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What Is Wilderness Survival Camping?


The idea of a wilderness survival camping trip is to have a new kind of backpacking experience while practicing some skills that might someday save your life. Bring matches, in other words, but try not to use them to start that fire. Bring some food as a backup plan, but try to live off the land as well.

I often do this to some extent. I eat wild raspberries, cherries, pine nuts and fifty other wild plants when I am hiking and backpacking. On a kayak trip on Lake Superior a friend and I ran out of food by the next-to-last day of the trip and as a result had to gorge ourselves on wild blueberries on rocky islands along the way. Earlier in the trip we added beach peas to our soup and ate seven or eight other wild edibles.

Sometimes I just want to travel so light that it becomes a kind of survival camping. For example, when I did an overnight trip to climb Crestone Peak here in Colorado I went with just nine pounds on my back. I ran into four feet of snow and had to give up the summit a couple thousand feet short, but it was a good opportunity to practice survival skills - I had no tent and only a 17-ounce down bag.

To stay warm I found a clearing where the snow had mostly melted off, and I collected armloads of dead dry grass and thistle stalks. The stalks, with the grass topping them, made for a great warm mattress. I ate old dry wild rose hips and wild carrots before settling in for the night.

On this trip, like on others, I tried to start a fire without matches. Honestly, I have never succeeded at this. I can make a fire-trough and get smoke in twenty seconds of using it, but I just can't get that red-hot coal to ever appear.

In this case I had matches, but I didn't need a fire. It dropped to about 25 degrees Fahrenheit and I was very warm with my grass mattress.

That is the essence of a wilderness survival camping trip. It isn't a survival trek, so bring food, matches and all the other necessary gear if you try this. But try to start that fire, and eat wild plants or go fishing. Build a shelter if you are in an area where it will do no harm. See if you can sleep without the sleeping bag.

See the Wilderness Survival Guide to get the knowledge, then put it to use and practice the skills on a camping or backpacking trip.


The Ultralight Backpacking Site | Wilderness Survival Camping