These expert tips will help you stay safe and have fun
All of us need a little solitude now and then. So why not consider heading to the backcountry this summer for a little communing with nature extraordinaire. You might just emerge a changed person, never to camp with the madding crowds again.
No matter how long your trip, by trying something new and embracing your inner explorer, you too can join the legions of long distance backpackers, canoeists and backcountry campers who venture into the backcountry every year.
Follow these tips for beginners from Shannon Lawr, Superintendent of Wabakimi.
- Situate yourself. Ontario Parks has more than 6,500 backcountry campsites – accessible only by canoe or on foot – tucked away in 21 different provincial parks. Veteran backcountry campers could regale you with tails of the Spartan facilities, typically a pit privy, a few tent sites and fire ring. Research the parks you might like to visit, pre-plan your route and make reservations. The earlier the better.
- Make a plan. Plan the type of trip you want, discuss your expectations, discuss them with your fellow travellers and ensure you all agree. Clear, open communication can help navigate touchy situations.
- What kind of trip do you want? Do you want adventure, solitude or both? How athletic are you? Could you handle a long portage or days of hiking? How many days do you want to be away? Answering these questions will help you plan exactly the type of trip you want and help you avoid trouble.
- When do you want to go and for how long? Weather is a huge factor in a province the size of Ontario. Spring thaws bring muddy trails, variable temperatures and cool winds while summer brings extreme heat, bugs and rain. Some remote northerly locations could still have ice in the water – good to know for paddling. Three to four nights is a good start for beginners.
- Make checklists. Checklists help you plan and be prepared, especially for emergencies.
- Practice. Learn to use your equipment by pitching your tent in your backyard, cooking on your camp stove, sleeping in your sleeping bag and packing your back pack.
- Know the rules. There are rules and regulations around backcountry camping that are designed for your safety and security. The Backcountry Reservations section of the Ontario Parks website has everything you need to know, including how to purchase permits, party sizes, maximum length of stay, cancellation policy and rules of entry from outside Canada (e.g. Quetico).
- Be aware of wildlife. Depending on how far north you go, you might see everything from white tailed deer black bears and moose. You must be prepared for a wildlife encounter no matter where you are so be sure you become Bear Wise by keeping your campsite clean with food put away.
- Store your food safely. Keep your food away from where you sleep. You can hang your food or store it in a smell-resistant barrel a few hundred feet away from your campsite. Pack your food in the barrel and burn any unwanted leftovers. Never leave cans, plastics or other items behind.
- Bring enough food for three to four days. With such a short trip, dehydrated food can be left to the experts so you can pack fresh food. Freeze your meat and divide each of your meals into separately labelled freezer bags.
- Dress appropriately. Invest in good quality clothing such as moisture-wicking tops, pants, shorts and undergarments. A good raincoat and rain pants are worth their weight in gold. “There’s nothing worse than wearing a three dollar raincoat for the storm of the century,” says Lawr. “A rain coat is like insurance. You hope you never need it but when you do, you’re glad you have it.” Comfortable, waterproof footwear is also a must. Bring a pair or hiking boots, running shoes and an extra pair for wearing around the campfire.
- Bring maps. Up to date paper maps and a GPS are a no-brainer. They can literally save your life and keep your trip on track.
- Bring a cell or satellite phone. Imagine being lost or injured and having no way to call for help. You can also invest in something called a Spot Unit that allows others to track your journey and react if you suddenly stop moving.
- Learn first aid. This cannot be overemphasized. Basic first aid or more advanced lifesaving skills can really come in handy, especially in remote areas where it can take a while for help to arrive. Bring a well-stocked first aid kit and be sure to learn CPR.
- Try base camping. Rather than camp in a different spot each night, venture into the interior, set up camp and stay there for the duration. You get used to the environment, going to the bathroom outdoors, sleeping and eating outside and generally becoming accustomed to the experience.
- Bring a head lamp. Flashlights are fine but headlamps keep you hands-free.
- Bring a favorite object from home. Bring your favorite pants, shoes, pyjamas or favorite pillow for a touch of home in the backcountry. When the bugs are bitin’ or you’re soaked to the gills, a little comfort goes a long way. Don’t forget to bring some games too.
- Bring a PFD and wear it. It might be bulky to carry but it could save your life.
- Be patient. Take your time and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
- Have fun and take lots of pictures. Need we say more?
Some parks offer backcountry camping training sessions. For example, Frontenac is having a few events in May and June including an Introduction to Backcountry Camping, Wilderness Navigation Using Map and Compass (Level 2) and Red Cross Wilderness First Aid.
Check the parks in your area for similar programs.