Camping Tips
Credit: Kevin Callan

1: Directional Sun Dials 

Lost your compass? The sun can help you find direction. Forget the “moss on the tree” method — it’s not true at all. Using the North Star is accurate but travelling at night isn’t the smartest idea. The old “stick in the ground” method is ideal — as long as it’s sunny of course. Plunge a stick into a flat piece of ground, away from any obstacles. Then, mark the point of the stick’s shadow. Wait for 10 minutes (or more) and mark the tip of the shadow again. Remember that the sun travels from east to west. That means that north must be between the two marks, south is the opposite, east must be to the right of the original shadow and west is to the left.

2: Are We There Yet? 

Calculating distance and time while you’re in the backcountry can be a difficult task. There are too many variables: steep terrain, unmarked trails, etc. But an overall average can be estimated. Here’s a general guide:

• Walking one kilometre on a flat trail, with a moderate-weight backpack, will take about 15 minutes (approximately four km/h walking speed).

• Walking one kilometre through thick bush, with a heavy backpack, will take about 30 minutes (approximately two km/h walking speed).

• Portaging a canoe for one kilometre on an even trail will take about 20 minutes (approximate speed of three km/h).

• Portaging a canoe for one kilometre on an extremely rough trail will take about 40 minutes (approximate speed of 1.5 km/h).

3: Backcountry Hygiene Matters

For some people, camping is a good excuse to get dirty. However, up to 40 per cent of stomach issues are directly related to not washing one’s hands before preparing meals. The obvious choice for cleaning up is hot water and soap, but preparing hot water becomes a hassle out there. It’s easier to mix a teaspoon of bleach in a litre of water. Even easier, however, is a container of hand-sanitizer. Make sure to pack it in the toiletry kit and the camp kitchen kit. A package of moist towelettes packed with the toilet paper is also a great way to keep fresh. 

4: Prevent Trench Foot, Soldier

Wearing a clean pair of socks every day is not excessive. This pattern of changing your socks daily will keep you safe from getting “trench foot.” The ailment, which got its name from soldiers constantly standing in wet trenches during The First World War, is similar to frostbite in theory — prolonged exposure to moisture and/or cold will cause nerve and muscle damage. The results vary from just having slightly swollen, discoloured and tender feet to excessive swelling and blisters, which later form ulcers and can lead to gangrene.

5: Fly Swatter vs. Stable Fly

A stable fly looks like a housefly — except for a bayonet-like mouthpart. That’s what they use to bite you, and it hurts! They’re also incredible fliers, making them almost impossible to kill. That’s where a fly swatter strapped to the side of your pack comes in handy. It’s the greatest weapon ever made for these nasty bugs. 

6: Blister Care 101

To avoid blisters forming on your feet, ensure your footwear is well broken-in. If a blister starts to form, place a piece of moleskin on it right away; this can literally save the trip. Another helpful product to toss in your first-aid kit is Second Skin. It is held in place by a larger piece of moleskin. Glacier Gel from Adventure Medical Kits is the best of them all. 

7: Aluminum Dutch Oven

A traditional cast iron oven is far too heavy to pack on interior trips. There are lighter-weight aluminum models, however. The Woody Dutch Oven is a good choice. It is square and fits perfectly in the hatch of a kayak. To reduce clean up, line the inside with parchment paper. 

8: Lessen the Sting

Bees and wasps inject venom under the skin with their stingers. The bee’s stinger is barbed, like a fish hook, and remains in your skin; a wasp’s stinger is smooth and can be used numerous times. They both really hurt. Here are a few things you can do to relieve the pain:

• Remove the bee’s stinger by scraping overtop with your fingernail.

• Wash the area with soap and water.

• Wash with antiseptic.

• Place a cold compress or calamine lotion on the area (baking soda or even mud is a good substitute).

• Rub an Aspirin tablet on the affected area.

9: Stay Hydrated! 

Dehydration is the number-one reason campers get nauseous, have headaches, lose their appetite, become constipated or have diarrhea and generally feel irritable. You need to drink at least three to four litres of water per day; replenishing it slowly throughout the day. Swallowing a huge amount in the morning makes it impossible for your body to process it all and gulping it down at night doesn’t help one little bit. The moment your mouth becomes dry or you crave a drink, it’s too late — your body’s fluids are too low. A well-hydrated camper pees frequently and has clear urine. Deep yellow urine, with a strong odour, is a sure sign of dehydration.  

10: Pack a Dollar Store Umbrella

A small, cheap umbrella is a great addition to your pack. On canoe trips I use one for a sail. On kayak trips I clip one behind me for sun protection. On backpacking trips I strap one to my pack to help shed the rain while walking the trail. 

11: Use a Tumpline

The tumpline is one of the oldest load-bearing contraptions. It consists of a leather or nylon strap, which is attached to your pack then placed across the top of your head. The tumpline puts the load directly in-line with your spine and can, in some situations, be far more effective and comfortable than shoulder straps. Just ensure the strap is set on top of your head — not across your forehead. If you feel strain on your neck muscles, it’s too far forward.

12: IKEA Bags for Kayakers 

An IKEA bag — those blue polypropylene sacks — are perfect for toting gear to and from your kayak. They’re lightweight (less than 85 grams), compact and made from rugged material. They don’t soak up water, are easily cleaned and can carry up to 10 kilograms. The cost is about a buck.