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Cornell Wilderness Term

Island on Grassy Lake (credit: Heather Axen)
What to Expect


[Today's Weather]


September 6

September 20

Record High



Average High



Mean Temperature



Average Low



Record Low



What It Costs
The surcharge for the CWT courses is $600.

Liability Waiver
Participation in the Cornell Wilderness Term involves certain obligations and certain risks. The required Acknowledgment of Risk and Release of Liability affects your legal rights. Read it carefully before you sign it.

What to Bring

For Life at the Field Station: The Wilderness Field Station is rustic. Students live in a two-story dormitory without heat or plumbing. There is an outdoor wash station. Staying clean involves swimming in Low Lake and/or every-other-day saunas. The Field Station has an old wringer washing machine, but no clothes dryer. Bring what you will need. You should assume that there will be no opportunity to shop while you are at the Field Station.

  • Necessary or Very Useful:
    • warm sleeping bag and pillow
    • flashlight or headlamp: there is no electrical power overnight
    • casual clothes such as jeans, shorts, T-shirts and sweatshirts
    • swimming suit and towels
    • rain gear
    • boots or sneakers that you're willing to get wet
    • personal medications & toiletries
    • water bottle (and perhaps a large plastic mug with lid for around the station)
    • textbooks and other academic supplies
  • Optional:
    • recreational reading
    • personal snacks
    • fanny pack, bookbag, or day pack
    • compass
    • binoculars
    • utility knife or multi-tool
    • camera gear
    • fishing gear: Minnesota fishing license required


Field Station Duds (credit David Kesler)

For Extended Wilderness Travel: If your course includes an extended canoe trip, you will want gear to keep you warm and dry when continuously exposed to the elements. The following recommendations on camping/canoeing clothes come from Craig.

  • Necessary or Very Useful:
    • Sleeping Bag: The weather data (see above) indicates that frost is unlikely, but obviously you should be prepared for overnight lows around 40. Most any down or synthetic fill sleeping bag should do the trick, if you have a pad to keep you off the ground. Mummy style bags give the highest warmth to weight ratio. If you have a non-mummy bag, or don't like being mummified, you may want to wear your wool or fleece stocking cap or balaclava.
    • Sleeping Pad: Closed cell foam like ensolite or an inflatable foam pad like a Therm-a-rest will soften your bed and provide valuable insulation under your sleeping bag.
    • Compression Stuff Sack: Big enough to hold your sleeping bag and all the clothes you're not wearing.
    • Dry Bag: To protect things that need to stay dry. A couple of freezer weight, gallon size zip lock bags and a couple of heavy weight garbage bags should cover all the contingencies.
    • Boots: You need something that you can wear in and out of the water, which will give you feet enough protection for lugging reasonably heavy loads over reasonably rough terrain. Some modern voyageurs insist on high-top leather leather boots, some get along fine with an old pair of sneakers. You will be wading with your boots on. Never go on a trip with new boots; make sure yours are thoroughly broken in before September.
    • Socks: You will need two pairs of socks. I like to think of them as the wet pair and the dry pair. Wear your wet socks during the day; they are going to get wet anyway. Save your dry socks for dry camps and to wear inside your sleeping bag. All socks are not created equal. Here are the possibilities from best to worst.
      • Modern Merino wool socks stay warm when wet, resist stinkiness, and don't need liners, but they don't dry as fast as synthetics.
      • Modern hydrophobic synthetic fiber socks dry relatively quickly and don't need liners.
      • Rag wool socks (the kind that feel rough to the touch) stay warm when wet and resist stinkiness but generally require a synthetic or silk liner stock to prevent blisters.
      • No socks at all. Not recommended but better than what follows.
      • Cotton socks are an invitation to unspeakable misery, and should be forbidden by intergalactic law.
    • Gloves: Fleece or leather to protect from blisters as well as cold.
    • Hats: The ideal wilderness hat should shed rain, deflect sun, and be capable of being stuffed in a pocket. You may want something to keep your ears warm if it gets chilly, e.g., wool or fleece stocking cap or balaclava.
    • Swim Suit: For modesty while soaking in lake or sunning on rocks.
    • Belt: Nothing beats a nylon strap with a plastic buckle.
    • Camp shoes: If the campsite is dry, you will want something to wear around camp other than your wet boots: moccasins, mucklucks, sandals, flip-flops, sneakers, etc. The less they weigh and the less space they occupy the better. Of course, this principle applies to everything you need to carry.
    • Pants: I am a big fan of nylon convertible pants. Nylon pants get wet, but they don't stay wet. Convertible pants allow you to zip the muddy pant legs off and wash them while you continue to wear the shorts.
    • Underwear: Non-cotton is better than cotton. In September you may appreciate having a pair of longjohns and a long sleeved T-shirt made out of Thermax, polypropylene, Polartek or similar synthetic microfiber.
    • Shirt: Make sure you have a long sleeved shirt, preferably made out of something other than cotton. If this list is turning into a tirade against cotton -- your favorite fabric -- here's why. Cotton absorbs water very easily, and dries very slowly. When cotton is wet, it is extremely heavy and has virtually no insulating value. Conditions in the Boundary Waters in September are likely to involve both some cold and some wet.
    • Jacket: You need something to keep you warm. The traditional garment is a wool sweater. Wool has the great advantage of retaining much of its insulating value even when wet. Modern fleece garments improve on wool by being hydrophobic. Down garments provide an excellent ratio of warmth to weight. They do not absorb water easily, but if they become saturated they become useless. In short, down is a great choice if you protect it from rain.
    • Rain Suit: A rain suit means pants and jacket: Water resistant nylon or high-tech laminated fabrics like Gore-Tex. These will keep the rain off and allow your own body moisture to evaporate. Plastic rain suits are cheap, but they trap body moisture inside and quickly fall apart. Ponchos are traditional, but don't work as well. Raincoats don't work well.
    • Insect Repellent: Frankly, I doubt, you'll need it.
    • Sun Glasses.
    • Sun Screen: It's not going to be high summer, but still invaluable in the long term effort to avoid skin cancer.
    • Soap: Biodegradable backcountry soap like Bio-Suds, Camp-Suds, or good old Ivory Soap.
    • Toothbrush & toothpaste.
      September on the Range River (credit Craig Allin)
    • Personal medications.
    • Hand Towel: I prefer two or three Handi-wipes. Volume & weight are negligible, and they dry quickly.
    • Personal water bottle.
    • Lightweight flashlight or headlamp.
    • Notebook and writing device.
  • Optional:
    • Paperback recreational reading.
    • Canoe Paddle or PFD: If you happen to have one you prefer to use.
    • Personal bowl & eating utensils.
    • Compass
    • Skin Lotion
    • Binoculars
    • Utility knife or multi-tool.
    • Camera Gear: You'll want a dry sack to protect it.
    • Fishing Gear: Only if you intend to obtain a fishing license. Keep it minimalist. Consult Bob Black for expert advice.
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