I have previously written some posts on where you can wild camp in Canada. I did not offer much information on how to actually camp in the woods. Wilderness camping has many benefits that are not offered in an organized campground. Understandably, there is a lot of uncertainty many of us will face heading out into the woods for the first time. I have put together this guide on how to camp in the woods in the hope it will provide some enlightenment on the skills and knowledge you need to acquire before heading out.
When ever you head into the wilderness, you should carry a map and compass with you. This is especially true if you are heading out into a remote location. You should also be confident in using it.
Click here for more information on how to use a map and compass.
But where will I be able to practise using a map and compass? To me, the best time to learn is when you are on a well know trail. Practice on a trail you know you are not going to get lost on. It is better to learn in a familiar location, than it is to learn how to use one when you are lost.
Bear safety should be a priority when you are traveling through their territory. If you do encounter a bear, you should know how to act.
Bear spray can act as a good deterrent during a bear encounter. You should know when and how to use it. If you do end up using it, camp well away from that area as the smell can attract bears later on.
Did you know that most bear encounters are because the bear is looking for food? If food is constantly left out at campsites, bears quickly associate campsites with an easy meal, and will go out of their way to pay you a visit.
Knowing how to hang a bear bag is an important skill. It allows food to be kept out of reach of bears, and any other wildlife. Bear bags should be hung well away from your campsite, and should be hung down wind.
By placing the bag downwind, If the smell carries then it won’t be attracting any bears through your campsite.
You should also prepare any meals away from your campsite, for similar reasons.
If you are car camping you can store it in your car, but still camp away from your vehicle as the smell can still attract unwanted visitors.
Where to Set up Camp in the Woods?
So you’ve done your research and have picked a general area to go camping in. When you get there you still need to find a good location.
Try and camp near a water source as this will make things a lot easier. You will also have to bring a method of purifying the water. You should camp at least 30m away from a water source.
Try and avoid tree’s with dead branches hanging above it. These are known as widow makers as they have been known to fall on unsuspecting campers.
If you are using a tent you will need to find a flat area to camp on.
Starting a fire
If you are out camping, chances are you are going to have a fire. It is a good idea to bring some storm proof matches, and some fire starters as well.
Remember to check fire restrictions in the local area, and keep your fire small. Remember to extinguish a fire completely before leaving the area, or going to sleep.
Planning a location
You will need to do some research into what areas you can wild camp. In Canada almost every bit of Public Land is available to camp on. I have written a post specifically about wild camping in Alberta, if you need more information.
Once you find a suitable area, you are going to have to find some maps of the area. You can use these maps to plan a route to your camping spot, if you decide to venture away from your car.
What to bring
Since you will be camping in the woods, it is important to bring everything you need with you. Once you are out there you will not be provided with an opportunity to get supplies, so what you bring with you is important.
The 10 essentials, which are normally mentioned for hiking can also apply to camping (since they are really about surviving in the woods if you get lost).
I will go into a little bit more detail here.
You will need to bring a suitable shelter. This can either be a tent or a hammock. Both are suitable options. The main feature is that it can protect you from the elements. So a good rainfly is a necessity. If you are camping out in colder conditions make sure you have the appropriate gear.
If you do decide to use a hammock, check out my guide to camping with a hammock.
You will need to bring a sleeping bag that is rated for the conditions. I typically aim for the bag to be rated for about 5 degrees lower than what the overnight low is going to be. You can always increase the warmth of a sleeping bag by wearing extra layers to bed, or using an sleeping bag liner.
A sleeping pad is also essential if you are sleeping in a tent (unless you enjoy sleeping on the cold, hard earth). Check out my review on the Klymit inertia x frame for my favourite sleeping pad.
You should bring with you at least two pairs of clothing. One set you will wear during the day. The other is a set you will sleep in. Your sleeping clothes should be kept dry at all times, so you won’t get cold during the night.
The key to staying warm is a good layering system. If you are familiar with layering for hiking, the same apply to camping in the wilderness.
A good Base layer that will wick away any moisture.
An insulating layer that will keep you warm
An outer layer that will protect you from precipitation and wind.
Typically you want to avoid cotton as it takes forever to dry and does not wick moisture.
Eating in the Woods
Unless you plan on gathering your own food, you will need to bring your own. Try and aim for a couple extra days worth of food. You will also need to bring something to cook with. Even if you plan on having a fire you might still need to bring a pot or pan to cook with.
You are going to need something to carry everything in, which means you are going to need a backpack. The Backpack will need to be large enough to fit everything in, I would aim to get a pack around 50-60L. It of course depends on many things like what gear you are bringing, how long you are going for, that will determine the size of your pack.
When Nature Calls in Nature
This is a big question a lot of people ask. There is already a lot written on the subject and I don’t really have anything else to add. You can check this post for more details.
Now that you are familiar with some of the outdoor skills required, you may think it’s time to plan that multi-day trek through the jungle you’ve always dreamed of. Like any other activity, it takes time to develop the skills necessary to camp safely in the woods.
Start small, camp out somewhere close to home. Start out car camping, that way you can bring more supplies than necessary until you get a feel of what you need to bring.
After your more comfortable camping in the woods, try going for a day or two.
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