Pitchin’ Tents: Mountain Life’s Guide to Styles of Camping

Taking in the view from the penthouse, West Coast style. Photo :: Eric Berger

words :: Feet Banks. 

As the old (and somewhat nonsensical) saying goes, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat…” and camping is kind of the same. Because when it comes to venturing into the wilds to cozy up with nature, the Coast Mountains have a plethora of options. While bikepacking (p. 23) and road tripping (p. 44) are already well covered in this issue, we put our ears to the ground and sniffed out some local anecdotes and perspectives on how else to get out amongst the bugs, bears, waves, woods and wildnerness (just remember to leave it all better than you found it, and please…don’t skin any actual cats…


The purest form of camping, backpacking demands that everything you need to survive is carried on your back. As such, every ounce matters, and the luxuries of existence are stripped down to the very basics. Life moves slowly with 50-80 pounds on your back, but that pace also gives you time to notice the rewards of nature. You stink and your feet hurt, but you’re also watching butterflies on the wildflowers, hearing the ravens call and sneaking along without disturbing the marmots sunbathing on the rocks—pure tranquillity.

Pack it in, pack it out. One foot in front of the other. Photo: Eric Poulin

Of course, it can all go sideways pretty quick. My buddy Chili and I once got snowed out on an autumn climbing expedition to Mt Colonel Foster on Vancouver Island. We sat out the storm—38 hours in a tent eating as much as possible to lighten our packs for the escape. When we finally made a run for it, I almost immediately slipped on the snow and pulled a hip flexor…only 19 kilometres from the car. We got below snowline quickly enough and ate lunch (power gel packs) hunkered down together in a trailside outhouse. Perhaps the greatest lesson of camping is that there is enlightenment in shared suffering (on your own, it just sucks).

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Feet Banks still uses the same hiking boots he got in 1995.

Van Camping

Keeley Higgins enjoys another van-tastic night. Photo: Eric Berger

How do you like setting a tent up in the rain? Or constantly being hunched over in a low tent trying to change your underwear? Van camping combines mobility with luxury—solar power, music, blender drinks, a heater. Best of all, everything you need is already packed in there. Just throw the kids in and hit the road.

Jon Burak cashed in his inflatable tent for a pimped-out Sprinter van in 2017.

Canoe/Kayak Camping

On one hand, you have the essence of tranquility: loons calling on the lake, misty mornings, crackling fires, and the rhythmic patter of rain on the tent. But as good as a cozy sleeping bag and warm coffee in morning can be, the things that really make canoe tripping or kayak camping so special are the challenges and misadventures. For me, the most uncomfortable, scary and precarious situations are often the most memorable.

Portage! Photo :: Robin O’Neill

Like the time we ran Class 4 rapids in Quebec’s La Verendrye Wildlife Preserve in a Kevlar canoe—all but destroying our craft, which was already worn paper-thin in some sections. We didn’t know if our vessel would survive the remaining 74 kilometres. Most traumatizing of all, however, was losing our coffee pot in the rapids with seven days of tripping yet to go. I’ll never leave the coffee pot loose in a canoe again. Just. Too. Precious.

But it’s the peace and beauty that keeps me coming back and sometimes the most beautiful places are close to home. Kicking up the Callaghan road in the dark, my truck jumped and jostled as my excitement grew to put in at one of the less busy provincial parks in the area (especially at 11pm on a weekday in September). I slid my canoe into the water, completely alone with the stars and crisp autumn air. I breathed in the silence of summer aching to greet winter, only the sound of my paddle gliding through the water. I pitched my tent on a rocky spot across the lake—alone, but not lonely. Canoe tripping, even just a quick jaunt in our own backyard, is fodder for my soul.

Roberto Gibbons and his wife Bella are known as The Expeditioners—professional adventurers who spends at least 45 nights a year in a tent (with two kids), and another 90+ in an Airstream. 

Hot tip:
Sore feet and blister pain can be alleviated by flasks of strong whiskey around the fire, but if you need to impress someone there is a company called French Rabbit that sells wine in collapsible Tetra-Paks.

Fly-In Camping

“Ok listen, the best way to get from point A to point B is in a direct line—especially if it means you get to see the Coast Mountains from the air. You’ll get a new perspective on how vast everything is and catch views of peaks, lakes and glaciers you will never see from the highway.

The fish in Lake Lovely water are cagey because the water is ridiculously clear (views aren’t bad either). Photo :: Mark Gribbon

The beauty of fly-in flyfishing is you get onto lakes where the fish may have never seen an artificial fly before. Floatplane or heli, each has its own advantages but one thing’s for sure, they both fit more beer, steaks, and good times than a backpack. Fishing is supposed to be about relaxing, so stop acting like a damn fool and get in the cockpit!”

Mark Gribbon doesn’t much care for any camp spot that doesn’t have a fishing hole nearby.


It was 2003, I think, when Squamish got hit with a 100-year flood. People were getting heli-vac’d out of the upper valley and roads were washing out. You couldn’t do much of anything outside it was so wet, but Danger Dan Tetzlaff, Ryan Treener and I decided to go up on the Sherriff’s Badge (of the Stawamus Chief) because we could just stand on aid gear and put our portaledges under the big overhang to stay dry. Dan wore his wetsuit and lived in his own steam bath for a few days—bad idea. Someone saw our lights and called Search and Rescue because why would anyone be out in such a deluge? We were just tired of being inside.

Above the law (except the law of gravity.) Photo: Dana Felthauser

Another time, back in the 90s, we were climbing above the campground and a ranger shouted up at us that we were going to be arrested because it was falcon nesting season. We didn’t know that, this was before the internet and we hadn’t seen any signs. It was too late though, our ropes couldn’t reach the ground, the wall was too steep and the only way out was up. The next day, a police helicopter buzzed us and set off a siren as it came by—we thought they were gonna rappel down and arrest us, we were shitting bricks. They didn’t, and we didn’t see any falcons either.

That’s the cool thing about a portaledge—you are unreachable. Camping could be banned in the backcountry or at the base of the cliff, but once you get on the rock you are sort of outside the rules, what are they gonna do, climb up? You have stepped into the fringe and are living beyond the laws of society and physics.

Matt Maddaloni is an inventor and the curator of Squamish’s only museum of historical climbing artifacts.


Roughin’ it.

Sure, sure, paying for those posh outfits with real beds and all the hard work already done is totally cheating at camping. On the other hand, if you’re not cheating, you might be cheating yourself.

Car Camping

Pack it up, pack it in, let me begin… car camping peaked in the 70s (throw the kids into your wood-paneled station wagon and giv’r!) but it’s still one of the most popular camping methods, thanks to the full freedom to bring whatever the hell you want to make your campsite as much like home as possible, for as long as possible. Cappuccino maker that you can plug into the lighter socket? Check. Big thick inflatable mattress that doubles as a lake floaty? Check. Wall tent that sleeps eight people and has a small fireplace? We have room for that.

All the gear, none of the blisters. Photo :: Steve Ogle

Car camping is for families or weekend warriors seeking quality hang time with friends on a weekend sojourn anywhere outta town. Bring lawn chairs, a cooler of beer, bacon, eggs, Bluetooth speakers and go find your posse.

Todd Lawson is so in love with SUPs that he almost never car camps anymore.