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Packrafting in the BWCAW?
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Kurt Papke
(kwpapke) - F

Locale: Desert southwest
Packrafting in the BWCAW? on 08/12/2008 12:37:56 MDT Print View

I have been intrigued recently with Roman's packrafting podcast, etc. I did a thru-hike of the Border Route through the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota in May, and in several spots a packraft would have been ideal to do some lake and river exploring.

Most people go the other way: they canoe through the BWCAW, and do dayhikes on the BRT or some of the portages. A packraft would invert this emphasis.

A google search of packraft+BWCA came up dry.

I'm curious if anyone in the forum knows of someone who has packrafted through the BWCAW, or is considering doing so?


Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Packrafting in the BWCAW? on 08/12/2008 13:07:02 MDT Print View

I've been wondering the much the same ... except more along the lines of canoing to one of the BWCAW's Primitive Management Areas, caching the canoe and bushwhacking into small lakes inside the PMA. Or trying some old travel routes that haven't been maintained for years.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Packrafting in the BWCAW? on 08/13/2008 11:58:17 MDT Print View

I too have been curious about a BW packrafting/hiking trip. The packraft seems about the perfect option for lengthy portages, although I'm not sure of it's quality in long distance, low-current paddling. Someone more packraft savvy would have to chip in on this conversation.

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Packrafting in the BWCAW? on 08/13/2008 13:09:49 MDT Print View

I packraft, canoe, sea kayak, and river kayak. For the 14 years I lived in Minnesota, I did an annual two week canoeing trip to the BWCA. I believe a canoe is the ideal craft for most of that environment. For all of the routes I used over the years, there were numerous short portages each day and the wind wave heights, primarily determined by fetch, were small. The difficulty packing and unpacking a sea kayak and negligible wave heights, negate the benefit of a sea kayak. A packraft is a displacement hull with a very short water line length; this limits the practical cruising hull speed to about 2 mph versus 4-5 mph for a canoe or kayak.

The BWCA environments where the packraft is better than any other alternative are: where backpacking accounts for a substantial portion of a trip, white water rivers (no space to carry camping equipment in conventional WW boats and canoes require heavy custom spray skirts), or where public transit is an element of the logistics. That said, I believe you could select specific trip routes in the BWCA that leveraged all of the packraft’s competitive advantages versus other water craft options.

Roman Dial
(romandial) - F - M

Locale: packrafting NZ
Boundary Waters on 11/11/2008 21:47:45 MST Print View

Calm water packrafting is better with two. That's why Hig and Erin eventually tied their boats together.

Here's a video in Canyonlands of my wife Peggy and me in one boat -- an early Alpacka Dory ("Fjord Explorer"):

I'd love to wander through the Boundary waters hiking and tandem packrafting.

Edited by sharalds on 11/12/2008 09:19:16 MST.

Rich Albrecht
(Alliesdad) - F

Locale: Tundra
packrafting the bwca on 07/26/2009 10:05:19 MDT Print View

i have a friend named Joe who frequents BWCA paddling websites (goes by the name portagekeeper) and I would be surprised if he doesn't frequent BPL as well knowing his MO. Joe got me thinking more and more about weight on my paddling trips-he's always trying to shave ounces/grams.

i went on a portage clearing trip (led by him) this spring and he had some great stories about bushwacking and packrafting to some remote interior lakes in the BWCA. i hadn't heard much about packrafting so i almost didn't believe him. i laughed when he told me he used hand paddles. after hearing his stories though about lakes unreachable by conventional (canoe) means it would be worth it though.

maybe i can point him in the direction of this thread.


Mitchell Rossman

Locale: Minneapolis-St. Paul
Any New Trips? on 07/15/2013 11:56:04 MDT Print View

I know that this thread has been dead for a few years, but has anyone done anything recently?

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Any New Trips? - Yup on 07/15/2013 13:01:57 MDT Print View

Hig and Erin JUST finished an 800-mile walk & pack raft trip around Cook Inlet:

With a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old along! They stayed at our place in April and have blogged their progress as they went.

They had to be off the water in rough weather. They had to go to water to get past various headlands and mud flats. They needed to keep the weight way down because Erin carries Katmai on her back and, as she puts it, that's 24 pounds with no multiple uses. So Hig is packing most of the gear and food for 4 people.

So it's that combo of needing to hike, needed to be on the water, and lightweight that points towards pack rafts.

But you have to accept the pack raft's slower paddling speed, reduced weight/people capacity, and poor directional stability.

Also, while BW is justifiable famous, the OTHER wilderness canoe-trails area in the country is in the Kenai WIldlife Refuge on the Kenai Peninsula (my backyard). You can go out for an overnight, a week or two weeks. If you paddle for 2 hours past the first few lakes, you often see no one else. You can paddle the Swanson River if you like 30-mile, 18-hour-long days (I do). Pretty much anyone who asks nicely can borrow my canoe (Mad RIver 15.5-foot, 53 pounds), paddles, etc. I guess I'm a "canoe-trail angel". There are rental canoes available but they're crap - Coleman tupperware boats with many cupholders but no portage yoke.

