After a long day in the backcountry, the last thing you want to do is turn back to a base camp that erases all the day's progress. That's where a spike camp comes in.
Ready for the toughest terrains; from drainage basins to the most remote locations, a spike camp covers the essentials for a night or two while letting you close the distance of your hunt.
If you're getting ready for a backcountry hunt, you'll find the following scrappy approach to spike camps useful - maybe even the difference-maker for punched tags this season.
What Is a Spike Camp?
A spike camp is a temporary camp for backcountry hunters. It's limited to bare essentials, which lightens pack weight and allows hunters to camp closer to the big game they're after, without needing to return to base camp each night.
How Does It Work?
Unlike a base camp, which is designed for longer stays and usually has more amenities, a spike camp's purpose is simply to provide a safe and semi-comfortable place for a night or two.
Supplies are pulled from base camp in this instance, as the goal is to lighten your load as much as possible. This might include portioned food and water, and a minimal amount of gear like a first-aid kit, sleeping bag, and shelter.
A lighter load makes it far easier to set up and break down than a base camp.
3 Advantages of Spike Camps
While truck camps make it easy to cover a great distance without breaking a sweat, there's only so far into the wilderness you can set up camp.
And base camp means a higher amount of comfort in the backcountry, but it's time intensive to set up, and too cumbersome to hit the trailhead with. Both reasons make it impractical if you need to relocate, which severely limits mobility.
Spike camping draws on the strengths of each hunting camp, but with some sacrifices along the way. Here are its three main advantages.
1. Comfort Meets Mobility
Base camps are great, but they're not always practical. Tracking and spotting elk or big game on the move requires you to be flexible.
A spike camp allows you to follow and position without having to lug your entire camp with you. Free to explore different areas without having to commit to one spot permanently, while still being in reasonable proximity to base camp.
"Comfort" for a spike camp is used lightly here - it's just enough comfort. If you're packing an 86lb canvas tent and enough water for a week, you're defeating the purpose and removing the greatest advantage.
2. Maximize Your Time
Spike camping means you won't have to hike all the way back to camp after a long day, and you can be on the move again at first light.
If you're hunting elk, you can save precious time and energy by setting up a spike camp near where you think the elk will be feeding or bedding down.
This is why spike camping is viewed as the satellite camp to base camp.
3. Low Impact Location
Location is key to every hunt; too close and the game will catch your scent, too far and you may not gain enough ground.
Any time you set up camp, you're going to impact the environment around you, but with a spike camp, since you'll carry less you not only get a new site, but if chosen correctly, you can set up with minimal impact on your surroundings while still being in reach.
Showing up with a full kitchen and building a massive fire pit is overkill for a night or two. If you're able to semi-rough it for a short period, you can camp closer and take full advantage of your new site.
Gearing Up For Your Spike Camp
Nutrition and Hydration
Your food and water ration need to stay intact - spike camping just means breaking off a smaller piece of the base camp supply.
And to get this part right, limiting weight needs to be your primary focus.
It's always a good idea to plan for at least a half-liter of water per hour, and enough food to cover you for 3,000-4,000 calories per day. Setting up near a water source is ideal too - shaving some of the water weight you'd need to carry.
Liquid and diet needs can certainly vary based on climate, activity, and terrain, so view the information above as a bare minimum.
And of course, you'll need a sleeping bag and a sleeping pad. But outside of these items above, there are two key pieces of gear you need to get right - your shelter and pack.
The Right Tent and Pack for Spike Camps
A Durable Tent Is a Must
Again, weight is everything. While most backpacking tents are going to put you in a 2-4lb weight, you'll be gearing for a tent that's a little heavier, but maxes out at 10lbs.
It might seem counterintuitive, but you'll need a tent that's far more durable for the conditions, and that usually means more weight.
Plus, you're carrying more supplies than you normally would, so your tent will need extra space so you can store your pack and gear inside, and out of the elements, which also increases weight.
A floor that's around 30-35 square feet is about the largest you'd need for a temporary camp.
Sure, it could be a bit tight for two people, but this isn't permanent, and not meant for every night of your hunt.
One scrappy way to get the shelter you need while lowering weight is carrying a super light tent and a tarp. Effectively creating a lean-to that can keep you safe and dry.
Picking a Versatile Pack
You'll want to make sure your pack can handle dual roles. For example, it should be lightweight and have enough room to store all of your gear needed to set up camp.
Yet still able to break down for a day and build back up for hauling meat.
Without a versatile pack, you could be making unnecessary trips back to base camp, which would be a waste.
Getting Ready for Hunting Season
Elk hunting is one of the most challenging hunts you can embark on, and that's a big part of its appeal; overcoming the challenge for the prize.
When you throw in the added weight of setting up a spike camp and the physical rigor required, returning to base camp every night might not seem so bad.
But if you get ahead of the hunt by strengthening your body and mind, the energy needed to build a new camping spot becomes a distant concern.
Your body will be ready for whatever location is needed, and weighted pack training is one of the best ways many hunters are achieving this.
Backcountry Weighted Pack Training
Backcountry weighted pack training simulates hauling meat, supplies, and of course the heavy gear needed for a spike camp, through the most difficult terrains and distances.
While bow season and rifle season have a beginning and end date, training for the backcountry isn't a once-a-year thing.
The most successful hunters train their bodies and minds for the hunt all year.
This is why MTNTOUGH created year-round training programs for backcountry hunting.
Backcountry Hunter Preseason Prep - MAY-AUG
Beginning in May, this is a 16-week program that helps you get ready for the arduous terrain, mountain elevations, and hauling all the weight of your gear before the season starts.
Backcountry Hunter In-Season - SEP-OCT
Backcountry Hunter Post-Season Strength - NOV-FEB
MTNTOUGH views the backcountry hunting post-season just as an NFL player would the offseason - the season may be over for now, but the work doesn't stop. The post-season program dials in your potential strength and mobility over 16 weeks - making you a mountain athlete in the process.
Backcountry Hunter Spring Training Camp - MAR-APR
While the post-season program focused on strength, the 8-week spring training program that follows focuses on aerobic conditioning and endurance. An important element of this is getting the hunter to an ideal body weight without losing muscle mass and strength.
Backcountry Hunter Elite Spring - MAR-APR
This is an alternate course for those who excelled in other training programs and are ready to take their training to a new level.
And then it's back into pre-season training once again.
Like all MTNTOUGH training programs, you'll have access to top-caliber training content via the app - which you can access via mobile, tablet, or desktop. And all instructed by top mountain athletes and backcountry hunters.
Versatility Is Everything
As bow season hits its stride in some western zones, backcountry hunters are headed to the mountains in search of big bulls this season. Elk hunting is on their mind, from truck camps to base camps, they're getting after it.
But to stay in proximity of the herd, spike camping can make all the difference in actually needing to use your meat racks this season.
There's a lot to consider when planning for a spike camp - when hunting, the physical gear you use is important, but so is your mental and physical preparedness.
You need to be in top condition to achieve your goals.
So, preparing your gear and body for the hunt will help you get in, get it done, and get back out without turning what should be a great experience into a stressful one.