Backcountry camping is the ultimate in outdoor adventures. There's an element of excitement every time you head into the back country.
But just because it's tough country doesn't mean that you have to sleep in your cowboy boots and underwear and eat Ramen noodles. There are a few items that will make your trip immensely more enjoyable and comfortable whether you backpack in or pack in on horses.
If you leave the stove at home, build a fire, and don't forget to bring weatherproof matches just in case.
Let's start off with backpacking. Weight of course is precious so ounces are important and pounds are crucial. One thing that is a major pain though is setting around a campfire in the dirt trying to eat supper. A few years ago I tested a fold-up camp chair made by Therm-A-Rest — it resembles a stadium chair. I love it.
It's made out of cloth and has two fiberglass rods in the sides for support. You're supposed to slip in one of their blow up sleeping pads to help it hold its form but I cut an Army foam pad down to fit it and that works fine for me. At night I unfold it and lay it under my sleeping bag for an extra pad.
In the cowboy days they cut pine boughs and staggered them under their sleeping bag as a pad. Now you'd be labeled an ecological terrorist if you did so. But don't panic — there are numerous models of pads to aid in your sleeping pleasure.
Foam pads aren't heavy but are very bulky. They also soak up water. If you're packing in on horses you can throw one on top of your load but for backpacking they just take up too much room. Purchase a blow up backpacking pad. They're the ticket.
I'll quickly skim over tents. For backpacking there are some super small light weight backpacking tent options or some small dome tents. Myself I like the dome tents. I like to have a little more room. You can sleep under a tarp or even under the stars but I like a barrier between me and the varmints. Just last fall I had a bear literally inches away from me on the outside of my tent. I like to be able to reach for my .44 mag without a bear seeing me. My buddy Shawn Lee likes to sleep in a bivy bag but again, I like a barrier between me and the varmints, even if it is just a nylon tent wall.
You'll need a water source since water is too heavy to pack in. There are a lot of options. You can heat river water to sterilize it or use a filtered pump and fill plastic jugs so you have your week's supply set up the first day. Or there are also filtered water bottles or something that I've tested: filtered straws. I usually heat river water to drink in camp and for coffee but while out hoofing it I use my straw. I've had good luck with Aquamira products.
You need to pack in a tarp. Even backpacking there are numerous uses for tarps. I place one under my sleeping bag so if it floods my sleeping gear doesn't get wet. They're also nice to tie off to a tree and stake down the other end to eat under or store gear if it's raining. In elk camp you can stack wood under it so you have dry firewood.
Tent stoves come in handy when the weather is cold outside.
For cookware I take a small coffee pot to heat water and a Boy Scout type mess kit. Throw in a spoon and fork and you're ready to dine.
OK, I know you'll laugh but I also have two mousetraps in my pack. I whacked two mice just last week but not before one of the little tree rats got in my food bag that I had hanging and nibbled on a Julie Bar. Rotten little vermin.
Let's talk about horses. This is the life of Riley compared to backpacking. You can actually pack in a few luxuries. Some buddies throw on a few aluminum lawn chairs which are a slice of heaven when you drag in to camp dead tired and beat at dark. My buddy Shawn made his wood pack boxes so he can use the top as an eating table when laid across his lawn chair.
You can pack in more dishes with horses. I use lightweight plates but a lot of people pack in paper plates and plastic cups and bowls so they don't have to spend time washing dishes.
If you're doing some cold weather elk hunting a tent stove is great. You'll be on the toughest hunt of your life. You need to get a good night's sleep. That's hard to do if it's down around zero every night. It also allows you to dry out wet clothes and even cook on it if you're in inclement weather.
I hate to be a whiner but it's nice to be able to crawl out of your sleeping bag to a warm tent. I have a Coleman tent heater that is nice. I slip my hand out of the bag, fire it up, wait a few minutes and then step out to a toasty tent. Don't go to sleep with a tent heater on though or it will affixiate you and you'll be history.
A backcountry refrigerator, made in a river with rock ring, can chill a can of peaches and cool off a pot of water.
Never depend on only one light source. Once I was packing in to meet my buddies at elk camp in the dark. My big flashlight whacked out and if I remember correctly a second one did as well. I recommend carrying a headlamp as well as a strong LED flashlight and extra batteries. Now, you can get some super powerful ones that are lightweight. I want a bright one if a bear or someone is sneaking into my camp in the dark.
If you're using a tent stove then you'll want an ax or a saw. An army shovel is nice to build a latrine and for sure a Coleman lantern is nice in camp. You can use it around camp for light while cooking and then when you're ready to retire to the tent. If you're in a sheepherder tent, tie it to the ceiling and viola' you have a lighted room. A lantern and a campfire can also guide lost souls into camp.
When I'm backpacking I always build a wood fire to cook on. Carry a few fire starters in case you hit wet weather but most hardcore backpackers carry a small backpackers stove. If you're going in on horses a Coleman stove is nice so you can cook with an even heat source.
And for a cooler, just build a rock ring in the river that allows water to flow through. I store my butter, eggs, canned peaches, ketchup and any other perishables in it to keep them cool. You'll want to build it under a tree so it is blocked from the heat of the sun. But beware there's no lock on the door. Last summer we packed a guy in on his first fly-fishing trip. In fact it was the first time that he'd ever been on a horse. We caught a mess of fish and he wanted to eat them for supper. Shawn talked him into saving them for breakfast. We woke up only to find that a river otter had eaten every one of them.
As I get older I find myself wanting more and more luxuries but don't stay home because you think that you're under geared. As a kid we'd go camping every weekend. We didn't even have a tent and my sleeping bag had a broke zipper. We survived. Get out and enjoy God's great outdoors and have a blast.