Backcountry camping is genuinely the best way to camp if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life in the city. Doing this, though, presents many obstacles and requires careful planning to stay safe and have a good time.
So what should you bring backcountry camping? You will need most of the same necessary equipment that you would use for any type of camping. However, since you will be off the grid and carrying your gear, you will need lightweight and portable versions of standard camping essentials.
Here’s what we will cover so you can get out in nature with all the essentials for backcountry camping.
- Shelter options
- Food and water for backcountry camping
- Backcountry first aid kit
- Hygiene products
- Cooking and water heating stoves
- Optional items
- Related articles
No matter where you go camping, you need a safe place to rest your head at night. You have several different ideal options when it comes to choosing which shelter you want for your backcountry camping trip.
- Ultralight Tent
For backcountry camping, I would definitely recommend bringing a lightweight tent that has weatherproofing properties. You will only be bringing what you can carry, after all. It would be hard to bring your vehicle to the campsite since it is so far away from roads and trails.
If you prefer to shed even more weight from what you will be carrying along, you could always pitch a hammock instead of a tent. However, while you will be hauling less weight, you will also be exposing yourself to the elements and to whatever wild creatures are out there. You will want to consider a ridge line and hammock quilt, but both will add weight to your pack.
If that does not deter you, then check out this tutorial on how to pitch a hammock, so you are fully prepared for the trip ahead.
- Sleeping bag or camping quilt
Either of these are a great option but you will be exposed to rain. Consider bringing a tarp to make a bushcraft shelter or lean-to. Tarps are light-weight and ideal for protection from weather if needed. Also, since the ground can draw heat at a tremendous rate, use a tarp under your sleeping bag or quilt for extra insulation.
You may even consider an ultralight cot to keep you off the ground.
Food and Water for backcountry camping
You can no longer rely on leaving and making a trip to WalMart in order to get more food when your supply is low. You have to bring whatever you can fit to be adequately prepared for the long nights ahead.
- Nonperishable food
Although you can bring fresh ingredients in airtight containers and small coolers, you don’t want to rely solely on those and may not want the added weight.
Fresh food rots fast; granola bars do not. Take those, assorted nuts if you aren’t allergic, peanut butter, cans of soup, cans of fruit and vegetables, and anything else you may think of. They will last you the whole camping trip if you pack a sufficient amount.
Water is the most important thing you can pack. It is even more important than shelter. The average person needs a gallon of water per day in order to stay hydrated and healthy. Make a lot of room in your pack for it if you plan on carrying water.
Another neat thing you can buy to store your water is a CamelBak. It’s easy to carry around, and it has a long straw you can drink from without having to stop and take it off.
If you will be around natural sources of water (lakes, streams, ponds, ETC.), you will want to consider carrying a portable stove, such as a Jetboil, to heat water and kill bacteria. While this is the best way to purify water, there are also tablets on the market that can purify water.
It is absolutely essential that you do not drink water from natural sources without being purified, no matter how clean it looks.
- Hiking pack
Since you will most likely be hiking into your campsite, a hiking backpack is perfect. This type of pack is the easiest to carry, and you will have options for not only storing food and water but transporting your shelter as well.
- Bear can.
Since you will be out where the wild animals roam, you may need to check and see if the place you are staying while backcountry camping is home to bears or other predatory animals. Storing most of your food in a bear can will ensure that these predators won’t steal what you have, even with their toughest attempts to crack it open. Check some out here and decide for yourself what suits you most.
- Bear sack
An even better option would be a bear sack. These are much more light-weight, and you can put anything you don’t need at the moment in it (including your backpack). These sacks are usually a light-weight mesh and are used by suspending them by a rope over a tree limb, so that is out of reach of animals.
Backcountry First Aid Kit
Having a first aid kit on hand at all times is essential for all campers, but you will especially require one since hospitals will be too far away for quick response times. You can buy a pre-made first aid kit, or you can build your own to suit your needs.
The following items would be perfect in a DIY first aid kit:
- Adhesive Bandages.
These should be in a range of sizes to cover something as small as a wound on your finger to a pad covering a scrape on your knee. Waterproof bandages are the best for a camping trip because they last the longest against the elements.
- Hydrogen peroxide.
Applying this over the site of your injury will flush out any dirt or bacteria that has entered the wound.
- Antibiotic ointment.
Applying it to minor wounds like scrapes or cuts will prevent the site from becoming infected. Antibiotics stop bacteria growthand help prevent infection from spreading. Apply your peroxide solution first, then the ointment, and cover with your adhesive bandage last.
- Antiseptic wipes.
These are used to clean off your hands before treating a wound or treating the injury itself. Doctors often wipe these over the areas of a patient’s body that need operating on before surgery.
- Cotton swabs or pads.
