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Here’s the 3rd installment of our backpacking trip to Isle Royale National Park!  This post will focus a little more on planning and packing for our backpacking adventure!

Know your facts about where you can and can’t stay:

Group camping:  Like most NPS Backpacking sites, there are regulations on how many people can stay in a site per night and how many nights you an stay in one spot. Since I was traveling with a group of 16 scouts and adults, we picked the Feldtman Loop since it had larger group sites. Each group site has a max of 10 people allowed, so we were able to split in two groups and do the loop in opposite directions. My group went clockwise, which I ended up preferring since we had a long hike the first day, 2 days at the beach and then a very short hike to the ferry on the way out.  Here’s the NPS FAQ link, that covers the basics.


We dried/assembled all of our own food, borrowed gear from the REI gear bank and saved money where ever we could.  The entire week including two nights off the island cost us $250.   $150 of that was the boat ride to the island, so I think we did pretty well.

 Lunch!  Cold Soak Ramen Chicken Salad
Gear from the REI gear bank

Because this was the first time backpacking for 95% of our group, we had 3 different pack checks/shakedowns before we left to make sure we had everything.  (one of our scouts STILL managed to bring a FULL sized brand new tube of toothpaste!  Ha!)  The good people of REI were kind enough to let us use their gear bank for Sleeping Bags, pads, and tents.   The REI gear bank is not really publicized, and is only available 2x per year for non profit groups that benefit youth.  It’s a wonderful outreach and can really help keep expenses down for your group if people don’t already have light weight gear.   We used the bank for our Glacier National Park trip 3 years ago and they were able to outfit a group of 30 people! If you meet those qualifications, it is best to call your local store and check with the community outreach coordinator.  Renting is always an option too.


Weighing my pack at Windigo

Isle Royale Gear Packing List

Overall pack weight should not exceed 25% of your body weight or 40 lbs max (strict coast guard law). Reserve 15 lbs for carrying shared gear (shelter, food, stoves, water filters etc). Don’t forget to include the weight of your empty pack.

Troop Gear

Shared gear will be split among the group to distribute weight.  Gear marked with a * is on loan from REI if you need it.

  • Daily Meals*
  •  Tent (REI)* REI Half Dome 4 – 7 pounds 10 ounces
  •  Sleeping Bag* (REI) REI Lumen +25 degree long – 2 pounds 11 ounces
  • Sleeping Pad* (REI) REI Trekker 1.75 – 2.5 lbs
  • Stove
  • Fuel
  • 8×10 tarp
  • waterproof matches
  • lighter
  • (2) water filters (pump and gravity)
  • Nalgene 3L collapsible water jug
  • paracord, careeners, stuff sack-hanging food
  • cooking pot
  • small repair kit (dust tape, sewing, multi tool)
  • Biodegradable soap
  • Delorme InReach
  • Bug Repellant
  • Group First Aid Kit (including super glue and butterfly closures)-Note:  the person who is First Aid Trained should carry the kit.  I also put a tag on the outside of my backpack with a red cross in case we move it to another pack or someone needs to find it really quick.  You’ll see it in my picture above.

Required Personal Gear

  • Backpacking Backpack 50-65L
  • Cup (we will be eating out of bags, this is for beverages or if your bag fails)
  • Eating Utensil/spork (Only bring 1)
  • Headlamp with Fresh Batteries
  • Sun Hat
  • Moisture wicking tee shirt
  • Long Sleeve Shirt for Sun Protection (Cotton ok but synthetic is best)
  • Fleece/insulating layer
  • Rain Jacket (Hooded, Lightweight, Waterproof, Breathable)
  • zip off hiking pants (No cotton, limit to one change of clothes if bringing extra)
  • 3 pr of wool or synthetic hiking socks (2 for hiking, one for sleeping)
  • Hiking Boots
  • Snacks for Each Day (hi energy-nuts, granola, trail mix, bars)
  • Pack Rain Cover or line the inside of your backpack with a garbage bag and tie the top
  • Personal Bathroom Kit: Toilet Paper, Ziplock Bags, Personal Wipes, Hand Sanitizer
  • Prescription Medications
  • Sun Block and Lip Balm (Small)
  • Personal Blister First Aid Kit (Lightweight/moleskin and bandaids)
  • Water Bottles (Two 1-Quart) or Hydration System Plus One 1-Quart Water Bottle (think light/re-used smart water bottle)
  • Whistle
  • Compass
  •  Small pocket knife

