Don’t Have ISRO Hiking Experience?

Wise Old Man Can Help!

It’s daunting to arrive on Isle Royale with no experience. You don’t know the terrain, the challenges, or how to plan for your needs, and the environment is remote which creates additional challenges. Wise Old Man guides can help.

Six things you need to know:

First, temperatures vary greatly between day and night, on the shore and on the ridge, regardless of the month of your visit. Therefore, you need a puffy jacket, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a base layer, warm socks, gloves, a hat, a three-season sleeping bag, a minimum of an R3 insulated sleeping pad, and a shelter along with shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, a couple of changes of socks and underwear. Prepare for the extremes, and check weather for Isle Royale, Thunder Bay, and Grand Portage just prior to departure and make tweaks to your gear as needed. Do not skip the rain gear and one full change of clothing in the event that you get wet. Hyke and Bike, available on Amazon, makes a zero-degree bag that weighs in at about 3 pounds and is not extremely pricy. We use them as they are lighter than some of the better known brands at a significantly lower cost. In the pictures below, notice the difference in temperatures in 48 hours and how Duane is dressed.

September 16th at 12:50 pm 72 degrees
September 18th at 12:10 pm 48 degrees

Second, you need a minimum of a .4 micron water filter and purification tablets to sufficiently purify your drinking water. Only the spigots at Windigo and Rock Harbor have potable water, and you cannot carry enough water with you if you are planning to traverse the island, so you will need to purify and carry water over long distances. We recommend a minimum of two liters for any hike between campgrounds on the Greenstone Ridge Trail. Parts of the Feldtmann Ridge Trail and the Minong Ridge Trail will require an individual to start out with three liters because of the heat on the ridges and the distance between water sources. If your hike extends beyond 11 or 12 miles, take three liters. The microscopic impurities in the water can prove to be threats to your health. If there is an algal bloom, the water cannot be made safe for drinking, so avoid water that is cloudy, thick-looking, or pea-soupy, and do not filter from it or swim in it.

Msr Miniworks EX .1 microns
Sawyer Squeeze .1 microns

Third, stay on the trail and be alert to false moose paths that can lead you astray. If you become lost, backtrack the way you came to reconnect with the trail because the rugged countryside has cliffs, swamps, and other hazards that you would prefer to avoid. Be alert to trail markings in the form of cairns, human footpaths, and worn trails. On some paths, the brush will be as tall as or taller than you, especially in late season on the Minong, Feldtmann, or Ishpeming Trails. Your feet will feel the indentation of the thousands of feet that have passed that way, and you can see the trail at your feet if you push back the brush. Take a satellite GPS or similar device or a compass and map that you know how to use. There are a few patches of intermittent cell service out of Canada from the ridges, but roaming charges are exorbitant, and service is too spotty to be relied on. Remember, the trail is a trail, so be alert. Look for and follow the trail. An SOS beacon for use in emergency is a good idea. If you don’t want the cost, consider renting one from your local REI store.

Trail That’s Hard to See
Typical trail on Isle Royale

Fourth, you need to bring your own shelter as you cannot count on getting a three-sided shelter at any of the campgrounds. The wooden screen-front shelters are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and there are not shelters at every campground. Those who arrive first are not obligated to share, so be sure to have an appropriate backpacking tent with you. Ultralight tents are ideal but pricy. You can find lightweight ones by Clostnature that will not cost your left arm.

Single and two person tents
Two person Arrowhead tent
Two person Trekking Pole tent

Five, the trails are rugged, so have appropriate gear. You need to think of footwear and trail conditions that require assistive walking sticks. For footwear, some people use trail runners, and others choose hiking boots. Regardless of which you choose, make sure they are sturdy enough to stand up to pounding on rocks and roots across rugged trails. Make sure, too, that they are well broken in. Do not use new boots as the blisters will ruin your adventure. As well, bring trekking poles to aid in balance across narrow boardwalks and across the tops of beaver dams. The last thing you want to do is fall into a swamp filled with bugs and sticks sharpened by beaver chewing. Some of the swamps and beaver dams are truly noxious.

A Very Prominent Beaver Dam
A Typical Beaver Pond
More Concealed Beaver Dam

Six, bring a variety of dehydrated food that you have tried before so that you know you will like it. Also, be sure to think about the weight of your food. Dehydrated meals are a great choice, and a camping stove with cannister fuel is a good choice. There are other choices, but you want a tried-and-true option if this is your first trip. You don’t want to find yourself with a twig stove in the rain or spilling your white gas from your 1970s college backpacking gear and have to eat your food cold. You also cannot be rid of garbage on the island, so if your food has a lot of packaging, you will have to carry it until you depart and can dispose of it on the mainland. We usually bring one dehydrated meal, something light for breakfast along with our coffee, and a snack bar and nuts for lunch per day. Don’t worry about not having enough to eat. If you don’t eat 12 snack bars a day at home, you certainly won’t need that many on the island.

Remember, your preparation and cool-headedness are your best tools, so prepare, plan, and do your homework so that you arrive on the island with the right gear and reasonable expectations for the adventure. Bring toilet paper, and be prepared to carry it out (bring a ziplock for this and all garbage to contain the odors). Remember, you don’t need to book with us to get help. You can reach out by phone at 906-201-1588, by email at, or via messenger on Facebook. We are happy to provide support and advice to make sure you have your best adventure because you have done your research.

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