Essential Backcountry Camping Preparation Checklist

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Introduction: Essential Backcountry Camping Preparation Checklist

About: I love biking, hiking, nature, puppies, and coffee!

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

- Hat

- Sunglasses

- Camera

- Trail Map

- Backpack full of all your gear - listed below:

SLEEPING:

- 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).

-Rainfly

-Tent poles

- 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.

HYDRATION:

- 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:

- 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

HYGIENE:

- Toothbrush

- Toothpaste

- Camp Soap

- Toilet Paper

- Shovel to bury your "bathroom duties" at least 8 inches deep

- Sunscreen / Bug spray (recommended but not essential)

FOOD PREP:

- 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.

Example:

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

SAFETY:

- 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)

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    57 Discussions

    It went much simpler when I still had the time for frequent and long hiking trips: put the map, some food, the tent and the sleeping bag in your backpack, and get to the mountains.

    When I started hiking, I always packed a lot of gear I eventually didn't use at all. After a while, I learned how to make do of things available everywhere in the mountains, instead of carrying much useless gear with me. I even stopped carrying much medicine stuff around - if you get to know things, you find most of what you need in an emergency situation all around you. And you can build a nice and cozy shelter with just a knife, if needed, provided there's enough trees around.

    My advice would be to start hiking with more experienced people, learn what they know, do what they do, then, as you get more confident and more experienced, see what you use and need and find your own way of packing.

    Did lots of hiking and backpacking with Scouts Canada even up into the Canadian Rockies and you know what......no matter how well you plan to be prepared you never are. There is always something you forget to bring. Most people forget the most important thing........common sense.

    Thanks to all who suggested whistles (three short blasts = Danger! Need help!). I always have one clipped to a belt loop, along with a sturdy knife and a fire starter. I keep a small plastic container (pill bottles work well) of cotton balls rubbed over Vaseline (petroleum jelly). One does not need to get all fancy and roll the cotton balls around in melted, hot Vaseline. Covering the outer surface is sufficient. When needed to start a fire, pull out one cotton ball, spread it out thin with your fingers, and strike toward it with a magnesium stick and steel striker. You'll have mastered this method, of course, by first practicing it in a safe area at home!). It'll burn even wet, and will last long enough for your pre-gathered tinder and fuel to catch.

    Another needed item is some multi-use 550 cord (parachute cord, camp cord, etc.) You can read hundreds of uses for this by Googling "uses for paracord". Just a few yards will not add too much weight and you'll be surprised how many times you may need it. If you carry even a small tea light candle, refrain from the temptation to use it inside your tent. They burn up an amazing amount of oxygen in a short time; you don't go camping to come home in a body bag! Yes, many campers have died this way; don't add to that sad, preventable statistic. Cyalume sticks are fine inside of tents. They can be purchased almost anywhere that sells camping supplies. If you are lost and hoping to be spotted, a 3' length tied to the end, then swung in a circle over your head, will attract attention from a great distance.

    Being up-to-date on your basic first aid and CPR training is always a good idea. Countless employers provide this training annually at little or no cost; if that option is not available to you, check online or at a camping store (such as REI or the big box camping stores). You can't put a price on that kind of learning.

    My hiking stick is nearly 30 years old and has traveled countless hundred miles with me.

    A best practice is to alert someone at home where you are going, what basic supplies you are carrying, and when and where you expect to return. Then, even along your pre-determined trail, use old marker methods so you can be followed if necessary. Two rocks with one to the left of the rock closest to you means you are turning left, et cetera. You might also tell those awaiting your return to look for notes inside a sealable plastic bag and hung at belt height on a branch, or buried under a rock. However, be sure to gather all of them up on your way back! Carry a pocket-sized notebook and a pen or pencil with you, too.

    Please carry some sort of ID with you. Although we hate to think of it, and your need for it will be greatly reduced if you are hiking/camping smart, if some tragedy befalls you, especially if you are hiking alone, it'll be good for those at home to know for sure that you are you! If you fall, hit your head, and are amnesic, having rescuers know what to call you may help in regaining your memory. If you have any distinct body marks (tatts, piercings, long or short hair, etc.), those eagerly awaiting your return can help rescuers a great deal by naming those distinctions.

    Thank you for this thoughtful 'ible! Camp on - responsibly!

