Ahhh. The Wilderness of Northeastern Ontario. Close your eyes and breathe it in. Feel the pine trees swaying in the wind, the water slowly lapping up against the rocky shore and the warm rays of sunshine beaming down on you. Besides the wind, water, and birds chirping in the forest behind you, it’s silent, peaceful, and everything that you came here for. This is the Northeastern Ontario backcountry.
A picturesque paddle-in backcountry campsite in Northeastern Ontario
Northeastern Ontario is a paradise for backcountry campers seeking to get deeper into the wilderness and explore their connection to nature. With seemingly endless lakes and rivers to paddle, trails to hike, and provincial parks and crown land to camp, Northeastern Ontario provides the perfect backdrop for your first backcountry camping experience.
If you’re ready to take that next step but aren’t sure where to get started, check out these tips below to introduce you to backcountry camping.
Planning Your Trip: Know Before You Go
You’re ready to head out on your first backcountry camping trip. It’s going to be awesome, but to make sure it’s awesome, you’ve got to plan an awesome trip. Planning makes sure that you’re properly prepared for whatever comes your way, you’re safe and that you’re going to have a fantastic time in the beautiful backcountry of Northeastern Ontario. These planning tips will get you started.
With so many options for setting up camp it can get a little overwhelming to plan a trip. That’s why contacting local outfitters, conservation groups with knowledge of the area such as the Friends of Temagami, or reaching out to communities on Facebook for information is a great place to start. People with local knowledge of the area can often point you in the right direction.
Here are some outfitters and organizations that can help you out in some of Northeastern Ontario’s most popular backcountry destinations:
- Temagami Outfitting Co. (Temagami, ON)
- Killarney Outfitters (Killarney, ON)
- Smoothwater Outfitters and Lodge (Temagami, ON)
- Friends of Temagami (Temagami, ON)
Review Guide Books & Maps
Guidebooks are a great place to start planning your routes if you’re looking at completing a multi-day backpacking trip, a canoe trip, or even just looking to find a backcountry site to call home for a night or more. These books often reference specific campsites, give unprecedented knowledge of the area from people who’ve been there and provide some hard-to-beat detailed insight.
Here are some great resources for planning your backcountry adventure in Northeastern Ontario:
- Backroad Map Books
- A Paddler’s Guide to Killarney and the French River by Kevin Callan
- Map of Killarney Unlostify
- Temagami a Wilderness Paradise by Hap Wilson
- Friends of Temagami Adventure Planning Map
- Friends of Temagami Obabika Loop / Maple Mountain Companion Map
- Temagami Area Map Series by ChrisMar
Permits & Planning
Once you’ve done your research, spoken to locals, and mapped out your trip you should have a very good idea of where you’re heading. Now that you do, it’s time to make sure you have all the appropriate permits. Understanding what type of land you’re going to camp on and the proper permits you’re going to need is essential to planning your first backcountry trip. Backcountry spots in Northeastern Ontario are made up of crown land (also known as unceded or public land), provincial parks, and private land. Let’s tackle each one of these:
- All Canadian residents are free to camp on Crown land. The only exception to that rule is that you’re only allowed to stay at one location for a maximum of 21-days before you’re required to move your camp at least 100m in another direction. Non-residents will need to purchase a Crown Land Camping Permit in order to camp on crown land. Some exceptions apply.
- Permits are also required for camping inside provincial parks such as Killarney Provincial Park, Lady Evelyn Smoothwater Provincial Park and Obabika River Provincial Park. You can book your permits through the Ontario Parks booking system.
- Without the permission of the land owner, you cannot trespass on private land. Make sure you’re aware of private land within the vicinity of your trip so that you can be respectful and avoid trespassing.
Most maps that you use will indicate the land-use designation, however, a great place to check if you’re unsure is the Crown Land Atlas. The atlas will show you areas of crown land, provincial parks, national parks, and private land so you can plan accordingly.
Rules & Regulations
Rules and regulations in the backcountry ensure the safety of campers, wildlife, and the ecosystem. Make sure you’re in the know about rules such as the current state of fire bans where you plan to camp, licences required and restrictions for any activities you plan to do while there (for example a fishing or boating licence). It’s also a great idea to brush up on camping etiquette so everyone can enjoy their time in the backcountry.
Alright. You’ve done it. You’ve planned an awesome trip. Now it’s time to pack!
Packing: Here’s What You Need
Now that you have a plan of where to go, you need to decide what to bring. You may need more or less depending on your itinerary, however, many local outfitters will be able to supply you with most of the items on this list.
The time of year that you’re camping is going to largely determine the clothes you bring, but even in the summer, nights in Northeastern Ontario’s backcountry can get cold. It’s a good idea to bring both a top and bottom base layer made from a lightweight, quick-dry material such as merino wool for sleeping. Wool socks are key for the night too. A fleece or wool sweater on top should keep you toasty warm so that you can stay outside if you’re willing to embrace the bugs.
For the days, plan on a moisture-wicking quick-dry pant. Ones that can zip into shorts are convenient. A moisture-wicking quick-dry shirt will be great too. Pack at least one long-sleeve so that if need-be you can get some protection from the sun and the bugs. Wool socks of varying density are great. When it comes to clothing, it’s nice to have a second pair of just about everything (especially footwear), and a third pair of socks (nobody wants to hang out in wet socks).
A sun hat, rain jacket, rain pants, and water-repellent boots/shoots should complete your kit.
