How to Choose a Campsite
by Ruby Bayan
The campsite is where you put down your load, take off your shoes, stretch you back, and grab a good nightís sleep. It can also be where you toss about all night, get thrashed by strong winds, or swept off by a flood or a landslide.
Choosing the best place to relax after a long hike hinges on a set of principles that are basically defined by simple common sense. Unfortunately, at the end of a long day, dog-tired, hungry and cranky, our common sense is most often the first to go; so, itís always best to commit to memory the fundamental guidelines in choosing the best campsite. Common sense or otherwise, your health and safety depends on it.
Similar to choosing the ideal location to build a home, in determining the ideal place to pitch your tents, you need to study the terrain carefully. No matter how lovely and inviting a patch of ground looks, no matter how eager you are to get out of your muddy boots, and cook a sumptuous dinner, if the site will put you in harmís way while you rest, itís hardly the best place to build your camp on. The characteristics you must, therefore, look for in your prospective campsite are: ideal terrain and perfect location.
You will never know if itís going to rain in the middle of the night. A sloping terrain will provide adequate drainage in case of a rainfall, unlike an entirely flat area. Choose the high part of a slope because water will tend to collect at the bottom of a basin or depression.
Strong winds and rainstorms have the knack of sneaking up just when everyone has fallen asleep. Camping behind natural windbreakers like boulders, trees, and bushes, will protect you from the ravages of a natural disaster in the hours of darkness. Remember, however, not to pitch your tents directly under the trees because there is always the danger of falling limbs or branches. Trees overhead will continue to drip long after a downpour, and wet leaves stuck to the tent roofing are a drag to get rid of.
A good patch of grass will provide some cushion to your sleeping area. The slight elevation also prevents water from seeping into the tents. Itís a little tougher, though, to dig up protruding rocks and debris from under a patch of grass, but grassy is a bit more comfortable than bare ground.
The ideal campsite should be relatively close, not very close, to a water source. The appropriate distance is about 300 yards, so that contamination of the water can be prevented. If the water source is a waterway, camp on high ground because a flash flood could easily carry your whole encampment down the river. Never camp on what seems like a dried-up stream or riverbed because the slightest rainfall could send a gush of water across your settlement.
Aside from the risk of flash floods and flowing water, consider the danger of landslides Ė whether you risk falling along with it or hazard sitting in the way of one. Another camping hazard is the presence of poisonous plants. Stay clear of them and be sure no one will encounter toxic vegetation when answering the call of nature.
Most often a nice-to-have when choosing a campsite, a panoramic view of the wilderness should always be a consideration. Nothing beats waking up at dawn and emerging from your tent to marvel at the splendor of the landscape. The view, however, should never be a preference at the expense of safety.
It takes a whole lot of luck to find a campsite that provides all the above amenities, but one that provides the most is preferable. Always remember that you are at the mercy of Mother Nature while you sleep, so the more efficiently you choose where to pitch camp, the better your chances of protecting yourself and getting a good nightís rest.
Backpacking: Essential Skills to Advanced Techniques, Victoria Logue; Format: Paperback, 320pp.; ISBN: 0897323238; Publisher: Menasha Ridge Press, Incorporated; Pub. Date: June 2000
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hiking, Camping, and the Great Outdoors, Michael Mouland; Format: Paperback, 2nd ed., 361pp.; ISBN: 0028631862; Publisher: Macmillan General Reference; Pub. Date: September 1999
Hiking and Backpacking: A Complete Guide, Karen Berger John Viehman (Introduction); Format: Paperback, 1st ed., 224pp.; ISBN: 0393313344; Publisher: Norton,Ww; Pub. Date: May 1995
How to Pitch a Tent
Gorp.com: Choosing a Campsite
Leave No Trace Program