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10 Tips for Backcountry Camping—The Lake Friendly Way

camping under the stars

Backcountry camping (also known as wilderness camping) requires people to hike, bike, or paddle to get to the campsites. In the winter, people ski or snowshoe to access these sites.

What is Lake Friendly camping?

Lake Friendly camping means respecting the great outdoors, making choices that help keep our lakes pristine, and cleaning up so others can enjoy the same space.

While many practices are the same for car camping and wilderness camping, a key difference is where to set up camp. Backcountry camping also requires more thought to how our actions impact the pristine wilderness surrounding us.

Ways to make your camping experience Lake Friendly:

Preparation is key!

white and blue stripped rope

1. Know how you are going to store anything that smells. Food, garbage, toiletries, sunscreens, and even some medication might attract wildlife.

  • Check if the areas you are camping in have food lockers

  • Or plan to hang your food from a tree. Hanging your food can be a hassle (learn one technique here)

    • Supplies needed: Waterproof bag big enough to store your smelly stuff, rope, and carabiner

  • Another alternative is using bear canisters, which are hard-shelled, smell-proof containers that are not easy to open.

    • There are many types of canisters available

    • Learn how to properly store your canister here

  • Whatever method you decide, make sure to store food at least 200 feet from your campsite

toilet paper in the woods

2. Pack what you need for your preferred method of human waste management

  • Small garden trowel (click here for options)

  • Toilet paper that disintegrates quickly (toilet paper made for RVs or camping)

  • Commercially available pack out bags (tips and products)

  • Reusable toilet system (which are bulky, and best used for paddling trips) (click here for commonly used products)

Hiking shoes

3. Bring soft shoes to wear while you walk around your campsite (good examples here)

  • Wearing heavy hiking boots while walking is more likely to damage sensitive areas

Enjoy your nature experience.

Hiking on a prairie trail

4. Travel on trails, when they are available

  • Trails minimize human impacts on nature

  • Avoid leaving the path to walk around small puddles, since this expands the area impacted by humans

Group hiking in the forest on rocks

5. Travel on the most durable surfaces when no trails are available

  • Rock, sand, gravel can handle impact well

    • However, be careful about disturbing rocks covered in lichen

  • If the area is full of vegetation, walk where it is sparse or more durable (like dry grass)

  • Avoid wet meadows or sensitive vegetation

    • It’s especially important to avoid vegetation on slopes since this magnifies environmental damage

  • Spread out and avoid walking the same path over and over

  • Trampling will likely cause more people to choose that path, leading to further destruction

Be smart when setting up camp.

camping with water in the background

6. Set up camp at least 200 feet from water or wildlife corridors

camping on durable rock surface

7. If you are backcountry camping in a popular area, set up your campsite in areas where vegetation cover is minimal

  • Pitching your tent where others have set up camp prior reduces the impact of your campsite

camping in the forest

8. In low-use or pristine areas, minimize the number of times people camp on any one place

  • Spread out your groups’ tents

  • Avoid walking over the same areas

  • Move your camp every day

    • Or at least limit your stay to two nights

  • After packing up camp, take some time to make the space look as natural as possible so that the next group won’t naturally gravitate to camping on the same spot

When nature calls

woman in the woods

9. Best Practices for peeing in the woods

  • Wildlife can be attracted to the smell of urine, so don’t pee too close to camp

  • Chose spots on durable surfaces 200 feet away from camp, trails, and the water

  • Avoid peeing on vegetation

  • Tip for toilet paper, especially for ladies: you can use toilet paper if you need to, or try using a pee rag a reusable cloth that you use to wipe when you pee, so you don’t create waste (learn more here and here)

Green woods

10. Best practices for pooping in the woods

  • Proper disposal of human waste is vital to protect waterways and not negatively affect other visitors (learn more here)

  • When there are no toilets around, often the best thing to do is dig yourself a hole (commonly known as “cat holes”)

    • Select a spot at least 200 feet from trails, camp, and water where others are unlikely to visit. Ideally, look for places in the sun that have dark soil, which helps waste decompose quicker

    • Choose a high-elevation site that is less likely to be the path water runs through during a storm

    • Dig a hole 6 – 8 inches deep and 4 – 6 inches wide in diameter

    • After you finish, fill the hole with the original soil and disguise it with surrounding organic material

    • Spread these holes out. Try not to go to the same place twice

  • Tips for using toilet paper

    • If you feel like really connecting with nature, choose “natural toilet paper”—large leaves, stones, or other vegetation

    • If you want to use actual toilet paper, use as little as possible

    • You can either bury toilet paper properly in your cat hole or pack it out in a plastic bag (line it in opaque tape (duct, painters, etc.) if you don’t want to look at your toilet paper)

Read more tips on camping trips in our previous blog post here.

Check out Explore’s list of 30 Places to Camp for Free in Manitoba.

For a complete list of backcountry campsites see the Province of Manitoba resources for hike-in sites, water-route sites, and wilderness camping areas.

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