Before you head out on your next camping excursion (or your first!), there are a few things to consider when choosing a campsite. Even if you camp in an established campground, you often have a critical decision to make about where to put your tent. Smart tent placement can make the difference between a pleasant outing and a weekend of discomfort, or worse. The following will help you choose a campsite for maximum safety and comfort while minimizing your impact on the landscape.
Your first criteria to consider when choosing a site is always safety. A lot can happen in the woods and the further you are from civilization, the more serious things become. If you are camping in bear country, check with local authorities about bear-specific procedures for camping there. Some will have bear proof containers to use, other places will require you to hang your food at night. Find out the local rules and follow them. A hungry bear in your campsite is trouble to avoid at all costs. Also, avoid a camping spot that’s too close to game trails. Camping there could cause disruption of animals routines or keep them from getting to water, not to mention the potential of surprising an unpredictable animal so close to your tent. As you’re picking a site for your tent, look up. Avoid camping under things that could fall on you, damaging you or your gear. Look for dead trees or tree branches or ledges with loose rock. If you’ve ever had a coconut fall on your tent in the middle of the night, you never make that mistake again. Lastly, when placing your tent, consider the terrain. Many campers set up their tents under sunny skies only to wake up in a torrential rain realizing they are sleeping in a newly formed river or other depression. Take a look at your camping area and imagine where water will collect and flow in case of heavy rain.
When deciding on your campsite, the second factor you should consider is your impact on the area you’ll be using. Camp well away from water sources. They tend to be fragile, heavily used areas and prone to overuse and pollution. Never use a natural water source for washing clothes or dishes. Instead, gather water and carry it to your site. If you are camping in an area with established fire rings or predetermined tent sites, use them. This minimizes the impact of campers on the environment and keeps the impact contained. This concept applies to both established campgrounds and more remote backcountry campsites.
A third important consideration in finding your campsite of choice is obviously comfort. A few well-planned details regarding personal comfort can really make your camping experience better. Do you want early sun to warm up your campsite in the morning? Think about it before you put up your tent. If you choose a developed campground, an ideal site is close enough to walk to the outhouse, too far to smell it. The specific place you plan to sleep is very important. For example, many people claim that if they sleep with their head slightly lower than their feet, they sleep poorly and wake up with headaches. Check your site before setting up your tent and situate accordingly. Also, before setting up your tent, lie down in the spot where you’ll be sleeping. You’re certain to find uneven bumps, lumps and rocks. Better to find them now than when you crawl into your sleeping bag at night.
A little forethought goes a long way when choosing a campsite. The difference between a good night’s sleep and an endless night of discomfort can make or break your trip. Think ahead, prepare for wind and weather, and you’ll be a much happier camper.
Copyright 2010 David Robertson