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Backpacks for School and Beyond: Our Top Ten

Frost River Daypacks in the store

Frost River waxed canvas backpacks

…are built to be at home outdoors, living and adventuring with you, whether you’re sauntering a sunny woodland path, rock hopping across a wilderness stream, taking the spur trail to a spectacular vista or walking to the bus stop. Here are backpacks that will be at your side and on your back for years, making new memories with each outing. They’re built by hand in Duluth, Minnesota, and made to take the abuse of rugged backwoods travel— they’re more than qualified to endure years of service to and from the classroom.

We make a lot of different backpacks, and picking out the right one can seem daunting at first. That’s why we’ve put together our favorite fits for school and the rest of life’s adventures! It’s the next best thing to being in the shop and working with our friendly folks in the store. Just imagine the sounds of hammers and sewing machines pounding and whirring, and the smell of fresh-brewed Duluth Coffee Company coffee and read on!

Our two cents:

A good school backpack should be medium-sized, offer useful features for comfort and convenience, be just the right style for you, and be built to last. Visit us in Duluth and we’ll take you on a free tour of our workshop and show you just how durable our stuff is.

Top Ten backpacks for school

Frost River Congdon Park DayPack No.893The First Pack: Our Congdon Park Daypack and Book Packs are proportioned well for little loads but made to the same standards as their bigger siblings– A great pack to suit the earlier years!

Sojourn PackThe Traditionalist:— Sojourn Pack Padded – This is pure canoe pack but sized for your day-to-day and with a padded sleeve for a laptop.

Frost River North Bay DayPack No.435The Classic:— North Bay 5” Padded (or 7” if you carry a lot of stuff) – This pack boasts lots of organization in classic, clean lines. American-made, lifetime guaranteed. Can’t go wrong.

Frost River Itasca Outset DayPack No.430High Speed, Low Drag:— The Itasca Outset – Here’s a zippered backpack that carries more than meets the eye. With extra pockets and accessory loops for added versatility, this is a clean pack that fits in well wherever you take it.

Frost River Summit Expedition No.825I’d rather be hiking: Summit Expedition. This drawstring-topped knapsack-style pack has side two-in-one pockets for hauling water bottles, rulers, pencil boxes, anything, while the large main compartment carries a load of books and much more.

Frost River Arrowhead eco DayPack No.396The Rolltop:— Arrowhead ECO – Our popular rolltop pack with expandable side pockets and internal sleeves. Rolltop design means versatility, expandability and security. Too many features to list here!

Frost River Knapsack in the back, Book Pack in the frontKnapsack: The Frost River Knapsack is a traditional pack on the smaller side of medium. This pack has a similar drawstring top with strap and buckle as the Summit series and our other rucksacks, but in a smaller package.

Frost River Saganaga Travel Satchel No. 878Messenger Bag: Big Saganaga – Ok, not a backpack…this is a simple messenger bag with pockets and organization. Clean lines, durability and usability come standard.

Frost River Bazaar Tote No.832A Capable Tote: The Bazaar Tote – Another non-backpack… this is a simple haul-everything tote with heavy duty leather handles and brass buckles, the bazaar can carry a lot and the handles extend to allow for either a hand or shoulder carry.

One of the biggest benefits of a Frost River bag going to school is that it’ll work great for years of use wherever you need to go. One pack to do it all; off to school, ramblin’ in the woods, travel, and headed into the workforce. Waxed canvas packs are repairable and get better with age, use, and experience… a lot like active, studious young people! Take a look at our Daypacks for more options, or give us a call to chat features or dig into any of the details on these or other Frost River Reliable Softgoods.

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How Pack a Canoe Pack

Packing a Frost River Old No. 7 and Grand Portage Canoe Pack at the Frost River shop at 1910 West Superior Street in preparation for the Dave and Amy Freeman Wilderness Year Resupply Trip in spring 2016.

The beauty of a quality canoe pack is the beauty of pure function: it stands up to hauling a full camping rig in the rugged wilderness, time and time again.

Our canoe packs are large enough to fit a complete set of well-chosen canoe camp gear and allow you to haul it over necessary overland canoe-country portages. To do this, the design, materials, and construction of the pack all need to be top quality, which is why we use waxed canvas, premium leather and solid brass hardware. Our canoe packs are up for the job and guaranteed to last for years of hard use in the field.

Paddling into the BWCAW with a full load of Frost River USA made waxed canvas on the Freeman Resupply trip May 2016.
Paddling into the BWCAW with a full load of Frost River USA made waxed canvas on the Freeman Resupply trip May 2016. Photo by Alex Messenger

Which brings us to the big question…

How do I pack this thing?!… A giant empty bag vs. a mountain of gear can be intimating.

Some helpful first steps…. don’t bring too much stuff, get it organized, and make it waterproof. You’re bringing life-sustaining items out onto a lake (lakes are wet) so you’ll want to guarantee to keep your gear dry. Yes, waxed canvas is highly water resistant, and does a great job keeping contents dry from rain and shielded from the sloshing water in the bottom of a boat. However, care needs to be taken regarding the big main opening in case of a capsize. Pack liners and dry bags help gear secured, and protected, help keep a pack buoyant, and offer double insurance to keep your gear dry.

There is one universal truth in packing a canoe pack: everyone will have their own style, opinions and hard-earned lessons. To that end, we’ve picked a couple of our favorites.

Before you pack, find out what you’ve got with a gear explosion:

The gear explosion is vital. Start by clearing out a large space and laying out everything you plan on bringing plus all of the packs you’re considering to carry it. Arrange your gear by purpose (food, sleeping, cooking, emergency etc.), when you’ll need it on trail, durability (Is it crushable? Does it need to stay dry or can it get wet?) and packability/texture/softness. The gear explosion is most helpful for auditing your equipment, deciding what to bring and what not to bring, and helps you ensure that when you decide to leave your extra undies at home, you aren’t in fact leaving all your skivvies at home.

Packing should be done with a preference for comfort of carrying but with a mind toward how soon you’ll need the gear. Emergency equipment, communications, rain gear, cameras, daytime snacks, and other grab-on-the-go stuff should be kept accessible, either on the top of a canoe pack just beneath the lid, or in a day pack like the Nessmuk, Cliff Jacobson or a Summit. Bonus: take a #gearshot of all your stuff!Cliff Jacobson Signature Pack


Step two of the gear explosion is to play Tetris. If it helps, turn on the song from the game to really get your brain in gear. With all of the packs laid out and all the gear that needs to go into them in one spot, you can begin to determine what will go into each pack. Some folks concentrate all their food in one pack, sleeping gear in another and kitchen gear into another, like our Camp Cook’s Kitchen. Some folks make each pack a potpourri of varied equipment. However you choose to disperse your gear is fine, just remember that if you put all the heavy gear into one pack, that will be “The Heavy Pack”. It can be helpful to evenly distribute heavy items amongst all the canoe packs. To that end, it can be very effective to group the food into different meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, whiskey etc.) and then put one of each bag into various canoe packs. If you do this, keep the lunch and snack bags easily accessible during the day and be sure to not contaminate the tent, sleeping gear or clothing with food scent. As you pack your portage packs, place soft but firm items nearer to the back and place the awkward, pointy things away from the back (and make sure the pointy things aren’t threatening to poke through your pack… we can repair it if it happens, but object poking through packs are not covered by our warranty). Concentrate the weight of the pack as close to the back as possible, and not on the very top or very bottom of the pack. The worst place for weight in a canoe pack is far from the back, this will make back heavy and unstable pack. Keep it centralized and you’ll be golden!

