Tag Archives: backcountry camping

Woman wearing purple backpack stands on hiking trail looking at mountains

12 Common Backcountry Camping Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them!)

Backcountry camping is one big learning curve. Unless you grew up in an outdoorsy family, it’s very likely that you’ll make mistakes the first time you sleep in the wilds. The next time you go, you’ll be a little bit better at it. Eventually, you’ll stride along the trails with the confidence of a seasoned hiking veteran.

Until you reach that point, please remember that making mistakes isn’t something to be ashamed of. Not everyone was raised to knowing how to poop in the woods or rustle up a fire from a few pinecones. Yet that doesn’t mean you can’t learn. People often scoff at beginners, but they forget that everyone has to start somewhere.

Mistakes can, however, be problematic when it comes to safety. The backcountry is, by its very definition, a wilderness. Getting by on a wing and a prayer isn’t recommended. For your own well-being – and that of the natural habitat around you – it’s best that you try to minimise any errors. Get advice, do research and read up on best practice. It could just save your bacon.

To help you on your way, I’ve outlined 12 common mistakes that rookie backcountry campers make – and how you can avoid them.

Mistake #1: wearing the wrong clothes and footwear

The garments that make up your everyday wardrobe won’t generally be suitable for hiking into the backcountry for an overnight camp. This is a mistake I made on my first wild camping expedition to Dartmoor National Park in the UK. It was February, so I wore jeans, a cotton T-shirt, a huge jumper, a bottle hat and a heavy coat that I’d normally use for horse-riding. I was sweating within seconds.

Ideally, you want to wear lightweight clothes that wick away sweat. These should be made of wool or synthetic fibres. Don’t wear cotton or denim. You should also adopt the three-layer system of a baselayer, a mid-layer and an outer layer. You won’t necessarily need to wear all three layers at once if it’s warm outside, but you should pack them in case of bad weather. Remember the mantra ‘be bold, start cold’. In other words, don’t overdress when you begin your hike. You’ll warm up very quickly. You can add layers when you stop at camp for the evening.

On your feet, you need hiking boots or trail running shoes at a minimum. Trainers with a poor tread (and other footwear, like flip flops) increase the risk of slips and trips. Be sure to get hiking boots that fit your feet properly (this in itself is a common problem for new hikers). Too big and your feet will slide around. Too small and your toenails will fall off. Either way, you’ll get blisters, which are so incredibly painful when you’re hiking with a heavy pack. Stores that specialise in outdoor gear can help you choose the right footwear. It’s also wise to take a blister kit, such as Compeed or 2nd Skin, just in case.

Do:

  • Wear proper hiking boots
  • Wear clothes made of wool or synthetic materials
  • Get a lightweight waterproof rain jacket
  • Use a three-layer system
  • Pack extra clothes for the evening
  • Pack a blister kit
  • Try to wear your hiking boots in before you go

Don’t:

  • Wear cotton or denim
  • Wear trainers, sandals or flip flops
  • Wear so many clothes that you overheat
  • Take too many clothes with you – you only really need one outfit for hiking in, plus some extra layers for sleeping in

Related: What to Wear Hiking in Winter

Mistake #2: not taking the right gear

People often wrongly assume that backcountry camping is much like car camping. Actually, they’re two entirely different beasts, and as such require a completely different set of gear. Your normal camping tent will likely be far too bulky to carry, as will your kitchen pots and pans. Instead, you’ll want stuff that’s lightweight and efficient. That means a lightweight tent, a lightweight sleeping mat, a lightweight sleeping bag, a lightweight stove and lightweight cooking utensils. Oh, and you’ll need a hiking backpack to put it all in, preferably one that fits your frame.

Lots of stores and online retailers sell goods that are specifically designed for backcountry camping. The amount of choice can be seriously overwhelming for the uninitiated. Staff at outdoor shops can advise you further, and kit reviews on outdoor blogs are another useful source of information. Unfortunately, all this new gear comes with a considerable price tag. However, there are ways to buy good gear on the cheap. Alternatively, you can always borrow from outdoorsy friends or rent items.

At a bare minimum, you’ll need to take a sleeping system, a cooking system and the 10 Essentials. You need to tailor some of this gear to the conditions that you’ll encounter. A sleeping bag that’s rated for +5°c won’t keep you warm in a cold alpine setting. Check what season each item is suited to and be sure that it corresponds to the conditions you’ll likely experience on your hike.

Do:

  • Invest in (or borrow) lightweight backcountry camping gear
  • Get a proper hiking backpack and make sure it’s fitted to your body shape
  • Carry the 10 Essentials
  • Take back-up items like matches and batteries for a headtorch

Don’t:

  • Use gear designed only for car camping
  • Use gear that is inappropriate for the season
  • Bankrupt yourself getting all the best gear (unless you the funds of course!) Build it up slowly or buy second-hand
rent tent on St Mark's Summit

Mistake #3: not testing out gear beforehand

This is a classic rookie error, and one that I’ve made before. After purchasing a new stove, I didn’t check how to use it until I was camped on top of a snowy mountain in February. There was a seriously hairy moment when I thought I was going to burn the warming hut down.

So, please learn from my faux pas: if you do invest in new gear, then know how to use it, before you set off. Once you’re out on the trail, it may be too late to read the instruction manual or search for online tutorials. It may even be broken or faulty, in which case, you really want to know about it before you need it ‘for real’.

Even if your gear’s not new, you should still check that everything’s in good working order after each expedition. Or, that items you’ve used have been replaced, like band-aids in a first aid kit.

