Introduction to Backcountry Camping for Beginners

In this article, we will cover as much as possible about what you need to know about backcountry camping and answer some of the main questions people ask. We’ll be concentrating on backcountry camping in Ontario, Canada, but you might find some of the information relevant to other places.

What is backcountry camping?

Backcountry camping, or primitive camping, is a unique form that involves venturing deep into remote wilderness areas where you can disconnect from the hustle and bustle of modern life and immerse yourself in nature. Unlike traditional car camping, backcountry camping requires a significant amount of planning and preparation, as you will be carrying all of your gear and supplies on your back and relying on your own skills and knowledge to navigate and survive in the wilderness.

This article will explore the basics of backcountry camping, including the gear you need, the safety precautions you should take, and the benefits of this unique and rewarding form of outdoor adventure. 

Designated & dispersed backcountry camping.

What is the difference between designated and dispersed backcountry camping?

You’ll find opportunities for designated backcountry camping in many Ontario Provincial Parks, parks operated by Parks Canada, and many municipalities in Ontario. These campsites might have shelters or an area to set up tents. You’ll access them by hiking, kayaking, or canoeing. Popular sites must be booked, and expect to pay a per night fee. Some park sites are non-reservable, so during popular periods, arrive early and have a Plan B. Winter camping in Frontenac Provincial Park is an example of this arrangement, so make sure you do your research before visiting.

When it comes to dispersed backcountry camping, you’ll likely be looking for Crown land. You’ll need to find your own campsite and don’t expect fancy facilities. Access is usually on foot or by paddling. A few places may have motorized access but take care as access roads are often used for logging work.

Ontario Crown land camping & access rules.

Crown land camping is more complicated, and there are rules to follow. If you are a non-resident, you need a daily permit, around $10 per day. There’s also a maximum 21-day rule on any given site.

These links offer extra help.

Attwood Reserve Conservation Area is an example of a conservation reserve that allows camping. “Recreational opportunities include boating, canoeing, fishing, hunting, camping, outpost camp and lodge use, and a variety of nature activities (i.e., interpretation, viewing, study). Ten fly–in tourist outpost camps exist within the conservation reserve.”

Where is the best backcountry camping in Ontario?

Recommending the best place to backcountry camp in Ontario is always going to be highly personal. One person’s perfect place might seem like Times Square to a purist.

If you’re reading this article, you’ve either never backcountry camped or you’re new to the adventure. Here are suggestions and a few things to consider.

  1. If you are a camping newbie or the last time you camped was Scouts consider trying a few nights under canvas car camping. 
  2. Stay close to home. If it goes wrong, you can always head home. Always better to live to fight another day.
  3. Use a designated campsite in a Provincial Park. Sites are usually well-marked. If you book early, it should be a short hike.
  4. Go with someone you trust and, if possible, camp with someone experienced in backcountry camping. Leave solo trips for when you are more experienced.
  5. Try to borrow as much equipment as possible if you find it’s not for you.
  6. Remember safety. There’s more about this later in the article.

What gear do I need for Backcountry Camping?

The right gear is one of the most essential things for backcountry camping. The equipment you choose will depend on the length of your trip, the weather conditions you expect to encounter, and your personal preferences. 

Given that you’ll have to hike or paddle to your campsite, use lightweight equipment and as little as possible.

Here are some essential items you will need for backcountry camping:

Backpack: A good backpack is essential for carrying all of your gear and supplies on your back. Look for a comfortable, durable backpack with plenty of pockets and compartments for organizing your gear.

Tent: Your tent will be your home away from home in the wilderness, so it’s important to choose a tent that is lightweight, easy to set up, and durable enough to withstand harsh weather conditions.

Hammock camping: A hammock is an interesting alternative to a tent. It keeps you off the ground and should be lighter weight.

Sleeping bag: A good sleeping bag is essential for staying warm and comfortable at night. Look for a sleeping bag rated for the lowest temperature you expect to encounter on your trip.

Sleeping pad: A sleeping pad will provide insulation and cushioning between you and the ground, making it easier to get a good night’s sleep.

Cooking gear: You will need a stove, fuel, and cooking utensils to prepare meals while camping. Look for lightweight, durable cooking gear that is easy to pack and carry. Yes, you can cook over an open fire; it’s fun to do, but do practice in advance. 

