Have you ever gotten tired on a camping trip, and pitched your tent wherever you felt like it? Maybe setting up your camp at the foot of the trail isn’t the best idea after all. Here’s what I think will happen: as the sunset approaches, you’ve probably run out of water whilst the nearest water source is nowhere in sight. Without properly filtered water, you’re unable to make yourself a meal and have to resort to eating pre-packaged energy bars for dinner. Gross! In the deep of night, the rustling leaves spike your fear of falling branches, which keep you wide-eyed and unable to rest. And if that isn’t enough, the lack of stable ground causes your tent to continually slide up and down. Any of these sound familiar, yet?
Knowing how to pick a good spot makes all the difference in a safe and pleasant camping experience. Convenience, seclusion, landscape, and environmental footprint are a few key considerations in sourcing for the optimal campsite. Perfect spots are hard to come by, and more often than not, you might find a place that requires you to make tradeoffs in some ways or another –– such as trading a panoramic view for a spot nearer to the water source. Hence, it is important to review your options and make the best choice possible in your circumstance. If that’s you, check out Expert Camper to find out more about picking the best campsite.
Key Campground Attributes
Once you’ve arrived at your prospective camping ground, it’s time to begin your site analysis. Is this space located near a water source? How far away are you from the main hiking trail? Basic camping knowledge 101 states that you must pitch your tent no farther than 200 feet (or 61 meters) from the water source, and with good reason –– water is a necessity for cooking, cleaning, and maintaining proper hygiene. Your chosen spot should also be minimally 200 feet from the trek path so that other hikers and yourself can both enjoy privacy.
Before pitching your tent, ensure that the ground is clear of twigs and rocks that could stab you when you’re sleeping. It is also crucial to choose an area where the ground is flat. If that’s not possible, position your tent in such a way that allows your feet to hang lower than your head.
Needless to say, the weather is an important consideration when choosing a campsite too. When it’s hot out, look for shade, and when it’s cooling, settle down towards the east side where you’re able to enjoy the warm gentle rays of the morning sun. Small valleys, ridge crests, and notches are critical areas to steer clear of, as these places are where strong winds are often generated. If it happens to be windy all around, it will be best to settle behind a large boulder for protection. Additionally, look out for dead trees and hanging branches because they might fall and hit your tent in your sleep, regardless of wind or no wind!
Plus, don’t forget to be wary of rain as it has the potential to cause flooding in your campsite! Low areas tend to collect water during storms, which could end up washing your tent (or you away) during a flash flood. Conversely, higher grounds have better drainage and are less flood-prone, which allows them to be warmer at night. Lastly, consider how well-protected your campsite may be from lightning storms. Generally, we recommend avoiding high points, exposed areas, and tall trees in favor of areas down a slope that aren’t prone to floods.
Be a Considerate Camper
Camp as if you were never there –– the Leave No Trace principle is no doubt a familiar ring to your ears, especially if you’re an avid camper. This standard was introduced to preserve leisure amenities in nature. As much as possible, settle down in a common and recognized campsite. Should that be inconvenient or unavailable, the second-best choice would be to set up a new site with caution. Look out for durable surfaces such as forest duffs and rock slabs, as they make good choices.
Keep Your Footprints Light
Whilst you’re walking about, be sure to swap your hiking footwear to soft-soled ones to avoid compressing the soil, which may deter vegetation from thriving. If possible, try to only build fires in existing fire rings. However, if there isn’t one, make sure you gather and burn sufficient firewood, before dispersing the ashes once it’s been cooled. Finally, before you leave the campsite, check for litter and rearrange everything back into its original position. Take extra care to leave the location like it was never touched.
Animals Are Friends
Keep in mind how your camp could affect the animals living in the same space. Avoid pitching your tent in the middle of organic forest ‘game’ trails, as they’re typically used as routes for the inhabiting animals to travel –– blocking their path with tents or equipment may cause them to lose their way to a water source.
But Pests Aren’t Welcome
Selecting a good campground also helps to reduce the chances of meeting unwelcome four-legged guests. One good tip to avoid mosquitoes is to camp away from areas that have stagnant water and wind, such as lakes. Occasionally, campers might chance upon bears, possums, skunks, raccoons, or other animals wandering into their campsite. This happens more often when people set their camps along natural forest paths or leave their unfinished food exposed. To avoid such encounters, we recommend hanging your food minimally 200 feet away from your tent, in the direction where the wind blows the smell of the food away from you. Finally, don’t feed the animals! Getting acquainted with human contact causes way more disadvantages for them in the long run.
Camping in Winter
Now that we’ve covered the different tips for camping during spring, summer, and autumn, let’s move on to the coolest season of them all –– winter. Whilst camping in winter creates less environmental footprint with the snow protecting the earth, you’re also exposed to the same harsh, cold temperatures. It’s important to take note of the following aspects to set up a campsite that’ll keep you safe and toasty warm, even during the harshest depths of winter.
Various aspects that govern the campground selection in summer also apply in winter. One such consideration is looking out for level ground to settle on. For winter campers, being in the sun will serve as comfort from the cold and reduce exposure to bursts of cold air. We encourage looking for areas where you’re able to enjoy some of the sun’s warmth whilst avoiding any depressions where cool air may settle.
Just as wind is an issue for summer campers, it will also pose serious problems for winter campers. Hard, sculpted snow with a brittle texture is a telltale sign that the winds are strong and weather conditions are harsh. On the other hand, if the snow’s texture is loose and dusty-looking, it shows that this area is where the wind carries the snow. These are both areas to steer clear of.
Before embarking on your annual winter camping, do call up to check with your local avalanche prediction center for warnings, and consider staying indoors if advised as so. When hiking, keep a lookout for fallen trees and accumulated debris that have been bouldered down by an avalanche. Some other hazards to look out for include: crevasses, cornices, overhanging masses of hardened snow, and deep glacier cracks –– these are all indicators that you shouldn’t pitch your tent in that area.
Spring, summer, winter, and fall; it doesn’t matter when or where you choose to hike and camp, as long as you stay vigilant and considerate. With our tips, you’re sure to have a better understanding and have the knowledge to pick a good campsite now. Now, what are you waiting for –– gear up and start packing for your next exciting trip!