Do:

  • Test all your gear at home before you leave
  • Know how to use everything
  • Put up your tent at home
  • Attend to any kit that needs to be recharged, fixed or replaced

Don’t:

  • Assume you’ll be able to figure it out on the trail
  • Wait to use something for the first time on the trail

Mistake #4: carrying too much stuff

If you’ve read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, you’ll know that she begins hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with a ludicrously heavy backpack that she affectionately names ‘Monster’. Two weeks in, bruised and blistered by its weight, she meets a man who scrutinises the contents of her pack. He ruthlessly discards the items she doesn’t truly need – a foldable saw and a 12-pack of condoms included.

This is an important lesson that almost all backcountry hikers go through. You will inevitably take too much stuff on your first outing and your pack will be unnecessarily heavy. However, you’ll learn what works with time. The all-important backcountry camping gear will also help, as it’s lightweight by design.

In the absence of an all-knowing friend who can advise you of such things, you will have to police yourself on this matter. Remember that you must carry everything on your back. Not only that, but you’ll have to carry this pack for some distance, probably over difficult terrain that requires you to step up, over and down uneven objects (like rocks, roots, stairs and boulders). Select everything you take very carefully and only pack things you actually need.

Having said that, don’t pare back on the essential items. I’ve heard of people trying to lighten their load by not taking a sleeping bag, only to freeze during the nighttime at a high elevation camp. There’s definitely something to be said for cutting down on clutter, but don’t forgo the things that will keep you alive.

Do:

  • Research what you need to take backcountry camping
  • Cut back on luxury/non-essential items
  • Consider lightweight alternatives, such as taking a Kindle rather than a book
  • Save weight where possible – some people even saw off the end of their toothbrush to shave a couple of grams from their load
  • Share the load with a hiking buddy if possible, such as divvying up the tent

Don’t:

  • Leave essential items at home
  • Take heavy (or really any) things you don’t need
  • Forget that a heavy backpack can get very uncomfortable, very quickly
Woman wearing backpack stands in front of turquoise lake

Mistake #5: not taking enough food and water

Food and water are your life source, especially when you’re exerting yourself on the trail with a heavy pack strapped to your back. You really don’t want to run out of either. Like pretty much every mistake on this list, this is something I’ve done personally. In an attempt to travel lightly, I didn’t take enough food on an overnight hike, meaning I had nothing to eat on the final day. I made it down the mountain feeling a little dizzy, went to the nearest restaurant and quickly inhaled a two-course meal.

Thankfully, I only had to make it through one day without food. Any longer and you start running into problems. So, always take more food that you think you need. I know I just waxed lyrical about cutting back on non-essential items, but I think you’ll agree that food and water are absolutely necessary. You’ll learn how much food you need as you go along. In any event, you should always take extra, just in case something goes wrong and you’re on the trail for longer than expected. However, don’t take stuff like tins which are both bulky and heavy. Instead, consider taking dehydrated meals and snacks such as nuts, chocolate and raisins.

Related: Make Your Own DIY Dehydrated Camping Meals

As for water, this is a tricky one. Water is VERY heavy. But you need to take on enough fluids, and you may need extra for cooking with. Ideally, you’ll fill up with water as you go along, filtering and purifying as needed. You must check you can do this before you set off for your hike. Research whether there are any creeks, streams, rivers or lakes along your route, and whether they’ll likely be flowing (sometimes they can dry up in warm weather). If there isn’t a reliable water source, you’ll need to take enough water to last for the duration of the hike.

If you’re new to backcountry camping, then I recommend choosing a route that has a reliable water source for your first few outings. This will make your life easier as you’ll have one less thing to worry about.

Do:

  • Take more food than you think you’ll need
  • Learn from each hike as to the amount of food you tend to eat
  • Research water sources along your route
  • Eat ‘backpacking food’ that’s high in energy but is easy to carry, like dehydrated food
  • Treat or boil water before drinking
  • Refill your water receptacles whenever you can
  • Use water bladders instead of heavy water bottles (unless it’s very cold)

Don’t

  • Scrimp on food and water
  • Take food that is heavy, such as canned goods
  • Drink water that is untreated

Mistake #6: not drinking or eating enough

While we’re on the subject, another common mistake is to carry enough food and water, but to fail to consume it. People often say they don’t feel thirsty or hungry while hiking. Or they’re tempted to miss meals to make up time or because they’re just too tired to bother. However, you need to keep your body fuelled and hydrated properly. Else, you’ll start to feel unwell, making things much harder than they need to be.

Related: What to Eat on a Multi-Day Hike

Do:

  • Eat and drink regularly
  • Drink more water if you’re not peeing frequently or have a headache
  • Eat more food if you feel hungry, faint or low on energy
  • Make time to do all of the above

Don’t

  • Skip meals
  • Forget that you can get dehydrated, even if it’s cold outside
Man in orange top sits next to fire on rocky plateau with rent tent in the background

Mistake #7: choosing a route that’s too difficult

As a newbie, it makes sense to start with something easy while you learn the ropes. Hiking a 10km trail is one thing. Hiking a 10km trail with a heavily laden backpack on is quite another. It also requires a certain type of fitness. It’s a cardiovascular workout, but it also requires a lot of strength. After all, your shoulders, back and hips must bear the weight of your pack. In turn, this can take its toll on your legs, feet, glutes and core. This fitness can take a while to build, so it’s best to ease yourself into it.

The difficulty of a hike is dictated by the distance, the amount of elevation gain and the altitude. So, while you may be drawn to a 5km hike, it may be less appealing if there’s 1,000m of elevation gain (in other words, you’ll be walking uphill a lot). You might have your heart set on an epic multi-day hike, but I recommend doing some easier practice runs first, rather than jumping in at the deep end.

