By Mike Willis
Camping is by far one of the best ways to unwind from the daily grind. The “call of the wild” (not to be confused with “when nature calls”) is a powerful force that compels you to return to a state of stillness and solitude. With birds doing the only tweeting, you are finally free of digital distractions.
If you are new to camping or haven’t been in a while, reference the list of items below to ensure that you are ready for your next trip into the high country.
Get Quality Gear
When backpacking into remote and mountainous areas, lightweight gear is very important. Whenever you purchase ultralight products, know that there is a sacrifice in durability.
A good tent is essential for camping in the high country. Brands such as Big Agnes make tents from quality materials. These materials can withstand nature’s attempts to move in with you. Cheap tents shred in high winds and are useless in heavy, driving rain. Be sure to bring some paracord when camping in the mountains as driving stakes is usually not possible because of rocks. The paracord will allow you to secure your tent to trees and rocks.
Pick up a sleeping bag that has a good temperature rating. When selecting your temperature rating, give yourself some buffer in case temperatures plummet through the night.
Sleeping pads are very important for comfort and retaining body heat. There are lots of lightweight products for backpacking which are not bulky. Inflatable sleeping pads are a great option for those counting every ounce. However, make sure that they are not so lightweight that they pop when set up on rough surfaces. When camping, you are always on rough surfaces!
Check the Weather
Wind can plague any trip outdoors. Sometimes, exposure on mountains can be brutal and prevent you from camping in the wind. If the wind is not too bad, seek shelter near solid rock outcroppings that act as natural windbreaks.
Check the temperature forecast. If you are not in optimal shape, make sure to set achievable goals for accessing remote locations. Heatstroke is only made worse when experienced on top of a mountain. As you ascend, there are fewer options for shade. Trees give way to shrubs and shale leaving little to provide relief. While camping at the summit of a mountain is scenic, it is often better to stop just short of it to ensure that you have good camping conditions.
Check for rain in the forecast. There’s not much that you can do to make camping in the rain better except to avoid pitching your tent in low spots. If there is heavy rain in your forecast, it might be worth foregoing your trip.
Lightning is obviously an issue in the high country. If lightning moves in, be sure that you are not the tallest thing around. Stay away from tall trees and don’t be on the summit during the storm.
Check for Fires!
Anytime that you head off into the remote country, you need to check for fires. The US Forest Service has a site that shows all active wildfires in the country. https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/There are also cell phone apps, such as US Fires, that you can download to monitor fire activity in your area.
Understanding fire activity in your region will help you to assess if there are any safety concerns before heading far away from cell service. Being downwind of large fires can also be devastating to visibility and air quality. Even if the fire does not pose a safety risk, it may still prohibit you from going on a trip.
Find a Water Source
Water is life! You have to have access to water for hydration and cooking when camping. Therefore, find areas to camp that provide easy access to water; this is another good reason not to camp at the summit!
For more information about getting water in the field, check out these Great American Wildlife articles:
Look for Widow Makers
Widow makers are standing dead trees with tops that could fall on you in a windstorm. Every year, unsuspecting campers die because of these unwelcomed guests “dropping by” their camp.
Be Bear Aware
The single best practice to avoid unwanted contact with bears is proper food handling and storage. Don’t cook at your campsite. Cooking will fill the air with the powerful fragrance of a good meal. You could also drop scraps, further encouraging visitation.
Having some extra paracord will help in hanging food high in trees and well out of reach from bears. Find a spot well outside of your camp to string up your food supply.
Don’t be like Timothy Treadwell from Grizzly Man. Carry bear spray or a .44 mag revolver, or both!
When in the high country, the air is thinner, making breathing more difficult. Make sure that you leave yourself some buffer as you acclimate to the conditions. Don’t push yourself too hard as you will likely not be able to perform at your usual endurance level.
Be sure to communicate with someone. There should always be someone who knows where you are going and when you should be expected back. If you don’t do this for yourself, at least do it for the benefit of the poor search and rescue team that has to come find you. Accidents happen and there is nothing worse than not knowing where to start looking for somebody.