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Wilderness Camping: Tips and Tricks

For most of my life, if I heard someone talk about a camping trip, a picture would pop into my head that would involve an RV or a large tent. The setting would be on a nice grassy slope, a creek loaded with fish nearby with a bath house just a short walk away. In more recent years, cell service would enter my mind, and would usually be one of the first things I’d ask about. Of course there would be lots of food, with a store within a short drive where water and other necessities could be easily purchased. After a few wilderness camping trips, the picture in my head began to evolve.  

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Becky Lou Outdoors is sponsored by Vista Outdoor.

My very first wilderness camping trip involved a horseback ride deep into pristine Wyoming Washakie Forest with several women. It was a fully guided camping trip with a little fishing on the side, catch-and-release only. Although it was very rustic terrain in bear-infested woods, how rough could it be with a makeshift port-a-potty tent? We did have to lock up our food, candy, sweets, and even toothpaste in a bear-proof box at night. It proved to be the perfect maiden voyage with experts at the helm. I have three words to describe Carl Sauerwein of Boulder Basin Outfitters: brave, bold and fearless. Leading a group of mostly novice campers can present many challenges to an outdoorsman, but as trail boss he kept everything running smoothly. He slept by the fire with his two bear alerts (his dogs), basically sleeping with one eye open and keeping watch as we all slept through the night. We all arrived back at the Cody, Wyoming, trailhead safe and sound, with lots of memories.

Wyoming 2013 - We take a break for lunch at the halfway point for the 4-5 hour ride into camp. I have my frogg toggs tied behind my saddle and handy for the many unexpected showers that quickly became expected during the entire trip. Which explains the lush beautiful green foilage and the rushig rivers and streams!

After a short break, I am mounted and ready to ride with a group of girls to the campsite deep in the Washakie Forest for my very first wilderness camping experience. Aside from what I have on the horse with me, a small, 25-pound duffle on a pack mule somewhere in the line would see me through the next few days. Packing light: It’s the first lesson of wilderness camping.

 

My second trip to camp in the wild was to be spent in the outer reaches of Kodiak Island, Alaska, with two of my dear friends, Louis and Ruth Cusack. The fact that they took on the challenge of bringing a novice camper to a remote location for 8 days speaks volumes about the courage these two people have. They are very brave souls, in more ways than one. We flew out of Kodiak on a carefully packed float plane. After an hour or so of flying, Louis began to scope out the areas below us, and picked a spot near a lake, the perfect water source. We spent the next 8 days hiking, hunting and hanging meat. I had a lot to learn; they both had the patience of Job, and we made it through the trip with 3 black tail deer to bring home, and a bear story to boot! You can see a quick video here, as Louis and I recount the bear encounter after the next morning’s hunt. I am still visibly shaken in the video, but braver for the experience and so thankful I was with those two fearless folks. Picking a spot in a remote wilderness, setting up camp from scratch, and taking it down was an experience that I wouldn’t trade for all the tea in China…or all the bears on Kodiak.

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The final day of our 8-day wilderness camping/hunting/hiking trip on Kodiak Island, Alaska. Ruth had enough battery left in her camera to take one last picture as we started to break down camp, preparing for the float plane to arrive and return us to civilization. Note the bear spray hanging from my hip. After our bear encounter, it stayed close at hand. (Ruth Cusack photo)

Ruth Cusack, expert outdoorswoman, wilderness camper and one tough cookie, shared this tip for setting up a camp in the wilderness: “Picking the right base camp location as important as remembering to bring ammo. This could mean the difference between having a great hunt and chasing your base camp down the beach. I usually do my best to find a flat location with some sort of a wind break to protect our camp from the predominant wind directions—usually a bluff, mountain side or clump of alders. Without this type of proper consideration for locating our campsite, we would have been in a heck of a bind in 2009, when a great easterly blew in with 45-mph sustained winds, gusts up to 65 mph, and the most rainfall ever recorded in a 24-hour period.”

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Choosing the right place for a campsite can make a huge difference, whether it’s tucked into a clump of trees or protected by something as minor as slight rise in the terrain. (Ruth Cusack photo)

 

 

The list of supplies needed to survive on a camping trip should be short, and every ounce considered. Here are just a few supplies that I deem important and necessary on any trip, although my overall list varies with the time of year and terrain.

 

 

  • Water Purifier and Bottle. You will need a quality filtration system to purify all water sources. Due to the sheer weight of it, carrying your own purified water out into the wilderness is not an option. Outfitters usually provide filtered water, but it takes several minutes to purify water in large containers, so I urge you to bring a high-quality purifier of your own. Hydration is your friend in any kind of weather. CamelBak has the rechargeable “All Clear” for filtration and their Eddy water bottle is my personal favorite.

 

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Having clean water to drink is important in daily life, and even more important away from civilization. The new CamelBak All Clear is one of the lightest and most effective personal filtration systems available. It is rechargeable, purifies in 60 seconds with a screen to verify success. The Eddy water bottle can be used to store the purified water and you can get back on the trail with 1.5 liters of water secured easily with the large handles. All Clear MSRP $99.00; Eddy MSRP: $25.

