by Anna Fletcher
One of the most important things when camping or backpacking is your campsite. It serves as your base camp and your home-away-from-home while you’re out in the wilderness. It sends you off on hikes and welcomes you back after a long day of exploring, climbing, kayaking, and all the other adventures you had. Build your campsite to fit your needs while being careful to make as little environmental impact as possible. The best campsites are found, not made, so take the time to scope out the area in search of the perfect site!
Here are 9 areas to think about when trying to find the best campsite:
Location. Avoid meadows because they trap cold air, and because the tall grass is home to creepy-crawlers like chiggers, ticks, and ants. Keep in mind that valleys are one the most foggiest, coldest, and dampest places. A good rule of thumb is to avoid areas that have a lot of moss. Moss grows in damp areas, so if it rains, your site may flood. And remember that if you choose to camp on a peak, ridge, or overlook, bring lots and lots of water! Don’t get all the way to the top of the mountain and realize that you didn’t bring enough.
Water. When it comes to deciding how close to water you should set up camp, find a happy medium. Make sure that you’re close enough to a water supply source, but not too close to a body of water that you have to battle mosquitoes and other wildlife (no less than about 200 feet away). If you can’t help but be right up on the lake or riverbank, bring along a Bug Net to protect you from the biters and skeeters.
Bathroom. You had one too many nalgenes of water at dinner, and now it’s 4 am and you really have to pee. The last thing you want to do in your condition is search for a good place to relieve yourself. Prevent this dilemma by scoping out a good patch of brush or trees to serve as a bathroom before you even set up camp. That way, you know exactly where to run to when the late night urge hits you.
Terrain. Find a flat area that is slightly elevated to prevent flooding. Do NOT set up camp in a depression – that could mean bad news bears for you! Shoot for durable surface like rock, sand, and duff, and make sure that the terrain drains well.
Sun. If you want to rise up in the morning and smile with the rising sun, make sure your campsite faces east or south. Morning sun will warm you up and dry any gear that needs drying. And keep in mind which way is west, so you have a good view of the beautiful sunset!
Fire. For safety reasons, always try to use an already-established fire pit. Never build your own unless you’ve thoroughly checked the area, thought up every possible way the fire could get out of hand, and are positive that it’s a safe place for the fire pit to be.
Rain. When you find a proper campsite, set up just like you would if you knew it was going to potential downpour in 20 minutes with 50 mph winds. When you’re in the mountains, the weather can be as unpredictable as the baskets on Chopped, so always prepare for the worst weather. Bring tarps, rope, and plenty of stakes, and figure out which direction the water will flow before you set anything up. Never put off rain-proofing your campsite! Chances are, you’ll get wrapped up in something fun and forget to do it until it’s already down-pouring.
Animals. If you’re in bear country, choose a site with good trees for hanging your food up in. Keep everything packed up and hidden from the sharp little claws of raccoon. And thoroughly (and I mean thoroughly) scour the site for snake holes, wasp nests, fire ant hills, and animal burrows. Nobody wants a surprise visit from a red ant colony in the middle of the night.
Privacy. Going “off the beaten path” into areas of the forest where nobody really chooses to camp is the best way to avoid the camping crowd, other backpackers, RV’s, and families. Avoid human/game trails and designated camping spots and areas. You can also look for natural ground vegetation that will serve as a barrier around your site.