In order to truly enjoy a camping trip, you must first do your homework and educate yourself on the dangers of camping. The allure is undeniable. Wide-open wilderness away from the hustle and bustle of daily life—just you, a tent and nature existing as one. It might look good on paper and in television commercials, but there is a little more work involved in making sure you stay alive on the trail.

The location you choose is one of the first decisions you need to make. It is also one that can drive many of the decisions that follow. Many people choose their location based on proximity to their homes, yet some travel extensively to find that one perfect spot. Regardless, there are some things you need to consider when choosing a camping location.

Dangerous Ground

Just how far “away” do you wish to get? A vast amount of camping is done on established sites in state and national parks. You are, at times, within earshot of fellow campers and the scene looks more like a gathering than isolated camping. One big pro of this type of camping is that you are usually close to civilization. This is handy if you forget the marshmallows and need to run back to the store. The cons are that solitude and privacy are simply not a part of the equation. Plan on hearing conversations from other campers and dealing with the occasional dog that strays in from a neighboring camp. If you choose backcountry camping, you will need to make sure you know what you are doing. There are areas in the U.S. that do not see hikers or campers for weeks or even months at a time. The advantage of this type of destination is solitude. You will be able to enjoy nature in its purest sense with little to distract you. The cons are that you can be a very long way from civilization and, in turn, help. Backcountry camping is not for the faint of heart and you should evaluate your camping and survival skills before heading off into the wilderness.

“Backcountry camping is not for the faint of heart and you should evaluate your camping and survival skills before heading off into the wilderness.”

What kind of location do you want? Are you a “deep in the majestic mountains amongst towering pines” type? Or perhaps you’re an “open beach with a campfire being serenaded by crashing waves” person. The type of location you choose will dictate what gear you will need for your trip. If the location is open and temperate, then heavy clothing and freeze-rated sleeping bags are out. If you choose a mountainous destination, then your gear will need to match the climate you will be relaxing in. Having the correct gear and equipment for the location you are in will determine just how comfortable or miserable you are.

For those who may be new to the camping world, we can offer a few points to consider when choosing a spot. Not all camping areas are created equal. How far away from civilization do you want to go? Do you know how to build a fire (if campfires are allowed)? Will you maintain cell phone coverage? Will you be alone or have help? Do you know how to read a compass and navigate? Will wildlife be an issue? Considering these questions will begin to tell you what gear and skills you’ll need for the trip.

Predator Attacks

The wide-open wilderness is certainly beautiful. It does hold some dangers, though. When we choose to head out into nature, we must realize we will not be alone. From pesky mosquitoes and flies to bears and mountain lions, your camping area is home to wildlife as well. The best thing you can do is to avoid close contact with wildlife. This flies in the face of what some people expect from camping. The chance to get close to nature is the goal of many people packing up tents and sleeping bags each year. There is a very real danger in getting too close to wildlife, however.

Unlike animals portrayed in many movies and television shows, wild animals are far from cuddly. Additionally, they have very little interest in your
desire to bond with them. What they do know is that you are a possible threat or even a mid-morning snack. It is important that you educate yourself on what wildlife is common in the area you want to visit. Know what the best practices are in regards to camping safely in those areas and stay alert.

Gear Essentials

What you choose to pack can make the trip unforgettable in a positive or negative way. While there are specific items you need for special areas, there remains a core list of must-have gear for any backwoods excursion.

Shelter: Tent size will be determined by the size and needs of your party. There is one tent, however, that can work well across a wide spectrum of locations. The Sierra Designs Flash 3UL is a three-person tent that is both spacious and light. (

Maintain Body Heat: The sleeping bag you choose should be versatile and up to the challenge of any environment you camp in. A good choice for a wide range of locations is the Sea To Summit Micro II. Equipped with a full zipper, it can be unzipped into a quilt or zipped with another Micro to make a double bag. For its small packed size, the Micro II also boasts an amazing warmth-to-weight ratio. (

Survival Knife: You want something that is as effective at cutting small limbs as it is opening your dehydrated apples. The Gerber LMF II survival knife is a solid choice. As a fixed blade, it is inherently stronger than a folder. Add to that a serrated blade and being lightweight and you have a great choice for a camping knife. (

Sleeping Pad: While the movies are awash with cowboys sleeping under the stars, it does not reflect the whole story. Imagine sleeping on your kitchen floor with some rocks and grass thrown in for good measure. To enjoy your time snoozing in the wilderness, you need a good sleeping pad. The NeoAir All Season is a lightweight and comfortable pad to serve your needs. Durable and reasonably priced, it is a must for enjoying your trip. (

First Aid: While some will be comfortable with a box of Band-Aids, you are encouraged to bring along a serious first-aid kit. What is designed to be a leisure experience can quickly turn ugly if someone is injured. The need for this kit increases as the distance you choose to be away from civilization increases. The Mountain Series Comprehensive Kit by Adventure Medical Kits is a solid choice. It’s everything you might need in an easy-to-carry bag. (

Light The Way: Many first-time campers are stunned at just how dark it gets in the wilderness. As you move away from towns and cities, light pollution will diminish and the nights can be very dark. Throw in a moonless night and you will quickly be reaching for a flashlight to help you. One of the best on the market is the Fenix MC11 angled light. Bright and capable of being adjusted to different angles, it is a good utility light.

Defend Yourself: While carrying a sidearm is not allowed in some places, it is completely acceptable in most. A good handgun is a must for protection against predators, both four-legged and two-legged. The further you head away from civilization, the more important it becomes. One gun that is highly recommended for backcountry carry is the Glock 20. This pistol is chambered in 10mm and provides a solid defense against a variety of creatures. Additionally, it functions exactly as all other Glock pistols. The 10mm Auto round is serious business and considered a good backcountry load for its proven stopping power. (

Choose Wisely

There is no shortage of fantastic camping locations across this great country. From the stunning Arcadia National Park in Maine to the desert wonder of Joshua Tree National Park in California, there is something for everyone. For those looking for something a bit more adventurous, we can leave the shores of the U.S. and head overseas. One specific location is a quiet gem that most fans don’t want everyone to know about. Cinnamon Bay Campground is found on the island of St. John in the U.S.Virgin Islands. With a majority of St. John set aside as part of the Virgin Islands National Park, it is a beautiful tropical paradise. Warm tropical seas mixed with swaying palms are always a good start to any camping experience. On the other end of the temperature scale you can head to Antarctica. While certainly cold, it is also one of the most beautiful places on earth. Ice flows and breathtaking sunsets are the order of the day at the bottom of the world. While not for the timid, the experience is certainly worthy of consideration.

Camping is more about choices than anything. Where do I want to go, what time of year am I going, and am I headed out alone are just a few of the many questions to be answered. Having a solid game plan and knowing what you are getting into will determine just how enjoyable your visit will be. Like any other experience in life, camping has its ups and downs. By educating yourself you can minimize the life-threatening dangers you may face in the wilderness.


This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Spring 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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