Wilderness Tips

Juniper Prairie Wilderness

Wilderness Tip: Easy Method for Starting a Fire


When I am on my wilderness adventures I enjoy having a nice basecamp fire in the evening.  Having a fire gives you warmth and comfort.  A fire will also boost your spirits especially if it is a cold evening.  Starting a fire does not have to be difficult and there are many ways to start a basecamp fire. Wilderness backpackers should bring the necessary gear into the field and your pre-planning should definitely cover having the right fire starting gear with you.

When you get to your basecamp or after a long day exploring the area around your basecamp most backpackers are tired and they do not necessarily want to use a bow drill to start a fire.  The method I use is simple and easy to use.   I bring a lighter, magnesium rod, and some cotton balls that have been treated with Petroleum Jelly.

Cotton dipped in petroleum will ignite in the harshest environments.  The petroleum acts as an accelerant allowing it to burn for an extended period of time.  I carry the treated cotton in a zip lock bag.  I use the lighter to ignite the cotton.  If I use my magnesium rod I take the cotton and pull it apart to get the finer strains exposed making it easier to light.

Fire Starting Kit
Fire Starting Kit (Lighter, Magnesium, Cotton dipped in petroleum jelly)
Lighting the cotton with a lighter
When using a Magnesium Rod spread out the cotton fibers to make it easier to light.
Lighting the cotton with a Magnesium Rod.


Being prepared is important for a safe and enjoyable backpacking adventure.  I am a practical backpacker who uses the K.I.S.S. Method, (Keep It Super Simple). This method for starting a fire is simple, inexpensive and reliable. You probably already have these items, (cotton, and petroleum jelly), in your house now.   Try it on your next trip.  It may become your go to fire starting kit for your wilderness adventures.

Basecamp Perimeter Alarm System

Basecamp Perimeter Security System


Having a basecamp perimeter alarm system on your wilderness adventures will  give you some piece of mind that unwanted animals or people will not wander into your evening basecamp. I am hearing of more incidents involving animals coming into wilderness backpackers basecamps especially for food. The animals I am talking about are not raccoons, squirrels, or possums, but larger species such as bears, mountain lions and unwanted human visitors.

When I go into the Wilderness for my overnight adventures I always carry a trip wire alarm system. Trip wire alarm systems are not new, but they are portable and easy to set up depending on the terrain you are in. I usually set up a trip wire alarm system in my basecamps but there are times that it is not possible due to terrain.

Remember my acronym before setting up your basecamp, (W.E.S.S.).  Look for the following when determining where to place your basecamp:

  • Water
  • Elevation
  • Safety
  • Security

Using this acronym will help you situate your basecamp in a safe and secure area. Once your basecamp is set up you can add a trip wire alarm system to add more security to your evening basecamp.

A tripwire alarm system in very portable, lightweight, and easy to set up. I have used this system and it has worked to scare off animals that have wandered into my basecamp in the early morning hours. The main point for having this system is to scare off animals or other unwanted people with a high-pitched audible sound. The system consists of the following:

  • An audible alert device, (BASU E-Alarm) there are other manufacturers in the market.
  • A Bungee cord to secure the device to an object such as a tree
  • Fishing line, (I use 100 pound test), to connect your device to an adjoining tree or other object.

I take my device and I bungee cord it to a tree using a clip at the end of the bungee cord. You can use other object such as a rock if a tree is not available. I then connect my fishing line to the device and then run it to an opposing tree/object. I will place the system no higher than 2 feet from the ground, terrain dictating. I usually set up a minimum of three alarms in a triangular formation.

Below is a quick video on how to set up and deploy a trip wire alarm system. You can modify it to meet your specific needs.

The American Backpacker

Wilderness Go Bag (Part 2) The items you need in your Bag


I recently posted a short article and video on having a Wilderness Go-Bag with you on your next Wilderness Adventure.  This is a follow-up post discussing the gear you should have in your Go Bag.  This post discusses the basic items/gear you should have in your Bag.  These are not necessarily the only things because everyone may have different individual needs while exploring a Wilderness Area.

