Wilderness hiking and camping are hands-down some of the best ways to get outside and enjoy the wonders of nature.
But, planning your first backcountry adventure can feel overwhelming as there are so many different aspects of your trip that you ought to consider. In fact, from figuring out what you’re going to eat to determining what backcountry camping gear to pack, getting your first wilderness hiking and camping trip organized can be a challenge, to say the least.
Luckily for you, we’re here to help.
In this complete guide to backcountry hiking and camping, we’ll clue you into everything you need to know before you get out on your next venture into the mountains. That way, you can make the most of your upcoming expedition.
Let’s get started.
Chapter 1: Wilderness and Backcountry Hiking Basics
The very first section of our wilderness hiking and backpacking guide focuses on the basics of backcountry adventure. Coming up, we’ll look at some key terms, phrases, and concepts that you need to know before we talk about the trip planning process.
What Is Backcountry Camping And Hiking?
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves here, let’s take a step back and discuss what backcountry camping and hiking really are.
We know that the idea of backcountry hiking might seem fairly straightforward. But with so many different types of camping and trekking out there, it’s important that we’re all on the same page about what kinds of adventures we’re talking about before we start discussing the nitty-gritty details.
Simply put, backcountry hiking is any type of hiking that takes you into a remote environment. Meanwhile, backcountry camping is any overnight venture into a remote locale where you sleep outside without the aid of a shelter, like a hut.
These definitions might seem broad, and it’s because they are. In reality, there are many different ways to enjoy your trip into the backcountry, each of which has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.
So, in this section, we’ll briefly discuss the most important types of wilderness camping and hiking that you might try in the future. Afterward, we’ll talk about some of the benefits of backcountry adventures and a few of the key things that you ought to keep in mind as you start to do some preliminary planning for your first trip.
1. Backcountry Day Hiking
The first kind of wilderness hiking that you ought to know about is backcountry day hiking. Backcountry day hiking simply involves heading out on a day-long hike into a remote environment.
Of course, everyone’s definition of “remote” is slightly different, but the idea here is that you’re getting fairly far from the road and major crowds. On these adventures, you might follow a maintained trail, or you might hike off-trail. The options are really limitless.
But, as a day hiking trip is only meant to last for the day, you’ll plan to be back home or at your accommodation for the night after your hike. It’s as simple as that.
2. Backcountry Backpacking
If you’re looking to get outside and spend your nights in the wilderness, then backcountry backpacking just might be what you need.
Like day hiking, backpacking involves hiking into remote locations, either on- or off-trail. However, the difference is that backpackers intend to spend one or more nights in the backcountry, while day hikers plan to be back in their own beds by the end of the day.
Since backpackers come prepared with plenty of overnight supplies, like tents and sleeping bags, on their camping checklist, they’re often able to travel further into the backcountry than day hikers. So, it can be a nice choice for people who really want to have more of an immersive nature experience.
3. Ultralight Backpacking
While backpacking sure is fun, it does often involve carrying a whole lot of gear. Indeed, your average backpacker’s pack might weigh up to 50 lbs (23 kg), thanks to the weight of backcountry camping gear and food.
So, to combat this problem, some folks enjoy going ultralight backpacking, instead.
Ultralight backpacking is essentially the same thing as backcountry backpacking, but with a lightweight flair. Most ultralight backpackers will invest a lot of time and money into cutting their total pack weight for maximum efficiency on the trail.
If the thought of carrying a pack that weighs a maximum of anywhere from about 10 to 20 lbs (5 to 9 kg), appeals to you, then ultralight backpacking might be a nice option.
Do keep in mind, however, that ultralight backpacking does require quite a bit of experience and situational awareness to do safely and comfortably. So, it’s best for folks with plenty of prior wilderness backpacking experience under their belts.
The last type of wilderness hiking on our list is thru-hiking. Thru-hiking is technically defined as any point-to-point backpacking or hiking trip. However, most folks will qualify this definition and say that a hike is only a thru-hike if it’s on an established end-to-end long-distance trail or route.
For example, a 5 mile (8 km) point-to-point hike might not count as a thru-hike, but a one-way trek on the Appalachian Trail (AT), Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), or Continental Divide Trail (CDT) certainly would. All of these trails are substantially more than 2,000 miles (3,200 km) long, so they’re major undertakings that involve spending a lot of time in the wilderness.
