How to Find the Best Canoe Outfitter

If this is your first outfitting trip, your head may be swimming with all the decisions you need to make. Here is our guide to finding the best canoe outfitter.


Lightweight equipment is important in a portage.

Whether you are buying a car, staying at a hotel, choosing a college, or picking an outfitter, it all ends up the same: What are you getting in return for the cost? Don't make the mistake of assuming everything is the same. Quality comes at a price. Descriptions like "spacious tents," "roomy packs," "comfortable sleeping bags," or "lightweight canoes" tells you nothing. Look for national brand names and particular models, specific sizes, temperature ratings, and exact weights. Don't be comforted by words like "top drawer," "best" or "newest."

Look at equipment lists in detail. If something you are expecting isn't specifically listed, ask about it. Don't assume it will automatically be included.

Consider amenities. While they should never be the primary reason to choose one company over another, they are a good indication of the type of comprehensive services you can expect. Look for an outfitter that reflects an overall attitude towards excellence.


Cooking tips

Menus should be viewed under the same bright lights as equipment lists. A "fresh steak" for the first night on the trail may not be the same size or cut as a "12oz USDA Prime New York Strip." Increased quality, such as our Certified Angus Brand® steaks; and variety of other meat selections goes hand-in-glove with trip costs.

Read each menu item as if it stands alone ... it will at meal time out in the woods. Is one brand of food used exclusively? If so, this could imply cost cutting thru quantity discounts from the manufacturer. There is nothing wrong with cost control. It may, however, indicate leaning away from variety and the best tasting individual items, and towards a higher profit margin. Look for little things, like bacon being offered for all breakfasts, versus just the first one, or "your fish and our vegetable and dessert," which actually means "no main course item" -- though you'll still pay for it.

Check to see if items are repeated on the menu in order to make it appear to be a larger selection. A listing of peanut butter & jelly, versus another calling for jelly & peanut butter are NOT two different selections.

All outfitters pack food on a per meal basis; everyone eats the same thing at one meal sitting. A few, however, allow party members to select different beverages, or on the first night, different main course meats. Does your prospective outfitter make options like this available to you on your menu?

If you are looking at an outfitters' "up-scale trip" (such as our Ultra-light GOLD Package), is there a corresponding up-scaled menu? Are all meals up-scaled, or are some just repeats of their standard menu?

Base Location and Accomodations

Base location on a lake, close to town

The purpose of your trip to Ely is to take a canoe trip. You will, however, have time before and after the trip available to you. Choosing an outfitter located "out on the lake" affords you the opportunity to try different canoes if the outfitters offers a choice.

Spending the afternoon and evening before your trip away from the din of in-town clatter has advantages, too. You can listen to the loons and waves outside your window, versus the traffic outside your main street motel room. Also, on-the-lake businesses tend to keep far more flexible hours than the "store hours" found in town. The reason: lakeside outfitters have their homes right on the property.

On the other hand, choosing an outfitter located in town allows you the opportunity to do some last minute shopping and go out to eat after you have reviewed your equipment and food packs. You'll have, by far, a bigger selection, and not be locked into end-of-the-road prices. For dinner, you won't be stuck with "our one selection for tonight is ..." or "cook's choice". In addition, you will be close to the International Wolf Center: a highlight for any trip to Minnesota.

We have a lakeside base less than 6 miles from Ely (versus 20 miles). Spend time in town, then return to our cabins, canoes, docks, and decks.

Overall Pricing

When looking at the cost of your trip, concentrate on the bottom line, not just the price of the rental equipment. Make sure that all aspects of your visit are covered:

  • Outfitting: Are there any equipment options which may add to the invoice? Are stoves included? Does the outfitter charge separately for fuel?
  • Accommodations: Was the quote for both the night before and the night after the trip or just for one night. Is there an upgrade available? If an in-town commercial motel was suggested, what was their rate? Are any meals complimentary or invoiced?
  • Transportation: Is there a charge for getting to/from landings. Do you have to drive yourself and your gear, picking up the canoe somewhere else? How many landings are available to choose from? Why are some landings not offered?
  • Supplemental Items: If a written or verbal quote was given, was the cost of maps, equipment insurance, entry permits, fishing permits, camping & user fees, and local & state taxes figured for you, or were they lumped together under the words: "Plus some miscellanies charges"?

Rarely does anyone get too concerned about the amount of a planned and budgeted purchase unless there are hidden charges or a higher than expected price for a basic item. EXAMPLE: Whether an outfitter charges for a full breakfast or provides a complimentary continental breakfast is of little consequence ... unless, of course, an egg, a strip of bacon, and a piece of toast, at $8.95/person, runs up a surprise bill of $39.20 for four people.

Feel free to ask for a reference, and then take the time to actually make the call. Check to see if the brochure accurately reflected the cost of the trip. Was a price estimate close or was there some "Gee, I forgot to add ..." charges upon arrival. North Country will be happy to figure a trip estimate over the phone if you will call our office at 218-365-5581. If, however, a firm, to-the-penny quotation is required, we will respond by writing-up a completed invoice.

We eagerly invite you to compare North Country with any other outfitters in the area -- or the country! We've been in business for over 25 years and we've spent that time honing the craft of outfitting to a science.  We're happy to share our knowledge and experience with you.