Tag Archives: camping

Under the Stars

by Jack Taylor

A guide to camping around the Bozone.

A camping or backpacking trip is one of the easiest, and quite possibly the best, ways to immerse yourself in the outdoors. Spending a night (or multiple nights) in the woods will calm your nerves, humble your mind, and invigorate your soul. When a trip is well executed, you’ll be rewarded with a sense of achievement and satisfaction. If things go awry, you’ll build resilience, learn from your mistakes, and certainly get a good story out of it. Most trips are a mixed bag of solid accomplishment and unplanned adventure. Here are some tips to help with logistics, so that you’ll have greater capacity for exploration. After all, you’d rather come home with a boastful tale about getting lost in the dark and navigating by starlight, than a dejected account of bringing the wrong type of stove gas and eating all your meals cold-soaked.

Where to Go
Our favorite place to go camping is… wait, did you really think we were going to tell you? Part of the fun in planning a trip is figuring out where to go! There’s nothing so satisfying as the process of discovery. That said, here are some general guidelines as you’re poring over the maps.

U.S. Forest Service land is perhaps the most popular option for overnight outings around here. From established campgrounds equipped with amenities, to vast swaths of unmarred wilderness, you’ll find the full gamut of camping and backpacking opportunities. Most of our nearby mountain ranges are almost entirely designated as National Forest (read: public) land.

State Parks and Fishing Access Sites (FASs) offer state-managed campgrounds, usually adjacent to water bodies or historical sites. Using these lands requires the purchase of an $8 annual Montana Conservation License, which can easily be obtained at fwp.mt.gov. The fee goes directly toward maintaining the sites.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land is more sparse around Bozeman, but it offers camping opportunities near some popular recreation sites. The campsites are generally primitive, with no amenities—save perhaps a fire ring. So plan ahead, and have a means of disposing your waste.

On that note, regardless of where you go, practice leaving no trace. Look up the “Leave-No-Trace Principles,” or just follow this rule: leave it better than you found it. That means no trash, a clean firepit, and in general just an attractive campsite for the next person who comes along.

Group Size
The ideal number of people for a camping or backpacking trip will depend on your objective. But whether it’s a solo peak-bagging mission or a river trip with a crowd of two dozen, group size is an important consideration in planning.

When solo, you can make all the decisions yourself with no external conflict. You’ll be less distracted, and will probably feel more immersed in the environment. But solo outings are riskier, as you’re self-reliant. Plus, in a group, you can work as a team and socialize. Conflict is almost inevitable, but working through it is a good skill to practice.

In the backcountry, where we go to experience pristine nature, groups of more than five people can have a significant impact on other travelers. If you’re in a large party, consider splitting into smaller teams while on the trail. You can reconvene at camp, but be especially mindful of encroaching on others’ space.

Meal-planning is one of the biggest challenges of a camping trip. Our best advice is to learn from experience. If you’re happy eating freeze-dried meals, great. If you’re culinarily inclined, camp-cooking can be an excellent outlet for creativity. Don’t be afraid to bring some perishable items for the start of your trip—especially if you’re camping near a car or boat with a cooler. Unrefrigerated meat should be fine for a day; veggies up to a few days. Canned food is heavy, but increases your options. Dehydrating your own food will save weight, and is less expensive than purchasing freeze-dried meals. Pre-made PB&Js are great for a quick lunch.

There are two ways to cook while camping: on a stove or over a fire. A stove is easier and more reliable (e.g., it works in the rain), so it’s probably your safest bet. The two most popular types run on butane canisters or white gas. Butane stoves are simple and compact, but can struggle in cold temps or at high elevations. White-gas stoves are more complicated, but they’re versatile and reliable once you learn the maintenance procedures.

But there’s a primal satisfaction in cooking over fire—and an art to doing it right. If you choose this route, be sure to abide by fire restrictions. Don’t burn the forest down, and don’t leave a mess of a firepit—especially if there wasn’t one already established.

Grizzlies are a real concern when camping in southwest Montana. Hang your food, and cook at least 200 feet away from where you sleep. Bring nothing but water into your tent—even a tube of toothpaste can tip off a grizzly that there’s something tasty nearby.


Happy Campers

by Ian Roderer

There’s something deeply fulfilling about spending a night out in nature, which few other experiences can equal. It’s an outdoor pastime that is nearly accessible to anyone and beloved by people from all walks of life—how hard can it be? Turns out, there are a few tricks to help ensure that you’ll be itching to get back out there after your next outing.

Where to Go
Public land abounds here in Montana, and with so many options, a place to sleep outdoors is always close at hand. If you’re new to camping, start by checking out developed sites in state parks, national forests, and national parks. Since these sites typically have toilets, picnic tables, and fire pits, all you need to do is find the campground and pitch your tent. Get started finding and reserving sites at recreation.gov. Once you’ve mastered the basics, look into BLM land, or check out a Wilderness area.

Around Bozeman, Hyalite has a variety of developed and undeveloped drive-up sites, along with ample places to hike into for the night. Nearby state parks such as Lewis & Clark Caverns and Missouri Headwaters have developed sites for a small fee. If you’re a parent, do a test run in the back yard where the comforts of home are close by. The kids will love it just as much as they’ll love camping in the woods once you get everything dialed in.

Camping gear runs the gamut, from makeshift and rudimentary, to the fanciest new tech. The bottom line is you don’t need specialized gear to have a great time camping, and it doesn’t have to break the bank. If you decide on backpacking, things can get more complicated, but there are affordable ways to do it. For tips on gear deals, see p. 26.

Start by packing everything and whittling it down as you gain experience. Food is a personal preference. Some people go all-out with a grill and a feast, while others grab a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and call it good. Pack extra snacks to ensure you have adequate calories. For water, pick up a five-gallon jug or two and fill up before you leave home.

Don’t forget the essentials: a headlamp and extra batteries, a hat and gloves for chilly nights, and spare socks.

Safety Issues
Camping is a great way to experience Montana’s renowned wildlife. Just remember, you’re in their space and your actions affect them. Be bear aware, and always follow food-storage rules for the area. Learn how to hang a bear bag and store all food in your car, never in your tent. Some campgrounds even have bear lockers—use them. Enjoy the wildlife, just do it from a safe distance.

Summers here are often dry, and water sources can vanish by the end of the season. Summer also comes with increased fire danger, so stay current on all regional fire restrictions. Shoulder seasons can offer prime camping conditions, but expect fluctuations in weather and temperature.

Be prepared and plan for things to go wrong. More often than not, gear malfunctions, bad weather, full campsites, and a laundry list of other potential challenges await on any camping excursion. Arm yourself with enough knowledge to keep the bad from becoming worse (for more on outdoor education, see p. 22; and for safety tips see p. 24). Work through the difficulties and remember that adversity and adventure are good for the soul. Many of my favorite camping memories involve things going wrong, and these trials make for great campfire stories on future outings.