Campsite Safety in the Backcountry

Campsite Safety in the Backcountry 2

There is no greater camping experience than hitting the backcountry. Heading off a trail in search of your own campsite is the true camping experience. The antithesis of pulling up to a campsite and parking just a few feet away from where you set your tent and where you burn your fire. This type of camping is great fun as well but it cannot hold a candle to experiencing the wilds of the backcountry.

For you to appreciate what a unique experience this is you must understand that America has thousands and thousands of acres that are owned by you, the taxpayer. Though you will be beholden to basic rules of the house it is important that you understand this land is yours. The national parks and the many wildlife management areas around the nation welcome your backcountry adventure.

Of course, with any worthwhile experience comes the hard work and risk attributed to most things truly worth doing. Every year Americans take to the woods for backcountry jaunts and return with great stories. This is best achieved through practice and an understanding of basic campsite safety in the backcountry. Let’s talk about how we set up a perfectly safe backcountry campsite.

  • Snowboarding, sledding, and hiking were associated with the highest number of injuries requiring emergency department visits.
  • More than two-thirds of patients treated for outdoor-related injuries were male, with the greatest number of injuries affecting young men ages ten to 35.
  • Half of all injuries treated were fractures, strains and sprains, and most injuries involved the head and neck or limbs.

Natural Hazards

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The first consideration when choosing a backcountry campsite are the natural hazards. There are some serious threats that present themselves in the wild and you can place yourself directly in harm’s way if you are not careful.

Your proximity to bodies of water is often limited by rules of the backcountry but low lands and ravines pose serious threats, as well. You may be surprised to find out how fast low-lying areas fill with water when there are even minor rains. If you park a tent in these areas, you will wake up or return to a serious situation.

Of course, setting up around trees and on high ground can come with risks as well. Be aware of dead trees and branches in an area. If you see trees without leaves in the spring or summer or large limbs that are hung up high above, get away from here.

After reading that you might think an open field would be the perfect location to camp but this puts you at risk for lightning strikes and there is nothing blocking the wind. Also, avoid ledges or peaks that you could be blown off by powerful winds. This is particularly perilous in high altitudes where winds can be less predictable and more powerful.

Sure, there is a lot to consider when it comes to natural campsites. Find a nice wooded area clear of most brush with strong, living trees. This is your best bet.

Here are a few great products to use when setting up your backcountry campsite.


Machete Knife

This full tang machete by Kersahaw is a great design and will allow you to modify a campsite or even create a site in a place that may otherwise be covered by brush. Sometimes there are great campsites right under our noses but they are spoiled by a collection of old dead brush or thorny growth. Having a good machete as part of your pack will make setting up camp a little easier and will give you more options.

This weapon is made by a world class knife maker and costs just over $30 at Amazon.


Eno Hammock

A hammock is an awesome tool when looking to set up a safe backcountry campsite. The hammock allows you to stay off the ground, they are very comfortable and also turn areas that are incompatible with pitching a tent into viable sites.

You will need two sturdy trees to set this up so be sure to do thorough inspections of your anchor trees. Assure you are safe beneath the limbs and that the trees will support your weight.

Eagles Nest Outfitters or ENO is my favorite brand for hammocks. This particular model will cost you around $70 at Amazon.


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Research the area you will be camping prior to arriving. Know which wildlife pose the greatest threat. Learn their habitats. Don’t set your tent up near a cave in bear country. Fair enough?

Let’s talk about bears for a moment. They can be a serious and life-threatening issue if you don’t take the proper steps to prepare for them. Remember the number 200 when considering bear safety.

Cook 200 feet from camp
Store food 200 feet from camp

Another great tip is to change your clothes after cooking and eating. Essentially have some “pajamas” that don’t smell like food. This will keep hungry bears away from your campsite. How far away should you leave your “cooking clothes” from camp? You got it! 200 feet.