Having a Wilderness Go-Bag will allow you to centralize your gear in one smaller pack that you carry in you back pack.  When you get to your basecamp all you have to do is grab your Go-Bag out of your backpack and you are ready for your daily expeditions with a lighter pack.  A Go-Bag also gives you the necessary gear to sustain you during an emergency if you need to bug out of your basecamp.

The concept of a Go-Bag is not new but it is something you should consider on your next Wilderness Adventure.  A good example of why I think you should have a Go-Bag in the Wilderness may entail the following scenario.  Yo are at your basecamp and some type of natural disaster, (e.g. Flood, Fire, Storm), hits you can grab your Go -Bag and quickly exit the area.  Minutes and seconds may be the difference between life and death.  Once you have cleared the emergency you now have the gear with you to sustain yourself until you get to safety.

A Wilderness Go-Bag also allows you to venture away from your basecamp to conduct your daily expeditions with a lighter pack.  Below are the items I discuss in my video on the basic gear that you need to have in your Wilderness Go-Bag if you decide to use one on your next Wilderness Adventure.

Go-Bag Basic Items

  • Go Bag: Small enough to fit in your Backpack
  • Cell Phone
  • Medical Kit: Antiseptic, iodine, Band Aids, Bacitracin, Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Scissors, Needles, Thread, Fish Hooks
  • GPS and Topo Map:  I use a Garmin inReach Explorer Plus that also is a satellite communicator.
  • Compass:  I use a Suunto MC-2G.
  • Whistle:  Various ones on the market.  Make sure that it works when wet.
  • Water Filtration System: I prefer a hand pump, (MSR Trailshot, Life Straw, Katadyn, etc.)
  • Headlamp or Flashlight: I use a Petzl headlamp.
  • Solar Panel with a Battery Pack: I use the battery pack to charge my electronic gear).
  • Recharging cables for electronics
  • Insect lotion, Sunscreen, lip Balm
  • Fire Starting Gear:  Lighter, Magnesium Rod, Cotton Balls dipped in Vaseline.
  • Cordage:  550 para cord
  • Knife:  I use an Esee 6 fixed blade straight edge knife.  I am looking trying the the Esee 4.
  • Military Poncho
  • Snacks


The American Backpacker

Using Electrolyte Supplements In The Wilderness


Going into a Wilderness Area can take a toll on your body if you are not prepared both mentally and physically. Making sure you stay hydrated is very important but water alone cannot replenish those lost salts and minerals your body loses when you sweat and exert yourself on the trail. You need to replenish those lost salts and minerals with electrolyte packets.

Electrolytes are electrically charged substances that replenish the body’s water and electrolyte concentrations after dehydration. Electrolytes help maintain proper nerve and muscle functions. When you have an Electrolyte imbalance your muscles and nerve functions will be affected.

As a Wilderness Backpacker, I have experienced symptoms of Electrolyte imbalance. Those symptoms were leg cramping and fatigue after a long day of bushwhacking.  After some research, I began using electrolyte replenishment packets in my water.  I used these packets during periods of heavy exertion.  I found that I was less tired in the evenings and my leg cramps stopped.

Being tired is not necessarily a symptom of lost salts and minerals but using electrolyte replenishers did reduce a lot of my fatigue in the evenings.  Replenishing your electrolytes in cooler climates is just as important as using them when it is very hot. In cooler climates your muscles still need hydration with the right balance of salts and minerals.

Water alone will not be enough to keep your body balanced.  Electrolyte packets help supplement the water you drink.  I have found that utilizing these packets not only during my adventure but before you start helps tremendously.

Since I have been using electrolytes I find myself more relaxed at my basecamp in the evening.  Remember to take these electrolyte packets on your next adventure. There are many brands on the market.  They are lightweight to carry and they come in a variety of flavors, which is an added benefit.

Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon)

Keeping Your Water Cool At Your Basecamp


Keeping your water cool at your basecamp is a very easy thing to do if you are near a stream or river. After you have collected your water from your source, tie some 550 cord to the container.

Tie off the other end of the 550 cord to something secure and let the container float in the water source you retrieved it from. This will keep the temperature of your water to be the same temperature as the water source.

This works great in the mountains where the creeks, streams, rivers and lakes are usually cold year round. Bringing water reservoirs back to your basecamp to early in the day will allow your water to warm up by the evening.

Keeping Your Water Cool At Your Basecamp
Wind River Range (Tetons)

Where to Place Your Basecamp


A basecamp is a temporary/centralized location that allows you to set up a shelter system in a Wilderness area.  A basecamp allows you to centralize your gear and equipment so you can conduct daily backpacking trips.  Improper placement of your basecamp can lead to injury or death.

Having your basecamp in the right location allows you to enjoy what a Wilderness has to offer. In real estate there is a saying, “location, location, location,” This is true when selecting your basecamp. I find that pre-planning plays a key role when it comes to finding the right area for your basecamp.  Prior to me starting my adventure I use a good topographical map to scan the area I plan on exploring.  Doing this to gives me the necessary information to make an educated decision on where to place my basecamp.

Unfortunately, you may have a topo maps that is outdated or incorrect. There may have been some environmental conditions, (Storm, Fire, Wind damage), prior to your trip, which may have changed the terrain you plan on backpacking.  It is a good idea to get with a local Ranger Station to ask if the area you plan on visiting has changed due to some type of environmental impact.

Once I have done my pre-planning and I am the Wilderness I have devised an acronym that I use when deciding on where to place my basecamp. That acronym is W.E.S.S

W.   Water
E.    Elevation
S.    Security
S.    Safety


Full view of mountain landscape

Wind River Range (Wyoming)

When looking for a good basecamp location first look for a water source that is close by. Having to walk a long distance may not be in your best interest and it could be dangerous especially if you need water in the evening and you are in a mountainous area.  Make sure that you don’t place your basecamp too close to a water source either.

Having a basecamp close to a water source can have its inherent dangers.  Rising waters from rain can flood out your basecamp.  Having it to close may also allow wildlife that drink from this water source to enter your basecamp.


Elevated camp site

Superstition Mountains (Arizona)

Look for high ground when setting up a basecamp. Having your basecamp in a low point exposes you to cooler temperatures and other dangers such as flooding, landslides, etc. Being on the high ground allows you a better observation point to see what is coming into your camp, (i.e. animals or people). Terrain will dictate and you may have no choice but to put your basecamp in a lower elevation.


Campfire at basecamp

Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon)

Place your basecamp in an area where you have a tactical advantage.  Make sure that you have exit points in case you have to leave in a hurry. If you are with a group of people have a rally point outside your basecamp so that you can all meet when the emergency is over.


Basecamp along the Illinois river in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness

Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon)

Make sure that your basecamp is in a location where falling trees, rocks, or other environmental conditions won’t injure you. Placing your shelter next to a tree that is rotten or about to fall is not a good idea.  There have been incidents where trees have fallen on tents injuring and killing backpackers.

If you use the acronym W.E.S.S. you should have a safe and enjoyable basecamp on your next wilderness adventure.

Esee 6 Knife

Using A Rope To Carry Your Knife


One of the most important piece of equipment you need to have in a Wilderness Area is your knife. There are 2 types of knifes you can carry into a Wilderness area. There are fixed blade knives and folding knives. Each have their uses and it is a personal choice on which one to carry.

I prefer carrying a fixed blade knife in a Wilderness area. A fixed blade knife is stronger than a folding knife it can be used for a variety of tasks such as chopping, batoning, and cutting.  A fixed blade knife is stronger and more versatile than a folding knife. The knife I carry is an Esee 6, https://eseeknives.com.

When I carry my Esee 6 into a wilderness area I like to sling it around my waist with a rope. I like using a 3/8” inch thick rope used on boats. You can purchase them at your local hardware store or online.  I cut the rope long enough so that I can cross sling it around me or wear it as a belt around my waist.

