At a glance, camping and hiking seems like a fairly straightforward hobby; you go out on a trail, explore nature, set up a camp at night, and sleep under the stars. It's definitely a true American tradition that everyone should do at least once in their lives.
But it's not as simple as it seems on the surface. There are necessary safety precautions and emergency preparations, backpack weight considerations depending on how long you'll be backpacking for, proper clothing and shoes, food options, and many more things to consider.
The easiest and most pragmatic way to approach camping and hiking is to first determine how long you plan to journey for.
Just going for a dayhike? No problem, you only need very few things. Proper clothing, your phone, a map/guided trail, a lightweight backpack, a standard emergency medkit, water, and some snacks are all you really need.
But when you start embarking on journeys into the wilderness that last overnight, the weight of the items you are carrying becomes a pretty important factor. You do not want to exceed more than 30% of your body weight in backpacks (all product weights are included). The strictness of this item weight limit increases the longer you're out hiking. People who backpack for one month up to six months and more will always stress the importance of keeping everything as lightweight as possible.
In our camping and hiking table, we created each row based on the duration of the journey, including how much average free weight you will have as well as the total weight of everything in each level row (the length of the hike). In all cases the total weight is never over 20lbs, which allows for extra items such as food, books and clothing while staying under the 30% limit.
Camping: Shelter, Heat, and Food
Depending on where you are hiking and how well you have prepared for the hike will ultimately determine where you camp; that is, where you set up your tent, fire, etc. Campgrounds and popular trails often have locations (noted on their maps) which have utilities, shared bathrooms, fire rings, barbecue grills - even laundry and land lines - but this isn't always the case. A campsite can really range from a level dirt patch on the ground to a paved pad with sewer lines and electricity.
For the sake of this beginner guide, let's say your campsite is a small patch of dirt with no other amenities.
You'll start by preparing your site by completing a few basic tasks:
When it comes to food you'll have a few options - you might catch and cook a fish over a fire or you'll - most likely - be using a gas-fueled camp stove to prepare some lightweight food options. Ultimately, food items with high energy, long shelf life, and low mass and volume deliver the most utility to backpackers. For people who are just camping over a weekend, the satisfaction of food will most likely receive more value, which means heavier, fresh and luxury food will be used.
For campfires, there are dozens upon dozens of methods. Ultimately it's up to you and the resources you have available.
To start a basic fire you need tinder (dry leaves, bark, wood shavings), kindling (small twigs and branches), and fuel wood (fallen or easily obtainable branches that measure the width of your wrist). You'll want to collect ample amounts of each as the consumption of rate of fires is rather rapid.
As obvious as this next part sounds, be sure to put out the fire the right way. That is: drown it steadily with water, stir the dampened embers into the soil, and feel around to make sure everything is cool to the touch / there are no embers hiding.
The standard medkits that we recommend in our camping and hiking table allow users to take care of any minor injuries, cuts and bruises. For any major injury it's vital to have a phone and GPS device handy, as well as a map and a good idea of how close you are to the nearest town, campsite, or other campers/hikers that can assist you. In the event of a rare situation where you are cut off from contact and need immediate help, engage in distress signaling.
As a form of preparation before a long hike, it can be useful to brush up on basic survival skills.
Leave No Trace
One of the mantras / code of ethics respected by most hikers and backpackers is referred to as "Leave No Trace" and embodies the following seven principles:
Ultimately you're going to camp and hike the way you want to, but it's important to at least consider the guidance of LNT.
There are still many nuances of backpacking that have not been covered and will be added to this guide. If you have any suggestions or would like to add a guide of your own, please feel free to contact me.