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Bring These Comforts on Your Next Backcountry Trip

Pack smart for your next backcountry volunteer trip with WTA.

Backcountry Response Teams (BCRTs) are WTA's most challenging volunteer trips. In addition to tools, volunteers carry everything they need to be safe, warm and well-fed for multiple days. But if you're willing to heft a few extra pounds, you can still enjoy some creature comforts at the end of a long day of trail work.

Not every backcountry trip has an old Forest Service cabin to cook in, but you can bring your own gear to make your trip more luxurious. Photo from WTA archives. 

Seasoned volunteer crew leader Al Mashburn created a list of gear that make his BCRTs comfortable. And he should know; he's got hundreds of volunteer days and dozens of BCRTs under his boots. Check out his recs for maximizing your 10 Essentials and some of the extras he says you might want to bring along. Plus, a lot of these recommendations won't break the bank!

Tent: Roomy but not too big

Camping at Baker Lake Karen Story
Your campsite is your home base for your BCRT. Make sure it's cozy! Photo by Karen Story. 

This is going to be your combination home and mudroom for 4 to 6 or more days, so you want one that's big enough for you and your gear. A largeish one-person or two-person tent will give you room to spread out and live a little even if it’s raining, and also give you somewhere to put the wet stuff away from your sleeping bag.

But consider: If it's going to be cold, you might want a one-person or small four-season tent. It's hard to warm up a tent larger than that if you're solo.

Food: Bring on the (healthy) fats

On BCRTs you're not just hiking, you're working. Depending on the project, you could need 3,000 to 4,000 calories a day to replace what you burn. High calories in small doses are a must (think olive oil and peanut M&Ms).

Volunteer with trail mix by Anna Roth
Packing lots of extra food to fuel your work day is important. Check out that bag of trail mix! Photo by Anna Roth. 

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on fancy bars. Most grocery stores have flavored mashed potato packs that pack 400+ calories each, and tuna in oil gets you nearly 100 calories per package. Add in a little butter (Fred Meyer has individually packaged ghee packets!) or olive oil, and you have a pretty good dinner for under $3.00. Dry salami and hard cheeses are also great alone, or as supplements to your meals.

You'll also want at least two snacks a day. This can be an energy bar, a handful of granola, or your favorite chocolate bar.

Remember: Bring enough food for all the days you'll be out, plus 1.5 meals more.

Clothes: Change 'em

At a bare minimum, you should have clothes to work in and clothes to wear in camp. 

If you spend all day digging in the dirt, you'll probably want something to change into at the end of the day. Photo by Greg Friend.

Staying warm is a must. You get chilled quickly going from working all day to sitting in camp. Bring a coat that's a little warmer than you think you might need.

Down is nice, but puffy jackets work well, and will still keep you warm if they get wet. If you can take the added weight, layering fleeces works, too. If your jacket lacks a hood, be sure to bring a hat.

Socks are important. If you can, bring one pair for every day. If not, reserve one pair of wool socks only for sleeping in. Your feet will thank you.

Go big and bring a pair of after-work shoes. Crocs are the shoe of choice for WTA volunteers; they're light, but that back strap makes them easy to walk around in, and they're cushiony for your feet at the end of the day.

Sleeping pad: Bigger is better

Most people just bring one, but Al brings two. "I can’t tell you what you need, but having a closed foam pad and an inflatable mattress is sure comfortable after you have worked all day."

Cookware: Get the good gear

Cooking food that only requires hot water saves on weight and cook time. But if you want to actually cook,  get a small non-stick pot of some sort designed for backpacking (this will likely be fairly pricey).

Al says, "I like titanium because I clean it by filling the pot with water, sand and rocks, shake hard, and rinse out. All clean, and ready for the next meal."

Bonus Comforts

Paul Raymaker Tent
Carrying luxuries like a tent light can make your camping experience even better. Photo by Paul Raymaker.

Tarp: Increase your dryness quotient

It sure is nice to have a little room to put on your boots in the morning, and also be able to open the rain fly without having rain fall right into the tent. Also, if you are wet after a day of work, you can get out of those wet duds before getting into the tent.

The downside is weight and bulk, so let the weather forecast be your guide.

Chair: A lumbar luxury

If you can carry it, a chair is a fantastic replacement for the ground, a log, or your bear canister. Let me tell you, at the end of a day's work, that camp chair is your best friend. A lighter option, or supplement to the chair is a closed foam sit pad for lunch or taking a break. Really anything to give you a little insulation between you and the ground.

Wipes: So fresh and so clean

Camp wipes, baby wipes, wet wipes -- whatever you know them as, it’s great to wipe off dirt and sweat every night. It also keeps your clothes cleaner, as well as your pillow.

These don't biodegrade, so you'll need to pack them out.

A pillow

Look for a camp-specific pillow, or a microfiber case that you can stuff your extra clothes in to make something soft to lay your head.