Chapter 35: How to Choose a Backpacking Campsite

Choosing great campsite can make your backpacking trip more enjoyable.

Look for a flat area, but one that drains well so you won’t have water running or pooling under your tent if it rains. Camp at least 200 feet from water to practice “Leave No Trace” principles. If you look for an area with some solitude, make sure you don’t trample vegetation.

If you choose an established campsite, it’s often easier to find a flat spot for your tent, but the ground can be hard and you’re likely to be close to other people. It’s comforting to be near a lake or stream, but the moist air can mean more condensation in your tent and more mosquitoes. Established camps can attract more animals like chipmunks and bears.

In a campsite that hasn’t been used before, finding a good place for your tent can be tricky. The area under fir trees with needles can provide a clear, soft spot.

Consider your view. Can your tent be pointed toward the best view? Can you put the foot of the tent into the wind? Do you want cool shade from the sun or warmth from the late evening sun? Will you have the warming sun early in the morning? If your camp will serve as a base camp for a number of days, will your tent be out of the sun to protect it from the harmful UV rays of the sun?

Trees and rocky areas can provide protection from the wind. When selecting your campsite, check for dead trees that could fall during the night. Make sure there’s no poison oak or poison ivy.

If mosquitoes are a problem, camping on a windy ridge can help.

One of the things that makes a campsite better is a down tree or rocks to sit on as you rest and cook.

Of course, wherever you camp try to leave it as natural as you found it.