When you think Frost River, you probably think premium…
…of the high quality, the meticulous construction, the no-nonsense function, the leather, the brass, and of course field tan waxed canvas. Frost River gear is easy to spot. There are so many nylon bags out there, in crazy configurations and colors. There are also many imitators— packs and bags that think because they look a bit like the real-deal that they just might be. But still, even with the imitators, it’s easy to spot a Frost River pack. There is a refinement, a utility, and a timelessness about what we build. That’s why we craft gear the way that we do. It’s not the easy way. Hardly. It’s the right way, the way it should be, and it’s hard work, which is why the finished product is so tough.
Our field tan waxed canvas is a marvelous material that works wonders in the outdoors, wearing hard and blending in. Our packs and bags are built to the standards of those who came before, and those rare few who rely on their equipment in both day to day and in the deep mystery of unknown wilds. The material, in its natural earth-toned color, has been around for years, earning a solid reputation of enduring prolonged use and rough treatment outdoors. It’s no sterile-lightweight-super-fiber. Our canvas comes from the earth, making a quiet statement of durability, great feel, and unique character. It’s tough, and provides a smooth feel while imbuing the quality and durability required for a lifetime of use. As you carry a waxed canvas bag it will subtly change over time, developing its own personality, a patina that is like a record of the experiences and adventures you’ve been through with your trusty bag.
Field tan is where it all started.
It’s the original, natural color for canvas packs and bags. Before industrial dies, bleaches, chemical blanches and tech-washes, the cotton fibers
were natural or naturally died, off-white or muted color. Canvas would gradually stain and discolor over time, and eventually, what started as off-white would fade and age to become a product of its lifetime— an amalgamation of the trips, falls, scrapes and adventures that created the eventual look and feel of a well-worn piece of equipment: field tan. We decided to start where all good packs end up, with that subtle, earthy field tan color. Over time, like all good gear should, our packs and bags age, polish and patina. The brass will glow, the leather will shine, and the field tan will be influenced by all the miles you’ve logged and the patches sewn on to cover those few missteps.
The color and canvas stands out in town, bringing a bit of the woods into the city and offering a quiet reminder of something that may have been forgotten in the hustle-bustle of our modern age. You’ll be rewarded as you carry the same reliable pack from your weekend adventure with you on Monday after brushing the woods duff off from a recent hike into the hinterlands.
Our gear is built to last a lifetime, to stand out through subtlety and the nature of high-quality materials and craftsmanship. A piece of distinction, merit and longevity speaks for itself. A Frost River pack is a bit like that; it doesn’t need to boast. But some folks have asked for a pop of color. We’ve done a few special runs and limited builds of Frost River gear in other colors when we’ve partnered with folks like Woolrich, Askov Finlayson, Westerlind, and our retail partners, always sewing with subtle earth tones — shades you’d find in nature. It’s important to us, because we at Frost River build reliable softgoods, gear that is grounded, sturdy, and usable outdoors, and the colors we choose should be too.
We love red! Our logo is red, our building is red, the company truck is called “Big Red,” Henry, the Frost River van, is covered in red (and field tan). It’s our other favorite color. We recently got ahold of some red waxed canvas and are offering a bit of it on a select few of our daypacks in a limited build, and we’ll be taking pre-orders through September 6th, 2016 for shipment in late September.
It’s fitting that this red, called “Old Glory”, was made to emulate the red stripes on American flags of olde; the stars and stripes is an important symbol for us as we build and manufacture in Duluth, MN, USA. In fact you’ll find a little flag on the taffeta of each of our packs, so you could say we’ve had red in all of our packs! When we saw this canvas, though, we knew we needed to add some to the packs for a little while at least.