Packing a Canoe Pack Version 1: Cliff’s Way

This would be what canoe country guide and educator Cliff Jacobson calls a “belt and suspenders” method: Double bagging a canoe pack. Use one big heavy-duty plastic bag or dry sack for all contents, and pack all the individual contents inside into smaller plastic bags or dry bags. Heavy plastic bags of 4 mil work well, (so does a big dry bag of course)… a plastic garbage bag is going to be a disappointing, fragile alternative to a quality, dedicated pack liner.Pack Liner

Cliff goes on to advocate for a horizontal pack method, where long gear like sleeping bags, tents and sleeping bags parallel the top and bottom of the bag. This lets the pack adjust to the curve of your back. More information on this carry style can be found via

Packing a Canoe Pack Version 2: Double-barrel Dry Bags

A medium-sized dry bag is excellent for storing a single person’s personal clothing and sleeping gear for a canoe trip. It’s just the right size for a sleeping bag, the essential clothes, warm layers, sleeping layers etc.; in other words, the soft things. Recent, highly-technical sleeping pads fit nicely as well, but if you’ve got more traditional foam or self-inflating pads, they fit in with the scheme too, just not in the dry bag itself.

Once you’ve got a medium dry bag packed, it will take up roughly 1/2 of a standard canoe pack like the Old No. 7. Have two people pack their own dry bags with this method and you’ll have two soft, firm cylinders. Place them lengthwise into the pack, with the bottoms down in the bottom of the pack, close to the corners, and the dry bag handles toward the top, making two vertical columns. It can help to put a soft layer (tarps work great!) between the dry bags and the backstrap side of the pack to make it a bit more comfortable.

Next, fill in the voids around the dry bags with all the extra gear, keeping the dry bag cylinders upright as you pack larger pieces of other gear next, and work toward the smaller things. Keep heavier objects as centered and close to the back of the pack as possible and be careful not to place hard or lumpy objects between the dry bags and your back. This method resembles the feel of an external frame pack when complete and generally makes for a very solid, stable pack that’s surprisingly comfortable. Depending on the size of the pack and the gear, it may be incompatible with portaging a canoe at the same time if the pack gets too tall.

Packing a Canoe Pack Version 3: TableTop Method

Lay the pack on a table or the ground, on its shoulder straps. It seems strange, but you’ll be able to pack tighter than loading from the top down. Place your pack liner or gear in dry bags into the pack. Stack contents inside as the pack is laying down, and fill the space, like loading a shelf. Seek out voids between layers and along the edges, fill ‘em with small items. This method encourages a flat back and puts a different perspective on the whole experience.

Frost River waxed canvas and wool in a snowy spring campsite. Photo by David Hoole.
Frost River waxed canvas and wool in a snowy spring campsite. Photo by David Hoole.

Other considerations

  • Tent. If space is an issue, consider breaking up the tent, rain fly, and poles to stow individually.
  • Consider carrying two medium packs rather than one giant pack. That way one pack gets sealed and left alone during the day. The other pack contains snacks, water, a filter, sunscreen, fishing tackle, and gets regular use throughout a day’s paddle. If you load the sealed pack to create a flat top, you can wear one pack and stack the second pack on top of the first. This system is easier than a pack on the front on rooty, rocky ground because you can see where you’re going.
  • Pack it, and reduce what gets hand-carried. If everything goes in a pack it reduces chances to lose items. In a perfect portaging world, paddles and fishing poles would be the only items to get hand carried.
  • Everyone should carry what they are responsible for and not leave stuff behind.
  • Keep rain gear handy at the top of a pack.
  • Stuff wet or dirty items between the pack liner and the pack: Grill top for camping in the Quetico or elsewhere that fire grates aren’t provided/mandated, wet rain gear, or that t-shirt that was still hanging on the clothes line when it started to rain. All this wet, messy gear can be isolated to keep other gear dry and clean. Be careful not to poke the grate through the pack liner though!
  • Keep the boat “ship shape”. Keep packs buckled down and secured when on the move. All that waterproofing is lost if your stuff escapes from an open pack. Have a spot for all your gear, and get it set before you leave on a portage. Portage trails are a lot less work if you’re organized, packed well, and carry a positive attitude along with your trusty canoe pack.

Canoe travel in the wilderness is rugged, strenuous, and not for the faint of heart. Please don’t try to hold us responsible if you aren’t physically up for the job. Get fit before a big trip, clear it with the Doc if you’re concerned, and know your limits and the capabilities of your traveling mates. The benefits found in wilderness for humans is very important. Get out and experience it as much as you can. Introduce a friend to the woods, practice leave no trace camping, and get out into quiet, natural places whenever possible.

Paddling in to meet Dave and Amy Freeman on the May 2016 Wilderness Year Resupply. Photo by Alex Messenger
Paddling in to meet Dave and Amy Freeman on the May 2016 Wilderness Year Resupply. Photo by Alex Messenger

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Top Spots to Climb in Duluth

Approaching the old rail tunnel near Ely's Peak in Duluth with a Frost River Arrowhead ECO 15. Photo by Alex Cole.

Duluth is known

for its beautiful parks, majestic shoreline, delicious foods, quality handmade goods, access to Lake Superior’s North and South Shores, the Arrowhead Region, the Iron Range, and the Boundary Waters, its vibrant arts scene and mountain biking trails. The city bustles on the edge of Lake Superior and the St. Louis River, and with some 820 feet of elevation change between the lake and high country like Hawk’s Ridge and the airport, Duluth is aptly known as “the San Francisco of the Midwest.” All that elevation change, and the steep undulation of exposed bedrock, brings with it great opportunities for rock and mixed climbing and now Duluth is becoming a destination for climbing too.


Through the work of volunteers like folks on the Duluth Climbers Coalition (DCC), MN Land Trust, the leaders, city council and people of Duluth and generous donors, there has been a lot of development and refinement of climbing opportunities in just the last few years, with even more in the works.

Within Duluth and in nearby parks, are opportunities for great sport climbs, ice climbs, mixed climbs in both trad top-serviced routes. The DCC, a nonprofit 501(c)3 advocacy organization, works to “secure and preserve access to climbing crags located within the city of Duluth, and to promote quality climbing opportunities for participants of all ages and abilities and across all climbing disciplines.”

“A lot of people think of Duluth as the gateway to the climbing on the North Shore,” said David Pagel, a board member with the DCC, “we’ve got this well-known climbing with Tettegouche State Park and up in The Domes and areas like that. There’s great climbing up there, but in the last couple years, climbing in Duluth itself has really taken off, and to the point where now… Duluth is a destination in its own right, especially when you put it in combination with some of the other outdoor recreational opportunities that are being developed here: the mountain biking, the skiing… you name it! Climbing is just another brick in the wall when it comes to the amazing and, really, destination-worthy opportunities that Duluth has for outdoor recreation.”

DCC-Rendezvous-PosterThis weekend, the DCC will be hosting their summer climbing rendezvous “Flock to the Rock!” at Ely’s Peak. The event is open to families, and climbers of all ages, skill levels and disciplines. DCC will provide equipment and free certified instruction. It’s a great way to get out on the local crag with professionals who know it well.

One of the biggest changes in Duluth’s climbing scene in the past few years is the recent approval of Quarry Park. It’s Duluth’s newest city park and has a major climbing component, while also being home to hiking trails, and other proposed amenities such as disc golf and picnic areas.

“In a year and a half,” said Pagel, “the fact that we’ve gone from an abandoned industrial site that was half private land and half county forfeit property, and now it’s a brand new city park is pretty incredible.”