That being said, some “thru-hikes,” such as the Camino de Santiago in Spain, involve staying in hostels and other more organized accommodations each night. So, for our purposes, we’ll define thru-hiking as any sort of long-distance point-to-point trek that takes hikers deep into the backcountry.
The Benefits of Backcountry Hiking And Camping
Now that you understand some of the different types of wilderness hiking and camping, let’s talk about a few of the benefits of getting out into some of the more remote parts of the great outdoors.
Some of the many benefits of backcountry adventures, when compared to other types of outdoor recreation, include:
- More Solitude – When compared to other types of camping, like staying in an organized campground, backcountry camping offers improved chances for solitude in the mountains. Sure, you can often find a moment to yourself, even on a busy trail. But, going backcountry hiking or camping makes it easier for you to get out and away from the crowds as a bit of a respite from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
- Spectacular Views – It’s hard to argue that the views that you can get while backcountry hiking are anything short of spectacular. Of course, the vistas you’ll experience vary from place to place, but you’ll certainly find some sprawling mountain vistas that are to your liking if you spend enough time outside.
- Great Exercise – Hiking is, simply put, superb exercise. While we don’t want you to think that hiking is just about burning calories (it’s so much more than that), we should point out that hiking burns more calories per hour than walking, mostly because it involves walking uphill. So, if you’re interested in finding a new way to stay active, backcountry hiking might be a nice option.
- Enhanced Nature Connectedness – Finally, the further you get out into the backcountry, the greater the opportunities you have to really connect with nature. Every backcountry hiking trip that you go on offers a chance for you to step back from your busy schedule and to get in touch with the natural world around you. By going into more remote wilderness areas on a camping trip, you’ll be more likely to do just that.
Key Considerations For Wilderness Hiking And Backpacking
At this point, you understand the different types of wilderness hiking and the benefits that they offer.
But, what are some of the key things you need to take into consideration before you head outside?
Up next, we’ll give you a brief overview of four things you should always consider before planning a backpacking or wilderness hiking trip to ensure that it’s right for your adventure style.
1. Experience Level
The first thing that anyone ought to consider when deciding if the time is right for them to go backpacking or wilderness hiking is their own personal experience level.
For the most part, outdoor enthusiasts usually start with shorter day hikes and perhaps even an overnight stay at a maintained campground before venturing into the backcountry on their own. That’s because increasing the intensity of your experiences in this methodical way can help ensure that you have the skills you need to slowly but surely get out into the wilderness.
Once you feel comfortable with your experience level and your ability to go backpacking or wilderness hiking on your own, it’s still best to take things slow.
As a general rule, jumping straight into a 6 month-long thru-hike before you have a few multi-day backpacking trips under your belt isn’t advised.
So, consider easing into your backcountry adventures in a step-by-step manner. You can first start with an overnight in a familiar area before heading out on an overnight in a more remote locale. Then, you can slowly build up into doing longer and longer trips as you feel comfortable.
That way, you can be confident in your ability to handle whatever comes your way in the mountains.
2. Leave No Trace (LNT)
As soon as you’ve decided on a backcountry hiking or camping trip that’s right for you, it’s time to get into the mindset of a wilderness traveler. In particular, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the principles of Leave No Trace (LNT) before your first trip.
LNT is an organization for outdoor ethics that strives to promote responsible use of the outdoors among hikers, climbers, skiers, and anyone that likes to recreate nature. The organization has a list of seven principles that everyone ought to know before they head outside.
While the seven principles are a bit too much content for us to list out here, the organization does have detailed guides on each principle that you can check out. That being said, there are three key principles that we want to focus on here as they’re particularly important for backcountry hikers and campers.
These principles are:
- Plan Ahead And Be Prepared – LNT’s first principle of planning ahead and being prepared is particularly important for backcountry travelers. There’s an old adage that says that failing to plan is planning to fail, and that’s particularly true for wilderness adventures. Planning for a backpacking trip starts with researching your route and destination. It also includes being confident in your abilities and having the right gear for the job. So, you’re already off to a good start by reading this article!
- Dispose Of Waste Properly – When we travel in the backcountry, disposing of your waste properly is of the utmost importance. This means that you’ll want to pack out all trash that you produce from the wilderness so you can dispose of it at home. You’ll also want to think about how you’ll go to the bathroom outside as you’ll need to ensure that your human waste is discarded in the proper manner. This normally involves digging a cathole for your solid waste and packing out your toilet paper. But, check with local land managers for their guidance.
