What Every Outdoor Pro Should Know About High-Altitude Camping

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Eric Nelson, high-altitude camping pro and store supervisor

Eric Nelson, high-altitude camping pro and store supervisor

When it comes to all things camping, Sport Chalet Supervisor Eric Nelson knows what the pros are looking for. Not only is Nelson a store supervisor at the Sport Chalet in West Jordan, Utah, but he is also an experienced high-altitude camper/backpacker and Boy Scout leader.

What the Pros Are Looking For

Lightweight, durable and multi-purpose are three terms used to describe the items pros are looking for when they are hiking into high-altitude locations. Materials like titanium and aluminum alloy are very popular among backpackers. Compress bags are also a popular seller among campers. Being able to carry everything you need in a backpack, to survive 2-3 days or even a week can be a daunting task. The entire backpacking industry has made it easy by providing all the right tools for the job. Making every inch of a backpack work means anything compact is welcomed. Nelson says you don’t want to be carrying a lot on your back and a good rule to follow is: carry no more than 1/3 of your body weight.

Where Do the Pros Go?

The high Uintas and Wind River areas are really popular. The top of Mount Timpanogas, which he’s done a few times, is another favorite of high-altitude camping pros. Lake Mary and Kings Peak are great options. If you’re looking for a little history, Nelson says East Canyon has the Mormon battalion trails. When he takes scouts hiking for some of their requirements he’ll usually go up there, but if he’s taking scouts on a week-long backpacking trip he goes to the high Uintah’s or the Wind River areas. The Wind River areas are in Wyoming and about 200-250 miles from Salt Lake City. When they go on these expeditions they are usually hiking to 10,000 or 11,000 feet in elevation.

Packing Like a Pro

Knowing how long a camping trip will last will determine what needs to be packed, but for the most part a backpacker is taking a compact stove, a lightweight tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, a water filtration system, clothes that are good for layering, a first-aid kit, water, dehydrated food and some form of utensil. Biodegradable toilet paper is also available and can be a great product to add. A lot of backpacks now have a hydration system built-in, but you can also purchase a Camelbak bladder and put it in almost any backpack.

Multi-Function Items are a Pro’s Secret

Items like a fleece sleeping bag can also be used as a towel because it wicks water away from the body, Nelson says. Fleece is warm and lightweight making it great for high-altitude nighttime temperatures that can get down to the 40s or 50s. The pros are always looking for items that can be used in more ways than one. Nelson says garbage bags are another great multi-use item. You can use them to put your garbage in, tie items up in a tree at night, and you can even cut a hole in the top and use it as a poncho if the weather gets wet.

Water Filtration Systems

The West Jordan store can hardly keep the popular water filtration system, LifeStraw, on the shelves. Any water filtration system is on the top of a pros camping checklist. With LifeStraw you can put the straw directly into a lake or stream and drink the water. There are also water bottles you can fill up that have a filtration system in them and you can drink directly from the water bottle. These water filtration systems can clean anywhere from 30-40 gallons to 264 gallons of water. SteriPEN is another popular product. It uses UV light to sterilize water. Nelson says you just fill up your container and place the SteriPEN into the water to agitate it. All the germs and bacteria float up around the light where they’re destroyed in about 90 seconds. Water filtration systems prevent backpackers from having to add weight by carrying up a lot of water.

Animal Safety

High altitude backpackers and campers in Utah are very aware of moose and bears. Nelson says he’s yet to encounter a bear on his many travels in Utah, but he used to do a lot of hiking, fishing and camping in Alaska where he saw them all the time. He says the pros are always practicing prevention. Keeping your camp sanitary and keeping food away from people at night is key. He also says the pros make sure latrines are a good distance from camp and everything gets buried. That way if any animal catches the scent, they aren’t coming into camp to figure out what it is. Keeping garbage in a bag and high up is also a great way the pros avoid animal encounters.

High-Altitude Food

High-altitude campers are using a lot of dehydrated food. This is where a good cookware item will come in handy. You’re heating up one to one and half cups of water per food bag. The water then goes directly into the meal bag and you reseal it and let it reconstitute about 15-20 minutes. If you’re cooking rice, let the water sit closer to 20-25 minutes. Once the meal reconstitutes you eat it right out of the bag. This eliminates packing serving ware. All you need is a spork or titanium utensil. Titanium is more durable than plastic, but is still lightweight. One bag equals two servings. One bag can feed one person twice or two people once. Nelson recommends saving the bag for later use. Just clean it out and you have a great container for packing other items the next time.

Leave Your Camp Clean

Every camping pro knows that when it comes to nature you must leave it better than you found it. If you have disturbed any wildlife or vegetation make sure you fix it before you leave camp. Fluff up the vegetation if it’s been flattened out after you pack up your tent, make sure your latrine has been properly buried and take all your trash out with you.

Do you have tips for high altitudes? Please share in a comment.

A variety of sleeping bags at Sport Chalet

A variety of sleeping bags at Sport Chalet

Sport Chalet

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