Backcountry Camping: Security and Comfort

Backcountry Camping Security

Camping for some people is more than just a weekend getaway at a public camping ground. Some enthusiasts like to head for the backcountry for some alone time, maybe to practice their bush craft skills or to just get away for a while, to get away from people.

National parks while public, do give you a greater sense of isolation than would, for example, the KOA campground just down the road. Avid campers that want to practice their bush craft would want some isolation, so location is critical, but along with isolation comes some risks.

The wilderness can be a dangerous place for those unprepared, and for those that have not spent much time alone in the wilds; an active imagination can be just as dangerous sometimes. The point is if you think camping requires that you booby trap your campsite, or set up all night with a rifle across your knees then you probably should stay snuggled safely in your suburban home.

Nature is unforgiving and a lack of respect for the dangers can be deadly though. Aside from Mother Nature you may have to contend with two legged pests wandering about. Just be aware that no matter where you decide to camp, you may not be the only human in the area.

However, just because someone else is camping in the same grid square does not mean he or she is a danger. You need to take certain precautions, but there is no need to be overly paranoid or otherwise a camping trip to relax and enjoy would be anything but relaxing and enjoyable.

In a traditional campsite you can expect there will be other campers, other families within sight. Some may even wander through your camp site at night. People get confused in the dark looking for their tent, the showers, or the latrine, so you have to account for this, and understand it is all part of the experience of camping in this environment.

Typically, your biggest concern will be the local wildlife and Mother Nature’s sometimes wicked tantrums when it comes to your well being. 

You can imagine what your experience would be like at a local campsite that is well established and popular, and many enjoy this experience as much as some others enjoy getting far from so-called civilization.

When You Get Off the Beaten Path

When deep in the backcountry what would you look for in a campsite and once you have one chosen what can you do to ensure you do not find yourself in a survival situation.

1.) High Ground or Low Ground

As long as you do not make camp where there is any possibility of flash flooding high or low ground is up to you. From a tactical standpoint the high ground is always better if you have to defend the campsite from two legged predators.

Evidence of past flooding would be present if you know where to look. Obviously, a dry wash at one time was not so dry, so camping in one or even close to one could be dangerous. Camping close overhangs or rock outcroppings could flood your campsite, as well. If it rains heavy enough the water could wash off the overhang and literally wash your campsite away.

2.) Have the Means to Secure Your Food

Animals can smell your food and they will want it. They can tear up your tent, wreck your coolers, and even damage your vehicle in search of food. If you happen to wander back to camp and a bear is grazing the buffet you left out, you may be added to the menu. You may not be eaten, (right away anyway) but a bear will injure/kill you if you get between them and their food or their offspring. Even raccoons can ruin your camping trip, so know how to secure your food, and your waste, so it is not an attractant to the local wildlife.

Use metal food lockers for food storage. Some campsites will provide these, but it is better if you get your own so you know you will always have one, and bear canisters can be purchased as well.

Dig your latrine as far away as practical, and yes you do need a latrine, cat hole or any hole to bury human waste, and even to bury foods when out in the wild. Remember the trail to the latrine will look different in the daytime so consider how to make it easy to find it in the dark.

Hang your food to keep big pests away from it, but remember smaller pests such as squirrels, mice, and even raccoons can traverse the line used to hang your food, so when hanging from a tree branch keep this in mind.

Some parks may require that all foods be stored in approved food canisters/lockers.

3.) Pest Control

Use netting, repellent and smoke to keep the flying and crawling pests away. Not only are they an irritant they can carry deadly diseases, so you do have to protect against them. Smoke and breezes can help control the pest as well. Place your campsite so that air flow is not blocked by heavy foliage, rock walls, and other obstacles.

Permethrin for clothing, shoes and gear is an effective insect repellent and in some cases, outright kills certain pests. It is very effective against disease carrying ticks, so treat your shoes and pants at the very least. Spray on clothing, backpacks, gear, and tents to keep the insects at bay. You cannot spray it on your skin, and you do have to be out of the clothing when treating them with Permethrin. Read the directions carefully before using.

Use whatever repellent on your skin you feel comfortable with keeping in mind that DEET is very effective when the concentrates are between 20 and 50 percent, the higher the concentrate the longer the protection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends DEET at levels between 20 and 50 percent to prevent the spread of pathogens carried by insects (CDC, 2013).

Some people have an aversion to using chemicals but DEET has been in use since the 1940’s and was developed by the United States military. You can contract serious if not deadly diseases from ticks and mosquitoes in North America.

4.) Overhead Hazards

The term “Widow Maker” is a logging term used to describe limbs that fall when a tree is felled. The limb could strike the logger injuring or killing them. A limb referred to as a Widow Maker is usually a dead limb caught up high, and held in place until the tree begins to fall. The term can also be used to describe limbs that could fall from trees you are not taking down. You could be sleeping under one right now as you lay contentedly in your tent.

It is important that you look up before pitching your tent. Are there any obviously dead limbs and is snow or ice expected that could weigh any limbs down causing them to break. Rock slides and falling rocks are a hazard as well, so again carefully choose your site and anticipate weather changes that may increase/enhance the hazards.

5.) Two and Four Legged Pests

When planning a trip to the back country you need to consider personal protection, firearms in particular. At the very least you would want bear spray. This article had already talked about securing your food supply so you do not attract certain predators, but securing your food does not guarantee you will not encounter a bear, mountain lion, bobcat, and other humans. You would need a firearm that can stop the largest predator you would expect to find in the area in which you are camping. Check local, state, and federal laws that pertain to carrying firearms, in particular concealed firearms.

Choose your location with defense in mind. You simply want to prepare for the “what ifs”. What if you were awoken by a growling bear, snarling cougar, saw a human silhouette on the tent wall or simply feel like something is out there, what is your plan.

You don’t want to be trapped in a tent. You need a place that can offer cover and or/concealment so you can evaluate the situation outside of the tent. A go to place when you need to survey the area. A safe spot may be the roots of a downed tree, or a large tree that offers a view of the area as long as you have some cover at your back.

Look around as you pitch your tent for such an area. You cannot respond well, or at all, to threats when inside your tent. The “what if” you need to respond to a threat scenario is something you need to think about, but not obsess over as you enjoy your time in the woods.

CDC. (2013). Retrieved 2015, from http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2014/chapter-2-the-pre-travel-consultation/protection-against-mosquitoes-ticks-and-other-insects-and-arthropods