    Thanks to all who suggested whistles (three short blasts = Danger! Need help!). I always have one clipped to a belt loop, along with a sturdy knife and a fire starter. I keep a small plastic container (pill bottles work well) of cotton balls rubbed over Vaseline (petroleum jelly). One does not need to get all fancy and roll the cotton balls around in melted, hot Vaseline. Covering the outer surface is sufficient. When needed to start a fire, pull out one cotton ball, spread it out thin with your fingers, and strike toward it with a magnesium stick and steel striker. You'll have mastered this method, of course, by first practicing it in a safe area at home!). It'll burn even wet, and will last long enough for your pre-gathered tinder and fuel to catch.

    Another needed item is some multi-use 550 cord (parachute cord, camp cord, etc.) You can read hundreds of uses for this by Googling "uses for paracord". Just a few yards will not add too much weight and you'll be surprised how many times you may need it. If you carry even a small tea light candle, refrain from the temptation to use it inside your tent. They burn up an amazing amount of oxygen in a short time; you don't go camping to come home in a body bag! Yes, many campers have died this way; don't add to that sad, preventable statistic. Cyalume sticks are fine inside of tents. They can be purchased almost anywhere that sells camping supplies. If you are lost and hoping to be spotted, a 3' length tied to the end, then swung in a circle over your head, will attract attention from a great distance.

    Being up-to-date on your basic first aid and CPR training is always a good idea. Countless employers provide this training annually at little or no cost; if that option is not available to you, check online or at a camping store (such as REI or the big box camping stores). You can't put a price on that kind of learning.

    My hiking stick is nearly 30 years old and has traveled countless hundred miles with me.

    A best practice is to alert someone at home where you are going, what basic supplies you are carrying, and when and where you expect to return. Then, even along your pre-determined trail, use old marker methods so you can be followed if necessary. Two rocks with one to the left of the rock closest to you means you are turning left, et cetera. You might also tell those awaiting your return to look for notes inside a sealable plastic bag and hung at belt height on a branch, or buried under a rock. However, be sure to gather all of them up on your way back! Carry a pocket-sized notebook and a pen or pencil with you, too.

    Please carry some sort of ID with you. Although we hate to think of it, and your need for it will be greatly reduced if you are hiking/camping smart, if some tragedy befalls you, especially if you are hiking alone, it'll be good for those at home to know for sure that you are you! If you fall, hit your head, and are amnesic, having rescuers know what to call you may help in regaining your memory. If you have any distinct body marks (tatts, piercings, long or short hair, etc.), those eagerly awaiting your return can help rescuers a great deal by naming those distinctions.

    Thank you for this thoughtful 'ible! Camp on - responsibly!

    Thanks to all who suggested whistles (three short blasts = Danger! Need help!). I always have one clipped to a belt loop, along with a sturdy knife and a fire starter. I keep a small plastic container (pill bottles work well) of cotton balls rubbed over Vaseline (petroleum jelly). One does not need to get all fancy and roll the cotton balls around in melted, hot Vaseline. Covering the outer surface is sufficient. When needed to start a fire, pull out one cotton ball, spread it out thin with your fingers, and strike toward it with a magnesium stick and steel striker. You'll have mastered this method, of course, by first practicing it in a safe area at home!). It'll burn even wet, and will last long enough for your pre-gathered tinder and fuel to catch.

    Another needed item is some multi-use 550 cord (parachute cord, camp cord, etc.) You can read hundreds of uses for this by Googling "uses for paracord". Just a few yards will not add too much weight and you'll be surprised how many times you may need it. If you carry even a small tea light candle, refrain from the temptation to use it inside your tent. They burn up an amazing amount of oxygen in a short time; you don't go camping to come home in a body bag! Yes, many campers have died this way; don't add to that sad, preventable statistic. Cyalume sticks are fine inside of tents. They can be purchased almost anywhere that sells camping supplies. If you are lost and hoping to be spotted, a 3' length tied to the end, then swung in a circle over your head, will attract attention from a great distance.

    Being up-to-date on your basic first aid and CPR training is always a good idea. Countless employers provide this training annually at little or no cost; if that option is not available to you, check online or at a camping store (such as REI or the big box camping stores). You can't put a price on that kind of learning.

    My hiking stick is nearly 30 years old and has traveled countless hundred miles with me.

