Dry Camping

Dry Camping on the Twinway
Dry Camping in the White Mountains with Papa Smurf

When selecting a place to camp at night, most backpackers like to choose a location close to water. At 2 pounds per liter, water is often the heaviest thing in your backpack and you don’t want to have to carry it very far if you can avoid it. Especially at night, when you need water for dinner, for washing up, for breakfast the next day, and to carry with you after you break camp the next morning. It’s not unusual for me to need 5 liters of water for these purposes.

But dry camping, that is camping away from water, provides a nice change of pace from time to time. Sometimes you have no choice and you need to carry extra water with you, say walking along a dry ridge between water sources. But other times, you might consciously decide to carry 5 liters of water (10 pounds), so you can camp at a campsite far from running water and closer to your next day’s objective.

There are some advantages to dry camping, beside the opportunity to spend the night on top of a mountain or on a ledge with only the stars above. For one, it tends to be a lot more private than camping near water, because so few people do it. In addition to more peace and quiet, it can also be a good way to remain invisible…which solo female backpackers often desire to avoid being harassed.

In addition to avoiding people, dry camping also lets you avoid all of the animals, both big and small, that frequent water sources at night and are likely to pass through your camp at night. That alone might justify doing it more frequently, if only because it puts you and your food bag farther away from the game trails that they frequent at night.

How often do you dry camp? Leave a comment.

11 comments

  1. I’ve done it so I can camp somewhere with a view. I’ve also stopped to cooked dinner early and cleaned up at/near the water source so I don’t have to carry as much water for camp. I also look at my map to see where the first water source beyond where I plan to camp for the next day so I don’t have to haul as much camp water, just enough for drinking in camp and to start the next day.

  2. I did this on isolation and it was a great decision. The problem with the plan was in a Washington to Isolation traverse is after the summit building there was no water at all. I made do with 4L of water but coming off the summit cone with the extra weight was a bit annoying considering the boulder-field.

  3. I do it most of the time. Truth to be told, my area is quite drier than New England, both the low mountain and the Pyrenees so camping by a water source could mean having to stretch or shorten your day for a couple of hours or more. Besides, many times I do a “big” breakfast once I have started walking, I’ll awake with a couple handfuls of nuts and dry fruit so I’ll wait until the first water source to sit down and eat.

  4. I almost always dry camp. Less bugs and condensation problems up on the ridges. I have found that 3 Liters is enough for me to have dinner, coffee in the morning, and a liter left to make it to my next water supply.

  5. I do much of my backpacking in the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park. Boot Spring is the only spring in the high Chisos and it’s very unreliable, although there is usually some stagnant water in pools in Boot Canyon. I’ll bring enough water to get up over Pinnacles Pass to Boot Canyon and then fill again there. From that point on, I’ll be dry camping out on South Rim where the views are incredible. In Big Bend, I end up hauling a bunch of water.

    When hiking in the Ouachitas and Ozarks Arkansas, there’s water available in just about every creek so I don’t have to carry much. Also, when hiking with my brother in Montana, there are often water sources nearby, although at the top of the passes where we sometimes camp, we’ll be dry.

    After a dehydration misadventure in the Grand Canyon a few years ago, I opt to have on hand more water than I think I’ll need, which sometimes turns out to be not enough.

  6. Ridge camping is standard practice for me too: cook and clean up near water – sometimes at a shelter with seats and shelves – then off to find a nice overlook for the night. And for all the reasons cited above.

  7. I usually stay away from camping near water sources, unless I am on a fishing trip. Generally streams and lakes sit at a lower elevation where the cold “sinks” to at night as well as being more “buggy” than a Ridge area with a steady wind. . Sleeping higher up on a ridge can be as much as 20 degrees warmer. Also putting yourself between Animals and their water source can be a bit risky especailly in Bear Country.And when Desert Hiking, camping near a water source is a sure way to get visits from nocturnal creatures. And then there is “stealth” Camping. Just a side note regarding Campfires. Seems that NOAA or some other Agency now has a Satelite in the air that can and does pickup Campfire and Heat signatures as small as 10 inche across.. So if your in an Area where Campfires are banned, there is a could chance you could be caught. It is supposed to be used for Fire Suppression but I have no doubts it is being used for other reasons as well..

    • eddie s: couldn’t tell from your comments whether you approve or disapprove the idea of satellite detection of illegal campfires… Put me down as definitely in favor – I would consider it to be Fire Suppression of a most effective and ethical nature.

  8. Two comments:
    I have been backpacking in the Grand Canyon for more than 20 years, and in the Canyon, water is central to survival. Every trip is planned around water sources. That said, many long loops require dry camps. We plan for it, carry at least an extra 4-5 liters of water per person, and use our water extremely carefully. Hydration in the Canyon is paramount, so it’s not appropriate nor intelligent to skimp on water to save weight. Better to buy lighter gear. Many “normal” backpacks in the Canyon require carrying at least 3 liters just for the day’s hike. So a dry camp usually means carrying around 2 gallons or so! No biggie if you plan for it, but not desirable if not necessary. In Colo high country and other areas with lots of streams, of course, dry camping is not an issue. So it depends on when, where, and who is going, and are they able to handle the rigors of the trip if a dry camp is included?

    Second comment: I live in the Southwest, where we are having a serious drought – everything is dry – so fires are simply not appropriate in any form unless you are car-camping at a site with a stone fire pit, etc. We have so many forest fires from idiots who simply have big egos and don’t know the dangers… sorry… I lost my home to such a fire, so I’m passionate about promoting stoves for all backpacking trips. Stoves don’t scar the land. Stoves are easy to use and actually better for cooking. And, well, I have to admit, I love a good campfire! But I won’t admit it for backpacking – the forest is just too precious and beautiful. Unfortunately, there are too many inexperienced people for every knowledgeable and responsible fire user, and we end up with lots of scarred, black, and empty land because of it. So I respectfully request that we all promote fires only at designated sites and leave the backcountry pristine.

    Thanks for listening.

    Rick

  9. I confess that I am puzzled about how the satellite can distinguish between a 6″ stove heat signature (6″ pot above ethanol, esbit, or canister stove) and a 10″ fire, except by duration of heat signal, assuming that they are scanning exclusively by infrared and not by combined infrared + light.

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