Monday, November 21, 2011

A Beginner’s Guide to Bushcraft and Camping-Part 5

Overnight Camping

General Considerations

Now that you have spend some time hiking the trails, the next step is to plan your first overnight trip.

Picture 18

There are two ways to camp overnight. The first is to use a campsite. Most parks have campsites, which require you to book a space, and they provide facilities like bathrooms, and even things like a kitchen and dry fire wood. The other method is to do backwoods camping. That is what I do, and is the method I will discuss here. What I have in mind is, hiking a trail until you decide you want to make camp, and then going off the trail to find a location you like (subject to the restrictions of the park), and setting up your camp.

The first issue is, what are the overnight camping regulations in the park you have selected? Once again, your best guide here will be your map. While parks generally have websites where the regulations should be posted, many of them are incomplete or outdated. Most of them will direct you to the back of the park map, which will provide the rules and regulations. They can range from not allowing any overnight camping, to requiring that it be done within a certain distance from specific markers, to simply requiring that you be away from any water sources and roads. As a general rule, keep your camp site away from water sources and the trails. Your camp should not be visible from the trial.

The second most important question-where do you go to the bathroom? The simple answer is the same as with the campsite. Stay away from water sources and trails. As far as number 1, the only advise I can give is not to pee directly on a tree or rock. It will splatter on your pants. As far as number 2, dig a small hole in the ground, at least six inches deep (using a sharpened stick), and then burry the waste along with any toilet paper you have used. Some people recommend that you burn the toilet paper because sometimes animals can dig it up before it decomposes. There isn’t much more to it than that. Of course, there are people who pack their “waste” out, but I say I’ll start doing that as soon as the bears do.

Something I consider very important is that if you bring anything into the woods, you should bring it back out with you. Do not leave garbage at your camp site. When you leave, the average person should not be able to tell that anyone has camped there. You are not at war with nature; your camp site should not look like it has gone through a carpet bombing campaign.

If you have built a fire, make sure you put it out with water. It should be cold to the touch before you leave the site. There may be fire restrictions in your area, so make sure to read the rules at the back of the map, as well as any posted signs, usually at the entrance of the park.

The process of selecting a good camp site can take some time to learn, and will be different in each area. Generally, you want to find a flat, leveled piece of ground. The last thing you want is to have your sleeping bag sliding around all night long. Finding such a spot may be easy in your area, or it may require some searching. Also try to find a spot that is sheltered from the wind. A strong wind can drain heat away from you, and generally make the stay more uncomfortable. I have made that mistake before, and now spend a good amount of time looking for a sheltered spot. If possible, try to find a location that is walking distance to a water source. You do not want to be next to the water, not only because it can contaminate the water (and is probably against the park regulations), but also to avoid insects. With time, and a few errors, you will figure out the best type of camping spot for your part of the country.

Other than the above practical considerations, there is a mental component to overnight camping. It is a very natural instinct to want to bring your house into the woods. We crave that sense of security, and want to be able to walk into a mini replica of our house once the sun goes down. The realization that the woods are not going to be the same as your home for me is the defining characteristic of bushcraft. My advise is to try to not think about how to recreate your home in the bush, but rather take the woods on their own terms. Yes, there will be insects, there will be unfamiliar noises, and animals walking around. Yes, you will be exposed to the elements to a large degree. The sooner you come to terms with that reality, the faster you can start to enjoy it.  

After a few trips you will start to figure out what works for you in your area, and the mental component will follow as well. Be willing to adjust, and do not be discouraged by mistakes you’ve made.    

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