Camping trips are all about finding the right spot to pitch your tent. But, if you are a beginner, you might have some trouble finding the perfect spot to set up camp.
Finding the right spot is easy if you know what to look for, so here are 10 pro tips to help you make better decisions when choosing the right spot for your tent or shelter when camping.
Do your research
Choosing the right spot depends on the campsite you are visiting. Some popular campsites may need you to book a spot beforehand, while for others, you need to book your backcountry permit in advance. Check with the area’s ranger office to find out details about available campsites and camping rules in the area.
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Don’t wait for sundown
Remember to try to find a spot while there’s still natural light outside. Do not wait until sundown. Plan your hike in a way that you can reach the spot where you want to camp in by midday. This way, even if your journey takes longer than anticipated, you’ll still likely reach your campsite during daylight.
Look for level ground
Level, solid ground is your best bet for pitching a tent. Solid does not necessarily mean hard, but more on that later.
First, focus on finding a level spot for pitching your shelter. Keep off slopes or swampy terrain. You don’t want your tent to roll off a cliff when you’re sleeping, or sink into the ground. Level fields or stretches of land are the best spots for pitching a shelter. In addition, you want to ensure that your spine stays comfortable and straight when you sleep.
Choose the right terrain
- It’s important to find terrain that is solid, but not too hard and rocky.
- Try to find patches of land covered in grass, moss, sand, leaves, pine needles, and other types of natural vegetation.
- Hard-packed dirt patches have higher thermal conduction, and can also make it extremely hard for you to sleep comfortably, even if you have sleeping bags.
- While fine gravel is alright, it is best to avoid rocky terrain, since it will cause the floor of your shelter to become uneven, and could tear it.
- Avoid wet ground, as that is also more thermally conductive.
Look for water sources
The best campsites are ones that are in close proximity to a source of drinkable fresh water and a supply of firewood. Map out your route to find natural freshwater sources such as rivers, streams, lakes, and springs. But, always remember to pitch your shelter at least 200 meters away from the body of water. This is done to allow wildlife passage and access to water bodies without putting you in harm’s way.
Pro tip: Avoid stagnant water bodies like waterlogged fields or meadows, and stagnant pools or lakes. These are breeding grounds for insects, and you don’t want a bunch of flies hovering around your tent or crawling around when you try to get a good night’s sleep.
Elevated spots work better
- If the weather is good, choose spots that are at a higher elevation. Avoid the bottom of canyons or valleys, as the air in those spots is damper and chillier than elevated locations. You are also at greater risk from flash floods during sudden rainstorms.
- Spots on a higher elevation are usually breezier, which means fewer mosquitoes, especially in spots close to bodies of water.
- Elevated spots also offer better views of the surrounding landscape.
Pro tip: Spots at a higher elevation can be dangerous in case of inclement weather, thunderstorms, or high wind. Check for weather forecasts before planning your trip.
Find natural cover
- Look for spots that have natural tree cover. Trees not only help act as windbreaks, but also provide shade to tents.
- Finding shaded spots surrounded by trees and boulders is a must if it’s a base camp, or if you’re planning a longer stay. Tents have nylon canopies that can get damaged in case of prolonged exposure to direct sunlight.
Go off the trail
Try to pick slightly off-trail spots if you want to avoid passing hikers and want more privacy. But, remember the following when camping in off-the-trail spots:
- Look for level areas that look like they have been used for camping before.
- Be careful not to choose meadows with heavy plant cover, or pristine spots that look untouched. You might damage the natural flora and scenery of the location, and it could take years for nature to reverse it.
Stay away from animal trails
- Research the area before visiting to find out about animal trails and the types of wildlife native to the area.
- Identify and avoid animal trails. Examining paw prints can be a good way to track animal traffic in an area.
- Maintain a safe distance from bodies of water to avoid being seen by animals coming for a drink.
- Don’t leave trash or food outside. These attract animals. Look for some trees in your spot that you can use to hang your food and trash bags.
- Avoid densely wooded areas, as they might be home to raccoons, bears, skunks, deer, and more.
- Avoid setting up tents in tall grass.
- Look for clearings that offer a good view of your surroundings, so you can spot approaching animals.
- If you are a beginner and camping in an area with high wildlife density, taking a local guide along can be a good idea.
- If you are camping in wildlife sanctuaries or parks, carefully understand all the rules and guidelines laid out by park officials.
Avoid obvious danger zones
This one is just common sense, but you need to avoid danger zones. Again, research is critical here, as different locations and landscapes have different challenges.
- When camping in avalanche or earthquake-prone zones, try to find clearings at higher elevations without overhead cliffs.
- Don’t set up your camp too close to the edge of a cliff.
- If you are camping on a beach, avoid the most apparent tide line.
- Avoid camping under overhead bluffs.
- When camping along rivers or narrow canyons, avoid low spots. The weather might change overnight, and low spots tend to flood quicker as they collect water.
Use natural furniture
- Try to look for spots that are populated with natural “furniture.”
- Upturned trees or boulders can act as makeshift tables and chairs for you to enjoy your nightcap or meal before calling it a night.
- Try to face the sun. Most campers like to pitch their tent facing east to get the morning rays of the sun directly when they wake up.
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Be particular about the spot
- Try to find the right contour for your body.
- There’s no shame in being fussy about the spot you pick. After all, this is the spot you will be sleeping in, and if it’s not right for your body, it’s not the right spot.
- Don’t be shy to lay out your sleeping bag to test the ground before you set up camp. If you don’t feel comfortable, try the next spot.
Most importantly, don’t forget to purchase travel insurance or travel medical insurance that can provide coverage for camping, hiking, or any other outdoor activity you plan to take part in. Enjoying the great outdoors is never without the risk of an injury or mishap, so it’s important to have insurance that can cover you. And now, you are all set. Happy camping.
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