What kind of outdoorsman are you? A lot of us fancy ourselves living off the land like some sort of frontiersman of yesteryear, but we need to be honest with ourselves, that’s not reality. Of course there are those who are plenty capable at it but for the vast majority of people it means staying in either a trailer or car camping. Nothing wrong with that. I’m not saying that to demean those. In fact that is what I do most of the time. I feel that this dovetails in with a lot of preppers or wannabe preppers. They plan to head for the hills and live off the land when realistically that’s just not happening. And as far as the recreationist, I’ve heard plenty or stories of people having miserable trips or downright dangerous trips. So, you think you can camp?
Since any cheese* can throw some stuff in the car and make it work for the weekend I’m going to be referring to backpacking for the rest of the article. Just want to be clear since I tend to use the two terms interchangeably.
Backpacking is where it’s at for me personally. Been doing short trips since I was four and have tried to keep going. I have had to skip some years as I need to plan things that can include most of the family these days so I’m a bit rusty on some of the little nuances but I still love it and think that if you should do your best to get out and do it too. One of the key parts of backpacking is that it takes a lot of planning to have a successful trip. Some things to consider first though when planning are;
Length: How long do you plan to be out?
Region: Where are you going? What kind of terrain/weather/resources will there be?
Comfort: Just how much comfort do you want? (sounds silly but can make or break a trip)
So let’s dig into these
Length: This is going to determine a lot of the planning. Meal planning first. You will need to count how many meals you will be eating and what time. And here is one of those let’s be real moments. You are not going to be living off the land. There are simply not enough edible plants or animals in most places to support you or a group. And even when there are you can spend whole days just scavenging/prepping/hunting and still not end up with a full belly. Granted this does depend on your area but still expect not to find anything. Personal note, been on a trip where we brought all the fishing gear you could want as the place was known for trout, and we could even see them in the water. Didn’t catch a one.
Types of consumables are also key here. How much gas will you need for your stove? How many socks and underwear are you going to need? (3 is usually a good minimum btw. 1 to wear, 1 to wash, and 1 drying/clean). Batteries too. Most short trips this isn’t a concern but if you’re doing a major expedition you will probably want to bring extra for cameras and lights. (in addition to the usual 1 extra)
Region: So just where do you plan to go? Mountains? Desert? Forest? Nasty god forsaken swamp with literal dinosaurs populating it? This is going to determine some of the gear. Places like the Mountains in particular can have very big shifts in weather. Not uncommon to have 80-90 degree mid days and 40 degree nights/mornings. So make sure you are familiar and know what to expect. There are some good resources out there now that allow you to get pretty detailed weather reports. My two favorites are mountain-forecast.com and Weather.gov. The trick is to have enough to cover the bases but to not overload yourself.
Another factor is the terrain. Will you have access to water? How about trees. Will the elevation be a factor? Water is the big one here. If you have plentiful water you can save yourself a lot of weight by just filtering (just do it, yeah you’re probably fine but a stomach bug/fever will take you out) and drinking as you go. But if water is scarce or unavailable you will need to pack it with you which adds a lot of weight and will mean adjustments will need to be made. Normally if water is plentiful I recommend doing freeze dried food and stove and if it’s not doing MREs and no stove. FYI you will be drinking a lot more than you expect to. You will likely go through 4 liters a day give or take.
Comfort: Before you scoff this is more important than you think. A lot of this is going to be personal preference so adjust accordingly. This is more than just creature comforts; this is also things like good boots and hot sauce. A sleeping pad of some kind is a must in most circumstances. All the places I have been have either been rocky or dirt so hard packed it may as well be rock. The pads will not replace a mattress but will that the edge off at least. They also insulate you from below. Even people who use hammocks will use a pad on the bottom to keep from losing heat. This is a big part of group camping. If you or others have a miserable trip then there likely won’t be a second trip.
So that’s the introduction, I guess we will have to see what the readers think. Should I go on? Get into the details? I feel like a lot of people, myself included, think in terms of “survival”. “I can survive with a knife and whatever’s in my daypack/on my person!” True, heck you can survive on less, but not to sound too cheesy I’d rather thrive than just survive.
* – G-rated abbreviation of my buddies favorite phrase.