How to Begin Backcountry Camping

(Photo Credit: Laura Pluth/Unsplash)

Backcountry camping is one of the purest ways to grasp the true beauty of the great outdoors and all it has to offer. The main deterrent that seems to overcome casual campers is not knowing the first steps on how to begin backcountry camping. If you have mastered the art of ‘car camping’ (camping in provincial parks via driving to a campsite and setting up) and are looking for the next level of adventure within the forests, then backcountry camping is for you.

Let’s go over the three most important things to do when planning a backcountry camping trip. The number one most important thing to do when planning a trip like this is to understand your body, and to realize how much strength, endurance and skill you have. Backpacking in the forest can be rough as there are a lot of steep hills and rivers you may have to cross, and some campsites are over six kilometers away from each other. Some campsites may cause you to hike over 20 kilometers and some canoe trips are over 50 kilometers travelled. Not having these skills may cause you to run into panic mode halfway through your hike or arrive so late in the day that you can’t set up camp properly.

The author’s backpack, ready to get underway. (Photo: D. Weerdenburg)

The second most important thing when planning a backpacking trip is to study the area that you are planning to explore. The reason this is so important is because each area you plan to go is different. It is important to know where a reliable water source is, how hard it is to navigate the terrain, whether or not there will be cell phone reception, how long each hike will take you to get to your next site, and to know what kinds of animals, plants, and insects to look out for. Once all these aspects are studied, you may further plan your trip.

The third most important part of your backpacking trip is your gear. Generally, when backcountry camping you want to carry the least amount of weight possible to make your trip more bearable. It is common practice to not bring water with you as you can purify water on the go. The amount of weight you want to aim for really depends on how long you are camping, but a general rule of thumb is to carry 20% of your body weight. The longer your trip, the more food and fuel you will have to bring, which will increase your pack weight drastically. Of course, this can change if you know there is a reliable spot to fish in the area and can acquire some food that way.

The three most important pieces of gear that dictate your pack weight are your tent, sleeping bag, and backpack.

Standard weights are:

Tent: 5 pounds

Sleeping bag: 2 pounds

Backpack: 5 pounds

Enjoying freeze-dried food on the trail. (Photo: D. Weerdenburg)

Most of your weight and bulk will come from these three items. You can get these items at a lesser weight. However, you will be paying top dollar, so these numbers are good for average costs. On top of this, you want to purchase dehydrated meals, which normally run you around $12 a meal. They can be very tasty, easy to make and will save you plenty of space in your pack. In the list below, you will find a wide variety of items that you may want to include as part of your gear setup.

  1. Sleeping bag
  2. Sleeping pad
  3. Fire starter
  4. Backpack
  5. Water bottle
  6. Water purification tablets
  7. Pocket knife/multitool
  8. Axe/machete/saw
  9. Bug net(s)
  10. Head lamp (Frees your hands at night)
  11. Sunglasses (UV protection)
  12. Hiking boots (With strong grip and ankle support)
  13. Hat (Keeps sun off you face and stops bug bites)
  14. Gloves (Keep hands clean and protected)
  15. Base-layer clothes (Regulate core temperature)
  16. Towels
  17. Mid-layer clothes (Removable layer of clothes pending on weather conditions)
  18. Rain jacket (Rain can come without warning)
  19. Tent
  20. Paracord
  21. Fishing rod/tackle
  22. Cooking pots/pans/cups/utensils
  23. Stove & fuel
  24. Basic repair kit
  25. Bear spray
  26. Bug repellent
  27. Sunscreen
  28. Map & compass
  29. Whistle
  30. PLB (Personal locating beacon)
  31. GPS
  32. First aid kit
  33. Bandana/buff
  34. Wireless charger
  35. Camera

When planning a back packing trip, you must be aware of all the ‘what if’ situations, such as: what if I come across a bear, what if I sprain an ankle, what if I cut myself, what if I’m overloaded by bugs, what if I tip my canoe, what if I panic, what if I get lost, what if I can’t find my campsite. These are all great questions to ask yourself before you leave for your trip. Personally, I plan for all these situations and tend to bear the burden of carrying a heavier pack. For me, safety is number one and I never want to feel like I was under-prepared with respect to my gear.

With more experience in backpacking, the better you’ll become at packing your bag and shedding that awful weight. My first backpacking experience was a solo hike in the Western Uplands of the Algonquin backcountry and I totally over-prepared for the trip by bringing many items I never even looked at. This lack of experience caused me to bring a pack of over 60 pounds, which in the end led to a knee injury, making my experience much less enjoyable. However, my next back packing trip in Algonquin a couple weeks later, I only had 30 pounds of gear. I shed half of my gear weight after one backcountry experience.

To book a backcountry camping trip in Ontario, you can create an account at www.ontarioparks.com and follow the online reservations tab. You’ll want to select the backcountry tab and whether you will be paddling or hiking to your campsite. At that point you may pick whichever campground you want to stay at, fill out the rest of your forms and choose a spot. I would suggest only travelling about five kilometres for your first trip. It is easy to be overwhelmed when faced with too long of a hike, the rough terrain, and the bugs. It is good practice to write down everything you used and everything you did not use on your trip, so you can better prepare for future travels.

My first Algonquin trip was recorded and documented so I could use the information and compare it with future camping trips. As you can see in the video posted below, I was totally overwhelmed with the distance I had to travel and the amount of weight I was carrying. Proper planning for my next trip made it very smooth.

I hope many of you will consider backcountry camping and can find it in you to donate to local and provincial campgrounds/parks for them to stay running and safe. I hope to see many of you on the trails, and to hear a lot of great stories in the years to come!

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