The choice of guidebook is easy, because there is only one:

Amazon offers "look inside" on this book and you can see a couple of the overview maps.

but has weirdly high prices for it, probably because it is semi-self-published and local bookstores get it direct from the author. River City Books in Soldotna, Alaska (907-260-7722) keeps it in stock, $18.95 and could send it out to you.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Boundary Waters on 07/15/2013 19:53:19 MDT Print View

Mitchell, I'm game for a Boundary Waters trip in the fall (Sept or Oct).

Edited by dandydan on 07/15/2013 19:53:50 MDT.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
BWCA on 07/15/2013 20:00:09 MDT Print View

I have done two different week long canoe trips in BWCA. That would be a great trip and while the pack raft is not required but it could open up some interesting routes that would not be feasible for canoes. Dan, you must be tempting me to cross to the dark side and get a pack raft. It looked like a blast up in Montana.

Jeremy Gus
(gustafsj) - MLife

Locale: Minneapolis
Re: BWCA on 07/15/2013 21:48:15 MDT Print View

I might be up for a long weekend trip in the fall as well. I've been up there almost 20 times, and it would be interesting to plan some routes that would include more hiking and a packraft. I've done a little bushwacking up there and it is not easy as it is so thick in most areas, so sticking to trails would definitely be the way to go.

I don't have a packraft, but have spent a ton of time in both canoes and kayaks. I would think it would be a pretty easy adjustment...

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

BWCAW on 07/16/2013 06:05:59 MDT Print View

A long weekend fall trip would be excellent. I have an extra raft - albeit a small one (Alpacka Alpaca).

Yes Malto you should give it a whirl. There's fun water everywhere - just some areas require more careful thought as the levels are only suitable in spring and after rains.

Mitchell Rossman

Locale: Minneapolis-St. Paul
BWCA Packraft Fall Trip on 07/16/2013 07:48:43 MDT Print View


I will very happy to make time for you this fall, if you promise to tell me about all of your adventures!

A long weekend trip sounds perfect.

After you firm up your schedule, we need to get Jeremy and Malto to plan out a trip, and invite others to join us.

Please forgive me for having missed the BMWO this year; my climbing addiction got in the way.


Edited by bigmitch on 07/16/2013 08:59:55 MDT.

Jeremy Gus
(gustafsj) - MLife

Locale: Minneapolis
Re: BWCA Packraft Fall Trip on 07/16/2013 09:39:37 MDT Print View

Here are some options:

Long Island Loop or Ham Lake to Poplar loops have a lot of portages and smaller lakes

A route following the kekabic trail, disappointment trail and/or snowbank trail that combines some packrafting with hiking. BWCAW Hiking Trails

A bit longer route: Frost River Route

Another idea I've had would be combining a raft down the St Louis River and/or its tributaries and then a hike back up the Superior Hiking Trail. I haven't been able to find anything online about the new section of trail north of Duluth... Anybody hiked this yet? There would be some road walking to complete this loop, or turn it into a bikepackrafting trip.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: BWCA Packraft Fall Trip on 07/16/2013 12:17:45 MDT Print View

A word of caution ... the toughest of the maintained BWCAW paddle/portage routes are still only about 25% portage. Richard N's advice above is sound.

The Primitive Management Areas (PMA) could be good packraft candidates but few of them are near an entry point. Weasel Lake PMA is easily accessed from the south end of Lake One but the Pagami Creek fire torched that entire region (Pagami Lake is in that PMA)

You might want to consider the BWCAW's Sioux-Hustler trail (page contains a link to a map). It touches on several small lakes and also the Weeny Lake PMA (clickable map on that page).

You could also consider floating the first and/or last couple miles of the Siuox Hustler on the Little Indian Sioux River.

Note that in addition to a normal BWCAW entry permit you'll also need an endorsement for the PMA zone(s) you want to camp in (for specific dates, only one party per zone per day allowed). PMA day use is unrestricted.

The Powwow trail also touches about a dozen small lakes but the pagami fire fried it also.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

BWCAW on 07/16/2013 19:26:42 MDT Print View

I'm potentially committed to a trip on Labour Day weekend, but I'm wide open on Columbus Day weekend (Oct 12-14) and that would be prime fall colors. I haven't looked over any maps yet (darn busy right now) but I'm up for anything interesting.

Edited by dandydan on 07/16/2013 19:33:44 MDT.

Mitchell Rossman

Locale: Minneapolis-St. Paul
New BCWA Fall PackRaft Weekend Trip on 07/17/2013 07:27:21 MDT Print View

October 12-14 is perfect for me.

Edited by bigmitch on 07/17/2013 07:27:58 MDT.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

BWCAW on 07/18/2013 17:51:00 MDT Print View

Sweet. Let's put something together. I'll try to have a look at the maps in the next week or so.

Tim Drescher
(timdcy) - M

Locale: Gore Range
Re: BWCAW on 07/19/2013 15:28:49 MDT Print View

Also you won't need permits for October as the permit system ends at the end of September.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: BWCAW on 07/19/2013 17:10:04 MDT Print View

Also you won't need permits for October as the permit system ends at the end of September.

au contraire!

It is the QUOTA system that applies only to May1-Sep30. A permit is required year round ... is self issued Oct1->Apr30. I haven't taken an "off season" trip there since that started but it is alleged that there are permit forms at all entry point landings. It might be worth looking into details in advance. (make sure you have something to write with;-)