The Pack Report

Leader of the Pack: Paddling and Camping Advice From Award Winning Author, Expert Outdoorsman, and Legend of the BWCAW, Cliff Jacobson

Tom Sega has a Zoom conversation with Cliff Jacobson, the award-winning author, expert outdoorsman, and legend of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, on this week’s episode of Leader of the Pack, a podcast by Duluth Pack. In this podcast episode, Cliff walks us through how he became the avid outdoorsman he is today and how that led to him publishing a number of books on survival skills in the outdoors and paddling.

Falling In love with the Outdoors

Tom and Cliff start this episode by talking about Cliff’s childhood and how he originally became interested in the outdoors. Cliff was born and raised in a third-floor apartment in Chicago, Illinois. Cliff was not a fan of this personally as he wanted to be in the outdoors, not the city. Cliff’s love for the outdoors was fueled by when he was young in the Boy Scouts. He talks to Tom about getting ready to go on trips with the Boy Scouts and preparing weeks in advance. Cliff was dedicated to learning about the great outdoors through his experiences and through as much literature as he could grasp. Cliff says that his love of the outdoors is from a gene that people either have or don’t and he has it! He references a story from growing up and working at a program called Wilderness Experience where he was a canoe guide in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. During a trip, he had a camper who hated the outdoors and despite the best conditions and a beautiful trip, she refused to find enjoyment in nature. On the other end of that spectrum, he recalls another camper who had terrible conditions and loved the trip. Cliff describes to Tom how this camper ended up sitting on a rock in the rain wearing a poncho and a huge smile. “How do you get like that? It’s a gene,” Cliff says “either you have it or you don’t have it (the capacity to love the outdoors).” In fact, Cliff says that despite the love his daughters have for him and growing up in canoes, they hate canoeing. “They just don’t have the gene,” Cliff tells Tom. It was this gene that guided Cliff growing up and into his career.

Cliff’s Career

Cliff started his career as a forester after getting his forestry degree from Purdue and worked out West for the Bureau of land management for 6 months. During that time Cliff was also in ROTC and was called in to be stationed in Germany for 2 years. During his time in Germany, he was in an artillery unit. Cliff ended up in Germany for only one of his two years. During his second year, Cliff became a part of the US Europe Rifle Team because of his skill in competitive shooting. While abroad Cliff realized that he did not want to go back to working as a forester and would need to do something else. Thankfully for Cliff, he had some experience in teaching military-related subjects while deployed and thought that he could teach biology. This was the perfect career move for Cliff because he would have summers off this way for the adventures he wanted to take. This would also mean that during the summers Cliff would be able to canoe as much as he liked. Cliff ended up teaching for 35 years in the sciences and then happily retired.

Falling In Love With Canoeing

Tom Comments on Cliff’s experience as an expert canoeist and outdoorsman and asks him about how he fell in love with canoeing. Cliff quickly disagrees with Tom, saying that he views himself as an above-average canoeist and expert outdoorsman, to which Tom accuses him of being too humble, but relents. Cliff then moves on to talk about his love of canoeing which began when he was eleven years old at a Boy Scout camp in Northern Michigan where they have wooden and canvas canoes. There he learned not only how to paddle canoes but also how to repair them as the canvas could easily rip over rocks. while explaining his love of canoeing. Cliff Says, “backpacking you are following a trail. but on the river, you are getting a unique experience the whole way. You can live a little more eloquently because you can carry more canoeing.” Cliff’s love of paddling faded through college and the Army but was re-ignited when a friend invited him on a canoe trip and Cliff was hooked all over again. Cliff bought a canoe after that trip and began to use the knowledge he had gained from learning about being an outdoorsman and reading so many outdoor skills books. The problem that occurred though tells Tom, was when Cliff went to apply this knowledge, not everything worked. Cliff laughs with Tom that after complaining about the things that didn’t work, his wife at the time said “Well why don’t you write an article about it.” Cliff did just that and wilderness camping picked up his article and his writing career began.

