Visiting Isle Royale National Park takes some planning. You start with selecting dates and arranging transportation. The limited seats available on transportation to and from the island, so this is your first order of business. In our free Getting Started course, you can learn about transportation, rules and regulations, permits, itineraries and inter-island hops.
Once you have decided on your itinerary, you are ready to think about all the things you are going to need while you are on the island. Here, we are sharing an overview of what you will need, and we provide direct links to our free courses to help you examine each topic in more detail. Remember the courses are free, and they provide you with needed information and connections to help you to make sound decisions for yourself about what you will need for your particular backpacking itinerary.
Overview of Gear
Of course, you need to plan your gear, including your clothing and footwear, food, water, sleeping system and shelter, and your pack to carry what you need. You also need an understanding of the context of the island itself, including the lack of or limited communication. You also need to think about Safety and First Aid.
There is potable water at spigots in Rock Harbor and Windigo, during regular season. Early or late season visitors may find the water spigots not on. Always plan to filter and treat water on Isle Royale. Given that there is a one-night limit at Rock Harbor and a three-night limit at Windigo, you will need to have a very short trip or bring and use a filtering system and water treatments to meet CDC requirements. At all other campgrounds other than the two mentioned, you will need to filter and treat water to avoid acquiring parasites or viruses. IRNP provides specific guidance in terms of water filtering and hazards which you can access here.
Wise Old Man Hydration course: We provide a course in Hydration which addresses the recommendations of the IRPS and also discusses common filtering systems and what you need to do to meet the recommendations of the CDC as well as common water hazards to address. This course also addresses how much water you can expect to need and how to plan for meeting your water needs in light of your planned itinerary.
Isle Royale can vary in temperature, depending on the time of year visited, from highs in the 80-degree range to lows in the 20-degree range Fahrenheit. Within a given day, temperatures will likely not vary more than 40 degrees, but you need to plan your clothing to meet the weather forecast for the time of your visit to have appropriate clothing layers to keep you warm in the cold and which can be removed as temperatures climb in the heat of the day or with your change of terrain, with ridges being very warm and the coastline being much cooler.
Wise Old Man Clothing and Footwear course: We offer a course in planning for your clothing needs which addresses the options available and mistakes to avoid to keep you warm enough. We do so with clear reference to your needs for keeping the overall weight of your pack to a manageable level.
Sleeping and Shelter
As you plan for your comfort, you will want to think about your needs for shelter in some form (tent, tarp or hammock) as only some campsites along the shore of Lake Superior have shelters which fill on a first-come, first-served basis. The shelters may well be full when you arrive, so you must pack a tent or a suitable shelter for your safety and comfort overnight. In addition, you will need a sleep system to ensure you are warm and comfortable for sound sleep so that you are fresh and able to meet the challenges of each new day of your adventure. Sleep systems include the clothing you wear to sleep, the sleeping pad, and the sleeping bag. Options for each vary broadly and ratings conform to commonly agreed upon industry standards. These can be sought out on your own, or you can enroll in our course.
Wise Old Man Shelter and Sleeping course: We address the rating system and review the available sleeping pads and bags and base layers. We also review the pros and cons of each type of shelter in relation to your overall pack weight and preferences to help you make decisions about your needs in an informed manner.
Safety and Communication
Isle Royale is a remote island in Lake Superior. It has limited access to medical care and a limited stock of materials to address your own first aid, health, and safety needs. Therefore, you need to bring a well-stocked first-aid kit and any additional materials you know you are likely to need. For example, if you have allergies to particular plants or insects, you need to bring your own therapeutics because these are very unlikely to be available on Isle Royale.
As a part of safety, communication is also significantly limited. You cannot call your physician–or any physician–if you don’t provide satellite communication for yourself. Cell service and wifi are not available on Isle Royale outside the services provided to the guests staying at the Rock Harbor Lodge. In the backcountry, there is no reliable communication outside the satellite phone or tracking device. On some of the ridges, spotty cell service (sufficient for texting) is sometimes available, but it generally originates from Canadian cell service providers, so you should ensure that your cell service includes roaming from Canadian sources or you may find yourself with a large bill once you return from the Island. In some cases, these charges can be in the hundreds of dollars.
Wise Old Man Safety and Communication course: We discuss the specifics of communication and safety on the Island in our course on this topic, including communication services that work and support for thinking through your needs for first aid.
Backpacks, Gear, and Weight
All of your needs must be met by what you can fit into your pack. That includes everything. In this course, we talk about the trade-offs that you will need to consider when planning for a pack that is manageable while meeting your basic needs. While there are general guidelines for what weights a backpacker can carry, hikers need to think carefully about their own specific needs, the requirements of remote backpacking, and their capabilities to carry a pack and still enjoy the challenge. Feeling as though you are a pack mule does not make for the most pleasant experience.
Wise Old Man Backpacks, Gear, and Weight course: We offer practical advice for balancing your needs against your comfort in terms of overall manageability of your pack with thoughtful advice for helping you to make the determination for what is best for you. While we don’t have a single answer that fits for everyone, we can help you through the process of making solid choices to meet your own needs.
In a Nutshell
Once you have your itinerary and your passage booked, take some time to plan for the specifics that you will need. Our free courses walk you through the options for choosing what you will need. If you have questions, join our Facebook group at Wise Old Man of Isle Royale and ask away. We are happy to do our best to point in toward resources to help you to make appropriate decisions that meet your individual needs.