Good campsite selection is an important backpacking skill. Here are some tips to pick a safe and comfortable campsite that will enhance your enjoyment of the backcountry.
1. Plan campsites in advance
If backcountry regulations require that you camp at designated campsites, reserve one in advance or make sure ones are available before you arrive. Otherwise, review a topographic map beforehand to identify good camping locations on level ground with easy access to a water source.
2. Watch out for widow-makers
People get killed or injured every year when trees or branches fall on them in their tents. When you set up camp look up and around to make sure you’re not camping near dead trees or trees with suspended dead branches that can fall if their dislodged by the wind. Be extra careful in the spring since heavy winter snow breaks a lot of tree branches.
3. Avoid camping in low spots
Avoid camping in a low spot that can fill with water when it rains (like the author did here.) You’ll also sleep better if you camp on flat ground instead of a slope.
4. Don’t camp next to water
Try to avoid camping within 200 feet of a pond or stream because you’ll experience significantly more internal condensation in your tent. Camping 200 feet away also makes it easier for wildlife to reach water and helps prevent unwanted large animal encounters at night. You’ll also experience far fewer mosquitos.
5. Set up camp before it gets dark
Try to set up your campsite 1-2 hours before sunset. Pitching a tent, fetching water, hanging a bear bag, cooking dinner, and washing dishes in the dark isn’t as much fun as you’d think.
6. Don’t camp on fragile vegetation or flowers
Try not to camp on fragile mosses, rare alpine plants, or flowers in ecologically sensitive areas, especially areas with very short growing seasons. If these plants are damaged, they may not survive the winter.
7. Don’t crowd other campers
Many campers like peace and quiet and a little privacy when they head out camping. Spread out and try not to crowd other campers if possible. Keep your noise level down after dark and try to be extra considerate of others.
8. Avoid windy and exposed campsites
Windy and exposed campsites are cooler than ones protected by a wind break like trees, behind a hill, or a rocky wall. High winds can be quite noisy at night and can damage your tent or shelter.
9. Follow backcountry camping regulations
Read up on the local camping regulations before you go on a trip. These are usually posted online and at trailhead kiosks. Different regions have different rules to protect fragile vegetation and wildlife. Everyone benefits if we all follow the rules and preserve the backcountry.