Mountain camping has always been one of my favorite ways to camp. You can get up and away from people. The air seems cleaner. The temperature is normally cooler. However, there are many considerations about mountain camping that you should think about before heading out. Camping can be fairly straightforward on a campground. However, when you get out into the wilds there are plenty of new things that you will need to worry about. There is nothing like a mountain camping trip. After reading these tips you should feel confident enough to give it a go. You should remember though, that it takes time, trial, and error to get things right. So don’t be afraid to make mistakes!
Mountain Camping Considerations
Here is the basic list upfront. If you already feel confident in some of these areas feel free to click and go directly to the ones you need the most help in understanding.
- Plan Activities
- Carry a map
- Practice at home
- Only Take what you need
- Pick your campsite
- Campsite Setup
- Food preparation
Mountain Camping Plan Activities
You may think that mountain camping is going to be a slog as you traverse the backcountry till you find that perfect site. I don’t want to steer you wrong. There will certainly be days like that. However, once you are at your site you are going to want to stay busy. You need to plan a bit before you head out so you have the things you need to keep busy. So consider some activities that do not add a lot of weight to your pack but still bring you hours of enjoyment.
- Books – I always carry along with me a few different types of books. I like having at least one game book, one fiction book, and one for observing things. The observation book could be plants or animals of the area but it makes the trip like a little hunt.
- Journal – I also always bring my journal with me. There is something special about logging trips in words that simply drags me right back to the side of the mountain when I am at home.
- Charades – If you are out with friends charades around the fire is a simple game that will make sure you have something to do always without packing in a bunch of things.
- Storytelling – Much like charades camaraderie around the fire is built pretty quick when you share stories. Heck, make them a little scary!
- Deck of Cards – There are so many single or multi-player games with cards. Having a deck as a permanent part of your pack can help with boredom. Check out these waterproof cards.
- Stargazing – Lean back and watch the sky. Every night will be something a little different and no two stargazing events will ever be the same.
Carry a Map
It is important to know the terrain that is around you. Having a map is going to save you a lot of heartache out on the trail. Technology is great but if your GPS or phone dies you may not have a good day. That is why it is always important to have an analog backup. Carrying a map of the area can give you lots of information. Try to find a topographic map vs a simple trail map. This will ensure that you understand the lay of the land.
It is not enough to just have a map. You should learn how to read a topographic map as well. This will allow you to pre-plan your camping sites. Major elevation lines can show you how sloped a site may be as well as its nearness to water and other geographic features. You will still need to confirm your site when hiking in the backcountry but it will help you plan your route more effectively.
Practice Mountain Camping at Home
Camping is all about having fun in the outdoors. However, in many cases, people make mistakes that turn deadly quickly. In order to avoid this, it is important to practice at home. It will help you to identify missing gear or skills. Don’t be afraid to practice in your living room too if you have smaller children. Having a practice camp will allow you to:
- Check your gear
- Identify missing equipment
- Prepare for field conditions
- Get in the camping mindset
- Train young campers in camping etiquette
- Become comfortable with setup routine and sleeping gear
Whoever you are camping with should take part in the practice. That way they know exactly what to expect when you are out on the mountain. Trust me on this it will make setting things up in the rain that much easier if you already know how to do it!
Take What You Need
If you are a first-time camper, or still new to camping you are going to get caught in the classic web of gear. We all think that we need tons of expensive gadgets and gear in order to survive in the outdoors. However, after a few trips, we find that there are a few go-to items that we always use. It is a lot like having a cabinet full of coffee mugs but having that favorite one you always go to.
It is essential to pack the rick gear to be successful. Doing a pre-trip audit of your gear while doing your practice run is a great way to ensure that you bring what you need and don’t forget anything. As a minimum you should consider arranging your gear into the following categories:
- Cooking Supplies
- First Aid
Organization is key when it comes to camping. Car camping is a bit easier because you can organize it in bins. However, mountain camping means you need to pack everything in. Therefore, you will need to organize your pack efficiently. Make a checklist and practice packing your gear into the bag. This will help prevent over-packing and will make you comfortable with where things are located. There is nothing worse than trying to find something in the dark and rain because you don’t know where it is located.
Pick Your Mountain Camping Campsite
Picking a campsite can be a tricky thing to complete. Especially if you have never been to the area that you are going. As I mentioned before getting a map out and look at the lay of the land. Plan your route and your campsites based on the general terrain. This will not only help you set a pace but also will help you stay motivated to reach your campsite.
Once at the campsite, you will need to refine your spot. A topo map will show the general terrain but you will want to make sure that you are not sleeping with your head at the bottom of a slope. You also do not want to be under a tree or too close to water.
Make sure that you have a safe place (if allowed on your permit) to set up your campfire for cooking. Keep a minimum of about fifteen feet from the fire and the tent. You will also want to scout to see where you will place a latrine. Be cognizant of how water will flow across the site. Finally, don’t forget to look up for tree branches.
As soon as you have identified the best place to camp for the night you will want to get started as soon as you can. Hopefully, you have left yourself enough daylight after the hike to set things up. If not though daylight is burning and you should focus on getting things up and going. I like to set my tent up first. This allows me to easily plan where everything else needs to go. I can keep the campfire a safe distance away. Along the same lines both the bathroom facilities and cooking area can be moved away to prevent animals from getting nosy.
Beyond setting up the tent, you may need to erect other items to make camping easier. Consider how you will cook. Will you need a backpacking table? Will you lash together your own table? Do you need to set up your stove? How about constructing a campfire ring? Consider each of these questions to make sure you are well prepared in your new mountain camping home.
It is also important to identify water sources. This may not come into play the first few days of your trip. However, when you need to resupply water you will want to make sure that you have a cleaner water source to choose from. Consider how best to purify the water as there are many safe options that exist on the market today.
Once you have your campsite set up, your stove or campfire going, and a water source identified, you are going to need to eat. Trust me hunger builds throughout the day and having something other than jerky or trail mix will help raise your spirits.
To be honest, the easiest and safest way to cook out on the trail is with a camp stove or a backpacking stove. It also prevents leaving any long-term damage to the campsite you have selected. There are plenty of options to select from and I highly recommend this method for food preparation.
Feel free to consider some of our camping recipes while you are out on the trail. There are also a plethora of freeze-dried options that you could partake in. In either case, you will want to make sure that you are following food safety techniques to avoid illness.
Final Thoughts on Mountain Camping
Mountain camping can be a fun and rewarding way to challenge yourself. It will provide you with a new way to experience the backcountry. Let’s be honest, it is going to get you closer to the heavens and give you grand vistas you never could have seen in the valleys. However, you will want to make sure that you are preparing yourself. Practice setting up your tent. Learn how to read a topographic map. Most of all though prepare yourself to have fun out on the trail. I know you will find something that is super rewarding. Living off the land in your own tent is something that not many attempt. I know following these tips though will set you up right!