“It’s always been a destination for really interesting and difficult ice and mixed climbing,” said Pagel, “but now with the [ice]

A day at the crag at Ely's Peak in Duluth with a Frost River Arrowhead ECO 15. Photo by Alex Messenger
A day at the crag at Ely’s Peak in Duluth. Photo by Alex Messenger

farming system that will be employed there within the next couple years, it will also be a premiere destination for beginners and feature a lot more moderate terrain The ice season will also last a lot longer because we’ll be able to create ice on these shadowed walls that are in there. So you put all that together, the incredible ice and mixed climbing lines that already exist and the stuff people have been doing for decades in there, … and the fact that it’s all in a city park so there’s no longer an access issue… this is really going to be the crown jewel in

Duluth… for winter climbing.”

Most of the climbing sites in Duluth have good access, with walk-ins as short as ten feet to roughly a quarter-mile at Ely’s Peak. For hauling gear to the crag, consider some reliable waxed canvas built just down the street at Frost River. “The Arrowhead ECO works pretty well,” said Alex Cole from Frost River Trading Co., “You don’t really want a lot of pockets with climbing, you kind of just want to throw gear in. The ECO has the pockets for a water bottle… and then with the straps over the top, you can actually strap your rope down to the top of the pack.”

397 Arrowhead 15 Eco by Frost River, a roll top day pack built by hand in Duluth, MN from waxed canvas, premium leather and solid brass hardware. Guaranteed for life.
397 Arrowhead 15 Eco by Frost River.

The next time you’ve got the itch to climb a pitch, hang out and boulder, (sea kayak, mountain bike, run, hike, camp, canoe… etc.) think of Duluth, MN, USA. When you come by, be sure to stop and visit us at Frost River: the coffee’s always on and we offer free workshop tours whenever we’re open.

Our top picks for climbing in Duluth:

  • Outdoor in Summer: Ely’s Peak has great cliffs made up of the same type of rock that is found at Taylor’s Falls Minnesota in a beautiful secluded location south of Duluth on the Superior Hiking Trail and overlooking the St Louis River Valley.
  • Bouldering: Whopee Wall just a few blocks from Frost River at First Street and Piedmont. “It’s a big boulder in the middle of the city…” said Cole, “and it’s actually got some harder routes on it. There’s two sides to it, there’s the first ave side and the piedmont side, and the piedmont side is a little bit taller and actually gets up to about a 5.11 in difficulty. The other side is only about 25 feet long and it’s a little bit easier.”
  • Ice and Mixed: Quarry Park. Located just west of Frost River, below Skyline Parkway near Brewer Park and between 46th Ave West and 59th Ave West.
  • Indoor: Vertical Endeavors, located in Adventure Zone in historic Canal Park, is open year-round and features lots of top rope climbs, Auto Belays, bouldering, hand-carved cracks and sport lead climbing. Students at College of St. Scholastica and UMD have access to great climbing walls on campus. More information through the links above.

Information on the Duluth climbing scene and other climbing opportunities Duluth has to offer can be found at and the DCC website.

The Frost River Briefcase Display at Frost River Trading Co. 1910 W Superior St. Duluth, MN with Taylor's Falls Painting.
The Frost River Briefcase Display at Frost River Trading Co. 1910 W Superior St. Duluth, MN with Taylor’s Falls Painting.



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Why Made in USA Matters

Sewing waxed canvas shoulder bags at the Frost River shop in Duluth, MN USA

Our country was built on our ability to make what we needed. It’s part of our history, our independence, and everything we’ve done Riveting a D-ring on a waxed canvas bag at the Frost River shop in Duluth, MN USAand accomplished since. We’ve been able to make what we needed and make it well, in some cases, the best. That craftiness is part of our identity; we’re a country of thinkers, builders, collaborators and makers. Recent history, however, has us outsourcing a portion of our national pride as we hire others to make goods for us. But lately, there’s been a resurgence of that pride, the sense of quality, community, and accomplishment that comes from local goods. People across the country and around the world are again appreciating and supporting the quality of goods made in this country… and for good reason, we really do make good stuff here! Around the Frost River shop, we’re happy for the American-Made movement, excited to be part of the wave of well-crafted made in USA goods and the benefits that it brings to us, to our partners, and to our customers.

What sets American-Made apart?

Frost River Patched hoodie in the Frost River store. Made in USA apparel with the right blend of cotton and polyester for comfort and wearability.
Frost River Patched hoodie in the Frost River store. Made in USA apparel with the right blend of cotton and polyester for comfort and wearability.

It’s the right way for us. We couldn’t imagine anyone else making Frost River gear. We take pride in what we make and take care of our team. American manufacturing must meet industrial environmental standards to help reduce pollution, labor laws to keep workers safe, ensure kids aren’t building bags, and promote safe working conditions. Energy costs and impacts are reduced when finished goods don’t need to transported across oceans, only to be shipped over and over. The American economy gets a bigger boost when products are built here, bought here, and money is re-invested in our local economy.

Manufacure-Hoole-IMG_1531-detail-sewA 2013 Time Magazine article states that “American workers are busy making things that customers around the world want to buy — and defying the narrative of the nation’s supposedly inevitable manufacturing decline,” it goes on to cover the bottom line, “Every $1 of manufacturing activity returns $1.48 to the economy”.  At Frost River, 100% of the manufacturing of our packs and bags happens here in Duluth, Minnesota USA. It’s important to us, we take pride in building the best bags around and wouldn’t have it any othStrap Detail Hoole IMG_1418 canoe packer way.

Sure, workers outside the US could build bags kind of like what we make at Frost River; the materials and designs are simple, tried and true, traditional, un-complicated. We don’t make technical packs, with micro-porous nano-fibers in twenty different colors, and there are very talented sewers all over the world. Making everything here though, at the tip of Lake Superior, under one roof does allow us to offer better bags. We don’t deal in orders for hundreds and thousands of units for Q4 delivery, we handcraft small batches by hand. Having our own manufacturing operation affords us total control of the process. We can refine designs, adjust styles, customize packs, offer add-ons, and variations for straps and pockets. Building the bags ourselves and knowing how a bag is made means we can take it apart, make repairs with patches and new components, and get it back out in the world working as a trusty bag should.

Hand pounded harness rivets permanently attach leather shoulder straps to a Frost River Canoe Pack. All Frost River designs are made in Duluth, MN USAManufacturing independence allows us to control our supply chain, what goes into our Reliable Softgoods. The raw materials we use are specifically chosen for premium quality. Our field tan waxed canvas is made by the seventh generation of the Martin family in New Jersey. Frost River leather comes from the hard working Minnesotans at the S.B. Foot Tannery in Red Wing and comes to us in full hides. We get our solid brass buckles and hardware from Chicago, webbing from New York, buckskin from Wisconsin and possibly the most important…. our coffee is roasted down the street, by the folks at Duluth Coffee Co.

We put pride and integrity into each Frost River pack and bag. Each artisan builds our bags from start to finish, not piecemeal, part, assembly line robotaton-style. At the end of the day, each craftsperson can point to a set of bags and say, “I built those.” We’re proud to keep a craft alive, building our reliable softgoods the best way possible, blending time-tested materials with modern and traditional techniques, offering a lifetime guarantee to stand behind everything we make. There are easier ways to make things, less expensive materials, places where it’s cheaper to have someone else do our work for us, but this is the right way to build Frost River gear. It’s not easy being American manufacturers, but it’s worth it for us as a business, for you, for the bags, and for all of us in this country— helping to keep our neighbors working and our country strong and independent in a global economy.

Happy Independence Day, and thanks for supporting businesses making good stuff right here, in America. Cheers! 

Some of the Frost River Makers with some of the packs and bags they've helped create


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Traveling Duluth in Early Summer

A Frost River load of Canoe Packs in a red wood-canvas canoe in front of the Duluth Lift Bridge as seen from the harbor side on Lake Superior.

