Where you camp is second only in importance to where you choose to go camping. Your site lies at the heart of your wilderness experience, and how you go about choosing it reflects how you go about everything in the great camping game.
Generally speaking, your camp should be a convenient, secure, benevolent place to spend time, and a good view certainly doesn’t hurt.
The following tips are all common-sense things. Think about the big picture, and the details will fall into place. Sweat the small stuff too much, and you might forget why you’re camping in the first place.
Picking the night’s resting spot more than likely occurred while you were looking at the map before beginning the trip.
Or, at the latest, this morning in your last camp. In some parks and wilderness areas, backcountry campsites must be reserved in advance, and in those areas, your site selection will be greatly simplified if not necessarily optimized.
In the vast majority of other areas, you’re free to choose your own temporary home, but that can be a double-edged sword: you’re also free to make your own mistakes. It’s a good idea to begin looking for a suitable camp well before dusk, to allow yourself the flexibility of choice.
Once darkness has fallen, you can waste a lot of time and effort trying to locate and organize a secure, comfortable camp that you can’t see clearly. You’ll also avoid a lot of environmental impacts if you’re not blundering around in the dark, tromping over invisible but delicate vegetation as you look for a flat tent site.
Once you get to the place marked by the X on the map, the first thing to decide is whether you really want to camp there. Is this truly an exciting spot where you can soak up everything you love about the outdoors? Or is it just some arbitrary spot marked on the map that leaves you a little disappointed?
If the latter, consider moving on-even back a little-unless you’re too bushed or permits/designated campsites require you to sleep there. Also, see if the location is big enough to set up a family cabin tent if you are planning for family camping.
But doesn’t just camp in your ideal spot, because the most important variable comes next: What effect will your campsite have on those who follow? If the obvious well-used site is under a tree and the picture-perfect site is in a wildflower meadow, sleep under the tree.
Or, if you’re near a trail and your favorite site will put your tent smack in the middle of everyone’s mountain view, well, don’t be rude. If your movements in camp will tear a fragile moss bed, cross that site off the list.
Once you’ve passed through, you want this place to look just the same as it did when you showed up. And remember that generations of campers will be making the same decisions after you’ve traveled on. If there are well-used sites, use them so you don’t start a trend toward clusters of tent platforms.
If it doesn’t look as though anyone has been here before, try to stay on a bare rock if possible, grassy meadows that can take a little trampling or forest duff that isn’t home to delicate vegetation. Mostly this is common sense, but you must train yourself so that minimizing impact becomes a pure habit.
With minimum impact in mind, start sorting through the other variables.
Before choosing your campsite, there is some consideration, you should keep in mind.
If you’ll be watching the sunset through your tent door, line it up to anticipate that angle. Just being slightly off-angle might keep you from seeing those last minutes or seconds of changing the light.
Especially if the morning will be chilly (common in the mountains) or if you need an early boost, you might skip the sunset view and instead orient the tent toward the east (usually northeast in the summer) to catch the rising sun.
On the other hand, if you intend to sleep in, make sure the sun won’t come streaming through the door before your time.
If the summer breeze is light and you want it for cooling or to keep the bugs at bay, orient the door to windward. If the door is to leeward, you might find a thousand-mosquito reception party each time you unzip your tent.
But if the wind is strong or might become so, orient the small end of the tent toward the wind, the better to deflect its blow. You certainly don’t want wind blowing rain straight into your door, nor do you want it buffeting your tent’s flapping flanks.
It might not be windy when you set up camp, but sometimes the environment will give you strong clues on what to expect.
Especially obvious are “flag trees,” which have branches growing on one side only. The other side typically faces the strong wind, and you’d be wise to consider its prevalent direction before pitching camp.
Should rain spout on you overnight, you won’t want rising waters to carry you downstream. Nor will you appreciate a mysterious midnight creek flowing into your precious shelter.
So, if you are planning for campsite trip in the rainy season in national forest camping or other places, you should check this.
Avoid water collection zones (divots, gullies, and the like). Try to choose spots where water soaks into the ground rather than collecting on top-pick sandy or loamy soils or absorbent forest duff.
The ideal site has an accessible water source, but you shouldn’t camp too close to it. Minimum-impact guidelines suggest camping at least 200 feet from the water so that your impact, from dishes to toilet, is less likely to affect water quality.
Also, because lakes and streams are focal points for most wilderness tourists (humans) and natives (wildlife), camping close to the water will likely make you more visible.
Thus lessening everyone’s experience. In using water, try to save water during your camp and travel trip.
