While backcountry minimalist camping may mean taking only the bare essentials on your backcountry camping adventure, it certainly does not mean a lack of planning. On the contrary, minimalist camping requires perhaps more planning than your weekend family camping trip. Done right and with proper planning, minimalist camping will unburden you from carrying a lot of gear and make you much more mobile. It will allow you to explore the backcountry deeper and allow access to sites that you would not be able to reach on a regular type of camping trip.
Preparing for Your Backcountry Minimalist Camping Trip
Done right, your backcountry minimalist camping adventure will be just that: an adventure and not a trip. It is easy to say that a minimalist camping trip means only taking the essentials that you will need. But, knowing what type of camping equipment you will need to take will determine whether you will experience the backcountry positively or negatively.
Initial planning for your minimalist camping trip begins with knowing your limits. While the idea of trekking thirty miles to some secluded Alaskan mountain range may seem appealing, you need to know whether you physically can actually cover that amount of territory. If you regularly experience the outdoors and routinely hike many miles, you still need to realize that a backcountry trek is much different than hiking a dirt path at a National Park. Exercise and fitness are something that will be essential if you want to make the most out of the camping adventure.
Thus, planning for your minimalist camping trip may begin long before the actual trip begins. It may entail trips to the gym and going hiking to build stamina. Once you are confident that you are physically fit enough to endure the camping trip, then, and only then, should you actually start the logistical planning for the trip.
One of the great benefits of minimalist camping is that the entire backcountry is at your disposal. Researching and choosing where to go will be just about as much fun as the actual trip itself. In that process, you will discover the hidden gems that the backcountry has to offer. These areas will have been lightly traveled and a search on the internet may not reveal much information about the actual site you wish to reach.
You will find plenty of information regarding the macro geography of the area you will go to, but little on the actual site and route to take. This is where a really good topographical map can literally save your life and is probably the most important piece of your minimalist camping gear that you will take.
Sure navigation skills will also be needed whether navigation through the backcountry is done by a compass or a GPS tracker (make sure if you are planning on using a GPS tracker that a signal is available). So, in addition to the gym and building endurance by taking hiking trips, practice your map reading and navigation skills as well.
Know the Area and the Weather
It may be summer and hot, but if you are planning a backcountry minimalist camping trip to a ridge in the Alaskan backcountry, the weather may be drastically different from what you may expect. Find out the average temperatures not only in the area for that time of year, but at the elevation, you will achieve. Having the proper climate knowledge will determine what actual camping gear you will take and prepare for.
Also, knowing the area in which you will traverse is also essential. Find out what the terrain is like and how dense the underbrush will be. Additionally, you need to know what you are likely to encounter along the way (say a bear or moose, for example).
Knowing what the average climate is like at the time of year you will undertake your camping adventure is good so long as the weather is average. Before you actually depart, you will want to start monitoring the actual climate conditions a month out to see if the weather is behaving like average conditions, or if the weather is trending above or below average.
The closer the date comes to actually embarking on your trip, the more monitoring you will want and need to do. Being caught in a blizzard at a high elevation can put you at serious risk. Knowing what is possible at the location and elevation (even though not likely) may literally save your life.
The terrain itself will be a factor and obstacle that you will need to overcome to safely reach your backcountry destination. Walking thirty miles on a flat paved road is vastly different than hiking thirty miles over terrain that has several thousand feet differences in elevation. That, coupled with the ground that is not flat and having to perhaps forge your own path through the backcountry, will require special skill, stamina, and navigation ability. Do not assume anything about the terrain and do not take it as a given. It will be a huge factor.
Picking and Packing the Right Gear
Your backcountry minimalist camping trip will ultimately determine which type of camping gear you need to take with you. Your experience, skills, climate, and terrain will all play a part when determining the camping gear you elect to take. And, as the name suggests, minimalist camping means not taking the same type of camping gear that you would take on a family weekend trip. Backcountry camping is rigorous. Packing light is a requirement. Hiking thirty miles through that backcountry of Alaska or through the mountains of Colorado necessitates a light pack. There are some constants in determining the gear, however.
Chief among the required backcountry gear, as stated previously, is a really good topographical map as well as navigation equipment, like a compass or a GPS tracker. Those two items need to be taken regardless of location or climate.
