General tips

Hiking and camping can be a step into a simpler life – away from some of the distractions everyday life throws at us, such as TV, Instagram, constant advertisement, city noise and many more. Simply away from this constant overdose of information with more focus on basic things.

To make this little escape as enjoyable as possible, especially if you are new to the whole camping world, I’ve collected some tips for you. Some of them have helped me from the very beginning and some of them I had to learn the hard way. Meaning I’ve made some stupid mistakes and did better next time – or at least tried to 😛

Packing

I get a bit weird when it comes to packing…Usually I carry a heavy backpack when doing multi-day hikes, even if it is just for a few days and even if I could pack much less. Not because I don’t know better but actually out of a reason. As oddly as it sounds, I call that heavy backpack training. That way I will stay fit for hikes that last much longer. I also am much fitter for day hikes of higher difficulty. Still, I do not recommend this to anyone because if done wrongly or with a low level of fitness you do more harm to your body than good.

That is why I basically recommend two major rules to apply when you start packing for camping:

– Pack as lightly as possible and

– Pack according to where you are going

You might find it hard to pack lightly at the beginning. But trust me, you will get better every time you go camping or on a hike. Always be mindful about what you pack. Ask yourself about every item: Will I actually need this? To be able to answer this question you first have to be aware of where you are going. You probably don’t need to pack a rain poncho when you’re camping in a desert. But leaving that poncho at home when going on a camping trip through a rain forest, especially during rainy season, will require superb water proof clothing or the trip might end up in a disaster. Even with possibly higher temperatures around you, if your body is constantly wet, it will cool down.

So, always make sure you know where you are going and pack clothing according to that. Same with gear. There is a lot of fancy camping super survival stuff out there. Not all of that might make sense for you. Will you really need the multi tool for the weekend camping trip or is a little pocket knife enough? A multi tool might come in handy though when you go on multi-day hikes in very remote places.

As with clothes and gear, what kind of food you need and how much also depends on you or the group you are out camping/hiking with. I, for example, eat a lot. But I’ve met people who brought half of the amounts for the same hikes with them. I don’t know how but they survived perfectly. Don’t forget that until you eat it, you will be carrying the food (and its packaging) with you throughout the whole time. So, if you bring vast amounts and end up not eating these, you will have to carry them until the end.

One last thing: Put everything important that may not get wet into water proof bags. This is where leftover plastic bags might come in handy. This includes an extra set of dry clothes. It is not just about camping in rainy areas but also to protect your stuff from any fluid that is spread inside your backpack without you noticing right away. Your water bladder might break and spill liters of water on all your clothes. Food might be squashed or its packaging broken. Better safe than sorry.

A little tip out of experience: If possible, pack some incense, preferably some that don’t have to be lit. It keeps away not only mosquitoes but also mice. But: Never light anything when making fires is forbidden, there are fire warnings or it is dry and windy.

I will give you a detailed insight of what exactly is on my packing list on the gear and food packing pages.

Camp Poincenot at bottom of Mirador of Fitz Roy
Camp Poincenot at bottom of Mirador of Fitz Roy

The Campsite

Before you leave the house for your hiking trip, no, before you even start packing, it doesn’t matter for how long, make sure there will be enough water resources along the way. If you are out for a day hike and there are absolutely no water resources, pack all you need for the day (at least 2 – 3 liters). For multi-day hikes, either pack all the water you need or check with national park services or other sources if there are natural water resources (waterfall, river, etc.). You will need water not only for drinking but also for cooking. When you use a natural water source, always make sure that it is clean. If you use a river to get your water, check the surroundings. If you find garbage or left overs of humans or animals walk upstream. If you are not sure if the water is clean enough, boil it for a few minutes, use a water filter or water purifier drops (see Gear and equipment). Again, it is better to be safe than sorry. You do not want to be stuck in remote places with stomach problems or diarrhea. Also, keep in mind, when you do trekking at high altitudes your body will need more water than usual.

I also recommend investing in and packing good tent pegs – depending on what kind of tent you have. Cheap ones might fail you once the ground gets a bit tougher than a nice and soft green surface.