There are lots of ways to research hikes. Websites/apps such as All Trails and Trailforks are useful. There are also lots of location-based sites, such as Vancouver Trails. Hiking forums and blogs are additional resources you can use. Be sure to choose a route that allows backcountry camping and has favourable conditions (see mistake number 8 below!) Depending on where you live, it’s probably wise to wait until summer or early autumn to venture on your inaugural backcountry camping trip. This means longer daylight hours, easier trail conditions and (hopefully) better weather.

Do:

  • Choose an easy hike for your first outing
  • Take the distance, elevation gain and altitude into account
  • Build yourself up to longer, more difficult hikes
  • Train by going on day hikes with a heavy pack
  • Select a hike that is easy to navigate

Don’t

  • Be hard on yourself if you find it difficult
  • Forget that it takes time to build muscle and endurance
  • Camp illegally
  • Give up!

Mistake #8: not checking the trail conditions and weather

Imagine it’s a glorious spring day in May. It’s been hot for several days, the ski hill’s been shut for a month and you decide to hike to a lake in the backcountry. It’s seriously hot in the city, so you wear shorts and sling a couple of layers in your pack, along with your camping gear. You envisage swimming in the lake and basking in the sunshine. Ten minutes in, you’re trudging through snow, which is still knee-deep. It’s a white-out, snow is tumbling over the top of your boots and you’re shivering with cold. You’re slipping every other step and there’s no way you’re reaching that alpine lake – which is probably still frozen anyway. After nearly sliding to your death over a cliff, you accept you weren’t prepared for these conditions and return home defeated.

A true story. Not my story, but someone I know. It was a scary lesson which, thankfully, didn’t end in disaster.

Here’s the thing: conditions on the trail can be very different to the conditions you see when you look out your window. Having moved to Canada from the UK, this is still something that I have to remind myself of. Rain might be falling as snow, clouds might be obscuring the sunshine, rivers might have caused creeks to swell to impassable rivers, and storms might have caused trees to blow down. Then there’s the snow. Snow can persist at high elevations until very late into the summer (or even all year round). Even if the temperatures are soaring, you may still need micro-spikes up on those mountains.

Always research the trail conditions before you travel. There’s no single source that will tell you exactly what’s going on out there. Hiking forums, blogs and social media can all be useful. Check recent weather reports. And if a trail report provides a recommended hiking season, then consider this as well-informed guidance.

Also check the weather forecast for your trip. If you’re not prepared to hike/camp in rain, snow or extreme heat, there’s no shame in postponing your backcountry camping trip until another day. Mountain forecast, snow forecast, the BBC and Environment Canada are all useful resources.

Do:

  • Check the trail conditions before you leave home
  • Check the weather before you leave
  • Adapt your clothes and gear to the expected conditions/weather
  • Pack your gear in waterproof stuff sacks and put a rain cover over your bag, if it’s going to be wet

Don’t:

  • Forget that the conditions can be very different to what you see out of the window
  • Hike into the backcountry if you’re unprepared for the conditions/weather
  • Be afraid to postpone your trip if you need
  • Let your stuff get wet, especially your sleeping bag and camp clothes

Mistake #9: getting lost

Actually, everyone gets lost from time to time. The trick is to prevent this from happening as best as possible. Before you go, research your route in detail and take down as much information as you can. Sometimes, written directions are incredibly helpful. Resources such as All Trails, Trail Forks, blogs, books and hiking websites should hold the information you need.

While on the trail, keep your eyes peeled for waymarkers. These vary depending on where you are. In North America, there are little orange markers attached to trees and logs. Alternatively, orange paint may be sprayed on rocks and boulders, or flagging tape tied to bushes. In the UK (where trees are scant) there are often little stone cairns to guide you.

In certain situations, there won’t be any signposts and route-finding skills are necessary. This means getting a map and compass and knowing how to use them. Or, you can download a map to your phone using apps such as Gaia.

If you do get lost, then it’s important to know what to do. This is often the difference between an inexperienced hiker and someone who’s used to spending time in the backcountry. Stop, stay calm and look around for waymarkers. Backtrack to the last marker you saw and try to rejoin the trail. If you are truly, impossibly lost, then stop and make camp. After all, you’ve got all your overnight stuff with you. You should then call the police and request a search and rescue. It pays to have a satellite device for this purpose, such as an InReach, SPOT or Somewear Labs. Don’t assume that by going downhill, you’ll reach safety. You may end up in a gully or on a cliff-face which is actually more dangerous.

Do:

  • Research your route in detail before you leave
  • Note down directions and carry them with you
  • Watch out for waymarkers and signposts
  • Take navigational tools, including a topographic map, compass and online map (downloaded)
  • Stay calm if you get lost
  • Call search and rescue if you need
  • Take a satellite communication device with you

Don’t:

  • Assume the route will be signposted
  • Choose a hike that is hard to navigate – until you’ve got some experience, at least!
  • Panic if you get lost
  • Waste your phone battery by calling people who can’t help you

Mistake #10: Forgetting to leave a trip plan

Leaving a trip plan is something I now do religiously, but it wasn’t always the case. The more I’ve learned about backcountry camping, the more cautious I’ve become. Leaving a trip plan basically means telling someone where you’re going and when they’re likely to hear from you. If they don’t, they can raise the alarm and a search and rescue can be initiated. Otherwise, it might not become apparent that you’re missing until days later. And when it does become clear that something’s amiss, rescuers won’t know where to look.

