We have all had our exploration fantasies: alone in the woods for weeks, surviving off the land among dangerous animals and the unrelenting forces of Mother Nature.. However, many of us have stuck to pitching tents in the backyard, fearing the very real dangers and isolation of the backwoods.
The truth of the woods lies somewhere in between. Spending extended time in nature can be a great experience if you’re prepared, but it poses some extreme hazards if you’re not. So saddle up your packs and follow these five tips to stay safe in the green.
1. Pack the Necessities
If you’re backpacking or camping away from civilization, you’ll need to make sure you have plenty of food and water sources. Iodine capsules or boiling both work great for sterilizing natural water — preferably from rivers or streams where the water is moving — and freeze-dried or dehydrated meals and trail mix is the best food for its weight. If you are hiking or camping in a dry area, pack plenty of water or thoroughly research alternate methods for finding it in the wild before your expedition.
If you are bringing a canoe with you, your food and water options expand nicely. Packing a gas or propane stove can help you cook your food and boil your water. Smaller backpacking stoves are also a great addition, but they’re not strictly necessary depending on your confidence in starting fires. Never overlook the importance of a little mess kit or metal plate and silverware.
2. Pack the Important Luxuries
Don’t forget the small stuff, either. When you’re out in nature, the last thing you want to do is call off your trip early because of poor planning or seemingly minor oversights. Forgetting a tiny luxury at home (like bug spray or sunblock) can lead to some unbearable and inescapable situations in the rough. Remember, there’s no “inside” to run to when you’re getting chewed by mosquitos and your skin is turning pink.
To note: Toilet paper is lightweight, a great fire starter and biodegradable. Not to mention, it beats wiping with leaves.
3. Research the Wildlife and Terrain
Bear territory? Blackfly season? Wildfire warnings? You should factor all of these when you’re packing and planning. It’s important to ride the line between careful preparation and psyching yourself — and your friends — out.
However, anything that poses a legitimate danger or potentially alters your trip requires some flexibility in your plans. Bear spray, bug spray and knowing where and when you can set fires could all come into play. When in doubt, look online or ask the locals.
Proper hiking attire, rain gear, water shoes or other terrain-specific gear goes a long way and will become more obvious the more you research an area.
Pack a book, bring your whittling knife or a fishing rod. Once you’ve staked camp, you’ll have a ton of free time, and keeping yourself busy takes priority. The isolation of the great outdoors starts to weigh the heaviest when the boredom sets in, and working on a little project while admiring the beauty of your surroundings makes for the best experience.
Leave the phone at home unless you want pictures — you probably won’t have reception after a certain point, and technology is a great way to ruin the camping experience.
5. Consider Your Companions
Running solo has its allure, but you should never be alone in the woods before you have some experience under your belt. Friends help with setup, keep you company and prevent serious emergencies. With that in mind, bring along people who enjoy the outdoors and are willing to pull their weight.
Once you’re sure you have everything you need, focus on having fun! Many of us can’t get outdoors as much as we’d like to, and spending a week in the woods can be just what the doctor ordered.
Sure, everyone forgets to pack something, and there are always unforeseen complications — roll with it and use common sense, and you’ll have a wonderful time regardless. After all, there’s nothing quite like seeing nature up close and personal.