Camping in Alaska

During my summer in Katmai National Park and Preserve, I never went camping on my weekends. Instead, I did quite a bit for my job, which is probably different from what you may do. Anyone who lives in or has camped in Alaska before, please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below!

I was quite nervous about my backcountry trips into the park. I’m kind of scared of everything but know better than to feed into that fear, usually. The park supplied everything that I would need; a sleeping bag, a sleeping mat, tent, cook stove, a few utensils and bear-proof canisters. Extra layers and rain gear were provided by myself, but I learned quickly that my rain gear was not efficient for South West Alaska. Thank goodness the park also had some Gortex rain gear I could borrow.

What I did could be considered airplane-camping similar to “car-camping” but done from an airplane. Usually we were dropped off with all our gear near a landing strip in the middle of nowhere and left. My coworkers and I would carry our stuff a little ways to a preferred camping spot. (I also did “boat-camping”; once where I camped on a boat, and the other where we just used the boat as transportation.) The only form of communication we had was by satellite phone, and we would call to check-in in the morning and at night.

Here are a few key things I had etched into my brain –

It’s bear country, so bring your bear spray!
Each ranger at Katmai is issued a can of bear spray to carry with them as they work, or explore on their own. While camping in the backcountry, we had the opportunity to use a portable electric fence. This is a small, flimsy wire that you set up around your campsite at bear nose level. The idea being that when a bear would investigate it, with its nose, it would get a shock and be deterred away. This electric fence is not bear-proof or bear-resistant, it’s just another extra step to discourage encounters. The most important thing you can do is to make noise. We were constantly talking, singing, or doing something while hiking and working.

If it smells, it goes into the bear-proof canister.
Any smell, at all; chapstick, sunscreen, food, cooking equipment, deodorant, contact solution or more. The only thing in my tent was my smelly clothes! We also kept our food and cooking equipment in a different area than our tents.
Find out more on Bear Safety in Alaska.

Layers are your best friend and your worst enemy.
It was normal routine to put on a lot of layers in the morning for a day of working and hiking. Rain gear, because the vegetation was usually wet or it was raining. Sometimes we would wear waders for the day. However, by the end of the day, you were taking layers off left and right. Be sure to have room in your backpack to carry those extra layers back to camp.

I’m pretty luck to have these strange experiences camping, but I’m glad I did. I’m no expert at camping in bear country, but if you have any questions I can sure do my best to answer them!

Always remember to practice Leave No Trace – at Hallo Bay we had to pack out all waste…….all waste.

2 Replies to “Camping in Alaska”

  1. From the Katmai to Mesa Verde… from bears and mosquitoes to rattlesnakes and scorpions what a change. Having made the move myself from my wilderness cabin in Northern Alaska to Texas it is quite a shock after 20 years in cool weather to the 90+ temps here. I wish you the best of luck in your new surroundings but know if your are lucky Alaska will be ingrained in you and your soul will yearn to return to a land touched by the hand of God.

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  2. Kaiti, good job on your site. I am a retired ranger today with 32 years in the NPS. I too worked 3 summers as a seasonal in Katmai back in the early 1980’s and loved it. Check out a book I wrote and self-published called, “National Park Ranger, Bleeding Green & Grey.” Enjoy this time in your career and go for the gusto!

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