Do:

  • Leave your itinerary with someone who isn’t going on your backcountry camping trip
  • Tell them exactly where you intend to go, including where you expect to camp
  • Tell them what times you expect to set off and return
  • Provide them with a ‘cut off’ time, meaning the time at which they should start to get concerned

Don’t:

  • Hike into the backcountry without telling anyone where you’re going
  • Veer off-course intentionally, unless you have to

Mistake #11: Not following Leave No Trace principles

As a beginner backcountry camper, there’s no reason why you’d know about the Leave No Trace principles. But they are oh-so-very important. Together, they are the code of outdoor ethics. They are designed to reduce human impact on nature, ensuring it is preserved for the generations to come. There are seven Leave No Trace principles:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimise campfire impacts
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of others

Some common mistakes made by backcountry campers include:

  • Setting up camp on delicate eco-systems
  • Not burying poo and other waste products, such as dirty dish water
  • Not packing out trash, including menstrual items and wet wipes (which aren’t biodegradable, no matter what they say)
  • Poor campfire practices

To be a responsible backcountry camper, be sure to read up on the Leave No Trace principles. You might also be interested in how to handle your period in the backcountry, and how to poop outdoors.

Mistake #12: Not being wildlife-savvy

If you’re not accustomed to tramping around the great outdoors, then you probably won’t be au fait with the wildlife either. That can be a bit scary, whether you’re facing down a herd of angry cows or trying to pass a rattlesnake coiled up on the path. Then there are bears, cougars, coyotes, ticks and a multitude of other creatures lurking in the shadows.

The advice for each type of animal encounter is different, so you’ll need to do some research based on your locale. Look Big by Rachel Levin provides a definite guide for everything from alligators to wolves.

Finally, always remember that wild animals are just that: wild. They mustn’t be fed human food, whether from your hand (as with birds) or from left-behind trash (as often happens with bears). It’s also important to store your food properly while you’re at camp. Again, this depends on what wildlife are around you. If it’s just rodents, then you’ll need to store it in airtight containers to prevent them from nibbling on your favourite hiking snacks. If it’s bears, then you’ll need to use a food cache (if available) or put everything in a bear canister and hang it up high.

I once left my food outside, feeling safe in the knowledge that I wasn’t in bear country. Well guess what? The raccoons got everything.

Do:

  • Research how to deal with wildlife encounters, based on the area you’ll be exploring
  • Store your food properly at camp
  • Be bear aware, if you’re hiking in bear country
  • Use common sense around wildlife

Don’t:

  • Feed any type of wildlife, intentionally or unintentionally
  • Leave your food out while you sleep (or in your tent, depending on where you are)
  • Approach wildlife

Practise makes perfect

This is a lot of information to take on board. Hopefully it helps your first backcountry camping experience run smoothly. As with anything in life, practise makes perfect. You’ll learn something every time you go backcountry camping, whether that’s how many clothes you need or how much food you tend to eat on the trails.

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How to deal with your period in the backcountry

How to Handle Your Period in the Backcountry

Aunt Flow. The blob. Happy days. Whatever moniker you use, one thing’s for certain: when it comes to outdoor pursuits, there’s never a good time to be surfing the crimson wave.

In an ideal world, that time of the month would arrive when you’ve got a completely clear schedule. You’re hunkered down at home, under a duvet, and the only mountain you’re climbing is the pile of chocolate in the cupboard. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that. Invariably, there will come a time when you face a code red situation in the great outdoors. Backcountry camping trips. Hut trips. Mountain biking trips. Ski tours. Long-distance trail runs. Been there and birthed a blood diamond in each and every one of them.

So, what do you do? Well, you could try to organise your plans around your cycle. But that’s not always an option. Some adventures are tied to a strict timeline, whether due to conditions, logistics or prior preparations. Rather than miss out, I say go forth and enjoy yourself. A period doesn’t have to stop you from venturing into the backcountry. You can participate in all your favourite hobbies – only you get extra bonus points for doing it while one of your organs literally sheds its lining.

Eco-friendly tips for dealing with your period in the backcountry

Of course, the backcountry isn’t adorned with sanitary washroom facilities. And as always, it’s important to follow the Leave No Trace principles. Given these two factors, you might wonder how, exactly, you’re supposed to manage your lady time while out in the wilds.

So without further ado, let’s jump right in to my eco-friendly tips for dealing with your period in the backcountry.

1. Use a menstrual cup

My menstrual cup has revolutionised periods for me, especially when it comes to outdoor adventures. I recently told a friend that I use a menstrual cup and she wrinkled her nose and said “eeuuww”. I, too, used to be squeamish about such contraptions. But actually, it’s no different to using a tampon, especially a non-applicator tampon.

The main advantages of menstrual cups are that:

  • You can leave them in for up to 12 hours at a time. This means you only have to deal with them in the morning and the evening, when you’ll probably either be back at home or at camp
  • They are lightweight and don’t take up much room in your pack (or they’ll take up no room if it’s in use)
  • They can be used time and time again, unlike tampons and pads

I finally took the plunge and purchased a menstrual cup after a long day of ski touring while on my period. I had a heavy flow and had to continually shuffle behind a tree to ‘sort myself out’. There would follow a painful 10 minutes of taking off my gloves, wriggling out of my bibs, locating a fresh tampon in my pack and using my freezing hands to execute the necessary deeds. By the end of the day I was responsible for a stack of used tampons in my bag, red patches of snow across the mountain and a group of bemused (mostly male) touring buddies.