Recommended but optional

  • Bandana/Buff
  • Camera
  • Sunglasses
  • Toiletries (deodorant attracts bugs, but PLEASE bring it for the car ride home)
  • Warm Hat (Lake Superior is cold!)
  • Long Underwear Tops and Bottoms (Light/Midweight, Synthetic or wool)
  • Rain pants
  • Electrolyte Drink Mix
  • Trekking Poles
  • Casual Shoes for Camp (closed toe-crocs)

NOTE! There are no showers on Isle Royale, but we stayed at a campground in Grand Portage that had showers, so don’t forget pack ONE CHANGE OF CLOTHES, SOAP, DEODERANT A TOWEL AND SWIM SUIT in a separate plastic bag with your name on it for camp and the ride home.  Your friends will thank you!

In addition to an Isle Royale Presentation at REI, I went to a packing demo at our local outfitter, Midwest Mountaineering before putting together the packing list for our group.  It’s always good to see what other people bring and get new ideas.  Both were very helpful for prepping for the trip.

I also talked to anyone I could about their experiences and picked up a copy of Jim DuFresne’s book.  We had about 9 months to plan this trip, so there was plenty of time for research!

Other notes:

Bring a luggage scale and weigh your bag BEFORE you get to the ferry. I dumped 7 lbs of non-essential personal gear the night before we left (mostly extra snacks, a book and duplicate items) to get my bag down to 32 lbs, including my portion of shared gear.  Then, I was able to carry some other needed Troop gear. Always volunteer to carry food and fuel if you are carrying more than your share, it gets lighter as you go!  The ferry service will tell you that they have a limit of 40-45 lbs per bag per the Coast Guard.  They did not weigh our packs before we boarded, but it’s a darned good rule that will ensure you don’t overpack and break your back when you are on the Island.  So pack light!

Gear I used more than I thought I would:

  • Katadyn 6L Gravity water filter, large volume, no pump, weighs about the same as the pump filter. Let gravity do the hard work!
  • Vintage backpacking camp chair that my sleeping pad fit into for a nice comfy seat with a back.  It was 11.5oz but there are plenty of lighter ones on the market.
  • Collapsible plate with snaps.   I got mine free from REI at a pack fitting event earlier in the year. We ate out of home made cozies but I used this way more than I thought I would for cutting things up and eating lunch/snacks on the trail.
  • Garmin inReach.  I’ve got an old one I got on a steal at an REI garage sale.  It pairs with my iPhone for navigation and 2 way communication and works great!  It’s the size of a big black brick and weighs about a pound, but when traveling with a large group and other people’s kids, it’s good to have in case you run into trouble
  • MSR Dragonfly-this not my favorite stove…I still hate lighting that thing, but it makes the list because I finally figured it out without burning down the island!

There’s probably a bunch of stuff I forgot, but these are my main gear notes.  Feel free to shoot me a note in the comments section if you have any questions!

Part 1 – Backpacking on Isle Royale

Part 2 – Training Hikes

Don’t forget to sign the guest book and earn your NPS Junior Ranger Badge before you go home!

Have you been to Isle Royale?   Tell us about it here!



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11 thoughts on “Isle Royale Part 3: Prepping and Packing!

  1. Not a bad list at all!! Maybe a little heavy in the tent. 🙂
    I do prefer (it’s safer too) all of my “hiking” clothes to be sweat wicking/fast drying. Including my long sleeve shirts. When I’m at camp I prefer cotton! It’s warmer, softer and feels cozy when i sleep in it. I’m glad you out crocs on there too. I’ve found that I love having those.
    Great post!

    1. Hey Tim, thanks for the note. Totally agree on the tent weight. I was shooting to get the scouts to divide it three ways and get closer to 2lbs each, but the price was right since it was free from the gear bank and they preferred to carry more weight of the extra room. 🙂

      Hammocking might be a little tricky on the island in a group, and the rangers I talked to aren’t crazy about them because they are worried about tree damage. The shelters are a pretty sweet deal as long you in a smaller group.

    1. Sorry about that. 🙁
      I hoped to have a guest writer talk about our food back when I wrote this. We all helped assemble our dehydrated meals, but my friend coordinated all of the meal planning with the Scouts. Thanks for the reminder. I’ll make a note.

  2. Leaving in 1 week for IR with our scout troop. Just a small group of 6 total and feeling like we haven’t figures out the food quantities for 16 yr old boys. They are strong but eat a ton. Thanks for the info we are heavy on the non essentials for sure.

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