After a long day of hiking, your campsite is your home away from home. It’s a place to relax, recover and think back over the amazing day you’ve just experienced. But, have you ever really thought about how to set up a campsite the best way possible?
The terrain, weather, wildlife — all these factors matter when making sure your campsite is not only safe but comfortable as well. Here at The Adventure Junkies, we understand everyone has a different perspective on how to set up a campsite. So, we’ve put together this guide to provide you with clear, practical and effective advice that will work every single time!
STEP 1: CHOOSE A LOCATION
The most important aspect in setting up a campsite is making sure you pick the right location. It’s important not to rush even if the sun is starting to set. It will take far longer to relocate in the middle of the night with only a headlamp to find your way around a foreign landscape.
3 ELEMENTS OF A GREAT CAMPSITE LOCATION
1. IT’S SAFE
Whether you’re camping in the wild or even at a trailer park, you need to look above and around the site for anything which may pose a risk to your safety.
Trees may provide shade and form a windbreak, but some species drop dead limbs to the ground below. When a limb weighs hundreds of pounds, you can guarantee anything in its path is either going to be damaged.
As for people, getting hit could get you severely injured if not killed. Scan the surrounding trees and ensure your campsite is positioned away from overhanging branches.
We all love water views, right? While your campsite may be bone dry now, it is important to consider how the site might look in the event of heavy rain.
Setting up camp in a natural hollow or adjacent to a river bank may look nice, but you could be placing yourself at risk of flooding. Similarly, if you’re going to camp on the beach then make sure you pitch your tent far above the high tide mark.
As unlikely as it may be, another risk not worth taking is to expose your campsite to the chances of a lightning strike. Bare hilltops are the worst locations as your tent or other camping equipment will sit above ground level and may become a lightning rod.
Strong winds can wreak havoc on a campsite. To ensure you aren’t blown away, you should try to find a campsite on the down-wind side of a hill or copse of trees (remembering to still keep an eye out for tree limbs!). Boulders and other large solid objects can also help in buffering your site from strong winds.
It may sound like balancing all these factors is an impossibility, but common sense plays a big part in staying safe. Keep up to date with the weather forecast, learn about the different tree species to better understand how they decay and check the tide tables before setting out on your camping trip.
Finally, many parks now provide designated camping sites or even wooden platforms protect the environment from erosion. Complying with state or federal law is critical as they are the experts in these matters and these decisions will be made with your safety in mind.
2. IT’S PRACTICAL
If you’re going to set up camp for any reasonable period, access to a fresh water source will be critical.
When the time comes to select your campsite, scout the surrounding area for any streams or springs. Set your camp up a short distance away. You don’t want to be carting water across half a mile of rough terrain but at the same time, you don’t want to be so close that you place yourself at risk of flooding.
Depending on the climate, keeping warm may be a priority. Even if it isn’t, everyone loves a campfire! Locating your campsite near a source of dry wood is something you should keep in mind as well.
3. IT’S COMFORTABLE
You may be out in the wild, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a comfortable campsite!
Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for staying fresh and energized on the trail. When selecting the location of your tent there are a few simple things you can do to ensure your comfort.
First, make sure the site is relatively flat and with reasonable drainage. Sleeping on a slope can be done, but you may find yourself rolling downhill in the middle of the night. If there is no flat ground available, then try to ensure your head is positioned upslope, with your feet pointing downhill.
Second, scour the site for sharp rocks, sticks or other objects which could either pierce the floor of your tent or make sleeping extremely uncomfortable. Clear these away before pitching your tent.
Third, make sure you aren’t placing your tent on, under or next to an insect colony. Ants, wasps, spiders, bees can all make your campsite a misery if you’re not careful!
Lastly, positioning your campsite in the shade can make for a far more comfortable camping experience particularly at the height of summer. This does need to be balanced with the need to keep your distance from overhanging branches. If done right, it can elevate your campsite into a cool oasis!
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STEP 2: FIND A FIRE PLACE
Establishing a fire at your campsite may be essential for cooking and as a source of warmth, but it may simply be a great focal point for relaxing conversation. Either way, ensure you locate the fire far enough away from your tent that there is no risk of embers blowing onto its highly flammable surface.
It is also recommended you dig a fire pit. This will keep embers contained and makes it a lot easier for you to put the fire out through a combination of water and soil.
STEP 3: ESTABLISH A “TOILET”
It’s not the most exciting part of camping, but establishing a specific area for sanitary waste disposal is critically important.
Locate your toilet at least a couple of hundred feet from the campsite for both privacy and comfort. To avoid contamination, you’ll also want to position it downhill and 50 feet or more from nearby water sources.
STEP 4: MAKE A RUBBISH BIN
Whether you’re staying put in one location or spending days on the trail, it is inevitable you will produce rubbish. Leaving your rubbish in the backcountry isn’t an option, so make sure you remember to take a sturdy bag large enough to hold all the waste you are likely to produce.
If bears are a possibility, then you will need to know how to hang your rubbish bag from a tree, at least 12 feet off the ground, six feet from the tree trunk and 200 feet from your tent.
Bears are extremely sensitive to odors. Items you will need to store in the ‘bear hang’ include not only rubbish but toothpaste and uneaten food as well. If in doubt, hang it!
Want to learn more about how to handle bear encounters in the backcountry? Read our guide on how to keep bears away.
VIDEO: HOW TO BUILD A ‘BEAR HANG’
After following these guidelines, you’ll have your campsite set up and looking good in no time at all. But, what then?
To make sure you get the most out of your campsite, think about the types of emergency scenarios that might arise in the middle of the night and be prepared for all possibilities.
Is your first aid kit easy to reach? Do you know the direction of the toilet? Have you placed a headlamp in an easily accessible location so you aren’t fumbling around and waking up your neighbors? Are mosquitoes likely and have you got insect repellent readily available? Have you got a pair of slip-on camp shoes that can sit at the entrance to your tent? What about a waterproof jacket?
These aren’t essential, but being prepared will certainly help you make the most effective use of your campsite!