- Respect Wildlife – As guests in the wilderness, we should always respect wildlife. Doing so involves storing your food in a way that animals can’t get to it at night. It also means understanding what you should do if you come across an animal, especially all types of bears. When traveling in bear country, consider carrying bear spray, too. Bears can smell up to 20 miles away so stay out of areas where a bear would likely go. But, you should always check with local land managers and rangers to see what they suggest for hiking in their park or forest.
3. Safety & Risk Management
Along the same lines as LNT, you’ll also want to consider your own safety and risk management abilities before you head out on a backcountry trip.
While we hope that your adventures get off without a hitch, anything can happen in the backcountry. So, packing the appropriate survival equipment and first aid kit is essential when you hike or camp in remote environments.
Furthermore, you should always consider what you will do if someone gets hurt while you’re out and about. Taking a wilderness first aid class and some navigation/outdoor survival courses is always recommended for new backcountry hikers.
4. Cultural Considerations
Last but not least, backcountry travelers should always be aware of the fact that they may, indeed, be hiking through areas that are of cultural importance to different peoples.
For example, the vast majority of national parks and public lands in the United States are located on the ancestral homelands of many Indigenous peoples and Tribal Nations. As a result, understanding the cultural heritage and significance of a region is essential.
This is particularly important if you are traveling in an area that’s known for having a large number of cultural artifacts, such as in the southwestern United States. Or, if you’re hiking somewhere that has seasonal closures for traditional land usage or spiritual ceremonies, recognizing these closures and respecting them is vital.
So, consider doing your research and learning more about the cultural history of the lands you’ll be traveling on before you go hiking.
Websites like Native Land can offer some insight into the many Tribal Nations that have traditional territory in a region. However, going to a Tribal Nation’s website and learning about their culture and sacred sites is always recommended before your trip so that we can all be more aware and respectful of the land that we recreate on.
Chapter 2: Planning A Wilderness Hiking & Camping Trip
By now, you have a solid understanding of the basics of wilderness hiking and camping. So, it’s finally time to dive into the details of planning a backcountry trip.
In this section, we’ll walk you through step by step everything that you need to consider as you plan your first outing. Plus, as you gain more experience, you can still come back and refer to this part of the article as a guide that you can adjust to meet the needs of your more remote adventures.
The first part of any backcountry hiking or camping trip planning process is figuring out precisely how long your outing is going to be.
For folks who are looking to go out on a day hike, you’ll want to think of a rough starting and end time for your trek. Of course, this might vary by an hour or so here or there, but you want to have an estimated total adventure time in your head before you hit the trail.
Once you have a general idea of what time you’ll be back from your trip, let someone trustworthy know your plans. That way, they can call for help if they don’t hear from you for a few hours after your anticipated return time.
On the other hand, anyone planning a backpacking trip will need to think long and hard about how long they want their expedition to be. While there’s no right answer to this question (it varies based on your interests, availability, and skill set), it’s important to know your total trip length in days before you head outside.
That’s because the length of your trip has a major impact on how much food and fuel you’ll need to bring. It might also affect whether you need a permit or not for your trip (more on that in a bit), so you definitely need to know how many nights you plan to spend in the backcountry before you hit the trail.
Now that you know how long you want your trip to be, you’ll need to find a suitable location for your adventure.
As we’ve mentioned, it’s often best to start your backpacking career in a local, familiar place so you’ll feel more comfortable on your first outing. However, as you get more comfortable with your backpacking skills, you may find that you’re able to venture to more remote locales.
Keep in mind, however, that you’ll likely want to stick to backpacking destinations with reliable trails for at least your first few adventures. Once you get more comfortable with your off-trail navigation skills, you might consider going on a mostly or completely trailless trek. But, for now, we’d recommend starting on well-maintained trails.
If you’re struggling to think of a good backpacking or hiking itinerary, consider calling the ranger station at a local national or state park or forest. The rangers can often suggest appropriate itineraries based on your skillset and interests. So, this can be a great resource for anyone that needs a bit of help finding the ideal trip for their needs.