Summertime in Duluth means a lot of things, beautiful views, invigorating swimming, amazing events, delicious food, refreshing beer and interesting weather. We’ve seen it all, from when we were the hottest spot in the US to when we were swimming in Lake Superior with ice floes in early June. Here are a few things to watch out for, and some ways to be prepared for the summer in Duluth.

Bring layers. Always bring a jacket, bonus to bring a rain jacket. Weather can change quickly and dramatically in Duluth. Just driving up the hill away from the lake, or moving from the harbor to the lake itself or east to west along Duluth can change the temperature, precipitation, fog and overall weather drastically. Be prepared for it and you’ll be happy.

Frost River Trading Co. with storm clouds

Speaking of fog, it can be foggy any time of year in Duluth. You can go to bed with beautiful clear skies and wake up to a thick, moody blanket of gray. Turn on your headlights when the fog is heavy, take it slow, and watch for deer. Sometimes if it’s foggy on one end or one side of town, you can get out of the fog just by driving up or down, towards or away from the lake. It’s amazing how different the weather can be just beyond Spirit Mountain, just up the North Shore, or inland heading toward the Iron Range.

Sunshine: Up north in Duluth, we get some pretty intense sun. Even though Lake Superior might be around 40 degrees and the breeze is cool, the sun is still intense, so it’s important to cover up and use sunscreen. Get the right breeze on a warm day though on Park Point Beach and you’ll think you’re somewhere near the equator, not 46.5˚ north.

Rain and Storms. If there are storms in the mix, they can strike hard and fast. Be ready if the weather is looking gloomy. When pressure and storm systems hit Lake Superior, they tend to react. Not always, though, do they drop rain and send sparks of lightning cracking across the sky, sometimes, a storm will come up to the lake and evaporate. Prepare for anything!

Exploring the hidden places in Duluth with the Arrowhead Rolltop Pack
Exploring the hidden places in Duluth with the Arrowhead Rolltop Pack

Waterproof gear. With the wide range of weather possibilities, you’ll want to make sure that you and your gear are protected. An umbrella is great, but we like the combo of umbrella with rain jacket and rain pants for when it really pours. To keep your gear in good shape, and your library book from curling like a pine cone in a fire, haul your stuff in some reliable softgoods like our North Bay Daypack or Brighton Beach Tote. The waxed canvas sheds rain like a champ, and keeps the water out.

Specialized Equipment: No matter the weather, given the high number of quality breweries in town, you’ll want to carry our Double Growler Pack. The double-wide design and padded divider makes hauling two growlers, both from one brewery, or two growlers from different breweries a breeze. Your beer will appreciate staying cold and protected in the foam-padded pack, and your arms will appreciate not having to carry them!


Made for carrying craft beer in 64 oz. Growler bottles, our Growler Packs could be called a dream come true for beer fans.

Have fun, and be sure to stop into Frost River Trading Co. whenever we’re open for a cup of coffee, free workshop tour and to chat about your next adventure. Cheers, and we’ll see you in Duluth!


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Fishing the BWCAW Canoe Country- Where to Go?


“The gods do not deduct from a man’s allotted span the hours spent in fishing.”

-Ancient Babylonian proverb

Taking the sentiment one step further… time spent fishing in wilderness may even add to an anglers allotted span! Canoe country fishing, especially in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park contains fishing possibilities that are almost unrivaled.


Knife Lake Smallmouth-HooleDSCN2045There’s so much connected water:

Rivers, lakes, wetlands, and portages create a pathway of possibilities for fishing adventure. It is a whole system of navigable canoe routes, and most of those waterways are home to fish.

Reduced fishing pressure:

With the BWCAW and Quetico being designated wilderness areas, there are fewer motors, cabins, resorts, docks, or manmade structures, if any, in the wilderness area. It’s tougher to get to, and therefore has fewer anglers.

Great habitat = More fish:

With the deep, clean water, superb structure (stuff n’ things in the water for fish to live in and around), fewer anglers, and an effective practice of catch and release, you get a proven formula for excellent fishing.  

We recently posted an article with some tips on what sort of tackle to bring. In this post, we’ll be focusing on where to fish. There is decent fishing in most any canoe country lake, though some are better than others.

Quetico Lake Trout-Hoole-IMG_0228If you’re looking to make your next paddle trip one to remember for great fishing, The Boundary Waters Journal and the network at are excellent resources. So are the outfitters in Ely, Grand Marais, along the Gunflint Trail, and other spots along the edge of the Boundary Waters. They are generous with information, will rent nice canoes (and any other gear you need), and can even fully outfit or provide a guide for your trip. Ask the experts, they’re ready to help. Specifically, if you’re looking for Frost River gear available at your outfitter, check out Piragis Northwoods Company in Ely, MN and Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply in Grand Marais, MN. The MN DNR’s LakeFinder database is useful as well. Type your lake in to their tool to see what fish species naturalists have netted there.

With the right gear in your kit, some marks on your maps, and some pep in your paddle… the next question is where to go once you’re in the maze of bays, inlets, and islands. Some of the best fishing advice, stuff from the old-timers, is to aim for the wind. Catching fish in a “walleye chop” is legendary (and often true). The wind will push the floating and submerged debris to one end of the lake. That brings the baitfish, and they bring in the predator fish (the ones we’re looking for!). Depending on time of year, water temperature, and spawning condition, the fish will be at different depths, but it’s usually best on the windy end of the lake, near an island, rock pile, whatever… try to fish in the wind (wearing PFDs of course). Jigs with twister tails or live bait is usually the right tool for the job here. Trolling a diving crankbait between jigging spots and while on the move around the lake. Here’s a good book on catching walleye from a canoe.

You’ll also need a bag to carry all your fishing essentials, and you’re in luck! Our canoe packs, once stuffed, often provide just enough extra space for a slim tackle box. We have canoe bags to store tackle and other sundries in the bow, on a thwart, or under a seat. Our Creek and River Bank Tackle boxes have a wealth of capacity and flexibility, with a removable insert divider and side pockets.

Grand-Marais-Tackle-IMG_4919Some of our favorites though for canoe country fishing trips are the Grand Marais Mail Bag and Little Marais Messenger Bag. They’re big enough to bring a box of jigs, a couple bags of tails, and another box (or two) with some crankbaits, spoons, and topwater lures. There’s even room for a fillet knife, sharpening stone, and a stringer. A jaw spreader also comes in handy for removing hooks from the tooth-filled jaws of the northerns.

Practicing careful catch and release is imperative to keeping the fishery healthy in the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Keep the fish in the water as much as possible, hang onto them— don’t let ‘em flop around in the bottom of the boat, and consider using barbless hooks no matter where you are. Even if you lose a few as they throw a hook, there are plenty more where that came from.

Feeling the pull of a lively fish at the end of a line is a reward like nothing else, and even better yet to savor a meal of fresh fish in your canoe camp.

Ever tried bacon wrapped walleye? Bring some toothpicks! Bacon wrapped Walleye-Hoole-IMG_0262Be responsible with your harvest though, choose your meal wisely, practice effective catch and release, don’t kill more fish than you can eat in a day, and throw back more than you keep. It’s an ecosystem that, when treated right, can keep getting better all the time.

Come up and see us at Frost River for a Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness permit, we’re an issue station, and we’d love to tell you more about adventuring in canoe country.

Happy fishing and good paddling to you, and keep in mind that time spent fishing does a person good!