    A best practice is to alert someone at home where you are going, what basic supplies you are carrying, and when and where you expect to return. Then, even along your pre-determined trail, use old marker methods so you can be followed if necessary. Two rocks with one to the left of the rock closest to you means you are turning left, et cetera. You might also tell those awaiting your return to look for notes inside a sealable plastic bag and hung at belt height on a branch, or buried under a rock. However, be sure to gather all of them up on your way back! Carry a pocket-sized notebook and a pen or pencil with you, too.

    Please carry some sort of ID with you. Although we hate to think of it, and your need for it will be greatly reduced if you are hiking/camping smart, if some tragedy befalls you, especially if you are hiking alone, it'll be good for those at home to know for sure that you are you! If you fall, hit your head, and are amnesic, having rescuers know what to call you may help in regaining your memory. If you have any distinct body marks (tatts, piercings, long or short hair, etc.), those eagerly awaiting your return can help rescuers a great deal by naming those distinctions.

    Thank you for this thoughtful 'ible! Camp on - responsibly!

    Thanks to all who suggested whistles (three short blasts = Danger! Need help!). I always have one clipped to a belt loop, along with a sturdy knife and a fire starter. I keep a small plastic container (pill bottles work well) of cotton balls rubbed over Vaseline (petroleum jelly). One does not need to get all fancy and roll the cotton balls around in melted, hot Vaseline. Covering the outer surface is sufficient. When needed to start a fire, pull out one cotton ball, spread it out thin with your fingers, and strike toward it with a magnesium stick and steel striker. You'll have mastered this method, of course, by first practicing it in a safe area at home!). It'll burn even wet, and will last long enough for your pre-gathered tinder and fuel to catch.

    Another needed item is some multi-use 550 cord (parachute cord, camp cord, etc.) You can read hundreds of uses for this by Googling "uses for paracord". Just a few yards will not add too much weight and you'll be surprised how many times you may need it. If you carry even a small tea light candle, refrain from the temptation to use it inside your tent. They burn up an amazing amount of oxygen in a short time; you don't go camping to come home in a body bag! Yes, many campers have died this way; don't add to that sad, preventable statistic. Cyalume sticks are fine inside of tents. They can be purchased almost anywhere that sells camping supplies. If you are lost and hoping to be spotted, a 3' length tied to the end, then swung in a circle over your head, will attract attention from a great distance.

    Being up-to-date on your basic first aid and CPR training is always a good idea. Countless employers provide this training annually at little or no cost; if that option is not available to you, check online or at a camping store (such as REI or the big box camping stores). You can't put a price on that kind of learning.

    My hiking stick is nearly 30 years old and has traveled countless hundred miles with me.

    A best practice is to alert someone at home where you are going, what basic supplies you are carrying, and when and where you expect to return. Then, even along your pre-determined trail, use old marker methods so you can be followed if necessary. Two rocks with one to the left of the rock closest to you means you are turning left, et cetera. You might also tell those awaiting your return to look for notes inside a sealable plastic bag and hung at belt height on a branch, or buried under a rock. However, be sure to gather all of them up on your way back! Carry a pocket-sized notebook and a pen or pencil with you, too.

    Please carry some sort of ID with you. Although we hate to think of it, and your need for it will be greatly reduced if you are hiking/camping smart, if some tragedy befalls you, especially if you are hiking alone, it'll be good for those at home to know for sure that you are you! If you fall, hit your head, and are amnesic, having rescuers know what to call you may help in regaining your memory. If you have any distinct body marks (tatts, piercings, long or short hair, etc.), those eagerly awaiting your return can help rescuers a great deal by naming those distinctions.

    Thank you for this thoughtful 'ible! Camp on - responsibly!

    0
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    DonnH1

    2 years ago

    I noticed the mention of Bic lighters. They only work if it's not too cold outside. I was on a winter camp with a scout group and had a couple of trusty Bic lighters. They worked until we got up in the mountains into the snow. I was cold, almost hypothermic, tried to light my little camp stove burner and it would not burn. The fuel would not vaporize. I was saved by a little scout with paper matches stored in a zip lock bag. That was a lesson learned. Have some matches and keep them dry,

    1 reply

    I forgot to mention that the winter camp was only winter up in the mountains. It was July 1st weekend and nice and warm down at sea level. You have to dress and equip for the altitude.

    A whistle definitely, a LOUD one, for emergency signaling; three short blasts is a generally recognized call for help. You can whistle for hours, or shout yourself hoarse in minutes.

