Home  >  Magazine  >  Issue 16 : May/June 2007  > Columns  >  Backcountry Camping in Japan, Part 1: Camping Gear


By Pauline Kitamura

Backcountry Camping in Japan, Part 1: Camping Gear


I love backcountry camping but, lately I have to admit, I’ve become a bit of a wimp, and I hate to be uncomfortable. So, before heading off to face the great outdoors each year, I make a pilgrimage to the local outdoor shop to check out the cool new outdoor gadgets and update my camping gear.

When camping, having the right kyampu dougu or soubi (キャンプ道具・装備;camping gear/ equipment) can make all the difference in the world. With the right gear, life in the outdoors can be fantastic but, without the right gear, life can also quickly become unbearably miserable.

For hiking, a well-fitted bakkupakku or zakku (バックパック、ザック;backpack), plus a comfortable pair of haikingu bootsu (ハイキング・ブーツ;hiking boots), also called tozan gutsu (登山靴) are essential. A set of torekking poru (トレッキングポール;trekking poles) is also nice. In Japanese, trekking poles and ski poles are more commonly called “stocks,” pronounced sutokku (ストック;poles).

If you use the word “pohru,” make sure to add the word “trekking” because, in Japanese, the word “poles” (pronounced pohru) usually refer to actual poles stuck in the ground, for example, tent poles or poles on a slalom ski course.

I prefer a nice lightweight tento (テント;tent) and, of course, a comfy nebukuro (寝袋; sleeping bag), also called a shurafu (シュラフ). During the colder months, a heavy-duty fuyu-you nebukuro (冬用寝袋;winter sleeping bag) filled with either umou or daun (羽毛ダウン; feather /down) is great. An inflatable sureeping matto (スリーピング・マット;sleeping mat) is also a crucial piece of equipment to keep you shielded from the cold, hard ground.

As for clothing, I find it’s always best to prepare for the worst. Regardless of the time of year, when sitting high up in the mountains, it can get pretty cold, and the key to warmth is to dress in layers or kasane-gi suru (重ね着する). The base layer should be made of moisture-wicking material such as pohri-puro-pee-leen (ポリプロピリン;polypropylene) or “poly-puro” for short.

The mid-layer, worn to trap and hold your body heat as well as wick away moisture, should be loose fitting, but not too baggy, such as fu-reesu (フリース;fleece). A bousui (防水;waterproof) rain jacket on top of all this will be sure to keep you dry and toasty. The Japanese usually refer to rain jackets and rain pants as a set and use the term rain ueah (レインウエア;rainwear).

For the hands, a warm pair of tebukuro (手袋;mittens or gloves) will do the trick. In Japanese, the word for mittens is “meeton,” however people usually don’t distinguish between mitts and gloves and just use the general term tebukuro, which literally translates to “hand-covering.”

You also need a warm boushi (帽子;hat) to top it all off. Speaking of hats…if you’re not too concerned about appearances during the winter, you can bring a balaclava, which is a hat that covers your entire head revealing just your eyes and mouth. This, by the way, is called a me-de-boh (目出帽) in Japanese, meaning “hat where the eyes show.”

Another useful item to have when muddy is a pair of supattsu (スパッツ; gaiters) to wear over your hiking boots. One item I always bring into the backcountry is a pair of kuma suzu (熊鈴;bear bells). Kuma (熊;bears) coming out of toumin (冬眠;hibernation) can be rather hungry and grumpy, so I feel more comfortable to have the bells and a bottle of kuma supureh (熊よけスプレー;bear spray). So now you’re set, and fully geared up to head into the Great Japanese Outdoors.