Camping – The Next Level
So you’ve mastered basic camping – you’re a whiz at camping out of your car at designated camping sites. Now, you want to take your camping to the next level. The logical next step is to carry everything with you and overnight in the backcountry. Backcountry camping can be the most rewarding of all camping experiences. The scenery, the sense of accomplishment, and the solitude are all draws for the backcountry adventurer. However, because you are removed from civilization, it is important to be sure you are prepared for whatever nature can throw at you. Here are the basics….
Don’t let this seemingly daunting task prevent you from getting started. Decide on an area you want to go. Most national forests and national parks are good places to start. Then check to see if there are any backcountry camping requirements – such as a permit. A trip to your local outdoor shop is a good place to go to start the planning process. They typically have great recommendations from first-hand experience and their knowledge can often save you hours of time of research.
Since you will be carrying all of your supplies, you will need a big backpack. How long you’ll be out will determine how big your pack should be. As a general rule, plan for a 50L pack for a weekend trip, a 60L pack for 3-4 days, and a 70L pack for longer. How light and packable your gear is will also determine pack size needed. The most important factor here is how the pack fits. A proper fitting backpack is the difference in an enjoyable trip and a suffer fest. Experienced gear shops specialize in fitting large packs. Trust them.
3 Overnight gear
Beside the backpack, a tent, sleeping pad, and a sleeping bag are the most important of your overnight gear. In this category you pay for lightweight and compressibility both of which make carrying them easier. Try and save for high quality equipment here – you get what you pay for – and good quality gear will perform for years. With the recent technology surge in the outdoor industry, you can get extremely light gear that will let you sleep very comfortably in most conditions.
Obviously, you have to drink water. Carrying all the water you need for a multiday trip would be impossibly heavy. Unfortunately, drinking from natural water sources can lead to things I’d rather not discuss. So, when heading into the backcountry you should always have a plan for collecting and treating water. Plan on a water filter, chlorine tablets, or a UV light to treat any collected water. Boiling the water is also an option, but is usually reserved for emergencies as it is not efficient as a consistent water supply.
Not all national parks and national forest allow fires. Or, some that do allow them will ban them during prolonged dry periods. For this reason, fires in the backcountry should be view as a luxury and not necessarily relied on as a means of cooking. If you do plan for a fire, be sure to bring fire starters and waterproof matches. However, it usually makes sense to bring a backcountry stove for cooking. They are almost always worth the nominal weight for the efficiency of use and time saved. A small stove and pot combo can cook all your meals, boil water in an emergency, and make coffee. And coffee in the backcountry is heavenly.
Certainly, the clothing you take is dependent on the weather in the area you are going. But as a rule, be prepared for the maximum weather extremes for the area in the time of year you are going. Think about taking layers that can be worn at the same time if needed. But don’t overdo it. The bulk of clothing adds up. Take one change of socks, underwear, and possibly baselayer (if it’s cold) and wear everything else for the length of the trip. Take a rain jacket and be sure it can be worn over everything. Other clothing rules to adventure by: leave anything cotton at home, wear merino wool socks.
Extra snacks are always a good idea. I seem to eat more in the backcountry.
Buy or put together a small first aid kit.
On many cell phones you can download maps for offline use should you get lost. There are also some good hiking/topo map apps. Otherwise, have a map or GPS or both.
Be sure to give someone your itinerary. Have them call for help if they don’t hear from you at a certain time.
If you are traveling in bear country, plan on bear spray. Have it accessible on trail.
Sun screen, bug spray, and toilet paper are essentials.
A headlamp is a critical piece of gear – light and 2 free hands! Read a book, pitch a tent, hike a trail, etc.<
Finally, have fun, enjoy the adventure, and leave a small footprint. If you pack it in, pack it out. Let’s leave the wild places the way we found them for the next adventurers to enjoy.