Look up ‘extreme camping’ online and you’ll get a variety of amazing (and sometimes terrifying) pictures— port-a-ledges dangling off cliff faces, sleeping bags buried in snow caves, people slack-lining to and from their tent. While these images may be awesome (and are definitely extreme), they don’t necessarily constitute everything that can be considered ‘extreme camping’. It’s actually hard to find anything online saying what extreme camping is, who can do it, and how dangerous something needs to be to be considered extreme camping. So, for this article, we came up with our own definition of ‘extreme camping’.
To me, extreme camping is anything that pushes the limits of what you’re comfortable with. For some people, this could be your first backcountry camping trip; others might not consider anything ‘extreme’ until they’re above 25,000 feet. Because of this, I’ve tried to write less about specific pieces of gear you’ll need, because this will vary from trip to trip, and instead focus on the risks you need to asses and the steps you can take to mitigate them.
This is true for any wilderness trip you’re doing, but it’s especially important if you’re going somewhere extreme. Again, the extent to which you should plan ahead varies from person to person. Some people like to have their entire route ready and thought-out, whereas others like the thrill of getting lost and figuring it out on the fly. Whichever suits you, find out what you need to be comfortable and take the proper steps to make sure you’re ready.
Another thing to do is make sure that you leave a copy of your trip itinerary with someone who will be staying in civilization. This is essential in case anything happens to you while you’re out in the wilderness. At the very least, this person should know roughly where you’ll be going, how long you’ll be gone, and what steps to take in case you don’t return.
You should always have some way to communicate: a) between members of your group, and b) with the rest of the world.
If you’re in a group, this can as simple as making sure everyone has a whistle. A good whistle cost as little as $8, and they’re super helpful if you lose eyesight of someone in your group while in the wild. Come up with some system for communicating with one another and make sure everyone is familiar with it.
Getting in touch with people across miles of uncharted wilderness is a little more complicated. Obviously, a satellite phone is the most effective way to do this, but they’re also bulky, expensive, and difficult to use. Some simpler methods, such as the SPOT Gen 3 (https://www.findmespot.com/en/index.php?cid=100), have now been invented:
This allows you to send pre-determined emails to someone at the push of a button. It also has a ‘help’ and an ‘SOS’ feature, and a tracking mode that sends updates on your location at intervals ranging from two minutes to an hour. The SPOT still isn’t cheap, coming in at about $160, but it could end up saving your life, and it’s well worth the money.
3. Have an Emergency Plan
This one falls under the umbrella of planning, but it’s so important that it deserves its own place on the list. While it’s obviously impossible to prepare for every scenario, you should at the very least have an idea of what to do if your primary plan fails. This doesn’t have to be anything dramatic, either; say you’re backpacking and you find your trail has been washed out, or you’re climbing and realize one of your ropes is frayed and not safe to use. Something as simple as having a backup route or carrying some spare rope can be the difference between continuing without a hitch and having to abandon the entire trip.
A lot of this can be tied back to experience, as well. The more often you practice at something, the better you get at it, and the more adapt you’ll be at dealing with any problems that come up. We’ll cover this more later.
4. Bring Backups
Now, obviously, you can’t carry a backup of everything, and I know the ultra-light backpackers out there are going to disagree with this section of the list, but there are a few things that you just need to carry more than one of.
A lot of survivalists will tell you that you should always have at least three methods of starting a fire. While I’m not going to tell you that you should go out and learn how to use a flint and steel, I will say that the extra weight of tossing a few waterproof matches in your bag along with a lighter will be well worth it if you arrive at your campsite to find that you’re out of lighter fluid.
Another example of good secondary gear to carry is a patch kit. A tiny roll of extra-adhesive glue and a small piece of fabric will weigh less than an ounce, but they could be the difference between sleeping on the ground or being able to use your air mattress for the duration of your trip.
5. Carry a Knife
Everyone knows Crocodile Dundee, right? Everyone remembers that famous scene, where Paul Hogan shows us just how important a knife good is? Think of that scene.
Obviously, I’m not telling you that you need to lug a massive knife everywhere you go. By the same token, however, I’m not telling you that such an item would be obsolete. In fact, my go-to when backpacking in the Rockies is a nice medium sized Kukri, such as this custom one by Bushkill Blades (www.bushkillblades.com):
I like this particular blade because it straddles the line between machete, knife, and hatchet. On the other hand, it is extremely bulky, and for a lot of people it would be considered overkill. So, take the knife (or, rather, the bladed objet) that is right for you. If you’re someone who prefers bushcraft and likes building your own shelter, a folding saw would probably be perfect. If you’re climbing, odds are all you need is a small multi-too. Those travelling in a group can save weight by assigning one or two people to carry whatever blade you need.