OK, now that you are out and about, you’ve hiked all day and arrived in the area you want to set camp in…There is a few things to think of when picking the perfect spot for your little overnight home:

Pick a wind and rain protected spot. You can use trees for protection but make sure branches that might fall off don’t become a danger. Also, don’t camp under a tree when there is a lightening storm going on.

– If necessary look for a sun protected spot. A bit of sun might be good for keeping the tent dry. But you also don’t want to sleep in a sauna 😉

– Especially when in the mountains, watch out for rock fall or avalanche risks.

Don’t camp in potholes! Just because it is dry when you arrive doesn’t mean it won’t rain during the night. You don’t want to be waking up in a lake just because all the water got collected in the supposedly perfect camp spot.

Check the whole spot before you start putting up your tent. One side of the underground might be good for pegs while the other side turns into a hard surface.

Always store the food away from your tent and in a waterproof bag, preferably hanging securely in a tree and high above the ground. This keeps wild animals away. I mean, any kind of wild animal, also small ones like mice and birds. They can do quite some harm to your food, tent, etc. when they catch the smell.

Always set up your tent correctly. Don’t get lazy because the weather might look good and calm in one moment. Especially in the mountains, weather can change quickly.

Ausangate Trek - Night 2 Camp - Laguna Pumacocha
Ausangate Trek – Night 2 Camp – Laguna Pumacocha

Some goodies for the night

There is a few things you should have handy in your tent during the night, such as:

– A headlight. Especially away from cities it gets super dark at night. If you have to pee during the night, this will save you some inconveniences.

– Water bottle. I don’t have to explain that one, do I?

– Warm clothes for when temperatures drop during the night.

Do not eat too heavy before going to bed either. If you lay down with a full stomach you might end up having trouble to sleep or get a good night’s rest.

Now, let’s get to the last but, by far, not less important section:

Leave no trace and always be mindful

Forgive my very direct words…but if the headline of this paragraph is not one of your highest priorities, please reconsider hiking or camping. There are already enough people out there who bring and leave garbage into the wild. It might sound harsh but there is just no excuse in leaving trash behind.

Still here? Good 🙂

Now, you might have already heard the following quote once or twice before: “Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.” It is a pretty neat quote. If you haven’t already, try to take a moment and actually think about the meaning of it.

The following short guidelines are to hopefully serve as a little inspiration for how to leave little to no trace behind and in general be more mindful when it comes to spending time within nature:

Try to use as many biodegradable products as possible. Again, check out my packing list for some ideas.

Depending on how remote you are going to be, bring a shovel and (biodegradable) toilet paper.

Always bring some sort of bag or box for all your litter with you This is when old plastic bags might come in handy or something that your food might be wrapped in anyway. If you are not sure about organic waste, take that with you, too. You might intervene with a natural environment by introducing something that doesn’t belong there. And if you are super cool and want to take it a step further: Collect garbage you find on the way and was left behind by others.

Don’t ever feed wildlife. It is not just about what you feed but what animals learn from these actions. If a wild animal gets fed once, it might expect to be fed again next time. But if this doesn’t happen and hunger plays a role, a wild animal might not know better than showing aggressive behavior.

Respect and obey to fire warnings and prohibitions. Even without any warnings, avoid to make a fire where it is windy and dry. A little spark can have enormous power in that kind of environment.

Again – and I am really sorry to be getting on your nerves, I can’t emphasize enough: Always be mindful. Think about your actions. Just because there is a trash bin in the middle of nowhere, it doesn’t mean you should fill it with garbage. Be aware that, even then, someone else has to take care of any trash you brought there and left behind.

Trash hole behind Refugio

I camped up by a lake in the mountains once that had a hut nearby. A really shitty, not well maintained road led up there. Yet, it was a touristy spot, so the trash bin was emptied regularly. In the morning, I was going for a short walk. What you see in the picture above is what I found a bit further away from the hut and hidden in the bush. Out of privacy reasons I won’t tell you where this is. Bear in mind that oftentimes this doesn’t happen because people are lazy or ignorant. Some areas, especially poorer and rather remote ones, simply aren’t provided with the possibilities for regular garbage collection.

Phew, now that we’ve got this out of the way, let’s start packing