What is Backcountry Camping? (and How It’s Different)

Camping is setting up a tent or camper with dozens of other campers around you, but backcountry camping is a whole other type of camping. If you’re sure you have never camped this way, you probably have lots of questions. We go through the answers below.

What Is Backcountry Camping?

Backcountry camping and remote camping are the same thing. They are defined as “camping in remote locations that require you to access these locations on foot or by modes of transportation that don’t include a car or truck.”

It’s the type of camping that many older generations would probably refer to as “roughing it” camping. It’s not quite on the same level as “survival skills” camping, but it’s pretty close. There are no other campers for miles, although you might be relatively close to an actual campsite.

If you were going to go backcountry camping, you would be without clean water, restroom facilities, electricity, and anything else you might otherwise use with regular camping. It requires you to take a number of supplies you would never think about packing in a million years, such as a shovel and toilet paper to dig and bury your own shallow “toilet” in the wilderness.

Typical Supply List for Backcountry Camping

Some of your camping supplies are still useful for backcountry camping. For example, you will still need your tent and a sleeping bag. Other supplies you will need, and why you need them, are as follows:

1. Small, short-handled spade and toilet paper: Both of these items are used for digging a shallow “latrine” in which to do your business, wipe yourself, and then bury the offending mess.

2. Water filtration and hydration system: You can collect all the natural water from natural sources, but most will contain bacteria that will wreak havoc on your digestive system. It’s best to have a filtration system to kill the bacteria before you drink the water or use it for washing.

3. A sharp instrument: A Swiss Army knife with multiple blades and tools is ideal, but the tool you’ll use the most is the knife. It will be necessary to cut cords, whittle wood, and perform minor surgery in the event that something gets stuck in part of your body.

4. Fire Source: Fire is necessary for light and heat. Flames also keep wild animals away at night. Coyotes and bears may still try to get close to your tent, but the fire will prevent them from getting too close. Matches that light even when wet or a butane lighter are best.

5. Pans, plates, cups and eating utensils: Often referred to as a “mess kit”, you will need pans for cooking and everything else to eat. You can’t grab hot food from the fire with your bare hands, so have a couple hot pads too.

6. First Aid Kit: Make sure this is fully stocked for all potential emergencies. It should have more than just band-aids and antibiotic ointment. It should have anti-itch cream, wrap bandages, gauze bandages, bismuth tablets or liquid for stomach upsets, and more. Camping in the backcountry is something you have to be completely prepared for, because if you aren’t, you’re in trouble.

7. Well-broken-in hiking boots and a large backpack to carry everything: DON’T make the mistake of waiting to wear hiking boots until you are hiking in the backcountry! Break those boots in weeks in advance to avoid blisters and injuries to your feet and ankles. Also, you should have an enormous backpack to help you carry several layers of clothing and your camping essentials or you won’t be able to carry everything to the camping site.

It helps to make a thorough list and check it off twice to be sure you have what you will need. Even if you end up not needing half of the things you bring, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

National Parks That Offer Backcountry Camping

Your next question is probably something like, “So, where can I go backcountry camping?”. The good news is that some of the country’s most beautiful national parks offer this type of “off-roads” camping. You get incredible sweeping vistas of the most amazing aspects of these parks and you are camping quite far away from other people, which is the point anyway. These parks include Grand Teton, Gates of the Arctic, Badlands, Mt. Rainier, and Acadia. No small surprise, but you can try Yellowstone too, although it is frequently more crowded and there are extra rules because of the natural wonders and dangers there.

If there’s a national park you would like to visit, but you want to know if it offers backcountry camping, you only have to visit the website of that park. You can contact the park rangers’ station to inquire about camping this way at a specific park too. Park rangers are excellent sources for camping info and tips.

Personal Safety While Camping It in the Rough

Finally, you should know that you should never be a solitary camper camping in backcountry. Wild animals, dangerous pitfalls, plants, insects, and a host of other things could cause you injury or discomfort. You need at least one buddy to come with you. Most cellphones are not going to work during this type of camping, and you will need someone to run for the nearest ranger station if the emergency is especially urgent.

As for wild animals, some people do take a handgun for protection. You don’t have to, but it’s nice to have just in case. If you plan to hunt and forage for food while backcountry camping, a rifle and a fishing pole both come in handy for getting food and for chasing or scaring off predatorial animals.

When you plan your camping trip, it’s a good idea to leave a map of the trails you intend to use with someone who’s not going camping with you. It’s also a good idea to leave a map with a park ranger. If a worried family member contacts a park ranger, the park ranger can use the map to find your campsite and then locate you.