“Old Glory” red is just the right shade to complement our reliable softgoods: Not too bright to be obnoxious in the woods, not too pink (nothing against pink, but we’ll never do pink packs… that’s just not right). The wax formula in this beautiful red is the same as our field tan, a proprietary compound infused in a super-secret process by the folks at Fairfield Textiles in New Jersey. It’s a deep, earthy red, a bit like the warm hue of a Norway Maple leaf with the sun coming through it. It works great with our field tan waxed canvas. And it’s only going to be available for a short time this fall. So act quick! Check out what we have to offer, pick a pack you like and get in on this limited edition offering. They won’t be offered for long, but just like all our Frost River gear, they are guaranteed to last a lifetime!
Thoughts on carrying a laptop in an everyday backpack
Scurrying across a ridge top or commuting around campus, an active person is going to need a trusty go-to pack from time to time. Wouldn’t it be great to have one bag to go from travel in the field and then off to school and into work? Waxed canvas keeps the weather out when outdoors, sheds spots and stains wherever you find them, wears well (it’s been called “tin cloth” because it’s tough like tin, some of the burliest stuff around a hundred years ago) plus it looks great. Our Field Tan waxed canvas is rugged yet stays professional, and gets better all the time, developing a unique patina and character with age and use. Waxed canvas is an awesome material for a multi-purpose day pack.
But which one is best for going to school or work?
Voyageur– Our newest pack – Here’s a convertible crossover that’s able to be worn as a pack or carried as a brief. The bag opens wide, offers a padded sleeve along with exterior lash squares and a daisy chained length of web. The backstraps are stowable when you want them out of the way. Inside we placed snaps that are spaced to work with our Accessory Bag XP’s in either backpack (vertical) or briefcase (horizontal) orientation. The Voyageur Backpack Brief is sized for portability, the Voyageur Luggage is sized for more capacity.
North Bay Daypack – A classic shape with a rounded top. Our North Bay Pack is made from reliable materials with a logical layout; the zippers make getting into and out of the pack a breeze. Available with a foam padded laptop sleeve or with a slip pocket of unlined canvas. Either with a standard capacity 5” side gusset or a wider 7” gusset for more space.
Itinerant – Great for school, the rectangular shape works for books, a laptop, folders and papers. There are dividers inside the zipper pocket to keep your utensils straight. The Premium model adds leather and a sleeve at the back. You get the choice of adding padding or not for the sleeve.
A little larger for bigger books, binders, or computers. Lash tabs provide options for exterior cargo. Inside, there are dividers in the pocket and a hanging pocket in the pack to keep little stuff off the bottom of the pack. The main zipper opens wide, and the pack lays flat to get at everything in a flash. There’s a laptop sleeve that you have the choice to get padded or not.
Arrowhead Rolltop eco– side pockets and a padded laptop sleeve separate the eco from our standard Arrowhead pack. The rolltop design is wondrously suited to a waxed canvas bag. It makes a super weather tight closure that will expand up and down to accommodate varying sized loads. There’s a web loop for a blinking bike light plus lash squares for tying stuff to the outside. The side pockets will hold a round 1L bottle and snap closed when not full or when you want to be sure everything stays put.
Premium Mesabi Range Daypack– A similar sized pack body to the Arrowhead Rolltop but with a buckled flap instead of a rolled top. There are leather backstraps that can be upgraded to match our canoe pack straps, just sized down to daypack proportions. There are dividers inside the pack along with a full width slip pocket for papers, folders, or a magazine. The laced cord is there to provide options for lashing, and an exterior zip pocket keeps small items handy without breaking into the main pack.
Sojourn – If your style is the old style, here’s a new pack for you! Leather pack straps, solid brass roller buckles, waxed canvas throughout, we build the Sojourns just like a small canoe pack. The Sojourn Skinny is envelope style where the front and back are sewn directly together. The regular Sojourn is box style where there’s an extra gusset panel to increase capacity. Padding in the laptop sleeve is possible for each. Classic character is built into each.
Premium Carrier Brief– A messenger shoulder bag that means business. The padded sleeve is at the back of the bag, right at the hip where it belongs. An organizer panel keeps your stuff straight, the wide strap is long enough for most to wear it across the chest, plus there’s a leather shoulder pad to even out the weight of a heavy load.