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Wilderness Year Resupply

Paddling in to meet Dave and Amy Freeman on the May 2016 Wilderness Year Resupply. Photo by Alex Messenger

We weren’t thinking about the possibility of snow…

cold, moose or even campfire when we reached the end of the road and the wide sandy landing at entry point #39: Baker Lake. We were thinking about how quiet it was. When we’d pulled the keys out of the ignitions, the hubbub of the office and city, and the whirr of things spinning, wind blowing and engines combusting suddenly stopped.

The Frost River Van on the way to the landing.
The Frost River Van on the way to the landing.

We’d met up at Brighton Beach in Duluth at five that morning, and left in a cool wet drizzle in the deep blue of pre-dawn light. Atop the bowered Frost River van were a pair of bright red canoes, one kevlar-carbon-high-speed-three-seater, and one traditionally-built wood-canvas two-seater, both beautiful and both eager to get on the water.  We turned left at Tofte and drove fifteen miles down the Sawbill Trail toward the heart of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Signs dotted the side of the road, warning of smoke from prescribed burns, and we followed in the wake of a large light-green Forest Service Fire Pickup as we meandered our way up the gravel of the Sawbill. When we reached a black scar of scorched earth and forest, the truck lumbered off down a side road and we continued on. We turned right down an even-narrower road known as The Grade, past the gritty remains of snowbanks, and the thick green tufts of moss and tendrils of beard lichen hanging like Spanish Moss from the boughs of still trees.

In a non-descript part of the road, before it crossed over a stream, was the turnoff for Baker Lake, unmarked from where we came. We turned down it and felt as if we’d been swallowed up by the pines. After a long and graceful curve past an empty parking lot and recently-built cement privy, we found the wide sandy landing and the beckoning stillness of Baker Lake in early morning light. Ducks did fly-bys, an eagle soared, birds sang, and peepers peeped as a welcome to the wilderness. Lynn watched as fish rose on the still waters, defiantly tempting us two days before fishing opener. We loaded a small mountain of waxed-canvas-clad gear into the canoes and were off, underway, on a trip to resupply an expedition spending a year in the wilderness.

The Frost River Crew, ready to start their Freeman Resupply.
The Frost River Crew, ready to start their Freeman Resupply.

We weren’t exactly packing light. In addition to our two Campfire Tents and Whelen Lean-to, we had food and supplies for a whole other party. In one Old No. 7 pack, we’d managed to fit 90 pounds of gear destined for Dave and Amy Freeman. This accounted for roughly two weeks of their 365 day journey, and that didn’t include the blocks of cheese. Those were in another piece of waxed canvas kit, our Camp Cook’s Kitchen. All-told, we had ten packs… not what you’d bring on a personal trip, mind you. As a manufacturer of gear, we’d taken seriously the opportunity to test new designs and materials, while putting our old designs through their paces. We brought as much as we could to drag through the water, lash to trees and, apparently, freeze solid (but we didn’t know that yet). All we knew was that we were going in to see Dave and Amy, bring them their gear, treat them to some beer from Bent Paddle Brewing Co. and spend our days leading up to fishing opener with a pair of explorers who were coming to call this wild place home.

Feeling the pull of current, and the glide of the boat, we paddled up river.

We floated under the branches of lichen-covered trees, leaning far over the water, and ducked beneath the shining strands of spider webs.

Paddling into the BWCAW with a full load of Frost River USA made waxed canvas on the Freeman Resupply trip May 2016.
Paddling into the BWCAW with a full load of Frost River USA made waxed canvas on the Freeman Resupply trip May 2016.

We felt lucky, privileged to be paddling such nice canoes. Wood canvas felt right on a woodland waterway. It’s a special feeling, too, knowing the maker who built the boat with natural materials. It all works together to create a unique sense of symbiosis— cedar, canvas, woods, water, people… all working together. We’d had the chance to witness the boat being made from the ground up in our shop in Duluth, MN, and had faith in the builder. He knows boats, it’s what he does, and this one was a thing of beauty: A Stewart River Saganaga, made for heavy loads on big water. We had a heavy load, but weren’t on big water. We were paddling up a wide river system that turned to lakes here and there, then back to rivers. It was shallow and rocky, we all watched hard in the dark water, ready to avoid rocks.

The deep green and black of the inside of our Northwind 18 from Northstar Canoes, with its laminate wood thwarts, yoke and seat, offered a fantastic contrast in earthy tones to our heritage waxed canvas packs. The scene was perfect, new with old, traditional with modern. The sides of the boat glowed red with the rich hue of our custom gel coat.

Suddenly there was a crunch. The two paddlers were thrown forward off their seats as the canoe hit a dark rock hidden just beneath the water’s surface. The bow skittered off the obstacle, but momentum kept the boat sliding forward. Little flecks of the gel coat drifted off the rock. Our new boat had been initiated.

With water high, we were able to navigate past the next portage, paddling carefully up a V in the rapids and into our destination at Kelly Lake. A short paddle around points and bays took us into the body of the lake.

David from Frost River checks the maps before embarking on the Temperance River for the Wilderness Year resupply of Dave and Amy Freeman in May 2016.
David from Frost River checks the maps before embarking on the Temperance River for the Wilderness Year resupply of Dave and Amy Freeman in May 2016.

Nearly too soon we spied our destination. It had just occurred to us there was nothing we’d rather be doing, a group of companions from work, paddling in the Boundary Waters.  We’re normally indoors, making, selling, and promoting canoe packs and canvas bags. On this day, we were outside, in a big woods, united in a mission of delivering supplies into the wilderness. We moved along, and communicated well, following maps, taking bearings. We were jovial, talking and joking. “They can probably hear us from here” one of us said. They, explorers Dave and Amy Freeman whose mission was to share the beauty and mystique of a year in the wilderness and whose food and supplies we were carrying. We’d checked their Spot dispatch and mapped their GPS coordinates. We knew which campsite they were on and turned into the bay along the eastern shore. There, in the crook of the lake and shielded by a peninsula to the north, was the subtle yellow shade of Kevlar, the dull grey of fabric.

Then two figures appeared.

We exchanged quiet greetings, not wanting to break the spell of the woods. “How was your paddle?” Amy asked as she worked the controls of a small camera pointed in our direction. Almost too short, we told her, each of us wishing we could be in the woods longer, feel the strain of the hard, rewarding work of travel.

We disembarked and joined them at their little camp, shaking hands and exchanging hugs as some of introduced ourselves, while others said hello to old friends.

Enjoying Bent Paddle Beer on Kelly Lake with Dave and Amy Freeman.
Enjoying Bent Paddle Beer on Kelly Lake with Dave and Amy Freeman.

They embodied a belonging in the woods. In the sunshine of their canoe country campsite, meeting this pair, these people living in nature for a prolonged period of time, was magical. Each month or so of their year in the wilderness, the Freemans get resupplied and a chance to spend time with the people who bring them supplies. It’d be a difficult, but rewarding life. Just think of the things to do, see and observe.

“Where’s Tank?” we asked, inquiring about their canine companion.

He laid asleep not far from the forest service fire grate, not caring to get up and greet the new canoers. “When we first get to a campsite,” Amy said, “he’ll explore and you’ll see him just running back and forth to look around, and then he settles in… like that.” She finished, gesturing to the sleeping dog.

We checked to see if they’d eaten breakfast (it wasn’t even late enough yet for brunch). They had.

“Do you want some Dreamcicles?” Alex asked.

Amy stopped in her tracks and turned “Dreamsicles?” she said wide-eyed, an incredulous smile on her face.

“I brought Dreamcicles,” Alex said.

“…We always have room for dreamsicles!” she said, laughing.

“I figure we should probably have them before they melt,” he said.

