4 Things You Need To Know When Backpacking Near NJ

4 Things You Need To Know When Backpacking Near NJ

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.

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Harriman's State Park Hiking
This trail definitely had some challenging obstacles, that Shelby consistently tripped over!
Hiking in Harriman's State Park New York
Sitting at the trailhead in Harriman state park before our trek out to Bald Rocks Shelter. One of the few selfie shots we got on that trip.

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 For Any Kind Of Backpacker

#1: Water 

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. We love the brand Klymit Statik v2 and would highly recommend it.

#5: Cooking dishes & utensils 

You can find a small set of dishes and utensils that are plastic on Amazon for a reasonable price. They’re light and super easy to pack.

#6: Soap for dishes & silverware

You’ll need dish soap to wash your dishes and to eat with – don’t forget it unless you’re bringing food that doesn’t require dishes!

#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 paper towels is always a good idea. Amazon offers you the ability to buy in bulk. Our favorite brand is Bounty Paper Towels.

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#8: Camp stove 

This is easy to pack and allows you to heat up water or a pan for easy cooking. We’d recommend a camp stove that is light, small, and easy to pack. The Bisgear camp stove is just that. As an added bonus, it comes with a full set of utensils!

#9: Magnesium bar & flint 

I mean…unless you want to do it the hard way! We recommend a simple keychain kit that you could easily attach to your keys. That way, you’ll never leave without it.

#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!

 #11: Clothes

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)!

#12: FOOD 

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.

Eggs and bacon in backpacking cookware
Do I spy eggs and bacon in that backpacking travel cookware?

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 we have is Eno, but we’d also recommend Eagle Nest, which is equally as effective and a bit cheaper), 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.

Cooking food in backpacking cookware never looked so good
David proudly showing off his cooked bacon in his backpacking travel cook set. Never knew cooking breakfast could look so good!
Backpacking in New York, cooking bacon
Yummy bacon sizzling up in a cast iron skillet.
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