When I was canoe guiding, there was this subtle narrative that true outdoor-adventurers were rugged and hardcore. They paddled as many kilometers as the daylight would allow, were constantly filthy and never complained. For them, canoe trips were a physical feat and a test of one’s ‘manliness’, rather than a comfortable camping trip enjoying the wonders of nature. Obviously this is a poor mentality to inflict on the children and youth we guided, so the camps were very intentional about discouraging this kind of mindset in its trippers.
That worked well for me – I never quite fit the stereotype of burly and dirty outdoorsmen.
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In fact, a lot of people have told me some of my camping habits make me a bit of ‘backcountry diva’. But I’ve never seen myself as that either – sure, I like to make myself as comfortable as possible, especially if the trip is more than two weeks long – but does that make me a diva?
So today, why don’t you be the judge. Am I a backcountry diva? Or have I just found a way to have a more comfortable (and perhaps more enjoyable) camping experience?
I like to ‘wash’ my feet every night
In the outdoors, I have this nighttime routine. Once dinner is done and the dishes are put away, I head over to the lake / river with my ‘bedtime’ wool socks and a microfiber towel. I take off my sandals (and perhaps my ‘day time’ wool socks if it was cold) and give my feet a good scrub in the water. I don’t use soap or anything – I just like to scrub off the dirt that usually get’s caked in between my toes or around my ankles. Once my feet feel sufficiently clean, I dry them with the towel and put on my ‘bedtime’ wool socks. Now I am ready for bed. My campers used to think this was so silly but then a couple of them started joining me. Soon they realized it’s such a nice way to end the day!
Comfortable Camping Hack: If your feet get cold at night, I recommend having a pair of wool socks dedicated to ‘bedtime’. Since you’ll only wear them at night and in your tent, there’s a low possibility of getting them wet or dirty, so one pair can last for the entire trip. This ensures you have something warm and clean for your feet each night.
I always bring a camping pillow
Since I’m most often canoe tripping, I’m not space / weight constrained like ultralight backpackers are. This means I always bring a pillow. A compressible or inflatable camping pillow is actually quite small and compact, so they don’t take up that much room anyways. I know, I know – I could stuff a dry sack or use my life jacket. But why be kind of comfortable when I could be very comfortable? You don’t survive 2-4 week canoe trips unless you make camping comfortable (in my opinion).
Bugs make me super irritable
I think I have a good reason to detest bugs in the outdoors (remember my bug apocalypse of 2017?). There are very, very few times I’ve ever lost my cool as a trip leader and the majority involved large quantities of bugs. I now bring a bug hat and super aggressive bug cream, which has helped a lot.
I do thorough dish washing
‘Just scrape off the food and throw ‘er in the backpack’ is something I have never and will never say. But gosh, so many people don’t care about doing dishes on trip. Meanwhile I have a whole system. I use two bins and a pot; the pot is to remove all the food and gunk, in the first bin is to wash the dishes with soap and water and the second bin is to rinse. Seems like a lot of work, but it actually goes by pretty quickly. Dish washing isn’t about a need to be clean and tidy – it’s about keeping people healthy. On trip is the last place I want someone to get food poisoning (the opposite to comfortable camping is tummy troubles – trust me), so I ensure everything is as clean as possible.
I don’t like portaging
So many people tell me: How can a canoe tripper dislike portaging?!? That’s half the job! To which my response is: there’s a reason I mostly do river trips and do very few lake trips nowadays. (Canoe tripping on lakes typically has a lot more portaging.) I love settling into a rhythm of paddling. And then to be interrupted by land, forced to put a 50 lbs canoe on my back and navigate uneven terrain? If I wanted to walk, I’d do a hike. That said, I know portaging is part of the journey. So I’m not bothered by it (and in fact, I think I’ve accumulated enough portaging tips & tricks to be pretty good at it) but I still wouldn’t say I like it.
I sleep a minimum of 8 hours per night
You may have noticed I don’t have a lot of starry night photos on this blog (I don’t think I have any actually). That’s because I go to bed super early on trip. I’m usually EXHAUSTED by 10 pm and I am often the guide up at 6:30 am preparing for the day. (Also, bugs come out at night and as we’ve already established, I don’t like them.) That means I like to get into my tent by 10 pm, write in the trip log, journal or read for 30 minutes and then I AM OUT. (That said, ever though I feel good, I always end up looking kind of like I’m dead. See below).
Comfortable Camping Hack: I’ve found that how well you sleep on trip is proportional to how long you can stay out on a single trip. I sleep amazing on camping trips, so doing a four-week trip is easy. When I talk to people who can’t imagine going camping for more than a few days, it’s often because they don’t sleep well. If that’s the case for you, I recommend getting to the root of what keeps you from sleeping well and experimenting with a few solutions until your sleep improves. I have a lot of tips in the blog post How to Sleep Comfortably on a Camping Trip.
I don’t like super long days out on the move
I’ve always found seven hours to be the perfect amount of time to spend on the move: enough time to cover good distance, while still providing enough time to be at the campsite. This typically translates to leaving between 9:30 and 10 am, and arriving at our next campsite by 3:30 or 4 pm. Sure, we could leave at 7 am in the morning, arrive at the campsite by 7 pm and cover twice as much distance, but that wouldn’t be very enjoyable, now would it? Admittedly, some days on my trips hae been super intense and very long, but I usually try to schedule shorter days that give people a chance to relax at the campsite, cook and do dishes while the sun was still out.
I don’t care about speed, distance or ‘firsts’ at all
The outdoor adventurers seeking sponsorship usually distinguish themselves on one of three fronts: 1) they will be the fastest to do a route, 2) they will be doing the longest route, 3) they will be the first to do a route. These are the people who look at a map and say “what’s the hardest I thing I could do?”
And I get it. For some, the physical and mental challenge is the reason they enjoy being out in the wilderness. Also, it’s what sponsors look for. (No one is ever going to sponsor me for guiding the most comfortable canoe trip ever. But hey, if you’re a brand and that interests you, slide into my DMs.)
But honestly, that kind of trip has never crossed my mind. I want to linger in the places I adventure. I want to wake up well rested, pause on the portage to watch a waterfall, cook delicious meals with my group and enjoy great conversation under a setting sky. For me, being out in nature isn’t ever something I want to rush or push myself on. Nature, for me, should be like coming home – a comfortable and content adventure.
So, guys, am I a backcountry diva?
After reading all this, what do you think? Am I a tad over-the-top or do I just strive for a comfortable camping experience? Do you do any of these seemingly diva camping activities?
6 thoughts on “Am I a Backcountry Diva? (Tips for making camping actually comfortable)”
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Love this article. I don’t think you’re a diva at all. It sounds quite lovely. I’d like some of my trips to be a little more like yours 🙂
Thanks Ashley! I’m glad you liked it. I think a camping pillow is the gateway-drug of camping comfort. Once that starts, it’s hard to go back!
You seem like a realist to me iam not in a hurry And like my comfort And good rest every night Want to eat well
You’re NOT a diva. I love how you’re really honest and help us newbies understand how to enjoy the great outdoors. Thanks for your amazing blog.
Thanks so much Sharon! I really appreciate that 🙂 And I love that you’ve been enjoying the blog! If there’s anything else that’d be helpful for me to write about, let me know 🙂
I’m totally tracking with this style of backcountry living!! I felt similarly when guiding backpacking trips in Colorado many years ago, and now doing weekend backpacking trips with my husband and three young kids! It’s the presence in nature and enjoying yourself that is SO GOOD!