Fashion: What the Best-Dressed Paddlers Are Wearing This Year
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.
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
- 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
- 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.