It can be intimidating to transition from car camping to your first backcountry experience. There are some gear recommendations and techniques that will make your 1st (or 50th) backcountry experience very enjoyable.
Step 1: Pick Your Trail and Apply for Camping Permits/Fire Permits
During camping high-season, it's important to select your route early and apply for backcountry camping permits. Permits can be acquired through the national forest you're planning on hiking in, or it can be acquired through the state park or national park you're planning on visiting.
Step 2: Start Compiling Gear & Food Lists
It's great to have these items well in advance so you can begin to break them in and get familiar with their uses.
TIP: it's critical to have already worn your hiking boots for several hikes before your first backcountry experience. If you're trying out a new tent in the backcountry, set up your tent in the comfort of your own home first as a practice run, to make sure you're familiar with the set-up and take-down of the tent before having to set up camp in the elements.
Step 3: Get Prepared
What you'll need when you begin the hike:
- Hiking boots (already broken in)
- Socks (preferably high socks made of material that will keep your feet warm, like wool)
- Pants or shorts (I recommend any material that can quick-dry)
- Layers including a tech top, vest or jacket, and rain-proof jacket
- Trail Map
- Backpack full of all your gear - listed below:
- Backpacking tent (make sure your tent is recommended for backpacking, not car camping. If the tent is over 5lbs, it may be considered a car camping tent).
- Tent stakes
- Tarp or "footprint" that goes underneath your tent to prevent ground moisture from getting into your tent
- Sleeping bag (I recommend that you check the temperature rating of your sleeping bag and compare it to the temperature of the place you'll be camping.
TIP: Over time, sleeping bag temperature ratings can change depending on storage techniques. Sleeping bags should not be stored in their stuff sac, they should be hung up in your closet or storage to ensure an accuracy in temperature ratings.)
- Sleeping pad (recommended but not essential) Sleeping pads help keep you warmer by providing extra insulation between you and the ground, and also provide a better nights rest.
- Water purification tablets or water filter. When camping and hiking in the backcountry, you'll be responsible for your own water purification from alpine lakes, streams, or any other water source. I recommend the Katadyn Hiker Pro Water Filter.
TIP: Before you begin your hike, look at your trail map to see where water sources are accessible. This will help you plan ahead as to where you should stop and refill on water.
- Hydration pack or water bottles. It's very convenient to hike with water accessible from your backpack, so something like a Camelback is recommended. It can store up to 3L of water. If you don't already own one, no worries, you can just use several water bottles as well.
- Cooking Stove
- Cooking Pot (can be used for boiling water and also used as a bowl)
- Cooking Fuel TIP: Not all cooking stoves can use all types of fuel. Ask your local camp store if you should be using white gas, mixed fuel, etc for the stove you own. Also, practice lighting your stove and turning it on/off before going into the backcountry.
- Waterproof Matches and/or lighter
- Eating Utensil
- Camp Soap
- Toilet Paper
- Shovel to bury your "bathroom duties" at least 8 inches deep
- Sunscreen / Bug spray (recommended but not essential)
- Prepare a "meal list" for your camping trip.
TIP: Your food can be relatively heavy for the first day because you'll be consuming it quickly and you don't have to worry about food storage that night.
Day 1 (Breakfast): before arriving to the trailhead: breakfast burrito, banana
Day 1 (Lunch): Turkey Sandwich and fruit (used sandwich bag can be designated for packing out trash)
Day 1 (Dinner): Pasta and bread
Day 1 (Snack): Trail Mix, dried fruit
Day 2 (Breakfast): Oatmeal and dried fruit
Day 2 (Lunch): Peanut butter and jelly sandwich and dried fruit
Day 2 (Dinner): Freeze dried meal
Day 2 (Snack): Dried fruit, cheese
Day 3 (Breakfast): Oatmeal and dried fruit (or freeze dried meal)
Day 3 (Lunch): Salami and cheese and tortilla (hard salami and hard cheese doesn't need to be refrigerated)
Day 3 (Dinner): Freeze dried meal
Day 3 (Snack): Dried fruit
- Pocket Knife
- Headlamp with extra batteries
- Bear canister for food storage (if necessary in the region you'll be camping)
- Paracord for food storage (if necessary in the region you'll be camping)
- First-Aid Kit
Step 4: Days Leading Up to Your Backpacking Trip
- Check the weather / any natural disasters in the surrounding area (flooding, fire, smoke)
- Talk with your backpacking crew to make sure you're not bringing any extra weight (cross-check with them to make sure you're not bringing any unnecessary duplicate gear)
- Tell a friend when/where you're going and when you'll be back
- Get sooo excited!! You'll be in nature soon!
Step 5: Backcountry Etiquette
- Take Only Photographs, Leave Only Footprints. Leave No Trace.
- Pack out ALL trash.
- Be respectful of all wildlife. Don't get too close.
Step 6: Report Back
Tell your friends what you enjoyed (and share your comments on this project thread) and while it's fresh on your mind, jot down anything you'd like to bring for your next backcountry experience (i.e. deck of cards, chocolate bars, safety pin, etc)