Camp Routine for Backpackers – SectionHiker.com

One of the most important skills that you’ll want to develop for backpacking is a consistent camp routine so you don’t misplace important gear and you have plenty of time to get cleaned up at the end of the day, eat, and get a good night’s sleep. When the only belongings you have are the ones that you carry in your pack, it helps to develop a set camp routine that helps you stay organized, accomplish the daily maintenance tasks you need to get done, and gets you out of camp promptly the next day.

To give you a practical example: I  carry a very small swiss army knife which is attached to a mini-biner on my backpack. Whenever I take it off the biner and use it, I immediately put it back on the ‘biner when I’m done. If I don’t and stick it in my pocket, there’s a good chance that I’ll misplace or lose it. It’s happened.

Now you’re probably thinking that I’m an obsessive-compulsive nutter, but trust me, staying organized and keeping track of your gear is very important when you are hiking lightweight and solo because you have a lot less functional redundancy than you’re probably used to. I have some redundancy in my clothing system (a rain jacket and pants, clean long underwear tops and bottoms for sleeping clothes), water purification (water filter and some backup chlorine dioxide tablet), water storage (a reservoir and two one lite bottles), but that’s it. I carry as little extra gear as possible.

Nighttime Camp Routine

Here’s my 3-season camp setup routine, in order:

  1. Hang bear bag
  2. Get water. Filter what I need for camp and collect a reservoir-full that I’ll filter in the morning
  3. Set up my shelter
  4. Inflate sleeping pad/loft sleeping bag
  5. Pull out night gear. Pack the rest in a waterproof liner and pack
  6. Retrieve bear bag
  7. Cook dinner
  8. Wash up, myself mostly
  9. Eat
  10. Clean the pot and utensils
  11. Pack up my bear bag, cooking gear, and smellables
  12. Hang bear bag
  13. Arrange night-time gear
  14. Plan next day’s route for the 40th time
  15. Fall asleep at sundown or earlier

Ok, so the first thing I do after site selection is to hang my bear bag because doing it in the dark is a real pain in the butt. After that, I get all of the water I need for cooking dinner, breakfast the next morning and for the first half of the next day. This lets me break camp quickly in the morning without a lot of fuss. Sometimes getting water means hiking to a stream or spring that’s out of sight of my camp, so having my bear bag suspended frees me from having to worry that it will be stolen or looted by the local wildlife.

Next, I set up my tent or a hammock shelter system.

If I’m sleeping in a tent or under a tarp, I pull out my sleeping pad and inflate it and/or lay it out where I’ll be sleeping, and then pull my sleeping bag out of its waterproof sack and lay it on top of the pad to loft up. If I’m in a hammock, I’ll hang my underquilt and stuff my top quilt into the hammock to let it loft.

Next, I dump everything else out of my pack, figure out what I need for the rest of the evening, and put the rest back into my waterproof pack liner inside the backpack. If I have room in my shelter, I’ll keep the extra stuff in my pack next to me at night. If I’m in a hammock, I’ll secure it to a tree nearby or lay it underneath me. All the stuff I think I’ll need, like my map, my sleeping clothes, and a hat or balaclava gets stuffed into my shelter until I’m ready for it.

Once my shelter and sleep system are set up, I start dinner. I’ll go get my bear bag but leave the suspension system intact so I don’t have to re-hang it from scratch in the dark.

I’ll start my stove, boil some water, and pour it into an instant dinner if I have one or let a soupy meal I’ve concocted simmer until it’s ready. While this is happening, I’ll usually wash my face and neck to get clean, but I never leave my stove unattended to do this. When dinner is ready, I’ll eat, wash my cook pot and spoons and then pack my cook pot, utensils, smelly garbage, pot cozy, and remaining food into my bear bag and hang it again for the night.

When I get back to my shelter, I arrange my gear in the same configuration each night. When I’m in a tent, I’ll put my shoes near the front door and my glasses in the protective case that I store my personal items in like my wallet, kets, etc. If I’m sleeping in a hammock, I’ll stuff my shoes into my backpack and lay it underneath me where I can reach it easily. I store my personal effects and headlamp in my hammock with me.

After that, it’s quiet time. I write or record a journal entry, read my map and try to visualize the next day, and then quickly fall asleep. I never have any problems falling asleep outside.

If I wake up in the middle of the night, I know exactly where to find the gear I need
If I wake up in the middle of the night, I know exactly where to find the gear I need because it’s organized the same way every time.

Morning Camp Routine

I also have a routine for breaking camp that looks like this and is biased toward a fast departure the next morning.

  1. Get dressed for the day: clothes and boots.
  2. Visit privy or take care of business elsewhere.
  3. Takedown my bear bag. Pull out snacks for the day and stow them in my outer backpack pockets.
  4. Cook breakfast if I want a hot one, or eat it cold.
  5. Wash out my cook pot.
  6. Pack sleeping bag and pad into the backpack.
  7. Pack sleeping clothes.
  8. Pack food bag.
  9. Pack water.
  10. Pack shelter.
  11.  Pack external pockets (toiletries, rain gear, cooking pot).
  12. A quick check of the site and then leave.

By now, my camp routine is firmly established in my mind and I run through it automatically. But there was a time when I was getting back into backpacking when I used to write my routine on a piece of paper, so I could remember the order in which I wanted to do things. It might not seem like setting up camp is a complicated process, but when you break down these steps into sub-tasks, it adds up to a lot of activities.

If you don’t have a well-established camp routine yet, try writing up all of the things you need to do after site selection and before falling asleep. Ultimately, codifying your routine will keep you safer, help you identify holes in your gear list, and maximize the amount of downtime you have to enjoy in camp before dark.

About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its backpacking gear reviews and hiking FAQs. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the 36th person to hike all 650 of the hiking trails in the White Mountain Guide, a distance of approximately 2500 miles, completing a second round in 2021. Philip is the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. He lives in New Hampshire.

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