Wilderness & Backcountry Camping

Two people wearing backpacks hike among purple flowers
Away from the crowds -- backpacking offers opportunities for solitude.

NPS Photo

Are you ready for the full outdoor experience? To become one with nature? Imagine a trip with just you, your pal, your tent, and the great outdoors. Take the plunge, and adventure past the campground and lot attendant. Rely on your own skills to survive on anything nature throws your way. Of course, you'll want to visit the How to Camp section first for the vital, in-depth info you need to make it in the wilderness. But once you head out, you just might find yourself hooked on the natural wonders and solitude of backcountry camping. Examples of backcountry camping adventures include:

  • Backpacking
  • Water trips (rafts, canoes, boats)
  • Climbing (rock, mountain, ice)
The great thing about backcountry camping is that you get to choose the amenities you want to bring with you, albeit very limited (you can't bring everything and the kitchen sink with you). Some priceless amenities come standard with backcountry camping:
What to Expect
When you venture into the backcountry, you enter a world filled with challenge, solitude, and excitement, and many people thrive off of this experience. Yet, backcountry camping isn't for everyone; the comforts of everyday life are gone. Here's what you can expect.
  • Plan, plan, plan - It's critical to spend time developing a comprehensive plan if you want to enjoy an exciting and safe experience. Be sure that others camping with you agree to the plan. Know your limits and your level of experience so you choose the right trip for you and your companions. Some basic planning steps include:
  1. Check ahead of time about any necessary permits and park regulations.
  2. Decide where you are going and how long you'll be camping. Include each origin and destination.
  3. Make a list of the gear you'll need to take with you.
  4. Figure out how far you'll travel, both in total and each day. Account for changes in elevation.
  5. Try to anticipate the physical and mental condition of you and others in your party, as well as any environmental factors you might face.
  6. Pull together emergency contact information of everyone in your party (names, phone numbers, email, insurance information, etc.) just in case.
  7. Document any vehicle, vessel, or bicycle information such as year, make, model, color, and license plate info you will be taking and using on your trip.
  8. Most importantly, you need to share a detailed itinerary with someone at home in the event of an emergency. It's also a good idea to leave a copy in your vehicle for Rangers to find in case of emergency.
  9. Once you finish your trip, let your emergency contacts know you've finished and that you are safe. If the park has a check out policy, let Rangers know your trip has ended.
  • Test your gear before you go - You should test your equipment prior to your trip for a smooth backcountry adventure. Make sure that you know how to use your gear, that it works properly, and that you have the right components (for example the right fuel for your stove or batteries for your headlamp). Try on your backpack and hiking boots and go on a test hike to make sure they fit correctly.
  • Stick to your travel itinerary - Don't change plans midway through your trip. If something bad happens, your emergency contacts will be able to share your travel plan with park rangers. They will have more knowledge on where to look for you. If you encounter conditions that may have changed out in the wilderness that may require a change in your itinerary, consider heading back and trying again another time when conditions improve.
  • Take a companion - Accidents happen, even to experienced backcountry travelers, so the best practice is to travel with others. The best insurance for a safe and enjoyable trip rests with your ability to exercise good judgment, avoid unnecessary risks, and assume responsibility. Bringing others with you can be an accountability and safety net. Besides, shared experiences are also some of the most memorable ones.
  • Practice good stewardship - A common rule of thumb is to leave the area cleaner than you found it. After all, you chose to experience the backcountry for a reason. Preserve the backcountry for the enjoyment of others by protecting the habitat of resident plants and animals. Know and practice Leave No Trace principles.
  • Expect any weather - Weather conditions can change quickly, especially in the mountains. Be prepared for a variety of conditions including extreme temperatures and lightning, as well as wet or windy conditions. Learn more...
  • Know the wildlife - You're entering natural habitats, which could include a variety of animals. Store your food properly and keep a safe distance from wildlife. Always check and adhere to park-specific rules and regulations about interacting with animals.
  • Identify potential hazards - You may encounter a wide array of environmental conditions when you head out on your trail. Do some research ahead of time to find out if there is the potential for rockfalls, flash floods, avalanches or other hazards that you may encounter. Have a plan in place so you know what to do if you encounter these hazards on your trip.
  • Practice situational awareness - Don't fall into the trap of poor decision making, exercise situational awareness -- be aware of what's going on. Know what the weather is doing, the terrain you are traveling in and the physical capability of you and others to proceed safely. Park Rangers are trained in search and rescue operations, but we hope you'll never need to call on them. Search and rescue teams put their own lives on the line to save others, but these operations take a tremendous toll on park resources, friends, and family.
  • Learn more -- See our Staying Safe section for additional information.
Remember to plan for anything, plan for everything, have fun, and be careful!
Three men unload backpacks from a car
Backcountry camping is exciting and challenging -- always plan and be prepared before heading out.

NPS Photo

Last updated: June 7, 2019


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