These will prevent anyone from using their hands to spread ointment or peroxide on a wound which can transfer bacteria and cause infection.
- Hand sanitizer.
This is an excellent hygienic product that you can use quickly to kill as many germs as possible before treating a wound promptly and efficiently.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers.
Examples of these are aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol, or acetaminophen. They will bring relief to minor injuries or muscle cramps or will reduce a fever considerably.
- Instant cold compress.
When someone is injured, and the site begins to swell, you need a cold compress to reduce the inflammation and pain levels until you can get the injured person to a doctor.
- Nonlatex gloves.
You need gloves in order to maintain a sterile and protective barrier between your skin and an injury, but you may be allergic to latex without knowing. This also applies to any person treating you. Find gloves that are made of something other than this material for the safest route during an emergency.
- Oral thermometer.
When someone gets sick, it is important to gauge how high their fever is. Low fevers can be treated with your fever-reducing pills, but high fevers can be dangerous and sometimes fatal. In this case, you need to seek medical help as soon as possible.
These will remove any splinters or other foreign objects from the body safely before infection sets in.
- Emergency blanket.
These are also known as thermal blankets; they keep a body warm during trauma or when it is too cold outside. This could prevent hypothermia from setting in which can happen more quickly than you may think. Never forget one; it may save a life.
- Prescribed medications
Any regular medications that you or anyone in your group takes should be brought along and put into the first aid kit. You will know where they are at all times.
- Emergency contact list.
If something goes awry, you need to know who to contact efficiently in order to get help. This will be more difficult with you being isolated, but anyone who finds you may be able to give you the help you need.
For a more comprehensive list, read this handy guide that the Mayo Clinic’s website has.
Bring clothing along that is appropriate for the weather around the time of year and for the location in which you will be doing your backcountry camping. This includes jackets and clothes that can be layered in case you get chilly.
No matter the weather it is always best to layer as much as possible.
Bring one or two items for each day; you never know when you may need to change. If it is cold outside, try not to bring linens or other thin materials. They do not trap heat as well as wool would.
You should also bring along a pair of sturdy hiking boots with good treads. You will be off the grid, and the terrain will likely be rough. You don’t want to slip and fall, causing an injury you may not be able to shake off.
Quick tip- If you have a new pair of hiking boots be sure to break them in before your trip. This can save you from the experience of painful feet as well as blisters.
While backcountry camping, you won’t have access to showers. Still, you need to stay as clean and fresh as possible. A clean body is a healthy body!
- Solar shower.
These are helpful showers in a bag that are heated by the power of the sun. You’ll feel relaxed and comfortable like you would at home while getting squeaky clean! These are available in light-weight designs, and you only need a water source and some sun.
- Environmentally friendly soap.
- Toothpaste and toothbrush.
In the vein of being environmentally conscious, you should swap out your regular toothpaste for more organic versions. Tom’s of Maine is a popular choice, and it can be found in many supermarkets and larger retail chains.
Be aware that some deodorant scents can attract animals, so it is probably best to use an all natural unscented deodorant.
- Wet wipes.
If you do not need a shower yet or want to carry a solar shower, have wet wipes ready to clean you up easily. Never just throw them down, though. Put them in your trash bag or your pack, so you aren’t harming the area you are camping in.
Cooking and water heating stoves
There are several options for stoves but remember you will not only have to carry the weight of the stove but the weight of fuel as well.
- Canister Stoves-
Canister stoves are very popular since they are so easy to assemble and light. You simply screw the canister onto the cooking arms and light with a match. Also, most models you will have have the ability to adjust the flame so that you can cook at lower temperatures for food or higher temperatures for boiling.
There are two main types of fuel for canister stoves, propane, and isobutane. There are also some handy variations to the traditional canister stoves, the integrated and remote canister system. Most of these systems collapse into a small bundle and are easily stored and carried.
There are also several drawbacks to canister stoves. First, if you are camping in the cold or at a high altitude, the self-contained fuel canisters can depressurize. This means that they will not be able to push fuel through at high pressure causing the flame to be weak and not as hot. Also, the cost of fuel compared to other stoves is higher, and you will have to carry an empty container until it can be disposed of properly.
- Liquid Fuel Stoves-
One of the benefits to a liquid fuel stove is that you can use several different types of fuels, white gas (the cleanest burning liquid fuel), unleaded gasoline, kerosene, jet fuel or diesel fuel. Another benefit is that you will not have the same pressure issues in cold weather or at high altitudes that you would with canister stoves.
While the stove itself typically will cost a little more than a canister, the fuel cost is lower, and this makes this type of stove more cost effective in the long run. Also, you can keep and use the same fuel bottle and will not need to dispose of empty canisters. A bonus is that you can see how fuel is left in your bottle.