Water filtration system: In the backcountry, you must filter or purify your water to avoid getting sick from harmful bacteria and parasites. Look for a lightweight water filtration system that is easy to use and effective at removing contaminants from water. Also, research your location. What is upstream from you, and how safe is the water? In Provincial Parks, staff should have this information.

Navigation tools: A map, compass, and GPS device can help you navigate the wilderness and avoid getting lost. Not so much of a problem with designated camping sites as there’s usually good signage.

Mobile phone: a helpful navigation tool and an important safety item. Be aware of whether there’s a signal. There’s more about this further down in the safety section.

Clothing: You must bring appropriate clothing for the weather conditions you expect to encounter, including rain gear, warm layers, and sturdy hiking boots.

Personal hygiene items: Bring toiletries, including toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and a trowel for digging catholes.

First aid kit: A first aid kit is essential for treating injuries and illnesses in the wilderness. Look for a kit with basic first aid supplies, such as bandages, antiseptic, and pain relievers. If you plan to do a lot of backcountry camping, especially if you go further into the wilderness, completing even a basic first aid course is a good idea.

Safety Precautions for Backcountry Camping

Backcountry camping can be a rewarding and exhilarating experience, but it’s important to take safety precautions to avoid injury and illness. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:

Research the area: Before embarking on a backcountry camping trip, research the area to learn about potential hazards, such as wildlife, weather conditions, and terrain.

Maps & compass: old school but the ability to read a map and use a compass is both fun and rewarding. It’s also essential where there’s no cellular signal if your battery dies on your electronics are damaged.

Leave a trip plan: Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return. This information can help search and rescue teams find you more quickly if something goes wrong. Remember to tell people when you get back, or there’s a risk of the emergency services having a wasted call-out.

Carry a communication device: A mobile phone should be all you need in most areas. Once you become more adventurous, a satellite phone or personal locator beacon can help you call for help in an emergency.

Be prepared for emergencies: Carry a first aid kit and know how to use it. Know the signs and symptoms of hypothermia, dehydration, and other common wilderness emergencies.

Download the What3Words app to your mobile phone: many emergency services in Ontario are happy to use this app if they need to find you. You can read more about how it works on the Apps website

Practice Leave No Trace principles.

Backcountry camping can significantly impact the environment, so practicing Leave No Trace principles is important to minimize your impact on the natural world. Some key principles of Leave No Trace include:

  1. Pack it in, pack it out: Bring your trash and waste with you when you leave the campsite.
  2. Use established campsites: Camping in established campsites minimizes the environmental impact and helps preserve the area’s natural beauty.
  3. Dispose of human waste properly: Dig a cathole at least 200 feet away from water sources and pack out used toilet paper (disposable and sealable plastic bags are a lightweight addition to your kit list).
  4. Respect wildlife: Keep a safe distance from wildlife and do not feed them.
  5. Leave natural and cultural resources undisturbed: Do not disturb or remove rocks, plants, or artifacts from the area.

What are the benefits of backcountry camping?

Backcountry camping can be a transformative experience connecting you to the natural world profoundly. Here are some of the benefits of backcountry camping:

  1. Stress relief: Being in nature has been shown to reduce stress and improve mental health.
  2. Physical exercise: Backcountry camping involves hiking and carrying heavy loads, which can provide a great workout.
  3. Connection to nature: Backcountry camping allows you to experience the beauty and power of nature up close.
  4. Personal growth: Backcountry camping requires self-sufficiency, problem-solving, and resilience, which can help you develop important life skills.
  5. Adventure: Backcountry camping is an adventure that can provide a sense of excitement and accomplishment.
  6. Bonding with others: Backcountry camping can be a great way to connect with friends or family and create lasting memories. For some, it’s solitude, but you may enjoy meeting and learning from new people.

Backcountry camping resources.

Backcountry Camping

Ontario Backcountry Camping

Manitoulin Backcountry – you can book this private experience on Airbnb
Ontario Crown Land Campers
Wanted Ontario Backcountry Campers – this one is included for completeness, but always take care when meeting people you don’t know.
Ontario Backcountry Enthusiasts
Ontario Back Country Campers/ Paddlers And DIYers
Hiking, Camping & Backpacking Gear Talk


Backcountry camping is a unique and rewarding outdoor adventure that requires planning, preparation, and a sense of adventure. By packing the right gear, taking safety precautions, and practicing Leave No Trace principles, you can have a safe and enjoyable experience in the wilderness. Whether you seek stress relief, physical exercise, or a connection to nature, backcountry camping can provide a transformative experience that stays with you long after you return to civilization.

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