Tips for a first-time backcountry camper

I have my husband to thank for opening me up to the wonders of camping.  I loved to hike, be outside and enjoy nature, but I wouldn’t say I loved to sleep there.  And the idea of going to the bathroom outside?  Forget it.  However, much to my original disdain, my husband’s love for camping drew me in.  He talked about it with such a zeal and passion, that I had to try it… at least once.

The first time I went, I was not impressed.  We went for one night, and all we did was hike into the woods and set up camp.  We didn’t have a major hike or a body of water to look at; there were no breath-taking views.  So my initial opinion on the matter was “what’s the point?”  However, I was willing to try it again after purchasing a few more necessary items for women campers (since I was the first woman he’d taken, he couldn’t have prepared me for anything), and we went beach camping.  Beach camping made me see the wonder.  You had a private beach all to yourself!  Only accessible for those brave enough to take a ferry that drops you off on an island with no electricity, no bathrooms, no nothing.  It was wonderful.


My husband is great at helping first-time campers learn the tricks of the trade.  He’s taken numerous people camping with him on all sorts of trips, and I wanted to pick his brain on tips for bringing people for the first time.  So I interviewed him, took notes and typed up these gems on his tips for first-time backcountry campers.  I’m being intentional by saying “backcountry camping” because sometimes when you saying camping people think setting up a tent next to a car and using flush toilets, shower-houses and picnic tables.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about going into the woods and having nothing other than what you brought at your disposal.  No tables, no toilets, no running water, no sinks, no designated campsites, etc.

Since I wrote it up, these are his ideas in my words, but of course I use quotation marks for his direct quotes.  (Ode to my news reporter days.)   Hopefully these tips will help you if you’re thinking you might want to go, but aren’t sure,  or they’ll help you if you’ve been and want to bring someone more reluctant. Since he helped turn me into camper (and I’m talking the real kind of camper, too,… the one who pees in the woods and wipes with a handkerchief, who filters their own water, who wears the same shirt for days and doesn’t care about showering for days on end… that kind) maybe he’ll turn you into one too!

  1.  Bring lots of snacks.  Being in the woods, obviously, is not the same as being at home.  When you’re hungry, you can’t run to McDonald’s and pick up a cheeseburger.  You need to bring lots of things that are simple to eat without a lot of preparation.  For example: trail mix, homemade oat bars, nuts, cheese, salami, etc.
  2.  Set expectations for the trip.  Expectations are a huge part of preparation.  Prepare yourself (and anyone you’re bringing) for what they’re going to encounter.  Warn them about how far they’re hiking, what sort of weather they can look forward to (freezing temps or scolding hot sun), etc.  “If you’re expecting the Hilton… think again… you’re pooping outside.  And don’t expect someone to set you up a cot or an air mattress.”  Backwoods camping is not like setting up a campsite near your car and using flush-toilets at a lodge.  It’s a much more rustic situation.  You will be sleeping on the ground, in a sleeping bag with a pad, but you’re outside.  Nina’s note about hiking expectations: It helps to have a reference point for the person you’re bringing.  When Jared says “it’s a 3 mile hike.”  That meant nothing to me.  I needed to know how long of a hike that was going to be, what it would be like to hike with a 25 lb pack and what the terrain is.  If it’s rocky, that means I need real hiking boots.  If it’s flat, I could use hiking shoes or even tennis shoes.  Give as much detail as possible so they can be as prepared as possible.
  3. No running water makes a huge difference.  You use water for a lot of things at home: showers, cooking, cleaning, bathrooms, etc.  Without access to running water means you have to filter everything, which means that your water is a hot commodity and you can’t use it for everything.  In other words, you will be brushing your teeth dry with a little swishing of water in your mouth,  peeing on the ground, using hand-sanitizer to disinfect your hands after peeing on the ground, wiping your dishes with baby wipes instead of washing them and not washing your face, hair or anything else.  You’ll be using wipes to clean yourself.  It’s a much different way of doing things that you’ll want to be prepared for.  Nina’s note about wipes: Coconut wipes are the greatest for cleaning yourself.  They have a moisturizing component that is great for your body and face, and you’ll feel refreshed and sweat-free!
  4. You don’t eat all your food at once.  You eat step by step.  Meaning if you are back-country camping, you only carry a few pots with you.  This means that you’ll cook in stages and you might not get all your meal at once.  You may have to boil the rice first, eat that, then boil the next part of the meal.  You eat part by part, which is something to consider when you’re starving and ready to scarf everything all at once.
  5. Generally, things take longer in the woods.  Everything takes longer than it would at home.  Getting a drink of water is simple at home.  Just put your cup up to the faucet and get a drink.  In the woods, you’re going to have to pump and filter the water first before you drink it.  You might have to go find a bunch of wood, start a fire and then boil a pot for you to make dinner.  Don’t expect things to be instantaneous, things are slow-moving.

When asked for tips especially for women campers, he just stared and said, “I just told you tips for anyone.”  Spoken from a true non-sexist, but still, I pushed him for more specific tips because I know that women feel like they can’t go backwoods camping for a number of reasons.  I’ve heard this out of many women’s mouths, including my own, that they could never pee in the woods or sleep outside, etc.  I’m not sure where I got these notions that I could never do it and I would never even want to try.  It’s sort of a defeatist attitude to begin with.   Once I continued to press him he simply said: “Just because you don’t have a penis, doesn’t mean you can’t pee in the woods.”  Hard to argue with that logic.  Sort of air -tight, right?   In all seriousness, he said for a woman who has been convinced either by herself, her friends or anyone else that she can’t go because of A, B and C, he says, “You can do it.  If you think you can’t, that’s all in your mind.  You will have to push yourself out of your comfort zone, but it’s a lot of fun to do that.”

To all people who think they still won’t be able to do it because it seems scary or intimidating to sleep hearing the rustling sounds of animals or to go shower-less, he gives some words of encouragement: “Something will click for you when you’re in the woods and you stop caring about things that you thought you would.  Something clicks and you don’t care if there are bugs all around you, you’re dirty or your feet hurt.  You just stop caring, and enjoy the experience.  Then it becomes a lot of fun.”


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