Menstrual cups take a bit of getting used to, so if you buy one, I highly recommend that you get comfortable with it at home first. Once you progress to using it in the backcountry, you simply need to empty it every eight to 12 hours, depending on your flow. To do this, you need to:

  • Dig a cathole six to eight inches deep, just like you would for a poop. The cathole should be 200 feet (about 70 steps) from any trails or water sources
  • Wash your hands (see tip number 4 below)
  • Empty the contents of the cup into the hole
  • Wash the cup with sterile water if you have it (skip this step if you don’t)
  • Reinsert the cup
  • Pour your hand washing water into the cathole
  • Fill the cathole back in

Some popular brands of menstrual cups include DivaCup, Mooncup and Tampax Menstrual Cups. You could also invest in some reusable pads and sanitary underwear, such as those from Period Aisle and Knix. These can be combined with a menstrual cup, if you’re worried about leakage.

Mooncup menstrual cup

2. Pack out tampons and pads

If you feel more confident with tampons and sanitary pads, then just remember to pack them out. This might be news to you, so let me elaborate: you must not leave tampons and pads in the backcountry, even if you bury them (wildlife will dig them up). They also take forever to break down – in fact, a sanitary pad takes between 500 and 800 years to decompose! Instead, you need to take them home with you and throw them in the bin.

If you’re packing out tampons and pads, then it’s a good idea to have a plastic Ziplock bag (or something similar) to store them in, until you find a trash can. You can wash and reuse this plastic bag for future adventures.

3. Make a period go bag

It’s helpful to pack all your feminine hygiene items into a waterproof bag, such as a small dry bag or a plastic bag (which can be reused, of course). That way, you can grab everything you need in a hurry, should you feel the red army approaching. These items might include:

  • Your menstrual cup and/or reusable pads or underwear
  • Tampons and pads, plus an additional bag for used tampons and pads
  • Hand sanitizer and wipes
  • Biodegradable and phosphate-free soap
  • Painkillers
  • A pair of surgical gloves

Keeping supplies in a dry bag has the added benefit of, well, keeping everything dry. This is especially important if you’re relying on tampons, which as we all know, expand when wet.

4. Wash your hands

You should really wash your hands before you start handling items that are going to live near your lady parts for the next few hours. Evidently, this can pose something of a problem in the backcountry, where the chances of finding filtered water are slim to none.

How to deal with your period in the backcountry
Off for a saltwater bath

My preferred method is simply to boil some water and use a little bit of liquid soap, which I keep in a small plastic bottle. Ideally this water will come from a nearby water source, such as a stream or river, so that you don’t eat into your precious water supply. Either way, I tend to boil a bit more water than I would need for my morning tea (or evening tea for that matter). That way, it doesn’t feel like I’m expending more fuel, as I’m boiling water anyway. Then I let it cool and wash my hands – you don’t need huge amounts water to do this. The grey water should then be disposed of in the cathole.

If you’re going to use liquid soap, be sure to use a product that is biodegradable and phosphate-free. Also, never use soap near a water source, even if it’s biodegradable. This is because the soap actually needs to be filtered by the soil in order for it to degrade. I bought a bottle of Campsuds about two years ago and it’s still going strong, as you really only need a teeny amount each time. Dr Bronner’s is another trusted brand.

There are some non-eco-friendly alternatives to plain old water and soap, like wet wipes. I’m not a fan of wet wipes as they’re single use and are rarely biodegradable, despite what the packaging may say. There’s also hand sanitiser. However, alcohol-based products are not so friendly on the foof. If you cannot wash your hands – perhaps because you’re on the move or water is scarce – then you could wear a pair of surgical gloves instead.

5. Give yourself a break

Everyone reacts differently to menstruation. Personally, I find it a physical struggle. I feel weak, low on energy and a lot less confident of my abilities. Trails I would normally breeze along suddenly require a huge amount of effort, and altitude takes a heavier toll than normal.

If this happens to you, too, then give yourself a break. I used to be hard on myself and wonder why my fitness was in such a shoddy state. It’s only now that I’ve joined the dots and realised that when I’ve got my period, I experience a temporary pause in normal service. Listen to your body and respond accordingly – whether that’s giving yourself more time, taking regular breaks, eating more chocolate, taking the easy route, or staying at camp rather than tackling that extra peak. You probably won’t feel like conquering the world, and that’s OK.

How to deal with your period in the backcountry
Hiking while menstruating can be a struggle

6. Manage period pains

Period cramps suck. There’s no two ways about it. They can blight even the best day out, making you wish you were at home in bed rather than tearing around the backcountry. The good news is that light exercise can actually help combat period pains. Painkillers are another tool to have in your arsenal, as are nalgene bottles that double as hot water bottles. Finally, there’s research that shows dark chocolate can reduce menstrual cramps – a great excuse for doubling your normal ration.

7. Don’t worry about bears and menstrual odours

The idea that black/grizzly bears are attracted to menstrual blood has been circulating since the 1960s. There is no science to support this theory, so it can be discarded as a myth. Bears will, however, be drawn to all that delicious food you’re packing. So if you’re in bear country, be bear aware.

Tent pitched in front of lake

Why I Love Wild (Backcountry) Camping

It’s a warm summer’s night. Mosquitoes flit around my head, looking for a patch of bare skin on which to dine. The sun has just dipped below the horizon, and around me the snow-capped mountains fall into darkness. Nature’s goliaths; magnificent by day, menacing by night. Below me, the lights of Vancouver are twinkling. I take a one last glug of red wine and decide it’s time for sleep. It’s been a big Friday evening, after all.