There are some cons to this type of stove as well. You will have to warm up or prime the line before each use. Also, you will have to pump (pressurize) the fuel bottle as well. Although most of these systems collapse into a small bundle, they usually weigh a little more than a canister system.
- Wood burning stoves-
If you do not want to have the weight of fuel for your hiking trip, then this may be the right choice for you.
There are some real perks to using this kind of stove, especially on long trips or trips where you are already carrying a large amount of weight. In most environments, you can simply gather twigs and leaves from your surroundings. Also, there are wood burning models that collapse into a small, lightweight bundle.
There are also some cons to this kind of stove. First, many parks and ranges do not allow open fires. You will always need to check the rules wherever you are camping. Also, if you are in a wet environment, you will have a hard time getting your fire lit. For anything that takes a while to cook or boil, you may have to keep adding wood to keep the fire going long enough.
- Alcohol Stoves-
Alcohol stoves are rising in popularity for backpackers, and the reason is they are affordable, and they are the lightest stove you can get. Alcohol stoves are usually fueled with denatured alcohol since it is cheap and burns clean, but you may see some examples of people using ethanol.
When it comes to weight, these stoves are the lightweight champs. Most weigh 2 to 3 oz, and there are even a few that weigh an ounce and can fit into your pocket. Of course, you will also need to carry the fuel for your stove, but once you have used it a few times, it should be possible to gauge the appropriate amount you will need for your trip. This may help lighten the load a little by not bringing fuel that will not be used.
By shedding weight and using an alcohol stove, you are looking at some pretty big cons. Alcohol burns at a lower temperature and takes longer to heat water and food. This will require that you carry more fuel if you plan on using it often. Cooking can be a challenge as well since there is no way to control the flame. Also, if your fuel runs out, you will need to let the stove cool off before adding more fuel and lighting up again.
Equipment needed for a backing stove.
The first thing you will need is the right amount of fuel for your backpacking stove. The first set of numbers will be for boiling 3 pints of water per day and the second set of numbers will be for cooking light meals.
- How much fuel will I need for a canister backpacking stove?
You would need about 23oz per day or about 1.5lbs. If you are planning on cooking, then at least double that.
- How much fuel will I need for a liquid fuel backpacking stove?
You would need about 12oz per day or about 3/4lbs. If you are planning on cooking, then at least double that.
- How much fuel will I need for an alcohol stove?
You would need about 8oz per day or about 1/2lbs. If you are planning on cooking, then at least double that.
These totals are estimates for normal weather and altitudes. Different models of stoves, temperatures, and altitudes may burn fuel at a different rate. It is best to do testing of your equipment before any trip to accurately estimate fuel consumption.
There are a few items that everyone needs that do not quite fit into any one category, but they are still vital nonetheless.
- Battery-powered or solar-powered flashlights or lanterns.
There will not be any light for you after the sun goes down, and it’s important that you have a way to see where you are going at all times. Bring these and extra batteries so you will never be left in the dark among unfamiliar surroundings.
- A mess kit
This is an easy way to set up the items you need for cooking a nice meal. Instead of bringing a bunch of separate pots on pans, buy a compact kit that is left complicated and easily portable. Peruse some of your options here.
Not all campers need the exact same supplies that you do when you go backcountry camping. Since you will be relying on more primitive supplies for survival and safety, you need the right gear for the job.
- A knife
A multi-tool knife is the most valuable tool you will be using while out there in the backcountry. In fact, a Swiss Army knife would be the most versatile and best option.
If you do not remember, one of these holds several tools including a large blade, small blade, corkscrew, bottle opener, can opener, and screwdriver. Some models have more. If you need anything opened, cut, or unscrewed, then it has you covered.
- Map and compass.
A map of the area with a compass for direction will help you navigate this new terrain with ease. You probably can’t just pull up Google Maps on your phone, so do not rely on it.
- Trekking pole.
You may not have trails and well-worth paths to follow while hiking or exploring. In that case, you will need a trekking pole to keep you stable while navigating rocks, steep hills, or deep grass. This will also help you see better if you sweep it in front of you. It will keep obstacles out of your way for the most part.
- Bear spray.
If you do happen to be staying in an area abundant with bears, bring bear spray. It’s like mace, but much, much stronger. It’s meant to take down one of the most powerful animals you could run into. Only use it if you absolutely have to, and be upwind so that it does not incapacitate you instead of the predator at hand. You will be a much easier target if you can’t see.
- Water filter.
If you run out of drinking water, you may find yourself in a real pickle. Even flowing water is not entirely safe to drink straight from the stream. Bring a water filter and use it if you need to; never drink water that you can’t trust to be purified.
Now you will be more than prepared to go camping in the backcountry! This may have seemed daunting before, but I promise it’ll be a breeze if you just pack all the items you will need and use them properly. Have fun, be safe, and enjoy your getaway!