Permits & Other Logistics
With your trip length and location squared away, you’ll need to do a bit of research to figure out if you need to apply for permits or handle any other logistics before your trip.
Depending on where you plan on camping, you may very well need to apply for backpacking permits ahead of your arrival. Some places, like Yosemite National Park, have very competitive backpacking permitting processes, so advanced planning is helpful here.
We should also mention that some parks and forests even have permit requirements for day hikers. This is mostly true in wilderness areas, so keep this in mind if you’re going to a popular destination. In many instances, you may be able to get a free permit at the trailhead, but do check before you leave home.
Other important logistical things to consider include the need for fire permits and trailhead shuttles.
Some places, such as the state of California, require that anyone using a camp stove or starting a fire have a fire permit. These are free and easy to get, but they’re important if you want to avoid hefty fines.
Alternatively, you may need to organize a trailhead shuttle for your adventure if you want to do a point-to-point hike.
Since this is more logistically complicated, we often recommend that new hikers stick to doing out-and-back or loop hikes that start and end in the same spot. Then, as you get more experience, you can consider branching out into adventures that require a shuttle.
Gear & Equipment
Fact: Wilderness backpacking and hiking are gear-intensive pursuits. As a result, it’s vital that you have all the gear that you need for your trip before you hit the trail.
The good news is that much of what you’d bring with you as part of a regular camping checklist is also relevant here for backpacking and day hiking. But, you may need to modify your gear selection to suit the demands of a more remote environment.
If you’re interested in learning more about what you might bring on a summertime car camping trip, check out our ultimate camping checklist to get started. After you have a good idea of what you’d normally bring on a roadside adventure, you can shift your mindset a bit toward selecting lightweight gear that you can carry on your back.
Since there is so much overlap over a camping and backpacking gear list, we’ll focus here on what makes backpacking gear different. Additionally, if you’re going day hiking, you’ll actually find that most of this gear (except the overnight equipment, like tents and camp stoves) is relevant for your needs.
So, without further ado, here are all the pieces of gear that you should never leave home without when wilderness hiking or backpacking:
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1. Shelter & Sleep System
As you can imagine, wilderness backpacking is about keeping your gear as light as possible so that you can easily transport it in your pack. When it comes to your shelter and sleep system, this often means foregoing extra luxuries and keeping things simple. In particular, you might want to pack:
- Lightweight tent
- Ultralight tarp
- Tent stakes
- Lightweight camp chair or sit pad
- Inflatable sleeping pad
- Sleeping bag or quilt
- Sleeping bag stuff sack
Do keep in mind that you probably won’t need this gear if you’re just going hiking for the day. But, even then, you may want to pack an emergency shelter, especially if you’re heading into more remote terrain.
2. Eating & Drinking
If there’s one thing that you’ll be on the trail, it’s hungry. So, packing plenty of eating and drinking supplies is important. As with your shelter and sleep system, your eating and drinking equipment should be as light as you can find.
Often, you can use the same item for multiple purposes to cut down on weight and bulk in your pack. For example, you can eat directly out of the pot if you’re camping alone, rather than carrying a separate bowl. With that in mind, here are a few key eating and drinking supplies to pack on your next trip:
- Lightweight camp stove
- Stove fuel
- Pot with a lid
- Pot holder
- Bowl and spork
- Bear canister or bear hang kit (check local regulations)
- Water bottles/hydration system
- Water treatment/filtration system
- Biodegradable soap
3. Clothing & Footwear
Your clothing and footwear are essential parts of any backcountry camping gear list. Indeed, having the right clothing can literally make or break your adventure, so it’s imperative that you have the appropriate layers for the conditions you’ll face.
Although every trip brings different weather, there are a few things you’ll want to bring on nearly any backcountry camping or hiking trip when it comes to clothing and footwear. This includes:
- Hiking boots/shoes
- Hiking socks (2–3x)
- Warm sleeping socks (1–2x)
- Hiking pants/shorts (1–2x)
- Underwear (2–3x)
- Baselayer pants
- Hiking shirt (no cotton)
- Puffy jacket (1–2x)
- Fleece jacket
- Rain jacket
- Rain pants
- Sun hat
- Warm hat
- Liner gloves
4. Packing System
Since you’ll be carrying everything you need to survive in the wilderness with you on your back while you hike, you’ll need to have a quality packing system in place to help keep your camping gear organized during your adventures.
