Growing up in New Jersey really limits many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, specifically camping and backpacking. Of course, there are a lot of campsites around the tristate area that you can pay a small fee to rent out, but they are usually right next to other campsites (and people). While that is nice, do any of you prefer the style of camping that allows you to really live off of nothing and just appreciate the outdoors? I sure do!
Many people assume backpacking around New Jersey is impossible. Unlike out west, many areas around here forbid backpacking, camping, and open fires unless it’s at an official campsite.
During the summer of 2017, we did some research to look into areas that allowed backpacking. Harriman State Forest is located in New York and allows backpacking within a certain distance to two lean-to shelters-Bald Rocks and Tom Jones. Parking for these sites is located on Route 106, at GPS location 41.23038 N, 74.13996W. The parking is free and overnight parking is also permitted. The Bald Rocks lean-to shelter hike can be started on the same side that you parked on. The Tom Jones Shelter hike can be accessed on the other side of the road. We had the privilege of going twice during October and November. If you’re interested in backpacking around this area or are a first timer, I’ll be reviewing some perks of each location and some helpful advice.
1. The Hike & Amount of People
Tom Jones Shelter area: Both offered different hikes. The trip we took in October was only about a 20 minute (0.50 miles) hike to get to the spot that was a permitted camping area. Since this was such a short hike, there were a lot more campers around here. We were looking for a place that was away from people (granted, that is hard for a place like New York…), so we were a bit disappointed, especially when a group of hikers decided to pitch a tent right next to us at about 11:00pm.
Bald Rocks Shelter area: The trip we took in November was a much longer hike than either of us had anticipated. The trail was also filled with a lot of different types of terrain. I’m definitely not the best hiker out there (Ok, I admit, I get tired pretty quickly), but even David was exhausted by the end of this hike. It took us about an hour and a half (1.5 miles, although it felt longer) until we were able to find the shelter and a place to pitch a tent. However, since this was a much more difficult hike, there were a lot less people camping in this area, which is exactly what we were looking for! We were able to pitch our tent in a peaceful spot that overlooked the forest below us.
2. Temperature: What Should You Expect?
If you’re planning on going in the fall, especially late fall, plan for cold weather! While the hike may not feel very cold, the temperatures definitely drop significantly at night. If you’re someone like me that doesn’t do well in the cold, look into getting a decent sleeping bag that is well equipped for cold nights. I recently purchased a zero degree bag, but this may not be as necessary for you if you don’t get that cold. David has a 32 degree sleeping bag and does just fine during cold nights.
Quick Note: Our favorite time to go camping is definitely the fall. The fall foliage is just too beautiful to resist!
3. What to Bring: The Essentials To Any Kind Of Backpacker
Use compressible water containers to save room
#2: Backpacks specifically made for backpacking
You can fit a lot more in these and they sit a lot more comfortably on your back.
#3: Proper hiking shoes
You never know what kind of terrain you’re going to experience or how long of a hike it’ll be. You don’t want to be uncomfortable or get hurt!
#4: Tent, sleeping bag, & sleeping pads
Even if its nice and warm out, having a sleeping pad is the difference between tossing and turning all night and actually waking up feeling refreshed. If you’re going in the fall or winter, make sure you bring an insulated sleeping pad. The extra insulation helps you from becoming a popsicle overnight.
#5: Cooking dishes & utensils
You can find a small set of dishes and utensils that are plastic at your local sporting goods store, which allows them to be light and easy to pack.
#6: Soap for dishes & silverware
#7: Paper towels
Remember your really roughing it. That means nothing but your clothes to wipe your hands on or blow your nose into. Grabbing some extra napkins is always a good idea.
#8: Camp stove
This is easy to pack and allows you to heat up water or a pan for easy cooking.
#9: Magnesium bar & flint
#10: Toilet paper
Remember, nature is your bathroom. Ladies, I’d suggest bringing toilet paper for yourselves if you don’t feel comfortable with the “shake” method!
The amount of clothes you bring depends on how many days you are camping, of course. But, just remember, the lighter your backpack, the more comfortable the hike for you will be (Unless you have someone willing to carry all your stuff)!
If you had asked me what my favorite part about camping was, it would definitely be the food! Bring foods that are easy to cook, such as eggs, bacon, soups, and hot dogs.
4. What NOT to Bring
WeI are in no way experienced backpackers just yet and there were quite a few mistakes that we want to share with you so that you won’t make the same ones.
#1: If you are going with another person, don’t share a hammock!
The first time we went in October, we decided to save room in our bags by not carrying a tent. Big mistake. While David’s hammock is made for two people and is extremely comfortable to sleep one person (The brand is Eno, if you’re interested), it’s just meant for two people overnight. It was a very tight squeeze and it was difficult for either of us to move around at night.
#2: Pack only the essentials.
We definitely carried too much in during our first backpacking trip, which was okay since it was experimental. For example, we thought it would be cool to bring in a cast iron pan to cook our food. While it was ok for the short hike we went on to the Toms Jones shelter area, I would NOT suggest bringing it on any longer hikes. It was way too unnecessary.