Cliff’s Writing Career

After writing his article, Cliff was contacted by EP Dutton asking him to write a book on canoeing.  Cliff explains to Tom that he made a vow to not write a book on how to paddle but would instead focus on the nuts and bolts of a canoe trip. Cliff also swore that everything he would write in that book, or any other article, would be his experience or another expert’s experience whom he knew. This is seen in Cliff’s flagship book; Canoeing Wild Rivers where he mentions over 30 of the top paddlers in North America. Tom asks Cliff what is a piece of advice he would give someone looking to get into paddling? Cliff explains that when learning how to do something like learning to canoe, the best way is to go to an event or class to try canoeing out, and if you can’t do that you should read a book or watch a video. Cliff highlights that you want to make sure that you learn the correct method as it is difficult to unlearn bad habits. This is part of the reason Cliff has written so many books about canoeing and outdoor survival skills. Some of those books include Canoeing Wild Rivers, Boundary Waters Canoe Camping, Camping’s Top Secrets, Basics Essentials, Solo Canoeing, Cooking In The Outdoors, Map And Compass, knots For The Outdoors, and most recently a fictional novel: Justin Cody’s Race For Survival. Tom comments that of these nine books, eight of them can be used as a reference to learn about the outdoors and include true experiences of Cliff and other experiences. In fact one of Cliff’s novels even includes the story of Cliff’s wedding which took place during a paddling trip.

The Wedding Pack Story

The Story of Cliffs wedding is one he mentions in multiple books and is also close to home for Duluth Pack. This story is the one of Cliff and the Wedding Pack, a white #2 Original Duluth Pack that was brought along on Cliff’s adventure to be married. Cliff explains that he had multiple #2 Original Duluth Packs and they were all white for his trips on the Tundra in Northern Canada. Cliff would tie ribbons to these packs for visual markers to not lose them. For one adventure Cliff’s Fiancé, Susie had agreed to marry him on a canoeing trip on the Hood River above the Arctic Circle. Susie packed her wedding dress, the wedding cake, and everything she needed for their wedding day in a white #2 Original Duluth Pack that was deemed the Wedding Pack. Cliff and his crew along with Susie loaded all of their gear into a plane to get them to their adventure’s starting point but after they unloaded, they realized they had forgotten an essential piece of the trip, the Wedding Pack. Susie refused to get married without the pack and her wedding dress, despite some of the crew making other suggestions for creating a wedding dress including using poly liners.

Cliff explains to Tom that during that first night they heard the drone of a plane flying overhead. It had turned out that they had left the Wedding Pack at the dock for the plane and a friend of Cliff’s knew it was Cliff’s pack for the wedding. This friend asked a pilot to deliver it to Cliff during their flight over where Cliff and his team were staying, so the pilot ended up shoving the bag out of the side of the plane. The Wedding Pack landed with a massive thud and the impact of the fall put a hole in the bag that Duluth Pack that was later repaired by Duluth Pack.

With the pack back in their possession, Cliff and Susie’s wedding was back on. When Cliff & Susie came back from the trip, they both thought the pack was so special it deserved to be showcased in the Duluth Pack store. To this day, the pack hangs in the flagship Duluth Pack store with a photo of cliff and Susie holding the pack from their wedding. Cliff explains to Tom that this is the shortened version of the Wedding Pack story but he could read the full story in Cliff’s book: Canoeing Wild Rivers.

Throughout this episode of the Leader of The Pack, you can see Cliff has been inspired by the outdoors and sharing knowledge. This is in part why Cliff has written so many books about outdoor survival skills. As Cliff has continued to spend time in the outdoors, he tells Tom that he has noticed that a majority of those he finds in nature are growing older and he fears that the young kids are not interested in these wild spaces like they used to be. This fear is why Cliff wrote his latest book: Justin Cody’s Race For Survival. Cliff explains that while this book is fictional, it uses real survival camping skills and stories from Cliff and his friend’s personal experiences and is meant to re-excite young people about the outdoors. You can find many of Cliff’s books in the Duluth Pack store or at where they will be autographed or you can find his books on Amazon. Tom concludes this episode of the Leader of The Pack saying, “share this with others and with your kids,” giving praise for Cliff’s writing and his skills as an outdoorsman. Tom Jokes that Cliff is truly an expert outdoorsman and an above-average canoeist as Cliff called himself earlier in this episode. Thank you, Cliff Jacobson, for joining us on this week’s episode of Leader of the Pack and for all you have done for the camping, canoeing, and outdoor community.

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