Whichever pack or bag you choose, know that it was built by people who care about quality, right here in the USA. All of our Frost River packs are guaranteed to hold up for years of hard use outdoors. There’s unmatched character that develops in a waxed canvas bag. It ages like no other material, is repairable, and has integrity built into every stitch, rivet, buckle, and strap. What better bag can you send with a favorite student headed into the wilds of the real world?
The Frost River Made in USA Road Trip was as much about visiting old friends and meeting new ones as it was about getting out and seeing the country on a traditional journey:
the great American road trip.
To start such an epic trip, we traded the old Denali in for something more fitting, something more Frost Rivery — versatile, built for the job, and just right for a road trip, a van. Lacking any pizazz though, we covered it from bow to stern, hoof to antler, with graphics of packs, bags, waxed canvas and Henry the Frost River caribou. And so, Henry the Frost River van, was born.
To get started, we got our wheels turning by heading east and tracing the history of this great country where we build our Reliable Softgoods. We stopped in Pennsylvania on our way to New York to meet up with some friends thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. We parked our bright red van at a quiet trailhead near the Delaware and treated our friends to some homemade pizza brought all the way from Thirsty Pagan in Superior, Wisconsin. Needless to say, it was devoured. Before long, it was time to say goodbye, and we were dropping them off to continue their walk. We all had much further to go before the end of our grand adventures.
After many hours, we’d dropped out of the rolling wooded hills and were caught in the throngs of motorists headed to Manhattan. Henry was quickly swallowed up in the bricks, the buildings, the steaming underground and the honking many. We wove and drove, leaned on the horn like the locals and finally got to Times Square. There we were, in the lights and traffic and everything, proudly showing folks in the big Apple our softgoods-bedazzled van, Henry, and telling our humble story of building gear by hand in Duluth, MN.
A few days later, after we’d greeted old friends and met new ones at Capsule Show, we packed up and headed out to a quiet lake in Maine. Eagles soared, the water lapped, and the quiet of nature filled us with energy. Refreshed, we grabbed our now-empty growlers in their growler packs, the cribbage board and our flight bags, and were on the road.
After a long drive overnight, we made a quick stop at our home base in Duluth to refit and refuel. With new oil, new tires and new gear, we headed west. We were headed to Outdoor Retailer (OR), the biggest outdoor show in the world. It’s one of the best places for us to meet new partners, and we get to meet up with old friends, too.
We talk about how pictures and illustrations are nice and all, but to get a feel for our packs, you’ve really got to feel our packs. That’s why it’s so important to us that we work with partners in all corners of the globe where you can actually get our packs in your hands, feel the grain of the waxed canvas, the supple hand of the leather. Once you feel the canvas, pull the straps, try the packs on, the appeal is apparent. At OR, we get the chance to meet new partners and connect with old friends who help promote what we do by stocking our packs and bags in their stores where others can see the value as well.
We met with our friends from Save the BWCA and hosted their happy hour at our booth. They had a petition canoe at OR, a Wenonah, covered with signatures. It was called Betty Jo. With no plans for getting Betty Jo the signature canoe back to MN, we told them we had more space on our roof rack and would be happy to haul her home. Soon we were strapping the boat alongside our Stewart River wood canvas solo canoe.
OR was over before we knew it and we were headed into the mountains. We visited friends at Westerlind in Powder Mountain, Utah, then set up our Campfire Tent next to a quiet river in Sun Valley. The stars climbed in great fans of Milky Way over the canvas, and we sat in chairs under the awning, drinking Bent Paddle Lollygagger. In the morning, we tried our luck with a few flies in the River. The fish weren’t having it though so we packed our poles and headed north.