Using a rope to carry your knife gives it the mobility to move with you freely. You can adjust it accordingly to accommodate and adapt to the situation or task you are performing. Having a rope also allows you to take off your knife quickly if you need to do so. Below is a video I did on one of my Wilderness adventures.  I discuss and show you how I carry my knife.

Carrying a Knife using a Rope

Updated Video Below discussing carrying a Knife while wearing a Backpack. 

Wilderness Backpacking Tips

Wilderness Backpacking Tips


Remote and rugged Wilderness Backpacking is an extremely rewarding activity. It’s challenging and pushes you to accomplish things that you may not have thought were possible. You can take the skills you learn in the wilderness — patience, endurance, resourcefulness — and apply them to all other areas of your life. However, you must be prepared for the worst. As The American Backpacker, I’m here to share my experiences and wilderness skills I’ve learned during my time as a wilderness backpacker.


When you’re considering your backpacking essentials, think about what type of environment you’re going to be in and how your body might respond to it. For example, if live at a low altitude and start climbing mountains, you may get altitude sickness. Other dangers may include:

  • Difficult Weather or Terrain
  • Water Crossings
  • Dangerous Animals
  • Diseases from Insects
  • Heat Exhaustion
  • Dehydration
  • Contaminated Water

To make the most of your journey without getting injured or sick, turn to my articles, archives, and backpacking product reviews. I’ll make sure you’re prepared for whatever comes your way.


Backpacking involves going out into nature, from at least one night up to several months, and carrying everything you’ll need on your back. This can include the following:

  • Food and Water
  • Bedding (Sleeping Bags, Air Mats/Pads)
  • Shelter   (Tents, Tarps, Bivy’s, Hammocks)
  • Clothes
  • Cooking Gear
  • Emergency Medical Supplies

A skilled backpacker packs with the environment in mind. Proper planning before your trip is essential not only for your comfort but safety.  Rushing into a wilderness area without doing you research can be a dangerous endeavor.

The Tautline Hitch

The Taut line Hitch Rope Knot


The Taut-line Hitch is a wilderness rope knot that has various applications at your basecamp.  The Taut-line Hitch is an adjustable tensioning knot that can be used when you are securing your tent guy lines.  Many tents have tensioning adjusters that are cheap and break during your adventure.  Using a Taut-line Hitch will quickly solve this problem.

Some wilderness backpackers remove all of the guy line tensioning systems on their tents and use this knot exclusively.  If you are using a tarp system then this knot works very well on parachute/550 cord.    The Taut-line Hitch uses tension to secure itself.  If the knot becomes loose you can adjust it easily.

The Taut-line Hitch can also be used an anchoring knot when hanging or securing objects in your basecamp.  Climbers and Arborist also use this knot for various applications.

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Superstition Mountains (Arizona)

Having A Whistle For Emergencies


Make sure you have a whistle on your next Wilderness Adventure.  A whistle is a very lightweight piece of gear that can be worn on your backpack or clothing.  Newer model whistles are also very durable and waterproof.  A whistle can provide you protection by scaring off wildlife.  Many types of wildlife find the high pitch sound unpleasant.  A whistle In an emergency situation  can alert others to your location.

Using your voice to yell for help has its limitations especially if you are injured and find it difficult to speak.  When you are in a dense wilderness forest your voice may not effectively penetrate through the trees .  A Whistle has a high pitch sound capable of cutting through dense forests and vegetation.

If you are in a valley or on top of a mountain a whistle will reach the ears of others much quicker and easier than your voice.  The important thing about having a whistle is to make sure it is readily accessible when needed.  Having it in your backpack or pocket in an emergency will make it difficult to deploy.  That difficulty can be the difference between life or death.

I carry my whistle on a lanyard that I wear on the shoulder straps of my backpack.  When I drop my backpack that same lanyard allows me to attach it to my outer clothing.  Many of the newer model whistles cost less than 10 dollars and you can purchase them online