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Wild Camping


Sometimes called "dirtbagging," wild camping is just going out there with minimal equipment. You might also call it rough camping or just "adventuring." The idea is to use your wits more than your gear, and to have fun with less of a plan than you might normally have on a more traditional backpacking trip.

For example, I once floated down a river on an inner tube for an overnight trip. I just threw a few necessaries in a bag that sat on my lap. I slept next to a patch of wild strawberries and was rained on in my bivy sack all night and as I floated toward home the next day--but I still had a lot of fun. You can read more about that adventure here: Dirtbagging.

Sometimes wild camping means breaking the rules a bit. I really can't apologize for not staying in the shelters in the Smoky Mountains National Park, for example, because they were full. And to be honest the challenge of hiding out when camping was fun. Since I didn't have fires and just slept under a tarp in areas not commonly frequented by other hikers, my impact was minimal.

You can read about a rough adventure I had in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on the page; Hiking in Michigan.

I plan to do a jacket-packing trip sometime in the near future. This will be a test of certain survival skills, since I will only be bringing a few items--only what will fit in the pockets of my pants and jacket. That experience will be written about her on this site, of course, so watch the homepage for new additions.

Wild Camping Safety Tips

It is true that you can go with less gear if you have more knowledge and skills. Knowing how to stay warm without a sleeping bag, for example, makes camping with just a seven-ounce bivy sack possible. Knowing a few of the edible plants in the area can allow you to bring less food. But there are some essential supplies that you should bring for safety.

To start with, you need water. Food is not a priority since you could go for many days without it if necessary. But a way to carry water and the knowledge of where to find it are essential. A plastic pop bottle weighs about an ounce, and a small packet of water purification tablets just a fraction of an ounce. Both can fit in a jacket pocket or fanny-sack if you are going really light.

A basic first aid/survival kit is a good idea as well. For one of the lightest versions, check out the page; My Three-Ounce Altoids Tin Survival Kit. Again, this is something that can fit in your pocket.

A fully charged cell phone, while not an absolute necessity, can be a life saver. If you are going out into a large wilderness area and wild camping with the bare minimum of necessities, who knows? You might just get into a bad situation and have to call for help (but if this seems likely, plan better--the SAR teams are generally overwhelmed now that everyone in the woods with a toothache has a cell phone).


The Ultralight Backpacking Site | Wild Camping