    Sunglasses can be helpful anytime, and they are a necessity when hiking on snow, or sand, or treeless terrain-- sunburned retinas are no joke, and there is a lot of reflective rock on the way down to Havasu Falls. (BTW, "havasu" means "blue water," and the Havasupai tribe who live in the canyon are the "blue water people.")

    A map AND compass-- they "go together like a horse and carriage." But be sure you know how to USE them, separately and together, before suddenly needing to.

    And toilet paper-- take a roll; maybe a partially used one to save bulk, although dry toilet paper can be used to help start a fire. But a roll, not one of those cute packets of separate sheets, which can explode like a bomb in high wind and blow away.

    Finally, fire-- do you really need one? Not for cooking, your fuel stove is much cleaner and more efficient. Not for warmth, you have packed adequate clothing for the trip, plus an extra or two. For cheer and feeling "outdoorsy"-- if you must, but: Don't cut live wood. Don't build a fire on organic-- combustible-- soil. Don't leave a fire unattended, at all; which also means, Don't go to bed with a fire burning, not even coals. Don't build a fire when it's windy. Don't allow soot or charcoal, NOR burning sparks or embers, to get on your clothing, your tent, or your gear. Don't leave camp without dousing your fire with plenty of water, stirring the ashes, and then dousing again. --Fire? Why bother?

    Keep your pack as lite as possible. Make sure your pack, tent and sleeping bag are all lite weight items. I had a 5+ pound backpack. Now I have a 1.5 pound pack. My tent for one person is less than 3 pounds. Certainly no need for a shovel I think you meant a hand trowel. But even that is unnecessary weight. Use a stick! Also I would suggest looking into some good trail shoes instead of boots. Boots are heavy on your feet/legs every step. Backpacking is something everyone should try.

    Many trails are short only a mile or two and can lead you to a fun and great experience.

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    dwl22u

    2 years ago

    If you're in the back country for 3 days, I bring fresh food. It adds a couple of pounds but its consumed.

    If you bring meat/chicken, freeze it rock hard, travel in an ice chest and before trailing, double wrap in paper. You can also put a sliver of dry ice wrapped in paper against the meat and it sustains. Once in the back country if camping at a lake/stream, and the meat is thawing, you can also submerge the meat in a double wrapped plastic freezer bags and encase in a mesh bag and tether off- water of 42 degrees or so is great

    I've found there's nothing like a meal of steak, mushrooms, broccoli, peaches apples to finish off a meal before packing out.

    1 reply

    I take chicken in a pouch from Tyson Foods. Packed with no need to keep it cold. I add it to freeze dried meal like Pasta Premivera. It's actually really good.

    http://www.tyson.com/Products/Premium-Chunk-White-Chicken-Breast-Pouch.aspx

    Great job by this author and "My Awesome Backpacking Camp Setup/ Checklist!"

    by trevorcgross

    As both a long time backpacker and former mounted patrol and CAP search and rescue member I know this information will help keep many people out of trouble. All of us volunteers hope that there will be many new and successful backpackers as a result of both of your excellent posts.

    It is however unfortunate that Instructables.com blocks downloads for such vital information as you both provided, unless people pay to; "Go Pro." I can see their position about such things as intellectual property surrounding programs and hardware build projects. But, not this type of what at one time would have been considered common knowledge or vital safety and survival information. Not all of today's reads are former military or lifelong scouters like myself. It is with truly heavy heart that this reader because of job loss and hard times may now have to reconsider ever; "going Pro."

    ...and don't forget to fully absorb mother nature!

    I have a nice Kelty tent, but to travel light, in not too cool conditions, I have just taken the footprint ground cover and the rain fly and poles. Shelter for under 2 pounds.

    I agree with the Bic type lighters mentioned earlier; light and efficient and Fritos corn chips make fantastic tinder for starting a fire, if you don't eat them first.

    Finally, a light plastic utility knife; the kind with the retractable break-off razor blade. Very handy and weighs nothing; a few grams maybe. When it gets dull, just snap off the end and you have a new sharp edge and point.

    What I really recommend is investing is a few pars of icebreaker socks. They will run you about $25-$35 a pair. Guaranteed to prevent blistering, I have 3 pairs and will never go back to anyrhing else.

    2 replies

    I was taught to carry a bit of moleskin and, this is the hard part, stop after a half hour on the first day, take off your boots and socks and apply moleskin on any pink spots. Those pink spots are future blisters and can ruin many days pleasure if not taken care of. This has always prevented blisters for me. Havasu canyon is a lifelong dream for me.

    1 reply