They’d already melted. But ice cream in the woods, however messy, is a treat not to be missed. “It’s my number one trail craving,” Alex said, “Followed closely by salad.” At this, he pulled a tupperware of fresh garden greens, tomatoes, and croutons, with a balsamic vinaigrette.

“We always like fresh vegetables,” they said, taking the container with deep thanks.

Talking with Dave and Amy Freeman at a Kelly Lake BWCAW Campsite during their Wilderness Year.
Talking with Dave and Amy Freeman at a Kelly Lake BWCAW Campsite during their Wilderness Year.

Dave and Amy were eager to get at the contents of the 90 pound pack. Not ravenous, but it was like Christmas in a way. It was mainly nourishing food, but there were goodies as well. Dave got his fishing gear, Amy got her trusty hat. We were pleased to be their couriers and help keep them happy, healthy, and content in the woods.

Dave and Amy have used social media well with a strong and growing presence. If you are not following them on Instagram, you’re missing out. It’s worth it to start an account just to see what is going on from day to day in the wilderness. Dave and Amy are documenting, exploring, guiding, hosting, and showing their love for what is at stake if the area adjacent the wilderness is developed for new types of mining. In some areas of the BWCA, they pick up cell signals, but in most, they use a small satellite communication device to keep connected with the folks helping run their expedition, and the world at large.

We shared coffee, food, and drinks, connected, and conversed in our little camp. We set up our canvas baker style Campfire Tents and Dave checked out the awning with his chair. It seemed to pass inspection. We brought out a care package from Epicurean in Duluth, and Dave cut salami and cheese on a new topographic cutting board, looking past slices of cheddar to examine the contours of western Brule Lake and the Temperance Lakes, a mere five miles to our north.

Dave and Amy Freeman measure aspects of the water quality in most of the lakes they visit during their Wilderness Year.
Dave and Amy Freeman measure aspects of the water quality in most of the lakes they visit during their Wilderness Year.

We went out for a paddle to measure aspects of the water quality and collect firewood for the night. On nearly every lake they visit, the Freemans use dedicated sensors and tools to test the different aspects of water quality, dutifully recording the results onto a slip of paper on a clipboard. We watched in fascination as they dipped disks, sensors and other tools into the dark, chilly water. Amy leaned forward to lower a tool into the water. She held it close to the surface, when ‘crack!’

“Well, there goes another clipboard,” she said, not moving the tool. When she’d finished taking the reading, she flipped the board to examine where her life jacket had split the back. After the wilderness year, their data will become part of a publicly available database, with access to scientists and students alike.

Packing up the instruments, we turned again to firewood. The area we were camped in was part of the devastation of the 1999 blowdown. It’s not always easy to spot, it’s patchy and has grown back in 17 years, but finding firewood is simple. Collecting firewood away from campsites and shore helps to reduce degradation around the site while a campfire does wonders for the cheer of an evening campsite. We brought back the fuel, lit a fire and added to the ambiance as nothing else would.

In bags, we hydrated our food from Cache Lake, cooking them over our fire. The sloppy joes with pan fried cornbread were a favorite. We stayed up late, talking, socializing, sampling some fresh-poured craft beer from Bent Paddle Brewing Co. and enjoying being together in the woods. Long after dark, we went to our respective tents, the Freemans to their lightweight nylon lean-to with mosquito netting, and the rest of us to our pair of canvas tents. It was a unique camp, an odd, but dependable collection of shelters.

It was seasonal, but chilly, and overnight, temps dropped below freezing.
Dave Freeman tests the lower awning of the Two Person Campfire Tent and it meets his approval.
Dave Freeman tests the lower awning of the Two Person Campfire Tent and it meets his approval.

The morning campfire felt good and we used it and the flame from the Freeman’s little wood-burning cook stove to cook more Cache Lake for breakfast and to boil water for Coffee.

Even though it was breezy and the grey skies were spitting snow, we organized for a day trip upstream to explore the territory. The water of Kelly Lake was cold as some of us wet-footed the canoes into the lake. Some, the smart ones, were in rubber boots, carefully avoiding a deluge should they wander to water too deep for the tops of their boots.

Up-river, we found Jack Lake and Weird Lake. Along the way, we paddled in our trio of boats, stopping to watch the quiet wanderings of some five moose through the gently falling snow. Their coats looked rough, an in-between amount of fur, not quite winter anymore, not fully summer. They each romped off into the trees, lingering just out of sight, but as we paddled past, we knew they were watching us.

A new Epicurean topographic map cutting board showing Brule and Temperance Lakes, just five miles north of where this photo was taken! We could have navigated with this board.
A new Epicurean topographic map cutting board showing Brule and Temperance Lakes, just five miles north of where this photo was taken! We could have navigated with this board.

On the way back, we parted with Dave and Amy for dinner. They’d moved their camp to a spot across the bay in preparation for their friends who would be visiting that evening.

Back at camp, we cooked a hearty dinner from Trailtopia, rejoicing in the fresh crunch of impeccably dehydrated broccoli and the surprisingly flavorful mix of curry. Our bellies full and our blood warmed by the food and the fire, we greeted Dave as he paddled through driving snow in a beautiful little solo kevlar canoe. We shared Bent Hop and Cold Press Black with him around the fire before he left to return to their camp and guests. We’d be paddling over to meet them before long.

Dave Freeman paddling a solo kevlar canoe through a snowstorm from the Frost River camp back to the Freeman camp on Kelly Lake.
Dave Freeman paddling a solo kevlar canoe through a snowstorm from the Frost River camp back to the Freeman camp on Kelly Lake.

After a short paddle, Dave turned back toward our camp, squinting against the snow squall. “Just be sure to only take one boat,” he said kneeling in the middle of the solo canoe “we’ve got a full camp.”  We acknowledged, ourselves not wanting to exceed the rules for maximum number of canoes at a site. He paddled off, nearly disappearing into the snowy lake.

Dave Freeman utilizes a small satellite communication device to interact with the world while being in the wilderness for a year.
Dave Freeman utilizes a small satellite communication device to interact with the world while being in the wilderness for a year.

We departed near dusk for their camp on the other side of the bay of Kelly Lake. We were excited to see them, but our camp was set, and it was cold. A couple of us had to put those cold wet shoes back on. It’d be worth it. The four of us climbed into the nearly-new Northwind, with only one duffer sitting on the sloshy floor. The three seats proved comfortable and effective, and with the three paddlers, the canoe shot through the snow and across the bay in no time.

“Ahoy!” David exclaimed from his seat on the hull as we approached shore at the Freeman camp. Dave was getting water, Amy was washing dishes. We came ashore and met three new guests to the Freeman camp. Dave and Amy had their tipi set up with a wood stove going. The new guests had a couple of stout tents. The snow was falling harder now, but the wind had calmed so the flakes fell slowly down and were starting to carpet the tents and canoes. It was a welcome site.

We visited and warmed in the tipi for an hour or so, talked of woods, water, canoe, and camp — along with importance of wilderness, canoe country grace, and preserving and protecting natural resources above and below ground. It was quiet talk, with the return of the wind stirring the water and the tipi walls. We reminisced on the paddle, the woods, seeing the moose, and times gone by, trips both recent and long passed— good things to think about around a fire.

Firelight discussion with Dave and Amy Freeman at Kelly Lake during their Wilderness Year.
Firelight discussion with Dave and Amy Freeman at Kelly Lake during their Wilderness Year.

When it was time, we left the warmth of the tent, and took a group photo in the snow. We departed, paddling through the wilderness in the dark below a waxing moon, with snow, and a little wind… it was amazing. With the campsite marked with a reflective tape, we had no trouble pointing in its direction. It was a beautiful night to paddle across a cold lake.