You wont use your knife every time you go camping, but when you do need it it’s almost irreplaceable, and that earns it a spot on this list.
6. Bring proper protection
While a big knife might feel comforting sitting on your hip, in reality, it’s not going to do a whole lot if you happen to cross paths with a grizzly bear. This shouldn’t be a problem, though, because bear spray is available at just about every outdoor store and it costs less than $15.
You need to protect yourself from more than just predators, though. I’m talking everything and anything that can cause you physical harm: extreme cold, rockfalls, rapids that you find while kayaking. In these instances, protection means bringing the proper clothing, first aid supplies, wearing your helmet, and always remembering to zip up your life jacket.
If you’re in a group, remember to protect the dynamic of the group, as well. Have a clearly defined process for making decisions and stick to it, whether that’s electing a single leader or doing everything by consensus. This is especially important if something goes wrong (which it often does while extreme camping).
7. Fine-tune your skills
The scary thing about the back country is you often don’t know you’ve gone out of your league until it happens. I’ve been there before, and I can say with certainty that there’s nothing worse than that sinking feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you realize that you may have bitten off more than you could chew. To avoid this, make sure you’re always aware aware of what your skill level is. Know your limit, play within it, as they say.
Of course, you’re never going to get better unless you take some risks, so there will be situations in which you’re uncomfortable. However, you need to be able to recognize the difference between being nervous because it’s human nature, and being nervous because you’re not equipped to handle the situation you’re in.
The fun thing about extreme camping, or any wilderness activity, is that the training often is the activity. Start small and slowly build your way up, whether that’s climbing grade, trip duration, or mountain altitude. You’ll get better as you go along and have fun while doing it.
8. Do a practice run
You don’t need to do one of these for every trip, but if you’re doing anything that can be considered extreme camping, it’s always good to have a warmup before you head out. This is especially important if you have new pieces of equipment; taking a day or two to break them in and discover any problems is a must if you’re planning to use them for a big expedition.
As much as you can, the practice run should mimic what you’ll be doing on the actual trip, just not as strenuous. This is also a great opportunity to practice all of the skills you’ll need in a real backcountry setting.
9. Get in shape
In reality, people probably were never meant to climb the Dawn Wall of Yosemite, or summit Mount Everest, or go camping in places where temperatures drop to minus 40 degrees. And yet all of those things have been done, some of them multiple times over. This is because the human body is capable of insane things, especially when trained correctly.
If you’re heading out on an extreme camping trip, you need to make sure to whip yourself into shape before hand. Similarly to everything else on this list, what you do will vary depending on what type of activity you’re training for. I train mostly for mountaineering and backpacking expeditions, and I believe that this training would also translate well into other extreme camping activities. Some great links for the type of workouts I do can be found here (http://www.alpinist.com/doc/web08x/wfeature-mountain-athlete-training) and here (mavrockies.wordpress.com)
A lot of purists will tell you that they only train for certain activities by doing that activity, but I’ve always found this a bit pretentious. Sure, there may be no better way to train for mountaineering than to actually climb mountains, but that doesn’t mean I can dedicate my entire life to climbing. What I can do is spend an hour every day working out in my backyard so that when I do go climbing, my body is in good enough shape to be able to handle it.
If you have the ability (and the time) to just do practice runs all the time to stay in shape, by all means, do that. If not, however, don’t be worried; a good training regiment can train your body just as well.
10. Have Fun!
I know, I know, this is a cliche one to end on. Still, it’s more important than everything else on this list, for the simple reason that you won’t do anything else on this list if you’re not enjoying yourself.
Lets face it. Most parts of an extreme camping trip are not enjoyable. There’s nothing pleasurable about dragging your canoe five Kilometres upstream, or slogging for ten hours up a mountain, or freezing to death on a high-altitude mountaineering trip. That’s okay, though, because what makes us— the adventurers, the wanderers, the extreme campers— special is our ability to have fun in these situation. We enjoy grinding up the side of a mountain, because we know what the views will be like at the top. We like dragging our canoe up those five kilometres, because paddling around the secluded lake that it leads to will be oh-so-peaceful.
If you’re not having fun, you won’t want to train, you won’t want plan, and you definitely won’t want to practice. So, before you head out on a trip like this, make sure you’re doing something you love, and remember that no matter how tough it is, whatever’s waiting at the end is worth it.
Authored by: Marcus Memedovich