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Backpacker Magazine – January 2012

Backpacker Bible: Camp Well

Who says spiritual travelers must shun earthly comforts? You just worked all day to reach a magnificent high-country cirque. Now create a campsite to match.

by: The Backpacker Editors

PAGE 1 2
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir (Courtesy Photo)
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir (Courtesy Photo)

Backpacker Bible
See all 10 skills every backpacker should know
{ True Believer }
Mark Jenkins

Look at his résumé, and it appears our longtime contributor and former Rocky Mountain editor prefers trips on which suffering is the main goal. During more than three decades of expeditions, he has routinely put himself at risk for frostbite, altitude sickness, infections, trench foot, hypothermia, torn muscles, broken bones, insect-borne diseases, and more. He’s a glutton for punishment, no doubt, but he won’t suffer a poorly chosen campsite. Here’s how he describes his approach:

» Take time. When I reach the day’s general destination, I drop my pack and make a comprehensive search for the perfect campsite. I give myself at least 15 minutes and move in an outward spiral. Even if it’s dark, take the time. Even if it’s storming, take the time. The morning is what matters.
» Go high. Always try to put your tent on a ridge or at least up in the alpine zone. Yes, it’s windier up there, but spectacular views are the main reason I go into the mountains in the first place. Besides, there are good reasons for placing a camp high: 1) The wind washes the bugs away; 2) wind reduces condensation in the tent; 3) cold air rolls downhill at night, so valley bottoms are often dank and wet; 4) a high camp gets the earliest sun. (Stormy? See below for tips on a sheltered, low-impact site below treeline.)
» Prep your site. Search for the most level tent spot; I also remove all rocks, sticks, pine cones, etc. (and put them back upon leaving). In snow, I’m known for being anal about shoveling until the tent platform is perfectly level. Every minute spent preparing the campsite is rewarded with hours of good sleep.
» Face the sun. If the wind direction will allow it, I always place my tent with a door or window facing east, so the first rays of the sun come directly inside the tent. 

Upgrade Your Slumber
Eliminate bumps, backaches, and cold spots with an extravagantly cushy-yet-light pad like the Editors’ Choice Award-winning Therm-a-Rest NeoAir ($150/regular; thermarest.com). For milder conditions (above the mid-30s), check the noninsulated Big Agnes Air Core ($50/regular; bigagnes.com).

Fine Dining
You’ve found the perfect campsite.

Here’s how to equip it with the perfect kitchen.

» Search out a site with natural windbreaks, like boulders or stumps, that shelter your stove for faster cooking.
» Collect the water you’ll need, and gather your ingredients close at hand. Avoid getting up and down repeatedly, risking a spill. 
» In snow, build a kitchen: Dig a hole three to four feet deep, with a large enough diameter to accommodate your group. Leave an uncut snow block in the center, to serve as a table, and cut benches around the side for sitting. Place your stove on a square of aluminum-wrapped cardboard to prevent it from melting your table. Cut a stairwell for a five-star setup. 


PAGE 1 2

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READERS COMMENTS

Bill
Sep 21, 2012

I use a hammock, it's lite and comfortable and I can sleep with the stars.

Restfull sleeper
Sep 12, 2012

Starbuck - I don't think there is a piece of backpacking equipment that everyone can agree upon. I love my neoair. Very comfortable, and I hear my friend's BA pad in the next tent more than I hear my own (he doesn't hear mine either). My neoair did develop a slow leak last year, but I patched it and it's as good as new.

Anonymous
Sep 10, 2012

Starbuck
Sep 10, 2012

I know a couple doing the Continental Divide Trail who purchased the neoairs. Between the rotten reliability and the terrible crackling noise while trying to sleep, they ditched them for rolled eggshell foam mats.

Did editors sleep on them or even handled them? I took one look at REI by taking down the hanging sample and laughed myself silly!

P.T. Barnum had it right.

S
Sep 10, 2012

LagunaHiker
Sep 09, 2012

Be very careful camping high. On a high Sierras backpack, we camped high and got caught in a thunderstorm. An exposed pad is not a safe place to be under those circumstances.

LogWacker
May 05, 2012

fond memories of my camping beginnings. 12 years old, me and my friends heading out, the farm lands of Frederick Maryland, when you didn't have to worry about who's land you were on. My pack consisted of my sleeping bag and food. We hardly everhad a tent with us.

Jonathan Kniskern
Apr 24, 2012

Nice story but you will scare people off with the caveat at the end. I am a firm believer in camping under the stars - coyotes and all. I saw a wild stallion rear and neigh on the other side of the Rio one night camping under the stars near the Caballo Mts.

Jonathan Kniskern
Apr 24, 2012

Big Agnes makes a winter version too that worked great for me in rainy nasty fall/winter weather on the mountain here in Santa Fe and was way lighter than my tent-mate's setup.

skinup
Feb 09, 2012

neoair got a hole in it and i awoke at 3am on the ground, blew it up and in the dark i found the hole by feeling the air on my cheek, placed a piece of tenacious tape on the hole with out any prepping (and w/out much confidence of it sealing) but to my pleasant surprise it held and is still holding several outings later! by the way it was cold and moist weather conditions

Bob
Feb 04, 2012

Frank 2/3/12.
I believe he was referring to shoveling the snow to level the tent platform, not the earth below. He is not a Marine digging in. smile

Bogdan
Feb 03, 2012

Try getting a bivy sack with a screen mesh cover at the head to keep out the bugs when sleeping out. There are bivy sacks for sale at many major outdoors stores that are nothing but mesh. They won't protect you if it rains but they also don't weight, cost as much or get as clammy as the more traditional bivy sacks.

My first time camping was off of I-94 in the badlands of north dakota, I got eaten alive that night, but learning my lesson meant getting a bivy sack, not abandoning the view of the night sky.

Frank
Feb 03, 2012

The author is missing the Leave no Trace ethic with leveling tent sites
Use a groundcloth and tarp and find not make the right level smooth spot to sleep along the trail.

Ray
Jan 31, 2012

The last time I slept outside the tent I ended up with a 10" long centipede in my sleeping bag.

Asa Foley
Jan 23, 2012

The size of your pack is relative to the size of your fear - I hope someday to sleep outside, but as I lay in my warm bed on this stormy morning, I realize I have great fear to overcome. Thanks for the great report, it will push me in the right direction.

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