We drove up to Montana. Henry bounced along the interstate and we marveled at the rolling crags of the Rockies. We met friends in Missoula, and were finishing dinner and plotting a route up the Blackfoot River to camp when a tempest blew in. Trees whipped and sheets of rain soaked the streets. We weren’t swayed, but soon, we were outside preparing Henry for the drive as lightning popped and branches fell. We acquiesced. Feeling defeated, we found a room in town. A couple checked in after us, their whitewater kayaks nearly dwarfing their small car. They’d been headed up the Blackfoot as well, only to be stopped by trees that had fallen across the road. We’d made the right decision by not going. So we slept, rose early and bounced Henry up the canyon as banks of fog rolled off the river. We were determined to get on the water, to experience some of the magic of the Montana river. Around a bend, we turned off the engine and launched the Stewart River. It was fantastic. Our paddling was more subdued in the wood canvas, but the thrill of the paddle and the pull of river was exhilarating. After we’d pulled the canoe up and out of the water, we realized that it wasn’t enough. We needed a real canoe trip.
We drove to Bozeman. There we met up with a friend, and before long we were headed out of town to a lake we’ve sworn not to reveal. As the sun set, we launched the Stewart River and Betty Jo and loaded them with food, tents, sleeping bags, and tackle. At the far shore, around a quiet bend, we made camp near a gurgling inlet under the soft peaks of tree-covered mountains. As twilight deepened, we tried the flies and pulled in beautiful rainbow trout. At night, the firelight danced and the stars sparkled with the first hint of the Perseid meteor shower.
When morning came, we plied the waters some more, and watched bald eagles do the same. We packed our campfire tent and canoe packs and paddled back toward Henry over a nearly glacial-blue pane of glass. Rain came quietly as we neared the landing and the lake shimmered in the steely Light. Once we’d packed the tent and the canoe packs back into the van, stowed the poles in the fly rod case and the tackle in the Little Marais, we were on the road back down the canyon.
We said goodbye to our friend and headed for Dillon to meet our friends at Atomic 79. They showed us their workshop, the beautiful boots they build by hand and the curious tools they carry and use. Before we were done they’d invited us out to their ranch. We weren’t about to say no, and were humbled by the invitation. Following a set of old time directions drawn on a slip of paper, we drove Henry out into the country. A fierce thunderstorm crackled across the plain and we watched bolt after bolt slam the ground, exploding in clouds of dust. Huge, heavy drops of rain pelted the van as we bounced along a dirt road between two great fields. Then the rain suddenly stopped and the storm was gone. A most fantastic rainbow bent from one side of the horizon to the other. As we left the fields and entered a small canyon, the storm rumbled on and the rainbow glowed. After a fork and a tree and a bend, we crested a ridge and saw the welcome sight of an old-time ranch, nestled in a field of sage in the valley between mountains. A river ran past and a small pond gleamed in the golden light. An old 1960s bronco stood at the end of the driveway. Horses roamed around the farmhouse and poked at the wraparound porch. We broke bread with our hosts, eating tacos and sharing stories. It was one of the most unexpected, finest nights of the Made in USA Road Trip.
On recommendation from our hosts, we took back roads south to get into Yellowstone National Park. The line at the entrance was short and soon we were among hot springs, bison and the smell of sulfur. No American road trip is complete without a trip to Yellowstone. We found our way to the Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin and parked Henry in a conspicuous spot right near the trailhead. We grabbed the Summit Boulder Junction and headed out to the causeway. In either direction were bright colors of steaming pools. After that, we drove a short distance to the start of the Fairy Falls Hike. With the Boulder Junction and North Bay Daypack in tow, plus two cans of bear mace, we started on the long flats that lead to the falls. This took us to a grove of pines that rolled for miles until the rock to our left rose up into precipitous cliffs and the mist of Fairy Falls broke out from the rock. It fell in wispy streams into an enormous bowl and pool. We sat and watched the falls. We had the spot to ourselves, and basked in the rare Yellowstone moment.
