 2 tents, a medium 6 man (4 people) and a 4 man (3 people) to reduce the number of tents to take. Finding tent pads to fit 4 man tents is obviously much easier.

My 2 cents.
distinguished member(2665)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
09/29/2018 04:53PM
About the tents. Would the 5 & 7 year old be comfortable sleeping away from mom & dad? If not, then get a tent big enough for the four of you (like a 5 man with two doors). The other 3 teens could share a tent I would think.

Now if you & the younger two are fine and comfortable camping in a tent with siblings, then maybe 3 tents. You know your kids best, so ...... :-)
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