Camping Gear & Tools
A foldable saw and hatchet
Since this is an intro to backcountry camping, we’re going to skip over the basic camping necessities like a tent, sleeping pad, tarp, and sleeping bag that are built for the conditions you’re expecting. Instead, we’re going to focus on some of the gear and tools you may not have used in a front country camping setting.
- First on the list is a saw and axe or hatchet. These two tools are essential if you’re planning on making fires to cook your food, or just to enjoy. Make sure you know how to properly use and care for these tools before trying them out in the backcountry. While they’re awesome to have for felling trees and processing wood, they’re also sharp and proper safety is paramount. You should also learn how to safely fell a tree, what to look for when you’re on the hunt for firewood, and the best practices for processing it safely. You also want to know how to minimize your impact on the ecosystem and the campsite.
- A knife is another tool that you should have on your person. A small camp knife can help simplify a myriad of tasks. Just like an axe and saw, it’s a sharp tool and should be treated as such. Make sure you know how to use it safely and can implement best practices such as avoiding the triangle of death (yes, it should scare you. That’s cutting something anywhere between your thighs, groin, and knees) and cutting away from your body.
- Another great tool to have this is a multitool. This handy and easily-packed tool can help with anything from repairs to cooking.
- Some other great items to have with you are paracord and repair kits for your gear.
- Without any lights around, things can get dark in the backcountry. A headlamp is a great hands-free light source that you can use, just remember to bring extra batteries. It’s a good idea to bring an extra light-source such as a crank flashlight so that you’re not solely reliant on batteries. You can also bring a lantern for the tent.
Water Filters & Tabs
A gravity filter
- To err on the side of caution it’s always a good idea to bring a piece of gear that can filter your water of any potential bacteria. You can use items like a gravity filter, LifeStraw, or purification tablets to make sure your water is safe to drink. As a last resort if all else fails, you can bring your water to a rolling boil for at least 5-minutes before drinking to kill off any bacteria. Water is of utmost importance, so it’s a good idea to bring redundancy on water supplies. This means having at least two ways to purify your water.
Safety & Navigation
Being able to properly navigate the Northeastern Ontario backcountry is essential to having a safe and fun time camping. So is bringing the appropriate safety gear. The maps that were mentioned earlier in this article are only as good as your ability to use them. You should learn how to properly use a map and compass to navigate backcountry terrain before you head out. Many companies now create water and tear resistant maps that are a perfect companion for any trip.
A GPS is another great tool to have on you. Many modern GPS devices double as communication devices like the Garmin InReach. They’re great for sending a message from areas without service. Most of these devices are also equipped with an SOS function which alerts local emergency services of your location if you press it.
You should also make sure somebody at home is aware of your trip itinerary and when to expect you back.
Packing bear spray is another great idea to use only when necessary. Remember that the safest way to avoid an unwanted encounter with wildlife is by preventing one. This can be achieved by keeping a clean campsite, creating a bear triangle at camp (creating an equilateral triangle with your tent, cooking area, and food barrel all 50 metres apart so wildlife has no need to go through your tent to get to the food), making sure that your tent is upwind of food or cooking smells, and making noise on trails. Educate yourself on the best practices for wildlife encounters and how to properly use bear spray if you need to. Many outdoor businesses offer courses in how to use the spray if you’re looking for further education or practice.
Last but not least you should have a fully equipped and updated first aid kit. Keep your kit up to date and always replace used items. It’s good practice to do an audit of your kit before you head out on trip and make sure you know how to use the items in it.
Cooking & Food
Cooking over the fire at a backcountry campsite in NorthEastern Ontario
There’s nothing quite like cooking food over an open fire with the sounds of the wilderness around. You work up quite an appetite in the backcountry since even the simplest of tasks call for the expenditure of energy. When they say that hunger is the best spice, they mean it. Good food in the backcountry tastes even better, well, as long as you know how to make it!
Simply put, fire is king. No matter how you’re cooking your food you’re going to need to have a source of fire. Because fire is that important, redundancy is a good idea here. Carry at a minimum two lighters kept in two separate parts of your pack that are protected from the elements. It’s a good idea to have something like a ferro rod as well, just in case somehow both lighters run out of fuel.
That brings us to our next and most delicious point, food!
There’s nothing better than enjoying a cooked meal by the fire. Nowadays, there are so many ways to preserve your foods by following methods such as freeze-drying, dehydrating and so forth that you can plan some truly 5-star backcountry cuisine. Lots of companies make pre-packaged freeze-dried meals where you just need to add boiling water. Some outfitters will even prepare your meals for you ahead of time, so you don’t need to worry about it. If you’re set on doing your own prep, there are plenty of backcountry cookbooks out there now that provide great ideas for dehydrated and camping meals. We highly recommend finding a recipe for Bannock, an Indigenous bread recipe that’s been enjoyed over campfires in Northeastern Ontario for millennia.
The last thing we’ll touch on is food storage. A locking food barrel is a great way to store your food. Commonly referred to as a “bear barrel,” these barrels are made to keep animals big and small away from your food. You can even get coolers made to fit right inside of your barrel for items that need a little more protection from the sun.
And just like that, you’re ready to experience backcountry camping in Northeastern Ontario.
With so much of Northeastern Ontario’s pristine wilderness to explore, it’s important to be respectful of the land itself. Along the many trails and lakes you can find significant historical and cultural sites sacred to Indigenous people. These areas are to be treated with the utmost respect. Since time immemorial these areas have been home to Cree and Anishinaabe people, the original stewards of the land.