Bears attack for four basic reasons:

  1. Protection of Territory
  2. Protection of Young
  3. Surprised by Humans
  4. Person is perceived as a threat cornering or blocking food source of an animal

Of course, bears are the most formidable of foes and get all the limelight when it comes to concerns about safety and wildlife but based on where you are camping you could be faced with a variety of stinging bugs, poisonous snakes and even other predators like mountain lions and wolves. This is why it’s so vitally important that you do some research on the region and the wildlife you will be spending the night with.

Two very useful pieces of equipment for dealing with various wildlife encounters are a can of bear mace, that works on animals other than bears as well, and a bear-proof container for your food.

Bear Mace

Bear Mace

I have heard a variety of things about bear mace from multiple people. The efficacy is often based on the attitude of the bear. It seems like bear mace works well on bears that have not yet been enraged and bears that are not protecting cubs. If you encounter a hungry, protective or furious bear the mace may not work. Though it could allow you the upper hand to escape the attack.

This brand by Frontiersman is a nice hefty canister at 7.9 ounces that sprays accurately to 30 feet. You can get your hands on this bear mace for less than $30 at Amazon and it could be the difference between walking away from an encounter a whole person. Spend the money and be protected.

Bear Resistant Storage

Bear Food Storage

Having access to a container that is resistant to bears is a great way to store your food. These containers not only help with food smells and how they attract bears but it is also nearly impossible for a bear to get into the container and get at your food supply. These containers will lessen the chance of animal encounters altogether. This model is big enough to carry a small mess kit and food.

For this particular model, you will spend around $75 on Amazon and most models will be somewhere in that ballpark. I would be concerned about a model that comes in way less than this. Quality is not a gamble you want to make when dealing with these types of containers.

Self-Imposed Threats

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In most cases, backcountry camping is a commitment. You may have hiked most of the day to get to your campsite. Once it’s dark and you are ready to call it a night there may not be an option to leave till morning. Humans have pretty good night vision but the treachery of trying to get back to a trail in the darkness is serious. You risk severe injury from a fall or attack by nocturnal animals.

Make sure you aren’t setting yourself up for trouble at your own campsite. At the very least, you are in this for the night and you must be prepared to handle any issues that come up.

Buy quality camping accessories and use them before you show up! You should not be breaking packages open at the campsite. You must be well versed in the tools you have and how to use them. This is a crucial part of the game.

Make sure you have light and that sufficient light is on that list of quality gear. That doesn’t mean you need tons of different lighting but have a powerful lantern and some light that is pocket worthy for the family.

My #1 tip for self-imposed threats is arriving at a campsite too late. I have been guilty of this in the past. If you want to sap the joy out of a camping trip instantly arrive just before the sun goes down. You will have to fight to get your tent up, go to bed hungry or with very little in your system and never once appreciate the beauty of what’s around you. All of this should equal a miserable time and it can be avoided by simply arriving at camp with plenty of daylight.

Here are a few pieces of equipment that can help you avoid some of the more common mistakes at the campsite that we create ourselves.

Campsite Fire Extinguisher

Camp Fire Extinguisher

This Fire Gone aerosol fire suppressant is a great way to keep fires at bay at your campsite. Just remember brush fires can happen fast and get out of control. You may only have access to so much water at your campsite. A powerful aerosol like this one is important to have around.

This aerosol prices at around $25 per bottle on Amazon. Don’t be the person who burns down acres of forest!

Hero Beam

Camping Lantern - Hero Beam

This tiny lantern has the power. These guys are LED lit and powered by AA batteries. Not only do these work great at your campsite but they will also become a permanent fixture in your home. One of these beams will be more than the light you need for a small 3 person tent. They will illuminate your entire campsite as well. Another great feature is that they turn sideways and act as flashlights with a light on the bottom.

The Hero beam are only about $13 per light on Amazon, so they are a great deal.


This is an app that gives you a look at the sunset down to the minute. This will take all of the guesswork out of sunset. Having hard data on the sunset and watching time tick off allows you to set strict times to head back to camp and get set up, fires blazing and other things done in order to have a great night and avoid scavenging for wood or other resources in the dark.

Anytime we head out of our brick and mortar world and into the trees there is a risk. There are animals that don’t like you, weather that disregards you and your worst enemy….you! Plan, observe and for God’s sake enjoy yourself out there!


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