If you camp in a tent, it’s much easier to get a good night’s rest on a level campsite than one that’s on a slope. There’s nothing worse than sliding off your sleeping pad all night long because you picked a crappy place to set up your tent, you’re too tired to find a better tent site, or you’ve run out of daylight because you didn’t start looking for a good tent site soon enough. The reason this happens is that people are notoriously bad at determining whether a campsite is flat by eye and once they set up their tent it’s often too late to move it again.
I’m not talking about designated campsites in campgrounds that have their own issues, but wilderness sites where no one has camped before, or not often, or those bald patches where people have camped before near lean-tos, trail shelters, and privies.
There are two simple ways to determine if a spot is level and suitable for sleeping on. I prefer the Bottle-Level Method which uses a water bottle, but the Snow Angel Technique can work if you don’t use water bottles.
- The Snow Angel Technique
- The Bottle Level Method
The Snow Angel Technique
The Snow Angel Technique is pretty simple. Lie down on the piece of ground that you think might make a good tent site…right in the dirt. Flap your arms and scissor your legs. If the ground “FEELS” level, then you’re in business. It’s that simple. You’re body and vestibular system are very reliable when it comes to feeling sloping ground, not to mention nasty roots and rocks. It’s called the snow angel technique because it’s like creating a snow angel in winter.
The problem with the snow angel technique is nasty insects. If you pick a spot to test that has organic matter on top, there’s a very real chance that you’re going to pick up ticks or chiggers in your clothes, hair, or attached to your skin. You really don’t want that to happen for health and comfort reasons, so it’s kind of a last-resort technique in my book.
The Bottle Level Method
If you’ve ever used a carpentry level, it uses a water bubble to determine whether a surface is level or not. If you carry your drinking water in a clear plastic bottle, you have a level that you can use to test whether a tent site is level or not. Neat, huh?
Simply tip a mostly filled plastic bottle onto its side and position it on the ground that you want to evaluate. If the horizontal bubble is in the middle of the bottle, then the ground is flat. If you move the bottle around to different contiguous spots, you can quickly determine if they are level too or sloped. Remember, you just need to find a flat space large enough to hold your sleeping pad, or two if you’re camping with a partner.
The bottle technique was suggested to me years ago by a reader and I think it’s just plain brilliant. It’s one of the reasons why we invite comments and lively community discussions on SectionHiker.com. Everybody has something to share when it comes to hiking and backpacking and we can all benefit as a community, no matter what kind of trips and adventures we take.SectionHiker is reader-supported. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.