Surviving a backpacking and camping trip

Guest post by Hellene Cooper. This lady is from Europe and has an interesting take on hiking and camping.

Check it out!



From trekking the Inca Trail to climbing volcanoes in Ecuador, I have come across a variety of environments where I needed to use my survival skills. Throughout my adventures I have picked up many tips, which I aim to share with you through this guide.

Backpacking can take you off the beaten track so it’s a good idea to be prepared for the worst. Bringing the right equipment, being aware of environmental conditions (such as altitude if you’re mountain trekking) and having knowledge about wild foods are all imperative.


Your equipment is one of the most important aspects of trekking and camping. Temperatures can fluctuate day to night and trails can change from flat ground to mountainous terrain, which can determine the tools you’ll need to accomplish each route.

Here is a list of the basic equipment you’ll need to survive your hike, but I would recommend that you research the area you’re exploring and find out what other people say:

  • Temperatures can drop to below zero degrees at night, particularly if you are camping in the mountains. Thermals are an absolute must, particularly on your head, hands and feet, which lose heat quickly.
  • You will need a good pair of walking boots that keep your feet comfortable and secure. Grips are good for rocky or icy terrain and insoles can help you to maintain body heat – most of your heat escapes through your head and feet.
  • Trekking polls are imperative when hiking steep or rocky terrain; they provide support when you need that extra bit of balance or when your muscles have weakened.
  • Compass, first aid kit, sunglasses, towel, light but durable rucksack, water bottles, torch, head torch, guide book, spare light clothing (synthetic materials are preferred over cotton), batteries and plenty of socks.
  • Cooking equipment that is light and multifunctional – depending on how long your trek is.



In cold temperatures it is important to keep your energy levels high; sugar will give you a quick hit of energy, but fatty food such as nuts, seeds, granola bars and bacon would be better.

You need to ensure your diet is well balanced and full of protein (eggs, lentils, beans and nuts). Try to eat as much fruit and grain as possible, particularly bread and rice.

You need to find food that is easy to carry and cook, is filling and nutritious, and, on some occasions, long life; it all depends how long your expedition will last – the shorter the trek the more fresh and heavier food you can bring.

No matter the weather, bring plenty of water and make sure you know where to top up during your trek, whether using fresh water streams or nearby communities.

Wild food

When in the forests you can come across a lot of food, ideal if your supplies are running low. However, I would advise that you do your homework, especially when it comes to plants and mushrooms, as some are particularly poisonous. ‘How do I tell if a mushroom is safe to eat‘ gives you a detailed guide on the mushrooms you may encounter on your forage, but I would carry a book so you can cross reference their appearance.

When in the woods, keep to the fruits and nuts that you know; make sure they are washed and that nuts are cooked properly when required.

Mountain trekking

Water is vital no matter the time of year or type of expedition. When I trekked the Inca Trail, altitudes reached a massive 4200 metres; drinking plenty of water will allow your body to acclimatise to the lower levels of oxygen in the mountains and give you the best chance of making it through the trek.

Before your trek it’s best to check the forecast to ensure that you pack the right clothes for the weather. If it is forecasted to be snowy or wet make sure you keep yourself warm and dry; in the most severe of cases you could develop hypothermia. In hot weather ensure you keep hydrated and look for signs of heat exhaustion. More information about walking in heat can be found in the desert terrain section below.

It’s best to start your trek as early as possible, in order to cover as much ground as you can in daylight. Pace yourself throughout the day taking regular rest stops for about five to seven minutes each. This will not only give your body and mind the time it needs to recover, it will also prevent the build-up of lactic acid in your muscles.

You may wish to use the ‘rest-step’ technique when combating steep terrain, which involves resting on your rear leg with a locked knee, and taking a deep breath before taking the next step. I used this technique when venturing through the Andes on a 77 day trek to Rio.

On your trek keep a watchful eye on any dangerous animals; never approach or feed them and be careful where you’re placing your feet, especially if snakes are known to the area you’re trekking.

You may also encounter open water that you need to cross; always judge the pace of the current before placing your foot in the water. Take a look at this piece on estimates of water flow to give you a better idea of how you can measure how fast or slow the water is moving.

Desert Terrain Tips

  • Stay hydrated – at least one gallon of water per person a day should be rationed
  • Clothes that use wicking fabrics and a UPF of 30 and above should be worn as a base layer
  • Warm layers and wind breaking layers should be worn during the night
  • Travel at night when possible – you will be able to travel further and faster in the cooler hours
  • Always cover your head with a large hat
  • Let someone know your route, destination and return date
  • Be aware of the animals you could encounter especially nocturnal creatures
  • I would advise taking a first aid course before making the trip
  • Light coloured and loose clothing should be worn; wear layers when the temperature is cool
  • Stay calm throughout your trek; panic is one of the most dangerous parts of a survival situation
  • Stay on dirt roads
  • Constructing shade is a priority for desert survival – keep out of direct sunlight and try not to exert yourself
  • Shade can be provided by shrubs, cactus, the north side of a rock outcropping or ravine
  • Assess dehydration by the color of your urine; the darker it is the more water you need to drink
  • Be extremely cautious of any water you may find in the desert; there is a likely chance it is contaminated
  • The more you eat the thirstier you get, so only eat small amounts to conserve water and keep hunger pains at bay
  • Cover your mouth to reduce the rate of dehydration



When camping, not only do you need to consider the type of tent to take with you, but also where to set up camp; wet areas tend to attract pests like mosquitoes. I would recommend taking a closed tent when you know temperatures will drop dramatically during the night, as they can provide more heat; they tend to be 10 to 15 degrees higher than the outside temperature.

Backpacking stoves tend to be the fashion when it comes to camping; they are more environmentally friendly, quicker, easier and reliable to use. Alternatively you might be interested in this piece that shows you how to start a fire with just a knife and what you have on you.

I hope that this guide has answered any questions you have about surviving a camping or backpacking trip. There is a lot to consider before beginning your adventure, so it’s always best to be well prepared and expect the unexpected – then you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way.

Written by Helene Cooper of Dragoman.



4 comments… add one
  • GoneWithTheWind December 16, 2013, 4:18 pm

    A pretty complete list of good advice for hiking survival. The only thing I would add is to have a good pair of hiking boots/shoes that you have broken in. I also like to carry a second pair of shoes, something light like sneakers or light hiking shoes. The reason is often a very comfortable pair of boots will give you problems if you are in rough terrain such as long downhills or uphill routes and a change of shoes will usually work out better.

  • irishdutchuncle December 17, 2013, 12:02 am

    welcome, Helene.
    Dragoman/Nomad has made for some interesting reading.

    • irishdutchuncle December 18, 2013, 5:57 am

      I keep a bag packed for a “spontaneous weekend getaway”, so this is good guidance. I want to re-pack for a more extended vacation, so your gear/kit choices are something I’ll study in more depth.

  • Babycatcher December 17, 2013, 12:50 am

    Ftr, a torch is a flashlight for us Yanks. Excellent article Hellene, please post more often! I bet you have some interesting stories to tell!


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