Once you have your topographical map and navigation equipment lined up, you will need to decide your route and develop a plan after closely and carefully studying the map and terrain involved. Writing the plan out so you can reference it as you forge your way through the backcountry is a very good idea. You will need to make note of nightly stops, sources of hydration, and areas of caution. Pack the plan in a convenient spot so you can easily access it.
Once that is in place determine shelter requirements as it relates to terrain, elevation, and climate conditions. It may be that you will elect to take a hammock if certain conditions are experienced. With other conditions, you may elect to take a single-person tent.
Clothing is another item that you will need to take after careful consideration of climate, elevation, and terrain. Hiking pants will be preferred in the cool season or when your backcountry hike requires walking through rough brush in order to protect your legs. A hat is also something you will need to protect you from the sun or retain your heat if cold. Footwear and appropriate socks will play a key role in ensuring you reach your destination.
Other camping gear will include means of hydration, either with a hydration (camel) pack or canteen. Food preparation gear will be needed as well. The food preparation equipment won’t be like the Coleman double burner propane stove you take while on a family camping trip, but rather a single grill or even boxes of waterproof matches will be used. If you are able to work some sort of fire starter (and if you don’t already know how to operate one, you need to learn) pack that as well.
Carrying the camping gear will require a backpack. The backpack needs to have enough room to comfortably carry the gear you take as well as it needs to be lightweight. Most of all, however, a waterproof backpack is the most preferred one. Not only should the backpack be waterproof, everything in the backpack should be contained in its own waterproof container or bag. Having wet gear makes things go from bad to worse real quick. Keeping your gear dry will provide you with another level of safety, not to mention comfort.
Animal and Insect Protection Planning
Most people realize that when it comes to exploring the backcountry, you enter a world that doesn’t belong to you. As such, you are out of your natural environment. That is true whether this is your first minimalist camping trip or your fiftieth. You are entering into the natural habitat of creatures that do not mix with humans and perhaps look at you as prey. Even if you have studied the potential for an encounter, you cannot prepare for what response the creature will have to your presence.
Stumbling onto a baby bear cub usually means its mother is close by and most likely is already watching you very closely. You need to have a plan in place to deal with all of the potential encounters that you may experience and have practiced your response to that encounter will be. Being faced with a baby bear cub in front of you is not the time to pull out a guide to find out what to do. You should have practiced for this situation many times and your response should become a matter of muscle memory.
Insects can be as deadly as a grizzly bear. Proper backcountry insect repellant will help, but even then, it may not be enough. Having the knowledge of what attracts insects gives you the ability to not create that situation. Proper insect protection will go a long way for personal comfort. Mosquito netting and mosquito wear will help control how many bites you will get. If you are sleeping in the open air, like on a hammock, mosquito netting is essential to protect you while you sleep.
Mosquitos are not the only insect you will face; ticks are another insect that can cause you long-term harm. Inspect yourself every time you take a break, as well as once you make camp for the evening and again when you rise in the morning. Having a cheap pair of earplugs will keep things out of your ear canals, but will still allow you to hear your surroundings. Having and packing the right gear and planning for the environment you will be facing are all important parts of your minimalist camping adventure.
Backcountry Minimalist Camping Safety Planning
Knowing how to provide first-aide to another as well as on yourself is paramount when minimalist camping. If you, or if you go with another person (always a great idea), or they require first-aid, it may be a long while before the appropriate emergency response individuals can reach you. Depending on the severity of the injury, quick action and know-how may save their, or your, life, until the first responders can reach you. Ensure that as part of your camping gear is a very well-packed first aid kit and even a first aid guide you can refer to if needed.
The most important way you can safely plan for your backcountry camping adventure is to make sure the appropriate authorities know of your trip, your route, final destination, and expected date of return. Depending on where you decide to take your minimalist camping trip, different authorities may be involved. It could be the park rangers at a National Park, a local police station, or other authorities that have jurisdiction over the area in which you will be. Making sure that other people know where you are, or at least the general area you will be in, will greatly increase your safety while trekking through the backcountry on your minimalist camping adventure.
Proper Planning and Having the Right Minimalist Camping Gear
Backcountry minimalist camping can and should be an adventure that you will remember for the rest of your life. Planning for it starts early and for some that may mean that your backcountry journey to an Alaskan summit through thirty miles of unmolested wilderness begins at your neighborhood gym. But just as important as physical ability, having the right backcountry gear is essential as well. With the proper planning, equipment, knowledge, and safety planning, that Alaskan summit may be closer than you think.