After landing the canoe, the snow eased. We started our own fire with the dry wood we’d collected earlier and enjoyed the last of the Bent Paddle. The warmth and the glow was welcoming, calming, an ancient feeling infused into humanity for thousands of years. As we stood in the firelight, it started snowing again.

Waking up to a layer of snow and ice at the Frost River Kelly Lake campsite on May 14th, 2016. A classic Minnesota fishing opener.
Waking up to a layer of snow and ice at the Frost River Kelly Lake campsite on May 14th, 2016. A classic Minnesota fishing opener.
The next morning, we woke to a thick coat of ice and snow.

Tyler, sleeping under the protection of the Whelen Lean-to, a structure open on one side, had gotten up twice during the night to stoke a fire that radiated into his little den. He’d slept well though, as had the rest of us.

Alex had to leave camp early. He and David had been the two foolish enough to wear wet boots, and he got up to find both boots and socks frozen solid. He tied them to a tree near shore and thawed them in the water while we brewed coffee. In short order, his gear was packed into a Nessmuk and Grand Portage in the wood canvas canoe and he was paddling off into the snow to say goodbye to Dave and Amy before heading back.

As Alex bobbed in the water off the landing at the Freeman’s camp, he waved and said to Dave, “I think it’ll be over before you know it.”

“I think you’re right,” Dave said.

Dave and Amy Freeman at their Kelly Lake Campsite on May 14, 2016
Dave and Amy Freeman at their Kelly Lake Campsite on May 14, 2016

The rest of us cooked more Cache Lake for breakfast and began to break down camp. Once the two tents, the tarp, the eight packs and the three men had been loaded into the Northwind it was rather barge-like, overloaded and sitting low in the water. We pushed off from our little camp into Kelly Lake.

With it being fishing opener in Minnesota, and snowing, we did as any good Minnesotans would, baited our lines and tossed the lures into the water as we made our way out from the magic of canoe country to head south.

Waking up to a layer of snow and ice at the Frost River Kelly Lake campsite on May 14th, 2016. A classic Minnesota fishing opener.
Waking up to a layer of snow and ice at the Frost River Kelly Lake campsite on May 14th, 2016. A classic Minnesota fishing opener.

The Freeman’s trip, though, won’t be over for another few months, until they come out in September 2016, after a full year spent in the BWCAW. We were honored to be able to participate in a small part of their Wilderness Year. You can read more about their trip by visiting their or

by David Hoole & Alex Messenger

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How to Care for Frost River Leather

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We pride ourselves on crafting rugged canoe packs, our big backpacks for carrying a camping kit from lake to lake in canoe country. Everything we make is built to those same standards. There’s unique character built into your bag, and with a little care, your waxed canvas and leather friend can be at your side, on your back, and in your canoe for years to come.

Clicking out S.B. Foot leather ovals for Frost River logos. After this step, the leather goes through several more passes, yielding smaller and smaller pieces until the leather scrap is minimal and no longer usable.
Clicking out S.B. Foot leather ovals for Frost River logos.

Our weather resistant waxed canvas has a proven reputation of performance over seven generations— it’s made to be outside. We pair this rugged, natural material with premium, full grain leather from the S.B. Foot Tannery in Red Wing, Minnesota. They’ve been making high quality leather and supplying Red Wing Shoes (the gold standard in work and outdoor boots) for more than a hundred years. Their leather is sturdy, trustworthy, and made by fellow Minnesotans.

For our buckskin on shoulder straps, mittens, choppers, and Canvas My State Gear, we use locally-sourced, deerhide buckskin leather. It’s naturally water-resistant, supple from the start, and breaks in beautifully.

A close examination of our leather will reveal natural textures, grain, scars, slight variances and blemishes that should not be seen as defects, but added character. We inspect each component throughout our production process, and carefully look over each product before we ship it out. Each bag is delivered to you with our assurance of quality and backed by our lifetime guarantee.

Frost River Buckskin Shoulder Strap Detail
Our buckskin padded shoulder straps really need to be felt to be believed. Heavy duty bridle leather and closed cell foam padding, wrapped in premium deerhide buckskin, they’re individual, one-of-a-kind, burly, and comfortable.

Here are some tips to keep your bag running in top shape for a lifetime.


Once you’re in from a trip, empty out your bag (and all your gear!) and let it dry out. Using a soft or medium bristle brush, remove any stuff that may have come back with you. Don’t use a metal brush, they’re too rough. An old tooth brush can help with the details. Use plain water, it works remarkably well on its own. Only use a small amount of non-detergent soap if the water and brush didn’t do the trick. If you use soap or need to re-wax high wear or weathered areas, you can get a tin of the original formula here. Don’t forget about the inside of your pack, turn the whole thing inside-out and be sure the interior reinforcements are clean. Then let it all dry out, inside and out.


Damp basements are a tough place for a canvas and leather bag to live. This environment breeds mold and mildew and you don’t want either of those around your pack. Don’t store your canoe pack or waxed canvas bag in your basement if it’s prone to those issues. Same goes for concrete, keep ‘em up off the garage floor. Hanging the packs or storing them on a shelf is a good way to keep your pack in good shape between excursions. Better yet, keep it partly loaded and ready to go!

Air dry

Heat guns, campfires, woodstoves, and even hair dryers are too aggressive for drying wet Frost River gear. They can cook and harden the leather… you don’t want that. Our waxed canvas and leather can take a substantial beating, come back looking fine, and last for years, so long as you treat them well (including not trying to dry them out too fast). We’ve had to repair bags that have suffered the wrath of too much heat. Please don’t do that to yours.

Treating leather

Use a pack awhile and the leather will need to be conditioned. There are a lot of different products available and even more philosophies on what’s best. We say: don’t overdo it. Test small, inconspicuous areas first— less is best. All our straps, handles, trims, reinforcements, and odds and ends, are conditioned and good to go when they leave our shop; they’re treated at the tannery. Leather needs be cared for and the heavy duty stuff that we use takes a while to break in, but you’ll be happy once it does!

Some conditioners will work better than others. Take care with load bearing straps so as not to over-treat and over-soften them. Shoe polish does well to condition leather without over softening like can happen with a big glob of mink oil. Several light coats are always better than saturating with lots of conditioner. Wipe off any excess and remember, less is best!

We carry a leather cream that’s been working well. It restores, waterproofs, and protects with a nice blend of conditioning and polish. Plus, it’s made in the USA and comes in a handy portable tin!

Color Bleed

Be careful mixing our natural materials with fancy, light colored clothes. The dyes, wax, and conditioners in our bags could transfer to clothing in certain conditions like heat, sweat, water, and friction. Once your gear is broken in, it should no longer be an issue. It doesn’t happen often, just know it could.

Frost River outdoor gear is tough. It’s guaranteed to last, and stand up to hard use outdoors, and, like anything worth keeping, it requires some care and cleaning to fulfill its potential and be with you for years of adventure… on and off the beaten path.

Happy trails and good paddling to you, we thank you for the support!

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Fishing in the BWCAW Canoe Country

Knife Lake on a fair weather paddling day

Paddling the pristine waters of canoe country leads a modern day voyageur through vistas of raw boreal beauty. Wilderness travel routinely tests and enhances a paddler’s character, it rewards with primitive adventure, and rejuvenates a soul with nature’s splendor. There are many benefits offered in a trip to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. But beyond the scenery above the surface, below the waterline lies some of North America’s premier fishing locations. There are a lot of fish in our northern canoe country, many are big, and often they are hungry!

canoe country fishing Hoole:Matthews DSCN2097

Many border country waterways contain what is referred to as the “Grand Slam” of sport fishing, where you can catch Walleye, Lake Trout, Northern Pike, and Smallmouth Bass all in a week-long canoe trip, or even the same day! Many species grow to trophy-size in several Boundary Waters lakes. Isolation, clean water, perfect habitat, and reduced angler pressure all lead to wonderful fishing possibilities in the Boundary Waters. If and when you go up there, you owe yourself a shot at hooking a lunker— you might just come back with a fish story for the ages.

