I'd never backpacked before, and after some extremely rewarding day hikes I decided to try backpacking overnight. Much of spring this year was spent collecting gear and reading tips.
Most camp sites in Wisconsin are car camping sites. After too many search I finally stumbled on Black River State Forest. They allow primitive, off site camping with a free permit and is less than two hours from home.
I went out the weekend of July 4 unsure of what I'd find. If you'd like to follow along, there's a map (pdf) here. I started at the Smrekar Rd trailhead, a nice paved lot off a dirt road and took the ridge trail along the east side of the trails. It's hilly for Wisconsin but wasn't difficult even with my pack. I took trekking poles, and they did come in handy. Crossing through the Wildcat lot, I took the west Norway Pine trail. Both of these trails follow ridges, and there are some decent views if you can get a break in the trees.
Crossing Shale Road, I started around the Wild Cat loop clockwise. This area was very pretty forest but didn't have much for views. My plan was to get past halfway and then find a spot to camp. Every map shows a water crossing at the far northwest end of the loop, and I'd also planned to refill my water. Upon reaching the low spot it was clear it was more of a drainage area that probably is only wet when it's actively raining. I knew there was water back at the trailheads, but it was still a concern.
Pressing on, I covered a bit more distance and started looking for a spot to make camp. Coming up on halfway back to the Shale Road crossing, there was a clear area to the east. I ventured off trail and found a cleared area on the top of a rise. This was near the intersection of Shale and Kling Roads but still well off the road and trail.
I set up camp and sat down to make dinner. This was my first go at making dinner in the field like this, and I'd brought prepackaged freeze dried macaroni and cheese. Boiling some of my dwindling water supplies with my Esbit solid fuel stove, I found the mac and cheese very good.
Being tired, a bit dehydrated and swarmed by insects, I settled down in my tent to laze the evening away and move into sleep for the night.
In the morning, nearly out of water, I settled for a Pro Bar for breakfast instead of the freeze dried biscuits and gravy I'd brought. I quickly packed up and headed off. I made good time to Shale Road and took the middle, shorter trail to the Wildcat trailhead where I refiled my water. Water is nothing more than a hand pump on a well, but it suited me fine.
For the last leg back to the car, I stuck to the western most trail. It was a flat trail in and out of the trees and an enjoyable morning as life came back as I got rehydrated.
Overall my first outing was definitely a success. I had way too much food with me and not enough water, starting with over three liters and having nearly none left at the end of the day Saturday. But I knew where I could get water, so it was a safe lesson learned.
Black River State Forest is a big success for backpack camping, too. For having huge rural areas, Wisconsin, northern Illinois and eastern Iowa are severely lacking in primitive areas like this. I'm glad I found this one, and I'll be back as I hone my pack and push beyond off trail camping and try bushwhacking further into the forest.