If you love the outdoors, then learn to camp in the mountains and backcountry the right way.
If you want to camp in the mountains and backcountry, the hardest part of the whole process is in the planning. The good news is, the better you plan and the more you practice, the easier it gets.
The best and worst part of learning to camp in the mountains and backcountry in the modern day is the gear. This is where a lot of your planning goes, as well as most of your money. Knowing what gear to purchase can be a bit overwhelming when you first start looking, and unfortunately that doesn’t get much better over time. Knowing what gear is a must-have and what to leave at home is something each person has to determine for themselves.
To give you a helping hand here are some of the major gear areas that you need to think about.
The pack you choose as you start planning to camp in the mountains and backcountry is one of the biggest decision you have to make. All packs are not created equal and should not be treated as such.
What you generally want is the smallest possible pack that will carry all of your gear. The catch-22 if you are starting from scratch is that you don’t know how much room your gear will take up, and for that reason some people choose to save their pack until the very end of their purchase list.
Packs are measured by how many liters of gear they will hold, and you can use this guide to get a general idea of how big of a pack you need. Keep in mind these examples are based on a warm-weather trip; if you are going camping in the winter, you will need thicker gear, and it will naturally take up more space.
1 – 3 Nights: For a short trip, you can get by with a pack from around 35-50 liters. The smaller you go the smaller and lighter your equipment will have to be, and you might have to leave a few extra things at home.
3 – 5 Nights: This is probably the most common size pack and usually ranges from 50 – 80 liters. This pack will handle all the gear you need for a trip longer than a night or two in the woods with ease.
More than 5 Nights: This bag is going to be anything larger than 70 liters. Food and water necessities increase as time increases, so you’ll need to expand what you bring and naturally have a bigger pack.
Not only do packs come in different sizes, they also come in many different layouts. The biggest option here is the choice of internal versus external frame. Most people now are choosing the internal frame packs; they are generally lighter and can be carried closer to your body, meaning that the weight you are carrying is easier to manage.
This choice is up to you but you do need to make sure you measure your body and get a pack that fits.
A good night’s sleep is essential for a successful camping trip. In order to get a good night’s sleep you need to have the right sleeping bag.
In most cases you will want a 3-season bag to camp in the mountains and backcountry. For backpacking this will generally lead you to a fitted bag rather than the traditional rectangular shaped sleeping bags.
Your biggest choice is going to be in temperature and material, and like with anything else, you get what you pay for. The lower the temperature rating, the colder temperatures you can camp in, but if you are only planning to do warm weather camping then you probably do not need a -15°F bag.
The different types of materials available (usually synthetic, down, and water repellent down) will have different pros and cons. Synthetic is going to be the least expensive, but they will tend to be a bit heavier and take up more space than other options.
Down, while more expensive, is built to last and will compress very well; its downfall comes with humidity, because if it gets too humid or wet, it loses much of its warmth.
The most expensive, but what could be the best option, is the newly released water repellent down, which retains most of the advantages of a down bag, but takes out the humidity factor; its price of course is its drawback.
No matter what type of shelter you use, if you plan on spending more than a night or two in the wilderness you are going to want some kind of shelter. This can come in the form of a single person tent, a tarp shelter, or even a hammock.
This decision will play a lot into the choice of pack you carry as the bigger the shelter, the bigger pack you will need. But if you have reservations about sleeping completely exposed to the elements then a lightweight backpacking tent is definitely worth it.
These are things that may not need as much attention or require as much decision to decide which you want but are just as important out in the woods while camping. This list includes things like:
- A map
- A compass
- A flashlight (with extra batteries)
- A first-aid kit
- Matches / a lighter
- A fire starter
- A knife or a multi-tool
- A water bottle
- A water purification system
- At least one extra day’s worth of food
Again, keep in mind that these are just the bare essentials. What you personally need to carry may be much more than these suggestions. But remember, everything you think you may need, you will have to carry every single step of your trip.
When planning your first trip to camp in the mountains and backcountry, remember not to overdo it. If you have never gone on a backpacking trip before, or even if it has been a while, you don’t want to overcommit yourself.
Do what you know you can manage and you will have a much better time than trying to squeeze too much into a trip.
Make sure you check your maps and develop your route before you leave home and leave a plan of your hike with someone you trust, along with intentions of your return.
You’ve planned your hike, now it’s time to hike your plan. Use your equipment and take note of what you don’t use so that you can leave it at home on the next trip.
Enjoy everything that nature brings you; stick to what you know and don’t push yourself too hard. If you overexert yourself, you can risk ruining the experience and not want to go back. Take it easy, have fun, and enjoy your time in the woods.
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