As a general rule, all backcountry travelers will need the following for their packing system:
- Stuff sacks
- Pack liner
- Pack rain cover
The overall size of the pack that you need for backpacking or day hiking really depends on the amount of gear that you’ll bring. But, most people find that the following pack sizes are appropriate for different length trips:
- Day Hike: 20 to 45L
- 1 Night: 45 to 50L
- 2 to 3 Nights: 50 to 75L
- 3 to 5 Nights: 60 to 85L
- 5+ Nights: 85 to 110L
However, ultralight hikers can often get by with substantially smaller packs for their adventures. You’ll actually find that you can use a smaller and smaller pack as you gain more experience with hiking, but, when you’re starting out, a slightly larger pack will be easier to organize on the trail.
5. Personal Tech & Gear
In addition to all of the larger items that we’ve already discussed, there are always plenty of small gear items that you might want to bring with you on your backcountry adventures. Some other essential items that are well worth packing on your trip include:
- Spare batteries
- Map, compass, and GPS
- Bug headnet
- Bear spray (location-dependent)
- Cell phone
- ID, cash, and a credit card
- Permits, reservations, and licenses
- Portable power bank
- First aid kit
- Multi-tool/pocket knife
- Gear repair kit
- Prescription medications
- Toiletries (biodegradable when possible)
- Toilet paper (with garbage bag)
6. Optional Extras
Up to this point, all of the gear that we’ve mentioned so far are must-have items for any backcountry traveler. But, there may be times where you might want to bring some additional items, either for comfort or entertainment on the trail. Here are some good items to consider packing on your next trip:
- Camp shower
- Camera and batteries
- Journal and pen
- Portable watercolors
- String lights
- Musical instruments
- Deck of cars
- Fly fishing gear (check local permits)
- Coffee brewing system
- Small ax or saw
- Menstrual hygiene products
- Camp shoes
- Bathing suit
- Compact towel
- Wind shirt/jacket
As we’ve mentioned, backcountry hikers and campers are always hungry. So, it should come as no surprise that food planning is always a concern for folks that are heading into the wilderness.
When it comes to food planning while backpacking, the first thing to recognize is that there’s no one food prep strategy that works for everyone. Rather, what’s important is that you find the strategy that’s right for you.
Within the world of backcountry food planning, there are two primary food prep systems: the meal planning method and the pantry method. Here’s a quick look at how both systems work so you can find the best option for your needs.
1. Meal Planning Method
The meal planning method is, as the name suggests, a system where you plan out each meal of your backpacking trip. Doing so is often ideal if you’re going on a very short trip (think less than one week) or if you’re trying to stick to simple meals.
There are so many options for cheap backpacking meals and for camping food that you don’t have to refrigerate for you to bring on your next trip. While we couldn’t possibly list all the meals that you can make, some of the most popular include mac and cheese, packs of instant rice and beans, oatmeal, pasta, and other simple options.
You might also want to pack bagels, tortillas, pita bread, or other similar items to make sandwiches with on the trail. Alternatively, some folks prefer to pack lots of snacks and energy bars for mid-day eating as they hike.
Regardless of what meals you choose while using the meal planning method, there are three key things that you ought to keep in mind:
- You Need To Plan Ahead – If you use the meal planning method, you need to count precisely how many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners you need on the trail. Then, pack your food accordingly. You may also want to add in an extra meal to your rations, just in case you get hungry or get stuck out for an extra night.
- Freeze Dried Meals Are Not Ideal – Sure, freeze dried meals are great on occasion and for a single overnight trip, they’re not bad. But, if you’re going outside for more than a day at a time, you’ll be much happier if you plan actual meals with real food to eat as you hike. Plus, freeze dried meals are expensive, so it’s best to go with real food whenever possible.
- Pack More Food Than You’d Normally Eat – You’ll almost always be hungrier while camping than you are at home. So, pack about 50% more food for each meal than you’d eat if you were at home on the couch. Your body will thank you for it later.
2. Pantry Method
As you can see, the meal planning method is great for folks that are going out on a short backpacking trip. But, if you’re not interested in pre-planning every single meal for your adventures or if you’re going out on a longer trip, the pantry method will likely be much more efficient.
The pantry method is often called the NOLS rationing method because it’s the system used by NOLS (the National Outdoor Leadership School). With this method, you’ll pack the food you need by weight—not by meal.