But instead of a queen-sized bed adorned with a fluffy duvet, my shelter for the night is a miniscule two-person tent. A blow-up mattress provides a degree of luxury, while my ‘pillow’ is a rolled up down jacket. For you see, I’m camping. But I’m not at a campsite. There’s no one else here, no wardens, no fees to pay and no designated pitches. I’m backcountry camping. Or to use the European vernacular, ‘wild camping’.

A Friday night well-spent

Earlier in the day, I packed my backpack with all the essentials required to keep me alive (red wine included). I cycled to a trailhead and hauled myself and my overstuffed backpack halfway up a mountain. Accompanied by my boyfriend, I set up camp on a rocky plateau, cooked dinner and just…relaxed. There’s no need to ‘do’ anything. It’s a gorgeous spot. Soaking up the views is entertainment enough.

In the morning we enjoy some coffee and hot porridge, watching as the sun burns through the clouds to reveal the coastal mountain range once again. We pack up and make the return journey, by now our thoughts turned to all the chores that must be achieved over the weekend. Before we leave, I take one last look around me. There is absolutely no indication that we’ve been here.

I consider it a Friday night well-spent. The alternative would have been a pizza eaten on the sofa while watching something mindless on Netflix. Instead, I’ve immersed myself in nature, and this makes me happy. Why? There are so many reasons. Because it’s beautiful. Because it’s a fun adventure. Because I prefer the simple life. Because I enjoy being in splendid isolation; a welcome retreat from the chaos that we call civilisation.

Backcountry camping near Squamish, British Columbia

The science of ecopsychology

I’ve known for a long-time that being outdoors is good for me. Now, science has confirmed what I’ve suspected all along: that time spent in nature is an antidote for stress. The scientific movement of ‘ecopsychology’ has discovered that exposure to nature has all kinds of incredible benefits. Not only does it do things like enhance your mood and lower your blood pressure, it even reduces crime rates and improves cognitive functioning.

The notion of reconnecting with nature has seeped into the public consciousness of late. People are realising how distanced they are from the natural world – and just how much better they feel after a walk in the park or a good stomp along a woodland trail. The Japanese concept of forest bathing is gaining traction in the western world, and is even an ‘experience’ offered by some hotels and tour operators. But it doesn’t have to cost anything. I just packed my bag on a Friday afternoon and walked out my front door.

Leave no trace

Yet this revitalised interest in the natural world is a double-edged sword. There have been reports in the UK of people camping across the Lake District, leaving litter and trampling across the natural habitat. One woman even found a wheelie suitcase, left abandoned for someone else to deal with. This, of course, is not OK. There are rules to wild camping, which are known collectively as the Leave No Trace principles.

This disregard for the natural environment does little to help the cause of wild campers – something which is already viewed with suspicion in England. In fact, it’s only legal in Dartmoor National Park. Pitch your tent anywhere else and the whole thing becomes a very shady business. You’re advised to arrive late and leave early to avoid detection. Get caught and you risk a fine for trespassing and a severe telling off from the landowner. And you can never really relax for fear that you’ll be found out.

Having lived in Canada for four years, this now seems laughable. Wild camping – or backcountry camping as it’s known state-side – is practically a birth-right. A whopping 94% of British Columbia is Crown land, meaning it can be accessed by the public, so long as that does not mean infringing on a First Nations community. Sleeping in the wilds is considered the norm, and even heavily protected provincial parks have designated backcountry camping sites.

The USA also has vast swathes of public land, held in trust for the American people. Compare this to England, where almost all the land is privately owned. The right to roam is severely restricted. Even where public footpaths exist, they are typically located on private land – meaning you cannot camp there without the landowner’s permission.

Wild camping in Dartmoor National Park
Wild camping in Dartmoor National Park

Cultural disparity

In four years of living in B.C., I have been on numerous backcountry camping trips. Not once have I been moved on, told off, been called irresponsible or looked at with distaste. Quite the contrary. Most people want to know where you’re going, what route you took and where the nearest water supply is – all information logged so they, too, can recreate a similar excursion. It’s just a part of the lifestyle.

This cultural disparity struck a chord recently when I read The Salt Path by Raynor Winn. While walking the South West Coastal Path in England, Raynor and her husband camp on a beach one night. In the morning, a passing dog-walker calls them “disgusting”. I found this shocking. Have we become so removed from nature that sleeping under the stars is something to be reviled? Why exactly is wild camping all-but outlawed in England, but positively encouraged elsewhere?

Perhaps places like Canada are just more ‘outdoorsy’? Maybe it’s because the population is considerably smaller, yet has far more space to enjoy – space which is actually open to the public? Or is it because people (for the most part) obey the rules regarding backcountry camping? Most likely, it’s a combination of all these things.

Wild camping is not “disgusting”

All I know is that when done properly, there is nothing disgusting about wild camping. Evidently, a degree of education and respect is needed. Litterbugs can’t be tolerated and the habitat must be handled delicately. If the whole of the UK descends on Dartmoor for a Saturday night, then clearly there will be problems. But there are ways to manage the situation. In British Columbia, for example, backcountry camping permits are required for provincial parks, and rangers patrol the area to enforce the rules.

Some might question why you can’t just go to a campsite. But actually, campgrounds can be expensive, not to mention noisy and overrun with people. It’s completely different to being in the wilderness. You don’t get the sense of freedom or the enjoyment of the untamed landscape. It’s also unavailable to those who – like Raynor Winn and her husband – cannot afford the cost of a campground night after night.