Those fish don’t catch themselves though…. and you can only bring a limited amount of tackle and gear with you as you’ll often need to portage whatever you bring along. With no motors allowed in most of the wilderness, you must fish from a canoe or from shore. North of the border, on the Canadian side there’s no live bait allowed, and you can only use barbless hooks.

A canoe country walleye
A mid-size canoe country walleye

Jigs and twister tails rule the roost for traveling light on canoe country fishing trips. Simple and portable, they travel well, are simple to use, and inexpensive to replace when broken off. There are lots of rocks, submerged trees, and toothy Northern Pike up there. Keep an eye out for non-toxic, lead-free jig heads if you’re buying new ones… the lakes and wildlife would thank you.

An assortment of sizes should be in your tackle box, and 1/8 oz, 1/4, 3/8, and 1/2 oz will cover most conditions. With 8 or 10 of the two middle sizes and a couple of the bigger and smaller ones you should be set up for a week or so of fishing in changing wind, water current conditions, and depths. Jigs are made in a rainbow of colors, with all sorts of rattles, propellers, and zing-its on them. Plain jigs with a white head are usually the best (a painted eye may or may not help). The same goes for twister tails — simple is best. Bring single tails with fat bodies in an assortment of 3”, 4”, and 5” lengths. Again, white or light colors most resemble the baitfish you’re looking to mimic. Be sure to bring extra tails, they’ll get beat up from catching all those fish. The jigs work best for walleyes, but you’ll also pick up Smallmouth Bass, Northerns, and maybe a Lake Trout as well, though those brutes normally lurk in the deeper waters.

Sure… crankbaits, spoons, spinners, and plugs catch fish too, especially diving lures used while traveling from place to place. You’d be surprised where suspended fish will hit a lure while trolling back to camp. And there is something wholly spectacular about catching Smallmouth Bass on topwater baits, but pound-for-pound, the practically of jigs with twister tails present some of the best and safest options for fishing in canoe country.

The single hook simplicity of a jig is easier on fish and easier on you too. Fewer hooks make catch and release quicker and less stressful for the fish (many canoe country anglers don’t use a net). That also helps cut down on chances of catching yourself on a hook too!

You can get Boundary Waters permits at Frost River, learn more about planning your next adventure here. Keep an eye out for more tips on where to fish in the wilderness, coming up soon.

Happy Fishing to you!

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Start Planning a Road Trip

The Frost River van, loaded up with a beautiful wood-canvas solo canoe, and one of the Save the BWCA Signature Canoes on our way through the rockies on the 2015 Made in USA Road Trip.
The road trip: an escape, a sojourn, pilgrimage, rite of passage and an American pastime.

No matter where you live, a road trip can bring you to beauty you’ve never seen and reintroduce you to experiences and places you’d forgotten you knew. We encourage you to set aside time this summer to go exploring on four (or two) wheels, to get outside, go camping, glamping, hotel-hopping—however you do it, get out and see what there is to see. We’ve pulled together hard-earned lessons and our favorite accessories to make the great open road that much more enjoyable.Frost River Road Trip 2015 photo Alex Messenger-6864


Map it out:
Get together with your mates and pull out a map (yes, a paper one) that shows the whole area you’re going to visit. Use a pencil and mark your must-sees, want-to-sees and can-live-without-but-would-like-to-stop-at-if-you’re-close spots. Connect the dots and you’ve got the start to the order of your trip. There’s fewer buzzkills worse than backtracking, and getting the plan in place can help avoid that. Also: Buy an atlas, one of the big ones, with every state on it.

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Print out directions: It’s a great wide open out there, and hopefully you’re going places where phones won’t work (they’re some of the best and most scenic, after all). That means that you won’t be able to rely on your phone for directions. With your general route laid out, you can look up directions beforehand and print out the steps from Campsite A to Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower and finally Campsite B. Back in the day, you could have someone put together these directions for you. With the invention of the internet, you can make your own! Plus, with your map all marked up, you’ve got the rough directions right in front of you.


Get your Gear Sorted: Are you camping? Glamping? Peak-bagging? Hunting? Brewery-Frost River Road Trip 2015 photo Alex Messenger-2119hopping? Shopping? Canoeing? Biking? You’ll need to make sure you’ve got the right stuff to do the things you want. Racks, boxes and trailers add a lot of utility to your vehicle, and keep your options open. On the softer side, you’ll want packs and bags that give you enough utility for your adventures, and enough flexibility to go from one to the other. We suggest a reliable duffle/luggage piece for the larger things you keep in the car, but want mobile (think sleeping gear, extra shoes, clothes etc.). Take a look at the Flight Bag, Explorer Duffle and Laurentian Luggage. You’ll need a daypack or shoulder bag that’ll take you from alpine lakes, to deep forests and everything in between. Take a look at one of the packs in our Summit Series, the High Falls, Arrowhead, and Geologist. You’ll need all of the accouterment for camping too, if you’re so inclined. Check out our regal and timeless Campfire Tents if you’ve got car camping or Glamping in your future.


Bring the nicest camera you’ve got: You’ll want a photo album when you’re done. Don’t bring too much, but bring enough to capture all of your adventures. A phone will do a great job, but falls short in extreme-low-light. Stars are worth it just to look at, but if you want to get the Milky Way for your profile picture, bring something that was built for taking pictures. A GoPro is great for an action-packed (or decidedly low-key) road trip adventure.

The Frost River Campfire Tent in the dark in Sun Valley.
The Frost River Campfire Tent in the dark in Sun Valley.


Multiple Drivers: Have more than one driver and drive in shifts. The world is a big place, and roads only get you places so fast, so plan on being in the car and driving a lot. Even with the best laid plans and a patchwork of destinations along the road, you’ll be getting from point A to B over several hours, or an entire day. Switch off your drivers: it keeps you sane, and, most importantly, it keeps you safe.


Frost River Road Trip 2015 photo Alex Messenger-6555Seat Belts: This goes without saying, but buckle up. It’s easy, fast and it keeps you safe. Get in an accident without a belt and you’re likely to end up outside of the vehicle. We’re not prudes, we just want you to get home safe!


Cash Money: If you’re going with friends, figure out the finances first, decide if you’re rotating your gas fills, all going on one credit card and splitting it up later, pooling cash—whatever. If it’s not out in the open, you might be on the all-nighter drive home Sunday night before you’ve all got to pull double-shifts when you realize that Joe hasn’t spent a dime and thinks he won’t have to. Cover it early so there’re no hard feelings and no-one gets left high and dry.


The Summit Boulder Junction, by Frost River, at Yellowstone National Park on the Frost River Made in USA Road Trip.
The Summit Boulder Junction, by Frost River, at Yellowstone National Park.

National Parks Pass: The National Parks are great. The spaces they administer are some of the most beautiful in the country, and the hikes, trails and views are amazing. If you’re visiting more than one, buy a parks pass. It will save you a lot of money and hassle over the course of a trip. Plus, they’re good for a year, so you can get another trip or two out of it before it expires.


Food: Bring and eat healthy food. It’s easy to slip into poor eating habits on a road trip. Pack and buy fruit, eat salads, drink water – you’ll be glad you did.

Don’t Blink: It’ll be over before you know it, so grab your road trip by the horns and live it to the fullest!

Frost River Road Trip 2015 photo Alex Messenger-2023