If you’ve planned your trip with water sources in mind, finding water in the wilds should not be too difficult. Rivers and creeks are noted on small-scale maps but do not count upon seasonal tributaries if rain has been sparse.
If you’re traveling in dry regions, where water resupply can be nonexistent, talk with others who have gone before and sharpen your lookout for indicators of water: in shady areas up side canyons; near vegetation; at the lowest ground level around. Follow animal tracks in these directions, and human tracks near campsites used before.
If you think that your campsite may be more than a few minutes’ walks from a water source, plan to gather your evening’s water supply at the nearest water source before you continue on to your anticipated campsite.
In an ideal campsite, you can stash your gear, cook, and sleep all within a few feet. Trouble is, this concentrates the wear in one place, which may not be a good thing for the environment.
Also, if there are hungry critters around, they will be attracted to your cooking area, which also happens to be your sleeping area.
So, it’s typically best to choose one site for your kitchen and dining pleasures, another for sleeping. As usual, let common sense be your guide.
If you’re forced to use a sloping tent site, be sure to orient the tent so your head is uphill. Slip a pack or boots at the foot of your sleeping bag to block you so that you don’t slide into the tent wall. This is actually a real problem if it’s wet.
But if you have hanging camping hammock tents, then this can be ignored. But it is better to know the location and explore better opportunity right?
Sometimes setting up a cabin tent in these campsite areas can also be a little tricky. If you’re on a sidehill, a pair of boots between you and your partner can do wonders to keep the oaf from rolling on top of you.
Don’t molest the site. Do your best to smooth out surface nonconformist-protruding rocks, sticks, etc. But don’t scrape the site level. Get down on hands and knees and pick out the offending items.
Old-fashioned trenching, bough breaking, and other site manipulations are totally unacceptable.
Remember that if you wander away from the tent at night, you’ll likely have your flashlight aimed at your feet. Pointy branches at eye level can be a serious hazard.
So, can crevices or cliffs that can’t be seen in the dark. It’s hard to imagine how much a campsite transforms once the sun goes down but change it does.
Campfire building is another thing every camper love. Check out the campsite position if it allows campfires in the dark or not.
choosing a good campsite needs considerations of everything. That includes bugs, flies also.
If you set up camp early near a marshy area, the bugs may still be hiding. Alas, dinner hours may coincide yours and the mosquitoes’.
Think about bugs to come, not just the bugs of the moment.
By day, valley floors are typically warmer than hillsides. But, at night that warm air floats away and cold air sinks to take its place. That’s why you see frost pockets in dips and swales.
Do you want to wake up in a frost pocket? You might be better off choosing a sidehill or ridge-top site that’s cooler in the evening but warmer come the morning.
Equally important is the overhead cover. Meadows typically cool off more at night than forest floors because tree branches trap some heat that otherwise radiates straight to the stars.
If your tent isn’t freestanding, tie out its guy lines and floor. Usually, this is done with stakes. But the lowest-impact camping sites-bare rock and loose sand—typically don’t hold stakes well.
Owners of freestanding tents should take heed of this as well, as many a camper has watched their dome tent blow off a cliff or into a lake. On rock, the only solution is more rock: You’ll need enough boulders to do the work your stakes would have.
Don’t yank these boulders out of the ground, leaving obvious holes in their wake.
In sand, drive a stake, then place a rock or two on top of it. This is usually much easier than tying straight to rocks. Remember that if the tent gets rained on, it might slacken as the fabric’s weave opens; you’ll need to tighten the guy lines later, perhaps at night. Keep this in mind when you tie your knots or place your rocks.
If nearby campers have habits different from your own music making, snoring, fitful sleeping, early rising-you or they might end up hating the camping experience that otherwise could have been pure joy.
Try not to crowd your neighbors, always be considerate of them, talk with them about their habits before you start throwing rocks, and try to calm down and tune them out if all else fails. Or go over and join the party if it’s keeping you up anyway; you might make new friends.
If you anticipate a crowded campground, take a tip from experienced hut users: Bring a set of those cheap foam earplugs available in any hardware store.
The stream may sound like music while you’re pitching camp, but the white noise while you’re trying to sleep may drive you batty until you’re used to it. Consider your nighttime needs before pitching a tent where you can’t sleep.
Remember that you’ll be spending a number of hours in exactly the same spot; make sure that spot is safe. Falling rocks and dead trees have killed campers around the world.
So, have seracs, avalanches, tree branches, coconuts, and even giant pinecones. Check overhead to make sure gravity doesn’t bring you any midnight surprises.