By Jane Marshall
No running water. No road. No services. No fear!
Backcountry camping is the art of hiking, riding or boating to an off-the-grid location. You bring your own tent, sleeping gear, food and cooking equipment and become self-sufficient.
It’s a chance to really connect with nature. You will sleep on the forest floor. See a universe of stars unmasked by the absence of city light. Drink pure mountain water from the stream moments after being pumped through your water filter.
Want to give it a try? We’ve been helping people get into the backcountry for decades!
Planning and Preparation
First, you’ll need the right gear. The cost can be daunting when starting out (after all, you’re compiling everything needed for basic survival!), so consider borrowing items from a friend or mentor.
- Fully waterproof tent
- Sleeping bag with an appropriate temperature rating
- Sleeping pad (can be as simple and affordable as closed-cell foam)
- Comfortable backpack (65-80L)
- Good footwear, waterproof if possible
- Stove and fuel
- Food bags/stuff sacks that will be stored in animal-proof storage on-site, or bring a bear canister or rope for hanging food
- Water purification (drops or a filter)
- Appropriate clothing for variable weather
- First aid kit
- DO NOT FORGET MATCHES! MULTIPLE BOXES! Pack them in a waterproof container/bag. Not eating because you can’t find a fire starter is dangerous and grumpy-making. Bring a lighter for backup.
- A pot-holder for lifting your pot from the backpacking stove. Never use your jacket. It’ll melt. And that would be sad.
- Your stove. So many cool stoves available. Some for simmering gourmet meals, others for efficient water boiling. MSR and Jetboil are great brands.
- Enough fuel for the length of your trip.
- A spork. You got it: Spoon on one end, fork on the other, and the fork has a serrated edge for cutting.
- Plastic bags for food storage, and a bag to pack out all garbage (one that won’t leak. Ew.).
Gotta Do the Paperwork
To backcountry camp at a provincial or national park backcountry site, you’ll need the right permits and will pay a fee to use tent pads, food storage, and of course the outhouses.
- Backcountry camping permit (Click here to access Alberta Parks and Parks Canada's backcountry permitting
- Wilderness pass within a national park
- A National Parks Pass if staying within a national park
- Line your pack with a garbage bag to make it waterproof.
- Bring a giant Ziploc bag for nights when the temperature is low. Instead of waking up to frozen boots, put yours in the bag, bag at the bottom of your sleeping bag, and you’ll have warm feet when it’s time to make breakfast.
- Put hot water in your Nalgene bottle, ensure the lid is screwed on tight, and you have a heat source to cuddle up to in your sleeping bag! Wrap it in a shirt if it’s too hot initially.
- Bring a lightweight umbrella. Fantastic to shelter your stove in rainy conditions, not to mention you, too. Also great for fending off harsh sunshine.
- How about a cheap foam butt pad? I thought this was nuts. Unnecessary bulk. But having a foam pad to sit on makes life soooo good and keeps your backside warm and dry at picnic tables and on rocks.
For your first time, go with someone experienced. You’ll learn so much. Be sure to test out gear at home in a controlled environment. Know your stove and its quirks, make sure you have all your tent pieces, and that your boots have a fresh coat of water repellent.
Then, it’s time to hit the trail.