Cornell College
About Cornell Academics Admissions Alumni Athletics Offices Library
Home > Cwt

Cornell Wilderness Term - 2014

Bull Moose on Jackfish Bay (credit: Bradley Jipp)
Wilderness Politics 2006
What to Expect


[Today's Weather]


September 6

September 20

Record High



Average High



Mean Temperature



Average Low



Record Low



*a temperature of 25 was recorded
on a CWT canoe trip in 2007

What It Costs
The surcharge for the CWT courses is $500, payable in two installments prior to the course. Students will receive a refund of board charges of about $200, making the net additional cost of the program about $300.

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 occasional saunas. The Field Station has a washing machine, but no clothes dryer. Bring what you will need.

The Cornell Wilderness Term is an opportunity to experience a more primitive life without many of the distractions of modern civilization. You should assume that there will be no opportunity to shop while you are at the Field Station. Leave your computer games and music players at home, and resolve to use your cell phone only for emergencies.

  • 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)
Most Buildings Have No Heat

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 Allin. [Experts may disagree on some details.]

  • 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. (In 2006, we had several nights where temperatures at our Boundary Waters campsites fell to the low 30s, and in 2007 we recorded an overnight low of 25 on Lake One.) 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. Keeping your head warm goes a long way to staying warm all over.
    • Sleeping Pad: A compact and lightweight (< 16 oz.) inflatable foam pad [e.g., Therm-a-Rest Pro-Lite] or insulated air mattress [e.g., Big Agnes Insulated Air Core] 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. Better yet a compression dry bag.
    • 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 lawn & garden/garbage bags should keep your gear dry if you don't have a "dry bag."
    • 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 boots, some get along fine with an old pair of sneakers. Forest Service employees prefer calf-high rubber hunting boots. It is no longer difficult to find outdoor shoes and boots that are manufactured with wading in mind. 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: (probably more important than boots) 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 cotton.
      • 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. I am very fond of white goat-skin gloves, but there are now good quick-drying synthetic gloves designed for boaters and builders.
    • Hat: 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.
    • Flip-flops: If the campsite is dry, you will want something to wear around camp other than your wet boots: flip-flops, mocasins, sandals, etc. The less they weigh and the less space they occupy the better. Of course, this principle applies to EVERYTHING that goes with you into the wilderness.
    • 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 shirt made out of wool or one of the many synthetic microfibers. Wool resists body odor but drys slowly. Synthetics seem to amplify body odor. Recently, polyester undergarments have come on the market that resist BO, and I have become a big fan. Terramar BodySensors is the brand I have tested personally.
    • 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. Under those conditions, cotton is your enemy.
    • 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 as long as you can keep it dry.
    • 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. A typical windbreaker over a fleece jacket will get you by.
    • Insect Repellent: Most of the season's bugs will be long gone, but you might need it. Some people are more attractive to bugs than others.
    • Sun Glasses: I hope you'll need them.
    • 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. This would include prescription and nonprescription drugs. If you are allergic to bee or wasp stings, make sure you have appropriate medication. Make sure everyone in your group knows where to find it.
    • Hand Towel: I prefer two or three Heavy Duty Handi-wipes (available in most grocery stores). Volume & weight are negligible, and they dry quickly.
    • Personal water bottle. "Disposable" plastic water or soft drink bottles are light, strong, and free and will last for weeks.
    • Lightweight LED flashlight or headlamp.
    • Notebook and writing device.
  • Optional:
    • Paperback recreational reading.
    • Canoe Paddle or PFD: Paddles and PFDs are provided, but feel free to bring your own if have one you would prefer to use.
    • Personal fanny pack for things you want to access during the day.
    • Personal bowl & eating utensils.
    • Compass: Bring one if you can.
    • 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 Prof. Andy McCollum for expert advice.
Maintained by: Craig W. Allin Last Update: April 21, 2014 1:44 pm
600 First Street West, Mt. Vernon, Iowa, 52314 ©2003 Cornell College; All Rights Reserved