The fact that sleeping on a beach is viewed with antipathy just goes to show how disconnected from nature we still are. In this day and age when we’re all being told to go outside more, this seems very contradictory. Perhaps it’s time to see wild camping for what it really is – not a crime, but a perfectly acceptable outdoor activity. Ultimately, this could have so many benefits. For our physical health. For our mental health. And who knows, perhaps even for Mother Nature herself. Because if others are anything like me, the more time they spend living up close and personal to nature, the more they’ll want to protect it.

Hiking in Tetrahedron Provincial Park

If you love a backcountry cabin, then Tetrahedron Provincial Park is for you. With four maintained huts to choose from and a network of hiking trails to explore, it makes for a perfect weekend adventure.

Tetrahedron Provincial Park is located on the Sunshine Coast, near Sechelt. In winter it’s a haven for backcountry skiers, who skin up to Mount Steele and Panther Peak in search of fresh lines. Come the warmer months, hikers hit the trails – although not in any great numbers, it seems. When we visited on a sunny Friday evening in August, ours was the only car in the parking lot.

The hiking here isn’t difficult, if you don’t want it to be. You gain a significant amount of elevation when you drive up the logging road to the trailhead. From then on, you can weave your way along undulating trails, past subalpine lakes and boggy wetlands. If you prefer more of an ascent, the hike to Mount Steele is available and is around 8kms (one way) to the summit.

Chapman Lake

There are four backcountry cabins in the park, making this an ideal opportunity to stay overnight. While the cabins are rustic, they are brilliantly maintained by volunteers at the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club. Each has a stove stocked with firewood, a sink and grey water bucket (but no running water), a dining table and benches, an outhouse and a range of survival equipment. Even comfy sleeping pads are provided.

You cannot reserve these cabins – they are first come, first serve. You have to be prepared to share. The upstairs sleeping quarters are cosy, so you might want to take some ear plugs. In theory, the only other items you need are your sleeping bag, cooking equipment, water, toilet roll and dishwashing soap. I always recommend taking a tent, just in case the cabins are full. And you must pack out what you pack in – including food waste.

The hiking route

The great thing about hiking in Tetrahedron Provincial Park is that there are numerous options open to you. I wanted to see as much as possible in 48 hours, so devised a loop that incorporated all four cabins.

From the parking lot, we hiked the 4.5kms to Edwards Lake cabin. The first section is along an old logging trail, which if truth be told, isn’t very inspirational. Then, all of a sudden, you’re deep within the forest. The bushes are teeming with berries in August (and bears!) The terrain is easy-going, so it doesn’t take long until you skirt the edges of Edwards Lake. The cabin itself is a little further along the trail.

Backcountry cabin in the forest
Edwards Lake cabin

We stayed the night at Edwards Lake cabin, which we had entirely to ourselves. In the morning, we left our big packs behind and put together a day hiking bag. We then headed over to McNair Lake cabin, which is 5kms (one way). The trail rolls up and down, over roots and creeks – some with questionable bridges. As you get closer to Chapman’s Lake, the ground gets wet and boggy. McNair Lake cabin appears shortly afterwards.

Backcountry cabin in the forest
McNair Lake cabin

At this point we still hadn’t seen another human being since entering the park. In fact, we didn’t see anyone else until later that afternoon, when we came across a big group heading to Mount Steele. Walking alone to McNair Cabin was almost eerie, and strange for a Saturday in mid-summer. In Tetrahedron, it feels like you don’t have to go far to achieve a sense of isolation and remoteness.

After eating lunch, we retraced our footsteps almost to Edwards Lake cabin. But instead of turning left to the cabin, we continued upwards to Mount Steele cabin, which from this point is 3km one way. It’s a steep climb, so it’s much easier without a fully loaded backpack. From Mount Steele cabin, it’s a short hike up to the summit. We then returned to Edward’s Lake cabin for a second night, and this time we were joined by a local couple.

Alpine landscape with cabin
Walking up towards Mount Steele cabin

In the morning, we packed up all our belongings and returned almost to the parking lot. However, when we got to Victor’s Landing, we took a left turn towards Bachelor Lake cabin. There’s also a stone arrow on the floor to point you in the right direction. This is not a well-trodden path and is overgrown, so you need to follow your nose. You skirt the edge of the valley before descending down into the forest.

Backcountry cabin in the forest
Bachelor Lake cabin

Apparently, Bachelor Lake cabin is the party cabin. We didn’t find any hungover souls, but we did have lunch and a swim in the lake. We then returned to the parking lot via the normal summer trail – just follow the orange trail markers. And there you have it! Two days, four cabins and a few kms under our belts.

Woman sits in front of lake
Bachelor Lake

Of course, you don’t have to follow this route. You can pick and choose which cabins or lakes you want to go to. Some might prefer the out and back to Mount Steele. This seemed to be the preferred destination for the hikers we did meet. Others may opt for the loop from the parking lot to Edwards Lake, returning via Bachelor Lake. For solitude, I suspect McNair Lake cabin is the best bet. It’s entirely up to you.

Know before you go

The road to the parking lot is steep and extremely rough. We just about managed it in a Honda Odyssey – but only just. If you do not have a 4WD with good clearance, do not attempt to make it to the upper parking lot. If you visit in winter, 4WD and snow chains are essential.

The cabins are maintained by volunteers from the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club. If you’re staying, they ask for a donation of $15 per person, per night, or $25 per family, per night. Fees are payable to the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club can be paid online. If you want to send a cheque, there are pre-addressed envelopes in the cabins.

There is no running water in the cabins. In the summer, you can refill at the creeks and the lakes. Water should be boiled or treated.

