Camping/Backpacking Tips: The Little Things That Can Make a Big Difference

A mutual friend of ours introduced us to backcountry camping years ago. We set out on our first backpacking trip with borrowed gear. We completed the trip with painful blisters on our feet and loved every moment of it. Since then, we’ve spent every weekend available exploring the outdoors through back-country camping. Along the way we’ve learned a few things that have made a big difference for us, hopefully these tips will do the same for you.

Bring Fire Starters  

Assuming you have the right gear, sleeping through a rain storm while camping outdoors can be quite a soothing experience. Unfortunately when it comes to time to leave your tent the next morning, starting a fire with wet wood and frozen fingers is no fun, not to mention nearly impossible. Louis and I learned this the hard way. We had slept through a rain storm the previous night and woke up the next morning refreshed and ready for some hot breakfast next to a warm camp fire. After twenty minutes of failed attempts to start a campfire with moist tinder, we were ready to give in to our hunger. Luckily, a seasoned backpacker came to our rescue with a handy fire starter.

Being new at backpacking, Louis and I consoled ourselves on this little oversight and vowed to never forget to bring fire starters, we really love our morning camp fires.  We will be posting a Make Your Own Gear (MYOG) post in the future on how to make our fire starters.

Make sure to take into account elevation when planning a back country trip 

This is a problem we often run into at the beginning of backpacking season in spring or even early summer. Personally, I blame the perfect Pacific Coastal weather in Orange County! 😉  Last spring, Louis and his friends decided to backpack Mt. San Gorgonio (San Bernardino National Forest) in mid April. The weather in Orange County that week was in the mid 70s, the boys did their due diligence and called the ranger to inquire about the trail condition. They were told by the ranger that the trails were in great condition,unfortunately for them, this turned out to be the incorrect information. At mile 2 they ran into ankle deep to knee deep snow. With no snow shoes and lack of proper winter gear (two of the boys were wearing shorts!) they headed back down the mountain after completely losing sight of the trail 7 miles in. Lessons learned from this trip, don’t always trust the park ranger (see below), check the snow reports and read online blogs or forums to check real time trail conditions.

Don’t just rely on the park ranger

Don’t get me wrong, most of the park rangers we’ve met while hiking/camping are very helpful and knowledgeable. Most of the time, the more popular the trail or park is, the more knowledgeable the rangers are. We do most of our weekend backpacking in Los Padres National Forest in Southern California. And every year, there is one ranger there that ALWAYS provide us with false information about the availability of water and trail condition. I don’t think he means to but it’s starting to get REALLY annoying. The two most frequent questions we ask the ranger are 1.) is there snow on the trail 2.) where are the stream crossing locations for water. Unfortunately, we’ve been given unrealistic answers to both questions on various occasions. It’s important in the backcountry to know where your water sources are to correctly ration water for the duration of the trip because ending your day thirsty is no fun. As always, in addition to talking to your park ranger,try to find online real time trail conditions and be sure to read log books in the beginning of the trail when available, they can be very useful!

Helpful links for to check for trail conditions at Los Padres National Forest:

http://www.ventanawild.org (Northern Los Padres National Forest, Big Sur Region)

http://prdp2fs.ess.usda.gov/alerts/lpnf/alerts-notices/?aid=10432 (Los Padres National Forest road closure and conditions)

Bring an extra shirt for the car ride home

Sure, after a couple days in the wilderness you and your travel companions will smell the same. But if you are like us, we usually indulge ourselves with delicious food immediately after leaving the campsite. Leave a clean shirt in the car for the restaurant, trust me, people at the restaurant will thank you for it.

We’d love to hear tips and tracks you have when camping out in the wilderness!

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