Survive and Thrive on a Mountain Campout

Article by Roger Phillips

Photography by Roger Phillips

Originally published in Boise Lifestyle

I won’t lie; I’m not a fan of Treasure Valley summers. It’s too hot for my temperate body and mild-mannered soul. I love the long days of summer, but I make a beeline to the mountains and crank up Mother Nature’s air conditioner—a fresh mountain breeze.

Luckily for me, the mountains are close. Follow the caravan north every Friday, and you will find emerald forests, wildflower-dotted meadows, sparkling lakes and streams and solemn gray peaks.

If you’re a pavement person (and I mean that in a nice way), the mountains charge an admission fee for their beauty and tranquility, and they don’t accept debit cards. You pay by dealing with rough roads, bug bites, campfire smoke in your eyes, critter sounds in the night and unexpected rainstorms that can turn your mountain oasis into a mud bog.

But rest assured, there are cherished memories to be made in the mountains, and after my lifetime of glorious days and inglorious mishaps, let me share some hard-earned wisdom from decades of backcountry camping.

Bring what you need. Start with the basics: food, water and shelter, and add enough creatures of comfort to make the trip relaxing and enjoyable.  

Find your own campsite. Campgrounds are fine, but if you want the true backcountry experience, set up at a wide spot off the road, a flat spot by a lake, a gravel bar by a stream or a pull-off somewhere deep in the woods, away from cell service. Be smart and courteous. Don’t trash the landscape, take out what you bring in and don’t set up next to other campers. A good rule of thumb is staying out of eye and earshot of the next camp if possible.

Don’t expect everything to be perfect. Nature is imperfect, and expecting perfection will set yourself up for disappointment. Instead, see what you can adapt to and overcome. You will quickly figure out what’s really important (and wifi isn’t on the list).

Don’t forget the bug dope. Enough said.

Expect all ranges of temperatures. I’ve experienced 90-degree heat where mountain goats live and snow in every month but August. Camp long enough in Idaho, and you will too. Pack and dress accordingly.

It’s okay to relax. Take time to not do a darn thing. Treat it like an achievement. Sitting and staring is an acceptable form of recreation in the mountains. You don’t have to pack a summer’s worth of activities into one weekend. Unwind, and remember that the literal meaning of recreation is recreating yourself, which involves relaxation.

Enjoy every sunset. If you’ve spent a proper day in the mountains, you will be sleepy and slightly sore by the time the sun dips. Savor the waning light and the deep sleep you will soon enjoy. (Note: If you’re one of those strange people who likes to get out of a warm sleeping bag on a chilly morning to see the sunrise, feel free to enjoy that too. Just don’t wake me up.)

Eat heartily, but don’t get too fancy. Every meal should be a small celebration but without the hassles. A hotdog roasted over an open fire served with a cold beer or a frosty Coke, followed by a s’more for dessert should get a Michelin rating, and grilling a freshly-caught trout over coals is to Idaho camping what ham is to Easter.

Have fun. If you’re not smiling, you’re doing it wrong, but it’s an easy problem to fix. Laugh off whatever is bothering you and carry on. After all, you’re in the mountains and you’re camping. How bad can things possibly be?

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