When most folks go camping, they think of scenic views and campsites, versus overall safety. Based on one’s experience, do you settle on a car among site, or try and interior park or crown land site? Would you only camp in the summertime, or try the cooler fall scenic colors, and some winter snow conditions? Are you looking for a dark sky experience, or maybe do some birding, view some historical sites, etc.?
My 40 years of leading outdoor pursuits programs and camps have taught me a few things. Included is where to setup a camp safely away from widowmakers that can fall on you, away from tall trees that can get hit by lightning, or away from beaver lodges and poplar trees that beavers like to chew down at night, and to avoid islands and peninsulas that tend to bear the brunt of windstorms and thunderstorms. Watch out for areas that are prone to flooding, such as overused campsites, or to close to streams and rivers and floodplains.
On one of my earliest camping trips up near James Bay, I learned first hand that the tide comes in sometimes at night, so avoid setting up camp to close to the water! Islands are bad places for lightning storms, and I know firsthand of a canoe group, where a live tree gell on a tent, and almost killed a camper.
How to setup a Camp
My favorite way to setup an ideal wilderness camp is to setup a MEC Tarp over a rope slung between two trees, and place the tent in one corner, and a campfire in the opposite corner.
MEC Scout and Guide Tarps are silicone coated on one side, making them very fire resistant, as long as the fire is less than half the height of the overhead Tarp. This method works well on crown lands and backcountry sites, but not on park campsites.
At provincial and national park campsites, I prefer to setup my tents in the woods, we’ll away from the cooking and campfire areas, and away from the heavily compacted campsite area that can flood out.
Tent and Campfire Under Tarp?
Placing your tent under a nicely roped Tarp offers additional protection during nasty weather, and a place to keep gear dry. Sometimes we’ll duct tape solar blankets around the tarp, for added protection.
Bug proof Dining Tent
Several manufacturers offer bugproof ding tents, eg Eureka, Coleman, MEC, and many models offered on Amazon. These take minutes to setup, and some are lightweight for backcountry excursions.
Hanging a Food Pack Away from Bears
Pulley systems are available at most camping retailers, They make it easy to hang heavy food packs up a tree.
Roping on a single branch vs using two branches: if you locate a sturdy deciduous tree branch, you can toss a throwbag rope (with a small stone in the bag for weight) over the branch, tie the food pack or barrel, and sling up at least 5 meters off of the ground, minimum 2 meters from the tree trunk and branch, since bear cubs and racoons and squirrels are very good at jumping and climbing! Sometimes, we utilize to tree branches from two adjacent trees to pull up heavy loads.
Tips; never use evergreen or softwood tree branches, and use a location at least 100 meters from your campsite.
On one canoe trip, some campers hid all of their food provisions under a tarped canoe. A bear destroyed the canoe to get at the food. On another trip, campers left a canoe under the tree holding the food packs, and the branch broke, with the heavy food pack landing squarely on the canoe.
Bearproof barrels and containers offer added protection in the backcountry. When car camping, we simply put all food and mess kits into the car trunk.
Setting up an Expedition Tent
When I setup a nice Eureka or North Face Expedition Tent, preferably a dome or semi-dome design with vestibule and aluminum or titanium poles and pegs, I always use a ground sheet or footprint to protect the rent floor from damage and flooding. Make sure all threaded areas are seam-sealed. Never pack the tent with zippers open. I stuff my tents, and trunk them inside out to dump any dirt from the insides.
Avoid setting up neat tall trees or roots that can conduct lightning. Watch for overhead dead trees or branches that can fall on the tent during a storm. Never setup a tent on a game trail, or out in a field. Look for other dangers, eg red ant hill, massassauga rattler nest, ground hornets etc.
Never leave food or clothing in or near a tent. That includes clothing used when gutting fish, and toothpaste, candy, chewing gum, and sweet smelling sunscreen.
Packing a Backpack Lightweight
Locating the ideal backpack is a course on its own. I prefer an internal framed pack, and larger is good, since you can always shrink it down. Good brands like Lowe Alpine, Eureka, North Face, and Marmot, typically include removal frames that can be fitted and conformed to your size and back, and have waterproof rain covers. I like a pack that has lower compartments that can be opened, so you don’t have to stuff everything from the top.
When packing, never pack food items or stove fuel above clothing and sleeping g bag, since if these leak, you have big problems. I like to pack heavier stuff close to my back, and higher up in the pack, balanced from side to side.
Tips: pack emergency items, eg first aid, firestarting, tarp, so it’s easy to get them in a pinch. Communications equipment should be on your person, eg satellite tracker, gps unit, cell phone.
Lightweight Food Provisions
For backcountry Camping, most parks have banned bottles and glass. I vacuum seal or use zip lock bags. It’s best to dehydrate all foods, and go with easily hydrated and high carbs, eg pastas, rice, tvp tofu, soup mixes, dry breads (rye crisp), flour, granola bars and trail mixes, or buy ready to use Harvest Meal Packs and MRE Meals.
Tio: water is very heavy, remove it from foods.
Cooking on a Campstove
My favorite cookstoves are the MSR Dragonfly, the Biolite, and the Kelly Kettle. The dragonfly is a multi-fuel stove that cooks quickly, but is noisy. The other stoves use wood, so no need to carry extra fuels. I like a nice messkit, that has copper bottom pots, and a non-stick frying pan, with adjustable handles. Bring fire mitts to save your hands from burns.
Another way to go is to cook meals on a campfire. Bring a folding lightweight grill with you, plus tin foil.
We utilize a combination of boiling water, chlorine and iodine tablets, lifestraws and bottles, plus pump and gravity filters. Carbon filers clog up faster than ceramic filters.
The Saywer filter system is around $35, and claims to filter up to 100,000 gallons. All filters clog up if you don’t pre-filter.
Constructing a Fire for Cooking and Warnth
Start with tenders, kindling, and fuel woods, beginning with fast catching dry evergreens eg pine, and eventually use hardwoods to get a hot coals cooking fire. We use a teepee and longhouse fire design.
Tips: you need oxygen, ignition, and fuel, for fire. Store fire firewood and materials under a tarp or garbage bags. Abide by all laws, eg don’t cut down live trees for firewood, don’t transport firewood from outside of region.
Always build a fire on a safe substrate, eg rock, sand, and never on the forest forest floor.
Enjoy your camping, do it safely, and leave the site the way you found it or better!