Back at the van, we cranked the AC and plotted a course for the Grand Tetons and Shadow Mountain. Another set of crazy specific directions put us on the bumpy winding dirt road up the mountain. As we passed spot after occupied spot, we realized that it was the weekend and wondered what to do if there was nowhere to camp. Eventually, we found a large open field with one Forerunner and a pair of tents. We asked the two staying there if we could join them and they said yes. We pulled Henry off the road and pitched the Campfire Tent and Henry’s awning in the fading light. The sun dipped behind the craggy teeth of the Tetons and the sky glowed a deep orange. Soon the stars came and the Perseids showered from the inky black of space.
The next morning, we packed up our Campfire Tent and drove down Shadow Mountain into the valley. A long haul brought Henry and the two canoes over to Colorado, and up toward South Dakota. We pulled through the sleepy town of Hot Springs, South Dakota and made our way into Wind Cave National Park. Setting up camp, we headed to the visitor center to register for a subterranean tour and in a short while we were climbing into an airlock and walking through the wandering caverns of the Wind Cave. The beautiful formations of boxwork and seemingly endless passageways, cracks and grottos were beautiful.
The next day, Henry stopped at Wall Drug to see his distant relative the Jackelope, before we continued on to Badlands National Park. The rugged earth of the Badlands was beautiful, with colorful stratigraphy and great hikes. In the day we were there, we climbed rickety ladders on the Notch Trail, sipped gobbs of water from our High Falls Daypack, climbed from one plain to another, watched bighorn sheep, and weathered a terrific storm in our Tent. It’s estimated there are over 100 Bighorn Sheep in Badlands National Park and it seemed like we saw every one. The original population was imported from Colorado and penned near the Pinnacles area. They now roam the park freely in three distinct herds. It was amazing to watch them nimbly navigate the rough ridges and spires of the Badlands’ gnarled landscape. During the overnight storm, torrential rains, intense lightning and strong winds descended on the plains. We got up a couple times to tend the guy lines, but managed to stay dry with our made-in-Duluth tent. We felt we’d earned the biscuits and gravy in the morning; certainly the coffee!
After that, the road brought us home. Henry was glad to see the Aerial Lift Bridge again and so were we. We’d covered thousands of miles, met thousands of people and seen hundreds of amazing places. The best part is, we’d hardly scratched the surface. There were so many stories, so many places that we couldn’t include in this post. We would have liked to include everything, but there isn’t enough ink in the internet. We traveled a lot of the country and there is still so much more, so many more places, towns, valleys, rugged mountains, winding rivers. We can’t wait to get out again, and hope to see you on the next Frost River Made in USA Road Trip.
The beauty of the open road and daily endeavors gets even better through the beauty of versatility in a handcrafted bag! The best pieces of gear work with you, and are versatile enough to go from one activity to the next, seamlessly. That’s why we think crossover luggage is awesome, it allows several ways to carry a bag that’s sized for a variety of loads and pursuits. One bag to rule them all!
Read on for our newest crossover piece, the Voyageur, and our other adaptable luggage options below.
Built in Duluth, MN to offer carrying options with two different sizes— great for working and traveling voyageurs. Available in Briefcase-sized and Carryon Luggage-sized options, the Voyageur is one bag you’re sure to keep coming back to. Both sizes offer the same feature set, in different proportions to suit your needs. Grab both for a matched set that’ll work with you on the road!
The Backpack Brief is the smaller of the two, sized as an everyday work bag to carry a laptop, change of clothes, lunch, documents and odds and ends, with plenty of pockets and organization to keep your stuff straight.
The Voyageur Luggage is larger, and provides more capacity for extra clothes and gear. They’re made from tough waxed canvas at our shop in Duluth, Minnesota and just as all our reliable softgoods, are guaranteed to last.
You can find the dimensions and even more photos of the Voyageurs here.