In the summer months the park is bursting with berries. Where you find berries, you inevitably find bears (we saw two). So, be bear aware!

Man holds bowl of berries
Freshly picked berries covered in chocolate

There is little-to-no cell reception in the park.

Conditions are very different in winter. The lakes may be frozen and avalanche hazards exist.

Red tent pitched in front of lake

Top Tips for Backcountry Camping

Sure, expensive hotels are nice, with their fluffy towels and pressed linens. But if you ask me, nothing beats packing up your rucksack, venturing into the wilderness and setting up camp for the night. Not even The Ritz.

Overnight hikes into the backcountry are a challenge, of course. But they’re also so rewarding. You can go further than you otherwise would during a day hike, and it gives you more time to spend at a favourite lake or a beautiful vista. You can also set up a basecamp and explore the area further, without your bag weighing you down.

However, if you’ve never done an overnight hike before – also known as wild or backcountry camping – then it can seem a little intimidating. You might be asking yourself: ‘can I really pack everything I will need for a night (or more) and carry it for miles on end…and then carry it back again?’

Let me tell you – with the right planning and the right mindset, the answer is undoubtedly yes!

However, I’m obliged to warn you that it can take a lot of practise to hone your backcountry camping skills. I remember doing my first overnight hike at school as part of my Duke of Edinburgh Award. I had an impossibly big bag which weighed a ton. After many gruelling hours of walking I arrived at camp, my shoulders torn to shreds, my hips in agony, and little desire for a repeat performance.

Thankfully I did give it a second go, and a third, and then I got hooked. There were times when I took too much, and times when I took too little, but now (a little bit like Goldilocks’ porridge) I feel like I’ve got it ‘just right’. Yet it would be nice if you didn’t have to go through the same trauma as me. So, if you’ve always wanted to try an overnight hike but you’re not sure where to start, here are a few tips to help you along your way.

Get the right bag

Having the wrong backpack can result in tortuous discomfort, particularly on the shoulders, back and hips. Therefore it is well worth getting your mitts on a backpack which fits your body. Play around with the straps and continue to adjust them until it feels comfortable. About 80% of the weight should be rest on your hips and 20% should rest on your shoulders.

You might be tempted to go for the smallest bag you can find, but don’t forget, you need to have enough room for all your stuff! It’s difficult to say what size is best as it will depend on so many factors, such as how long you’re going for, how small your gear packs down, and how good you are at cutting the non-essentials from your life. Generally, something between 50L and 65L is suitable. If you’re planning on sleeping in a hammock, you can get away with less.

Invest in lightweight gear

Buy, rent or borrow lightweight gear. Seriously, it makes a huge difference. In particular, having a small lightweight tent, roll-mat or mattress, and compact sleeping bag are key. Not only will it leave more space in your bag for other essentials, it will reduce the amount of weight you’re carrying. Which is, as I’m about to explain, absolutely vital.

What do you really need? Really?

It falls on your shoulders to take everything you need – quite literally. Unless you really enjoy pain, you’re going to want to make your bag as light as possible. That means that every single thing you pack needs to be there for a reason.

Now then, that doesn’t mean you should leave out sensible things, like a medical kit. Rather, cut down on the luxuries and non-essentials. Remember, you’re going backcountry camping, not to luxuriate at the Fairmont. If you’re going for one night, you don’t need seven outfits. And no, you don’t need your favourite fluffy pillow!

Think carefully about food and water

When you arrive at your destination, there won’t be a 7/11 will aisles full of delicious snacks and hot coffee on tap. Oh no. And if you don’t have enough food and water, it will make for a very miserable (and potentially dangerous) adventure.

When it comes to water, you’ll probably need more than you think. Hiking with heavy backpacks on is thirsty work, and you may also need water for cooking. Check whether there are any fresh water sources en route where you can refill, bearing in mind that creeks and rivers can dry up during the warmer months. If there aren’t any, carefully consider how much water you will need and load up your bag. Yes, it’s heavy. But you’re going to need it.

As for food, there are a variety of options available. Lots of people opt for the pouches of freeze-dried food. If possible, I avoid these in favour of homemade food. If you do too, don’t plan meals that require every single pot, pan and utensil in your kitchen cupboard (or lots of water). Instead, think about what is going to be easiest on a single gas-burner.

If I’m just going for one night, I’ll normally pre-cook a meal and simmer it for hours, meaning it reduces right down and can be easily packed into a small jar. When it comes to dinnertime at camp, I simply need to heat it up and rehydrate it with some water. Et voilà, a delicious meal is served!

Prepare for Leave No Trace principles

Whenever you are in the great outdoors, practice Leave No Trace principles. Pack out what you pack in, taking all your rubbish and trash home with you. If you need to relieve yourself (you know what I mean!) then bury it. And if you are camping for the night, don’t disturb the local flora and fauna when pitching your tent.

Have a practise run

It can be a great idea to have a practice run. Lay out everything you think you would take on an overnight hike, pack it in your bag, then go on a short walk or hike (preferably a trail you know well, so you don’t get lost). This will give you a good idea of how it feels to hike with a backpack, and whether you can realistically manage to carry the weight for an extended period of time. If not, you may need to shave a few pounds.

Start with something easy

For your first backcountry camping experience, don’t go crazy. You don’t need to conquer the world just yet. Instead, choose an easy route with minimal elevation gain, little to no technical sections and pleasant weather conditions. Once you’ve refined your skills and grown in confidence, you can start on some more difficult trails, or even multi-day hikes. It won’t be long before you’re eyeing up Everest basecamp.