Tips for New Backcountry Campers

So, you’ve decided to try backcountry camping. How exciting! You’re probably full of anticipation and feeling a bit nervous. The first thing to recognize is that feelings of nervousness and uncertainty are normal and healthy. It shows that you have a respect for the outdoors and the difficulties it can bring. Here are some tips to help you out on your first trip.

Image with compass and map. It reads "tell someone your route."

1. Tell Somebody Your Route

It’s very important to let someone know your route and campsite(s). This includes entry and exit times. If an emergency occurs, this will be important information for search and rescue. Even if you are registering with the park, it’s still important to tell a family member or friend your camping plans. Stick to the route you told everyone.

2. Begin with a Short Distance

Start small with a short 1-day or 2-day trip into the backcountry. Carrying around all that gear takes some getting used to. Chances are you will overpack and be exhausted. Keeping it short and sweet will mean that you are less tired, more clearheaded, and less likely to get hurt. It also means that you have a shorter exit point if you decide this really isn’t your thing.

3. Know Park Regulations

Get to know park regulations and amenities before you head out for your trip. This includes fire conditions, animal predators, and trail and campsite regulations. For example, some backcountry sites allow you to collect fallen deadwood while others strictly forbid it. Some backcountry sites have bear cables or boxes to protect your food overnight. Others require you to sort this out yourself. Do your research ahead of time. If you don’t know the answers, just call the campground and speak to a park employee who is familiar with the backcountry.

4. Stay Hydrated

You are going to need to drink more water than you usually do because of exercise and exertion. At the same time, you are going to have find and purify all your water. In these conditions, it is very easy to become dehydrated. Don’t let this happen. Identify places along your route where you can fill your water bottle and drink up.

5. Pack Light

I could take my own advice on this one. I’m always overpacking and inevitably there are at least 5 or more items that I never use. The extra weight is burdensome and can slow you down. Pack only the essentials and then carefully consider any additional items.

List of packing items; headlamp, first aid kit, water bottle, water purification, ten, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, canister stove, eating utensil, pot, saw, knife, compass, and map

6. Know the Terrain and Potential Obstacles

Check your map for potential obstacles. This includes steep inclines, rivers, and areas that could be difficult to pass. Obstacles can vary by season. A river that is easy to cross in the summertime may be difficult or impossible to cross in the spring.

Again, if you aren’t familiar with a particular trail, you can always call the park ahead of time and ask about it. My experience is that park employees are more than happy to discuss the details with you.

7. Check the Weather

This one might seem obvious but I’ve seen people erect their tents near the edge of a cliff when the weather forecast was high winds. Check the weather and if you decide to go out in bad conditions, make sure that you are prepared. Bad weather happens and it may be that you have to delay your trip.

8. Don’t Wear Cotton

Camping and hiking in cotton clothes in cold weather is a recipe for misery. Cotton absorbs moisture from your body and will keep you cool when you are no longer moving. Synthetic fabrics and wool will help you stay warm and dry. I’ve found this especially important for sleeping.

9. Bring a Medkit

One of the dangers of backcountry camping is that you are away from emergency services. Bring a medkit and familiarize yourself with its contents. Make sure that it’s easily accessible and everyone in your camping party knows where it is located. You can mark the location with a red cross symbol. It’s also an excellent idea to take a first aid course or a wilderness first aid course.

10. No Pressure

It’s your first trip, things are going to go wrong. You are going to forget something, pack too much, and/or make some other mistakes. It’s okay! Part of being comfortable with backcountry camping is getting the experience. Give yourself permission to make mistakes.

Happy Camping!

I hope these tips for new backcountry campers helped you out. I still have a lot to learn so I’d be happy if you shared your thoughts and tips in the comments section. Happy camping!

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