Both sizes feature:
—A new XP snap grid inside that allows our Small, Medium, or Large Accessory XP Bags to attach within the main compartment. The grid provides a modular mindset with plenty of options to add pockets and organization, while being compatible with a vertical orientation when worn on the back, or horizontal as when using the handle or optional shoulder strap. This lets the bag work with you, and helps make these crossovers even more versatile
— The outside front pocket closes securely with a durable zipper and features an organizing panel inside for pens, pencils, a passport, phone, portable hard drive or any other small stuff you want to stow, as well a larger items like notebooks or magazines.
— The front of the pack also features a sturdy cotton web daisy chain that runs from top to bottom, to allow gear to be clipped or tied to the bag.
— Six lash squares with 3/4” slots along the bottom and sides of the bag provide more options for carrying gear (our bedroll and bike bag straps work great here).
— Comfortable contoured padded shoulder straps also have the same type daisy chain web as on the front. When not in use, the bottom of the straps unclip from the pack body and stow in a sleeve at the back of the pack.
— A padded and zippered laptop sleeve inside offers a spot for a computer. The sleeve is fully padded and protected, so you can carry your device with confidence!
— When used as a backpack, the backstrap sleeve of the Voyageur can serve to haul a smaller items to which you want quick access, like a hydration bladder on the trail, a map on a portage or a laptop on your way to TSA airport security. A padded sleeve is handy for carrying a laptop in the backstrap sleeve.
— External solid brass D-rings provide attachment points for backstraps and an optional shoulder strap (sold separately).
Either size is professional enough for work as a briefcase and tough enough for the outdoors whether on trail, in a boat, or just on the move. There’s capacity for travel, and with classic, rugged good looks, the Voyageur is a perfect match to an outdoorist attitude.
A robust duffel bag with stowable shoulder straps. Our Explorers are tough, and built to carry heavy loads. With the cotton web and leather ESB backstraps, it becomes convertible to a backpack for hands free carry. When you don’t want the straps, you can stuff them in the sleeve on the bottom of the bag and use it as a normal duffel. The 2” grab handle web extends all the way around the belly of the bag to haul oversized loads, plus there’s another grab handle on one end, and a low profile zip pocket on the other. On the front is a handy exterior pocket with a leather strap and brass post to keep contents where they belong. The main zipper is covered with a dust flap for weather and dust resistance. We build the Explorer ESB in two sizes, the CarryOn is smaller, just right for airline specs, while the Medium is a little larger, just right to carry a bunch of stuff.
Navigator— This is one of our largest briefcases, with big side pockets for capacity that approaches true luggage. The Navigator is built for business with a sleeve for files or a laptop, an organizer panel for writing utensils and smaller items, a business card holder and solid brass D-rings on each side of the main zipper for a balanced, even shoulder load. We include a wide 2” shoulder strap and guarantee the hardware and build of the whole bag (just like we do with everything we make!) to last a lifetime.
We spend a lot of time on the road and appreciate the crossover features in a bag. It allows one bag to fill multiple roles on a trip. We believe in what we make and use the stuff everyday. The Voyageur Backpacks have been a work in progress for awhile. They’ve gone through several changes as we’ve used them on travels near and far. We think you’ll like it as much as we do! Keep traveling well, and as often as possible and be sure to carry a good bag…. Cheers!
…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
The 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!
The Traditionalist:— Sojourn Pack Padded – This is pure canoe pack but sized for your day-to-day and with a padded sleeve for a laptop.
The 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.
High 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.
I’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.
The 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!
Knapsack: 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.
Messenger Bag: Big Saganaga – Ok, not a backpack…this is a simple messenger bag with pockets and organization. Clean lines, durability and usability come standard.
A 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.
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.
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!
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.
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 piragis.com
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.
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.
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.”
This 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]
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.”
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 ClimbDuluth.com and the DCC website.
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 and 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?
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.
A 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 other 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.
Manufacturing 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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
“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.
There’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 beingdesignated 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.
If you’re looking to make your next paddle trip one to remember for great fishing, The Boundary Waters Journal and the network at bwca.com 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.
Some 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! Be 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!