A Beginners Guide to Backcountry Camping

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Backcountry camping, or primitive camping, is camping without facilities, electricity, roads, plumbing, or any of the other creature comforts that we are used to. Think of it like stepping back into history and enjoying nature in the least invasive way possible. There’s truly something powerful about it. You’re basically setting aside modern life and living the way your ancestors did.

That said, backcountry camping is also challenging. Since you don’t have access to running water, 911, grocery stores, or any other modern conveniences you must be prepared for what may come next. That means taking a thoughtful approach to preparation to ensure that you are not only safe, but having fun.

Like everything else in life, if you’re interested in backcountry camping, you should start small. There’s no need to go spending thousands of dollars on gear and other stuff if you don’t need to – especially if it’s something you haven’t done before.

Over time, you will build up knowledge and knowhow that will allow you to venture further and further into the wilderness, but when you’re just getting started it makes sense to stay relatively close to civilization. That way, if something goes wrong you can easily make your way back to safety. That also doesn’t mean you’re home free though. Below are some considerations that you’re going to want to make before you hit the backcountry.

Cooking

Cooking in the backcountry is very different than cooking at home. Since you will be a ways away from the creature comforts you are used to, and you have to carry everything you need, you will likely be eating preplanned dehydrated meals.

Now, when most people think of dehydrated meals they immediately think of the “space food” from their childhood. Well, we’re in the 21st century now, so those nasty freeze dried packages of the past are gone. Most dehydrated food today is not terrible, and there are even some that actually aren’t bad at all.

By far, the biggest consideration to backcountry cooking is the thoughtful preparation.

Shelter

Outside of food and water, shelter should be your number one priority. When you’re in the backcountry, it also means that the shelter you pick will have a direct impact on how easy it is for you to get around. Generally speaking, you’re going to want to leave the 8 person mega tent with multiple rooms at home. Personally, when we are backcountry camping we like to bring either a small 2 person tent (depending on how many people you’re with), or a hammock.

This isn’t universal though. It’s important to do some research into where you’re going. For example, the Appalachian Trail has a network of camping shelters throughout it, so you may very well be able to stay in a place that doesn’t require you to bring shelter – just make sure you also research trail etiquette because depending on the season those fixed shelters may be used by thru hikers.

Navigation

Navigations is another important consideration that far too many people forget. Almost everyone knows someone who’s gone out in the woods and gotten lost because they didn’t have cell phone service and took a wrong turn. Luckily, most people are able to make their way to safety without getting hurt, but wouldn’t it be much easier to plan in advance?

navigation in the backcountry means that you should always plan to bring some sort of paper map, compass, electronic GPS, or downloadable device that will work without cell phone service. Just make sure that your batteries have enough charge to make it through your entire stay on the trail.

First-Aid

First-aid is a somewhat obvious one. If you’re camping in the backcountry and get hurt you need to be prepared to take care of yourself. Far too often, emergency medical professionals are called to trails because someone rolled their ankle, or fell, or cut themselves. You can avoid a lot of those scenarios through general preparation and awareness, but it’s generally a good idea to have some basics with you as well.

Clothing

Clothing is something that most inexperienced backcountry campers don’t think about. People are used to hitting the trail during the day, when temperatures are stable or even increasing. What people aren’t used to is the drastic decrease in temperatures that happens overnight. This is especially true at varying elevations. That means that if you are planning to spend a few nights in the backcountry, it’s a very good idea to pack some extra clothes. Afterall, it’s much easier to take an additional layer off than it is to put something on that you don’t have.

Water Filtration

Why not save the best for last? Water filtration is one of the most important considerations to backcountry camping. Depending on how far out you are going, you may be able to bring enough water to get you through, but that won’t always be the case. Humans can only live for 3-5 days without clean, drinkable, water so you need to be prepared in case you find yourself in a situation where you need a drink.

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