5 backcountry need-to-knows before you go
COVID-19 brought with it one "silver lining" - getting people outside and out of their comfort zones in the great Canadian wilderness. The best thing about exiting comfort zones is learning new things and growing. So maybe you're already planning to take on that fall camping trip or thinking about booking for 2021 BUT if you're anything like me you want to know what you're getting yourself into!
Remember - I am not a wilderness expert, just a city girl who happened to discover a passion for the backcountry & with that in mind...
My top 5 back country "need-to-knows" before you go:
Look at your route. Most importantly you want to know where you're going and what your trip entails. You can find your route on helpful sites like Jeff's Map or Unlostify. I'd suggest you download the map, take screenshots, and get a hard copy - you never know when technology is going to fail you. I like to look up paddle times and portage distances for motivation for my future self - that way when I'm en route I can say "only 500m to go, only 30 minutes more of paddling". If you're extra like me you can also always type in your route on google and find other peoples trips and pics for visualization purposes and to snag the "best" campsite!
Plan to manage the two H's: hydration & hanger. I like to start out with a full water bottle of good ol' Toronto tap liquid gold. BUT in the case of a long paddle and a hot day, that's often not enough. Pack chlorine tabs or a Lifestraw for access to clean water before you get to your campsite (tabs or gravity filter for when you're on site). Consider a package of Nuun tabs or a Mio squirt bottle if you don't enjoy funky tasting water. For the initial trip over, I generally like to pack a "school lunch" think a quick sandwich you can eat while you paddle or before you launch off a portage... this is never enough haha. SO I also ensure easy to eat snacks like protein bars, pepperettes, dried fruit, and trail mix are easily accessible. These types of snacks come in handy throughout the trip and for the paddle back to your car!
Don't overpack! Remember you're carrying everything you're packing - you'll thank me on that elevated portage. Keep your packing to the essentials: sleeping bag, sleeping pad, first aid kit, tent, cooking gear, food (but plan ahead so you're not lugging excess food that gets spoiled), SPF, bug spray, and layers of appropriate clothing. If you're going to read the damn book then bring it, but let's be honest - you never do! Beer is delicious, but do I really want to carry it for minimal buzz? Nope, hit me with the hard stuff. The easiest items to cut down are clothing - my comfy clothes (sweats) double as PJ's and I focus on moisture wicking items so even if I get wet, it's quicker to dry. Wool socks - check x2 even if I go for more than 2 days... don't judge, you'll be smelly anyways. The clothes I'm not wearing turn into a pillow. Shoes? You can suffer through with one practical pair. But then if you really need to bring extras focus on the ones that make you comfortable like my next point....
Ease your anxieties. Afraid of bears? Bring bear spray and read about how to react if you do encounter a bear. Not a fan of bugs? Pack bug spray (you'll need this anyway haha) and a bug net. Scared of the dark? Bring a headlamp or small flashlight you can have accessible for when the sun sets. Never set up a tent before? Find a space to put your tent (or borrowed tent) together and take it down ahead of time - this will help you be more confident AND catch any obvious issues with the tent ahead of time. My biggest anxiety around camping personally, is sleeping in the great outdoors. Sleeping anywhere that's not my own bed makes me feel extra vulnerable and only gets worse as every scurry of a squirrel, bird, or other wildlife gets amplified in the deafening quiet of the backcountry. I overcome this anxiety by keeping my bear spray and flashlight nearby just in case and blocking out the wildlife calls with ear plugs.
Do it anyway. Is it going to be hard? Yes. Are you going to be tired? For sure. Does anyone really enjoy using a thunderbox? Hard no. BUT for all those times where you wanted to give up and instead did it anyway - your sense of accomplishment, pride, and confidence are going to grow exponentially. Be open to failing, because for every failure there is a lesson learned (or a soaked tent... oopsies we forgot to tarp again). I always get the nervous butterflies when I head to the backcountry because no trip is ever the same, the weather can't be predicted, the animals and humans you meet along the way are always different but doing it anyway has brought me so many cherished memories.
I write this acknowledging that most people generally venture into the backcountry for their first time with someone more experienced or with a guide. There are so many more "need to knows" around packing, food, & equipment but these are the top 5 things I learned on my first trip.