Also available in: French
Had enough of noisy tourists and crowds? Need some peace, bright stars and serene scenery? In other words, feeling the call of nature? Before you take off for your first backcountry camping experience, here’s what you should know to fully enjoy your getaway.
What exactly is backcountry camping?
While “standard” camping takes place on a serviced or semi-serviced site, close to facilities and is often reachable by car, backcountry camping, also called free camping or wilderness camping, is practiced in the heart of nature, in isolated and undeveloped areas. Garbage cans and toilets are sometimes even…non-existent. Hence the importance of avoiding leaving your mark at all costs as you will be camping where flora and fauna flourish every day.
Backcountry camping: finding a suitable location
Wilderness, backcountry or free camping does not necessarily mean setting up camp just anywhere. You’ve got to make sure to find and reserve a campsite where you can pitch your tent in permitted areas according to the regulations in Quebec and Ontario (or your province of residence). For example, the government of Quebec allows camping on public land as well as on Crown land.
Otherwise, do your research with Sépaq, the Zec network, Parks Canada, Ontario Parks or private landowners to find the best location that will allow you to wake up in the midst of trees and the gentle sounds of chirping birds.
Plan and prep your gear
As you are not going to camp by car on a serviced site a few steps from facilities, you will need essential gear for your comfort and well-being. For example: a sleeping bag, a burner, a headlamp, and other useful items.
Make sure not to overload your bag, but also not to miss anything by consulting this comprehensive list which will allow you to enjoy your stay without the hassle. For example, the camping chair and the mosquito nets can be left at home.
Also, consider shopping for a good backpack if you are thinking of heading out with gear in tow.
Backcountry camping, or how to anticipate the unforeseeable
Hang bags of food and garbage in trees
Far from human activities, animals rule. If you leave food outdoors unattended, there is a good chance that an animal will be attracted to the smell. It is therefore recommended that you hang your food and waste bags in trees and do not bring anything into the tent with you.
In the event that a bear approaches, remember that bears can run quite fast. So there is absolutely no point in running or climbing up a tree. You should never turn your back on a bear, nor stare into its eyes, which it might interpret as a threat. Slowly walk away from it backwards, screaming at it to frighten it. Although curious by nature, bears are rarely aggressive.
You can filter river water
On the first days of your backcountry camping experience, enthusiasm and thirst could inspire you to drink from a stream, a river or a lake that has water so clear it looks perfectly drinkable. However, even if the water is clear, it may not be safe to drink. Contamination from a dead animal floating up current or an algae species invisible to the naked eye can cause cramps and indigestion. The solution? Water filters specially designed for outdoor living. They will prevent you from getting sick in the heart of the forest.
Rubbing two stones together is not enough to make a fire
A good fire will allow you to cook, warm up, keep mosquitoes away and daydream. So, don’t forget to bring plenty of newspaper, twigs and matches that are wind and moisture proof to make it easier for you.
Never underestimate dehydrated food
We can’t explain it, but everything tastes better when you eat outside. When camping, put aside your food preferences and focus on freeze-dried foods, nuts and dried fruits to save space in your backpack and travel light!
Stay away from perfumed soap because bugs love it!
There’s nothing more effective at attracting a horde or insects than skin and hair that smells fruity or sweet. If you must use soap, choose an unscented AND biodegradable option, or one with natural mosquito repellent oils such as citronella. Above all, don’t forget to apply some mosquito repellent and cover yourself with clothing to avoid bug bites.
Bring versatile tools: A shovel, adhesive tape and rope
With backcountry camping, the unexpected can happen. A pocket knife, a shovel, tape and some rope will be very useful for all kinds of things, such as burying your personal waste, fixing a hole in the tent, hanging your clothes and keeping your boot from rubbing against your blister.
Still unsure? Go with a seasoned camper to learn the ropes! And don’t leave without the right gear.
Also available in: French