As a general rule, summertime campers need about 1 to 1.5 lbs (453 to 680 g) of food per person, per day. So, if you were camping for one week, you would need 7 to 10.5 lbs (3.2 to 4.8 kg) of food in total.
This total food weight would be divided up among food items, like flour, oats, pasta, rice, cheese, dried veggies, packets of chicken, summer sausage, dried eggs, chocolate, dried fruits, and the like. These raw materials can then be made into pretty much any meal you can think of, from pizza to cinnamon buns.
We should mention that this method is a bit involved, so it’s not ideal for first-time campers. But, as you gain more experience, it’s often a great way to eat well while backpacking. For more information, check out this video from NOLS about how they organize their rations system:
The last major planning consideration as you organize your backpacking trip is your fuel consumption.
Except in very rare circumstances where you’re limited to cooking only on an open fire, you’ll almost certainly do the vast majority, if not all, of your cooking over a camp stove. Therefore, you’ll need to calculate how much fuel you need for cooking up tasty fuel during your wilderness adventures.
Unfortunately, fuel calculations, like food rationing, while backpacking are not easy.
With that in mind, if you use a liquid fuel stove, you can generally expect to use about 1/3L of fuel per stove, per day of your trip.
Canister fuel stoves can be a bit trickier, as it really depends on the boil time for your particular stove. So, we recommend figuring out how much water your stove can boil per 1 oz (28 g) of fuel and then calculating your fuel needs from there.
For example, MSR states that you can boil 2L of water with 1 oz (28g) of fuel on their PocketRocket 2 stove. So, if you plan to use this stove for 1L of water at breakfast and dinner each day, you can calculate that you’ll use 1 oz (28 g) of fuel for each day of your trip.
Then, multiply that total by the number of your days on your trip and build in a budget of 30% extra fuel (just in case) to determine how much fuel you’ll need for your trip.
Again, though, keep in mind that fuel rationing is an art, not an exact science. There are so many factors that can affect the efficiency of your stove, from the temperature to the wind, that you’ll be hard-pressed to be completely accurate in your estimates. So, it’s always worth budgeting some extra fuel, just in case you need it on your adventures.
Chapter 3: Tips & Tricks While Backcountry Hiking & Camping
Congrats—you made it! After reading chapters 1 and 2 of this backpacking and hiking guide, you have a solid idea of how to plan and organize a trip into the wilderness.
But, as avid hikers ourselves, we know that backpacking is more than just planning for your adventure. Rather, it’s about being outside and making the most of your time in the mountains.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of a few top tips for your next backcountry expedition. In this final chapter, we’ll discuss some often-overlooked aspects of wilderness hiking and camping so you can feel confident in your abilities before you hit the trail.
Route Planning Requires Research
We’ve already spent quite a bit of time talking about how you might go about deciding on a location for your backpacking or hiking trip, but determining precisely what route you’ll take isn’t always that easy.
Indeed, route planning can be particularly challenging, especially if you’re new to ventures into remote locales.
More often than not, you’ll need to spend time scouring a topographical map looking for suitable camping locations. This often involves looking for places with relatively small elevation gradients (places where the contour lines are far apart on the map) to increase your chances of finding a flat campsite.
However, you’ll also need to make sure that your proposed campsites are within a reasonable distance from each other.
For example, if you know that you’re comfortable hiking no more than 8 miles (12.9 km) per day, then you won’t want to plan a route with campsites that are 12 miles (19.3 km) apart. Conversely, campsites that are only 2 miles (3.2 km) apart might not provide you with enough hiking each day.
If all of this feels like too much for you as you start your backpacking planning process, we do really recommend reaching out to the land managers at your destination to see if they have any suggestions. Park rangers often know about the best hikes in their area so they can usually suggest some good route itineraries for campers of different experience levels.
Campsite Selection Is Essential
Okay, we know what you’re thinking: We’ve already talked about route planning while backpacking, so why do we need to talk about campsite selection again?
Well, when we say “campsite selection,” we’re referring to what you do when you arrive in your preferred camping location for the evening. Once you arrive at camp, you may still need to scope out the perfect tent site, which isn’t always as easy as it might seem.
