A poor campsite choice can leave you tired and haggard on your next day of hiking, so choosing a campsite that will provide a good night’s sleep is crucial.
Choosing a great campsite is really pretty simple, given good conditions, of course. But even with a less-than-ideal area, you can still choose a site that will provide a deep sleep with happy dreams.
When it comes to an awesome tent site, location is everything. But what does the perfect location entail, and how do you find it? Let me clear things up for you.
1. Look for previously used campsites
Are you close to a shelter? Are there already campsites marked out on your trail? If you can find a site that is already established, then use it! Previously-used campsites are great for a couple of reasons–you already know it’s a good place to sleep, your work is done for you, and it helps you Leave No Trace. It’s a super easy option that’s good for both you and your surroundings.
Can’t find a previously used campsite? Keep reading.
2. Make sure it’s level and flat
Level and flat are probably every camper’s mantra. These two things are huge when looking for a tent site. A level campsite keeps you from sleeping on a hill, which is uncomfortable and unsafe for the camper. Sleeping on flat, smooth ground is simply way more comfortable than sleeping on a bunch of rocks and roots.
If you have to choose, though, always choose level and rough over smooth and sloped. Most of the bumps caused by the rough ground will be absorbed by your sleeping pad. If you’re forced to sleep on a slope, angle your tent so you are parallel with the slope and your head is uphill.
Still unsure about whether your campsite will be comfortable enough for you? Test it! Take out your sleeping pad and test the area that you are considering. It will give you a very good feel about whether you’ve picked a good spot or not, and it will save you time and energy if the site is bad.
3. Look around
You can notice a lot of important things if you just take the time to look around. Look at the ground you will be lying on–try to pick a ground cover of pine needles, sand, dry grass, or dirt over rocks and roots. Avoid fragile areas and sites with animal droppings. Just one step of your boot can destroy hundreds of years of growth in fragile areas. Do the environment a favor and avoid them. Animal droppings are never a good addition to a campsite–it means they could frequent that place often, or they’ve learned to get food there. Either way, it could make for a bad night.
Look to see if the area would drain well if it rained. The last thing you want is to end up in a puddle in the middle of the night.
Also, you want to look up–make sure there is no overhead danger, such as a dead tree that is hung up, hanging from another tree, that could make for a nasty surprise (or even prove deadly).
If everything checks out, and it looks like a good place to set up, then comb the site. Clear it of any sharp objects that could do damage to your gear or make for an uncomfortable night’s sleep. Don’t overdo it, though: just move the objects that are necessary.
4. Are there weather hazards?
Wind, rain, and snow can make for pretty horrible camping conditions if you’re not prepared. You already know to make sure that the site drains well, but what about wind and snow?
Choose a shady spot with a natural windbreak. The shade will help to keep your tent from turning into a hotbox, and the windbreak will protect you from strong gusts of wind. Just in case, make sure your tent door is facing away from the wind, so you don’t get chilly breezes in the middle of the night.
If there is snow on the ground, then make sure you avoid avalanche areas, which would most likely be located near the bowl’s base. You also want to keep a lookout for trees with heavy snow loads–not only can these be inconvenient, but they can also be dangerous. Once you’ve found a good spot, make sure to tamp the snow down with a boot, ski, or snowshoe.
You want to be near water, but not too near water. Having a campsite with a close proximity to water is important for you to be able to refill your supplies. However, it can be potentially dangerous if the water source decides to flood. Also, LNT principles warn us to keep sites at least 200ft from water sources.
Whenever you’re interacting with your surroundings, you always want to have the Leave No Trace principles in mind. If you move something, put it back.
Finding a campsite really is that simple. If you remember those 6 simple tips, you’ll be well on your way to a comfortable night’s rest.