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Though there are various types of camping such as backpack camping, car
camping, RV camping and
emergency camping (when you are day hiking and get lost in the woods or when
some catastrophic event occurs and you are forced to survive overnight in the
woods) I'll focus mostly on backpack camping in this
There is a link to a Backpacking Checklist at the end of this series produced
I think that it is very good and should be utilized before you set
out on the trail. Below are some things that I have learned after twenty-five
plus years of backpacking:
Always research an area that you are going to backpack in throughly before you
set out. Get the latest maps or apps that cover that area. Call the
organization that manages the area and ask questions such as is a permit
needed, is there a group limit on the number of backpackers that can hike
or area at a time, are there any current trail closures or recent reroutes
that you should be aware of. And verify the distance. I once had an older
map of a trail that I wanted to lead a hike on. Some of that trail was on an
old road. It was about 10 miles. I ordered a new map and right before our
group was supposed to do this hike I got the new map. The trail had been
re-routed from the road onto trail and was now close to 23 miles long in that
section. So we picked another area at the last minute to hike.
Always try to 'recon' the area that you are going to hike. It's not always
practical to go to the location and hike the trail itself in advance. But I
have driven to the trailhead before a scheduled hike and checked out the area.
And if there is a ranger station or park office nearby, stop by and talk to
the authorities there. They are usually very friendly and will be more than
willing to give you all the information that you will need for your hike.
Even if you have hiked a trail in the past, recon it again as conditions
change. I had hiked a trail with a group in 1996. When another person and
group wanted to hike the same trail in 2015 no one ever reconned this trail
before the hike. When the group again hiked this trail there were massive
blowdowns from a recent storm and the trail was impassable. They had to call
someone to come and pick them up at the nearest road crossing.
Water sources are covered in a later article. However, when it comes to
having enough water during your hike, make sure that you
check on water sources along your hike beforehand. Check the maps, consult
various online forums or the web site for a given trail in advance. If there
are drought conditions or you know that water will be an issue on the trail
that you are going to hike,
you should plan to carry more water. My general rule is to carry seventy
ounces for every 10 miles hiked. However, if it is a hot day or the
terrain on the trail is rough, I have carried up to one hundred ounces
or more in a
day. You should also carry enough water for your overnight and next morning
I once led a hike where I consulted a map beforehand that said that there
was a spring near the shelter. When we were very close to the shelter we
crossed a dry creek bed. I joked that I hoped that this was not the water
source. It was. We had to ration the one liter of water that we each had
until the next morning. Springs and creeks are usually flowing well in
spring due to
snow melt and abundent rain. But by fall, a number of springs and creeks in
high elevation areas tend to dry up because the water table, due to lack of
rain, falls during the year. I also remember hiking a trail once and seeing
a mountain where the top third of the trees on this mountain appeared to have
brown leaves. The bottom two thirds were green. I attributed this to the
water table falling within that mountain.
Be careful where you pitch your tent. I once pitched a tent in a bowl shaped
area at a campsite. It rained during the night. The next morning I woke up
and my tent was floating and the floor was partially submerged in water.
Pitch your tent on high
and gradually sloping ground. And do not pitch your tent in a stream bed.
If it rains during the night, the stream may swell and you may be swept away
and/or drowned. When
it comes to large rivers do not camp close to them either. Especially if
they are dammed rivers that are subject to flooding when it rains and water
is released over the dam. Camp at least five hundred feet from dammed rivers.
Food storage is also a major issue when camping. A number of trails now
require that you place your food in a
before you hike it. In
the back country it is advisable to hang your food in order to avoid having
your food stolen by an animal. I once tested a bear canister at a state park
that was close to the AT that I knew had bears in the area. So I camped in
that park and utilized a bear canister. No bears that night but the next
morning the bear canister was knocked over and there were muddy raccoon paw
prints all over it. So I guess the bear cannister worked. And I car camped
someone once the night before a backpacking trip that leaned his back pack
with food in it against a tree near
his tent. During the night raccoons made a ruccus getting into his backpack.
