Your next wilderness adventure will more rewarding if you stay comfortable and dry at your campsite. That’s why it’s important to know how to select the best spot to pitch your tent. Once camp is set up, you’ll also need to eat.
Meals can be delicious when you’re camping if you take the time to plan ahead. The right clothing and tools will make your camping experience easier and more enjoyable, too, not to mention safer.
Respect for wildlife and for your own limitations are also keys to a successful hiking and camping excursion. A seasoned camper knows how to avoid run-ins with the native life and set reasonable expectations for the trip.
With preparation and some basic trail knowledge, you can enjoy the uplifting and empowering experience of camping in the wild.
Choosing a Campsite
There are a few things that are non-debatable when it comes to choosing a campsite. Although you want to find a piece of level ground to pitch your bivouac or tent, it’s also important to scout out the area around the campsite.
A nearby stream can be a bonus, but it’s wise to pitch your tent far enough away that you won’t have to move camp if heavy rain causes the stream to jump its boundaries.
Your level campsite should be at a higher elevation since moisture and insects congregate at lower levels, and it can be damp and cold in valleys. For extended wilderness camping, you’ll have to rely on natural water sources.
Just make sure any water you use is heated a rolling boil for at least three minutes before drinking it or using it to prepare meals. Bring water purification tablets too, in case you’re not able to boil water.
Look up when choosing the site to pitch your tent as well. Make sure any nearby trees are healthy to avoid the danger of falling limbs, and don’t camp near the tallest tree in case of lightning strikes.
Make sure you’re well off the trail so your campsite won’t interfere with other hikers, and vice-versa. Also, be sure to pitch camp well away from any nearby animal trails.
Non-Perishable Camping Food
Of course, you can throw a bunch of prepackaged MREs (meal, ready to eat) in your backpack, but you’ll want to include food in your adventure that’s tasty and nutritious.
I’m not knocking MREs, though, since they’re designed to provide enough energy and nutrition for wilderness hiking and camping. They’re also dehydrated, cutting down on the weight you have to carry. A bit of research will reveal which MREs are considered the tastiest according to other wilderness adventurers.
Hard sausage provides the protein and fat you need for the muscles you exercise during a wilderness expedition. Since it only goes bad once it’s cut, bring small sausages that can be consumed at one meal. Dry, well-cooked bacon is also a useful energy source during the first couple of days of your hike.
Hard cheese, nuts and dried fruit are other staples that will provide the calories, fat and nutrients to replace the energy stores you deplete during outback camping. One tip for cooking savory camp meals is to throw a couple of small onions in your backpack to add flavor to campfire dinners.
Dressing for the Elements
The clothes you carry should be multi-functional and layered, whether you’re camping in warm or cool weather. Ask any soldier about the most important clothing item to pack, and you’re likely to hear that warm, dry socks are like gold to the outback camper.
Your footwear is also one of the most important clothing items during tactical hiking and camping. Hiking boots need to be waterproof yet breathable, have slip-resistant treads and provide comfort and protection in the woods.
You’ll need a hat that blocks the ultraviolet rays of the sun without impairing your vision. A bucket hat with mesh vents around the circumference will provide shade without blocking your line of sight, and it will also keep your head cool since sweat can evaporate through the vents.
Get one that has a cinch cord to keep it on your head during high winds. And don’t forget to include a compact rain poncho that will fit over you and your backpack.
There are a few things that are vital to the wilderness hiker, and some others that just make the experience better. In the ‘must have’ category, here are some essentials:
- Map and compass
- First aid kit
- Cooking gear
Even if you bring along a GPS unit, you’ll need a map and compass. They’ll help you find water and the best elevations for camping. A small disposable lighter (and a backup) will be sufficient for starting a campfire.
For more versatility, a disposable long-necked lighter will protect your hands from the flames. A high-quality tactical flashlight is also a must, along with spare batteries. If you’re going to do any night hiking, a headlamp is an invaluable tool to include.
A powerful whistle is a safety feature in case you get lost or become injured. Three short bursts can alert other hikers or campers nearby that someone is in trouble.
A first aid kit is also essential, and it should include pain medication, antihistamine, small scissors, tweezers, bandages, and alcohol packets or gel. You can get a compact hiker’s first aid kit at most camping stores.
Your backpacking knife is one of the most versatile tools in your camping arsenal. It can be used to chop food, open MRE packages, cut cord, and even to defend yourself. It’s worth investing in a top-quality knife, especially if you’re planning to go camping in wilderness areas.
Another vital piece of camping gear is a lightweight, nested cooking set. You’ll have a mug for coffee, a bowl to eat from and one or two pots for cooking food. Don’t forget to bring a couple of utensils for eating and cooking as well.
Respect for Wildlife
Unless you’re on a hunting trip, you really don’t want to get too close to the abundant wildlife living in the woods. It’s in your best interests to avoid close contact, and most wildlife will scatter if you make sufficient noise on the trail.
A walking stick not only helps maintain your footing, but it’s also a useful noisemaker to advertise to the local predators that a human is blundering through their territory. Believe me, that’s a good thing.
The main thing that will draw wild animals to your camp is the prospect of getting into your food supplies. Every experienced camper knows that food should never cross the threshold of the tent, but it’s a good idea to store it at least 200 feet away as well.
Bear bags not only keep away those furry scavengers; they also deter other pesky critters like raccoons and squirrels. Another tip is to wear the same clothing each time you cook a meal and store it outside the tent.
Know Your Limitations
It’s an awesome feeling to accomplish a goal, whether it’s covering a certain distance each day or roughing it for a week in the outback. As I’ve highlighted above, as long as you’ve got the right food, clothing and tools, you’ll be prepared for the elements.
Learning how to survive in the wilderness is a confidence-building experience that penetrates to the very core of our sense of security. It’s inspiring to learn that you have the ability to not just handle it but to thrive in a challenging natural environment.
It’s important to keep in mind that preparation is key to having a successful and rewarding camping experience. Research the terrain where you’ll be hiking and camping, and leave information about where you’ll be, including your license plate number, with a responsible person.
Let them know when you plan to return. Make sure to set goals that are reasonable considering your physical shape and stamina. Remember that you can always come back, and saving experiences for later allows you to continually improve on your personal best.
Get the Most from Camping
Hiking and camping benefit your mental and physical health in many ways. Hearing the sounds of wildlife and running water, seeing the stars shining brightly in a night sky free of light pollution, and tasting a meal cooked over a campfire – these are all transformational experiences.
Camping is a chance to get away from constant demands on your time and attention while experiencing true relaxation. It can be an opportunity to calm the mind, and the solitude encourages deeper reflection and meditation.
Just being out in the sun is physically beneficial, since sunlight on your skin leads to increased vitamin D, a major component of mood elevation and good health. You may experience the deepest, most peaceful sleep of your life during a camping trip.
That’s because the day is filled with physical activity and fresh air, while the night is truly dark and conducive to deep sleep. A good night’s rest gives you energy and a clear head for the next day’s activities, and it becomes a positive cycle of wellbeing.
Where to Go from Here
These tips are fundamentals for getting the most you can out of a camping experience, but there’s more to ponder. It’s always a good idea to get feedback from experienced backpackers and campers, so check out online feedback about the next wilderness area you decide to conquer.
You can get excellent information on the best places to find trails, water and campsites from those who have been there. There’s safety in numbers, so my suggestion is to go with a friend who’s also pushing the limits of their personal best. You got this.
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