The Ten Essentials for Backcountry Travel in Katmai

To have a safer and more enjoyable visit to Katmai, be sure to bring these essential items with you.

Rangers entering waypoints on a GPS as they study a topographic map
Be sure you have the tools, knowledge, and skills to safely navigate Katmai's backcountry.

NPS/W. Artz

1. Sturdy Shelter
Winds, ash, and insects make for some uncomfortable bedfellows. A good three-season tent is a must whether you are in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, out on the Katmai coast, or camping near Crosswind Lake.

2. Bear Resistant Food Container

Required for all backcountry travel. Store anything with an odor that might catch a bear's interest inside.

3. Good Rain Gear and Extra Clothing
Always plan for rain at Katmai. Dry, insulating layers are always a welcome sight at the end of a long day. Fleece or wool hats, gloves, socks make the rainy days a little more bearable, and rain gear is excellent for wind protection as well. Dry suits or chest waders are great for rafting trips or for crossing coastal creeks.

4. Map and Compass/GPS Units
There are no trails in the Katmai backcountry so route finding is a necessary skill. Maps can be downloaded from the USGS MapStore or purchased from Katmai’s cooperating association, Alaska Geographic. All members of your group need to be familiar with using these items. Keeping the GPS unit charged with a solar panel system is an inexpensive way to assure that you have battery power.

5. Extra Food
Backcountry travel in Katmai is all about the weather. Always carry 1-2 days extra food, especially when you are depending on transportation such as airplanes or boats. Weather changes may change your plans. Carry and eat high energy foods to get you through the day.

6. Water and a Water Treatment System
Staying hydrated in Katmai's climate is sometimes more easily said than done. Water sources may dry up throughout the summer, so talk with rangers before heading to the field to know where alternative sources of fresh water are. The park recommends that water be treated prior to drinking from a natural source by using one of the following Centers for Disease Control (CDC) treatment methods:

1. Boiling (rolling boil for 1 minute) has a very high effectiveness in killing bacteria, viruses, giardia, and cryptosporidium, or

2. Filtration with an absolute 1-micron filter (NSF Standard 53 or 58 rated "cyst reduction/removal" filter) followed by disinfection with chlorine dioxide (8 drops per gallon) is recommended. Many of the park's rivers carry glacial silt. This silt will quickly clog any water filter and render it inoperable. The addition of a silt stopper device is highly recommended prior to filtration.

7. Camp Stove and Extra Fuel
In many places wood is scarce and is difficult to ignite if wet.

8. Appropriate Footwear
Most backcountry routes require walking in trailless areas and multiple cold water crossings. Sturdy walking shoes are a must but keep a pair of multisport sandals handy for water crossings.
A ranger protects himself from biting insects by wearing a heat net.
Head nets and long sleeves are the most reliable way to protect yourself from biting insects.


9. Safety Items
  • Headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries: even the longest days of summer have two hours of darkness.
  • Whistle or other signaling device and extra batteries.
  • First aid kit: small, easy to use kits can be purchased from outdoor outfitters.
  • Repair kit and tools: Shoe laces, duct tape, cable ties, and spare parts for your tent and stove are a necessity. A knife or multi-tool is indispensable.
  • Protection from biting insects: we can’t guarantee that you’ll see caribou, but we can tell you that biting insects are everywhere. Bug spray isn't much help here. Long sleeves and a bug net are much more useful.
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen: the subarctic sun is fierce and good protection from these elements is crucial to a more comfortable experience.

Volcanic ash in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes can easily irritate your eyes, throat, and lungs. Dust masks, bandanas, and googles or tight fitting glasses can help protect you.


10. Safety Items You May Not Have Thought About
  • Protection from volcanic ash or blowing sands: Winds often move in without warning. In places like the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, even the slightest breeze can stir up the ash, causing eye and throat irritation. Goggles and a bandana or dust mask are recommended to protect your eyes and throat.
  • Emergency deterrents in case of aggressive wildlife: Brown bears occur just about everywhere at Katmai and occasionally an interaction with a bear creates a situation that a deterrent is necessary. Depending on the location, some backcountry users carry bear spray, some carry marine flares, and noise makers such as whistles or air horns. Know the limitations of your particular method (many of these items you cannot carry in the passenger compartment of an airplane) and make sure everyone knows where they are and how to use them.
  • Satellite phone or other two-way communication device (SPOT, inReach, etc.) for emergency communications. It is very important that all members of your group understand how these devices work and their limitations. It is unwise to take risks in the wilderness; even with an emergency activation of a device, help will still be hours or days away. An emergency communication device is not a substitute for careful preparation and good decision-making.

Last updated: August 23, 2023

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