When it comes to hunting big game, primarily in the vastness of the west, versatility is the name of the game. It applies to the method of take, the gear we use and even the time of year we choose to hunt. We need to be swiss-army knives in the hills, and this includes how we camp.
Truck camping, base camping, and spike camping; each style has its advantages, and just as equal, disadvantages. Being apt at all three will mean comfort, confidence and punched tags!
Ahh, to Have Four Wheels
The advantages of truck camping are mobility and comfort. Having a dedicated kit for your vehicular adventures will keep you organized and stocked. This is key when your cozy camp needs to pick up and move two canyons over.
This style of camping stands alone from the base-camping and spike-camping. By that, I mean not much of the gear used during a truck camping expedition will find its way into your pack when you leave the trailhead. On those occasions where I know that truck camping will eventually lead to a spike camp, I will bring a separate shelter and sleep system altogether. All truck camping gear will stay with the truck and all my lightweight gear on my back.
Shelters can vary widely while camping from a vehicle, so bear in mind your end goal. If you need mobility, leave the heavy canvas wall tent at home and opt for a simple dome tent, tipi or even the bed of the truck!
The rule of keeping a separate kit also applies to a camp kitchen and cooking equipment. I’ll take a camp-style propane stove and all the trappings needed for a fresh meal, all while leaving my solo goodies deep inside my pack. I’ll leave home with an organized backpack, and there’s no sense in yard-sailing it just to get to my Jetboil.
Sticking to your rig gets easier and easier as the season progresses. With portable heaters and lightweight woodstoves, you can almost guarantee yourself a comfortable camp, regardless of Mother Nature’s input. Go prepared. Get out and practice. You’ll find the gear that really works for your style of four-wheeled wandering.
Come in, Base
The term “Base Camp” can mean many things to many different seekers-of-adventure. In the western hunting sense of the word, think of a wagon wheel laid on the ground. Base camp would be the center hub. It’s a central location from which you branch out.
I find myself using a base camp more in new country. If I’m not familiar with a particular stretch of wilderness, I’ll pick a centralized spot on the map and make that base. Unlike truck camp, it is not necessary to have separate loadouts for a base camp and spike camp. In fact, almost all of the equipment should overlap. It’s a fuzzy divider, but I think of “time” as what differentiates a base camp from a spike camp. At base, you’re there for the long haul. You have a mission to accomplish and this is where you recharge batteries to carry out that gameplan. The quantity of food, the level of comfort, (especially if pack animals are used) and the amount of gear are a lot higher for a base camp.
Being more permanent, take some time at base camp to make it feel “homey.” Building a supply of fresh water, clearing out a fire pit if the terrain will allow, stockpiling firewood and clearing out sitting space are great touches. You’ll find it easier to hunt right up until dark if you can return to camp and all the “chores” are handled; you can unwind from a hard day on the mountain.
The Spike Motel
If your base camp is home, spike camp is like that grungy, cheap hotel that you stop at for just one or two nights en-route to something better! It’s not your end destination, but you can power through if it means reaching your end goal.
Photo by @dialedinhunter
Food is rationed ahead of time, taken from base camp, knowing how long you’ll be in that new canyon or river bottom. Shelter is going to be enough to let you sleep, but not so much that you had to tear down base camp to bring it with you. I love tarps for this reason. If I decide to head off to a new patch of ground, all I take with me is a tarp, my sleeping bag and pad and the necessities for that quick trip!
A big bonus to spike camping is the amount of rest you can obtain in between hard hikes. If you find yourself base-camped away from the bugles, or one drainage away from the bucks, consider a spike camp to get closer. You’ll be able to rest overnight instead of trek clear back to base, only to do it again come morning.
We’re all guilty of burning ourselves out in some form or another, and if spending the night away from base means you’ll have the legs to stalk in on a bachelor group, it is worth it.
Perfect All Three This Fall
It’s the time of year for e-scouting and access mapping. Incorporate all three of these camping styles and watch the map open up to you! Don’t settle for campgrounds or trailheads only. Take this summer and dial in your truck camping kit. Find that balance of packable comfort for a complete base camp. Layout your overnight gear and really narrow it down to a light and fast spike camp. Recognize what you’ll use in each situation and get used to rotating. Finding that not all gear is useful in each one of these scenarios, you can streamline your pack-list. You’ll be more mobile, and, as we said in the beginning, much more versatile.
Header Photo by @toppriorityhunting
Kory Tams is a lover of all things wide-open. Born and raised in Northern Utah, his experiences in the outdoors range from the swamps to the summits, and everything in the middle. He began writing about his adventures only a few years ago and enjoys trading tricks through the written word. Follow along with all of his wanderings on Instagram @kory_tams