In particular, here are a few key things to keep in mind as you select a campsite while backpacking:
- Put Safety First – Safety should always be a top priority when camping, and wilderness backpacking is no exception. If you’re selecting a campsite for the night, take some time to survey your surroundings. Check to see if there’s a big risk of rockfall or avalanches in your area. Then, consider whether you’re in the flood zone of a river if a flash flood were to happen at night. Finally, look overhead to ensure that there are no dead trees hanging over your proposed test site.
- Follow Leave No Trace – We’ve already mentioned the importance of LNT principles while backpacking, though we should reiterate that they are vital for proper campsite selection. In particular, LNT suggests that we camp at least 200 feet (60 m) from water, roads, and trails whenever possible to minimize our impact on the landscape and on local wildlife.
- A Flat Campsite Is A Happy Campsite – We humans generally prefer to lie down on flat ground, so finding that flat campsite is ideal. It’s best to test out a few different potential tent sites by lying down on them to ensure that they’re actually flat before setting up camp for the night. If you really can’t find a flat site, then sleep so that your head is uphill from your feet. Otherwise, you might feel a little woozy from sleeping on an incline all night!
Always Treat Or Filter Your Water
Although we backpackers often focus a lot of our energy on prepping and planning our food rations, we can’t overlook the importance of getting enough water to drink on the trail. In reality, hydration is critical for any outdoor enthusiast, especially if you’re hiking in hot weather.
But, when you’re hiking and backpacking in the wilderness, you should always treat or filter your water. While you could drink fast moving water in an emergency, doing so isn’t ideal because it exposes you to the risk for dangerous pathogens.
Therefore, we always recommend treating or filtering your water before you drink it while backpacking. You can treat your water through one of a number of ways, including:
- Boiling – Bringing water to a rolling boil for about 2 minutes will kill nearly any pathogens that might’ve been in it. But, this method does use quite a bit of fuel.
- Pump Filters – These filters are somewhat bulky and expensive, but they can filter out the bulk of bacteria, protozoa, and debris from your water with relative ease.
- UV Light – UV light can be used to treat water in a matter of seconds by destroying the reproductive materials of protozoa, bacteria, and viruses in your water. However, these devices are battery-powered and they can break.
- Chemical Treatments – You can treat water with various chemicals (usually iodine or chlorine dioxide), most of which kill bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. They are compact and easy to use, but they do leave a funky taste in your water.
Ultimately, the type of water treatment you choose is a personal decision. However, what’s important here is that you have a water treatment system with you while backpacking that’s ideal for your needs.
Dress & Layer For Backcountry Adventures
Layering your clothing is an essential skill for all backcountry travelers, and for good reason: Proper clothing layering can help you stay warm and dry, even in truly foul weather.
When backpacking or wilderness hiking, it’s important to use a three-layer system for your clothing. This involves the following:
- Base Layer – Your base layer, or long underwear, is your moisture-wicking layer. These shirts and pants are designed to pull moisture from your skin so it can evaporate and keep you cool and dry.
- Mid Layer – While your base layers are designed for moisture-wicking purposes, your mid layers are your insulating clothing. This includes your fleece and puffy jackets, as well as any fleece or puffy pants you might bring for colder weather or winter camping.
- Outer Layer – The final layer of the system is your outer or shell layer. This layer consists of your rain jacket and rain pants as it’s designed to keep you as dry as can be in various types of precipitation.
The idea behind layering is that you can mix and match these three different layers to best meet the needs of the environment around you. As the weather changes, so too can your layers, so that you’re never too hot or too cold for your adventures.
Consider What You’ll Do In An Emergency
Finally, if you’re going to go backpacking or wilderness hiking, you should spend quite a bit of time thinking about what you’d do if you got caught outside in an emergency situation, be that an injured fellow camper or a bad storm.
Indeed, for each trip, all campers should have some contingency plans at the ready. Thinking through some potential escape routes from your remote campsites and familiarizing yourself with the nearest hospital in the region are important steps to take before you head into the woods.
On a much more broad note, however, all backcountry campers and hikers should strongly consider thinking about taking a wilderness first aid course early on in their career. Learning the basics of handling a medical emergency while camping could literally save someone’s life someday, so these sorts of classes are a must-do for all outdoor enthusiasts.
But, above all, enjoy yourself outside, plan ahead, be prepared, and make good decisions. As you gain more experience and skill in the mountains, you can start to venture into more remote destinations.