I have always thought of Canada as having the best backyard in the world. Nowhere else in the world has millions of acres of untamed wilderness. Wild camping in Canada is one of the best ways to explore Canada’s best features. You will get to see Canada’s natural beauty without any human impact. The way it was meant to be. You will also be more likely to spot some wild life.
If you have never gone wild camping before, then it may be intimidating to figure out where to start. I know that when I first started to wild camp I always seemed worried that someone would find me and tell me I had to leave (I was in the middle of nowhere, but still…). For me information check out my guide on how to camp in the woods.
Wild camping might mean different things to different people. For the purposes of this post I am going to assume wild camping is camping at a non-designated camping area. Or in other words, you are camping in a spot away from official campgrounds where you might have to pay to use and share with other campers. This also might be known as random camping or back country camping.
Where Can You go Wild Camping in Canada?
If you have ever ventured beyond the major cities in Canada, you may have noticed one thing. Canada is big. Very big. You may have also noticed that there aren’t a lot of people living here. Canada is the second largest country in the world and also has one of the smallest population densities in the world. What this has resulted in, is that Canada has the biggest backyard in the world to explore.
This means that there is a lifetime supply of places to explore without leaving the country. But where to find it?
About 89% of all the land is owned by the government. Whether Federal or Provincial. This is known as Crown land.
Some Crown land might have a designated use, like National and Provincial parks. Each of these designations will have different rules and regulations about wild camping. Some may not allow it, while others may permit in certain circumstances.
In Canada’s National parks, wild camping may be permitted if you buy the correct permit. Depending on the park, you might have to stay in one of their back country campsites. These are campgrounds far away from any road and will require you to hike in bringing your own equipment. Facilities are usually very primitive, if they exist at all.
Provincial parks of course have their own set of rules again.
You can also get other areas such as public land use zones and wilderness areas that are found in Alberta for example. These areas allow for wild camping, as long as you are obeying leave no trace practices.
Check out my guide to wild camping in Alberta.
You Will Need To Bring These 10 Items
Depending on where you go, how long you are staying will influence what you bring on your trip. If you will just be camping not too far from your car, then you do not have to worry about things such as weight, which luxury items to bring. If you decide to just park the car somewhere and wander off into the bush, then you are going to require a different set of gear. But no matter what type of trip you are going on, you are going to need the 10 essentials. If something goes wrong, you are a long way from getting help. You will only be able to rely on the fear that you bring with you.
Here are 10 essential you will definitely need.
- Navigation. This should include a map and compass at a bare minimum. You should also know how to use one. This is super important when wild camping because chances are you will not be walking on any trails. When walking on popular trails it is easy to take this for granted because it is difficult to get lost. Out in the wilderness it is very easy to lose your way.
- Sun Protection. Included should be Sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm and a hat. If you are up in the mountains somewhere, remember that the higher elevations will increase your UV exposure. So even if it doesn’t feel that warm out, there is still a risk the sunburn.
- Insulation. This will be your clothing. This will typically include a base layer, mid layer and an outer layer. Depending on the weather will decide if you need to bring any extra gear. Don’t underestimate how much the weather can cool down at night and it doesn’t hurt to pack one extra layer in case it gets colder than you think it will.
- Illumination. Sometimes we go a bit further than anticipated, or our destination is a bit further than expected. If we are caught out in the dark, then a light source is absolutely necessary. It is also good for reading maps, or setting up camp in the dark. Remember to bring extra batteries
- First aid kit. Accidents happen, and there are no ambulances where we will be going, so it is best to come prepared. Bonus points if you have first aid training.
- Fire starter. You should have waterproof matches in case you get wet. Being able to start a fire is important for many things besides keeping warm. It is also good for purifying water, cooking food, drying clothes so you can sleep well in the night.
- Repair kit and tools. Some sort of multi tool or Swiss army knife. I have seen some debate on this, but they are usually applying it to a popular trail like the Appalachian trail. Somewhere where you can get help easily. Wild camping in Canada is not the place for that. Bring a knife. It will be invaluable for preparing food, making kindling, repairing any damages to your shelter.
- Nutrition. There is lot of information available on this topic about what food you should bring. I always like to bring an extra days worth of food. Just in case you get lost and are there for longer, or sometimes you get so hungry you just got to eat. Or more than likely, you are going to want to stay an extra day because
- Hydration. You should always bring something to purify water. Especially if you plan on refilling along the way. If you will not be going near any water sources you will need to bring enough water to last the entire trip.
- Emergency shelter. If you will be camping then you are already going to have a shelter with you. If not, an emergency bivy sac can go a long way and does not add any weight to your pack. Even when I do bring shelter with me, I still carry an emergency space blanket. I do this as a back up in case my sleeping bag gets soaked as it will lose its insulation properties.
Safety Should Be Your #1 Priority
There are several safety concerns you need to be aware of when traveling in the bush.
- Wild life
- Exposure to the elements
- getting lost
Exposure to the elements and getting lost should be covered by the 10 essentials, so we will just look at wildlife and wild fires. The main dangers from wildlife will be from bear encounters. As such, you should know how to deal with bear encounters before you head out into the wild. You should always bring some bear spray with you, as well as a bear bag and rope to tie up your food to keep it out of reach from bears. Most bear encounters are caused by campers leaving their food out overnight.
Fires can be a major concern during the summer. This has been a major problem in western Canada over the last couple of years with thousands of residents having to evacuate. Before you head out you should always check to see if there are any fire bans in the area. If there are none and you do decide to light a fire, then keep it small and always have a way to extinguish a fire quickly. Never leave a fire unattended and always extinguish a fire before you go to bed. Double check that there are no embers left the next morning before you leave.
As an extra security measure, you should always leave your plan with someone you can count on. Ideally someone who will get worried if you don’t contact them when you say you will. Sometimes accidents happen, and the longer it takes for someone to realize you have been gone for too long, the less likely it is of survival.
If there are any other safety concern you can think of, please let me know in the comments.
What To Do When You Get There?
Okay, you have chosen a spot, packed all the necessary equipment. Now what? What does one do when out in the wilderness? I love Hiking, so I usually approach this in two ways. I either set up a base camp somewhere, and do several day hikes.
This has the advantage of lighting my load when hiking, and I don’t have to worry about taking down and setting up camp each day. It also makes it easier to get to and leave the campsite as I can just park a car nearby and return when I am done.
The other option is to pick some destination far away that might take several days to get to. This is more challenging but you will be rewarded more. The other disadvantage is that you will have hike back to where you started if you can’t come up with an exit strategy at the end of the trail.
What do you like to do when camping? Let me know in the comments.
No Better Time Than Now
I know it can seem daunting to plan a trip out into the wilderness. I would also like to point out that it is not meant to be easy, Before you go out make sure you are aware of your limitations. If you have never done an overnight hiking trip, it might be better to start on a well-known trail, just for a night or two. This will start to give you a better sense of what you should bring on a trip.
If you do decide to wild camp for the first time, maybe stay somewhere close to the car to minimize your chances of getting lost. Or if you can’t figure out how to set that tent up you just bought you will have a shelter you can retreat into.
But with that little disclaimer aside, there is no better time than now to start wild camping in Canada. It is a very rewarding experience and is sure to make your friends think of you as Indiana Jones. With so much of Canada being crown land, chances are you do not need to head far to find a nice secluded spot to camp.
Don’t have the gear? Borrow some. Places like MEC have programs where they rent out gear for you to use. Look for a local outdoors club. Often they will pool together their resources and provide gear for you to rent. It is also a great way to test out some new gear before you buy.
Best of luck on your adventures,