Backcountry camping is where the glow from the city lights is not visible. The night is black and the stars shine like candles. This is where it is peaceful. This can be the most peaceful in life but it can turn into a disastrous event if you are not prepared and know what to do if a storm rolls in, you are visited by wildlife or an accident occurs.
First you have to know What to Take Camping that will sustain you and protect you from the elements. Did you bring everything you will need ? I have a printable Camping List and a Printable Backpacking List that I go through when I head for the backcountry. Depending on my destination some of the items are optional and can be omitted. The camping list is rather long but I edit it for each trip I take. This is just so I do not forget anything.
Backcountry camping is not like camping at a campground. There are some places you can drive to and may be used by many people. The most rustic places can only be accessed by Backpacking. Many times there will not be anyone around when you need assistance. You have to be self reliant when a problem occurs and it may take hours or days to seek medical help at a hospital. The practices listed below will help you to minimize those risks.
When trying to choose a campsite you have to consider terrain, grade, water proximity and game trails.
Once you set up your camp you do not want to have to "BUG OUT" like they did in the movie series Mash. You want to stay where you are. I got a kick out of the Survivor episode when one of the teams set up their camp in a dry riverbed. I told my wife that if it rains they are going to get washed out. The next episode it rained and sure enough, they got washed out.
Part of camping is planning ahead and knowing what to do when situations change. Once you find where to camp you have to select where to set up a tent. If it is cool you want to set your tent up in a sunny spot where the sun can heat your tent and the ground. If it is hot you want to be in the shade. Of course in the backcountry you do not cook and eat near your tent or be down wind from where you relieve yourself. So, you have to know how to set up a campsite.
Don’t forget the wind. You may want to block it to reduce stress on your tent and reduce the noise of the wind rustling the tent fabric. If there is rain in the forecast you have to pick a spot where runoff will not create a puddle unless you prefer a waterbed.
You also have to contend with animals. You do not want to set up your tent on a game trail. Animals are not dumb and will take the easy way through the woods especially the larger animals. If you set up your tent on a game trail you will probably have visitors. If your tarp rope or clothes line traverses a game trail a large deer or moose could get tangled in the rope and pull it down causing damage to the item and injuring the animal.
Once you set up camp you need a fire for warmth and to cook with. You can use your stove to cook but I prefer the taste and aroma of food cooking on an open fire. I try to save my fuel for inclement weather and emergencies.
After all that work of starting a fire you must be thirsty. There should be a source of water nearby if you selected the right campsite. But, is the water safe to drink?
If the water is coming from an underground source such as a spring, you can probably drink it right out of the ground. Make sure it is a spring and not an underground stream. Streams and rivers can contain bacteria and viruses that will make you sick. If the stream is coming from a beaver pond it will contain bacteria from the beaver's digestive track. Giardia is a bacterium between 6 to 10 microns and can cause Beaver Fever 7 to 10 days after ingestion.
Seeing as you already have a fire you can boil the water for 5 minutes to make the water safe to drink. But you will have to let it cool before you drink it. If you brought a water filter you can filter it. I remember an ad on the back page of a camping gear catalog. There was a picture of a coyote urinating in a stream. The caption asked " What is in Your Water Filter? ". It made me wonder how effective water filters are.
There are numerous camping filters available on the market. Some are designed for campsites and use gravity to force the water through the filter element. Others have hand pumps for pressure, and there are some that use batteries to create ultra violet light to destroy viruses. Depending on where you camp and the type of water available should determine the best camping water filters for the type of water you have.
Now that you had a drink you better store your food. If you have a car you can store you food inside with the windows closed to keep the food from black bears. However brown bears are larger and more powerful. They can smash a car window so you need a different approach. If you are in areas with bears see our Camping with bears page for further information. If you have a convertible roof on your car you better hang your food from a tree. If you are in an area without trees you should bring a bear proof container.
Even small animals such as skunks, raccoons, groundhogs and possums can rip their way through a convertible roof and open a cooler. Animals are nocturnal and can do damage while you sleep.
Camping can be an enjoyable adventure. The idea is stay safe. Don't use liquid fuels to start a campfire. Don't run in the woods. Keep clear when splitting wood. These Camp Safety Tips will help you to prevent accidents and injuries when you are hours or days from medical attention.