 

 

  • Bear Spray. 15 years ago, I never would have expected to encounter a bear. I had been given plenty of bear safety tips before trips: “Just make noise” they said. “They are more scared of you than you are of them.” “Just shout loudly and face them head-on.” I have found that not every bear has read the rules, and each has its own ideas and moods. There is no foolproof way to deter a bear, but bear spray, in my humble opinion, is the closest thing to the best way to save your life. A large-caliber bullet placed perfectly on a huge bear could do the trick, but when you are shaking like a leaf it might be difficult to get that shot. Sabre Red has a potent spray that I keep with me wherever there is a chance of a bear encounter, or any other predator that may threaten my life or limb.

 

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Better safe than sorry. Sabre Red is a world leader in all types of defensive sprays, and this can of bear spray could save your life and limb. MSRP: $39.99.

  • Light and Solar Power. When night falls, humans are at the mercy of the darkness. On a cloudy night in the middle of nowhere, the darkness is absolute. Having a source of light and way to charge it will help to keep your sanity. In a perfect world you could hang a lamp on every limb, but limited space and weight mean the fewer and smaller the better. The new age of wilderness camping also includes cell phones, or sometimes a satellite phone for emergencies. Keeping them charged can literally mean the difference between life and death.

 

Rubicon-Light-Vista

Bushnell lumen flashlights can be recharged with the included USB cable, and has charging-indicator and battery-status notification lights. The 500-lumen model is also equipped with optional auto-dimming, which decreases the intensity of the light when you’re looking at maps or other items up close to reduce glare. MSRP: $89.99.

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Charge your electronic devices anywhere you go. The new PowerSync SolarWrap Mini-MAX from Bushnell is a solar-powered portable charging station that is lightweight and compact, yet durable for long-term reliability and performance. The unit quickly charges devices such as MP3 players, smartphones and cameras, indoors and out. Unlike most solar devices, the SolarWrap Mini-MAX’s onboard battery holds a charge and continues to recharge in less than full sun. MSRP: $199.95.

 

  • Snacks, snacks and more snacks. Did I say snacks? I cannot stress enough the importance of having food for fuel and energy. When you are wilderness camping, the 3-meals-a-day rule can sometimes be a hard one to follow. It also seems that the great outdoors always gives me a bigger appetite. Be sure to pack as many protein bars and as much jerky as you can possibly carry.

 

  • Rain gear. Any gear you can pack that will allow you and your gear to stay dry will be worth its weight in gold when and if you need it. A simple heavy-duty trash bag could save a trip by keeping your things dry. Few things are as miserable as being wet, and without hours of full sun, it can be nearly impossible to get anything to dry without a campfire (and taking a chance of catching your belongings on fire). There’s a lot of durable rainwear to choose from, but when weight is a concern there are few that can top Frogg Toggs, a company that has been keeping people dry since 1972.

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When the weather turns wet, it is nice to have a suit that pops out in a snap to keep you high and dry. Weighing around 12 ounces, this Frogg Toggs pro action suit is my rain gear of choice for fishing, camping, boating and hiking. MSRP: jacket, $54.95; pants, $39.95.

  • Binoculars. When you’re camping, you’re surrounded by wildlife. Why limit your view to what you can see with the naked eye? I rarely go anywhere without my binoculars strapped on; that way I’m always ready to view that bird or beast up close and personal.

Bushnell-Binos

Bushnell Trophy Xtreme binoculars come in several different strengths. Built rugged, with  waterproof and fogproof lenses and a built-in lens cover, these binoculars assure that you have a clear view every time. MSRP: $179–$249.

 

The list could go on and on, but so would the weight, which is crucial to keep down if you’re traveling by foot, horse, or float plane. Wilderness camping has taught me to keep it simple and count every ounce. Such adventures present many challenges, but surviving in the wild with just the bare necessities will provide you with serenity you can’t find anywhere else. You’ll leave with a new respect for the earth and its creatures, and a bit of extra courage you found without taking a trip down a yellow brick road.

Are you ready to try some wilderness camping?

  • About Becky Lou Lacock

    Becky Lou Lacock spent most of her life as an entrepreneur owning several retail businesses. Her shooting and hunting adventures began later in life, and her excitement and enthusiasm just seems to spill out onto everyone around her. She tells tales of her adventures here at The WON, in her column titled “Becky Lou Outdoors.” With a firm belief of “Let No Woman Be Left Behind,” Becky Lou also participates, promotes and organizes female group activities and hunts across the country. She works diligently to provide women of all levels of physical and financial capabilities with perfect outdoor opportunities. As a professional freelance writer, she has been published by media outlets in print and online: InterMedia Outdoors’ Game & Fish Magazine / Sportsman Magazine and OutdoorHub.com

     

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