Saturday, November 5, 2011

Setting Up Your Backcounty Campsite

OK, no trails, no bugs, no water, no roots, no rocks, no water near by, no other camps setup, and no ridges.  A wonderful view is only a minute walk away, and clean water is a minute walk in the other direction.  You're ready to setup camp!  Use a drop cloth to setup your tent on.  Putting a drop cloth on the ground first helps protect the bottom of your tent, helps keep it clean, and acts as an additional barrier between you and the ground.  As children we were taught to dig a trench around our tents, no more.  Leave No Trace ethics means not ripping up the ground.  If you took the precautions above water won’t be flowing into your tent at 3:00 in the morning.

In the summer orient the openings in your tent to catch the breeze in the night.  If the site you selected has a fire ring or grate, make sure the prevailing wind doesn’t carry smoke into your tent.  Stake your tent off properly, even if it is self-erecting.  In the event of severe weather, people have been carried off in their tents as they roll along the ground!  Make sure you properly store your food products safely in a tree or in a bear canister.  Storing your food isn’t just to prevent marauding bears from coming through, raccoons, skunks, porcupines and other forest critters can wipe out your food supplies and do a lot of damage to your equipment.
Now the tent is setup, food is stored, gear set away, time to find your privy.  In the backcountry you won’t have the luxury of facilities.  If you are camping in an area where pit toilets are available, use them in favor of digging your own cat hole.  Your privy area should be downwind from your campsite and at least 200 feet from moving or standing water.  Make sure to get to the area you don’t have to pass through or near poison ivy, oak or sumac.  Also make sure the area affords some privacy as you never know when the next Scout troop will be hiking on by.  When using your privy, dig a cat hole removing a single large divot of soil, six to eight inches deep from the ground.  When you’re done, simply replace the intact divot over your waste.  If it is done right, you won’t even know where you dug the hole.  Remember to pack out all toilet paper and hygiene products if you are using a cat hole.  If you wash your dishes with soap, treat the gray water from your dishes as you would human waste.

If your site does not have a fire ring, grate, or fire pan, Leave No Trace ethics recommends you don’t build a fire. Don’t dig a fire pit, move rocks to make a ring, or scrape the ground bare to make a fire on the surface.  If the area does have a fire ring or grate, only use the dry wood from off of the ground.  Green and uncured wood isn’t going to burn well anyway.  Keep your fire small and under control, and always be aware of local fire regulations and burning bans.  In windy conditions seriously consider not building a fire. Try to use a lantern for light and a stove for cooking.  Take a short walk to that bluff you found could provide spectacular views of the night sky.
So now it’s time to put on your camp shoes or sandals.  Sit back, relax, drink a cup of coffee and enjoy the outdoors.  If you are camping in a group, cards, games, and good old-fashioned talk can fill the time.  If you are traveling solo you can read, draw, or write in a journal.  Respect the outdoors and try not to be too loud or boisterous.  Sound can travel long distances in the outdoors, especially if you are near water.  Avoid playing radios.  If you do bring a radio with you, consider bringing a Walkman.  A good day on the trail, a hearty meal, and natural darkness will trigger your body into being sleepy.

When you break camp the next morning the rules are pretty simple, leave things looking better than when you arrived.  If you made a fire make sure the coals have been burned down to ashes and have been completely extinguished.  Crush any embers left, as they may still be white hot inside.  Pack out all your trash and check the area to make sure you didn’t leave any valuable gear.  It is easy to leave tent stakes, knives and other small objects behind that you will need 12 hours from now.  The other thing you can do if you have found that spectacular campsite?  Mark it on your map and if you have a GPS note the latitude and longitude.  A secret spot in the woods is to be cherished, and make sure you can return to it one day in the future, or share it with a couple of close friends.

Finding the perfect camp takes a little preparation and a little time, but goes a long way to increasing your enjoyment when heading to outdoor places.


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