This person had to shew away the raccoons. The next morning there was a trail
You can read all about that backpacking trip with the racoons that stole the food here
of food packaging leading into the woods. And we had to go and buy him more
food for the rest of the trip. So please hang your food or use a bear
canister to avoid getting your food swiped. The closest that I have come to
having a bear encounter occured while car camping the night before a
backpacking trip in WV. A number of us brought steaks with various vegetables
wrapped up in aluminum foil. We cooked these over an open fire. They
smelled really good and they tasted really good. However, the smoke from this
dinner also smelled good. And it floated in my direction as I was
cooking. I was concerned that a bear may smell it on me and my clothes later
that night. Sure
enough, in the middle of the night I awoke to the presence of something
right on the other side of the tent wall where I was sleeping. It was
belching, snorting, it's stomach was growling and it was passing gas.
Immediately I started making noise and shooing it away. Thank God, It did go
away. I think it smelled the steaks that we made earlier that evening. And
I believe that one reason that it did not more aggressively persue that smell
was that I had pee'd around the perimeter of my tent that night before
retiring. The animal (I think it was a small bear) probably smelled that as
well and thought that I had marked my territory. I was lucky.
the dark for your gear, the tent zipper, your clothes, etc. Also, I have, on
more than one occasion, gotten lost when going from a trail shelter to the
privy in the dark and then back to the shelter again. I haven't tried this
yet but I plan to attach either a small flashlight or a glow stick to the
rear of the trail shelter that I am sleeping in. That way, I won't waste
anywhere from five minutes to a half hour trying to find my way back from the
privy to the shelter in the middle of a pitch black night in the woods.
- What kind of gear do you need to go backpacking? At a minimum you
will need a tent, a ground cloth for that tent, a sleeping bag, a mattress of
some sort for that sleeping bag, a flashlight or two, food, a bear proof
container for that food, a container for water, a water filter and a backpack
to hold it all.
As far as tents go you should compromise between weight, comfort, space and
price. There are some fantastic light weight tents out there. But they are
expensive. You could share a tent with someone and save weight and save on
the price. However, if you are backpacking solo you need to find a tent that
will hold you and all of your gear. I personally like a tent with the entrance
on the wide side of the tent. It is easier to get into and out of. Do the research and buy what is best for you in terms of price, weight, comfort and space.
As far as sleeping bags go I own three of them: a 50 degree bag, a 20 degree
bag and a 0 degree bag. Depending on the predicted temperature, I use one of
the three sleeping bags that I own. If you don't have the proper sleeping bag
you will have a miserable night in the woods. There is also a debate over
whether a synthetic or down sleeping bag is superior. I prefer synthetic.
Try some sleeping bags out at an outfitter before you buy.
There are air mattresses and closed cellfoam mattresses to place under your
sleeping bag. Buy a good one as this will make a difference how well you will
sleep at night. I have used both an air mattress and a closed cell foam
mattress. Sometimes I have used both of them at the same time. Experiment
and buy what works best for you.
Please take more than one flashlight and/or headlamp when you go
backpacking. More than once I have had a flashlight fail on me during a
trip. It is no fun fumbling in
More trails are requiring you to have a bear proof container to hold your food.
I talk about them elsewhere in this series but they are worth it. Get one.
Finally, backpacks. Most people use an internal frame backpack these days.
I have two: a 65 liter for weekend trips and a 90 liter for long distance
trips. The smaller the pack, the less stuff that you will take. The less
stuff you have, the less weight that you have to carry. The less weight that
you have to carry, the faster that you will hike and cover a greater distance.
Keep in mind that if it is cold out, you will need more clothes and a warmer
sleeping bag. And you will need more room for food and a bear canister if
hiking longer distances. So again, do the research and buy what appeals most
Know of any other useful camping info that you would like to contribute?
If so, please
and I will add it here and give you credit for that contribution.
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